I’ve always been far more partial to action accomplished via choreography than with CGI shenanigans. There’s a place for both, obviously, but I’m more impressed by the agile movement of bodies than I am by the placement of pixels. Unfortunately, fight scenes unassisted by CGI or wire-work are becoming a bit of a rarity these days. That said, there’s still plenty of fun to be had with action scenes, big or small, that are created with the aid of technology or that eschew fisticuffs all together for exciting gunplay or vehicular hijinks.
This year’s best action films are a mix of all of the above and include both domestic and international movies. What’s not included? Movies featuring superheroes. It wasn’t an intentional slight, believe me, but when it came time to rank which films offered up the most legitimately exciting and visceral thrills the thirteen below beat out the likes of Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, and others. Remember, this isn’t a ranking of movies but of the action in the movies, meaning while these aren’t all necessarily great films they do represent the best action to have hit screens this year.
To that end, keep reading for a look at our choices for the Best Action Movies of 2013.
13. World War Z
I know, I’ve already lost you. But while the vast majority of the action here is accomplished via CGI it’s given a tangible weight missing from the big comic book movies thanks to a more emotional presence. The rampaging crowds of “zombies” feel like a real threat, a highly exaggerated mob mentality, and characters we care about are placed in harm’s way adding a degree of menace to the the frenetic action in the city streets at the beginning and over the walls of Jerusalem later.
12. The Last Stand
All things considered, Kim Jee-woon‘s Hollywood debut is easily the weakest of his films, but while it falters in the story and character departments it offers a ton of fun in the area of gunplay, car chases, and ’80s-style one-liners. Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s return to leading man status comes complete with the realization that he really is too old for this shit. He has a good time with it though, and any fan of his can’t help but love to see him manning a Gatling gun again reminiscent of Terminator 2.
11. Lone Survivor
Director Peter Berg has already proven himself in the action department with the joyous romp that is The Rundown and the incredibly intense The Kingdom, and while his latest doesn’t quite live up to those standards it still delivers on the gun battles. Based on a true story, the film shows a reverence for not only the real Navy SEALs that were involved but also for their tactics, abilities, and courage. As exciting as the gunfights are though the slides and falls down the mountain are truly epic.
10. Fast & Furious 6
The latest installment in the world’s most unexpectedly successful franchise probably utilizes as much CGI as any other summer blockbuster, but it’s the combination of the audacious and the ridiculous that makes it so purely entertaining. Incredible car chases, immense stunts, tanks (?), and more all come together to create a world where seemingly anything can happen when Vin Diesel or Paul Walker are behind the wheel. That’s never more clear than when the gang discovers a 26-mile long runway.
9. Drug War
Hong Kong director Johnnie To is no stranger to elaborate exchanges of gunfire, but he’s crafted one of his best and most effective films here. The film plays out at times like more of a procedural, but when it comes time for opposing hails of bullets it shifts gears into something truly spectacular. They hit with an impact that almost reverberates through your own body, and you can’t help but feel like you’re a part of the battle.
8. Olympus Has Fallen/White House Down
Can you tell which of the two films the above still is actually from? Probably not, and that combined with the films’ near identical plots made it seem right to list them together. Both have their detractors (and both feature laughably bad effects work), but I’m happy to admit I find both to be incredibly fun action flicks. The former is grittier while the latter is goofier, but both offer up lots of enjoyable gunplay and some creatively executed hand-to-hand combat.