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7 Best And 7 Worst Action Movies Of 2020

Almost all the conversation about film in 2020 revolves around the pandemic and its ghastly ramifications for the financial side of the industry. But in some ways, 2020 wasn't so different from basically every other year. 

Even though many cinemas remained closed and visiting a movie theater was a risky activity, Hollywood released a bunch of movies. Some of them are great! Others...not so much.

But the action genre and its audience are a distinct pair of animals. Don't get us wrong; The action fans we know can tell the different between a good movie and a bad movie, and generally prefer the good kind. So presumably, the rest of the action fans out there can do the same. 

However, we find that for truly die hard (pun intended) action aficionados, if a piece of cinema happens to contain just the right amount of explosions, mutilated bad guys, and catchy one-liners, then maybe poor acting, or an implausible story, or hacky dialogue won't kill the deal.

That's why when compiling the best action movies of 2020, we figured calling readers' attention to the worst action movies of 2020 might be equally worthwhile. We got our consensus ratings from Rotten Tomatoes, who put together a longer Best Action Movies of 2020 list.   

Worst #7: Iron Mask

What could possibly go wrong with the combination of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan, you ask? Oh, plenty of things. Most of the things, in fact. 

If we observe the trailer for the fantasy-adventure-literary-adaptation-hybrid-thing originally released with the title Viy 2: Journey to China, we see Schwarzenegger dresses up like the leader of a Revolutionary War reenactment troupe. The erstwhile Terminator fights Chan, whose costume is basically Raiden from Mortal Kombat without the awesome hat. Part of their story involves Chan's character climbing out of a supposedly inescapable prison, so at least part of this movie is lifted from The Dark Knight Rises

Further research indicates Iron Mask includes an unconvincing CG dragon, a witch, a man in an iron mask who presumably justifies the English-language version of the title, and somehow, Rutger Hauer, even though he passed away in 2019. This is all before we address whatever the actual plot entails. 

According to AV Club, "at least two thirds is funny on purpose,"  and they like it more than the other Jackie Chan movie that came out in 2020. It seems reasonable to suggest anything this openly out of its mind must contain some redeeming value.

Best #7: Mulan

When it comes to the cluster of live action remakes of animated classics churned out by Disney in recent memory, reactions have certainly been mixed. American critics generally went easier on Mulan (2020) than they did Aladdin (2019), Beauty and the Beast (2017), and The Lion King (2019)That doesn't make Mulan a flawless film, by any stretch. In fact, you could credibly argue that 2020's Mulan is inferior to 1998's Mulan in every way...except for the fight sequences. 

Maybe it's a little difficult to get lost in a fantasy of ancient China where everyone talks like they live in California. But when it comes time for action, Mulan comes through. The contests between the titular sword fighter (Yifei Liu) and Böri Khan (Jason Scott Lee), plus metamorph Xianniang (Li Gong), employ the gravity-agnosticism of The Matrix (1999) and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) without getting too derivative. And the avalanche battle during the story's midpoint is as innovative as any period-piece military conflicts in recent memory. 

Plenty has already been written regarding Liu's controversial statements on Chinese politics, the film's negative reception in China, and whether or not charging $30 for it on Disney+ was the wisest strategy for a mid-pandemic release. But even after we take all of that into account, it's still pretty rad when Mulan runs across a wall and swings a sword at a dude. 

Worst #6: Paydirt

Wow, Val Kilmer looks great! Considering his throat cancer diagnosis in 2015, the sight of our era's Jim Morrison scowling at onscreen adversaries is kind of inspiring! It's a drag that he wound up in this low-budget heist kerfuffle, which Variety describes as "unabashedly derivative and instantly disposable." But it's genuinely nice to see Doc Holliday back to his old self again.  

So...The story of Paydirt pertains to a large amount of cash hidden in a desert, and individuals with dubious moral standards seeking to obtain it, often using underhanded tactics. There is reason to suspect director Christian Sesma has seen Snatch (2000) and Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels (1998), possibly both, and maybe even on multiple occasions. 

While we won't remember Kilmer's time on Paydirt as the most productive phase of his career, fans of the original Madmartigan need not fret. Val Kilmer returns in Top Gun: Maverickslated for release in who the heck knows but IMDB says it's in post-production so it's definitely coming out sooner or later.

Best #6: Greenland

A quick glance at the reviews for Gerard Butler's most recent vehicle indicate a general consensus of "Better than expected!" That sounds encouraging, amirite? 

In this disaster thriller via director and frequent Butler collaborator Ric Roman Waugh, the denizens of Earth find themselves bombarded by fragments of a passing comet large enough to squash major cities. Butler's character, his wife (Morena Baccarin) and child (Roger Dale Floyd) must find their way onto one of the dwindling number of military airplanes headed to Greenland, evidently one of the only places on the globe where an instant squashing via space rock is not an ongoing cause of panic.

It sounds a lot like the 2005 version of The War of The Worlds except with rocks instead of space aliens, and it deserves to lose a few points for unimaginative casting choices. After Deadpool (2016), Deadpool 2 (2018), plus TV shows Homeland and Gotham, someone needs to give Morena Baccarin a chance to play someone who isn't married to the story's main character.

