John Wick: Chapter Two made me giddy. Is there anyone it didn’t make giddy? I walked away wanting to either fight club everyone or discuss John Wick with them. Was it the best of all time? Of course, we had to hold an Enter the Dragon–Mortal Kombat style tournament of death to find the most rewatchable action movie.
1 Only the Last Twenty Years Count
With apologies to Die Hard the first, Sigourney Weaver, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and anyone who has ever taken their face off, we have to draw the line somewhere. I would also posit that maybe, just maybe, the acting and effects have significantly improved since then. So while I’ll greatly miss the hard-boiled eighties and the complete-lack-of-self-consciousness nineties, you will have to take a backseat for once. Just don’t make another Expendables movie.
2 It Can’t Get Too Real
While Black Hawk Down is one of my favorite movies (and also superior to the still-good but sanctimonious and symbolically bludgeoning Saving Private Ryan), I can barely ever watch this movie anymore. It’s readily available on Netflix, but I get palpitations and even a little dusty-eyed when I think about this band of almost faceless brothers morphing into something greater. To say nothing of the situation in Somalia and the very real world violence, Black Hawk Down is too gut-wrenching to rewatch. Ditto for Sicario.
3 The Trajectory of the Series Counts
Imagine if the Star Wars franchise had ended after the prequels. We actually lived in that reality for a long time and it was not a good one. And while that is a fate the Matrix likely won’t be able to escape, it looks like our Jedi might.
4 How Many Must-See Set Piece Scenes Are There?
There is a simple test to run. While I watched each movie, I continuously drank fluids—hell, after a while I slapped in an IV. And then I counted how many times I allowed myself to use the restroom. When I had to get a catheter, I knew I had my winner.
5 How Much Does It Make You Want to Fight Imaginary Bad Guys?
If the answer is “a lot”, then it succeeded.
6 It Can’t Be Directed by Zack Snyder
Who would win in an actual fight?
POTENTIALLY CONTROVERSIAL EXCLUSIONS
The little watched Jet Li star vehicle in which he fights a multiverse of other Jet Lis for dominance is one of the smartest dumb conceits for a movie ever. Too bad the characters make the others on this list look like Hamlet in all their complexity.
Mad Max: Fury Road
With widespread critical acclaim and some game-changing practical effects, people wouldn’t shut up about how Mad Max: Fury Road should have been the Best Picture. Let’s break down the nominees that year with some very quick hot takes.
Bridge of Spies – combines the worst habits of Spielberg and Hanks’ (both of whom I like) worst habits of being ultra-safe and ultra-likable in the midst of being overly sentimental
- Brooklyn – has no narrative, should’ve picked Jim
- Room – kid so annoying
- Spotlight (the winner) – perfectly fine and respectable and perfectly overrated and uninspired direction
- The Big Short – the right amount of caustic indignation and blistering style, 15 minutes too long and probably the best
- The Martian – the most rewatchable
- The Revenant – numbingly beautiful and utterly exhausting in its effort, unrewatchable unless full of existential nihilism, which already happened last week
Basically, no. Fury Road was just to flippin’ goofy, and I would have to see about eight-too many disgusting images if I was rewatching this on cable.
Young, charismatic Brendan Frasier and young, pre-prestige Rachel Weisz is a sight for sore, mummy-plucked eye sockets, but it’s an action-adventure-horror-comedy. Also, the law of diminishing returns strikes pretty hard. The Mummy is one of the most rewatchable movies of all time, but when your sequels include annoying children, abominable snowmen, and Jet Li throwing his face at you before turning into a dragon, then you don’t make the cut.
I watched Oldboy a million years ago on a sketchy DVD with no subtitles while my friend translated in Korean. It will remain forever memorable for Park Chan-wook’s grim-warped aesthetic and the chance to see Choi Min-sik eat a live octopus and then fight twenty men in a hallway with a hammer while a knife sticks out of him. I will also remember the part where my friend tried to translate the sex scene dialogue, unsuccessfully. But if you can watch this movie often, then you’re more twisted than the screenplay.
The Lord of the Rings
The Two Towers is one of the greatest action climaxes of all time. I actually rep for the 18 endings of The Return of the King. (If you’re going to be the most epic trilogy of all time, might as well have the most epic of 18 epic endings every, right?) But if you watched The Fellowship of the Ring and thought that was an action movie, then you might just be a Balrog.
