Action/Adventure & Epic – Catchup

The first section in “501 Must-See Movies” is Action/Adventure & Epic.  This is the genre that has made icons out of actors like Errol Flynn, Steve McQueen and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Below, you’ll find a recap of the movies I’ve seen so far of the 50 Action/Adventure & Epic movies that were selected. 

Seen to date: 17 out of 50

The Ten Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

Director: Michael Curtiz and William Keighley

Starring: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland and Claude Rains

Academy Award Wins – Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing and Best Original Score

 It’s a story that we’re all familiar with, Sir Robin of Locksley gets on the bad side of authority after the evil Prince John usurps the throne.  Robin gathers a collection of Merry Men, woes Maid Marian and generally is a thorn in the Prince’s side.  Everything comes to ahead in the form of a climatic swordfight.

Robin Hood is a timeless story about standing up for what’s right, even if that means working outside of the system.  The 1938 film is the gold standard of Robin Hood adaptations.  On screen, Errol Flynn is everything that an action hero should be as the swashbuckling, arrow shooting Robin Hood.  In innovative Technicolor, this classic adventure was years before its time and holds up nearly 75 years later.

My Rating – 4 Ticket Stubs (Out of 5)

Rotten Tomatoes Score – 100% (32 Reviews)

 

The Ten Commandments (1956)

Director: Cecil B. DeMille

Starring: Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner

Academy Award Wins – Best Visual Effects

Cecil B. DeMille’s classic biblical epic covers the life of Moses, who as a baby was discovered floating in a basket by the Pharaoh’s daughter.  Eventually, he is charged by God to lead his chosen people out of slavery.  Along the way, God’s power is shown through Moses when performing a wide range of plagues and miracles.

If you own a TV and have ever turned it on during Easter weekend, you’ve likely seen some or all of this legendary biopic.  It’s nearly four hour run time hurts The Ten Commandments in terms or rewatchability, but this is certainly one that should be seen.  The special effects were way ahead of their time and earned the film its only Academy Award.

My Rating – 2.5 Ticket Stubs

Rotten Tomatoes Score – 91% (32 Reviews)

 

North By Northwest (1959)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint and James Mason

AFI Top 100 – #40 (1998) #55 (2007)

North by Northwest is a Hitchcock classic about mistaken identity.  Roger Thornhill (Grant) is mistaken for government operative George Kaplan.  This classic case of mistaken identity causes Thornhill to be pursued across the country by a group of foreign spies.

Hitchcock is often closely associated with horror, but his work in that genre was limited to Psycho  and The Birds.  Instead, Hitchcock should be considered the father of mystery and suspense films and North by Northwest is one of the most outstanding in a long list of Hitchcock classics.  North by Northwest is a new favorite of mine that I hadn’t seen before starting this project.  My only gripe with this movie is that it should be listed in the Mystery & Thriller section instead of Action/Adventure & Epic. 

A special shout out to TCM for bringing North by Northwest to Cleveland’s Cinematheque as part of their Road to Hollywood along with Academy Award winner (for On the Waterfront) Eva Marie Saint and TCM personality Robert Osborne.  It was an amazing opportunity to see this 50 plus year old classic on the big screen.

My Rating – 5 Ticket Stubs

Rotten Tomatoes Score – 100% (60 Reviews)

 

Enter the Dragon (1973)

Director: Robert Clouse

Starring: Bruce Lee and John Saxton

A martial arts expert (Lee – surprise, surprise) is hired to infiltrate a martial arts competition to uncover the criminal activity of the villainous Mr. Han.  This mission also gives him an opportunity to avenge the death of his sister.

Just like Ledger’s The Dark Knight and Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause, Enter the Dragon (easily Lee most revered movie) was released posthumously, which went a long way to solidifying Lee as a legend.  Lee (not a specific character but Lee himself) created an archetype for generations of martial arts protagonists.

My Rating – 3 Ticket Stubs

Rotten Tomatoes Score – 97% (37 Reviews)

 

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Harrison Ford and Karen Allen

Academy Award Wins – Best Visual Effects, Best Sound, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction, Best Sound Editing

AFI Top 100 – #60 (1998) #66 (2007)

In this callback to the serials of the 30s and 40s, archeologist Indiana Jones is working for Army intelligence to oppose the Nazis who he believes are searching for the legendary Ark of the Covenant.

Raiders of the Lost Ark not only marked a high point for 1980s Action/Adventure & Epic movies, but also in the legendary careers of Ford and franchise co-creators Spielberg and George Lucas.  And, that’s saying something. 

My Rating – 4 Ticket Stubs

Rotten Tomatoes Score – 94% (50 Reviews)

 

True Lies (1994)

Director: James Cameron

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis and Tom Arnold

Harry Tasker (Schwarzenegger) is a covert operative for an U.S. government anti-terrorism task force, but he has to keep his career hidden from his family.  Meanwhile, his dissatisfied wife is being wooed by a mysterious stranger who claims to be a spy.  Harry finds out and uses his resources to give his wife a special mission, which gets them both kidnapped by a well-armed terrorists group.

