Fifteen years may seem like a long time, but time has passed quickly since 2001, a good year in fun, entertaining action movies. Indeed, Paul Walker was on the cusp of a career-defining role and Peter Jackson was about to release one of the biggest adaptations of all time. But before we go into the top 10 list, let's take a moment to credit some honorable mentions.
First, let's pay tribute to Pearl Harbor, Behind Enemy Lines and Black Hawk Down, who haven't been included because war and Western movies get their own genres. Another movie that has been excluded is the 1993 film Iron Monkey, which received its US theatrical release in 2001. It's an amazing martial arts movie from Hong Kong that would’ve easily made my top five had it been originally released 15 years ago.
Also under consideration were Collateral Damage, Windtalkers, and Rollerball, which were each originally slated for a 2001 release, but hit the market in 2002.
Now on with the best action movies of 2001!
Number 10: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
An entertaining movie that didn’t quite live up to its potential with its subpar storyline, but is thankfully better than its sequel. Angelina Jolie definitely owned the role and had genuine fun as the privileged but adventurous Lara Croft, taking the audience on an entertaining romp across Cambodia, England and Iceland. Look for rising star Alicia Vikander to soon take over the role.
Number 9: Jurassic Park III
The franchise survived without Steven Spielberg behind the camera, as Sam Neill and Laura Dern returned along with William H. Macy and Téa Leoni. In the movie, once humans reach the island, the action doesn’t let up until the very end — except, that is, for a few rest-stop reflections, including an interesting analogy from Dr. Grant (Neill) about mankind.
Stan Winston once again does a great job with the special effects, especially that of a mobile dinosaur herd sequence. Audiences might have expected this movie to bust out with an additional action scene at the end — which happened in Jurassic World — especially considering the elements that enter the island.
Number 8: The One
The story was a bit weak, but this movie represented the best US-made action vehicle for Jet Li. While playing multiple roles, he performed an amazing array of martial arts sequences. Jason Statham was a tough-guy complement to Li, while the underrated Delroy Lindo provided great support. The now-seasoned action genre actress Carla Gugino (Spy Kids, San Andreas) got a great entrée, cast as Li’s wife. While some of the story's attempts at suspense were a bit pathetic, such as the scene with the cat, this high-energy movie still entertains at an above average level.
Number 7: The Mummy Returns
Many recycled yet marketable story elements existed in this sequel, but the cast and crew still made it a credible action vehicle nonetheless. As in the first movie of the series, The Mummy Returns utilized in-your-face special effects with touches of comedy, resulting in more surprises and thrills than actual scares. The writers did a nice job of tying all the subplots together while giving each character the appropriate amount of screen time (that’s why The Rock’s screen time was minimal. Still complaining? Check out The Scorpion King).
Number 6: Swordfish
The great cast that included Hugh Jackman, John Travolta, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle and Vinnie Jones offset some of the weak elements of the story. The characters often found themselves in cartoonish, entertaining situations full of action and thrills. The effects and action impressed even the most discerning of audiences.
Number 5: The Fast And The Furious
Special effects do play a factor in this film, but the car crew and stunt people deserve the bulk of the credit for all the high-octane action. Paul Walker (Varsity Blues, Joy Ride) proved he can handle a lead role, while Vin Diesel (Boiler Room, Saving Private Ryan) further solidified his growing star appeal. With a script based on a magazine article by Ken Li, screenwriters Gary Scott Thompson, Erik Bergquist and David Ayer produced a compelling story with a captivating ending that only dragged in a few spots.
Number 4: Rush Hour 2
Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan continued their ascending popularity as detectives Carter and Lee, respectively. Chan wowed with his own stunts and martial arts skills, while Tucker must have taken a lot of martial arts lessons to look so credible — though the timeline in the story wouldn’t have allowed his character to get so good so fast. Great fun, sex appeal and action at every turn, with worthy support from John Lone and Zhang Ziyi. Chan has continued to come up with inventive ways to top this performance, adding Buster Keaton/Charlie Chaplin-style physical comedy elements into the mix.
Number 3: Spy Game
A well-made film that proved action doesn’t always have to involve explosions and bloody carnage. Dialogue, character development, motives and intelligence all play a part in this Robert Redford/Brad Pitt vehicle, in which the audience can definitely relate to the perils of certain characters as they become caught up in situations beyond their control. The cliched team-up of an almost retired but capable senior and his young partner hinders the originality of the plot, but only a little bit. Tony Scott (Enemy of the State) directed this film .
Number 2: Training Day
Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke lead a hard-edged urban crime epic that boasts a credible plot and a great supporting cast. Washington's performance yielded a highly deserved Oscar win for his antagonistic role as Detective Alonzo, who pushes the boundaries of his new partner Jake’s mettle with a series of increasingly chaotic tests and trials. Look for a Washington/Hawke reunion in September’s Western remake of The Magnificent Seven, alongside Chris Pratt.
Number 1: The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring
This is why movies are made. The first in the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring is definitely one of the best films of all time. Peter Jackson’s expert direction (and POV shots), Howard Shore’s musical score, and the acting prowess of the ensemble cast and dedicated crew all combined to create an exciting tale based on the classic J. R. R. Tolkien book series. The three-hour run time allows plenty of opportunity for some of the best action sequences ever committed to film, especially the beginning battle scene and horse chase.
The film also has many instances of mental agility where the audience enjoys scenes brimming with moments of trust, bravery, duress and sensitivity. Just a solid film that’s highly moving and entertaining.
What was your favorite action movie from 2001?