So, I just got done watching the movie Killer Elite (the recent one, not the James Caan one from the 70’s), and it was pretty damn good. I love action movies, and I’m glad I checked this one out, as it was worth the money. Jason Statham, Clive Owen and Robert DeNiro were all excellent in their roles (although Owen kind of looks like my stepdad in this film, which is an odd thought).
Watching it and seeing three of my favorite actors in one film, I got to thinking, who are the best action stars out there right now? With that thought in my head, I thought it’d be fun to pick and talk about some of my favorites. Now, this list is far from all-inclusive, and there are several others I could easily include, but to keep the list simple, I’ve narrowed it down to ten. Enjoy!
10. VINNIE JONES
Although he doesn’t do as many big action films Jones is still very good at what he does. When you see him in a movie, you think, “This looks like a mean guy who could seriously kick my ass.” Guess what? He IS a mean guy who can seriously kick your ass. Jones was suspended indefinitely from football (rugby) by the Football Association for being far too aggressive on numerous occasions, on one occasion grabbing a fellow player by the testicles so hard “just to faze him” that the other player was forced to retire and the injury never fully healed. You know you have to be tough if you get banned from rugby, one of the toughest sports in the world, indefinitely. Since then, Jones has taken to acting, starring in over 40 films, including the pair of awesome Guy Ritchie films, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels & Snatch, and a remake of The Longest Yard called Mean Machine (which is vastly superior to Adam Sandler’s remake), generally playing cocky tough guys, a role he is perfectly suited for.
Crews is a little bit different from the other actors on this list in that he’s known just as much for comedic roles as he is action roles, if not more so. After a short career in the NFL, Crews became a cast member of the American Gladiators knock-off known as Battle Dome, playing T-Money, a rich, rapper-type. From there, he landed numerous supporting roles in comedy movies, usually as a hunk or bodyguard-type character, and is most famous for his roles in Old Spice commercials (directed by comedians Tim Heidecker and Eric Warheim, BTW). However, he still makes time to play a badass in action films, landing major roles in big action films such as Terminator: Salvation, Gamer and The Expendables. He now has his own reality show in BET, and will be reprising his role as Hale Caesar in The Expendables 2, which should be out later this year.
8. TONY JAA
Although not as popular in the U.S. Jaa is a mega star in his native Thailand, and for good reason. After training in martial arts in his younger days, Jaa got his break in the movies as a stuntman, even doing stunt work for legendary martial arts film actor Sammo Hung in a commercial for an energy drink. Jaa began learning Muay Thai after that, doing a short film of his skills. This film was enough to impress the right people, landing him the starring role in the awesome Ong-Bak the Warrior. In the film, Jaa did all of his own stunt work, adding an air of believability to the film. From there, he landed the starring role in the equally awesome The Protector, once again putting his martial arts skills on-screen, doing all of his own stunts. The movie was also notable for an appearance by legend Jackie Chan, who agreed to be in the film as a “passing of the torch” to Jaa. After filming Rush Hour 3 with Chan, he filmed two more Ong-Bak films before stepping away to become a Buddhist monk in 2010. Jaa has since left the monastery, and will be releasing his first film in 2 years later this year, The Protector 2.
7. JET LI
I’m pretty sure I don’t have to tell you anything about Jet Li. Well-versed in the martial arts and a practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism, Li is also unquestionably the master of martial arts films in the states. Although most of these films have been made overseas, Li’s appeal in the U.S. can’t be denied, with numerous martial arts epics such as Hero and Fearless receiving major critical praise. Li has since moved away from the martial arts flicks, but is still unquestionably an action star, co-starring in more modern action films such as The Expendables, The One and Lethal Weapon 4. Much like Crews, he will reprise his role from the Expendables for the sequel later this year.
6. BRUCE WILLIS
Despite being nearly 60 years old, Bruce Willis is still as badass as he ever was. One of the most successful action stars of all time, Willis has been in nearly countless box office hits, his most well-known being the very popular Die Hard series. Willis has also appeared in numerous comedies and dramas, but action movies are where he shines the most, in addition to the Die Hard roles, he is well-known for his roles in The Fifth Element, Unbreakable, 12 Monkeys, Surrogates and Pulp Fiction, just to name a few. There appears to be no slowing down either, as Willis is set to appear in seven films this year alone (mostly action), and will appear in yet another Die Hard film in 2013.
