Listmania: Top 10 Kick-Ass Movies

In pop culture, lists are everything. They lend a sense of order to an otherwise orderless world. From film and literature to music, critics and readers alike love to put things in tidy rows. It is with this in mind that Popdose presents Listmania, a weekly series counting down the staff’s favorite things.

Once upon a time, you could depend on at least one imovable truth: every single summer, there would be at least one film that would come to theaters to chew bubblegum and kick ass –and it was always all out of bubblegum. As technology has evolved, so has the ass kicking. But there is something to be said for a good old knock down, drag out brawl, leaving in it’s wake an audience that has had it’s ass fully and totally kicked.

This week, the Popdose staff was given a simple task: choose the top 10 movies that have kicked your ass. The response ranged from classic bruisers like Rocky, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly and The Magnificent Seven to modern marvels such as The Matrix and Iron Man. The top 10 represent a cross-section of the best of the last 30 years of cinematic pummelling, and are, without doubt, our favorite kick-ass movies.

10. Road House (1989) Prior to Dirty Dancing, Patrick Swayze existed on the fringes of the Brat Pack, as Darry Curtis in The Outsiders and Jed Eckert in the decidedly kick-ass Red Dawn. His chiseled good-looks, and considerable dancing skills made him an object to be desired by women the world over in his turn as Johnny Castle, the bad boy dance instructor in 1987’s Dirty Dancing, but let’s face it –there was not much about that film that kicked ass. Enter, Road House. With its tagline setting the stage (“The dancing’s over. Now it gets dirty.”), this was clearly Swayze’s attempt to re-establish himself with a male audience. The film was inevitably a flop, but contains some of the best choreographed fight scenes of the genre. And yes, ladies, he even dances with co-star Kelly Lynch. – Michael Parr
9 Fight Club (1999) Wait, are you asking us to talk about Fight Club? - David Medsker
8. Big Trouble In Little China (1986) Before there was Black Dynamite, there was Big Trouble in Little China, John Carpenter’s cheerfully affectionate tribute to the kung fu classics that blended Chinese mysticism with splashy special effects, a resplendently mulleted Kurt Russell, and a synthy soundtrack featuring the immortal title song, written and performed by Carpenter himself. Audiences inexplicably passed on Big Trouble, but it’s become a cult classic over the years, thanks to its eminently quotable dialogue, array of bizarre characters, and brilliantly choreographed (not to mention funny) action set pieces. As the truck-driving hero Jack Burton, Russell quipped, “It’s all in the reflexes.” If you’re looking for a kick-ass action movie, everything you’re looking for is all right here. - Jeff Giles
7. Aliens (1986) You wouldn’t expect these movies to kick ass at the Oscars but in fact four of our ten pulled in nominations. The proudest, for me, was the Best Actress nod to Sigourney Weaver for ALIENS, in 1986. The then-unknown Weaver should have been a contender seven years earlier for ALIEN, but the Academy couldn’t collate such an atypical performance in 1979, and still tends to confine these kinds of movies to the technical categories. But Ripley could not be denied a second time, and she made her competition look like, well, a bunch of girls. Hot off The Terminator, writer-director James Cameron front-and-centered the woman warrior aspect of the character, as tough and resourceful as any of the Marines in her company, and offset the hardness with a nurturing side; the performance comes together with the edge-of-your-seat battle with the awesome Alien Queen, one of the great throwdowns in movie history. There’s more to the story, though, as Cameron, then known as a frugal filmmaker, gets maximum bang for the buck from tough talk and a rogues’ gallery of supporting players, mostly armed to the teeth: Bill Paxton ( “Hey Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man?”), Jenette Goldstein (“No, have you?”), Lance Henriksen (“I may be synthetic, but I’m not stupid”), and Paul Reiser (“It was a bad call, Ripley. It was a bad call”) among them. No. 1 kick ass moment: The perfectly timed cut to Weaver as she commands “Get away from her, you bitch!” Suck it, Marlee Matlin. - Robert Cashill
6. The Professional (1994) Known outside of the U.S. as Léon, this film marks the debut of Natalie Portman as twelve-year old Mathilda. After her family is slaughtered by a rouge DEA agent (the über-creepy Gary Oldman), she seeks refuge with “cleaner” Léon Montana, played to steely perfection by Jean Reno. With NYC as the backdrop, this movie definitely falls on the “thriller” end of the action movie spectrum, but kicks major ass in Portman’s chilling portrayal of the pre-teen assassin in training. Try topping that Dakota Fanning! - MP
5. First Blood (1982) When you watch First Blood, the first thing you notice is that there isn’t much action in the first hour of the film. Instead, we get to know Sylvester Stallone’s character, John Rambo, so well that there’s no doubt who the hero is. When Richard Crenna shows up and say his famous line, “You don’t know what you’re dealing with,” the audience certainly does. Rambo is a killing machine. A former green beret who fought in Vietnam, Rambo is a loner who’s seen all of his friends die and just wants to be left alone. But a bunch of small town cop think he’s a drifter and push him to the edge. Their mistake. Alone in the woods, Rambo takes out an entire army of men before finally surrendering before he really does some damage! Stallone is outstanding, remaining silent throughout most of the film. When he finally unleashes his anguish over everything that went wrong after he returned home, it’s devastating. This may be one of Stallone’s finest acting moments. Drama, action, blood, Brian Dennehy and David Caruso? This film has everything and a cheesy song over the end credits. People, if that doesn’t kick ass, then I don’t know what does! - Scott Malchus