According to our rules, I considered dinging Rogue One for the prequels, except it and The Force Awakens were specifically created to wipe away the lingering taste of Jar Jar. The fact that they both kind of succeeded is almost a miracle unto itself.
Too bad the first third of the movie is an incoherent mess, because I could fall into Felicity Jones space-mascaraed eyes. And watching Gareth Edwards’ eye for scale and action was an incredible jolt in one of the most memorable, shockingly intense experiences in the theater.
On a more personal note, I was planning to write a review for Rogue One, but when I left the theater, I found my car smashed into, and all of my aforementioned friend’s stuff had been stolen while he was here visiting home. I spent the remainder of the night at a police station and taping cardboard to my car in zero-degree weather at midnight with my bare hands and then driving around in said car, helping him replace said stuff while I slowly froze and got sick for all of the holidays.
And do you know what I thought of that night while falling asleep? Darth Vader slicing Rebel redshirts in half and throwing them into the ceiling.
Too bad Rogue One is a war movie.
Kung Fu Panda
I just don’t buy the protagonist as a human being.
It’s time to quit dawdling and get this fight club started. The movies are alphabetized for seeding.
1 Bourne vs. 16 Taken
The first Taken might be one of the most rewatchable bad movies ever. Watching a 6’11 75-year old Liam Neeson growl out gravelly threats and kick ass is one of the greatest pleasures anyone can find watching cable at 3 AM. Where it stutters is the action scene editing, where the choreography is julienned into coleslaw and the sequels, which deteriorate faster than Neeson’s joints.
The Bourne franchise suffers from similar flaws: ugly sequels (including a Renner handover) and gnarly editing. But where it comes out on top is in the villains. Neeson rarely had an equal in those movies. It was like watching a video character mow down uncomfortably-ethnic zombies. Damon was trading jabs and elbows with elite, clone-type killers. He had to kill Clive Owen!
Winner: 1 Bourne
8 Gone in 60 Seconds vs. 9 James Bond (Daniel Craig Edition)
There is zero possibility that 60 Seconds was ever going to defeat Craig’s steely, blue-eyed Bond. And yet, I posit that it is disqualified for being from the Fast and the Furious franchise anyway. WOT? Let’s see.
A crew of multi-ethnic street racers, car thieves, and other unsavory types that need to do something insane. They steal 50 cars in one night!!! Look at that cast!!! Head-lined by Oscar-winners Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie!! Oscar-winner Robert Duvall and Justified’s Timothy Olyphant! Giovanni Ribisi! A murderer’s row of TV and character actors including Chi McBride, Will Patton, Delroy Lindo, Cristopher Eccleston, and the one and only Vinnie Jones!
My dream scenario is that the F&F franchise ends with an apocalyptic trilogy where they and the 60 Seconds crew have to rob each other before banding together to defeat the Expendables guys that inevitably ends with Nic and Vin hijacking a comet and flying it into a black hole and the other side as the entire universe explodes.
60 Seconds doesn’t win because it’s part of the F&F franchise. Either that, or it shouldn’t be up for Most Rewatchable Action Movie on Cable. It should’ve been up for Best Picture.
Winner: 9 James Bond
4 The Dark Knight Trilogy vs. 13 Mission: Impossible
Go back and rewatch the original Mission: Impossible. For such an iconic movie with so many iconic scenes, it is shockingly mediocre. I tend to think of it in terms of era. Like in sports, it’s impossible to compare athletes across eras because of advances in medicine, air travel, biomechanics, training, sleep cycles, ultra-luxury facilities, and not slamming three beers and smoking a few cigs before a game.
It was a tough time for movies.
Luckily for the franchise, the original is discounted for coming out in 1996, but there are weak links in the franchise. There are none in the Dark Knight Trilogy.
This is a shame considering where Rogue Nation left us. Finally blessed with an iconic foil in Ilsa Faust (minus one quick heel turn by Philip Seymour Hoffman in MI3), Tom’s blinding white smile was blunted by the literal heels of Rebecca Ferguson. The set piece where they trade wits and bullets at a performance of Turandot was one of the most beautifully synchronized, quick-wit fight scenes that appears on this list.
My only solace is that I know Tom Cruise might literally die for our entertainment. I look forward to Mission: Impossible 9, when he dives into a real-life volcano and holds his breath in red-hot lava for seventeen minutes.