5. CLIVE OWEN
Owen got his start as a television actor in the United Kingdom in the early 90s, before beginning to star in numerous films in the UK. He still continued to appear in television shows while doing the films, and finally caught his big break in the U.S. in the film Gosford Park, before doing his first stateside action movie, The Bourne Identity. Since then, Owen has bounced back and forth between drama and action films, but when he does the latter, the movies are generally pretty enjoyable. He was great as Dwight McCarthy in Sin City, and later got the starring role as Smith in the guilty pleasure Shoot ‘Em Up. His most recent action film was in the aforementioned Killer Elite, and is now working on a film about Ernest Hemmingway.
4. DANNY TREJO
And now we get to the oldest member of the list. At 68 years old, Trejo has been kicking ass in films for nearly 30 years. Although most of his films have been straight-to-video, that doesn’t stop him from being awesome. A former ex-con and trained boxer, he happened to meet someone in the business while speaking at a drug recovery meeting. He was offered a role as an extra in the film Runaway Train when the screenwriter, Edward Bunker, a former ex-con himself, recognized Trejo from time they had done together behind bars. Bunker remembered Trejo’s boxing skills, and paid him to train Eric Roberts for the movie as well. Since then, Trejo has been involved in countless projects, covering just about every aspect of acting there is. In addition to action films, he has appeared in numerous comedies, sitcoms, commercial voice-overs, video games, as well as a recurring role as Enrique on the animated series King of the Hill. He’s currently working on two new action films, and is also the founder of his own clothing line.
3. DONNIE YEN
Although not as recognized in the states as he is in his native Hong Kong, Yen is still a major player in the action world, especially martial arts films. In reality, Yen is skilled in numerous forms of the martial arts, including (but not limited to) wrestling, Muay Thai, kickboxing and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He began developing an interest in these at a very young age, and after moving from Hong Kong to Boston, MA at the age of 11, he began practicing. He was later sent to Beijing by his parents in order to participate in a 2-year program with the Beijing Wushu Team. On his way back to the states, he stopped in Hong Kong and met action choreographer Yuen Woo-ping, giving him his first opening into the acting world. After getting his first break in 1984, Yen really took to the industry, starring in numerous martial arts films, including notable titles like Iron Monkey and Hero, the latter co-starring with international star Jet Li. Since then, he has starred in numerous films, and has also taken to directing his own action flicks. Although the appearances are few, he’s made his mark in the U.S. as well, getting major roles in films like Shanghai Knights and Blade II. Yen does most of his own stunts thanks to his extensive fight knowledge, and was actually intent on joining UFC prior to a shoulder injury that kept him from fighting competitively. His film credits are too numerous to list here, but needless to say, he kicks ass in all of them.
2. CHOW YUN-FAT
Yun-fat is one of the most respected action stars in the world, and also the one on this list with the most experience, getting his first film role in 1976. Although a much bigger star in Hong Kong, Yun-fat has made his mark in the U.S. as well, starring in The Replacement Killers and Pirates of the Caribbean II: At World’s End, to name a couple. He also has the distinction of starring in Hard Boiled, considered by many critics and action aficionados as the most influential action film ever made. Although the film is now 20 years old, it still holds up incredibly well, featuring some of the greatest gun fights in cinema history. He has worked with action legend John Woo on numerous occasions, and despite not getting the big breaks he wanted in the United States (although he did star in the Oscar-winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), is more or less a legend in his native Hong Kong, starring in over 110 films total. Although he wanted to be a dramatic actor, he has accepted his action star status, mostly sticking to that genre of films. Despite being nearly 60, his films are still as good as ever. Yun-fat is also the brother of fellow action star Stephen Chow, of Kung-Fu Hustle, fame.
1. JASON STATHAM
Although this list wasn’t officially ranked (although there was some minor ranking done), admittedly, the number one entry is my number one favorite. Statham grew up with fellow action star Vinnie Jones (who has since co-starred in numerous films with Statham), and began training in the martial arts at a very young age. At the same time, he took up competitive diving, eventually taking 12th place in the World Championships in 1992, and being the member of the British National Diving Squad for 12 years. He got his break in Hollywood after being spotted by an athletic talent agent, which allowed him to begin modeling for the high fashion company FCUK. It was there he met director Guy Ritchie, and after learning of Statham’s legitimate past as a black market salesman, was cast as “Bacon” in the international hit Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. He worked with Ritchie again in the unofficial sequel Snatch, which was also a major success. Since then, he’s been in the wildly popular Transporter and Crank films.
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