Here are my choices for the best of the action genre. Your picks may be completely different than mine.
Why It Stood Out: James Cameron revolutionized the way films are shot in 3-D and how filmmakers approach performance capture with his groundbreaking action epic, Avatar. Cameron makes a totally make-believe planet come completely alive onscreen, and the action sequences of Avatar are white-knuckle seat-grippers. Additional kudos go to Cameron for being one of the only action movie directors in 2009 to showcase strong female characters who are able to handle the action just as well as their male counterparts.
Why It Stood Out: JJ Abrams shouldered the burden of revising, revamping, and delivering to audiences a new Star Trek movie that would be worthy of all that had gone before it. His task wasn't just to bring the franchise back from the dead, but to do so while not alienating existing Star Trek fans and while bringing in a whole new generation into the Star Trek fold. To say he accomplished all he needed to do is an understatement. Taking the story back in time to when the crew of the Enterprise first came together, this Star Trek doesn't skimp on character development but still manages to pack in some of the best stunts of any of the Star Trek films.
Why It Stood Out: The 2009 San Diego Comic Con - along with an intense, smart viral marketing campaign - pushed District 9 into the spotlight, hyping it to the point there was almost no way it could possibly live up to expectations. But, it did. District 9 turned out to be one of the sleeper hits of the year. Made for just $30 million, this sci-fi action thriller features some of the most incredible CG aliens ever created. First-time feature film director Neill Blomkamp lets the bullets fly and the blood flow, staging a knock-down, drag-out finale that sets up a sequel we can't wait to check out.
Why It Stood Out: Besides earning the award for the 2009 film with the most often misspelled title, Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds nabs the award for the most audacious film of the year. Tarantino rewrites history, sending a batch of Jewish American soldiers on a hunt to kill the leaders of the Third Reich in a ballsy plan involving a movie premiere and a packed theater. Tarantino never shies away from portraying violence in his films, and he doesn't turn the camera away when his characters beat, torture and scalp Nazis. Easily Tarantino's best film since Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds is not only an action-packed WWII movie, but also a love letter to cinema.
Why It Stood Out: Muggles everywhere went into mourning when in '08 Warner Bros announced they were delaying the sixth film of the super popular franchise. So when Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince finally hit theaters on July 15, 2009, the anticipation had reached a fever pitch. However, reviews were mixed on this darker tale from J.K. Rowling, though most critics thought the action scenes were handled well and lived up to Harry Potter standards. Personally, I'd hoped for more fight scenes and wizardry, but what director David Yates did give us was pretty powerful.
Why It Stood Out: Roland Emmerich likes his movies big - big budget, big effects. The man behind Stargate, Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, and 10,000 BC looked to the future for 2012, unarguably his most ambitious action film ever. The storyline was unintentionally funny, but the special effects were out of this world. Emmerich squeezed every cent out of his budget and used it to tear the world apart onscreen. As I said in my review, "It's a check-your-brain-at-the-door, completely over-the-top, popcorn movie that delivers some of the most outlandish and entertaining scenes of devastation we've ever seen. This is Irwin Allen pumped up on steroids and loaded with Red Bull."
Why It Stood Out: Zombieland was so entertaining it made my Top 10 Movies of 2009 list. It was so hysterical I had to have it on my Top 10 Comedy Movies of 2009list, too. And now it's scoring a hat trick, landing on my short list of the best action films of the year. There's a lot of serious zombie killing going on in Zombieland, and no one kill is the same as any other. Shotguns, cars, amusement park rides...anything that could be used as a lethal weapon to take out a member of the undead is used to dismember and kill a flesh-eating zombie.
Why It Stood Out: Christian Bale (The Dark Knight) took on the lead role in another film franchise, playing John Connor in this fourth Terminator movie. Terminator Salvation wasn't nearly as well received as the Bale's Batman movies, and the future of the Terminator franchise is now up in the air. But for all of its faults, director McG did show us a gritty post-apocalyptic 2018 that fit in neatly with all of its Terminator film predecessors. Bale, newcomer Sam Worthington, and Moon Bloodgood all handled the action well, and Bale's fight against Arnold Schwarzenegger (who never set foot on the set) is worthy of the price of a ticket - or DVD rental.
Why It Stood Out: The idea of making a Watchmen movie has been kicked around for years, but it took Zack Snyder - fresh off the success of 300 - to convince Warner Bros Watchmen was actually doable. After it hit theaters, fans of the Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons graphic novel were split over whether Snyder delivered the definitive Watchmen movie. There's no denying the film's tone, spirit, and action scenes were as close to replicating the source material as was possible. And if you consider the Director's Cut rather than the theatrical release, I'd argue no one could have made a film that pays better tribute to Moore & Gibbons' work than Snyder did.
Why It Stood Out: A month before X-Men Origins: Wolverine hit theaters, an unfinished, illegal copy of the film made its way online. Reaction from the studio was immediate, with everyone from Wolverine star Hugh Jackman to online movie sites (About.com included) calling foul and asking people not to view the unapproved copy. X-Men fans listened, and the box office turned out to be pretty decent for the first spin-off of the X-Men franchise. The film didn't go over well with critics, but director Gavin Hood (Rendition) and his cast gave it all they had. New mutants hit the screen, showing off their incredible, unique mutant skills in thrilling action scenes.