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New Thrillist piece: 15 Great American Action Movies

Here’s a new piece I wrote for Thrillist’s “America Week.” It had to be slightly sensationalized by calling it “the” 15 great American action movies “that everybody should see,” but please know this is not my idea of the 15 best American action movies ever made. Instead I tried to choose, from among my favorite American action movies, representations of different parts of America. It’s a portrait of America through the medium of action movie list.

In fact I specifically requested to not have a “THE” in the title so that I could include a certain movie set in Alaska without getting drawn and quartered in the comments for calling it one of the best. Oh well. I regret nothing!



This entry was posted on Thursday, July 6th, 2017 at 10:52 am and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

45 Responses to “New Thrillist piece: 15 Great American Action Movies”

  1. But Vern where’s *insert movie I personally really like here*?!

    Other than that, nice list.

  2. I love that the action genre is so diverse in its styles and topics, that you can make a million lists about the best of them and always end up with different names on it.

  3. HARD TARGET is not even one of the top 15 Van Damme flicks (it is the worst one that he’s ever made).

  4. Crushinator Jones

    July 6th, 2017 at 11:55 am

    Hallsy, Vern selected it because of the theme and what it represents on the technical side (an HK import and a guy from Brussels making a blue-collar American action movie)

  5. Another great, thoughtful list – I actually can’t even go “hey wait, what about….” because you’ve pretty much covered it all. Only thing I can add is On Deadly Ground also has an awesome power ballad theme song by The Scorpions that plays over that beautiful nature footage during the closing credits. It also has a Marvel-style credit cookie if I remember correctly!

  6. The Quest says hello Hally. That one is so lame.

  7. I think HARD TARGET is on the list not only because it matches the themes Vern is going for but also because it is awesome.

    I rewatched THE QUEST a bit back and I don’t have the strong dislike for it I once had but it’s still not good and failed to be the ‘CITIZEN KANE of martial arts films’ Van Damme said he was going for. One of those I respect it for it’s ambition and scope but can’t say I see any reason to watch it over BLOODSPORT.

  8. Hallsy, if HARD TARGET was the worst he’d ever made, that would be a hell of a filmography! I’m actually not sure what his worst movie is, but probly one of the dull DTV ones.

  9. Count me as one of the few fans of THE QUEST out there.

    “Freshly killed Cobra, Champ?”

  10. Crushinator Jones

    July 6th, 2017 at 2:44 pm

    Yeah I used to be down on Hard Target but I’ve come around. It’s not fair to compare John Woo’s first “learning the Hollywood ropes” American film to his greatest HK action masterpiece.

    Hard Target is good, y’all

  11. The raggedness of HARD TARGET is where a lot of it’s appeal lies for me. Woo’s learning curve went into boring studio-controlled auto-pilot with BROKEN ARROW (a movie I have no desire to ever watch again), then reached the perfect two-way exchange of Hollywood and Hong Kong with the great FACE/OFF.

  12. Has anybody seen the work print of Hard Target other than me? I love that they use the Aliens score as temp music for the climatic gun battle. The gun fights in the work print are every bit as good as anything he did in HK.

    Great read Vern.

  13. Has anyone seen Hard Target 2 with Scott Adkins?

  14. Quite a few of us have, Felix. Even Vern has seen it!:)

  15. I liked Hard Target quite a bit. Any movie with all that text, subtext, and JCVD KOing a snake has to be solid. I don’t think HALLSY has seen STREET FIGHTER or THE ORDER.

    I liked the list and the explanations, Vern. Good rationale for picking Fast Five over 6, especially for this type of list.

  16. Stern: I have seen the workprint and it is still my go-to version (don’t worry I got a legit copy of the theatrical release to supplement it). It’d be nice to have that version in better quality but I think the additions make it worth it still.

    Another movie I’m like that with is the fan-made ‘Restored International Cut’ of SUPERMAN II which uses the extended TV cut as a base combines the Donner and Lester versions (this was years before the Donner Cut was released and it was assumed it would never see the light of day).

