January 7, 2013

Under the Influence

There are certain movies that will never be forgotten because of the legacy they leave behind. When an action movie is released and it becomes a huge hit, studios will immediately create clones and try to cash in on its success.

So what are the most influential action movies of all time? Here are a select few personal choices.




James Bond: It’s hard to say just one movie, but Bond essentially created the spy genre with Dr. No, Goldfinger, etc. The fact that he still going strong today only proves that he is more popular than ever, especially with Skyfall making over $1 Billion worldwide. When you think of spies, you think of James Bond.

Bullitt: This Steve McQueen classic still has the greatest car chase of all time and any cop thriller like The French Connection definitely owes a lot to it.

A Fistful of Dollars: Clint Eastwood’s turn as The Man with No Name is one of the most famous Western characters of all time. Sergio Leone’s influence is most noticeable on Quentin Tarantino who pays homage in nearly all of his films. Eastwood’s scowl became a trademark which would forever be copied and parodied but never bettered.

Enter the Dragon: Bruce Lee essentially brought Martial Arts movies into the Western mainstream demonstrating that heroes didn’t always have to be white. It was essentially a James Bond movie with martial arts and even today we can see its influence. There are posters, t-shirts and more with Bruce Lee’s visage on them, usually with the iconic nunchucks.

Dirty Harry: Clint Eastwood’s most famous role as the cop who doesn’t play by the rules and is always questioning authority. He really was one of the first one-liner spewing badasses. His influence can be felt in Cobra, Death Wish, Blitz and many more. Even today he still remains one of the greatest movie badasses of all time.

Rocky: The original “underdog” movie made Sly Stallone a star and paved the way for every fighting movie since. Its influence can be felt in Warrior, The Fighter, Fighting, Lionheart and many more.

Rambo: First Blood: Following on from my ‘Nam blog earlier, Rambo was one of the most influential action movie of the 80s because it was the prototype for the ‘Nam action hero. There were so many clones like Strike Commando, Deadly Prey, Commando and more. He also was the iconic “One Man Army” which was essential in 80s action movies like Red Scorpion et al.

Die Hard: Towards the end of the 80s audiences were growing weary of the muscle bound invincible heroes and were looking for a more “human” hero. John McClane is arguably the greatest action hero of all time because he wasn’t invincible. He was a normal guy in extraordinary circumstances. All he wants to do is save his wife from a group of terrorists and get out alive. This is arguably the movie that has been copied the most with the likes of Speed, Cliffhanger, Sudden Death, Passenger 57,Under Siege, etc all following suit.

Batman (1989): There’s a new superhero movie out every two weeks these days but at the end of the 80s there were hardly any, until Tim Burton created a darker vision of Batman. Everyone gives credit to Nolan for creating a darker version of the character but Burton got there first. The surprising thing is that there weren’t too many superhero movies in the 90s and it took a while for the genre to kick off.

Spider-Man: These movies were successful because they felt like a comic book come to life and were the first time that Marvel characters were brought to life in a successful fashion. Admittedly they are a bit cheesy now but after 9/11, they were exactly what audiences were looking for and really paved the way for the future influx of superhero movies.

The Matrix: In 1999 anticipation was at fever Pitch for Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, but then another film flew under the radar and blew it out of the water. The Matrix was a rare thing, an intellectual action movie. It had philosophical musings, great fight scenes and introduced the world to “bullet-time”. For the next few years every action movie would use wire work, bullet-time and try all sorts of innovative tricks to make the action crazier and more imaginative.

The Bourne Identity: I may not like the movies but it’s difficult to dispute how influential they are; post 9/11 America was looking inward and they were looking for grittier, more realistic action. James Bond even followed with Quantum of Solace using shaky cam, rooftop chases and a grainy look to make it more “real”. Personally I think they’ve had a negative effect on the genre with nearly every action movie now having poorly shot action scenes and trying to call them “stylish”.

Transformers (2007): You may be thinking “Whaaat” but Michael Bay’s Transformers has had a huge influence on the action genre; take for example Battleship, Battle: Los Angeles and The Avengers. The Transformers movies really created a visual style for the creature designs of aliens which has been practically ripped off in any alien movies since. The entire last 30 minutes of the Avengers is similar in visual style to Transformers 3.

So there you have it; I’m sure it could be argued that there are other influential action movies but off the top of my head I’d say these are the most important.

About the Author

Eoin Friel
Eoin Friel
I grew up watching JCVD, Sly and Arnold destroy bad guys, blow things up and spew one-liners like it's a fashion statement. Action is everything I go to the movies for and the reason I came up with this site is to share my love for the genre with everyone.



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