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Top 10 Action Movies of 2010

The Best Action Films in a Fairly Disappointing Year


Other than Iron Man 2, 2010 was pretty much devoid of big-name superhero films, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. After a glut of well-known comic book-inspired films in 2009, in 2010 action fans were served up lesser known comic book characters (Red, The Losers, Kick-Ass) and for the most part the film adaptations of the less recognizable comic characters successfully made the jump to the big screen. But overall 2010 was a disappointing year for action movies. There were more bombs than hits, and even a few on this list failed to make an impact at the box office. However, this list isn't about which action films made the most money and instead is all about which offered the best executed, most unique, or just generally entertaining action scenes of the year.

Check out my choices but keep in mind the films that made the list are my personal favorite action movies of 2010. Your choices might be completely different.

1. 'Kick-Ass'

© Lionsgate Films
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Aaron Johnson, Mark Strong and Chloe Moretz

Kick-Ass follows an ordinary teenager (played by Aaron Johnson) whose obsession with comic books turns dangerous when he decides to become a real life superhero and adopts the name 'Kick-Ass.' The R-rated film, which also made my Top 10 Comedies of 2010 list, puts major studio huge-budgeted action movies to shame, with director Matthew Vaughn delivering stunning fight sequences and big action set pieces on a relatively low-budget. Kick-Ass also delivers seriously graphic action, and that R rating is there for a very good reason. The fact a good deal of the most violent action scenes involve an 11 year old girl ('Hit Girl' played by Chloe Moretz) had a lot of people up in arms, but Vaughn's highly stylized approach to shooting makes it obvious the violence is comic book-inspired and not based in reality.

So good I had to see it twice just to catch all the jokes I missed the first time, Kick-Ass is the must-see action film of 2010.

2. 'Inception'

© Warner Bros Pictures
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt

As Inception also made my Top 10 Movies of 2010 list, I'll cheat a bit here and re-use what I've already written about the film:

Christopher Nolan is a genius and Inception is a masterpiece. And this is coming from a person unafraid of admitting I'm not 100% sure what the ending means. That damned spinning top... The fact I'm still trying to figure out all the intricacies of this film five months after its release speaks volumes for the storytelling skills of the multi-talented Nolan.

Combining Nolan's unconventional plot with stunning visuals, extraordinary stunts, and an ensemble cast who operated as a team in bringing this unique story to life, Inception is a film that served up a thought-provoking movie-going experience like none other this year. Nolan never let character development play second fiddle to the visual effects and complicated stunts, and the entire cast - led by Leonardo DiCaprio and including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Dileep Rao, Marion Cotillard, and Lukas Haas - deliver terrific performances.

Inception requires...make that demands...multiple viewings in order to fully appreciate what Nolan's accomplished with this trippy action-thriller.

3. 'Machete'

© 20th Century Fox
Starring: Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, and Jessica Alba

Robert Rodriguez' fake trailer for Machete included in Grindhouse was so popular that Rodriguez went and did things backwards, making a feature film based on a short trailer. Danny Trejo stars as a machete-wielding ex-federale who kills first and asks questions never as he seeks revenge for the murder of his wife and daughter. It's one of the few films in which Trejo doesn't wind up dead in the first act, and it shows just how much fun he can be to watch when allowed to carry a character through to the very end.

4. 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1'

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
© Warner Bros Pictures
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson

We greeted the news of the arrival of the first part of the last chapter in the Harry Potter saga with mixed emotions. It's going to be so sad to see the series draw to an end, but the last book of J.K. Rowling's bestselling series is - in my opinion - the best of the lot. And after watching Part 1, I have high hopes for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 including all the key elements of the second half of the final book. Part 1 set up the finale perfectly, and showed our three favorite kid wizards - Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson), and Ron (Rupert Grint) - are nearly adults now and have left the comforts of Hogwarts behind. It's been interesting watching the talented threesome grow up in front of our eyes, and seeing them take their last turns as Harry Potter characters is going to be bittersweet.

5. 'Red'

© Summit Entertainment
Starring: Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren and John Malkovich

Red stands for 'Retired Extremely Dangerous' and features an interesting ensemble of actors, including some not known for tackling action roles. Sure, Bruce Willis is a genre veteran, but Helen Mirren isn't exactly the first actress who comes to mind when you think of a retired CIA agent who can handle huge guns.

Based on a graphic novel, the film finds Willis, Mirren and company forced out of retirement after they're marked for extermination. Red is a wild ride and you absolutely do not have to be familiar with the source material to root for these veteran actors as they pull off some amazing - and unique - action sequences. Willis' exit from a spinning car is something we've never seen before, but you can bet we'll see it again because it's so spectacular some director's bound to want to copy it.

