Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge, HUGE Jason Statham fan. He is one of my favorite actors, and I’d even say I have a bit of a man crush on him. Who are you to judge me? Hey, shut up. I’m the one talking here, not you. Anyway, I have seen nearly every movie he’s ever done (save for one and a couple he had cameos in), and even paid to see In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale in the theaters. Not my finest moment, I know, but it is what it is. In spite of that black eye, Mr. Statham has made some highly enjoyable films during his career, especially if you’re a popcorn action fan, and here is what I find to be his ten best films, in order from least favorite to favorite.
HONORABLE MENTION: BLITZ
While not Jason’s finest work, I think this is a very underrated film overall, and one that many people missed out on because it went straight-to-video in the US. In this one (based on a novel by Ken Bruen), he stars as a cop who doesn’t like to play by the rules, doing most of his business with a hurley rather than a gun. He plays opposite Aiden Gillen, a cop killer calling himself “The Blitz”, who targets all of the police officers who have done him wrong in the past. When Statham’s character (Tom Brant) sees his friends on the force going down, he takes matters into his own hands in bringing “The Blitz” down. Statham knows what kinds of parts he can play, and never hides that fact. As a result, he plays a bitter street cop very well, and Gillen’s performance as the killer is also quite good. It’s a shame it went straight-to-video, as I think more people would have enjoyed it.
The only reason this one ranks so low is because I honestly haven’t watched it in a long time, and Statham was kind of overshadowed by performances by Edward Norton, Mark Wahlberg and Charlize Theron. Still, this remake of the 1969 Michael Caine film is a lot of fun with some great action scenes. You wouldn’t think a car chase featuring nothing but MINI Coopers would be fun, but you would be very wrong.
9. THE KILLER ELITE
The Second remake on the list is the first based on a (supposedly) true story. Statham plays Danny Bryce, a retired assassin who is brought back into the game when his mentor Hunter (Robert DeNiro) is kidnapped. The movie is based on a book called The Feather Men (which does become a plot point in the film, in a way), a novel that author Ralphus Fiennes insists really happened. This is one of Statham’s highest-profile roles to date, co-starring with a legend like DeNiro as well as critically acclaimed actor (and another favorite) Clive Owen. Statham and DeNiro play off of each other surprisingly well given their very different acting styles, and Owen plays an excellent villain to counter both of them.
8. THE BANK JOB
The first actual “true story” movie makes the list, as Statham plays ex-thief Terry Leather, who gets pulled into one last job that promises enough money that he’ll never want or worry for the rest of his life. However, over the course of the robbery, things go terribly wrong, with several of the party members being killed. It’s loosely based on the actual Baker Street Robbery from 1971. At the same time, a major political sex scandal was occurring involving Lord Lambton, and those events are also a major plot point of this film. The real robbers made off with an estimated four million in cash and property, with most of the property never being claimed by the original owners. This is one of the best stories for a film Statham has worked on, and is also one of his most well-received works as of today.
7. THE EXPENDABLES/THE EXPENDABLES 2
Okay, I cheated a bit here, but I couldn’t decide which of the two I liked more. Since these are the most recent films to appear on the list, I’m not going to over-explain them, as I’m sure most of the readers have at least seen the first one. Regardless, this is action film at its best: a paper-thin story, tons of gun violence, good fight scenes, explosions and a cast loaded with action stars, including Mr. Statham as Lee Christmas, who has the second-biggest role in the film. Honestly, if you’re an action fan and didn’t enjoy these movies, there’s something wrong with you, as these were tailor-made for action aficionados such as myself.
6. LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS
Statham’s debut film comes in at number six on the list, and this is definitely one of his most fun movies. Definitely an action-comedy, the cast features some of the UK’s top acting talents (and singer/songwriter Sting), and is a great story about some friends who look to make a lot of money playing a high-stakes game of Three Card Brag, only to find out they’ve been hustled by the man running the game. In order to pay their debt off to the man (who happens to be a mobster), they decide to rob a local petty gang that happens to be running their operations in the flat that is located right next door. Not only did this movie bring writer Guy Ritchie major acclaim and do incredibly well at the box office (it did $25 million with a budget of just over $1 million), but it gave Statham the break every actor dreams of, launching him into position as one of the top action stars in the world, despite his role being comic relief more than anything. I know so many people who have not seen this movie, and it just makes me sad. If you are reading this and have not seen Lock, Stock…yet, go out and watch it now.
