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The Best Action Movies of 2013

It Was a Decent Year for Fans of the Action Genre


Arnold Schwarzenegger returned to starring roles in action movies in 2013, but not a single one of his films or those of action heavyweights Sly Stallone, Bruce Willis, or Dwayne Johnson made the cut for our annual Top 10 Action Movies list. Instead, three sequels, a harrowing tale of survival, and one zombie apocalypse film were among the movies that earned spots on our 2013 list.

Also of Interest: Complete list of 2013's action films / Top 10 comedies of 2013

1. 'Lone Survivor'

Lone Survivor
© Universal Pictures

Based on true events, Lone Survivor is a riveting retelling of the story of four Navy SEALs who were sent on a top secret mission aimed at taking down a high-level al-Qaeda operative in Afghanistan and the fire fight that resulted when they discovered the forces they were going up against had them grossly outnumbered.  With Mark Wahlberg in the lead and Peter Berg at the helm, Lone Survivor delivers an emotional wallop as well as some of the best war footage ever featured in a film.

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2. 'Olympus Has Fallen'

Olympus Has Fallen
© FilmDistrict

Two films hit theaters in 2013 involving an attack on the White House and the U.S. President, both of which left the saving of our democracy to one lone knight in shining armor. Unfortunately, only one of the two movies was worth checking out.

Olympus Has Fallen combined a compelling story with impressive effects, and the actions taken by the lead character (Gerard Butler) actually followed logic rather than defied it.  Plus, Olympus Has Fallen didn't pull away from showing collateral damage nor did it shy away from showing America's national monuments damaged by terrorists. Also working in its favor is a tone that remained steady throughout, rather than tossing out one-liners to relieve the tension.

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3. 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
© Lionsgate Films

2012's The Hunger Games made nearly $700 million during its theatrical run and won over naysayers who believed the studio would chop out/sugarcoat the violence, ruining the moral of the story and effectively killing any thoughts of a successful franchise.  The overwhelming success of the first film meant that the bar was raised high and that Catching Fire (with a new director onboard) had to prove Hunger Games wasn't a fluke and that the momentum could be sustained through the four-film series. The fact that Catching Fire was actually a higher quality production than the first Hunger Games movie was a pleasant surprise, as were some of the standout supporting performances from new cast members Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, and Jeffrey Wright.  We expect Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson to be spot-on as Katniss and Peeta, however the newbies to the franchise all but stole the show this second time around.

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4. 'Gravity'

© Warner Bros Pictures

Gravity's a visual treat that deserves to be seen in theaters in 3D, something you can rarely say about movies released in that format.  The creative brainchild of filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron and starring Oscar-winner Sandra Bullock, Gravity is the most breathtakingly beautiful film of 2013, an out-of-this-world experience with stunning effects and a heart-wrenching story.

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5. 'Pacific Rim'

Pacific Rim
© Warner Bros Pictures

One of the most anticipated sci-fi monster movies in recent years, Pacific Rim pitted giant alien creatures (Kaiju) against enormous robots (Jaegers) in a battle in which the survival of humanity was at stake. Guillermo del Toro delivered on all promises, crafting a creature feature that included some truly wicked CG footage, some dark humor, and Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) as the world's last hope. Pacific Rim was an entertaining, roller coaster ride that proved Del Toro is like a kid in a candy store when he's given an appropriate budget for his fantastical imagination to run wild.

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6. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug'

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
© 2013 Warner Bros Entertainment Inc and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.

Whereas The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey felt like The Hobbit: A Neverending Journey, the second film of the trilogy is swiftly paced, tells an engaging story, and the dwarves, elves, wizards, etc all are given something to actually do over the nearly three hour running time. Throw in the return of Orlando Bloom as Legolas, the addition of Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel, and the impressive presence of the dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a vast improvement over its sluggish predecessor.

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7. 'Rush'

© Universal Pictures

Having never watched NASCAR, Formula One, or any other form of professional auto racing, Rush wasn't a film I expected to enjoy. Granted, it had Ron Howard as director working off of a screenplay by his Frost/Nixon writer Peter Morgan, and it had Chris Hemsworth in a starring role - all aspects of Rush working in its favor. Still, not being into watching fast cars speeding in circles tempered my anticipation for this dramatic film based on true events.

Rush's action scenes are simply spectacular, winning over those not into auto racing as well as impressing fans of the sport. If you've ever wondered what it feels like to sit in the driver's seat of a race car as it weaves in and out of its competition on the track, barely in control and knowing that at any moment an accident could occur, Rush could be the closest you'll ever get to that actual experience. And the action scenes balance, not overshadow, the story of two first-class drivers whose styles had them at odds on and off the track.  

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8. 'This Is The End'

This Is The End
© Columbia Pictures

An action-comedy that shouldn't have worked but did on multiple levels, This Is The End features a cast of thousands (okay, that's a slight exaggeration) of well-known actors playing themselves as the world comes to an end.  Pretty much every 'entitled Hollywood actor' cliche is skewered and nothing is off-limits in this R-rated take-no-prisoners apocalyptic pic. The effects are first-rate and in-your-face, and the action scenes - while not necessarily what This Is The End will be remembered for - easily put this funny film on our best action movie list.

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9. 'Star Trek Into Darkness'

Star Trek Into Darkness Poster
© Paramount Pictures

I'm going to quote my review as to why Star Trek Into Darkness made the list of the best action movies of the year: "Just as Christopher Nolan made the world of Batman accessible to those of us who never understood the fascination with the comic book character, J.J. Abrams has made the complex world of Star Trek easier to understand. And as with his first Star Trek movie, Abrams has somehow managed to make Star Trek Into Darkness walk that fine line of not being too 'inside' for outsiders to grasp and not being too 'elementary' for Trekkies to enjoy. Abrams, along with writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof, has once again delivered a Star Trek movie that invites everyone to venture into this sci-fi world created by Gene Roddenberry."

Feel free to now read the remainder of the review: Star Trek Into Darkness movie review

10. 'World War Z'

World War Z
© Paramount Pictures

Zombies are the new vampires, aren't they? The creepy flesh-eaters aren't sexy (or sparkly), but they are pretty much everywhere nowadays so the fact Max Brooks' bestselling novel World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War made its way to the big screen is not exactly shocking. What is shocking, however, is that the movie shares almost nothing in common with the book other than the fact there are zombies involved and both have World War Z in their titles. Fortunately, despite the disappointment fans of the book felt at being given a film version that's nothing like the book, the movie itself features great zombie effects and some pretty thrilling action scenes.

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