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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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Pacific Rim

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.

Captain Phillips

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.

Fast & Furious 6 Vin Diesel Paul Walker

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. 

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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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