On the wall of my office is a poster for the movie "The Professionals," the 1966 western starring Lee Marvin and Burt Lancaster. It's a terrific action film with some of the sharpest, snappiest dialogue around.
When we think about action films, there are a few that jump right out. "Die Hard," naturally, is often at the top of the list; there may not be a better combination of the excitement, thrills and humor that are key elements in a good action film. "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" is right up there, too, along with "The Matrix," "Speed," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Lethal Weapon" and "Aliens."
But let's go back in time, say pre-1980, to discuss action movies. We'll leave the James Bond films out of it — even though "From Russia with Love" and "Goldfinger" are top-notch. Let's talk about films that a lot of people might not have seen, or even heard their names.
» "Bullitt." Right up there with "Die Hard" when it comes to the best. Steve McQueen would be cool just standing on his front porch holding a kitten, but in 1968's "Bullitt" he sets the tone for every other anti-establishment cop film since. And every single car chase you've ever seen in any movie is inspired by the one in "Bullitt."
» "Where Eagles Dare." In 1968, Richard Burton was not the first person you'd think of when it came to action movies, but he held his own alongside Clint Eastwood in this World War II thriller. The fight on the cable cars is nerve-wracking even if you're not scared of heights.
» "The Guns of Navarone." Nominated for a Best Picture Oscar in 1961, it had the efforts of three previous Oscar winners: actors Gregory Peck, David Niven and Anthony Quinn. The vertical climb up the cliff of Navarone remains a stellar piece of filmmaking.
» "North by Northwest." Watch Alfred Hitchcock's 1959 classic for the first time and it hits you: This is the template for the James Bond films. The action sequences (the crop-duster scene is required for anyone wanting to be a director); big, huge sets (the United Nations and Mt. Rushmore); the humor (it's Cary Grant, after all); the twisting plot (it's Hitchcock, after all).
» "The Wild Bunch." Both reviled and hailed when it was released in 1969 for its slo-mo, bloody violence, it's tame compared to an episode of "Game of Thrones," but still gritty and grubby. The film remains fascinating for its underlying theme of men who are out-of-date in an ever-changing world. That was hammered home by stars William Holden, Ernest Borgnine and Ben Johnson, aging actors facing the same thing in their real lives.
» "Hombre." No one in the history of westerns was ever as tough as Paul Newman in this 1967 film. If he speaks more than 100 words in the whole film, I'd be surprised. As bad guy Richard Boone tells him, "Mister, you have got a lot of hard bark on you."
Contact Shawn Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org.