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Crash! Boom! Pow! The 15 Best Action Sequences Of 2013

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by The Playlist Staff
December 23, 2013 9:05 PM
25 Comments
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Best Action Sequences Of 2013

It seemed as though 2013 was positively clogged up with major "event" movies, each one bigger, louder, and more expensive than the last. Every week some new gargantuan thingummy was trying to one-up the previous week's path of destruction. While many of these movies turned out to be numbing and dull, there were still a few that were actually pretty dazzling, or at the very least featured one truly outstanding sequence that caused you to drop your popcorn or spill your oversized soda in pure, unabashed delight. Almost every big movie in 2013 was marketed at 13-year-old boys; the very best of them made you actually feel like you were 13 again, if only momentarily.

So below, we've compiled a list of fifteen of the very best action sequences from the past year. Let it here be noted that these are not wholehearted endorsements of entire films because, frankly, a lot of these movies are flat-out lousy. It should also be noted with a raised eyebrow just how many of these sequences involve trains. Not only is a train fixation odd in the year 2013, but these are movies that routinely plumb the limitless bounds of imagination and technology and conjure forth things that audiences can oftentimes barely comprehend. So to spend all that money and energy and creativity on trains seems weirdly regressive and yet, if our choices are to be believed, still curiously effective. All aboard then, here's fifteen of the year's very best action sequences.

Channing Tatum and Dwayne Johnson in G.I. Joe: Retaliation

15. Ninja Mountain From "G.I. Joe: Retaliation"
The decision to postpone “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” from its original release date was in order to add a 3D post-conversion which largely didn’t make a lick of difference. Except in the case of NINJA MOUNTAIN. There’s a bit of nonsense involving NINJA MOUNTAIN, where Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes meet and once again air out their grievances in mortal combat. But once a clan of ninjas absconds to the hilly peaks of NINJA MOUNTAIN, suddenly the IMAX scope of the film is no joke. A sly mix of CGI and practical effects, ninjas rappel down NINJA MOUNTAIN like they're in a ballet, balancing on their toes as they glide in all directions by rope, engaging in a series of swordfights at butthole-tightening heights, each side trading a MacGuffin that allows for near-misses, breakneck stunt work and violent clashes that leave a few masked marauders dead and buried in the snow. Perhaps the reason they call it NINJA MOUNTAIN (God, savor it) is because this mountain is built on the corpses of ninjas that have tumbled from their midair battles. Even in a film that boasted the muscle power of both Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis, the sight of multi-colored combatants bouncing off the side of snowy mountaintops remained a major highlight to an otherwise forgettable movie. Say it one more time and let it wash over you pleasantly: NINJA MOUNTAIN.

Man of Steel,  Russell Crowe

14. Kryptonian Prologue from "Man of Steel"
Man Of Steel” is largely a terrible, inert, ridiculous mess. But man, does Russell Crowe work his magic like a boss. Though his performance is given underneath ridiculous space armor and through heavy-lidded, barely-awake eyes, he manages to sell the gravitas of a crumbling Krypton as an apocalyptic scenario as well reminding audiences that his son Kal-El isn’t the only superhero up in this joint. He dispenses with pleasantries against a couple of Kryptonian thugs in a fist-fight before taking it to laser-town against Zod (Michael Shannon) and his minions, but his greatest moment is whistling to his Kryptonian space-bird to make one final daring flight, a trip to grab a piece of the Kryptonian codex that preserves their world’s genetic code. Crowe gets to run, jump, punch, shoot and swim in this sequence, but you feel the weight in a small moment when his flying dragon is harmed and barely staying afloat. As it absorbs near fatal wounds, Crowe’s Jor-El reassures the beast that it will be alright with a paternal pat that suggests these two have been on many adventures together, and inevitably it was going to end with one sacrificing himself for the other. Amongst Superman films, we’ve never really seen the destruction of Krypton before, and Zack Snyder’s collapsing vision convincingly portrays Jor-El as the planet’s last true living hero. Or at least the last one that isn't a baby.

