The 10 best overlooked action movies of the 2000s

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Mainstream action cinema found itself in a strange position at the turn of the millennium. Two movies, in particular, had such a monumental impact on the genre that their influence spread a little too far and wide for everyone’s taste.

After the Wachowskis had completely altered the landscape with The Matrix, Bryan Singer’s X-Men came along and instigated the comic book boom. This led to almost every major studio in the industry deciding that if it worked for that pair, it would work for them, too.

On the plus side, there were still plenty of gems to arrive between the years 2000 and 2009, even if many of them suffered the ignominy of sinking without a trace in cinemas, being shrugged at by critics, and getting callously disregarded as lesser works from proven directors.

The cream always rises to the top eventually, though, with every single one of the following ten flicks all worth a punt for any self-respecting genre junkie who loves nothing more than blood, bullets, twists, turns, and thrills.

10 most overlooked 2000s action movies:

10. The Way of the Gun (Christopher McQuarrie, 2000)

After he was the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of The Usual Suspects and before he became the go-to guy for virtually every Tom Cruise movie, Christopher McQuarrie made his feature-length directorial debut in some style with The Way of the Gun.

Existing narratively in the uneasy territory between 1990s overcomplication and 2000s self-awareness, Ryan Phillipe and Benicio del Toro play a pair of bumbling low-level crooks who kidnap the pregnant wife of a notorious money launderer in a get-rich-quick scheme that instantly places them well in over their heads.

He might be one of action cinema’s figureheads today after taking over the Mission: Impossible franchise, but McQuarrie’s first movie behind the camera boasts plenty of visual daring and panache on a fraction of the budget. It’s a little too twisty for its own good, but it certainly packs a memorable punch.

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9. District 13 (Pierre Morel, 2004)

Very much a product of its time, the easiest way to sum up District 13 is to quote one of the biggest TV series from the decade it emerged: parkour!!!

One of the innumerable actioners to roll off the EuropaCorp conveyor belt, Luc Besson co-wrote and produced the feature-length directorial debut of Pierre Morel, who’d go on to reinvigorate Liam Neeson’s career with his next movie, Taken.

Leads David Belle and Cyril Raffaelli may lack any tangible acting chops, but the dystopian tale of a cop and civilian partnering up to stop a shared threat features plenty of breathtaking free-running sequences, which actually further the plot instead of being just eye candy. Not only that, but the socio-economic commentary is richer than the genre usually offers, making it an unsung gem that barely broke even at the box office during its initial run.

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8. Blood and Bone (Ben Ramsey, 2009)

Just because an action flick doesn’t see the inside of a cinema, it doesn’t mean that it’s not worth checking out. Michael Jai White is one of the VOD circuit’s most reliable veterans, and Blood and Bone is comfortably among the best entries in his filmography.

While the storyline is nothing to write home about as his ex-con fights his way through the competition in a high-stakes tournament where much more than pride is on the line, the variety of fighting styles and disciplines on display gives it an air of freshness noticeably absent from most straight-to-video fare.

Extra points should also be awarded for the eclectic ensemble cast, which features the legendary Gene LeBell, regular Bruce Lee collaborator Robert Wall, Hook star Dante Basco, Gina Carano, Kimbo Slice, Dwayne Johnson’s cousin and stunt double Tanoai Reed, and The Bill veteran Eamonn Walker.

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7. Merentau (Gareth Evans, 2009)

Everyone knows about The Raid and its sequel for the way the Indonesian duo placed director Gareth Evans and star Iko Uwais on the map, but Merentau should never be slept on.

Rough around the edges, as should be expected when both the filmmaker and leading man are first-timers working on a major production, it’s fascinating to watch in hindsight because it becomes increasingly clear how the DNA of The Raid – which launched both of their careers – was initially formed.

It obviously lacks the polish and precision of their subsequent efforts, but Merentau is a phenomenal martial arts bonanza in its own right, making it patently clear that the dynamic duo had bright futures in cinema.

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6. Running Scared (Wayne Kramer, 2006)

Despite co-leading one of Hollywood’s biggest franchises, Paul Walker didn’t boast a huge number of memorable credits outside of his Fast & Furious comfort zone, but Running Scared might just be his best-ever performance.