But if Greenland's a good version of a B-list disaster movie, then it succeeds in what it sets out to do. 

Worst #5: Breach

Some actors in the twilight of their careers might have to worry about damaging their legacies by appearing in too many bad movies. But there's an echelon of Hollywood royalty that can pretty much embarrass themselves for a quick payday as many times as the opportunity presents itself to do so, and it'll never have any meaningful impact on their reputations at all. 

Bruce Willis is a prime example. He's the guy who says "Yippee Ki Yay M!@#$% F!@#$" in Die Hard (1988) and its many sequels. Pulp Fiction (1994), The Sixth Sense (1999), Moonrise Kingdom (2012) are all fantastic, but they didn't make him a bigger movie star, the same way a bad movie like Breach won't make him less of a movie star. 

Breach looks quite a bit like Aliens (1986) smooshed together with any movie about an insidious extraterrestrial hive mind. To its credit, Breach contains an incredible shot of characters in the aliens' thrall screaming right before Willis kills them with a flamethrower. One of the actors looks quite a bit like Matt LeBlanc — but it's not.  

Best #5: The Gentlemen

What's interesting about The Gentlemen is even though its average review score is high enough to drop it well within the confines of RTs "Best" list, it might be among the most critically polarizing films released this year. The Atlantic calls it a "tedious and unnecessarily unpleasant tour of ground that [director Guy] Ritchie's already covered" in his underground comedic crime yarns, including his breakthrough, Lock, Stock & Two Smoking BarrelsAV Club largely agrees, saying Gentlemen "creaks through the motions of Ritchie's patented vision...It's like watching a reunited band struggle to recapture the energy of its glory days." 

But plenty of professional and semi-professional film critics also seemed to enjoy it! And considering its ensemble cast includes Matthew McConaughey, Colin Farrell, and Downton Abby's Michelle Dockery, maybe they're onto something! At minimum, it's hard to imagine The Gentlemen could be worse than, let's say, losing a bare-knuckle boxing contest to a 250-pound fixer for an Irish organized crime syndicate.

Worst #4: Ava

As a society, we like imaginary assassins. That's why they're in so many movies, television shows, novels, comic books, and video games. Some of western culture's greatest icons, including Deadpool, Vito Corleone, Uma Thurman's nameless protagonist in Kill Bill and countless others all commit murder in exchange for money. So if you're going to do a thing with assassins, you need a unique hook. Like, the assassin in your thing should be going to their high school reunion, or fall in love with the British Intelligence agent hunting them down, or anything to convince us that it hasn't been done a million times before. 

From what we glean from the reviews of Ava, critics found it far too lacking to stand apart from the million, billion, zillion other assassin movies out there. Pretty wild to see Colin Farrell show up twice in this list though, and at least he ended up on the right side of the ledger at least once.   

Best #4: Bad Boys For Life

After Bad Boys II premiered in 2003, pretty much everybody understood that Will Smith and Martin Lawrence were definitely bad boys. But we weren't sure how long their tenure would last. Would they be bad boys for a few years? Maybe a decade? Surely by the time of 2015 or thereabouts, they would be bad boys no more...Or so we thought at the time. 

For this folly, we feel intense shame and disgrace. 

Lawrence and Smith are bad boys indefinitely; we all understand this now. So it follows that Bad Boys for Life would be reasonably well received upon its emergence in early 2020. Bad Boys and Bad Boys II director Michael Bay mercifully stays out of the director's chair; after five Transformers movies, we could use a break from that dude. The result, by most accounts, is a perfectly serviceable, unchallenging movie experience that respects its franchise's legacy without taking itself too seriously. And fortuitously for the profit sharers involved, Bad Boys For Life hit theaters in January, making it one of Hollywood's relatively few legitimate box office victories of 2020.  

Worst #3: The Doorman

When historians sit down to write about what Ruby Rose did in 2020, they'll likely focus on her voluntary departure from the Batwoman television series, and might forget to mention The Doorman. From a partial, purely superficial perspective, it's not exactly what anyone would describe as an ambitious project. 

The gist is that a team of safe crackers led by Jean Reno — who you might remember as Leon from Leon: The Professional (1994) — take over the building where Rose's character, a former highly-decorated soldier of some kind, works...as the doorman. From there, it seems a direct-to-digital rendition of Die Hard unfolds. 

Sure, there are literally dozens of pre-existing Die Hard knockoffs. It's practically its own subgenre — one that developed a sense of humor about itself years ago.  But this is the first one in which Ruby Rose, playing a character who works in administration and hospitality, encounters the guy who plays Leon in Leon: The Professional in an adversarial context. And in at least one scene we know of, Ruby Rose makes an angry face as she prepares to strike someone or something with a pipe. For all the bad things that have been said about The Doorman, nothing can take that away from it. 

Best #3: Birds of Prey (And The Fabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn)

Following the critical and financial decimation of Batman & Robin (1997), director Joel Schumacher's vision of Gotham City became a blasphemous concept among the most committed fans of The Dark Knight. But what if instead of a self-consciously silly PG-13 romp, Schumacher's Gotham hosts an acerbic R-rated action-comedy? And what if, unlike every '90s Batman flick, this film has barely any discernable interest in selling toys?