Oblivion (skip crop)

13. The Drone Attack from "Oblivion"
Joseph Kosinski is a young director whose films don't resemble traditional motion pictures as much as elaborate, multimillion-dollar video installations. His first film, "TRON Legacy," was set in a moody computerized world lined with glittery neon piping. So few things actually happened that the stark images, accompanied by Daft Punk's atmospheric electronic score, very nearly hypnotized you. For his second film, Kosinksi returned to science fiction, this time with the more naturalistic "Oblivion." The filmmaker had a better grip on the action this time, while still creating immaculate visuals that betray Kosinski's architectural background. (It also helps that he got a spiky performance out of Tom Cruise in the lead role of a mechanic working to clean up a post-human earth.) One of the very best examples of Kosinski's newfound action set-piece confidence is a sequence where one of the "drones," (artificially intelligent spheres with major firepower and a willingness to turn enemies into ash), infiltrates the headquarters of the "resistance." One of these drones gets in and starts laying waste to people, moving through and up levels in what appears to be an abandoned mine. Watching it unfold is nothing short of eye-popping, the fact that it was almost entirely computer-generated is even more startling. The way that Kosinski moves the camera, virtual or otherwise, is noteworthy for its grace and technical precision. Unlike similar directors, who do not have his same background, Kosinski is content to let the scene play out wide, to maximize both the visceral and emotional impact.

Wolverine

12. The Bullet Train Fight From "Wolverine"
Action sequences are sometimes the most effective when they spring, unexpected and organically, from the narrative flow of the movie, popping up to entertain in a way that you couldn't quite have guessed even five minutes before. This was how it was with the bullet train chase in James Mangold's uneven but perhaps underrated "The Wolverine." Following a big shoot-out at an old acquaintance's funeral, Wolverine finds himself (and the old man's daughter) in the crosshairs of the yakuza, the Japanese mafia. Boarding a high-speed bullet train won't even slow down their pursuit, and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, killing it once again) has to take out a few of them on top of the train. The sequence acts as an effective homage to a half dozen Alfred Hitchcock thrillers as well as a similarly staged sequence from Brian De Palma's "Mission: Impossible," while adding its own unique, high-tech spin. Maybe the best moment in the entire sequence is when Wolverine lets go of the train completely, extending his deadly metallic claws, and stabbing into one of the nameless goons, an appropriately cinematic spin on the "fastball special" from the comic book (in which Wolverine is usually hurled towards an opponent by another, super-strong mutant comrade). While occasionally the green-screen work does look a little phony, the sequence is wittily conceived and executed, with some wonderful, humorous little moments (like when one of the gangsters almost makes it to a skylight right behind the young girl, but she doesn't notice because she's listening to her headphones). If only Mangold could have shown the same amount of restraint and visual panache for that overcooked finale…

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25 Comments

  • Kevin | March 24, 2014 4:33 PMReply

    What the F*ck !! Come on if you gonna put Iron Man 3 on this list put the last action sequences between the suits and the extremis-persons. And with that scene it shouldn't be on the first place. And I believe that Man of Steel shoud have 2 of 3 action sequences on this list. (Krypton, Smallville and Metropolis). The Wolverine scene that you have chosen should be replaced with "Wolverine vs Ninjas" especiallyon the extended version. That scene was just awesome.

  • Gunjan | January 24, 2014 9:01 PMReply

    I could not take this list seriously the moment I realised that the Smallville action sequence from Man of Steel had not been included.

  • Jon | December 21, 2013 12:16 PMReply

    I think it's insane to exclude Johnnie To's "Drug War" from this list. To might be the best action director around.

  • Gabe Toro | January 3, 2014 12:42 AM

    Agreed 100%. I fought for this, but alas...

  • joseph | December 21, 2013 10:03 AMReply

    Those are fantastic movies

  • ET | December 17, 2013 12:06 PMReply

    "fatal wombs" lol

  • cineman | December 17, 2013 12:04 PMReply

    The mediocrity of most of that list really highlights what a disappointing year it's been

  • David | December 18, 2013 6:46 PM

    You're mediocre. Try to make a film before bashing one, moron.

  • ET | December 17, 2013 12:12 PM

    Agreed!

  • Grego | December 17, 2013 11:44 AMReply

    I suggest anyone who finds The Grandmaster disappointing should watch it a second, and then a third time. And also see every version of it. I know the need to see every version of it (Hong Kong 130 minute cut, Internation 123 minute cut, and US 108 minute cut) by definition may prove that any single version is a disappointment, but I believe this movie is an exception. Wong edited the Hong Kong cut based on TIME, and the US cut based on CHARACTER, and once you see both its impossible to not have one in your head while you're watching the other. There are a few sequences in the US cut that, if inserted into the Hong Kong or International cut, would make for a perfect film. I'm still holding out hope for an edit resembling Wong's original 4- hour cut. The film is a masterpiece in some (possibly as yet unseen) form. At any rate, it's the most underrated movie of the year and the one that I've found most repays repeat viewings.

