7. The Hong Kong Attack From "Pacific Rim"
Guillermo del Toro's candy-colored monster mash "Pacific Rim" is a beautiful pop art smorgasbord and its riotous centerpiece is a prolonged sequence known as the Hong Kong attack. There are multiple "prongs" to the sequence—the initial attack against the giant robotic "jaegers" (two are destroyed, one is incapacitated), a brief sea battle and then a much longer land battle (through the urban canyons of the city itself). Improbably, it ends with an air battle, after fearsome kaiju Otachi sprouts wings. All the while, one of the movie's main characters, played by Charlie Day, is being stalked by the kaiju. There's so much wild visual inventiveness and playfully choreographed destruction packed into this sequence that it probably made Michael Bay want to hang himself with a noose made of million dollar bills. Del Toro knows a thing or two about giant monster movies, and stages the action as both a loving homage and an impossibly next level feat, like a Godzilla movie amplified and adrenalized and multiplied a thousand fold. In terms of how the sequence is "shot," even though it's mostly computer generated, del Toro has kept it pretty square – not only are there no impossible angles, but del Toro keeps cutting back to the same angles, like there are actual cameras in specific locations as these robots and monsters are marauding around Hong Kong (he also uses the helicopters tracking these beasts as makeshift spotlights). In the special features on the home video release of "Pacific Rim," del Toro talks about how visual effects are a lie and to make a really convincing lie you have to add detail. He and the illustrators and animators at Industrial Light & Magic have created a lie so convincing, packed with so much insane detail, you'd swear it was real.
6. The Satellite Avalanche From "Gravity"
It could be argued that all of "Gravity" is one extended action set piece, one that builds and plateaus like a piece of classical music. But if there's one action movie moment that sets the entire thing in motion, it's the "satellite avalanche" that kicks off the film. Apparently triggered by a missile the Russians have sent up to destroy a spy satellite, it's a theoretical event that scientists believe could actually happen (and cripple telecommunications for some ungodly percentage of the earth's population). Alfonso Cuaron's holy-shit, you-are-there approach to shooting "Gravity," alongside Steven Price's momentous score, builds the tension in a singularly unbearable way and the fact that our protagonist (played with gusto by Sandra Bullock) isn't some hot shot astronaut but a relatively inexperienced civilian, only adds to the sense of dread that hovers in all three dimensions like derelict space junk. (Unlike most of the movies on this list, which were hastily post-converted to 3D to milk a few extra bucks out of the movie-going public, the 3D in "Gravity" adds to the experience, tremendously.) The satellite avalanche sequence also acts as a bold opening statement, letting the audience know that anything can (and indeed will) happen, so don't get too comfortable. On that count, "Gravity" definitely follows through.
5. The Final Shootout From "Captain Phillips"
Calling this brief moment at the end of "Captain Phillips" an action sequence is generous, but there's an obvious, punchy power to it that puts it above sequences that last ten times as long and expend ten times the amount of firepower. It's the moment when the NAVY Seals (led by Max Martini) have to make the decision to take out the Somali pirates who have taken Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) hostage in a small lifeboat. There's a flash of gunfire and then all three of the pirates are dead and Hanks is covered in their blood. It's not a triumphant moment, exactly. Paul Greengrass doesn't linger on the men, exploding into bits under American fire, and it is hard to imagine anyone feeling happy when it happened (many times you'll wish that there was some other solution, any other solution). But it is a brilliant moment of release, something that we'd been waiting for since the movie began, practically. The sequence is followed by concussive silence and Hanks' shocked expression. He doesn't have to say anything; his face says it all.
4. The Runway Chase From "Fast & Furious 6"
“The Fast and the Furious” franchise has never been known for its, ahem, attention to the laws of physics, nature, and in this case, man-made structures. Just when you thought Vin Diesel launching himself off a speeding car and over a freeway overpass to catch Michelle Rodriguez midair after she was thrown off a speeding TANK was the most insane thing you saw in "Fast & Furious 6," director Justin Lin goes and throws the plane runway sequence in as the grand, operatic, totally batshit climax to the film. First of all, many mathematically inclined movie fans calculated that based on the assumed speed of the plane and length of the 12 and half minute sequence, this particular runway would be 27 miles long, which is oh, 25 miles longer than the longest plane runway in existence. Okay, now that we've got that suspension of disbelief out of the way, let's get to the facts at hand in this scene, which is the equivalent of an action sequence Turducken. Inside the plane, The Rock and Danish body builder Kim Kold (who is excellent in a dramatic performance in 2012's "Teddy Bear," by the way, though he's demonstrating a different set of skills in this movie, namely the face punching kind) are just beating the everloving shit out of each other. It's quite satisfying to see The Rock pick on someone his own size, and in fact, Kold manages to out-hulk the insanely proportioned Mr. Johnson. Also, Michelle Rodriguez and Gina Carano are kicking each other’s asses, which, very nice, can we please have 90 minutes of that, thank you. Outside on the runway, the rest of the F&F (Tyrese, Paul Walker, Ludacris, Sun Kang, Gal Gadot) crew are speeding alongside, shooting giant rocket launcher arrows at the plane in order to prevent it from taking off (honestly, who can even remember what's inside the plane—the bad guys and whatever they're trying to steal, a microchip or something) Paul Walker saves kidnapped Jordana Brewster from inside the plane by driving one of the cars in cargo out of the open door. We've got cars dangling off the wings, cars driving in and out of the damn plane, cars outside, and the pilots who are totally freaking out, and Luke Evans yelling at them to take off. THE PLANE IS STILL SPEEDING DOWN THE RUNWAY AND TRYING TO TAKE OFF. Sun Kang is fighting a bad guy on the outside of the plane, and his girlfriend, Gal Gadot pulls out a gun to save him, but also sacrifices herself in the process. Sad :(. The plane crashes and Vin Diesel drives a sports car through the nose of the exploding plane, as he should, because this is a goddamn “Fast and Furious” movie and if you were expecting anything else, well then... you are dumb. Family, cars, and Coronas, that's what this is all about. Also explosions. And awesomeness.