Photo Edit by Travis Wilker
This was a really great year for action – I mean, we had John Wick: Chapter 2 and Atomic Blonde in the same year! – and so I am happy to bring back one of my favorite columns to write at the end of each year: The Action Hero Power Rankings. Action heroes are like Highlanders, there can only be one to claim the top spot. I didn’t do them last year because honestly the pool for it just wasn’t deep, it just wouldn’t have been fun to do that year. But if you’re interested, Tom Cruise would have taken the title for Jack Reacher: Never Go Back just out of default because like who else was there last year? Anyways, this was an especially tough roster to rank because the top two had almost equal claim to the throne. But alas, there can only be one.
Some rules, most of which we’ll break.
Rule #1: All candidates must be lead performers.
Rule #2: There is no limit to the number of candidates, but in the spirit of competition we’ll keep it tight.
Rule #3: There isn’t an exact science to quantifying ass-kicking, but I did take into account box office numbers and the overall amount of ass-kicking on display.
Rule #4: I have to have seen the film, so unfortunately Jackie Chan will not be drop kicking into the rankings because I didn’t see The Foreigner because I apparently also really hate myself. But to be fair, Jackie does not need the power rankings to know where he stands.
Alright, let’s get to ass whooping!
5. The Rock – The Fate of the Furious
This breaks the first rule, but just like Furious 7, The Rock is making the rankings because he had the most action hero moments in the least amount of time which is an incredible feat to pull off. His AAHM(Average Action Hero Moments) per screen time statistic is probably off the charts, so much so I don’t even know where to begin to calculate it. Those are some real steroid stats he’s putting up. There are so many insane, iconic moments The Rock has in Fate of the Furious, let’s review them. There’s a part where he busts out of his handcuffs through pure muscle and picks up a guy and holds his body up against a wall sideways like the dude is as light as a sandwich. There’s a part where The Rock is outside a car holding onto the door at high speeds and with his other arm he reaches over to a missile that’s sliding on the ice and with pure strength REDIRECTS A MISSILE WITH ONE HAND to go hit the enemy vehicles. But alas, like there can only be one action hero to win the year, there can only be one true iconic moment.
Iconic Moment: There’s a part where Vin Diesel tosses a bunch of grenades into a room where the team is, and instead of ducking or something, The Rock grabs one in mid air that comes flying at him. Before tossing it away like a normal person or something, he instead gives the grenade a death stare for like 5 seconds. His look is telling the grenade “go ahead bitch, I dare you to blow up. Yeah, that’s what I thought.” After having sonned the grenade, he tosses it aside where it finally has the courage to blow up. The Rock is so powerful of an action hero he made a grenade afraid. That’s just incredible.
4. Gal Gadot – Wonder Woman
I rewatched this film over Thanksgiving break, and it really holds up! What stood out to me the most is just how much stuntwork and fight choreography Gal Gadot is doing herself. It shouldn’t be a surprise, she was after all a huge part of the Fast & the Furious franchise and their shift to action extravaganzas. She carries that over to the superhero film, a type of film that usually does all the action via CGI and green screen, but because of Gadot the action sequences are rooted in a physicality that wouldn’t be there without her.
Iconic Moment: The No Man’s Land sequence, it’s a great superhero moment where she truly becomes Wonder Woman and inspires those around her by mowing through a battlefield nobody can survive. A week ago one of my roommates cleaned our oven and we compared that brave act to the No Man’s Land scene. Me and my other roommate were just watching her clean exactly like how Steve Trevor and his boys watch Wonder Woman go through No Man’s Land.
3. Frank Grillo – Wheelman
I’m really glad we finally got an action film like Wheelman that Frank Grillo can front, it’s a minimalist action film that Grillo can carry via both action chops and acting chops. I once wrote a column about how he was our most undervalued action hero, and he’s making good on my investments here. It’s his most “action hero” role to date, and he’s fantastic to watch fully enveloped in that element. Plus the tagline for the film – “Drive Fast. Think Faster.” – is just such an incredible tagline, just behind the tagline for Faster – “Slow Justice is No Justice.”
Iconic Moment: The whole film. That’s kind of a copout answer, but like 95% of the film takes place in the car with the cameras either in or attached to the car. So really, the whole film is his iconic moment. He’s saying “I can carry an action film without even leaving this car.” which is really impressive.
2. Charlize Theron – Atomic Blonde
Theron actually took the power rankings title back in 2015 for Mad Max: Fury Road, so it’s great to have her back in the rankings again. Had this been pretty much any other year where the top spot taker didn’t have their film, she definitely would have taken it a 2nd time for her portrayal of MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton. Charlize took it up another level from Furiosa and performed stuntwork and fight choreography at the same level of all-timers. One of the markers of a great action hero is how much of the stuntwork and fight choreography they can do themselves, and Theron is doing it all. Director David Leitch doesn’t have to hide anything in quick cuts or inserts, because Theron is giving 110% in each take.
Iconic Moment: There’s a one-take sequence where she fights her way up and back down a building through a bunch of bad guys, you’ll need a cigarette after watching it. The level of physicality she’s going through in these fights in this sequence is just excruciating. Halfway through, she can barely stand up and finish the fight, and you don’t feel like Theron is overselling her exhaustion because you’ve just watched her perform all these insane stunts and fight choreography, you know she’s exhausted. You’re exhausted just watching her. Theron’s claimed her spot as one of the all time great action heroes with this film.
1. Keanu Reeves – John Wick: Chapter 2
Could it have been anybody else? He came in 2nd in the 2014 rankings for John Wick just short of Iko Uwais in The Raid 2, and he’s returned with a vengeance and claimed the top spot. Chapter 2 isn’t just a great John Wick sequel or a great action sequel, it’s one of the greatest sequels ever made, right up there with The Godfather: Part II. It’s one of the only action films to attain the status of action opera, everything about it is just on another level, with Reeves on an unparalleled status of action filmmaking. Keanu Reeves is 53 years old and is out here doing fight choreography and stunts with the dexterity and athleticism that somebody half his age couldn’t do in peak condition. Meanwhile, I am 25 years old and my knees hurt. I’ve just never seen an action character come along like John Wick and just dominate the entire action genre like Reeves has. There are so many iconic moments in this film, it’s like a highlight reel, you can argue each action scene is the best one. For example, you have the opening car scene, the fight between Reeves and Common, and the mirror fight sequence. But I think we all know what the true iconic moment is…
Iconic Moment: When John Wick kills some dudes with a fucking pencil. In both films, we hear a character mythologize Wick by recounting how they saw him kill three men in a bar “with a fucking pencil” and in this film he actually does that in a glorious moment for fans. Finally, we get the pleasure of seeing John Wick kill three men with a fucking pencil.