6. 'Iron Man 2'

Iron Man 2
© Paramount Pictures
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, and Mickey Rourke

Ex-Hollywood bad boys Mickey Rourke and Robert Downey Jr square off in this second Iron Man outing, once again directed by Jon Favreau. The first film earned $102 million its opening weekend back in 2008, and pretty much immediately there was talk of a sequel. For a while it looked as though Favreau wasn't going to be invited back, which wouldn't have been a smart move by the studio. But Favreau did return with what he believed was the right formula (the cast, the villains) to make Iron Man 2 as big a hit as the original Iron Man. Iron Man newcomers Rourke, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, and Don Cheadle (taking over the character played by Terrence Howard in the first film) provided a jolt of energy to this sequel, which featured even better effects than its predecessor. Iron Man 2 also served to help set up The Avengers, and it did so without detracting from Tony Stark's story.

An interesting side note: Since the film's release we've learned that Jon Favreau will not be back for Iron Man 3 and instead will be tackling Magic Kingdom (a comedy about a theme park with attractions that come to life). And whoever takes over the task of guiding the third Iron Man will be doing so for a different studio as Disney made a deal with Paramount Pictures to distribute Iron Man 3 and The Avengers. If all things proceed as planned, The Avengers will hits theaters on May 4, 2012 followed by Iron Man 3 on May 3, 2013.

7. 'The Losers'

The Losers
© Warner Bros Pictures
Starring: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoe Saldana, and Chris Evans

Jeffrey Dean Morgan's last action film, Watchmen, found him playing one of the most despicable masked vigilantes ever created. As The Comedian, Morgan killed with impunity. Fortunately for his own mental well being, that's not the sort of character Morgan's playing in The Losers. Here, Morgan is the leader of a Special Forces unit set up by a powerful enemy. The team seeks revenge for the betrayal and must stop their adversary from implementing his ruthless plan.

From my review: "With The Losers, you get a lot of characters and a whole lot of over-the-top action scenes packed into a tight 98 minute running time. Director Sylvain White (Stomp the Yard) puts his stamp on the action, showing a real flair for the genre with incredibly interesting and unique takes on standard action scene set-ups. Even when the set-up is as clichéd as action scenes come, White pulls off something special. And all those in-your-face, adrenaline-pumping action sequences (along with the chemistry between the five main characters) are what makes The Losers worth watching."

8. 'The A-Team'

The A-Team
© 20th Century Fox
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Liam Neeson, Sharlto Copley, and Rampage Jackson

When they first announced an A-Team movie I thought, "Well, that's it. They have run out of ideas." But then they revealed the cast list and I decided to cut it some slack. With Smokin' Aces director Joe Carnahan at the helm, this new, reinvigorated adaptation of the '80s TV series kept the same basic premise as the show that inspired it. That show centered around a group of Vietnam veterans who were falsely convicted of a crime they didn't commit. The film version moves the action to more contemporary times, making the foursome Iraq war vets out to clear their names while helping people in need.

The A-Team earned more Cs and Ds from critics than it did As, however I thought the outrageous action (including a scene in which our heroes 'fly' a tank) was totally in keeping with the source material. Sharlto Copley, Bradley Cooper, Liam Neeson and Rampage Jackson put their own stamps on the characters brought to life on the small screen by Dwight Schultz, Dirk Benedict, George Peppard, and Mr T while paying homage to the originators. It was mindless, escapist fun and that was really all the film version of The A-Team needed to be.

9. 'Tron: Legacy'

Tron Legacy
© Walt Disney Pictures
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund and Olivia Wilde

Back in 1984 TRON broke ground with its special effects. Now, 25+ years later, a new Tron film - Tron: Legacy - hit theaters in 3D with state-of-the-art special effects. And while the story and dialogue were a letdown after all these years of waiting for a sequel, the stunt work and action sequences are some of the best of the year. From the light discs to the light cycles to the color palette and use of neon, the sequel pays homage to the original - even bringing back a young Jeff Bridges (courtesy of visual effects magic) to play a key role - and then jolts Tron fans by amping up the action to a fevered pitch. New additions to the world of Tron - Garrett Hedlund as Bridges' character Kevin Flynn's son Sam and Olivia Wilde as a fierce warrior who protects Flynn in the digital world - engage in most of the film's impressive action scenes and are terrific at handling the physically demanding roles.

A better story would have made Tron: Legacy a better film. But as it is, this Tron worked well enough to satisfy Tron enthusiasts who've been patiently waiting for the sequel for two decades.

10. 'The Expendables'

The Expendables
© Lionsgate Films
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, and Randy Couture

Sly Stallone stars in, wrote and directed this action film that's loaded with just about every action star imaginable. Even Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger get in on the act, putting in cameos but not actually getting to kill anyone or blow up anything. Although the writing and the plot let the actors down, The Expendables works well enough when Stallone allows the action to take over. Stallone staged some pretty incredible fight scenes, putting his talented cast of veteran action actors to good use. If only Stallone had cut out half of the dialogue, The Expendables would have been easy to recommend. As it is, the film's best viewed on DVD where you can fast-forward through the conversations to get to the action.

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