There is a long-standing belief that action films are the purest form of cinema and Mad Max: Fury Road’s six Oscars show how true that notion is when properly executed. In honor of Fury Road’s success, we thought it would be a good idea to make a list of the top ten action filmmakers currently working in Hollywood.
Read below to find out who made the list!
10 Joss Whedon
Before becoming Marvel’s golden boy, he was considered (arguably still is) a king of directing. Whedon’s background stems from his cult shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly. He was clearly a director who understood how to make characters and stories that rose above genre trappings. But was he a competent action director?
It was not until The Avengers did audiences know that Whedon was not just a filmmaker that made unique science fiction shows, but also a major action director to be reckoned with. More than not, action scenes in comic book films tend to have a feeling of necessity because of the genre they are operating in. But The Avengers’ action scenes never feel like a novelty. Astonishingly, Whedon is able to make every single character in The Avengers’ large cast have their own awesome action moment in the film’s climax. Is there really anything cooler than Hulk tossing Loki around like a doll?
Movies to watch: Serenity, The Avengers
9 Nicolas Winding Refn
Action or non-action, Refn currently has one of the most unique cinematic voices in Hollywood. Born in Denmark, Refn established himself as an art house director that made films with taboo themes and bursts of extreme violence. In fact, that is one way of describing his movies: art house-action. Refn is undeniably a descendant of the Peckinpah school of action. His action sequences are intense, short bouts of brutality that are preceded by high tension.
The film that put Refn (and star Ryan Gosling) on the map as one of Hollywood’s major action directors was 2011’s Drive. In typical Refn style Drive’s action is ferociously brutal, but he shoots all of the carnage with clarity and grace.
Movies to watch: Drive, Valhalla Rising
8 Kathryn Bigelow
It is no coincidence that Bigelow won the best director Oscar in 2010. Bigelow has been making movies since the early eighties (people are always impressed when they learn she directed Near Dark and Point Break) and her direction only gets better with every movie. Bigelow’s action sequences always have a big pay off, but it’s the tension that builds towards it that is so compelling. Like fellow action director Paul Greengrass, Bigelow shoots her action in a quasi-documentary style.
Yet what separates herself from a director like Greengrass is that the content in her action never exceeds what is possible in reality. Bigelow’s shaky-cam approach never becomes heavy handed and gives the audience a sense of being in the moment. 2009’s The Hurt Locker is the prime example of Bigelow’s action firing on all cylinders, with each scene being one heart pounding moment after another.
Movies to watch: The Hurt Locker
7 Matthew Vaughn
Like Joss Whedon, any comic book movie directed by Vaughn ends up being gold. Although early films like Layer Cake hinted at a Guy Ritchie type zaniness, it was not until Kick-Ass did Vaughn establish his own voice. Undeniably, Vaughn’s action in movies like Kick-Ass and Kingsman take queues from the over-the-top glee of Kill Bill. But the greatest part about Vaughn is that he is able to diversify the action in each of his films.
Kick-Ass contains scenes of juvenile bad-assery that feels like Hong-Kong cinema on crack, while Kingsman’s action is put together like Jason Bourne and a rock n’ roll video had a baby. Does that make sense? It also does not hurt that one of the best stunt coordinators in Hollywood, Bradley Allen, choreographs Vaughn’s fight scenes.
Movies to watch: Kingsman: The Secret Service
6 Takashi Miike
Miike is an incredibly eclectic director. Although he is mostly recognized for making the 1999 J-Horror shocker Audition, Miike has also proven to work well in different genres. Surprisingly, the first film to really signify that Miike could direct good action is Ichi the Killer. Granted the movie could be classified more as a thriller (and dark comedy?), but it contains scenes of violence that are executed with vomit inducing glory. If Ichi the Killer was a preview of what Miike could do with action, then 13 Assassins was the film that solidified him as one of the best action directors alive.
