The Journal released a list of the 15 best action movies recently. Movies with lots of action that also happened to be science fiction movies were excluded from the list. Those films haven’t been forgotten though. This is the list for action-packed science fiction movies. And while the first list only had one sequel, the science fiction movies are dominated by sequels.
Science fiction is a broad term, so we’re just including action-heavy movies. Films like “E.T.,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Back to the Future” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” won’t be included.
To keep things original, we’re still using the one-movie-per-franchise rule that was used on the original list. Otherwise, half this list would be “Star Wars” movies.
Enough shenanigans. Here are the 10 best action-packed science fiction movies.
10) Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Best scene: The montage of William Cage training and dying repeatedly.
Best line: “I don’t know. We’ve never gotten this far.” – William Cage when asked what to do next after obtaining an important piece of equipment.
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to combine the movie “Groundhog Day” with a futuristic version of D-Day, then you should see “Edge of Tomorrow” as soon as possible.
Tom Cruise plays Major William Cage, a public affairs officer with no combat experience for the United Defense Force. After upsetting a general, Cage is sent to France to be on the front lines of a major assault against a horde of aliens known as mimics. Cage kills a rare kind of mimic but dies in the process. Somehow, Cage awakens again on the day before the invasion while retaining all his knowledge of the day he died.
After dying a few more times, Cage decides to start training a little bit each day before dying again. He starts to get better at being a soldier and may be the key to defeating the alien horde.
9) Escape from New York (1981)
Best scene: Snake’s gladiator fight against Slag.
Best line: “Not now, I’m too tired. Maybe later.” – Snake Plissken to Bob Hauk after Hauk asked if Plissken was going to kill him.
The first dystopian and/or post-apocalyptic future movie on this list, “Escape from New York” was released in 1981 and takes place in 1997. A 1997 where crime has gotten so bad, that the entire island of Manhattan has been turned into the lone maximum security prison in the U.S.
After Air Force One is hijacked by terrorists, the President uses an escape pod that lands in Manhattan. Ex-soldier and now prisoner Snake Plissken, played by Kurt Russell, is tasked with rescuing the President and will be granted a full pardon if successful.
“Escape from New York” is wacky and weird in all the right ways. From the gangs in the streets attacking any car that drives through, to the bridges leading out being littered with mines, “Escape from New York” is certainly original and entertaining.
8) Star Trek (2009)
Best scene: Kirk and Sulu fighting on the massive drill on Vulcan.
Best line: “So go get some more guys and then it’ll be an even fight.” – James T. Kirk to a group of tough guys after they said Kirk was outnumbered four to one.
As of 2017, there have been 13 “Star Trek” movies. The reboot of the franchise in 2009, “Star Trek” easily wins with only a few other films in the series in the same ball park.
A young James T. Kirk, played by Chris Pine, joins Starfleet Academy as a cadet. A distress call from Vulcan is picked up by the academy, and since the main fleet is out of range, the cadets are mobilized and sent to investigate. They run into an advanced Romulan ship that fires on them. After the captain of the Enterprise surrenders to the Romulan ship, the young cadets on board must step up and save the day.
While many of the earlier entries in the “Star Trek” franchise are very cerebral, the reboot keeps that aspect but also injects much more action and adrenaline. It has all the classic characters from the original series, plus a cameo that actually works with the story.
7) RoboCop (1987)
Best scene: RoboCop on patrol for the first time stopping crimes.
Best line: “Dead or alive, you’re coming with me.” – RoboCop
“RoboCop” achieves a rare feat by combing hyper violence, satire and dark humor into a movie that isn’t just competent, but successful.
In a future version of Detroit that is bankrupt and plagued by violence and crime, I know it’s hard to believe, mega-corporation Omni Consumer Products, or OCP, buys the Detroit Police Department. After Officer Alex Murphy, played by Peter Weller, dies in the line of duty, OCP uses its own technology to turn the recently-deceased Murphy into a cyborg known as RoboCop. RoboCop is tasked with cleaning up Detroit while also dealing with OCP, the hand that controls the strings.
You know a fictional character is a big deal when it becomes synonymous with the city it is from. Rocky has a statue in Philadelphia. Mary Tyler Moore also has one in Minneapolis. RoboCop is currently having a statue built for him in Detroit.
6) The Matrix (1999)
Best scene: Neo fighting Agent Smith in the subway station.
Best line: “Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?” – Morpheus
What if our lives were a false reality and all of humanity as we knew it were just pawns in the struggle between man and machine?
Keanu Reeves plays a disillusioned employee for a large software company and is also a hacker in his spare time that goes by the code name of Neo. Neo meets another group of hackers and learns that he is living in a virtual world, invented by machines to control humans. Neo joins the hackers to fight in the revolution against the machines.
In addition to using ground-breaking visual effects, “The Matrix” was an original story that was incredibly entertaining and interesting. Try not to think too much about the sequels though.
5) Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Best scene: The race/chase back to the Citadel in the third act.
Best line: “Out here, everything hurts. You wanna get through this? Do as I say. Now pick up what you can and run.” – Imperator Furiosa
If robot overlords, cyborg police officers, diplomatic relations on an intergalactic scale or aliens aren’t your thing, “Mad Max: Fury Road” is essentially a massive car chase through the desert of Australia.
