The best action movies on Stan

There’s a stinkload of great action movies to watch on Stan. Here are the very best, picked by critic Luke Buckmaster.

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Baby Driver (2017)

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Edgar Wright’s sassy crime caper follows a getaway driver (Ansel Elgort) who is on the autism spectrum, putting his foot to the floor only if listening to killer tracks on his headphones. Fair enough. The story of a decent kid embroiled in a life of crime becomes a quasi-musical and a possessed jukebox of an action movie; by matching visual and audio in such a way, Wright made a genuine original.

Beverly Hills Cop 2 (1987)

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The heat is on! Eddie Murphy was at his A game in the second—and best—installment in his most famous franchise, playing a motormouth rascal detective who relocates from the back alleys of Detroit to the swimming pools of Beverly Hills. Helmed by action auteur Tony Scott, Murphy gets to the bottom of a series of irresistibly silly “alphabet crimes.”

The Dark Knight (2008)

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When you remember Christopher Nolan’s second Batman movie your mind goes straight to Heath Ledger and his amazingly theatrical interpretation of the Joker. Ledger really gets the film smoking: every appearance is high voltage, every scene electrifies. Like other middle-trilogy classics such as The Empire Strikes Back, The Dark Knight has no real beginning or end. But as a collection of scenes, it’s one hell of a showcase.

Deep Impact (1998)

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The good: the world gets Morgan Freeman as the US President. The bad: it also gets a whopping big comet heading straight for it. A rare example of a blockbuster that’s well respected by scientists, Mimi Leder’s disaster movie has no chest-beating, no gung-ho beefcakes saving the day. In fact, no saving the day full stop: astronauts are sent to destroy the comet but some obstacles can’t be avoided, some wars can’t be won. This is a film about intelligently responding to crisis.

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

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Tom Cruise plays an alien-fighting US solider who cannot die and experiences the same day over and over, Groundhog Day style, in Doug Liman’s rootin’-tootin’ video game-esque sci-fi. The fight/die/repeat format keeps a ferocious pace and doubles as a comment on the infallibility of the Hollywood hero.

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

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Action movie? Horror movie? Social commentary about the dangers of visiting dive bars? Robert Rodriguez’s Tarantino-penned walk on the wild side conforms to no one genre. What begins as an on-the-run kidnap drama flicks switches when George Clooney, Tarantino, Juliette Lewis and co. arrive at said dive bar, which attracts the kind of patrons you expect from a place called The Titty Twister. Splatterific mayhem ensues.

Goldfinger (1964)

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“You expect me to talk?” “No, Mr Bond, I expect you to DIE!” Expect all you like, Goldfinger: you should have used a gun to kill 007 instead of that elaborate death machine. Sean Connery’s third outing in the Bond tux marks one of the franchise’s high points, loaded with weird spectacle and memeable scenarios.

The Grey (2012)

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Joe Carnahan’s survival-in-the-wilderness film was marketed as an action-packaged Liam Neeson vehicle—but it’s much more than that. A plane crash leaves a bunch of men stranded in icy Canadian no man’s land. Horrible creatures attack and people die, but this magnificent movie is fundamentally a rumination on masculinity, delving into topics (such as suicidal ideation) not often explored in multiplex movies. Especially not ones featuring tough guys taping broken glass to their knuckles.

Heat (1995)

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Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro face off as an obsessed cop and a big-time thief in Michael Mann’s exalted crime drama, set in the concrete jungle of Los Angeles. The director’s stop-start momentum switches between bursts of action and simple dialogue exchanges, the most famous and memorable transpiring between the two lead actors in a diner, over a cup of coffee.

Hunt for Red October (1990)

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A soviet submarine is heading for the US coast and the yanks aren’t happy, believing the defecting commander (Sean Connery) wants to start World War III. If you haven’t seen this 1990 classic it’s pretty much what you think: lots of flashing dials and sweaty men in confined spaces pushing buttons. But John McTiernan escalates tension very cleverly: those walls keep closing in, as characters scramble to think clearly in the heat of the moment.

Independence Day (1996)

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Sheer, stupid, irresistible popcorn spectacle, cooked up for the bleachers seats but also very well crafted. When aliens land on earth and zap the White House to smithereens, Will Smith declares he’ll “whoop ET’s arse.” Disaster maestro Roland Emmerich runs with the madness full tilt boogie, summoning Randy Quaid’s drunk pilot to save the day. This movie makes you want to stand up and cheer.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

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The energy of the first Indy sequel doesn’t let up for more than 20 glorious minutes, marking one of action cinema’s all-time greatest intro reels—starting with poison drinking at a Chinese restaurant and culminating with navigating rapids in a Hilalyan river. The adventuring archeologist here has a sidekick (Quan Ke Huy) and a love interest (Kate Capshaw).

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

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Quentin Tarantino’s seventh film begins with vintage monologues from Christoph Waltz and culminates with an explode-a-palooza of historical revisionism, the cinema itself the very venue for the demise of Adolf Hitler. Tarantino’s penchant for pop-art cinephilia is on full delirious display, sprucing up a stop-start narrative about—as Brad Pitt so eloquently puts it—”killin’ Nazis.”

Jack Reacher (2012)

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“Did I need a knife in Siberia?” That’s the showstopping line in Jack Reacher, hissed by a creepy and shit-eating Werner Herzog, playing a former political prisoner cum villain. Tom Cruise is leading man, in fine form as a quick-thinking tough guy thrust into a tangled plotline involving crimes, conspiracies and creepy old Herzog. Generic but rewarding.