In True Lies, Schwarzenegger plays a near parody of his well-established action-hero role.  At its best, this film is a good representation of the hybrid Action-Comedy genre.  To me Schwarzenegger always seems less believable playing a family man than he does as a covert operative or a cyborg assassin.

My Rating – 2 Ticket Stubs

Rotten Tomatoes Score – 70% (47 Reviews)

 

The Mummy (1999)

Director: Stephen Sommers

Starring: Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz

A group of explorers, led by Rick O’Connell (Fraser), accidently resurrect a 3,000 year old mummy.  The titular mummy is powerful enough to bring about destruction and death on Earth.  Making matters worse, the mummy intends to use O’Connell’s love interest (Weisz) as a sacrifice in order to resurrect his ancient lover.

This is an adventure unlike anything since Raiders of the Lost Ark and excited a new generation about subgenres (Desert Epics, Period Action , etc.) that had been ignored in recent cinema.  While certainly not the quality of movie that Raiders of the Lost Ark was, The Mummy is one thing that so many other Summer movies fail to be – an entertaining popcorn flick.

My Rating – 3 Ticket Stubs

Rotten Tomatoes Score – 54% (81 Reviews)

 

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Director: Ang Lee

Starring: Chow Yun-Fat Chow, Michelle Yeoh and Ziyi Zhang

Academy Award Wins – Best Foreign Language Film, Best Art Direction, Best Original Score, Best Cinematography

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is set in the Qing Dynasty (the last dynasty of China) in the year 1779.  The story focuses on an accomplished warrior and swordsman, whose sword is stolen.  The theft puts him and the unacknowledged love of his life on a quest, which eventually leads him in the direction of his former master’s killer.

From an American perspective this Academy Award winning film is an absolute masterpiece, with beautiful cinematography.   Interestingly enough, it was widely dismissed in Asia as just another wuxia film.  However, this has gone a long way to reinvigorate western interest in Chinese wuxia films.

My Rating – 3.5 Ticket Stubs

Rotten Tomatoes Score – 97% (146 Reviews)

 

Gladiator (2000)

Director: Ridley Scott

Starring: Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix

Academy Award Wins – Best Picture, Best Actor (Crowe), Best Visual Effects, Best Costume Design, Best Sound

General and the ‘Keeper of Rome’ Maximus (Crowe) finds his family murdered and himself enslaved thanks to the new Emperor (Phoenix).  As a slave, he is trained as a gladiator and eventually called to Rome to compete in the coliseum.

The ‘Best Picture’ for 2000 recreates ancient Rome on an epic scale, as our hero Maximus goes from war hero to slave to gladiatorial crowd favorite.  Even still, a potentially more impressive accomplishment was this film’s ability to revive the dead genre of Ancient Epics. 

My Rating – 4 Ticket Stubs

Rotten Tomatoes Score – 78% (160 Reviews)

 

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Director: Peter Jackson

Starring: Elijah Wood, Orlando Bloom and Ian McKellen

Academy Award Wins – Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, Best Makeup and Best Original Score

AFI Top 100 – #50 (2007)

Set in Middle Earth, this epic story is all about the One Ring.  A dark lord, Sauron, seeks the One Ring; however it has found its way to Frodo Baggins (a hobbit).  Along with the rest of the ‘Fellowship of the Ring,’ Frodo begins his journey to Mount Doom where the ring can be destroyed.

The Lord of the Rings franchise is one of the most beloved and critically acclaimed trilogies of all-time.  Financially all three films are currently in the top 30 of all-time domestic box office.  Personally, I would’ve selected The Return of the King over The Fellowship of the Ring.  However the first installment represents a more significant achievement.

My Rating – 3 Ticket Stubs

Rotten Tomatoes Score – 92% (206 Reviews)

 

Pirates of the Carribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

Director: Gore Verbinski

Starring: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley

Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) takes on an entire crew of cursed pirates with the help of romantically inclined blacksmith Will Turner (Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Knightley).  Sparrow intends to retake the ship he once captained, the legendary Black Pearl.

Depp is an extremely unique talent, who avoided Blockbusters until becoming the face of the Pirates franchise.  His role as Jack Sparrow landed him his first Academy Award nomination.  In my humble opinion Pirates doesn’t compare to some of Depp less notable films (Blow and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas for example).  However, Pirates of the Carribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is a swashbuckling throwback to high-seas adventures of earlier cinema and an extremely entertaining ride.

My Rating – 3 Ticket Stubs

Rotten Tomatoes Score – 78% (197 Reviews)

 

Kill Bill: Volume 1 & Volume 2 (2003 & 2004)

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Uma Thurman and David Carradine

The Bride has been tracked down by The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (of which she was formerly a member) and left for dead on the eve of her wedding.  Years later, she wakes up from a coma and goes on “what the movie advertisements refer to as a roaring, rampage of revenge.”  Everything builds towards the climactic battle with her former boss and lover Bill.