4. The Bourne Identity (2002) Like Bruce Willis before Die Hard, Matt Damon seemed like a risky bet for action hero status — or so said the doubters when word got out Damon would be playing the lead in The Bourne Identity. $945 million in worldwide grosses later, Damon has helped revolutionize the action genre — hell, even stuffy old 007 employed some of that newfangled handycam style — and helped make ass-kicking superspy roles safe for the less pectorally gifted. Jason Bourne might not be as physically intimidating as Sly or Arnold, but have either of those guys ever killed someone with a rolled-up magazine? Badass. - JG
3. Kill Bill: Vol. 1 & 2 (2003-2004) In the majority of her film work, Uma Thurman is, at best, a competent actress. (In a few select roles, she earns extra credit for sexing up her co-stars.) Indisputably, her strongest performances are those she has given in films made by Quentin Tarantino, whose genius for casting and directing undistinguished or washed-up actors is unmatched. When Quentin and Uma reunited nearly a decade after Pulp Fiction, fists flew, swords slashed, blood flowed, and what was supposed to be a single film expanded into two. Joining Uma for the kung fu/spaghetti western/gangster flick mashup were a host of actors who have never been better, including the casually evil David Carradine, the steely-eyed Lucy Liu, and the smokin’ Vivica A. Fox, a.k.a. my lady-crush. Kill Bill: Vols. 1 & 2 are of a piece with all Tarantino’s films, with a complicated timeline and plenty of dark comedy, but this time the journey feels more urgent – possibly because it’s that of a mother fighting for her child? Balancing over-the-top violence (Daryl Hannah’s eye, anyone?) with essentially reality-based performances and, as usual, a killer soundtrack, Tarantino created an inherently feminist epic that is far more entertaining and memorable than it has any right to be. - Robin Monica Alexander
2. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) The Indiana Jones films were the last great movie franchise for several reasons. It seemed to come from nowhere. Sure, its seeds came from the old Saturday morning cliffhangers, but by the early ’80s was anyone expecting the rebirth of the serial? Also, Indiana Jones is everyman. He’s the suave teacher in a three-piece suit. He’ll stand up to armies of spear-carrying natives and Nazis alike, but squirm and complain about snakes. He is superhuman and human at the same time. That’s the real appeal of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Even when the fantastical is flying all around, it’s happening in our real world in real locations (or locations based on reality). There are few times you’re disabused of the belief they’re in actual places, not London-built sets. And thankfully the time the movie was made was previous to the CGI revolution, which we’ve seen again and again rob the realism out of a movie, just because of the hyper-realism CG imagery can bring. The real key to the movie is not that it is action-packed from the word “go”, that it takes us to far-flung corners of the world or even that it allows the viewer the catharsis of seeing the Third Reich get trounced Biblically; Raiders is really the story of a man who has to put aside his ambitions for the sake of redemption and, ultimately, love. Ladies-man Jones regrets his betrayal of Marion Ravenwood and her father Abner and now she’s back in Jones’ life. Worse, so are the feelings he has for her. So even though we’ve seen Jones ditch companions left and right to claim the prize, will he forsake Marion too to take control of the Ark of the covenant? Raiders Of The Lost Ark is BIG entertainment, but what really holds it together is the human story underneath, where it really counts. - Dw. Dunphy
1. Die Hard (1988) The original ad campaign promised to “blow you through the back wall of the theater” and, for once, there was truth in advertising. Die Hard had plenty of action movie clichés (bad guy deaths where they don’t actually die, dumb cops, dumber media, a kick-ass hero whose “street smarts” trumps the “experts”) but found ways to subvert almost every one of them. The villains were not hideous cat-strokers that talked their victims to death before they actually pulled the trigger. They were Euro-trash model types not afraid to “do the thing.” More importantly, the hero John McClane was refreshingly uncertain. Sure, he was tough; but he also didn’t like himself very much, and that vulnerability set him aside from stone-cold killers like James Bond and the like. McClane, as played by Bruce Willis, was not so different from audience members, especially in his relationship with wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia). He could never get it right with her and, as he stumbles into one plight after another, can barely get anything right at all. The technical term is “flying by the seat of your pants” which always makes for the best kinds of action set-pieces. The real brilliance of Die Hard is that it is carefully assembled. Few details are put in by happenstance: Limo-driver Argyle waiting in the parking garage, Holly’s family portrait that ultimately betrays McClane, a Playboy centerfold hung on the wall that helps geographically orient the viewer. Even though the movie is rock ‘em sock ‘em popcorn fare, it is meticulously built.  Sadly, that sort of detail, and character empathy, would not be found in the subsequent three sequels that find McClane becoming a terrorist-busting Hulk every Christmas. Die Hard is such a hard act to follow, they couldn’t even do it themselves. - Dw.
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  • BobCashill

