15 Classic Action Movies That Still Hold Up Today
With technology marching ever forward, a lot of action movies that impressed us decades ago don't necessarily hold up nowadays. But these 15 films prove that ingenuity and craft have no shelf life.
'The Empire Strikes Back' (1980)
Widely regarded as the best movie in this uber-popular franchise, "The Empire Strikes Back" is also the Original Trilogy movie that best stands the test of time. Special effects technology had clearly come a long way in the three years sicne "Star Wars," making for more epic space scenes and a far more satisfying lightsaber duel.
'Raiders of the Lost Ark' (1981)
Steven Spielberg really wanted to make a James Bond movie at one point. And when that didn't work, he and George Lucas cooked up Indiana Jones instead. We think the world is better for it "Raiders of the Lost Ark" has no trouble holding up to modern scrutiny, as long as you don't ask pesky questions like "How did Indy survive that submarine ride?".
'The Road Warrior' (1981)
Sure, George Miller is the darling of the action movie world after "Mad Max: Fury Road," but it's not as if he hadn't already proven himself on this particular franchise. 1981's "The Road Warrior" is basically Fury Road 1.0. It's not quite as polished, but Miller's incredible eye and flair for complex choreography was already on full display.
8. 'Aliens' (1986)
There's only one truly great follow-up to the original 'Alien.' "Aliens" succeeds by not trying to mimic in its predecessor. Claustrophobic, creeping horror is replaced by epic action as a group of space marines take on the most deadly threat in the universe.
'Big Trouble in Little China' (1986)
One thing that usually helps a good action flick stand the test of time is a strong sense of humor and a dash of self-awareness. "Big Trouble in Little China" has both in spades. Not just a great martial arts/action flick, it's also a hilarious romp featuring Kurt Russell at his most lovably inept.
'Die Hard' (1988)
In a time when most modern action stars are basically portrayed as invulnerable superheroes, it's always refreshing to watch a film about an ordinary, vulnerable guy trying to save the day. In that sense, "Die Hard's" appeal has only grown over the years. We love John McClane because he's just a cop trying to kill terrorists and rescue his wife. We've all been there.
'Terminator 2: Judgment Day" (1991)
Considering that "Terminator 2" is one of the first blockbuster action movies to rely heavily opn CG effects, it's pretty impressive how well this movie holds up after several decades. It doesn't hurt that the nonstop shootouts and car chases are backed up by a truly engaging story about fate and free will.
'The Fugitive' (1993)
By the time the '90s rolled around, Harrison Ford was getting a bit long in the tooth to keep playing Han Solo and Indiana Jones. Instead, he transitioned into more an everyman action hero who kicked ass despite his age. And nowhere does that formula work better than in "The Fugitive."
'Léon: The Professional' (1994)
Director Luc Besson became one of the dominant forces in the action movie world in the '90s, and this film was a major reason why. It features one of the all-time coolest action heroes in the form of Jean Reno's Léon, and the fact that a young Natalie Portman played his precocious sidekick/trainee just makes the whole ting that much more fun. We're still holding out for a Portman-driven sequel.
We miss the days when action movies were content to tell simple stories and focus on delivering the most concentrated dose of spectacle possible. "Speed" holds up because it offers so much bang for the buck, making the most of what, on paper, sounds like a really dumb premise.
Not many James Bond movies from the '80s and '90s hold up especially well today, but "GoldenEye" is one major exception. This sequel remains one of the best in the series, featuring some great set pieces, a terrific villain and debuting a great new Bond in the form of Pierce Brosnan.
'Independence Day' (1996)
"Independence Day" became one of the biggest blockbusters of the '90s for a reason. It delivers a satisfying blend of mindless carnage and feel-good heroics. It certainly stands the test of time better than its much more recent sequel.
'Mission: Impossible' (1996)
Some would argue that the "Mission: Impossible" franchise is better than it's ever been thanks to "Fallout." But others argue that nothing can top the original for sheer fun factor. The fact that it's still in the running after more than 20 years shows just how well this movie has held up.
"Blade" may well be one of the most influential action movies ever made. Not only did it revive the superhero genre one year after "Batman & Robin" practically killed it, it also blended martial arts, gore and a techno aesthetic in a way we had never seen before. Not only does it hold up, it doesn't get enough credit for its accomplishments.
'The Matrix' (1999)
The two "Matrix" sequels don't exactly hold up, with dated CG effects and lousy storytelling choices reminding us why this franchise had such a meteoric rise and fall. But that doesn't mean the original film should be forgotten. "The Matrix" delivered a unique mash-up of philosophy, martial arts and science fiction. It was a revelation at the time, and it's still a darned good watch nowadays.