Action movies often draw mixed reviews from critics because of their focus on things like gunfights, car chases, and harrowing rescue scenes, which often come at the expense of plot continuity and purposeful dialogue. So, why are these films often still successful with audiences?
When you spend your day evaluating the technical aspects of films, it can be easy to forget what makes a movie entertaining to the layman. Sometimes all it takes is a simple story about good versus evil with a couple of conflicted characters trying to save someone, something, or somewhere in order prevent the destruction of their flawed world.
For fans looking for an escape from the everyday grind, the films listed below had a certain WOW factor that kept people coming back for more despite poor critical reviews. Here are 10 action movies that have become audience favorites and cult classics even with critical condemnation:
#10: Top Gun (1986)
Director: Tony Scott
Writers: Jim Cash, Jack Epps, Jr.
Starring: Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, Tom Skerritt
Critics thought Top Gun was a bit of a mess in 1986. While most agreed that the aerial shots were incredible, many felt the film lost its charm the moment the actors put their feet on the ground. Critics were not impressed with the on-screen relationship between Kelly McGillis and Tom Cruise. A common criticism was that their characters seemed hollow and their backstories cliché. Over the years, popular opinion has anchored this film as a classic, with many elements like the song Danger Zone, and the famous line “I feel the need. The need for speed!” becoming staples in American pop culture.
To ensure that the legacy of Maverick and Goose continues, Top Gun became a part of the National Film Registry in 2015.
#9: The Mummy (1999)
Director: Stephen Sommers
Writer: Stephen Sommers
Starring: Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, Arnold Vosloo
When The Mummy was released in 1999, it caused critic’s eyes to roll uncontrollably. At the time, Universal was desperate for a hit that would revive the studio after a series of commercial failures. When Stephen Sommers pitched the idea of an adventure film remake of the 1932 classic of the same name, the project received the green light with a hefty budget.
The film stars Brendan Frasier as the devil-may-care hero Rick O’Connell, Rachel Weiss as librarian and amateur Egyptologist Evelyn Carnahan, John Hannah as Evey’s brother Jonathan, and Arnold Vosloo as the reincarnated 3,000-year-old mummy, Imhotep. The film was a smash hit, wowing audiences and inspiring a couple of sequels, as well as a few spin-off movies starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. For 90’s kids, Rick O’Connell was our Indiana Jones, and we remember him fondly.
#8: The Expendables (2010)
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Writers: David Callaham, Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Mickey Rourke, Jet Li, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Eric Roberts, Steve Austin, Terry Crews, Giselle Itie
Sly Stallone gets nostalgic with this punch-packed tribute to 80’s blockbuster action movies. He co-wrote, directed, and starred in the film. Stallone and his band of mercenaries fight bad guys with big guns, sharp knives, and a lot of bromancing. As is often the case with ensemble casts consisting of several well-known actors/actresses, critics pointed out that the script won’t write itself just because the roster is stacked.
Audiences enjoyed the action sequences and the nods at industry classics that helped the modern action genre take flight. It developed staying power with die-hard action fans who were willing to forgive the lackluster character development and stunted dialogue in exchange for a wild ride with some of Hollywood’s most beloved action movie mainstays.
#7: Bad Boys (1995)
Director: Michael Bay
Writer: Michael Barrie, Jim Mulholland, Doug Richardson
Starring: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Tea Leoni, Tcheky Karyo, Joe Pantoliano
Michael Bay’s directorial debut stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence as Miami detectives who become embroiled in an investigation involving a large amount of stolen dope, a witness with a target on her back, and a Cuban drug cartel. Bay packed the film full of explosions and cheesy lines, but critics disapproved of his use of Smith and Lawrence, saying the script wasted their talents. The film was a massive hit with audiences who enjoyed the chemistry between Smith and Lawrence. Bad Boys ultimately solidified Bay’s reputation as a blockbuster filmmaker, but he was criticized for adhering to the blueprint of typical action movies.
#6: Jumanji (1995)
Director: Joe Johnston
Writers: Greg Taylor, Jonathan Hensleigh, Jim Strain
Starring: Robin Williams, Bonnie Hunt, Kirsten Dunst, Bradley Pierce, David Alan Grier
With the remake hitting the big screen recently, now is the perfect time to get nostalgic over the original. This action movie tells the story of a mysterious board game that takes over the lives of its players until the game is over. Alan Parish (Williams) gets sucked into the game one night while playing with Sarah Whittle (Hunt) and remains there for twenty years until Judy Shepard (Dunst) releases him and her younger brother Peter (Bradly Perce) after they happen to stumble upon the game in their new house. They ban together to try to finish the game while evading wild monkeys, spiders, and other various jungle threats.
