This year at the movies has largely been defined by the cultural phenomenon of comedies and dramas like Barbie, Oppenheimer, or Killers of the Flower Moon. However, the year in action has been quietly wonderful.
While this year’s action movies may not have an absolute crowd-favorite like 2022’s Top Gun: Maverick, 2023 still dashed out a handful of wonderful action flicks. The year had a variety of options for action fans, from family-friendly flicks about talking turtles to brutal gore fests featuring exploding Nazis and flaming shotgun blasts. So, whether you’re a die-hard action fanatic or a casual moviegoer, 2023 likely has something for you.
Now that 2023 is winding to an end, let’s take a look at the seven best action movies of the year.
Sisu is the kind of movie that die-hard action fans drool over: simple plot, cool kills. The movie from Finnish director Jalmari Helander is a wild, awe-inducing journey of literal blood, sweat, and tears through the Finnish countryside. Set in 1945, Sisu follows an ex-Finnish soldier named Aatami Korpi as he tries to venture into the city to cash in a bag of gold he recently mined. The Nazis currently enacting a scorched-earth policy on the region, though, have different ideas.
Aatami’s journey becomes an epic battle featuring flying landmines and underwater knife battles, resulting in a gritty movie whose brutal images will be remembered for a while. Sisu isn’t reinventing the genre, but it’s an efficient and well-constructed action flick worthy of a watch.
6. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is a different flavor of action movie. In fact, I won’t be shocked if readers are a bit surprised that this film made the list. However, Mutant Mayhem is more than just a kid-friendly animated movie with doses of action.
The film, which follows the Turtle brothers as they try to be accepted as normal New York City teenagers, is beautiful in its construction, introducing a refreshing new animated style that rivals Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse in terms of visual ingenuity. But the movie is also just a good time full of heart. It abounds with care and authenticity; it is unapologetic about its maturity, resulting in a fun and touching flick about acceptance and brotherhood.
5. Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves
In all honesty, nobody really expected a Dungeons and Dragons movie to be this good. However, Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Things is great. The film, starring Chris Pine and Michelle Rodriguez, uses the role-playing game as a blueprint for a fantastical adventure movie abounding with heart and hilarity. Modern Hollywood is defined by franchises, and Honor Among Thieves could have been a lifeless movie intending solely to cash in on the game’s name recognition.
Instead, directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, along with the rest of the cast and crew, created a breath of fresh air of a movie. The movie’s plot and stakes aren’t breaking any genre trends, but Honor Among Thieves is a raucous good time. Oh, and you can’t forget that this movie has by far the best cameo seen in years.
4. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is a bittersweet thing. On one hand, it’s a funny yet heart-tugging story outfitted with all sorts of classic Guardians antics. On the other hand, it’s a touching farewell to a team — and a director — that Marvel fans have come to love. The Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy is the best in the MCU, thanks in large part to James Gun’s direction.
With Vol. 3, Gunn takes us to the heart of Rocket Raccoon and creates a truly horrifying yet lovely story about family and friendship. The action, too, is at the top of the MCU; the hallway scene is one of the greatest action sequences in any Marvel movie. Despite the tumultuous current state of the MCU, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 shines.
3. John Wick: Chapter 4
Expectations were through the roof for director Chad Stahelski’s fourth installment to the beloved John Wick series. After all, how do you top ninjas on motorcycles? Well, Stahelski and Keanu Reeves never fail to satisfy. John Wick: Chapter 4 is an epic movie, a nearly three-hour barrage of some of the craziest action put on the big screen.
With such a long runtime, it’s impressive that Stahelski is largely able to hold his audience. There are moments that feel repetitive, yes, but the movie is saved by the hard-to-describe absurdity of the action. There is a flaming shotgun. There is Donnie Yen slicing people up. There is a sequence in which Reeves fights up — and falls down — the longest staircase you’ll ever see. John Wick: Chapter 4 is beautiful in a way that only the sickest action fans will understand.
2. Godzilla Minus One
One of the biggest surprises of the year, Godzilla Minus One serves as a wonderful cap on the year’s action movies. Released just a few weeks ago, the Japanese monster flick from director Takashi Yamazaki puts other big-budget action blockbusters to shame. The movie, which reportedly had a budget of around $15 million, is an awe-inducing wonder of filmmaking.
It follows Koichi Shikishima, a Japanese kamikaze pilot who faked a mechanical problem to save his life in the waning days of World War II. Just as Shikishima — and the rest of the nation — have finally started to recover from the war’s destruction, a new threat emerges from the sea: Godzilla. The movie is as gigantic as the monster itself, a tender drama about war and Japanese identity interspersed with some of the greatest monster movie filmmaking you’ve ever seen. Godzilla has rarely been better.
1. Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One
No movie suffered from a worse release schedule this year than Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One. The seventh installment in the Mission: Impossible series was released just one week before Barbie and Oppenheimer took the world by storm, so its box office numbers were severely impacted.
Nevertheless, Dead Reckoning Part One has gone largely unappreciated for its signature antics, unrelenting pace, and incredible action set pieces. There are so many moments in the movie that call for one’s jaw to drop, whether it be the high-intensity stunts or tensely constructed spy sequences. Every ounce of Dead Reckoning Part One breathes of epic filmmaking. Tom Cruise is one of the greatest stars Hollywood has today, and he continues to prove his excellence year after year.
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