Set in a post-apocalyptic future devastated by nuclear war, Max Rockatansky, played by Tom Hardy, is captured by despot, Immortan Joe. Max has type O negative blood and is used as a universal donor for one of Immortan Joe’s War Boys. Meanwhile, Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron, attempts to free the slave wives of Immortan Joe from captivity. While the War Boys and Immortan Joe chase Furiosa, Max is chained to the front of the car of a sick War Boy and is forced to choose a side.
While movies in recent years have been dominated by superheroes, computer-generated special effects and convoluted plots, “Mad Max: Fury Road” is as refreshing as it is simple. Win the chase through the desert, or die.
4) Aliens (1986)
Best scene: Ripley fighting the Queen in the power loader.
Best line: “That’s it, man. Game over, man. Game over.” – Private Hudson after the transport ship for the space marines explodes.
While 1979’s “Alien,” the original film in the franchise, was very good, the sequel “Aliens” gets the nod here.
After Ellen Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, survives the events of the first film, she is debriefed as the only living person to have contact with the alien. Later when contact is lost with the colony Hadleys Hope, the planet and location that the alien from the original movie was found, Ripley accompanies a unit of space marines as a liaison to investigate the problem. It turns out the problem is really bad as a horde of aliens have massacred the population. Now it’s up to Ripley and the marines to stop the aliens.
The first “Alien” movie, directed by Ridley Scott, is very atmospheric and more of a horror movie. “Aliens,” directed by James Cameron, keeps much of that feel but ratchets the action up. The action has to go up when the space marines and Cameron are involved.
3) Predator (1987)
Best scene: Dutch and the predator each preparing for their final confrontation against each other.
Best line: “I ain’t got time to bleed.” – Blaine after being told he’s been shot in the arm and is bleeding.
“Predator” probably encapsulates what an 80s action or science fiction movie is better than anything else. It checks off all the boxes of the decade. Super strong, roided-out, foul-mouthed tough guys? Check. Big guns and bigger personalities? Of course. Arnold Schwarzenegger yelling about choppers? Absolutely. Appearances by Jesse “The Body” Ventura and Carl Weathers? You know it. A scene with a minigun mowing down half the trees in the forest? Confirmed. Two heavily-armed individuals forgoing weapons and deciding to fight in hand-to-hand combat instead? Affirmative. Sequels that get progressively worse? Obviously.
Dutch, played by Schwarzenegger, leads an elite special forces team on a mission to rescue hostages and a cabinet minister held in Central America by guerrillas. The team easily dispatches the guerrillas but finds out that the hostages are dead and the CIA liaison with them was just there to recover intelligence. The frustrated team heads to their extraction point, but doesn’t realize that an alien from an advanced race is following them. The alien starts to hunt the group and begins to kill them one at a time. It’s a race to see who, if anyone, can get out of the jungle alive.
“Predator” is the leanest movie on this list and uses simplicity to its advantage. There isn’t a convoluted plot or wasted time, just a bunch of testosterone-fueled commandos trying to survive in the steamy heart of the jungle.
2) Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Best scene: The scene with the two terminators meeting for the first time in a mall that ultimately ends with a car chase.
Best line: “Hasta la vista, baby.” – The T-800 prior to shooting the other terminator.
The second Arnold Schwarzenegger film on this list, and also the second movie directed by James Cameron, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” combines the actor and director to create a pop culture juggernaut.
In a post-apocalyptic future where humans and machines are at war, the machines send a cybernetic assassin known as a terminator back in time to kill the leader of the human resistance, John Connor, while he’s still a child. The humans find out and send a different terminator, reprogrammed to aid the humans, back to protect Connor. The terminators only have Connor’s name and location, Los Angeles, and must search to find him. They battle across all of Los Angeles to complete their respective missions.
This is probably the best movie for both Schwarzenegger and Cameron, which is really saying something. It’s also rare for a movie that has ground-breaking special effects to still look good over 25 years later. Watch the original “Terminator” from 1984 to see effects that have not aged as well.
1) The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Best scene: The battle on Hoth.
Best line: “Who’s scruffy looking?” – Han Solo after being told by Princess Leia that he’s a stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herder.
What were you expecting, “Battlefield Earth?” A “Star Wars” movie was always going to be number one, the only question was which one. The first sequel beats out the original due to the battle on Hoth, the showdown between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader and finally for the twist about the Skywalker family tree.
After destroying the Death Star, the Rebel Alliance has moved its base of operations to the ice planet Hoth. The Empire finds evidence of the Rebels’ base and launches a full-scale attack, forcing the Rebels to flee. Luke Skywalker, played by Mark Hamill, travels to Dagobah to finish his Jedi training, while his friends are captured by the Empire. Skywalker must choose whether to finish his training, or save his friends.
One of the biggest strengths of “The Empire Strikes Back” is that it builds on the original “Star Wars.” Instead of having a plot that invalidates the first film, it expands the universe. It’s also different enough from the first movie to feel fresh, while also not being so different that it feels foreign. Plus, “The Empire Strikes Back” has Darth Vader, Han Solo, a chase through an asteroid field, Princess Leia, Boba Fett, freezing people in carbonite, Chewbacca, Lando Calrissian and the twist on Vader’s identity. This had to be first on the list. It was never a fair fight in the first place.