At the time of its release, Jumanji was called out by critics for being too mature for its intended youthful audience, and its lack of appeal for older viewers because of its weak plot. However, the original film has amassed a major following since then and is now considered by some to be a classic. The announcement and release of the sequel, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, elicited strong reactions from fans, but this just goes to show the powerful response that the film continues to pull from audiences.
#5: Rocky IV (1985)
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Writer: Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Dolph Lundgren, Brigitte Nielson
In the fourth installment of the Rocky franchise, Rocky Balboa travels to Soviet Russia to fight Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the enormous boxer responsible for the in-ring death of Apollo Creed. As you can probably imagine, critics were not wild about yet another Rocky sequel, and obliterated it in their reviews, calling it unoriginal, predictable, and a tired reworking of plot elements from the first three films.
Since the film’s release, it has gained a cult following with audiences. Some have argued that the change in scenery and the insertion of tidbits about the relationship between the US and the Soviet Union at the time make the story particularly entertaining.
#4: National Treasure (2004)
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Writer: Jim Kouf, Cormac Wibberley, Marianne Wibberley
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha, Jon Voight, Harvey Keitel, Sean Bean
Nicolas Cage stars in this modern explorer film about a secret map on the back of the Declaration of Independence that leads to buried treasure. Despite its wildly improbable plot, this film entertained audiences so much that producers reneged on their original declaration to not make a sequel. Since the beginning of his career, Nic Cage has always drawn mixed reviews from critics, mostly due to his seemly indiscriminate action role selection, but as with many other members of the Coppola clan, he can create movie magic that keeps audiences coming back for more. National Treasure was a smash hit and continues to be one of the more successful film ventures of Cage’s career.
#3: Gone in 60 Seconds (2000)
Director: Dominic Sena
Writer: Scott Rosenberg
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Angelina Jolie, Robert Duvall, Giovanni Ribisi, Delroy Lindo, Will Patton, Christopher Eccleston
This is the second Nic Cage masterpiece to make this list. Cage stars as Randal Raines, aka “Memphis,” who, after six years of clean living, reenters the world of grand theft auto for one last heist to save his brother’s life. He gets his old gang back together to fulfill an order for 50 boosted cars in 72 hours. Despite the film’s all-star cast and a large budget, most critics said the film was poorly made.
Audiences flocked to theaters to see the parade of gorgeous rare vehicles and exciting car chases. Over the years, many fans still scratch their heads on why they actually liked the film. I guess we can chock it up to that aforementioned Nic Cage movie magic, often leaving us mystified at the success of some of his action movies.
#2: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Director: Zack Snyder
Writer: Chris Terrio, David S. Goyer
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Dian Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot
In one of the most anticipated superhero films of all time, Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill square off as Batman and Superman in an epic battle after a series of manipulations by Superman’s arch nemesis, Lex Luther, played by Jesse Eisenberg.
The buildup to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice had fans almost frothing at the mouth. The chance to watch a skirmish between two of the most famous comic book characters in history was an exciting prospect. There was an opportunity for this to be one of the most successful superhero films to date. As a result, critics walked into the theatre with high expectations. It lands at number two on this list because the critical reactions were cringeworthy.
But faithful supporters of the DC universe rallied behind the film. Many fans agreed that while it was not a cinematic masterpiece, it was still an entertaining action movie. Audiences also praised Affleck’s performance as Batman. The first live-action appearance of Wonder Woman didn’t hurt, either.
#1: Bright (2017)
Director: David Ayer
Writer: Max Landis
Starring: Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, Noomi Rapace, Lucy Fry, Edgar Ramirez, Ike Barinholtz
Will Smith stars as Daryl Ward, a Los Angeles police officer who finds himself embroiled in controversy after being partnered with Nick Jakoby, played by Joel Edgerton, the first Orc police officer on the force.
The overwhelming critical consensus is that Bright is poorly shot, terribly written, and horribly acted. Many have critiqued the attempt to hold a narrative on contemporary race relations in the US. Audiences, however, seem to be standing by it, with many viewers deeming it an entertaining and original action movie.
Fantasy fans are often willing to forgive cheesy dialogue and cliché story arcs in exchange for vivid world building. Bright paints a graphic picture of its universe, and audiences want to see where the story goes.
Thanks for reading! What are some other action movies that you love? Comment down below!
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