Jumanji (1995)

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Robin Williams plays a character who got lost in an alternate universe as a child, and is returned to reality when new players (Kirsten Dunst and Bradley Pierce) of the titular board game roll the dice. Joe Johnston’s 1995 hit is to some extent a coathanger for special effects—but it’s unusual to see a family film so alive with paranoia, so dripping with dread. Jumanji was under-appreciated back in the day but time has been kind to it; even the special effects still look pretty good.

Jurassic Park (1993)

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Steven Spielberg’s dinosaur theme park is so vividly rendered it feels like we’ve been there for ourselves. Not that we’d want to, given how things turned out. Widely considered a turning point for computer-generated effects, Spielberg elegantly mixes real and virtual elements and suspensefully draws out his set pieces, letting indivdual moments breathe.

Mad Max (1979)

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In 1979 Mel Gibson stomped down the highway for the first time as Max Rockatansky—and action cinema was never the same. Given the subsequent Mad Max films, George Miller’s hell-raising debut is now an origins story, detailing the Road Warrior’s tragic baptism by fire. The film has lost none of its dark magic; watching it is like sticking your head out the window of a fast moving car.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

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The pace of George Miller’s third Mad Max sequel is beyond frenetic: a sonic-speed symphony of combustion that roars out of the gates and never slows down. Tom Hardy defies expectations, bringing Max Rockatanksy into the 21st century. But Charlize Theron steals the show as Imperator Furiosa, spearheading a story about the world’s greatest u-turn.

Man on Fire (2004)

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Even by Tony Scott’s excessive standards, this Denzel Washington-led hostage action-thriller is hopped-up and hyper frenetic. Washington plays Creasy, a private body guard for a cute little girl who gets nabbed under his watch. They bonded, so This Time It’s Personal. The film is overlong but delivers cold, hard, grunt-filled action with unrelenting force.

The Matrix (1999)

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The Wachowski sisters’ mega blockbuster needs no introduction; labels like “classic” don’t come close to doing it justice. Keanu Reeves snapped out of ordinary life to fulfil a Christ-like call to arms, taking on the gods of the computer program dictating our lives. The “bullet time” sequences inspired countless copies, although attempting to trace the impact of The Matrix is folly. This movie is a genuine phenomenon.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

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In his first and only Bond performance, Australian George Lazenby takes on a Manchurian Candidate style brainwashing plot intended to spread bacteriological warfare across the world. Beginning with Bond saving a woman from suicide and culminating with the murder of 007’s wife, returning him to singledom forevermore, Peter Hunt’s film achieves a melancholic impact unique in the 007verse.

The Revenant (2015)

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Leonardo DiCaprio has never copped it harder than in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s neo-western survival film: he’s beaten, slashed, shot, mauled, frozen, buried alive, flung off a cliff…and that’s just the first 30 minutes. Beginning with a breathtaking early skirmish, Emmanuel Lubezki’s striking camera work follows poor Leo in close proximity, as he embarks on quest for revenge against rotten old Tom Hardy.

Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015)

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The titular character’s dialogue-free movie spin-off—on the family-friendly side of the action genre—sends Shaun to the big city, on a mission to return his amnesia-afflicted farmer pal. Evoking the craftsmanship of great silent era comedies, in addition to inspirations ranging from Jacques Tati to Luis Buñuel, co-directors Mark Burton and Richard Starzak construct an utterly delightful work of art: spirited, lively, inventive, humane.

Sicario (2015)

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The words “Benicio del Toro” and “Mexican drug cartel movie” go together like a horse and cart. The actor’s sleepy menace is on fine display in Denis Villeneuve’s dark story about dodgy cops, moral quandaries and Emily Blunt trying to make sense of it all as an FBI agent. Blunt has a lessy showy role but is a commanding anchor.

Snowpiercer (2013)

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A train whizzing around a dystopian, climate change-devastated future world becomes a vehicle for class allegory in Bong Joon-ho’s grunt-packed English language debut. Instead of extreme inequality being represented in vertical spatial arrangements (like in Fritz Lang’s classic Metropolis) it’s horizontal, with Chris Evans—relegated to the impoverished back of the train—mounting an uprising and pushing forward to the front.

Speed Racer (2008)

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The Wachowski sisters’ candy-coloured manga adaptation is in a constant state of visual flux: every scene, every backdrop, every transition is an opportunity for invention. The action doesn’t unfold, it explodes, bits of over-ripe bling flying everywhere. Emile Hirsch’s clean-cut protagonist is an amazingly gifted racer fanging it to glory in a face-melting, Mario Kart-esque league ravaged by corporate corruption.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1992)

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Fear of a robotic uprising has long stimulated the public imagination—rarely as memorably as in James Cameron’s muscular 1991 masterpiece. Larded with gripping chase scenes, which have aged not one iota, the villain from its predecessor—a cyborg played by Arnold Schwarzenegger—returns as a reprogrammed good guy, initially butt naked but soon to kick ass in an iconic leather jacket and black sunnies.

Total Recall (1990)

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Is it real, or a simulation? That question has rarely been more enjoyably teased than in Paul Verhoeven’s rip-snorting Phillip K Dick adaptation, which follows a construction worker (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who partakes in a hallucinatory new recreation then can’t sort out whether it’s working. The sets contains lots of zany flourishes, from robot cabbies to that legendary three-breasted woman.

Watchmen (2009)

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Zack Snyder’s terrific adaptation of the seminal graphic novel contains the best scene from any superhero movie or TV show ever made: an exhilarating five-and-a-half-minute opening montage set to the tune of The Times They Are A-Changin’. Former superheroes are mysteriously dropping dead and this, naturally, is inked to a diabolical plot to take over the world.

Titles are added and removed from his page to reflect changes to the Stan catalogue. Reviews no longer available on this page can be found here.