Well, then you've got Birds Of Prey (And The Fabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), or Birds of Prey for short. 

Released before COVID-19 shut down cinemas, Birds was a box office bummer and does not currently look headed for a sequel. It's a shameful, confusing state of circumstances. How and why did the Warner/DC marketing crew fail to convince moviegoers to see this terrific piece of pop art, yet somehow had no problem talking the American public into sitting through the (some people say, vastly inferior) likes of Suicide Squad (2016), Batman V. Superman (2016), and Wonder Woman: 1984 (2020)?

The gist of this movie is that Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) turns from villainous main squeeze to antihero, a new team of vigilante crime fighters comes together, and Ewan McGregor delivers his most nihilistic performance since Trainspotting (1996). It's already a serious contender for most underrated superhero movie of the modern era, and an absolute can't-miss for anyone who's ever gotten emotional about an egg and cheese sandwich. 

Worst #2: Force of Nature

As established elsewhere on this very list, films that take the Die Hard format — in which a seemingly normal person takes charge and resolves a threat with his or her wits, weapons and bare hands — are a dime a dozen. With Force of Nature, director Michael Polish adds a hurricane to the paradigm, which would be the most interesting aspect of this film — an extremely low bar to step over, let's be clear — were it not for the cast.

Not one, but two disgraced onetime Hollywood heartthrobs star in Force of Nature. Mel Gibson's career infamously fell off a cliff in 2006 due to a well-publicized dalliance with heavy drinking and anti-Semitism. Meanwhile, Emile Hirsch did two weeks in prison for choking a Paramount Studios executive when an amphetamine and booze bender went south at Sundance in 2015. 

We certainly don't mean to belittle alcoholism or the recovery process, but it can't be a coincidence that two celebrity second-chancers occupy most of the screen time during Force of Nature, can it? 

For an addict, sobriety can improve their quality of life in many essential ways. But if they make a crummy movie, the movie's still going to be crummy, no matter how much whiskey they didn't drink or drugs they didn't do in the process. 

Best #2: The Old Guard

Automatic wisdom tells us that action films are best experienced on a big screen, what with all the 'splosions and big noises and so on. But maybe this notion needs to be challenged, or at least qualified. Low-to-mid-budget action movies have been essential to the genre pretty much since television became widely accessible. 

The pandemic didn't cause any problems for Netflix's The Old Guard because, with its modest $70 million budget, it was never intended for wide theatrical release in the first place, and never needed a big screen. It certainly benefited from a semi-captive audience, and generated enough enthusiasm to mandate a sequel, which it looks like they'll get around to when the timing makes sense.  

Based on a comic book by writer Greg Rucka and artist Leandro Fernández, The Old Guard follows a team of apparently unkillable, benevolent mercenaries led by an ostensible 30-something who was actually born in the 7th century (Charlize Theron). With Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) permanently seared into her audience's brainsTheron expands her catalogue of action endeavors via punching, kicking, stabbing, shooting, and snapping, all backed by an upbeat, elevated modern pop soundtrack. The Old Guard also contains what's probably the least cliché romantic scene in basically any other film in this not often heartfelt genre. 

Seriously — how often is an ironically-phrased declaration of love the most memorable scene from a movie where this many people die violent deaths? 

Worst: Hard Kill

So it appears somebody rented a warehouse for 10 days, got Bruce Willis to drag himself across the floor in the guise of yet another retired law enforcement type who says "they've got my baby girl!" at the start of the second act, and as a consequence, Hard Kill is a thing that exists. It's also got John Tucker from John Tucker Must Die and Eva Marie from the WWE. From what we can discern, the plot goes "Something something marines, something something terrorists, and leader marine Todd has gotta do it his way this time. To heck with the regulations!" 

None of that is important. But what is very significant is that Hard Kill scored a dead zero on the Tomatometer, adding it to an exclusive fraternity that also includes Gotti (2018), Problem Child (1990), and lest we forget, Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966). That's another dubious distinction that old Bruce can add to his certainly iconoclastic career. 

Best: The Outpost

This year's best-reviewed action movie has a lot in common with the year's worst-reviewed action movie. Both would be considered low budget by Hollywood action movie standards. Both went directly to digital release, and pretty much all the characters in both pictures are American military personnel. But whereas Hard Kill depicts soldiers as R-rated G.I. Joes, The Outpost looks more interested in telling a story about something that happened to actual people fighting in an actual war. 

Based on the Battle of Kamdesh, a 2009 Taliban attack on an American, um, outpost during the ongoing war in Afghanistan, The Outpost features Orlando Bloom, Scott Eastwood, and a breakout performance for Caleb Landry Jones. After his memorable turns in Get Out (2017) and Twin Peaks: The Return, Jones is long overdue for a chance to play someone who isn't a reprehensible a!@#$le. For those who dismiss the action genre as easy, hammy escapism for violence fetishists, The Outpost provides a counterargument.