Five years and three
Expendables movies later, it may be easy to forget just how novel this franchise really is. (The scattershot quality of the films themselves admittedly doesn’t help much.) There was a time in the 1980s and 1990s – but particularly the 1980s – when a single film featuring all of the great action stars of the era was a pie in the sky dream. Even getting two of them in the same film was considered a triumph, even if it usually turned out as silly as the Sylvester Stallone/Kurt Russell team-up Tango and Cash.
So when Sylvester Stallone cleverly, and perhaps with a teensy bit of humility, finally conceded that none of the classic badass cinema stars were doing well enough to carry a blockbuster movie on their own, he concocted
The Expendables as an excuse to get the whole gang together for one big mother of a blowout. An all-star cast with a two-star plot; a modest lark that could coast on the combined star power of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Dolph Lundgren, Jason Statham, Jet Li and Stallone himself… even if two of the bigger names on the cast list barely showed up for a cameo.
The Expendables and its two sequels – – sometimes goes a little limp on what constitutes an “action star.” Many of the cast members in the original film had barely been in any action movies at all, and were better known for simply looking badass, or fighting for real in the UFC ring, than actually being a draw in theaters. (Randy Couture, Steve Austin, Terry Crews, etc.) The new film features a cast of younger actors who have barely done any movies at all. There are still plenty of ringers left in the mix, but it got us thinking: what are the best action movies these actors have actually done? For some of the genuine silver screen legends, that’s a tough job, and may ultimately amount to little more than personal preference. For the others, it’s quite easy – for all of his cred, Antonio Banderas technically hasn’t done very many of them – or even harder because they’ve only been in crappy straight-to-video dreck outside of the the third of which is in theaters now Expendables franchise.
So here we go with
The Best Action Movies of , focusing on the cast of the newest film (at least, the ones who have actually made more than one action movie). Don’t worry, there’s plenty of room to highlight the stars of the previous movies and whichever new ones pop up when the inevitable The Expendables Expendables 4 comes out.
Slideshow: The Best Action Movies of ‘The Expendables’
William Bibbiani is the editor of
and the host of CraveOnline’s Film Channel and The B-Movies Podcast . Follow him on Twitter at The Blue Movies Podcast . @WilliamBibbiani
The Best & Worst Action Movies Starring The Expendables
Best Action Movie: The Mask of Zorro (1998) Runners-Up: Desperado (1995), Assassins (1992) Worst Action Movie: The Legend of Zorro (2005)
Antonio Banderas has spent most of his career performing in comedies and dramas, but he really made his mark (pun intended) with Martin Campbell's
The Mask of Zorro. The sumptuous reboot of the classic action franchise featured a stellar cast (Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta-Jones co-starred) and a series of deftly choreographed sword fights and stunt heavy action sequences. But best of all was Banderas himself, who cut a swarthy figure but wasn't afraid to be the brunt of the joke every once in a while. Alas, the sequel wasn't just a disappointment... it's one of the worst action movies of the 21st Century.
Best Action Movie: The Expendables (2010) Runners-Up: The Expendables 2 (2012), The Expendables 3 (2014) Worst Action Movie: Hijacked (2012)
Although he's a formidable opponent in the ring, UFC champion Randy Couture hasn't made much of an impression at the cinema yet. His biggest action movies to date are actually
The Expendables 1-3, and although the third is pretty much the best movie, he barely does anything in it. At least in the first Expendables Couture got to showcase his fighting skills in the epic climax. Unfortunately, Couture's starring roles have all been in straight-to-video schlock like the nearly unwatchable terrorists-on-an-airplaine thriller Hijacked.
Best Action Movie: Gamer (2009) Runners-Up: The Expendables (2010), The Expendables 2 (2012) Worst Action Movie: Terminator Salvation (2009)
Lik.e Couture, Terry Crews hasn't made all that many action movies outside of
The Expendables franchise. In fact, he's making a bigger impression doing standout cameos in comedies like Idiocracy and Bridesmaids. But his villain in the underrated sci-fi/action thriller Gamer was a threatening presence we'll never forget, just as huge as he was homicidal. That's a stark contrast to his role in the awful sequel Terminator Salvation, which made so little of an impression that we nearly forgot he was even in it.
Best Action Movie: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) Runners-Up: The Star Wars Trilogy (1977-1983), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), The Fugitive (1993), Clear and Present Danger (1994) Worst Action Movie: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Now THAT is a resume. Heck, we didn't even mention
Air Force One or Patriot Games. (Oh wait, we just did.) Harrison Ford is one of the great action stars of his generation, headlining multiple classic franchises and several stand alone thrillers, some of which were so good they were even Best Picture nominees. But the best showcase of his devil may care action persona is and probably always will be Raiders of the Lost Ark, a timeless throwback to the pulp adventure sagas of yore, featuring several of the best action sequences ever filmed. We're willing to forgive him for Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Best Action Movie: The Road Warrior (1981) Runners-Up: Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), Lethal Weapon 1-3 (1987-1992), Braveheart (1995) Worst Action Movie: Machete Kills (2013)
Although public perception of Mel Gibson took an understandable nosedive in recent years, his early action movies were pulse-pounding thrillers with wit and a distinctive edginess that set him apart from his badass competitors. But the best is still George Miller's
The Road Warrior, which cast Gibson as a hardened cynic forced to aid a small band of underdog rebels in a death-defying car chase against dangerous post-apocalyptic punks in fetish gear. He tried his hand at proper villainy for the first time in 2013, in the overblown (and simply awful) Robert Rodriguez smug-fest Machete Kills.
