Main content

Ali Plumb's Top Five 21st Century Action Movies

We asked Ali Plumb to do the near impossible, did he come through? Find out below.

A couple of ground rules before I try to answer that tricky question of "What are the five best 21st century action movies?"

1 | No superhero films, or the water will get very muddied indeed. So that excludes all the Dark Knight trilogy, all of Marvel, all of DC. They feel like enough of their own thing to warrant their own list, like this MCU one.

2 | No Bond movies, for similar reasons. Casino Royale and Skyfall definitely deserved consideration for this list, but Bond is Bond and maybe - just maybe - one day I'll do my top five of all of them (perhaps when No Time To Die finally arrives).

So with that in mind, here are some "action movies" - of a sort - that I considered, but didn't end up putting in my top five. Maybe you'll see some here and think... "That's what I'm watching tonight!", in which case, mission accomplished.

All of the Fast & Furious movies, both Cranks, Dredd, the two Sicarios, the two Kill Bills, the Takens, Ong-Bak, Edge Of Tomorrow, Looper, Ip Man, The Hurt Locker, Atomic Blonde, Wanted, Shoot 'Em Up, Elite Squad, Hero, Crouching Tiger, 300, The Guest, Man On Fire, A Bittersweet Life, Minority Report, Collateral, Haywire and The Good, The Bad, the Weird.

Right, with all that done, here are the top five I finally picked. Phew. There are just So. Many. Movies.

5 | John Wick (2014)

Third party videos may contain adverts.

Reminding you just how good Keanu Reeves is at kung-fu, gun-fu and looking incredibly cool in a suit, the John Wick trilogy has delivered set-piece after set-piece, fight-after-fight and one-liner after one-liner to satisfy your insatiable desire to see well-choreographed action sequences performed by Ted from Bill And Ted.

On a serious note though, Keanu Reeves was 53 when he shot the latest John Wick and you would never know it - such is his passion for preparation and getting each manoeuvre exactly right. Directed by Reeves's one-time Matrix stunt team (Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, the latter of which went on to direct Deadpool 2 and Fast & Furious: Hobbs And Shaw), the first John Wick delivered a serious jolt of adrenaline into cinemas worldwide, even if it did end with Reeves in the rain having a face-off with an old dude on a bridge. Side note: do not hurt a former professional hitman's dog.

It. Will. Set. Him. Off.

4 | The Raid (2011)

Third party videos may contain adverts.

Wales's very own Gareth Evans gave us two Raid movies, both of which brilliantly display the incredible martial arts skills of Iko Uwais and his team of Pencak Silat masters. If you're not aware of the first Raid, it tells the story of an elite police squad infiltrating a high-rise Jakartan slum building to take down a despicable drug lord. Cue a dozen-odd levels of balletic hyperviolence as pretty much anything and everything is used as a weapon to clamber to the top and take the big bad down.

There's no denying its plot is simple - John Wick is no Hamlet either, let's not forget - but the fight sequences are anything but. This is a visceral, kinetic, powerful action movie that will make you audibly "Oooh" and "Argh" through every level. In short, if you're an Ong-Bak fan (and you really should be, you know), and don't mind some of the bloodier side of action cinema, don't think twice and watch The Raid.

Oh, and as a side note, if you like the sound of The Raid, might I also suggest you watch Dredd, starring Karl Urban as Judge Dredd himself? It's got a similar set-up and is also blessed with some stunning visuals. Go on, check it out, you deserve it.

3 | The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

Third party videos may contain adverts.

It's hard to pick just one Bourne movie, and while I'll always have a soft spot for the first one, what with its Mini-bombing-round-the-back-streets-of-Paris fun and sinister Clive Owen barn-based finale, it's the third Bourne that really works best I feel. From The Waterloo station sequence to the river jump at the end, this is gritty, punchy, "real" espionage, a thrilling alternative to Bond when that particular franchise really needed some competition to set itself back on track.

Director Paul Greengrass only directed the second, third and fourth film - Doug Liman (Swingers, Edge of Tomorrow, American Made) gave us the first Bourne - but his fantastic eye, amazing action sixth sense and mind-reading simpatico relationship with Matt Damon gave us this, the best film of the lot. Perhaps it's time you revisited the series and revelled in all its various examples of improvised weaponry and penchant for Moby's Extreme Ways...

2 | Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018)

Third party videos may contain adverts.

I really struggle to pick my favourite Mission: Impossible from the past three adventures. In 2011 Brad Bird's Ghost Protocol gave the franchise the boost it needed, dropping Cruise onto the Burj Khalifa and blowing up The Kremlin, and Christopher McQuarrie took the ball and ran with it in 2015's Rogue Nation, blessing us with the brilliant Rebecca Ferguson and some stunning and stylish set-pieces, all before capping things off with the jaw-dropping Fallout in 2018.

Henry Cavill in all his arm-reloading glory is lots of fun, as is Simon Pegg's Benji - a character that's got better and better as the series goes on - but it's all about the outlandish 'What can we do with Tom Cruise now?' factor. This is the film that was delayed because TC jumped a rooftop gap in London and turned his foot to mush. Yep. That film. There's also a properly hair-raising helicopter chase, Vanessa Kirby on excellent form in Paris, lots of motorcycle stunts and, and, and... there's plenty going on in this film. It's a whole lotta movie basically, and if you happen to live inside an IMAX cinema right now - hey, you might! - this is one film you'll be playing quite a lot right now.

1 | Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Third party videos may contain adverts.

This film had such a tumultuous journey to the big screen, it's a miracle it ever came out at all. Director George Miller wanted to revisit the world of Mad Max as far back as 1997, but a number of factors left the project circling around the Hollywood plughole known as 'development hell' for over a decade. Then, in 2010, it spluttered back to life, casting Tom Hardy as our new gruff post-apocalyptic warrior and then... it ran into further complications.

Shooting in Tunisia did not go to plan, and reshoots had to take place in 2013 before it was finally in any sort of shape to be seen. But then, come 2015, it was as if all that hard work had properly paid off. Loud, big, bold, bonkers and gorgeous to look at, Fury Road is a delight to watch on the big screen, the incredible stunt work really paying off when you're seeing chrome crazies twang themselves at Max and company from the top of giant poles attached to deliriously huge big rigs.

The image of the "Doof warrior" and his flamethrower guitar will never leave my mind, perhaps because both his rig and his axe were fully functional and no CGI was required. Charlize Theron steals the show here, easily the star of the whole film, giving you the emotional connection and heart-stopping purpose the film sorely needs, what with it ultimately being a bit of an A to B to A plot.

But the whole cast is great, and your fondest memory may be of Nicholas Hoult screaming 'Oh what a day! What a lovely day!' And that's without even bringing up the outstanding score from Junkie XL, or the costume design, or, or, or... It's just a gobsmacking film, and easily up there with one of the greatest action films ever made. There, I said it. Come at me, bro.