The 1990s were a decade of unforgettable action pictures, thanks to a glut of high-octane flicks from the action genre.
Movies of the 1990s were at their peak. Sundance and Miramax’s prominence paved the stage for the mainstreaming of independent cinema. We saw directors like Quentin Tarantino, Stephen Soderbergh, and Ang Lee all begin to discover their own unique voice..” T2: Judgement Day, on the other hand, had upped the bar even farther for visual effects. Filmmakers had more faith in their visions, actors who could carry a story, and audiences who wanted to see the world explode, allowing us to enjoy a decade of remarkable, genre-defying art. The modern action cinema may have begun in the 1980s, but in the 1990s, the genre was recreated and combusted into a flurry of memorable movies.
1. Demolition Man
Joel Silver’s sci-fi/action mashup Demolition Man was a no-brainer when it came to pairing two action superstars together. Stallone takes on Wesley Snipes for the role of an imprisoned inmate who must serve his sentence by freezing to death in a futuristic prison in this action comedy. As Simon Phoenix, Snipes shines with his 90s-style bleached hair and denim overalls, kicking his way through the futuristic Los Angeles and demonstrating his agility that made him a popular action hero. With Sandra Bullock, who proved to be the solid, strong-willed counterpoint to male action protagonists in the 1990s, Stallone remains as reliable as ever. In addition to its spectacular fights, Demolition Man is a classic action film because of its critique of American consumerism, which still resonates today.
2. Rumble In The Bronx
There is no action-comedy discussion without discussing Jackie Chan. In his long career, Jackie used his agility to pull off risky, life-threatening acts. Ass-kicking wasn’t the only thing that set him apart; he was able to manipulate the environment around him and employ props to add another layer to the action. So, Rumble In The Bronx is your best bet. The borough was taken over by Jackie and Stanley Tong, who made it their playground. It was Rumble, the deli fights to the barrow brawls to the amusing but anxiety-inducing chases in the streets with motorbike groups.
As a result of two casting decisions, De Niro and Pacino, Michael Mann’s epic Los Angeles criminal drama swiftly entered the ranks of all-time great action flicks and all-time heist films as well. Mann put the two actors on opposing sides of the law, and it would be the first time they shared a scene in their careers as actors after nearly 30 years of working together. In addition to the two legends, the narrative and post-modern aesthetics and color palette that Mann imbues into the minutiae of the story make this film an exquisite piece of action filmmaking. Despite their differences, the fates of two men tethered to their careers come crashing together. Furthermore, it features the now iconic bank heist that any film in its wake can’t help but be influenced by, which is why it’s one of the best.
Luc Besson hired French great Jean Reno as the enigmatic hitman “Leon” in this cruel yet surprisingly romantic tale of love in Manhattan. Gary Oldman, who is obsessed with Beethoven and murders Matilda’s entire family, saves her from him by rescuing her from the clutches of the young Matilda. It’s an action-thriller disguised as a tragic love story. However, when shootings break out, it’s a display of high-tension wire violence at its finest.
5. The Rock
Action films are followed by Bayhem. Excessive and over-zealous filmmaker is the only word to characterize the director who appears to find his way into explosions when there are seemingly nowhere to be found. Another team-up of sorts was Michael Bay’s follow-up to his successful buddy cop movie Bad Boys. Sean Connery, the last survivor of Alcatraz, joins Nicolas Cage as “Agent Goodspeed,” an FBI chemical expert tasked with dismantling the bombs that traitorous “General Francis Blackwell” (Ed Harris) had planted on the island. A preposterous setup, yet what follows is a series of unforgettable set-pieces. He has a keen touch when it comes to creating high-octane and exhilarating situations, even when they appear to be outlandish. It is no exaggeration to say that Bay transforms Alcatraz into an explosive and filthy play area. For the now-iconic director of mayhem, working with The Rock was just the beginning of his storied career.
Keanu Reeves would be an obvious choice for the title of “action king” of the 1990s. With its simple plot and outstanding direction from Jan De Bont, who previously worked on Die Hard and Hunt for Red October as a cinematographer, Speed is one of the greatest action pictures of all time. In addition, the cast had everything going for it. Dennis Hopper yells through the film as an all-time villain on a bus armed to the teeth with explosives because of a maniac who hasn’t gotten away with his prior crimes. Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves are on board the bus, and they must somehow prevent it from exploding. Speed demonstrated that it’s possible to keep things simple but still produce an unforgettable experience.
7. El Mariachi
No one predicted the success of El Mariachi, the picture that made Robert Rodriguez a household name in the 1990s independent cinema industry. Rodriguez scripted, shot, and edited the picture around his own vision for action, all on a cheap $7,000 budget with non-professional actors. El Mariachi is a tale of mistaken identity that almost kills a local lad with a guitar and a dream in the midst of a deadly conflict. In slow-burning fever pitch, Rodriguez assembles set pieces with the deftness of a natural filmmaker. Rodriguez proved that he was capable of making films from the start by spawning two more sequels.
8. T2: Judgement Day
James Cameron has a long history of experimentation in his work. To realize his grandiose and detailed vision, the blockbuster director is well-known for either pushing or waiting for technological advancement. Industrial, Light, and Magic’s work with James Cameron’s T2 is an example of this. RoboCop’s Robert Patrick became an instantly recognizable villain because he was the first major character in a feature film to be totally computer-generated. But not only that, but Cameron used Arnold Schwarzenegger as a villain and turned him into a hero in a way that had never been done before in a film. T2 is a classic of sci-fi action, featuring a helicopter maneuver that still stuns audiences to this day.
9. The Matrix
The Matrix, the revolutionary, high-concept sci-fi action picture from the Wachowski brothers that drew inspiration from everything from kung-fu to Buddhism to Baudrillard, reshaped the history of cinema. The Wachowskis pioneered a new visual language for expressing stylised action by using hundreds of cameras to shoot a single scene. Neo Keanu Reeves’ courageous and amazing adventure begins when the wise and prophetic Morpheus Laurence Fishburne awakens him to the fact that his existence has been a lie ruled by an artificial race of machines. A cultural touchstone for moviegoers everywhere, The Matrix is slated to unleash a fourth installment in the franchise this holiday season, which will see Neo study Kung-Fu in addition to his fights with the agents.
10. Hard Boiled
When it comes to action movies, John Woo is the only director who can be counted on to deliver. As an assistant to the famed martial arts director Chang Chen at the highly sought-after Shaw Brothers studio in the 1970s, the mainland Chinese native got his start in the business. The fires of action as high art were ignited when Woo was finally given the reins and paired up with Chow Yun-Fat, who became the personification of cool. Fat and international sensation Tony Leung star in ‘Hard Boiled,’ one of the best action movies ever produced, as a cop and enigmatic killer on a mission to take down criminal underworld rulers. A must-see for all action fans, it boasts one of the best shootouts in the genre and a hospital scene that highlights why John Woo is a master of the genre.