Too often, action movies get the bad rap of having no story, no substance, poor acting – or c) all of the above. While that can be true (explosions and fight scenes are meant to distract us from that fact), there are some really great action flicks out there. In fact, a surprising amount of action films have garnered critical acclaim, even within the Best Picture category. Granted, this also has to do with how one chooses to classify an action picture – they don’t always fall neatly into the category like Die Hard or The Expendables would, sometimes that are more likely to be classified as sci-fi, fantasy or adventure. This list of Award winning Actions over the last 30 years, will use a pretty forward definition – action should be the main ingredient. For that reason, overlooked will be those more commonly accepted as Thrillers or Superhero flicks.
8. Speed with 2 Awards
This 1994 film took home two Oscars, one for sound editing and one for sound mixing. It also grossed over $350 million at the box office. The story follows a young cop played by Keanu Reeves, as he tries to stop a bomb from exploding a bus full of passengers. The trick will be safely removing the bomb without allowing the bus’s speed to drop, which will trigger a detonation. Other cast members include Sandra Bullock and Dennis Hopper.
7. The Bourne Ultimatum with 4 Awards
At the 80th Annual Academy Awards, The Bourne Ultimatum took home three awards, making it the second biggest winner of the night. Moreover, it won in all of the categories it had been nominated for: Film Editing, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. The film also went home with a film of the Year Award from the ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards. Without a doubt, this one was a smash hit, taking in over $440 million at the box office. It is the third installment of the Bourne series, which follows a former CIA assassin played by Matt Damon, as he searches for the truth about his past and the secret organization for which he worked.
6. Braveheart with 5 Awards
This 1995 epic earned Mel Gibson 5 of the most coveted Academy Awards; Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best effects and Best Makeup. It also grossed over $200 million at the box office. Director Gibson stars as William Wallace, a 13th century Scottish warrior leader, in this terribly inaccurate historical story based on a poem written in the 15th century. The story follows William’s transition from commoner to great warrior, when the love of his life is executed for murdering a man who tried to rape her. Naturally, William leads a rebellion. Gibson’s next directorial venture was the hotly debated, The Passion of the Christ, nearly a decade later. For all its controversy it still raked in over $600 million and a few Oscar nominations.
5. The Matrix with 8 Awards
This 1999 sci-fi became an instant classic, winning 4 Oscars and bringing in over $460 million at the box office. Its accolades include, Academy awards for Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing and Visual effects. Furthermore, it got 2 British Film Awards and 2 Saturns, including Best Direction for The Wachowski Brothers. The film follows computer programmer Neo, portrayed by Keanu Reeves, who leads a rebellion in a dystopian future when he learns the truth of the injustices enacted on his kind. The film popularized new visual effects such as, “bullet time” and also contains a deep philosophical narrative level. Carrie-Anne Moss and Laurence Fishburne are also part of this wonderful cast.
4. Gladiator with 11 Awards
5 Oscars (including Best Picture and Best Actor), 4 BAFTAs and 2 Golden Globes – without a doubt, Gladiator is one of the most successful action films of this generation. It brought in over $450 million at the box office and topped many of AFI’s 100 Years lists. This fictional Historical Epic, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Russell Crowe, follows an ex-Roman General turned slave as he works his way up the ranks becoming a legendary Gladiator. Those who have betrayed him have something to fear, as he sets out for revenge. The film has since been cited as reigniting an interest in the sub-genre of Historical Epics, officially dubbed the “Gladiator effect” by The New York Times.
3. Platoon with 15 Awards
This 1986 hit managed to take home 4 Oscars, among them the most honorable: Best Film and Best Director. It also won for sound and editing. Moreover, the film garnered another 11 awards from BAFTA, Director’s Guild of America, Golden Globes, Silver Bear, Independent Spirit Award and WAG. It also brought in almost $140 million at the box office. The film is not only about the Vietnam war, but is the first Hollywood film to be written and directed by a Vietnam Vet – Oliver Stone. It is the first film in a trilogy and stars Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen and Willem Dafoe.
2. Terminator 2: Judgement Day with 19 Awards
This is a sequel that comes at you hard. With Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) fully transformed into a warrior, the film promises high impact right from the first scene. Its 19 awards include: 4 Oscars, Best Make-Up, Best Sound, Best Sound Editing and Best Visual Effects, all of which are very high honors within the genre. It also won a Hugo Award, MTV movie awards, a People’s Choice award, Saturn awards and British Academy Awards. Moreover, it grossed nearly $520 million at the box office. A critical and commercial success, this sci-fi sequel follows Sarah Connor as she tries to do everything in her power to protect her son from a more advanced Terminator.
1. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with 44 Awards
Believe it or not, this film’s 4 Oscars, 2 Golden Globes and 7 Hong Kong Film awards are just the tip of the iceberg, as awards ceremonies around the world have honored it. It was directed by Ang Lee, who himself, holds two Best Director Oscars for Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi. Despite the film’s language being Mandarin, it did extremely well in English speaking countries, and brought in over $200 million at the box office, making it the highest grossing foreign language film. It is often praised for its beautiful cinematography, well-crafted story and outstanding martial arts sequences. Notably, it features physically skilled young women in a positive light. The story is based on a novel, and has itself spawned a comic book series.