Reflecting back on our 10 favorite actions scenes of 2012, it’s amazing the international flair of our highlighted selections. Of course, there’s James Bond chasing a rival spy across the rooftops and barreling trains of Istanbul. But this year, the industry’s top action directors choreographed breathless scenes in dingy Indonesian tenements, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, in cramped European hotel rooms and beneath the streets of Gotham City. Here are the 10 Best Action Scenes from 2012. Tell us your favorites:
10. Haywire | Carano versus Fassbender
A man and a woman escape the stuffy confines of a snooty party and slip into a hotel room. She keeps making eye contact with him, suggesting a heated, sexual exchange. That is, until he punches her in the back of the head. Gina Carano kicked all sorts of ass in Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire, but the one scene that had us holding our breath and praying for her safety was the knock-down, drag-out brawl with Michael Fassbender that takes place in a Dublin hotel. If Hollywood has been paying attention, Haywire will get a sequel, and/or Carano will get her own action franchise in the years to come.
9. The Amazing Spider-Man | School Fight
Part of the reason Spider-Man fans don’t mind sitting through another origin story is because we’re just happy to see old Web head back in action – any action – on the silver screen. Spidey’s battle with Doctor Octopus on a speeding subway remains the coolest action sequence from a Spider-Man movie, the hero’s tussle with The Lizard in the halls of Midtown Science High School has to be a close second. Shot in bright daylight, with a memorable chase across a hallway’s ceiling, the sequence make great use of Spider-Man’s agility and web-shooting abilities. But this scene makes out list for the hilarious Stan Lee cameo … possibly one of our favorite from any Marvel movie.
8. 21 Jump Street | The Highway Chase
Unlike the original television program, Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s 21 Jump Street was more interested in being a comedy than a straight-up action flick. But when it got down to business and let Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum be cops, the co-directors came up with some inspired action bits involving prom-night limousines, penthouse shootouts, and our selection … a lengthy highway chase that moved our heroes to multiple cars along a congested freeway. The running gag about potential explosions never got old, and Tatum flirting with a beautiful driver as he jacked her car was both in character and amusing. Lord and Miller brought energy and creativity to what could have been a tired retread, and that’s why Jump Street landed at No. 8.
7. Life of Pi | The Shipwreck Scene
Ang Lee’s Life of Pi might be the only 3D movie this year that absolutely needed to be seen in that format. To see it in 2D was to only experience half of the filmmaker’s intent. Several eye-popping maneuvers were built into Lee’s adaptation of Pi, but few were as mesmerizing as the storm-drenched shipwreck sequence that ultimately separates Pi (Suraj Sharma) from his family and strands him on a lifeboat with a hungry tiger. Lee’s camerawork during the sequence is imaginative and bold, sweeping over, above and through the decks of a massive ocean liner as it succumbs to the aggressive waves. The money shot has to be Sharma’s last look at the boat as it sinks below the water’s surface, but really, the whole sequence is unforgettable.
6. The Avengers | The Unbroken Shot
In a year filled with comic-book heroics, Joss Whedon’s The Avengers stands head-and-costumed-shoulders above the fray. Singling out one scene from the jam-packed Avengers is a fool’s errand. Whedon and his creative team assemble a veritable “Greatest Hits” of action scenes to keep the second half of The Avengers humming. Forced to name one sequence for this list, though, we’d have to go with the expertly choreographed unbroken shot that shows each team member in action as they fend off alien invaders in New York City. Structured like a video-game sequence, it starts with Iron Man teaming with Cap to eliminate marauders, and concludes with the Hulk-Thor punch that got a laugh every time I managed to see the movie with a crowd.
5. Zero Dark Thirty | The Raid On Osama Bin Laden's Compound
As the story goes, director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal had to change their ending to Zero Dark Thirty when the military’s manhunt for the world’s worst terrorist, Osama Bin Laden, actually came to a close. It ended up being a very good problem for Bigelow, as the ripped-from-the-headlines intensity of the raid on Bin Laden’s Pakistani compound ranks as one of the year’s most harrowing and unforgettable action sequences. Instead of producing a lengthy, volatile shootout, Bigelow accurately turns the penetration by our Navy SEALs into the pitch-dark hideout into a tense, terrifying search for an elusive target … with lethal mysteries hiding around every corner. Zero Dark builds to this riveting sequence, and the payoff is spectacular.
4. The Raid | Four-On-One Hallway Fight
Similar to The Avengers, Gareth Evans’ The Raid: Redemption is a cavalcade of outstanding action-fight sequences, and choosing one over the rest seems silly. There are so many bone-crunching moments punctuated through Rama’s (Iko Uwais) march to the top of an Indonesian apartment complex. I went with the four-on-one hallway fight, which pit the rookie cop against a handful of machete-wielding madmen seeking to separate his head from his shoulders. As in every scene, the fight choreography is dazzling. But it’s the final kill, a backwards dive that drives a villain’s head down onto a broken chunk of doorway, that still has us squirming and squealing with fear and delight.
3. Flight | The Airplane Crash
Does Robert Zemeckis hate flying? Does he want us to hate flying? After memorably crashing Tom Hanks in the middle of the ocean in Cast Away, Zemeckis returns to the cockpit and once again endangers a plane full of passengers in the challenging Flight. The movie, as a whole, is a character study of the pilot (Denzel Washington) who conquers his demons long enough to land the damaged plane in a semi-deserted field. But the crash-landing sequence is a harrowing concoction of green-screen wizardry and human perseverance, reminding us that the mo-cap-obsessed Zemeckis actually can be pretty brilliant when it comes to high-concept action sequences rooted in meaty characterization.
2. The Impossible | The Tsunami Hits
Mother Nature’s fury, in all its terrifying glory. J.A. Bayona’s depiction of the 2004 tsunami is a stunning accomplishment, a truly special special-effect that must be witnessed on the big screen. The initial impact of the massive wave that submerged South East Asia in 2004 will have you gripping your arm rest. But the ensuing sequence, which finds Maria (Naomi Watts) battling rushing waters and truck-sized chunks of debris to retrieve her oldest son, Lucas (Tom Holland) as the tsunami overwhelms them will have you gasping for air … even though you are bone dry and safe in your seat. Even those who balk at the movie’s eventual melodrama have to acknowledge the mastery of this action sequence, one of the year’s finest.
1. Skyfall | Opening Sequence
James Bond films always open with a spectacular action sequence, and Skyfall’s initial minutes might be the best we’ve seen in ages. Right from the first blast of Thomas Newman’s brassy score, the chase is afoot. Bond (Daniel Craig), in pursuit of a stolen database, tracks a rival spy through Istanbul’s crowded marketplaces, over the city’s rooftops (on a motorcycle, to boot), and – when the villain escapes via a departing train – onto and around the speeding locomotive. It’s not a spoiler to tell you that the sequence finally ends with Bond’s death … but it’s the breakneck thrills leading up to that sniper blast that helps Skyfall live in on infamy as the best action sequence we saw all last year.
Which action scene is your favorite?
Have a favorite we missed? Add it to the list using our comments section below.