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

by The Playlist Staff
December 23, 2013 9:05 PM
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11. The Fight in The Beehive - “The World’s End” 
A funny thing happened between Edgar Wright shooting "Hot Fuzz" and "The World's End," the second and third films in the Cornetto trilogy. The British director went to the U.S, teamed up with "The Matrix" cinematographer Bill Pope and Jackie Chan collaborator Brad Allan, and made "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World," becoming one of the worlds best directors of fight sequences in the process. It's an immediate and obvious boon to "The World's End," which has three cracking, splattery fight sequences that pit the bar-crawlers against the 'smashy-smashy-egg-men,' as Nick Frost's Andy so memorably christens them. All three fights are instant classics, but as much as we love the one-take close proximity bathroom brawl that kicks things off, and the briefer throwdown with the twins in a smoking garden, it's the confrontation in The Beehive that's the biggest and the best. Realizing that one of their own has been turned by the Network, fronted by Pierce Brosnan's dope-smoking teacher, Gary (Simon Pegg), Andy (Frost), Steven (Paddy Considine), Sam (Rosamund Pike) and Peter (Eddie Marsan) make a last stand against the blanks, and it's breathtaking, dense stuff. Each character fights in a way that's entirely reflective of their character (i.e. Marsan pretty much runs and hides, former rugby star Frost is a hulking brawler), but the fragility of their adversaries lets the action become heightened and graceful without turning them into superheroes (and as ever, it makes a huge difference that it's clearly mostly the actors themselves getting stuck in). Wright's fluid camerawork gives the action space to breath without losing punch, and it's just crammed with memorable gags and detail, so much so that you'll miss much of it the first time around—Pegg's attempt to finish his drink while fending off foes is a meld of Jackie Chan and a great Looney Tunes cartoon, and a gorgeous bit of physical comedy amidst the carnage. It's a few minutes in which a group of drunk middle-aged British men became the most memorable action heroes of the year. 

10. The Train Chase From "The Lone Ranger"
Up until the last thirty minutes or so, Gore Verbinski's "The Lone Ranger" was, at the very least, an incredibly strange, darkly comic, and hugely expensive western that had moments of intermittent beauty and excitement. And then the last thirty minutes starts and it becomes near-brilliant for the simple reason that the last thirty minutes of the movie is occupied by the train chase. The movie is built around a mystery involving a railroad baron, the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, a reptilian bandit, cursed silver and a tribe of Native Americans, and so it makes sense that the climax would take place on the rails (after a fictionalized version of the golden spike ceremony that cemented the real railroad's transcontinental dominance). Tonto (Johnny Depp) has stolen one train, The Constitution, full of silver, while the villains (led by Tom Wilkinson) board the Jupiter, a swifter passenger train, and give chase. Verbinski constructed the chase with the full intention of creating the "greatest train chase ever," and he's succeeded: between the trains, which crisscross on zigzagging tracks, the fact that the Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer) rides a horse on top of one of the trains (and then has a gunfight between the carriages), and then that the whole thing comes to a head on a dynamited bridge… Well, it's kind of one of those things that has to be seen to be believed. It's exciting, it's funny, it's gorgeously staged (with major help from Industrial Light & Magic), and it's so good that even those who think the film is utterly worthless have to begrudgingly agree that its last thirty minutes are something quite special.

9. The Israeli Invasion From "World War Z"
Like so many great action sequences, this heart-stopping moment from "World War Z" is constructed around a sly joke: that in this post-zombie world, Israel has remained uncontaminated because they have built a towering concrete wall to keep out the walking dead. (A similar idea is explored in "Pacific Rim," only there it's given the name the Wall of Life and used to keep out giant scary monsters, without the satirical edge.) Brad Pitt, as the former UN official brought in to try and untangle the mystery of how, exactly, the outbreak got started, is being taken around and told how the wall works. Israel knows a thing or two about walls, the character notes. As this is going on, there's some kind of public prayer about to begin. The feedback from the microphone that is being used sets off the zombies outside of the wall, who start to climb up one another like a giant, horrifying nest of army ants. Pretty soon they're over the top of the supposedly impenetrable wall and all hell is breaking loose (even more hell breaks loose on the unrated Blu-ray edition—yum!) Even though the visual effects in this sequence, mostly handled by the wizards at Industrial Light & Magic, sometimes look unrealistic, it doesn't really matter. There's a feeling of overwhelming, claustrophobic dread and it's easily one of the scariest, most apocalyptic moments in the entire film. 

8. The Firefight from “Lone Survivor”
Peter Berg’s often jingoistic paean to supporting our troops is an interesting paradox. It’s not very good and not much of a movie (there’s barely a story other than capturing an event), but it’s one of the most intense movie experiences of the year. As our own Gabe Toro said, making us laugh around the water cooler, “It’s literally like being shot at for two hours"—facetious and yet totally accurate. In fact “Lone Survivor"'s action sequence, “the firefight” as we call it, is essentially 75% of the movie. It feels like one 2-hour action sequence and it is absolutely grueling.  As elite SEAL Team members, Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch and Taylor Kitsch go on a mission to kill a notorious Taliban leader, they are found on a ridge by a Taliban army and are shot to pieces and cut to shreds. It is brutal. The soldiers are pummeled beyond recognition, shot to bits, and TWICE have to jump off rocky cliffs to escape their foes (only to get pinned down again). It’s arguable whether the action sequences in “Lone Survivor” are elegantly shot in the way that one usually thinks of a graceful action sequence composed by say, Michael Bay. But what’s undeniable, regardless of whether you like the movie or not (and many of us didn’t), is just how excruciatingly torturous it is to watch and experience. Credit Berg, his editors, sound designers and team for making you feel like you to should run for your life and scurry for cover as bullets whiz by your face.  Not hyperbole: pound for pound for intensity, this long action sequence in “Lone Survivor” rivals the storming of Normandy in Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan,” though obviously the main difference is that Spielberg’s film is a modern-day classic and Berg's won't be making any non-Red State-r’s top 10, except maybe in a list like this. It’s not particularly pretty to watch and some might argue it’s overlong, but no one said a real firefight was a walk in the park.

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  • 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


  • 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
    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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