  17. Great piece, Vern!

  18. The Undefeated Gaul

    July 7th, 2017 at 1:19 am

    I’m always wondering if we got a different cut of HARD TARGET in Europe as I always thought it was awesome, with the action climax one of the best bits of prolonged gun play in any movie that I can think of, while in the US people tend to be down on it. How can you not enjoy Van Damme emptying a clip in a guy’s torso, then roundhouse kicking him in the face just for the hell of it, making the guy’s cigar fly off, then going right back to emptying the next clip in him because, why not? It’s so over the top, it’s just magnificent. And this stuff just goes on and on for 20 minutes!

    And I know this is sacrilege, but this is the first thing I ever saw done by John Woo when I was a kid and when I finally ended up seeing THE KILLER and HARD BOILED they just couldn’t compare. The action in those is cool, but feels a little weightless compared to HARD TARGET, where to me it feels like every bullet really has an impact. But probably it was just the fact that I saw it first and that I had never seen anything like it, so it blew my little mind and therefore will always remain special to me.

  19. I think Europe got the Unrated version of HARD TARGET, which still is a lot tamer than the workprint, but has some more violent bits and pieces.

  20. The Undefeated Gaul

    July 7th, 2017 at 3:45 am

    Lucky us then!

  21. I saw the Workprint once. I prefer the Theatrical version, though i wouldn’t mind having the Yancy Butler love scene added in.

  22. The Undefeated Gaul

    July 7th, 2017 at 7:11 am

    Anyone know of a side by side comparison article of the unrated cut and workprint? Google only seems to give me comparisons between the R-rated and unrated cuts.

  23. The Undefeated Gaul

    July 7th, 2017 at 7:14 am

    wait, got it – I was lazy, trying only one Google search before getting on here… should have tried two.

  24. I have not seen THE QUEST or STREET FIGHTER but they can’t be worse than HARD TARGET. I have to say, though, that I’ve probably seen between 20-30 Van Damme flicks and the only ones I didn’t like a lot were HARD TARGET and TIMECOP. That’s a pretty great hit rate.

  25. You enjoyed The Order more than Hard Target and Time cop? You are crazy.

    Felix, I prefer the pace of the theatrical but you can’t convince me you would prefer the chopped up action sequences versus the Hard Boiled insanity of the work print.

  26. Never saw THE ORDER.

  27. Or that God awful train movie he made. Or Kill Em All which I even like.

  28. Hallsy, we should put together the list of best to worst of Van Damme in our opinion.

  29. THE ORDER is not in any way a good movie but it’s still worth a watch as the only movie where Van Damme does an extended action sequence dressed as an Orthodox Rabbi, and the only movie where Charleton Heston carries JCVD’s luggage.

  30. The ones I’ve seen from Best to Worst:
    No Retreat No Surrender
    Sudden Death
    Day of Reckoning
    Kickboxer The Next Generation
    Double Team
    Knock Off
    Expendables 2
    Double Impact
    Universal Soldier 1
    Assassination Games
    Death Warrant
    Universal Soldier 2
    Dragon Eyes (not sure this one really counts)
    Six Bullets
    Welcome to the Jungle (can’t really remember this one but remember having a few chuckles)
    Hard Target

    I have JCVD on DVD but have not gotten around to watching it yet.

  31. That is a good list, Hallsy. Now I’m even more confused by your hatred of HARD TARGET. Have you seen it recently? My opinion on it has really changed over time.

  32. Hallsy, I’d obviously place Time cop and Hard Target higher on the list but I don’t think mine would be that much different so we’re really pretty much on the same page.

  33. Just read your piece Vern. Good job. Thoughtful, vivid.

    Also, this line from #1 gave me chills:
    “It also kicked off the great tradition of the Die-Hard-on-a-blank, some of them (Under Siege, Under Siege 2: Dark Territory, Speed) minor classics in their own right.”
    Because I watched those three movies, in that order, TODAY. Heh.

  34. I would’ve switched ROAD HOUSE with POINT BREAK because I felt T2 is already a great example of extreme 90s Americana. ROAD HOUSE showcases America’s diversity through an 80s lens all in one movie. Solid piece nonetheless.