Admittedly, I’m biased in favor of this movie.  Quentin Tarantino is my favorite filmmaker.  And, in my opinion Kill Bill (divided into two volumes) is by far the most underrated films of his nearly 20 year career.  This film masterly blends the genres of martial arts films, spaghetti westerns and revenge exploitation and all with the imprint of that one-of-a-kind Tarantino dialogue.

My Rating – 5 Ticket Stubs

Rotten Tomatoes Score – 85% & 85% (218 and 227 Reviews Respectively)

 

Troy (2004)

Director: Wolfgang Petersen

Starring: Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom and Eric Bana

Based on Homer’s classic “The Iliad”, Greek mythology and legend come to life as Prince Paris’ (Bloom) affair with Helen kicks off the Trojan War.  Achilles (Pitt) leads the Greek troops against Prince Hector (Bana) and the Trojans.

After Gladiator breathed new life into the Ancient Epic genre four years earlier, this $175 million dollar blockbuster was a financial success and even earned an Academy Award nomination (for Costume Design).  While Troy has its moments, it doesn’t live up to its nine figure budget and nearly 3 hour run time.  As a Pitt fan, I would deem Fight Club, Snatch or Inglourious Basterds (all of which were left off the list) to be more “must-see” than Troy.

My Rating – 2 Ticket Stubs

Rotten Tomatoes Score – 55% (217 Reviews)

 

Crank (2007)

Director: Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor

Starring: Jason Statham and Amy Smart

A British hitman, Chev Chelios (Statham) working in LA, has been poisoned and must keep his adrenaline constantly up in order to keep himself alive.  On the way to tracking down his long-time rival (who is responsible for his poisoning) he keeps his adrenaline pumping by picking fights with gangsters, commits robbery, takes drugs and has a very public display of affection with his girlfriend (Smart) among other things.

Adrenaline is probably the best word to describe the experience of watching Crank.  There are easily more thrills and action sequences packed into 90 minutes than just your average action movie.

My Rating – 2.5 Ticket Stubs

Rotten Tomatoes Score – 61% (87 Reviews)

 

300 (2007)

Director: Zack Snyder

Starring: Gerard Butler and Lena Headey

This historical fantasy action film takes place in 480 BC and focuses on the Battle of Thermopylae when 300 Spartan warriors, led by King Leonidas (Butler), take on a seemingly unbeatable army of more than 1 million Persians.

By the mid-2000s, it was well-established that popular super-hero comic book movies made big money at the box office.  This caused a rash of niche graphic novels to be adapted for the big screen.  300’s visuals were innovative and dazzling, but there isn’t a lot of substance underneath.  In my opinion, Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City is a superior graphic novel adaptation.

My Rating – 2.5 Ticket Stubs

Rotten Tomatoes Score – 60% (223 Reviews)

 

Iron Man (2008)

Director: Jon Favreau

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges and Gwyneth Paltrow

Tony Stark (Downey Jr.), the face and brains of Stark Industries, is kidnapped after demonstrating a new missile in the Middle East.  His captors charge Stark with building a missile for them to use against America, he however crafts a flying suit of armor which allows him to escape.  Upon his return to the states, he perfects his suit to become Iron Man and refocuses his company away from weapons manufacturing.

Iron Man represents the first attempt of Marvel Studios to adapt their own comic property for the big screen.  And, it was a smashing success as this is easily one of the best Marvel movies yet.  Downey Jr.  as the lead was an inspired piece of casting.  He plays the flawed, sarcastic, charming hero perfectly. 

My Rating – 4.5 Ticket Stubs

Rotten Tomatoes Score – 94% (234 Reviews)

 

Watchmen (2009)

Director: Zack Snyder

Starring: Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Billy Crudup

Primarily set in an alternative version of 1985, Watchmen covers the rise and fall of masked heroes in America.  The story focuses on a disbanded group of masked heroes who were forced into retirement by the U.S. government.  As a nuclear war approaches, one of the former ‘Watchmen’ is murdered and others come out of retirement to solve the puzzle and confront the villain.

Once deemed unmakable, Watchmen hit theaters in the spring of 2009 as one of the most anticipated action movies in recent memory.  Unlike some other graphic novel adaptations, Watchmen is rich in underlying themes like the nature of altruism, as well as 20th century American social and political themes.

My Rating – 3.5 Ticket Stubs

Rotten Tomatoes Score – 64% (283 Reviews)

What do you guys think? 

Do you agree or disagree with any of my assessments? 

What are some of your favorite Action/Adventure & Epic movies? 

Let me know below!

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About DC Evans

I’m a long time film lover. For as long as I can remember, I’ve spent my free time going to multiplexs; renting tapes and building my own DVD/Blu-ray collection. I'll be blogging about my efforts as I watch my way through the history of film. For starters, I’ll be focusing on watching each movie in the book “501 Must-See Movies.” Follow me on twitter: @D_C_Evans
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