This week we celebrate the Fourth of July with hot dogs, swim suits and summer blockbusters. Transformers: Age of Extinction made a zillion dollars at the box office last week and it seems like summer movie season has been in full swing since the April release of Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Since the big tentpole action movie is a huge draw to moviegoers every summer, I started thinking about it and came to the conclusion that I think ’90s action movies were the best action movies.
Some people may argue that the ’80s were action’s heyday, but I humbly disagree. The ’90s action movie was a delightful blend between the testosterone soaked flicks of the ’80s and the hyper realistic and self aware blockbusters that we have today. So in honor of ‘MERICA, please join me on a trip down memory lane celebrating the John Woos and Jan de Bonts of a time long past, as we list the nine reasons why ’90s action movies were the best. Because, let’s get real, despite all of his Dark Knight glory, Christopher Nolan would never write a line about winners going home to f**k the prom queen.
#9: Sensitive Dads
Pop quiz, hot shot! What’s one of the most important things every great ’90s action movie needs? Sensitive, usually single, dads who are also secret bad asses. They are probably played by Nicolas Cage. Sometimes you can substitute “sensitive single dad” for “sensitive single man” who is kind of divorced from his wife who is still totally in love with him but for some reason doesn’t want to be married to said sensitive man. Also, someone’s usually a cop. Sometimes a secret cop! Lots of secrets in ’90s action movies…
And while we’re talking about sensitive things, BONUS awesome thing about ’90s action movies? Sensitive, epic love ballads that are probably written by Diane Warren. See: Con Air and Armageddon.
#8: One of Two Villains: Domestic Terrorists or Aliens
As in, extraterrestrial. Action movies didn’t get xenophobic until the 2000s. And yes, asteroids and meteors count as “extraterrestrial.” Heck, I’d even count the volcanoes in Dante’s Peak and Volcano as “domestic terrorists.” The major exception to all of this is, of course, Air Force One but I say that doesn’t really count because Gary Oldman was just doing his best Hans Gruber impression and Alan Rickman is forever awesome.
#7: Movies Where Faces Come Off!
Well, really, just Face/Off because Mission: Impossible 2 missed the cut by ONE year! You just had to come out in 2000, didn’t you Mission Impossible 2? Yet another reason why you are terrible. Anyway…
Not even in the not so distant future, in the 1990s right now, when cell phones are really big and AOL is how we get our email, the other John Woo masterpiece with face removing technology says that science can cut your face off and switch it with another person’s, because, sure! As far as I’m concerned, Face/Off has everything: inappropriate face licking, Joan Allen looking totally out of place, monochrome pleather outfits, and a character named “Wanda.”
There is no better on-screen duo than Nicolas Cage and John Travolta. We all know that Cage isn’t afraid to get a little nuts but Travolta totally goes for it when it’s his turn to play Castor Troy and boy, does it work. Look, if we’re being honest here, I know it’s cool to be all, “I’m a cinephile, Citizen Kane is one of my favorite movies of all time,” but if I’m telling the truth? Face/ Off is in the top ten. Now you know me.
#6: Slow. Motion. Moments.
The ’90s were not the time to be all smarty pants Christopher Nolan cool! They were the time for K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the ’70s to play in the background while you walk slowly down the street in front of a brick wall, or to walk in a line with your helmet in your hand on your way to drill an asteroid to death. This was a time for white birds to fly around your head for no reason, whether you’re Leonardo DiCaprio attempting Shakespeare or Sean Archer attending your boss’s funeral. ’90s action movies were all about Bad. Ass. Slow. Motion. Moments.
#5: Real Stunts, People!
There was something about the action in a ’90s action movie that looked real. I mean real-real, like actually reach out and put your hands on it real. In Jurassic Park, the goal was to use as much animatronic as possible and CGI was to be used as an accessory and only an accessory. The aliens in Independence Day were made from tangible materials and the White House was totes a model that they blasted the sh*t out of. In Face/Off they blew up a dock and then went on an epic boat chase where stuntmen ended up barefoot waterskiing for no reason except because it looks cool!
#4: The American President
No, not the Michael Douglass kind, although that is a very good movie. No, these are American Presidents who will kick your ass! Whether its Harrison Ford growling, “Get off my plane!” or Morgan Freeman in Deep Impact or even Jack Nicholson in Mars Attacks! (Oh yeah, I went there.) But by far, the greatest American President in 90’s action history was Bill “We Will Not Go Quietly Into The Night” Pullman aka President Whitmore in Independence Day.
This really needs no explanation further than the “Today is Our Independence Day” speech, but in case you are in doubt, let’s consult the ’90s action check list: sensitive, eventually single dad. (Oops! Spoiler Alert…) Check! Getting his hands dirty flying an airplane to fight the aliens? Double check. The delivery of the line “Nuke ’em. Let’s nuke the bastards!”? Major check. Plus, he’s a president who is a terrible liar. How adorably Roland Emmerich is that?
#3: Movie Titles: Two Words, Crazy Punctuation and Extremely Necessary Descriptive Subtitles
This is a ’90s action movie, I only got room for two words in my title! “Executive Decision.” “Demolition Man.” “Pointe Break.” “Under Siege.” “Hard Target.”
Every great ’90s action movie also needs crazy punctuation and/or subtitles in their names. We’re talking backslashes for no reason (Face/Off) and abbreviations that make no sense whatsoever (I’m looking at you, “ID4″). Speed 2: Cruise Control. Die Hard with a Vengeance. The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Ah-ha! That one was backwards.
“Hey, Clarke! Why are all these subtitles and unnecessary punctuation here?” How many times do I have to say it? Because it looks cool! Don’t ask questions, this is a ’90s action movie!
#2: The One Liners
Predator, The Terminator and Die Hard had some killer one liners but the ’90s takes the cake. Case in point: “Hasta la vista, baby.” “Welcome to Earth!” “I have got to get me one of these!” “Now that’s what I call a close encounter.” “Why couldn’t you put the bunny back in the box?” “I am the law!” “Must go faster, must go faster…” That one was so nice, we got it twice. Thanks, Jeff Goldblum!
And the number one reason why the ’90s action movie is the greatest action movie?
#1: The 90s Action Hero
I know some people will disagree. John McClane is the everyman! There is nothing tougher than Dutch and Dillon’s Predator handshake. (Rawr!) Snake Plissken is cool like a cowboy! Alright, I might be the only one that says that, but it is true.
Despite all of the action heroes that have come before and all of the heroes that have come since, I’m going to say it loud and proud: there is no greater action hero than the ’90s action hero. Maybe it’s because they started to lighten up. Arnold had a little fun with himself in True Lies and Last Action Hero (super underrated, by the way), Nic Cage killed it in Face/Off and Con Air, and his new action star met Sean Connery’s elder action star in The Rock. But in 1995 with the release of Bad Boys, America met the biggest ’90s hero of them all: Will Smith.
I don’t care what anyone says, if you ask me, Will Smith is the king of the action blockbuster. From Independence Day to Men In Black to Enemy of the State, Smith has the perfect blend of tough guy swagger, charm, humor and, hey, he’s pretty handsome, too. As far as I’m concerned, forget the fireworks, it ain’t the Fourth of July until we’re watching a Will Smith movie!
What do you say, friends? What’s your favorite kind of action movie? And who is the real last action here? Sound off in the comments; it wouldn’t be the Fourth of July without some fireworks!