The 90s brought us some of the most influential and entertaining action movies of all time, upping the production value, the explosions, and the baby oil budget. And with Marvel Studios upcoming Captain Marvel set firmly in the 90s world of grunge, bucket hats and fanny packs, what better way to get all nostalgic than revisiting some of the best 90s action movies to ever explode onto our screens.
1. Bad Boys (1995)
Director Michael Bay’s first feature film tasked rising stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence with tracking down and retrieving $100 million worth of heroin in just 72 hours.
Key an abundance of Bay’s signature stylistic glamour shots and insane collateral pile-ups, mix in the comedic chemistry of its two male leads, and what you’re left with is an entertaining, balls to the wall buddy cop movie to rival that of Richard Donner’s Lethal Weapon.
The film went on to spawn a badder, boy-ier sequel in 2003 and the long-awaited threequel is set to hits screens in 2020.
2. Con Air (1997)
Take Nicolas Cage, John Malkovich, Steve Buscemi and a bunch of other dangerous convicts, and throw them in a plane together and what’d you get? A ridiculous and highly entertaining, unapologetic action classic.
The plot is simple. Former US ranger and parolee Cameron Poe (Cage) is flying home to see his family on a plane full of criminals when they suddenly break free and hijack the plane. John Cusack also plays the man on the ground and US marshal Vince Larkin, insistent that Poe’s not mucking in with the bad guys.
Cue some aerial fire-fights, a dash of convict on convict action, and an emergency landing on the Las Vegas strip and you get a small sense of what Con Air has to offer.
3. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
If 1984’s The Terminator was a margherita pizza, then T:2 was a stuffed crust, mighty meaty, with added jalapenos.
James Cameron’s futuristic follow-up took the stony-faced villain of the first film and made him humanity’s only hope against the molten metal menace that was T-1000. This film had it all: Stunning action sequences, great performances, moments of levity and special effects that pushed the boundaries of the time. The film was so good, in fact, that every attempt at a sequel over the years has paled in comparison, failing to recapture the heights of T:2.
I guess there’s only so many occasions you can go back in time and stop the same future from happening. Maybe in the next one they can go back and try and stop the last three films from ever happening.
4. Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995)
Originally written to be a film entitled ‘Simon Says’, the big-wigs over at Fox decided to repurpose the script and serve it up as a Die Hard sequel instead. This third entry in the Bruce Willis starrer saw the difficult to kill John McClane running wild over New York City with Sam Jackson in toe, solving riddles and deactivating bombs (as you do).
Straying vastly from the formula of the first two films, Die Hard: with a Vengeance felt like a fresh take on the series and delivered a fast-paced, fun and witty action romp in the process.
You also have Jeremy Irons chewing up the scenery in a desperate attempt to out-act former Die Hard villain Alan Rickman, who just so happens to be the deceased brother of Irons’ Simon Gruber in the film.
5. The Matrix (1999)
Before the franchise became all bogged down with Oracles and Architects and way too many Sentinels, The Matrix gave us a unique and stylised action experience that would go on to leave its mark in the annals of pop culture history.
It was cool. It was sexy. And it did things we had rarely, if ever, seen in a motion picture, Including the use of ‘bullet time’: Which is basically a fancy way of saying slow-motion, and has subsequently been overused in numerous action movies ever since.
However, it wasn’t all good. It also made PVC jackets fashionable (for about a week) and was solely responsible for the spike in sales of all those sliding mobile phones.
6. Mission: Impossible (1996)
With more rubber faces and double-crosses than an episode of The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Brian De Palma’s first entry in the espionage action series delivered a thrilling, yet often confusing, popcorn experience.
With top-notch setpieces, exhilarating stunt work and one of the best movie theme songs of all time, Mission: Impossible is a perfect example of edge of your seat action. Since then the series has gone on to even greater heights, becoming one of the most bankable action franchises in the world. It’s one of the rare cases of a franchise getting better with age. Even if Tom Cruise refuses to.
7. The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
Geena Davis plays a single mum turned (or re-turned, as the case may be) trained assassin after slowly recovering from a bout of amnesia. Teaming up with private detective Sam Jackson, the two go on the run as they are pursued by a bunch of bad guys that, having learned she is still alive, wish to tie up loose ends by knocking her off.
You’ll find all of writer Shane Black’s go-to moves here, including zippy dialogue, plot twists galore, and, of course, the obligatory Christmas setting.
Cap it all off with great comedic chemistry from Davis and Jackson, as well as some fantastic action sequences, and a fun juxtaposition of a domestic mum firing Uzis, and you’re left with enormously enjoyable action adventure.
8. Rush Hour (1998)
East meets west in this unlikely pairing of a motor-mouthed LAPD cop Chris Tucker, and straight-faced Hong Kong detective Jackie Chan.
Providing a fun mix-up of Chinese fight choreography and westernized action sensibilities as well as an immediate on-screen chemistry between its two stars, Rush Hour graced the screens and became an instant slam dunk with audiences worldwide.
While the plot was formulaic, (the daughter of the Chinese consul is kidnapped in Los Angeles, Chinese and LA cop pair up to get her back), it gave way to barrage of culture clash comedy and signature Jackie Chan awesomeness.
Rush Hour went on to generate two sequels, including the enormously entertaining Rush Hour 2 in (2001), the not so entertaining Rush Hour 3 (2007), and the even worse short-lived TV adaptation.
9. Demolition Man (1993)
Set in the near future, (where people no longer wipe their backside properly, apparently), ruthless killer Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes), is thawed out from cryogenic prison. Luckily, super-cop John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone), incarcerated along with Phoenix at the beginning of the film, is thawed out too to help track him down and bring Phoenix to justice.
Citizen Kane this isn’t.
What it is, is pure 90s adrenalin.
Comedy, sci-fi, action, and the ever-charming Sandra Bullock all come together to give us one of the most ludicrous and enjoyable action films of the 90s, that more than made up for Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot the year before.
10. Speed (1994)
Pop quiz hotshot: What do get when you take one half of Bill and Ted and swap out his time-machine for public transport?
Director Jan De Bont’s first feature film was hailed by many as Die Hard on a bus, (presumably by people who hadn’t seen Die Hard) and put a unique spin on the action movie premise.
Keanu Reeves plays SWAT cop Jack Traven, who is tasked with keeping a Los Angeles bus traveling above a certain speed limit and keeping the whole thing from going ka-blooey, along with unlicensed driver and love interest, Sandy Bullock. There’s also the always great Jeff Daniels and a gloriously sadistic Dennis Hopper on hand to help round out a terrific supporting cast.
Some inventive stunt work and a script that zooms along at a mile a minute all add up to a fun and breezy thrill ride that finally exposes the true villain of our time, public buses.
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