Action films are the bread and butter of Hollywood, grossing billions of dollars and spurning franchises that last decades. For actors, action movies present an interesting challenge. Plots that are unrealistic, stunts that push the limits of safety, and high public expectations are only the beginning of the pressure. To truly nail a role as an action hero, an actor must be cool, confident, and committed. Take it from these guys and gals who crushed their performances in some of the best action movies ever made.
1. James Bond, 1962-Present
Even the most interesting man in the world has a keen interest in James Bond. He is quite possibly the greatest and most successful action hero ever created by a mortal man and he doesn’t even wear a cape. From Sean Connery to Pierce Brosnan to Daniel Craig, the role of James Bond has made careers since the first film, Dr. No, was released in the early 60’s. Pay particular attention to the blonde Bond’s gritty performances in Casino Royale and Skyfall for a real lesson on how to shake (not stir) an action performance. And amongst the many actresses that filled the requisite “Bond girl” role, there are countless performances that perfectly marry strength and sensuality, although Grace Jones as the villain May Day in A View to a Kill is a favorite.
2. The Matrix, 1999-2003
The Matrix single handedly changed the way people watch movies and how Hollywood produces them. With a plot so complex and ridiculous, it was up to the actors to ground their characters in reality to give the audience something to connect with. And the above clip is a perfect example of this grounding in reality as Keanu Reeves is tasked with delivering a breathtaking performance as his mundane “reality” is invaded by agents of The Matrix. Of course, everyone is great, but Laurence Fishburne is otherworldly as Morpheus. If you can only see one of the films, go with the first, simply titled The Matrix.
3. Indiana Jones, 1981-1989
Forget the 2008 franchise entry for a minute. The truly golden Indy films were released in the 80’s, back when Harrison Ford’s stubble ruled the film world. Ford had a lot on his shoulders and completely delivers across the first three films: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. At once comical, exciting, campy, and thrilling, the Indiana Jones franchise of action films is a testament to the power of film. Again, the first is the best but all three are worth a look for any aspiring action film actor.
4. The Dark Knight, 2008
Every once in a while a movie comes along that changes the landscape of the art of filmmaking. The Dark Knight was one such film. Before Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece, the Oscar’s only nominated five films for Best Picture. Since the snub of Nolan’s second Batman installment, the Academy nominates 10 movies for Best Picture each year. Dark Knight is special both cinematically and performance-wise. Heath Ledger’s Joker is a villain that redefined the art of acting evil, and was recognized with a Best Supporting Actor statue.
5. Ironman, 2008
The eighth year of this millennium was a good year for action film performances and for Robert Downey Jr. He took a bit of a hiatus from acting to get himself right but returned with a vengeance as the quick-witted genius Tony Stark. Downey’s unapologetic arrogance and soft heart as the titular character are constantly at odds, making everything that Stark does on screen moving. Many superhero films have followed, but no one quite hits the mark like Downey does with Tony.