With all the superhero and giant robot movies dominating the box office, a lot of really deserving action movies are getting the short shrift. Here are a few hidden gems from the past decade that really deserve a second look.
'Ip Man' (2008)
Most martial movies break suspension of disbelief with the way crowds of enemies patiently wait to take on the hero one by one. But in the iconic ten vs. one fight scene in this modern classic, you'll believe that Donnie Yen can truly take on an entire mob by himself. The fisticuffs in this Robin Hood-esque historical tale are as poetic as they are brutal.
'Ong Bak 2: The Beginning' (2009)
The original "Ong Bak" introduced American audiences to Tony Jaa and his incredible acrobatic feats. But "Ong Bak 2" remains the single best showcase for Jaa's abilities as a martial artist. Jaa cycles through practically every fighting style known to man in this historical drama, culminating in an epic, half hour-long climax where Jaa (with a little help from his pachyderm partner) beats up half of the population of Thailand.
'13 Assassins' (2011)
"13 Assassins" had its work cut out for it as a remake of one of the most acclaimed samurai movies ever made. Luckily, director Takashi Miike is never one to phone it in. Stylish, dramatically weighty, and crammed with top-notch action, this one really offers a complete package.
"Haywire" is a grounded, slow-burn spy thriller in the vein of the Bourne franchise, just more blunt-force with its understated and fierce approach to fight scenes. (No obnoxious or overdone punching sound effects here.) With Steven Soderbergh at the helm, you know you're in for a good time.
But star Gina Carano is really the MVP of this film. Her willingness to perform her own stunts gives the action scenes an authenticity that's hard to find in Hollywood.
"Dredd" was probably doomed to obscurity from the start, hitting theaters in the same year as blockbuster superhero epics like "The Avengers" and "The Dark Knight Rises." But at least the film has attracted a small but devoted following in the years since, with just about everyone agreeing it's a far more faithful adaptation of the Judge Dredd comics than the original film.
'The Grey' (2012)
Liam Neeson is a Hollywood rarity, in that he only found his true calling as an action star in middle age. You can credit "The Grey" for that transformation as much as the "Taken" movies. There's just something appealing about watching this gruff hero fight for survival in the wilderness and take on a ravenous wolf in a brawl to the death.
'Man of Tai Chi' (2013)
As much as "John Wick" is credited with revitalizing Keanu Reeves' action movie career, the process actually began earlier with "Man of Tai Chi." Here, Reeves plays the villain opposite Tiger Chen (who was previously Reeves' tutor on "The Matrix"). If you thought Tai Chi was nothing more than exercise for senior citizen in the park, Chen's brutal moves will show just how wrong you were.
'Edge of Tomorrow' (2014)
Sometimes Tom Cruise is still a huge box office draw, but other times his films fizzle out. That was the unfortunate fate of "Edge of Tomorrow." With its epic action scenes and clever, "Groundhog Day"-esque premise, this film deserved a lot more love than it got in 2014. Hopefully the sequel will fare better.
'The Raid 2' (2014)
"The Raid 2" met with a somewhat more mixed reception than its predecessor, mainly because its plot was so much more complicated. But even with so much emphasis on the game of cat-and-mouse involving Iko Uwais' undercover hero, the film finds ample time for the stylish, hyper-violent fight scenes that made the original stand out. That kitchen battle (pictured here) still makes us wince.
Chile is nowhere near the top of the list of countries martial arts fans look to for new material. But maybe that'll change once enough people catch up with this underappreciated gem. Marko Zaror excels as a vigilante hero who singlehandedly takes on the drug gangs he once served.
With only a limited theatrical run in 2014, "Everly" never really had a chance to make its mark on the action movie scene. And it's a shame. Salma Hayek proves she can play a gun-toting action hero with the best of them as she portrays a former sex slave who turns the tables on her Yakuza foes.