The immense box office success of Top Gun: Maverick has proven that audiences will still go to theaters for the thrill of an old-school action movie. The practical stunt work of the Tom Cruise-starring sequel calls back to the visceral thrills of ‘80s and ‘90s action cinema, a stark contrast to all the weightless CGI in the average modern blockbuster.
From Face/Off to Con Air to Air Force One to Tomorrow Never Dies, there are many 25-year-old action movies released back in 1997 that still hold up today.
10/10 Con Air
Simon West’s wonderfully pulpy actioner Con Air stars Nicolas Cage as a wrongfully convicted prisoner whose release is threatened when sadistic criminals commandeer the plane transporting him to his freedom. The ensemble cast includes such screen legends as John Malkovich, Steve Buscemi, Ving Rhames, and Danny Trejo.
Realism was the furthest thing from West’s mind when he made Con Air; this gleefully far-fetched thrill-ride is much more concerned with explosive entertainment.
9/10 The Fifth Element
Luc Besson brought his eye for uniquely visceral action to the dystopian sci-fi genre for his futuristic thriller The Fifth Element. Bruce Willis stars as a 23rd-century cabbie who teams up with a government experiment played by Milla Jovovich to protect Earth from an attack by a cosmic force.
What The Fifth Element lacks in the thought-provoking thematic substance of its tech-noir forerunner Blade Runner, it makes up for with a string of exciting action set-pieces.
Jonathan Mostow’s underrated thriller Breakdown stars Kurt Russell as an everyman on a mission. After a couple’s car breaks down in the desert, they become separated and the man grows more and more desperate to find his missing wife and uncover why everyone is claiming they haven’t seen her.
This was one of Russell’s last edgy action hero roles before he returned to his original studio home, Disney, and embarked on nearly a decade of focusing on family-friendly fare before Quentin Tarantino gave him the role of Stuntman Mike.
7/10 Absolute Power
Clint Eastwood directed, produced, and starred in Absolute Power, a politically charged action thriller about a master thief who witnesses the murder of the U.S. President’s mistress by a pair of Secret Service agents, and promptly becomes a prime suspect in what is staged to look like a murder.
Revered screenwriter William Goldman provided the script, adapted from the novel by David Baldacci, which keeps the audience guessing through the entirety of its dark, twisty, unpredictable narrative.
6/10 Men In Black
Based on an obscure Marvel comic book, Men in Black puts a sci-fi twist on the classic “buddy cop” genre. Will Smith plays the naive rookie and Tommy Lee Jones plays the grizzled veteran at a secret government agency dedicated to fighting alien invaders.
Men in Black has all the expected banter of a “buddy cop” movie – handled brilliantly by Smith and Jones’ strong on-screen chemistry – but it also has goofy gadgets and otherworldly villains.
5/10 Grosse Pointe Blank
What if John Wick got the therapy he desperately needs? That’s the question posed by Grosse Pointe Blank, a pitch-black action comedy starring John Cusack as an assassin who takes stock of his amoral life choices when he attends his high school reunion and wonders about the road not taken.
Tom Jankiewicz’s witty script wrings all the comedic juice out of a high-concept premise that combines the mundanity of a high school reunion with the violent action of a hitman thriller.
4/10 Tomorrow Never Dies
Not only is Tomorrow Never Dies a fun-filled James Bond adventure whose thrilling set-pieces hold up today; it’s a prescient satire of fake news whose message about the power of the media is more relevant than ever. Media mogul villain Elliot Carver wants to start World War III for the exclusive news coverage.
Pierce Brosnan is as charming as ever in the role of 007, Michelle Yeoh steals the show as the equally badass Wai Lin, and the movie has a surplus of riveting action sequences.
3/10 Starship Troopers
Adapted from the classic sci-fi novel of the same name by Robert A. Heinlein, Paul Verhoeven’s satirical action epic Starship Troopers revolves around human soldiers being recruited to fight a futuristic war against an alien species of giant insects.
The story of humans fighting non-human enemies allowed Starship Troopers to satirize the absurdity of war more sharply and abstractly than any other anti-war movie.
2/10 Air Force One
Often described as “Die Hard on the President’s plane,” Air Force One stars Harrison Ford as the most charismatic, tough-as-nails commander-in-chief in U.S. history, who draws on his Medal of Honor-winning military experience to take out the trash when his plane is hijacked by terrorists.
Gary Oldman is an unforgettably sinister villain in the role of Egor Korshunov, and Wolfgang Petersen’s taut direction keeps the movie tense and engaging.
Trust action movie legend John Woo to make a premise this ridiculous work. Face/Off stars John Travolta and Nicolas Cage as an FBI agent and a notorious terrorist, respectively, who switch faces in an elaborate bid to foil a nefarious plot.
On paper, that sounds ludicrous. But Travolta and Cage have a ton of fun playing each other, and the whole thing is tied together with Woo’s typically stylized direction.