    While I can’t really argue with any of these, or most of the cop buddy movies in this week’s Revival House, I respectfully submit that RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II is 1,000% more kick ass than FIRST BLOOD. Maybe a million times more. Then again I saw it in a theater full of chest-pounding manimals; FIRST BLOOD, at home, on VHS, with mom and dad. Context is everything.

    The other Oscar nominees: FIGHT CLUB, DIE HARD, and RAIDERS, a Best Picture nominee that beats the crap out of CHARIOTS OF FIRE, the winner that year.

  • jamesballenger

    I agree with all of those, Roadhouse being the squeaker. It is a wonderfully horrible movie. I’d suggest a few others to contend, which I’m sure just would not garner enough votes.
    1) THE WILD BUNCH – Bloody Sam being bloody, I really need not say more
    2) the OUTLAW Josey Wales – Favorite Clint Western, better than Unforgiven….Yes I said it.
    3) Thunderbolt and Lightfoot- Nothing but movie awesome-ness, Great Director, Great cast, and Great Falls Montana in all her 70s glory
    4) Bullit – “That Duster had 6 hubcaps, know what I mean?” Steve McQueen – DBT
    5) Yojimbo – You try to get two warring factions to kill one another and see how you do.
    6) The Road Warrior – Mad Max is great but c’mon the Road Warrior has Humongous
    7) A Better Tomorrow – John Woo showing you how it is done.

    I’d keep Die Hard, Raiders and probably First Blood but maybe Big Trouble in Little china. Although if you had picked Escape from NY then I would keep that instead.

  • drcastrato

    Thank you for placing Die Hard at number 1. When I saw the title of this list, it was the first movie that popped into my head. It is the definition of a kick-ass movie.

  • KiingPervus

    It took the untimely death of Patrich Swayze to realize I was actually a latent fan. Road House, Point Break and Red Dawn are three flicks, despite their flaws, that demand my attention anytime they pop up on the tube.

    For a kinda left-field addition to this list, I gotta nominate 2001’s “Brotherhood of the Wolf.” Which, among it’s many badass moments, features Native American sidekick Mark Dascascos doling out copious amounts of asian-style whupass upon filthy, rude, 18th century French peasantry. Inexplicable, but cool.

    I also have to give it up for “Kiss, Kiss, Bang Bang” and “Casino Royale.”

  • Scott Warner

    These are all good movies, but while Fight Club and Roadhouse are “Kick your ass” films, the others are just really good.  I loved Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it wasn’t necessarily a Kick Ass Movie.  … The Punisher, with Thomas Jane, was a KICK ASS MOVIE.  007 Quantam Solace was a KICK ASS MOVIE.  ‘Go’ was action packed and funny to boot, but not a Kick Ass Movie.  So, to make this short, a good list here, but not exactly a ‘Movies that will definitely kick your ass’ list.