  • Glass | December 23, 2013 8:19 PM

    "I suggest anyone who finds The Grandmaster disappointing should watch it a second, and then a third time. And also see every version of it."

    lol you're kidding right? Some people aren't unemployed.

  • Alberto | December 16, 2013 8:52 PMReply

    Sorry, but The Grandmaster –just focusing on the films I found, or wanted to find, relevant in the list– didn't make it as a movie or in the action scenes, that remembered me of Alice In Chain's "Man In The Box" video, chopped, blurred, kitsch and with a 4 fps slow mo with an escenario made up of overtly drawn CGI.

  • swell | December 16, 2013 6:19 PMReply

    Yeah, not bad... The second fight in World's End and 2 or 3 sequences from Gravity were the standouts for me. Would have liked to see some love for the Thor finale. Felt fresh and relatively inventive but nothing was exactly The Raid or anything this year...

  • Jake17 | December 16, 2013 5:06 PMReply

    Am I the only one who thought that sequence in Iron Man 3 was terrible? Then again, I was so bored with the film at that point, it was hard for me to care.

  • David | December 18, 2013 6:49 PM

    ANTONIO M: He doesn't carry them. They're carrying themselves by holding hands each other.

  • ANTONIO M | December 18, 2013 4:27 PM

    Nope. You weren't. Actually I found it kind of a cop out: Jarvis says the suit can carry 3 people, and Iron Man ends up carrying all of them. I mean, geesh, that's some piece of lazy writing.

  • george P | December 16, 2013 5:32 PM

    Nope. You are not the only one.

  • Kevin Klawitter | December 16, 2013 4:07 PMReply

    "Man of Steel" is a 'a terrible, inert, ridiculous mess', but "The Lone Ranger" is 'incredibly strange, darkly comic, and hugely expensive western that had moments of intermittent beauty and excitement'? MoS wasn't perfect or even great by any means, but it was miles better than "The Lone Ranger" (even factoring in the fantastic final set piece).

    I know you guys pride yourselves on being self-consciously against the grain, but this is seriously trying too hard.

  • moo | December 16, 2013 8:27 PM

    Your argument assumes that by being focus on one genre, the critic can't also be more critical than a general critic and therefore more useful. If the point of movie criticism is to educate an audience about the merits of a particular movie, then the person doing that review should understand their subject as much as possible. I think this site is clearly aiming for an expertise in a certain movie genre that is specifically not action and that's why an article posted here about action scenes has little credibility to me.

  • Kevin Klawitter | December 16, 2013 7:12 PM

    I don't think that's a good idea at all.

    First of all, not all music critics are specialists. Second, based on what I've seen from websites such as Bloody Disgusting and the like that already have genre focuses, they are much more likely to give pieces of crap a pass if they have the bare minimum of the required genre goods. Do enough people die in a colorful way? Well, that means it's a good horror movie! Since most modern horror movies are basically technical exercises anyway, this makes the critic serve the same purpose as a professor, grading the aesthetic aspects rather than judging it as a piece of art.

    Also, when looking at websites like The Dissolve, it's fairly clear that certain critics are more likely to be review certain kinds of movies anyway; Nathan Rabin, for instance, mostly reviews comedies, and nearly always gets the low-rent types like "Grown Ups 2" and "A Madea Christmas" (whether this is by request, design, or coincidence I am not aware).

    Movies should be judged against others of their genre, yes, but that doesn't mean they should be looked at PURELY in terms of their genre, because that creates a limit on how they can be viewed.

  • moo | December 16, 2013 5:00 PM

    Thank you. I can't remember in which interview he talked about this, but Jerry Bruckheimer said he thinks movie critics should be like music critics where critics specialize in a specific genre and review only those works. This list is a perfect example of why that makes sense.

  • NewYorker | December 16, 2013 4:03 PMReply

    my 10 favorite movies with cool action sequences are defently(don't feel like to name the action sequence lol)
    1-Fast and Furious 6
    2-Man Of Steel
    3-Gangster Squad
    4-Iron Man 3
    5-G.I. Joe: Retaliation
    6-Bullet To The Head
    7-2 Guns
    8-Oldboy
    9-Empire State
    10-The Wolverine

  • David I. | December 16, 2013 4:02 PMReply

    Where's/why no Man of Steel? :/

  • Look Closer | December 16, 2013 5:23 PM

    Look closer

  • Rick | December 16, 2013 4:00 PMReply

    I feel like the Iron Man series in general has always been kind of light on action.

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