Summer and action movies go together like, well, Bruce Willis and a green screen. Or Steve McQueen and the hills of San Francisco. Or Harrison Ford and a bullwhip. Buckle up for our critics’ top 10 action movies ready to stream right from your sofa.
You may need to pick up some Dramamine before watching the famous 11-minute car chase through the bumpy streets of San Francisco. Steve McQueen (who'd been hugely embarrassed when it was revealed that he didn't perform the motorcycle stunts in 1963's The Great Escape) insisted on doing a bunch of the driving himself, hitting speeds of over 110 miles per hour (and at one point accidentally crashing into a parked car). But there's more to Peter Yates’ gripping detective story than the scenes with the Mustang and the Charger. Jacqueline Bisset sparkles in an early starring role, Robert Vaughn delivers a career-best performance as a slimy politician, and McQueen's wardrobe (turtlenecks with holster) made cops look criminally fashionable.
ATTENTION, STEVEN MCQUEEN FANS: Want a peek at those incredible motorcycle stunts in The Great Escape? Check it all out in our critics’ roundup of The Best World War II Movies Ever Made.
Die Hard (1988)
Bruce Willis’ blue-collar Bond — regular schmo John McClane — didn't wear tuxedos or fire off sardonic bons mots after slaying bad guys. He made do with a ripped T-shirt (the actor later donated the rag to the Smithsonian) and an R-rated catchphrase ("Yippee ki yay mother----er"). Still, John McTiernan's shoot-'em-up masterpiece turned out to be a near-flawless action romp. For one thing, it features the most diabolically debonair villain ever thrown off an L.A. high-rise, Alan Rickman's Hans Gruber ("I could talk about industrialization and men's fashion all day …"). The late British stage actor nearly turned down the part (he thought action movies were tacky), and Willis was cast only after Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Burt Reynolds and Richard Gere turned down the lead … thank God.
Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
Sylvester Stallone was set to play Axel Foley in this Don Simpson action-comedy about a scrappy Detroit cop who goes undercover in the 90210 Zip code. But Sly changed his mind just two weeks before production began, so enter Eddie Murphy. The then-23-year-old SNL comedian turned what might have been a by-the-numbers 1980s retread into one of the most successful R-rated action films of the decade ($316 million in the U.S. alone). Murphy returned to the part twice more in sequels and even popped up as the character in a 2013 CBS pilot for a series based on the films. But the network nixed the idea when Murphy made it clear he wasn’t interested in reprising the character as a recurring role on TV, despite raves from the pilot’s test audiences. “They had this little knob that you turn if you like it or you don’t like it,” Murphy recalled in a 2015 interview. “So when Axel shows up in the pilot, some people turned the knob so much they broke it.”
Obviously, there were action movies before Bond, James Bond. But he's the guy who launched the modern spy franchise (25 films and counting). And while no Bond movie is perfect, this one comes close. It's got Gert Fröbe's bloated baddie (the German actor's accent was so thick Sean Connery couldn't understand a word he was saying and all Fröbe's dialogue had to be dubbed in post), a preposterous evil scheme (nuking Fort Knox to jack up the price of gold) and an even more preposterously named femme fatale (Honor Blackman's Pussy Galore). Not to mention the coolest ride in movie history, the top-blowing Aston Martin DB5, which the esteemed British auto company is now, 56 years later, bringing back in a limited 35-car edition, complete with (nonworking) machine guns under the grill. The sticker price is a positively shocking $3.5 million.