1) Truck Chase – Terminator 2
“Come with me if you want to live”. This iconic action sequence featured the Governator chasing down and stopping a semi truck with nothing but a motorcycle and a sawed-off shotgun. Epic in scope and groundbreaking for its time, Terminator 2 featured special effects never seen before in film. It paved the way for much of the CGI that’s prevalent in modern day action movies.
2) Vietnam Helicopter Raid – Apocalypse Now
“Ride of the Valkyries” was originally featured in Wagner’s opera Der Ring des Nibelungen. It’s now associated with the infamous Vietnam war scene in Coppola’s epic Apocalypse Now. Rumor has it that this movie drove Coppola and the cast into madness because of production and script problems.
3) Lobby Shootout – The Matrix
The Wachowski brothers broke the mold with this movie. It introduced the much copied bullet-time shot and featured action sequences that still feel fresh 18 years later, which is quite a feat for a film that relied so heavily on special effects.
4) Bank Robbery – Heat
This is one of those movies that I could watch over and over again, finding something new to enjoy every time. During its sprawling 3 hour+ runtime Heat manages to paint a portrait of the Los Angeles criminal underworld that few movies have come close to.
5) Pub Massacre – Inglourious Basterds
A wordy and extremely violent movie from Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds earned these kind of scenes by masterfully building tension through clever dialogue and well-developed characters. One minute everyone is playing nice, the next a Nazi officer is getting a switchblade jammed into his crotch.
6) Chestburster – Alien
Admittedly, I cannot watch this scene without thinking of Spaceballs. Nevertheless it’s one of those moments in cinema that stand out for not only it’s special effects but it’s comic relief; When that little fucker bursts out of the dude’s chest you can’t help but to laugh.
7) The Bride Vs. The Crazy 88s – Kill Bill
While not a perfect movie, Kill Bill: Volume 1 features some of the most inspired action sequences of all time. Tarantino waited 7 years until Uma Thurman was ready to take this role on and it sure paid off. She slices and dices her way to exacting revenge against the man who wronged her and the people who helped him.
8) Club Shootout – Collateral
“Max, I do this for a living!!!” Say what you want about Tom Cruise but he knocks action roles out of the park. Collateral can be considered the spiritual successor to Heat (both directed by Michael Mann) and features the same L.A. underworld setting.
9) Bridge Jump – Speed
I remember watching this at the theatre when I was in middle school and being truly blown away. The whole movie felt like an event. Directed by Jon Debant, Speed had a simple premise: keep the bus over going over 60mph or it blows up.
10) Michael Sullivan’s Revenge – Road To Perdition
While not considered an outright action movie, Road to Perdition was a slow-burn meditation on original sins, catholic guilt, and the delicate bond between career criminals. This scene is haunting because of what it doesn’t show. It’s hard to believe that the same guy who played the dull-witted Forrest Gump could pull off a cold hearted mafia hitman.