Best Action Movie: Hero (2002) Runners-Up: The Shaolin Temple trilogy (1982-1986), Once Upon a Time in China (1992), Fist of Legend (1995), Unleashed (2005) Worst Action Movie: The Forbidden Kingdom (2008)
Jet Li was making classic martial arts movies in China for years before Hollywood came a-calling... so many, in fact, that singling out his best action movie is a real chore. But Zhang Yimou's handsome and subversive
wuxia epic Hero finally took home the prize for its gorgeously choreographed action sequences and unpredictable plot. Sadly, Hollywood's lone attempt to capture that wuxia magic, The Forbidden Kingdom, is a rock stupid mess despite the otherwise enticing gimmick of pitting Li against fellow action superstar Jackie Chan.
Best Action Movie: Universal Soldier (1992) Runners-Up: Red Scorpion (1988), Dark Angel (1990), Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991), Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2009) Worst Action Movie: I n the Name of the King 2: Two Worlds (2011)
The hulking physical presence of Dolph Lundgren, combined with a very sly intelligence (he has a Master's degree in chemical engineering, after all) always made Dolph Lundgren a more formidable bad guy than a hero. His best bad guy ever was probably Drago in
Rocky IV, but that's not an action movie, so Universal Soldier is the obvious choice here. As the PTSD Vietnam veteran super-zombie with a necklace made of human ears, he stole the movie and provided one of the best fights of his and Jean-Claude Van Damme's career in the film's brutal finale. Like many of his contemporaries, Lundgren eventually got stuck doing straight-to-video dreck, but In the Name of the King 2: Two Worlds is still a low point; it's a tone-deaf action/comedy/fantasy hybrid from the master of disastrous productions, Uwe Boll.
Best Action Movie: Arena (2011) Runners-Up: The immortals (2011), The Expendables 3 (2014) Worst Action Movie: The Legend of Hercules (2014)
Of the younger cast members in
The Expendables 3, the only one with a proper action movie pedigree is Kellan Lutz, who has been trying to break into the action genre for years after his breakout role in the so-called Twilight Saga. Although The Immortals is probably his best (or at least most interesting) movie, he's barely in it, so the winner is probably the surprisingly thrilling straight-to-video underground fight club movie Arena, which stars Lutz as an undercover detective and Samuel L. Jackson as the over-the-top master of ceremonies. Sadly, his first theatrically-released star vehicle, The Legend of Hercules, is guaranteed to show up on our list of the Worst Films of 2014.
Best Action Movie: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) Runners-Up: Conan the Barbarian (1992), The Terminator (1984), Commando (1984), Total Recall (1990), True Lies (1984) Worst Action Movie: Raw Deal (1986)
Badass action superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger starred in one hit blockbuster after another in the 1980s and early 1990s, but none of his films seemed better suited to (or rather, specifically written around) his strengths than James Cameron's groundbreaking sequel
Terminator 2, which exquisitely showcased his humor, his humanity, and his ability to destroy everything in sight. It's the polar opposite of the god awful crime thriller Raw Deal, which had absolutely no idea what to do with Schwarzenegger, casting him in as a sneaky undercover cop instead of the powerhouse he obviously was.
Best Action Movie: Blade II (2002) Runners-Up: New Jack City (1991), Passenger 57 (1992), Demolition Man (1993), Blade (1998) Worst Action Movie: Blade: Trinity (2004)
Wesley Snipes helped bring the superhero genre into an all-new generation with 1998's
Blade, but the sequel was simply way more fun, with director Guillermo del Toro filling the frame with bizarre new monsters, a stellar (albeit underutilized) supporting cast and then-groundbreaking fight scenes pumped up with CGI effects. But either of the first to Blade movies are about a hundred times better than Blade: Trinity, an idiotic mess with terrible action sequences and one of the worst cinematic Draculas ever, and which was only good for one thing: showing off co-star Ryan Reynolds' admittedly amazing abs.
Best Action Movie: First Blood (1982) Runners-Up: Cobra (1986), Rambo III (1988), Cliffhanger (1983), Demolition Man (1983) Worst Action Movie: Judge Dredd (1985)
Sylvester Stallone has made a lot of great movies over the years, but he's also made a lot of bad ones. His first attempt at proper thrills,
First Blood, still works best because it's not just an action movie, it's also a tragic tale of an American hero pushed to the brink of insanity upon his return to the United States, going rogue and turning on western civilization itself. Stallone eventually went way too far in the opposite direction - namely mindless goofy superhero antics - in the truly awful comic book adaptation Judge Dredd.
Best Action Moive: The Transporter 2 (2005) Runners-Up: The Transporter (2001), Crank (2006), Safe (2012), Homefront (2013) Worst Action Movie: Crank 2: High Voltage (2009)
Jason Statham's steely on-screen persona masks a sharp wit, and his impressive fighting skills are second to very few in the modern age of action cinema.
Crank may be his most distinctive film, but it's more like a comedy than proper action thriller. So give us The Transporter 2's ridiculous stunts and impressively heroic, barely closeted gay hero any day. Sadly, Jason Statham's best work is sometimes off-set by his worst, and the shrill, extremely sexist and disturbingly racist (albeit more action-packed) Crank 2: High Voltage is perhaps the most obvious example. Some appreciate the film for its audacity, but all we can see is the unbridled ugliness of the human condition, heightened and wrapped up in a lazy retread of the original, no longer creative premise.