  35. caruso_stalker217

    July 8th, 2017 at 2:21 pm

    Very happy to see LETHAL WEAPON 2 represented on this list. THE GODFATHER PART II of buddy cop movies.

  36. Why is it any time a genre picture has a little popularity but it’s not a massive hit they call it a cult classic but you almost never hear that phrase in relation to dramas? I’m tired of the phrase because it is starting to seem almost dismissive to the quality of the film.

  37. Mastor Troy - Google+

    Mastor Troy - Google+

    Good question Sternshein, and as a case in point, I bought the dvd of A CURE FOR WELLNESS just today, and there on the cover it assumes future cult status for itself. I liked the film a lot when I saw it at the cinema, don’t know anyone besides some of you guys who said they’ve seen it, and also liked it.

    I always think of cult films as ones that attract a group of people to watch the film regularly together. Like for 15 years straight a Hoyts cinema in the city had midnight screenings every Friday night of THE BLUES BROTHERS and ROCKY HORROR. Each respective group would turn out, some in costume, and have a blast doing the dance routines to Shake A Tail Feather etc. I never went to either one, though I regret not doing TBB.

    “Cult film” is a very broad term, and could be applied to anything on the internet these days, since we’re all drawn to different movies for different reasons. You could easily say David Lynch is still a cult film director, despite the mainstream popularity of Twin Peaks old and new, because most of those norms wouldn’t know what to do with a LOST HIGHWAY or an ERASERHEAD, but they do it for me.

  38. Mastor Troy - Google+

    Mastor Troy - Google+

    And as far as my understanding of a Cult Film goes, if A CURE FOR WELLNESS caught on and had midnight screenings and everyone came in costume, doped up on prescription drugs looking like this, COUNT ME IN FELLAS! I am so there!

  39. Mastor Troy – if that shit were to ever go down you could count me all the way in. CURE is one of my favourite movies of the year so far. i can’t mention which character i would dress as without spoiling the off-the-rails final 25 minutes of the film but for those who have seen it you probably know who i’m talking about. contemporary, medium-budgeted studio weirdness doesn’t get much better in my opinion. here’s hoping it develops a well deserved cult following and some serious critical reassessment before some awful, RiffTrax-like fate befalls it.

  40. Oh god I did not see the climax of WELLNESS coming. It spends the whole time being one of those ‘respectable’ and ‘adult’ horror movies (snobs call them thrillers to feel good about themselves) and then suddenly it becomes the exact opposite type of horror movie. Best of all it totally works and both the adult section and ‘trashy'(?) sections are excellent. What an absolutely fantastic movie which AGAIN I hate myself for listening to the ton of negative reviews calling it boring instead of listening to my heart and past enjoyment of Verbinski’s films. I hope with the double-whammy of LONE RANGER being regarded as one of the biggest bombs in history and WELLNESS greatly under-performing (at least here in America, I know nothing of it’s international success) Verbinski is able bounce back. I’d hate to see him have to crawl back to the PIRATES series or start taking ‘paycheque’/jobber movies. I’d really hate to lose his unique cinematic voice, even if it is excessive and overlong (though in my opinion never boring).

  41. geoffreyjar – here in Australia i caught it in its second and final week of release, at my local (major city) theatre chain, in an otherwise empty screening, where it was playing for one session a day at 9:15am. to say that i had mixed feelings about the experience would be putting it mildly.

  42. MIXALOT, I must have seen CURE the week before you, in the first part of it’s two week run, and there were exactly three people in my screening. I’m sure they were all in the cinema next door, being *entertained* by the fucking MUMMY.

  43. HARD TARGET is fucking excellent and I will bareknuckle box anyone who says otherwise.

  44. Looks like we have a fight brewing between Hallsy and a pink robot.

  45. Stern: You never played MARVEL VS CAPCOM 2? A Servbot can fuck you up royally!

    Marvel VS Capcom 2 - Servbot Combo Video

    Short video of some of Servbot's basic combos, solo and assists as well as a few DHCs. Music: CrimzonWolf777 - Shattered Friendship, Broken Heart Follow Crim...

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