After being tasked by his mobster boss to get rid of the firearms used to kill a pair of police officers, Walker’s Joey Gazelle ends up faced with the fight of his life when the kid next door who’s befriended his son uses them to gun down his stepfather and disappear into the night.

Fast-paced, propulsive, and carrying a latent sense of danger in almost every frame, it was a change of pace from both Walker and writer/director Wayne Kramer, with the filmmaker’s dreamlike aesthetic creating an intense atmosphere that burrows under the skin and refuses to relent until the credits come up.

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5. Time and Tide (Tsui Hark, 2000)

One of the leading lights of the Hong Kong ‘Golden Age’ that exploded in the 1980s, Tsui Hark didn’t quite attain the same levels of fame as John Woo or Ringo Lam, but he was a fantastic director in his own right, in addition to being a powerhouse producer.

Time and Tide wasn’t exactly a success in terms of ticket sales, but in terms of ambition and pivoting on a dime to transform its existential musings into a white-knuckle thrill ride that laughs in the face of structure and convention in favour of putting its foot on the gas and refusing to take it off, it’s a home run.

The storyline doesn’t truly reveal itself until around the midway point, but once the pieces start falling into place after a bodyguard befriends a hired killer desperate to start a new life with his freshly married wife, all bets are off as Hark switches from character-driven drama to action blockbuster in sensational style.

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4. The Rundown (Peter Berg, 2003)

It’s been over 20 years since the first Dwayne Johnson star vehicle that wasn’t tethered to an existing property released, and there’s a solid argument to be made that The Rundown still the best blockbuster he’s ever been part of.

A ‘retrieval expert’ with dreams of opening his own restaurant, ‘The Rock’ is deployed into the deepest reaches of the Amazon rainforest to recover Seann William Scott’s mouthy wildcard, who also happens to be the son of his boss. Unfortunately, a scenery-chewing Christopher Walken isn’t willing to play nice.

The Rundown carries a decidedly modern sheen, but the story, character dynamics, and tongue-in-cheek ridiculousness of it all are ripped right from the buddy caper’s 1980s heyday. Given his self-proclaimed status as ‘Franchise Viagra’, Johnson would have no doubt mounted a sequel by now if it hadn’t bombed.

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3. The Chaser (Na Hong-jin, 2008)

Inspired by real events, The Chaser presents an intoxicating hybrid of crime thriller, action movie, and redemption story that belies its status as director Na Hong-jin’s first feature.

Kim Yoon-seok’s Eom Joong-ho is a disgraced detective now working as a pimp, forced into a race against the clock when one of his girls goes missing. With a suspected serial killer on the loose, he’s only got 12 hours to gather the evidence before the local authorities release the potential murderer without charge.

A nail-biting game of cat and mouse ensues that seamlessly melds the suspense, twists, and turns with intricate and visceral action sequences that are unflinching in their brutality but always in service of the plot as opposed to throwing in set pieces for the sake of it.

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2. Tokyo Raiders (Jingle Ma, 2000)

Despite the title and Japanese setting, Tokyo Raiders is a Hong Kong action flick through and through, anchored ably by the radiant star power and natural charisma of leading man Tony Leung.

Although it leans heavily into its more comedic aspects, that playful nature and a lightness of touch perfectly complements the action beats, providing an undemanding and eminently entertaining instance of cool people playing cool characters regularly found doing cool things.

A disgruntled bride-to-be is left fuming after being no-showed at her Las Vegas wedding, enlisting Leung’s private eye to find out not only where he is but why the yakuza are so interested in finding him, too. Naturally, hijinks ensue, and there’s even a burgeoning romance thrown in for good measure.

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1. Whiteout (Setsurō Wakamatsu, 2000)

Essentially, it’s one of just many Die Hard clones to emerge in the aftermath of Bruce Willis scurrying around the Nakatomi Plaza, but Whiteout is undoubtedly one of the best facsimiles to emerge from the subgenre.

Terrorists seize control of Japan’s largest dam, take the workforce hostage, and demand a hefty ransom from the government for their safe return. So far, so Die Hard, with Yūji Oda’s Togashi Teruo fulfilling the John McClane remit in this instance.

John McTiernan’s classic has been repurposed for countless thinly veiled imitators, but the sense of scale presented by the cavernous dam and Togashi’s complete unpreparedness for being the hero make Whitehout stand out from a crowded pack, especially once the bullets start flying.

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