Action movies in 1997 were a mixed bag. This was the year that brought us infamous titles such as Alien: Resurrection, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation and Speed 2: Cruise Control — but when something was good, it was REALLY good. In fact, 1997 brought us several action movie classics that people still reference two decades later.
Here are some of the greatest action flicks turning 20 this year. Let's try to figure out why they still hold up!
1. The Fifth Element
What happens when Luc Besson makes a sci-fi action flick in the '90s? Well, you end up with the very bizarre but extremely entertaining The Fifth Element starring Bruce Willis (when he still put effort into acting), Gary Oldman, Mila Jovovich, Chris Tucker and Ian Holm. This movie manages to still hold up thanks to a very unique futuristic world that Besson crafted.
Everything looks odd — vehicles, buildings, clothes and whatever you can think of — but instead of being off-putting, you feel very immersed by all of this world-building. Combine that with many quirky characters, hilarious scenes, memorable lines (I still meet people who end up saying, "Leeloo Dallas Multi-Pass!") and an amazing action scene in sync with the music, and you have the makings of a classic.
2. Con Air
What happens when you combine high-concept '90s action cheese with Nicolas Cage? You get Con Air and it kicked ass...but it was stupid as hell! This is the definition of a fun popcorn flick. It has over-the-top action that gives the middle finger to logic and physics, an impressive cast that chews all of the scenery, and Nicolas Cage being Nicolas Cage — with an epic mullet that would make Joe Dirt swoon.
Why does this manage to hold up? It has the ridiculousness of something like Batman & Robin, but somehow it's become this cult classic that people quote to this day. I think it's because Con Air knows it's stupid and embraces that stupidity, never taking itself too seriously — and, at the same time, it manages to provide enough awesome material for audiences to love.
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3. Air Force One
The '90s had a strange obsession with terrorists taking over planes (Con Air, Passenger 57, Die Hard 2, Executive Decision, Turbulence). These movies vary in quality, but the best one in my opinion was 1997's Air Force One, starring the legends Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman. I love this concept: terrorists take the president's family hostage on Air Force One and now he has to make his way through the plane to save the day.
By this point, these types of "plane takeover" films had become a dime a dozen, so why does Air Force One manage to work better than the others?
Well, the two leading actors are a big part of it; both are masters of the art and they put all of their effort into these roles. Gary Oldman plays a memorable villain and Harrison Ford (as always) is great as the protagonist. The movie also keeps itself more grounded (no pun intended) than most of these films, which tend to get very over the top, especially at the climax. Air Force One takes more of a Die Hard route where the action is intense, the villains are menacing, and there's a badass one-liner: "GET OFF MY PLANE!"
4. Men In Black
Here's another oversaturated sub genre, the buddy cop movie, that got a fun update. Oftentimes these movies are so cliche and generic that it's almost impossible to shake things up, but Barry Sonnenfield — who gave us the new Netflix version of A Series of Unfortunate Events — had a more unique take: a rookie and a veteran are cops...fighting "illegal aliens" from other planets.
Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones' chemistry is downright perfect; I don't think any other duo of actors could have pulled the characters off so well. Both are hilarious in their own ways, both are awesome, and both act off each other like real partners. This movie happens to feature one of my favorite villains of all time with Edgar, a.k.a. the Bug, who plans to take over the Galaxy using...the Galaxy. It's explained in the movie. Vincent D'Onofrio owns the role and manages to be both funny and threatening.
Then you have the iconic music video starring Will Smith, which is just icing on top of an already delicious cake.
5. Batman & Robin
Yes, you read that correctly. Batman & Robin is a '90s classic.
Oh, did you think I was saying this movie was good? Hell to the no! This movie is awful — with some of the worst effects, worst costume design, worst writing, worst acting and worst action in history — but it is a guilty pleasure due to it being so bad.
It's the Dark Knight going up against Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy and Bane, some of his greatest adversaries; it has an all-star cast with George Clooney, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Uma Thurman. On paper, it sounds so epic and foolproof. And yet, somehow, Joel Schumacher got it so spectacularly, hilariously wrong.
This is one of those movies that will have you laughing your ass off until you can't breathe. Stick it in while you're hanging with your friends, eating popcorn and having a few beers. Arnold Schwarzenegger's ice puns are delightful; the Looney Tunes-esque physics and logic are amazing; the special effects are unbelievable; and the acting is perfect. It's not on the same level of Tommy Wiseau's The Room but it comes close.
(There is one chase scene with the Batmobile, Red Bird cycle and Mr. Freeze's armored truck which I will admit was kind of cool for 30 seconds, until Robin started talking.)
It wasn't the Batman movie that we wanted or deserved, but at least it gave (and still gives) some ironic enjoyment after all these years.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Starship Troopers, and Face/Off.
I hope this list managed to bring back nostalgic memories of classic films, rather than just making you feel old because you realized they came out 20 years ago.
What's an action movie that I might have missed? Do you still enjoy them today or do you think they've aged more like milk from 1997? Let me know in the comments down below!