The amount of gore in the samurai movie is surprisingly subdued for a Miike film, but that does not make the action less compelling. Assassins’ second half is a non-stop battle, but Miike follows the steps of the late-great Akira Kurosawa. He perfectly balances grand set pieces with intricately ground-level sword fights.
Movies to watch: 13 Assassins
5 Edgar Wright
No working director today makes movies that are as consistently and thoroughly entertaining as Wright’s. Because his films are comedies, it is common for audiences to not notice the astonishing action that Wright is directing. Wright’s action shows how he naturally breathes cinema because he employs every film technique in the book to make his sequences. Tight editing becomes as much of a player in his scenes as much as intricate choreography and sound effects become as important as the shot choices.
Yes, these aspects are important to make any great action film. But Wright is so incredibly precise with all of his creative choices. Wright pulls all of these elements together to make action sequences that are truly hilarious while still having real stakes. Buster Keaton would be proud.
Movies to watch: Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
4 Quentin Tarantino
What would this list be without Mr. Tarantino? He himself has said in an interview that he believes the greatest directors are action directors. Tarantino’s claim is not wrong and he should proudly put himself in the pantheon of great action filmmakers. No one plays with genre and form quite like Tarantino. Starting with his directing debut, Reservoir Dogs, it was clear that Tarantino was a director who loved to mash together seventies action cinema and his own unique sensibilities. Tarantino was always great at blocking high-tension scenes with cathartic (and short) shootouts. But it was with Kill Bill that Tarantino solidified his legendary status.
Kill Bill’s action scenes are all catharsis and are simply unparalleled. Tarantino took the over-the-top ridiculousness of seventies Hong Kong cinema and turned it into a completely new beast. There is nothing ridiculous about Kill Bill’s action. Only beautiful, precise and perfect fight scenes.
Movies to watch: Kill Bill Vol.1, Kill Bill Vol.2
3 Joon Ho-Bong
If this were a list of the best directors working in any genre, Joon would most likely be number one. But do not let his number three on this list fool you. When Joon’s Memories of Murder was released in 2003 many believed he was Korea’s answer to David Fincher. He continued to make darkly humorous thrillers that were punctuated with short, but exciting action sequences. Joon’s Snowpiercer changed his status a bit.
Snowpiercer is purely an action film and it proved that Joon was a director that knew how to use the genre properly. What is most impressive about that film is that even though its only location is a train, Joon is always creating grand set pieces. Each kart in in the train represents a different social class and each time the people from the back of the train (the low class) make it into a new kart, Joon presents a new and dynamic action sequence. In other words, Joon is one of the only directors alive that knows how to use action to parallel his movie’s themes.
Movies to watch: Snowpiercer, The Host
2 Gareth Evans
Evans is flat out relentless. Bursting onto the scene with 2012’s The Raid, he brought the Pencak Silat martial arts style to the forefront of action cinema. Perhaps the greatest part about Evans’ action scenes is that he is always trying to top himself. The Raid 2 could have easily been a bloated and quick cash grab. But instead, Evans used it as an opportunity to make action scenes even more insane and intricate than The Raid.
There is no question for any aspiring action directors (or any director for that matter) that Evans’ fight scenes are now mandatory viewing. Evans does not move his camera around in crazy ways, but instead clearly captures every single punch and kick. His fight scenes maybe lengthy, but there is no denying that every single minute of his films are an action lover’s dream.
Movies to watch: The Raid, The Raid 2
1 George Miller
Would it really be anyone else? After Mad Max and The Road Warrior, action films would never be the same. How many directors can honestly say they created a sub-genre of film (The post-apocalyptic road movie)? Miller takes what is great about all the directors on this list and is able to put it all into one movie. He shoots car chases that are at once kinetic, but graceful. He makes action movies that feel relentless, but never forget to explore great characters and themes. He makes enormous and explosive set pieces, but also creates intricately choreographed smaller fights. Miller is able to perfectly give us every cinematic beat and for that reason he is the best action director alive.
Movies to watch: The entire Mad Max series
Are there any directors that you agree with or we missed? Let us know in the comments!