You don’t have to look far to find good action cinema these days. While studios remain firmly focused on their blockbusters, the DTV action market remains a booming industry of grizzled ass-kickers and action veterans. We got three MCU entries this year, and they all lived up to the franchise standard of stunning set pieces, Steven Spielberg returned to blockbuster filmmaking and took on his own legacy with the ambitious crowd-pleaser Ready Player One, and Christopher McQuarrie became the first director to return for a Mission: Impossible sequel and ended up delivering one of the greatest films in the franchise.
If you’re in the mood for car chases, fight scenes, and apocalyptic stakes, we’ve been keeping this list updated all year, so check out our picks for the best action movies of 2018
Ready Player One
It’s insanely impressive that 43 years after inventing the blockbuster, Steven Spielberg can still craft one magical slice of escapist fun. What better proof than Ready Player One, a story—based on author Ernest Cline’s uncomfortably zealous ode to the 1980’s—about a literal escape from reality into a neon-lit pop culture paradise. The film is not without its faults; the script by Cline and Zak Penn almost makes you feel like main character Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) would say some vicious things about The Last Jedi on Twitter if given the chance. But Spielberg’s uncanny eye for spectacle is at its most playful here. The film’s first major set-piece, a white knuckle car chase through a video game labyrinth that plays with Spielberg’s own filmography, is one of the most dazzling 15-minutes of the director’s career. Also, if you say you didn’t give at least an appreciative chuckle at the trip to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining Overlook, you’re lying. — Vinnie Mancuso
There have been more nuanced action films this year, actions films with more style, or flair, or technical realism, but only one single action film in 2018 saw Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and his massive mutated gorilla friend square off against a giant crocodile and a ten-story-tall wolf. In fairness, that is a very specific genre, but it’s one that brought me almost too much joy over the 107-minute runtime of Rampage. Based on the 1986 video by only the loosest definition of the word, Rampage is a deeply silly movie, the literal dictionary definition of a popcorn flick, but in a way that harkens back to the sensibilities of the 1990’s prime playful Arnold Schwarzenegger (Think Last Action Hero). Much like the Austrian Oak, what Johnson lacks in range he makes up for tenfold in an almost superhuman desire to deliver the biggest, loudest, most fun summer movies possible while wearing the most khaki-colored wardrobe known to mankind. As long as there are CGI cities to be stomped, I will watch The Rock do his darndest to save them. — Vinnie Mancuso
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a spectacle-filled monster B-movie on such a massive scale and studio budget I can hardly believe it exists. Nefarious businessmen, DNA fuckery, exploding volcanos, and of course, big ol’ dinosaurs abound in the Jurassic World sequel. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howardreunite (and they’re allowed to be a lot more likable this time) for another romp among the prehistoric when an active volcano on Isla Nublar threatens to wipe out dinosaur life on earth once again. The rest of the film spans from the lush tropical terrors of the island to a steely gothic manor where the the newly rescued dinos are housed in the third act, and A Monster Calls director J.A. Bayona amps up the style factor this time around, paying plenty of homage not only to Steven Spielberg but to monster movies across the genre. It’s kind of a goofy film, but that’s part of its charm and it sure to deliver the dino action. – Haleigh Foutch
Ant-Man and the Wasp
Marvel’s lightest fare of the year, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a joyful, romantic romp through San Francisco (and the Quantum Realm) that’s rich with energetic and playfully conceived set-pieces. Paul Rudd is, as always, a delight to watch as the post-Civil War Scott Lang, who’s spent the last two years bonding with his daughter during house arrest, but it’s Evangeline Lilly‘s Hope Van Dayne who gets to suit up for the first time and deliver some of the best ass kickings. Her initial fight with Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) is a worthy hand-to-hand throwdown, enhanced by their physics-defying abilities. Though there’s nothing quite as surprising and innovative as the toy train fight from the first film, director Peyton Reed and his team come up with plenty of fun size gags, culminating in a car chase through the city streets that puts Pez to dangerous use. Light and breezy with a lot of heart, Ant-Man and the Wasp emerged as one of summer’s best popcorn flicks. — Haleigh Foutch
The Transformers franchise takes a big swing away from the days of Bayhem with Bumblebee, the tender-hearted prequel spinoff that focuses in on how it is everyone’s favorite mute, yellow Autobot made his way to Earth. Kubo and the Two String director Travis Knight makes his live-action directing debut with the scaled-down Transformers riff, which stars Hailee Steinfeld as a teenage girl grieving the loss of her father, who discovers Bumblebee and helps him create a home on earth. Pulling freely from the Amblin playbook, Bumblebee is all heart, making the Autobot an adorable fish out of water, who plays pet and pal to the young lady who rescued him. Knight also serves up some thrilling action sequences, notably different from the balls-to-the-walls insanity of the steel and glass tidal waves Michael Bayunleashed. To the contrary, Bumblebee is all about the heart and the human connection behind the spectacle.
Deadpool 2 is a relentlessly cheeky, action-packed piece of snark cinema that takes all the subversion, one-liners and meta-humor of the first film and amps it up to 10, and with John Wick and Atomic Blonde director David Leitch taking over at the helm, the sequel’s action scenes got a serious boost as well. There’s clearly a bigger budget, which helps, but it really Leitch’s expertise at directing action and some damn fine fight choreography that gives Deadpool 2 the edge in the ass-kicking department. From Domino’s (Zazie Beetz) Rube Goldberg sequence of luck during the X-Force assault to the addition of the gun-toting future badass Cable (Josh Brolin), Deadpool 2’s action scenes deliver one hell of a kinetic jolt between the dick jokes. — Haleigh Foutch