Winner: 4 The Dark Knight Trilogy
5 Edge of Tomorrow vs. 12 The Matrix Trilogy (The Matrices?)
This is one of the easier calls in the first round. While The Matrix and #3 seed Crouching Tiger together ushered in a new wave of bullet-time, slow-motion battles, and balletic wuxia, the Matrix movies (Matrices?) suffers for its two universally-derided sequels. I will defend The Matrix Reloaded for its wealth of compelling ideas and characters like the Merovingian mansion, the Twins, and the Agent Smith Virus. Then the Wachowskis went and did to those ideas what Mao and Stalin did to Marx.
Let’s pour one out once more for that freeway sequence. One of the most audacious set pieces ever, I will forever want to warp in and out of cars like one of the Twins. We need to pause for a moment. Laurence Fishburne attacked an SUV with a fucking katana. If you can’t get behind that, then you’ve got as much soul as the Architect with half the vocabulary.
Winner: 5 Edge of Tomorrow
2 Captain America Civil War vs. 15 Spy
I didn’t quite know what to do with Captain America Civil War because I wasn’t sure whether to consider it part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe IP or the Captain America franchise or the Avengers. Instead, I cheated and called it a movie unto its own, which you get to do when you are the writer, editor, and CEO of your work. It seems almost unfair for a standalone Melissa McCarthy vehicle to go against the combined juggernaut of the MCU, especially when Spy was one of my favorite movies of 2015.
A hilarious buddy film with Rose Byrne that didn’t actually sell McCarthy short and took as much care with its choreography as its jokes, it pains me to eliminate it. But that airport fight scene seals the deal.
Winner: 2 Captain America Civil War
7 Gladiator vs. 10 John Wick
It’s fitting that we have two of our most vengeance-driven, verbally-challenged heroes set out against each other. I’d like to imagine that they would just stare balefully at each other across the arena until the loser dropped dead.
Gladiator is already one of the proven most-rewatchable cable movies. Seeing Russell Crowe’s battered face growl through his dialogue while dripping blood over the Coliseum sands has stood the test of time. I like to imagine he’s still out there, laying waste to incestuous emperors and snot-nosed Praetorians.
Only the movie gets by on sheer force of Russell Crowe’s thirst for vengeance and Joaquin Phoenix’s immaculate sniveling. Many of the action scenes are viciously perfunctory.
Beautiful, moving, eliminated.
Winner: 10 John Wick
3 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon vs. The Raid(s)
This is a power-packed martial arts matchup and one of the toughest of round one. Iko Uwais introduced the average moviegoer to pencak silat and then blew our goddamned minds. Watching Uwais throw bone-crunching elbow after bone-crunching knee in some of the greatest action choreography ever gives me the chills. Watching him fight Mad Dog was like watching a bunch of video game characters at 99% damage stunlocking each other. Sometimes I wondered if there are even any safety regulations in Asia. Watching this was less an action movie than an act of survival.
Watching Cecep Arif Rahman’s The Assassin battle Uwais in The Raid 2 made me want to learn pencak silat until I realized I’m a fragile flower and about a 130 pounds soaking wet. So how did a movie featuring characters named “Hammer Girl”, “Baseball Bat Man”, and “The Assassin” lose to a philosophizing poem of a movie featuring zero actual martial artists in the starring roles?
Because I will defend to my death that Crouching Tiger has the best ever martial arts choreography. Full stop. (More on this later.)
It hurts to lose the Raid movies this early on, but they most of all would understand the nature of brutality.
6 Fast and the Furious vs. 11 Kill Bill
Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2 are some of the most auteur-driven works amidst a number of auteur-driven works. Quentin Tarantino has fanboys squealing everywhere, but I find his style occasionally over-indulgent and winking. I say this as someone who has immensely enjoyed the tavern scene from Inglourious Basterds, the gift of Cristoph Waltz, and the tour de force of Uma Thurman kicking 88 asses amid a field of blood-squirting stumps.
Unfortunately, I had to listen to David Carradine philosophize for about four hours until Uma finally exploded his heart. It’s a bit like getting a brand new Mustang when you’re 17, except you only get the car if drive your little siblings to school, and your siblings are elderly men who like to monologue about superhero identities for so long that Uma literally utters the words “Ahso, the point emerges.” God I hate Bill.
Meanwhile, I think they had to write in contractual obligations that Vin “Groot” Diesel had to talk.
Winner: 6 Fast and the Furious
END OF ROUND ONE: INTERMISSION