5. MEAN MACHINE
This is actually a remake of Burt Reynolds’ 1974 classic football film, but instead of football, the movie is about a prison soccer game, since it takes place in the UK. The film stars Vinnie Jones in basically the same role that Reynolds made famous (and Adam Sandler later destroyed), with Jason Statham playing one of Jones’ teammates in the third film they did together. Everyone thought Sandler’s remake was so good, but I personally found this one better. Yes, I am a little biased, but in all honesty, nothing Sandler has done in the last 10 years or so has been enjoyable for me. Personally, I think his remake focused too much on being a big budget film with a lot of names, whereas this UK remake focused more on the original and kept the spirit of it while changing the sport slightly.
4. DEATH RACE
Honestly, I wasn’t sure about a remake like this when I first heard it was being made, namely because 1975’s Death Race 2000 is one of my all-time favorite B-movies. However, when I found out that not only would Statham be attached, but was on-board to play Frankenstein, the main character, I was in. And I was not disappointed. Death Race is a great remake that keeps the spirit of the original alive while adding it’s own personal feel. Instead of a race across the country for prize money, it’s a series of races inside a high-tech prison featuring ex-cons as the drivers, with the winner earning their freedom. It has great special effects, awesome driving, and thanks to all of the cars being equipped with high-powered weapons, a whole lot of mindless gun violence and explosions, staples of any good action flick. On a fun trivia note, this was one of David Carradine’s last film appearances. Carradine was the star of the original film, and in this one, he does the voice of Frankenstein during the opening scene.
This was only the second Statham movie I saw, and the first one I watched in theaters. He plays a gangster named Chev Chelios who gets injected with a poison after crossing a group of Chinese triads. The poison will kill him unless he can keep his adrenaline high at all times, so the next 90 minutes of the movie are Chelios doing the most insane things imaginable just to keep a rush going, from having sex in front of a tour bus, burning his hand in a waffle iron, standing up on a motorcycle while it’s speeding down the street, etc. Honestly, this is one of the fastest movies I’ve ever seen, meaning that, because of the plot, it just flies by. 90 minutes feel like 5, and his fans liked it so much a sequel was made. Although the sequel wasn’t as good as the original, it was still fun, and a Crank 3 is rumored to be coming out in the next year or so.
2. THE TRANSPORTER
Again, this is one in a series, but it was by far the best, so we’re sticking with the original. Although Statham had done other well-received movies before this (and since), this one really made him a hit with action fans, and may be his most popular films. Statham stars as expert driver Frank Martin who will take any job for the right amount of money, but has a specific set of rules he abides by with each job. When Martin accidentally violates one of his rules (looking inside a package to be delivered), he finds that he is delivering a human girl, and the recipients are less than savory. When Martin gets caught, he goes on a one-man tear against the gang that did him wrong. This one really showed off one thing that Statham has since become known for, and that is extremely creative fight scenes. Thanks to his background with martial arts and stunt work, Statham choreographs/shoots his own fight scenes, and you can always tell. The scene with the oil slick and the bicycle pedals especially stands out for me.
Now, we not only get to my favorite Statham flick, but one of my favorite movies of all-time. This action-comedy is the second time a Guy Ritchie film makes the list, and this is considered by many to be a spiritual successor to Lock, Stock…Many of the original cast returns, including Statham and Vinnie Jones, and also features standout performances by Dennis Farina and Brad Pitt. Statham stars as Turkish, a small-time boxing promoter and casino owner who gets mixed up with some crooks when he hires bare-knuckle boxer Mickey O’Neil (Pitt) as fodder for some boxing matches, only to find out O’Neil is absolutely deadly with his fists. When O’Neil refuses to lay down in a fight, Turkish has all of his money stolen, and O’Neil is ordered to fight again. When Turkish can’t pay O’Neil, the gangsters kill O’Neil’s mother. O’Neil has one more fight, and if he can’t throw it, his whole family will be killed, as will Turkish and his friends. Again, this is one of those movies that, if you are a fan of Statham’s and haven’t seen it, get off your ass. Even people I know who don’t like Jason Statham enjoyed this flick, as it just has everything you could want in an action film, along with Ritchie’s signature dose of dry humor and wit.
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Thanks for reading, and as long as Spike TV still fronts the bill, I’ll see you next week.