The action genre is so crowded that a lot of its best movies tend to blend in over time. The ones that make it to wide release tend to do okay at the box office, but even among these there are simply there are a lot to choose from. With so many repetitive tropes and dizzying car chases, it can be easy to lose sight of which ones really stood out.
That means that there are a lot of underrated action movies out there. Going through a full list would be impossible, but below we’ve put together a group of five must-see, underrated action flicks.
John Wick is slowly but surely turning into an properly regarded film. We wrote about the coming sequel recently, and we’re not the only ones getting excited about it. This seems to be one of those movies that got more popular on the streaming circuit than it ever was at the cinema.
The movie iss Keanu Reeves getting back to his roots. The one-time action god plays John Wick, a deadly assassin who is pulled back into a bizarre underworld of killers and contractors that he once escaped. That’s it for setup and it’s not the most unique script you’ll come across, but the vibe of this movie set it apart. There’s a strange aesthetic that is dark and gritty and borderline futuristic at the same time, and the violence, despite playing out mostly with guns, takes on the look of some kind of shooting-based martial art created just for Wick. The movie’s a blast, and more people should know it.
This movie has been described as “no frills and all thrills” and it’s hard to imagine a more fitting line to characterize it. The Raid (or The Raid: Redemption as it’s more properly known) was made with a budget of just over $1 million, and may just be one of the most satisfying action movies of the current decade.
Covering the story of a S.W.A.T. officer leading a raid on a high-rise building in a Jakarta slum, The Raid is packed with action and suspense from beginning to end. There’s not much else like it. This flick was among underrated action movies for a long time but now every producer wants to have fight scenes like that.
Law Abiding Citizen
Law Abiding Citizen was a pretty big deal when it came out. It starred Gerard Butler just a few years after he’d burst onto the action scene in 300, and Jamie Foxx was approaching his own peak popularity as well. It was also a pretty clever thriller. The movie told the story of a man (Butler) who took vengeance on everyone involved with the freeing of a man who’d killed his family. Vengeance tales are nothing new but Law Abiding Citizen was different. It combined elements of Inside Man and Ocean’s 11 style trickery with an otherwise standard bloody justice quest.
The movie did pretty well at the box office, netting more than $20 million in its opening weekend and making over $125 million worldwide. But now it seems utterly forgotten. Do yourself a favor and find a way to watch this one again. It was about as entertaining as a modern action flick gets.
Punisher: War Zone
This is probably the most forgotten film on the list. Sure, the Punisher was just brought back in one of Marvel’s Netflix series, but his movies are largely overlooked. The Netflix Punisher is a full reboot of the character with little do with War Zone. Despite going under the radar there’ still an online game based on this very film that is described as a chance to fight injustice with one of Marvel’s finest additions, but the title is one of many superhero slot machines you can find online with characters from a handful of films enhancing the reels and backgrounds of the popular games. Not too many people actually seem to remember this picture, which came out just as the MCU was getting started.
It’s a pretty straightforward movie to describe. Frank Castle, aka the Punisher (Ray Stevenson) basically goes full Rambo on a crime syndicate, and there’s a lot of action and violence. If you like that sort of thing, it’s pretty well done.
Finally, we have Collateral, the oldest movie on this list but possibly the best. Tom Cruise stars as Vincent, a contract killer who coerces cab driver Max (Jaime Foxx) to drive him around Los Angeles while he makes a number of hits over the course of a single night. It’s a highly entertaining film with fantastic pacing, always tense but never overdone, and certainly never boring.
Perhaps because Cruise and Foxx both have so many other noteworthy projects, Collateral never really seemed to register in a big way. But rest assured, this is not your everyday forgettable action film. As The Washington Post’s review noted, if Collateral is formula, it’s polished to a fine sheen. The thing about that is that pretty much all action films are formula. It’s the rare one that displays a perfect version of that formula that really stands out, and that’s just what this movie pulls off and why it is one of underrated action movies.
Written by Joshua Leal