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Forgotten Action Movie Failures That Deserve A Second Chance

There are so many great action movies and so many terrible action movies that it's easy to forget that, in the massive gulf between the two ends of the spectrum, there is a wealth of action movies that were neither amazing nor awful — they were, perhaps, a bit forgettable. Where there's Ridley Scott's fantastic historical epic "Gladiator" on one hand and the bland and plodding "Alexander" on the other, in the middle lies the less-than-stellar but totally acceptable "Troy." Of course, the paradigm holds up outside the swords-and-sandals genre; it's pretty much universally applicable to say that fair to decent movies exist in all action subgenres that can be forgotten or outshined by the best of the best and the memorably bad.

Some of these movies, however, are worth remembering. Some of them did just enough right to merit a rewatch and further consideration. Some of these forgotten action movies deserve a second chance. Maybe it's a memorable premise. Maybe it's a pithy line of dialogue or two. Maybe it's the sheer chutzpah it took to will something so bombastic and ridiculous into existence. Yes, ridiculous movies can be worthy of praise when they're the right kind of earnest, well-intended ridiculous. Sit down, "Batman & Robin," obviously we aren't talking about you!

After due consideration, the following films are perfect examples of what we're talking about when it comes to "less-than-stellar but totally acceptable" flicks to satisfy your action cravings. Here are the forgotten action movie failures that deserve a second chance.

Smokin' Aces

That's right, we're starting with "Smokin' Aces"; we might as well begin an uphill battle on the steepest part of the slope! This film is easily one of the most ridiculous action movies in the last few decades and one with no doubt many times the amount of money, time, and effort spent on marketing than was spent on writing the script — hence its 31% critics score on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. But there's something to be said for the occasional style-over-substance binge and if you're in the mood for crazy, "Smokin' Aces" might be your kind of crazy.

For those unfamiliar with the movie — or those who've successfully suppressed the memory of seeing "Smokin' Aces" — the premise is simple. You've got a successful illusionist named Buddy "Aces" Israel (Jeremy Piven) who was a smash hit in Las Vegas and maybe fell in with the wrong crowd — like, the organized crime crowd. Aces is a bit past his prime and a mob boss wants him put out to pasture before he can cut a deal with the feds to save his own skin. To get the job done, boss Primo Sparazza (Joseph Ruskin) puts a cool $1-million bounty out on him, enticing all manner of killers out of the woodwork to try to collect on it. With Aces holed up in a Lake Tahoe resort with his head of security, Sir Ivy (Common) and the rest of his squad, master of disguise Lazlo Soot (Tommy Flanagan), feisty female hitters Georgia Sykes and Sharice Watters (Alicia Keys and Taraji P. Henson, respectively), a family of demented Neo Nazis named the Tremor Brothers (Chris Pine, Kevin Durand, and Maury Sterling), and more are coming to collect on the contract.

Deep Blue Sea

For decades, "Jaws" was the alpha predator in the ocean of shark horror-action movies and all others were simply guppies waiting to be devoured. It's entirely fair to say that 1999's "Deep Blue Sea" — with a middling 59% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes — didn't change that one bit, but it took the model and played with it enough to become a significant entry in the genre. The premise of the film is that researcher Dr. Susan McCallister (Saffron Burrows) is using a biological compound found in the brains of mako sharks to reactivate dead neurons in human brain tissue, the end goal of which is to potentially treat and prevent Alzheimer's disease. So she does what every hubristic scientist bent on finding a solution to a problem that's affected them personally does in these kinds of movies; with the help of fellow scientist Dr. Jim Whitlock (Stellan Skarsgård), she genetically modifies the sharks at her underwater, open ocean research facility to have larger brains. Bigger brains means more brain juice to harvest, how could giving a bigger brain to a shark with a name derived from the term "man eater" ever go badly?

Naturally, of course, things go very badly indeed. The sharks begin to outwit the scientists and try to break containment, causing havoc at the lab and creating a deadly scenario for shark wrangler Carter (Thomas Jane), engineer Tom (Michael Rappaport), radio operator Brenda (Aida Turturro), marine biologist Jan (Jacqueline McKenzie), corporate exec. Russell (Samuel L. Jackson), and chef Preacher (L.L. Cool J) to deal with.


"Payback" is basically an early 1999 draft of "John Wick," but with a lot less action and charm and a lot more Mel Gibson. Reviews called it predictable and the write-ups amount to a 55% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes — though with a title as on-the-nose as "Payback," we figured predictable should have been expected. The party in search of said revenge is Porter (Gibson), a low-level crook who's a thief and former driver for high-end escorts. The party from whom Porter wants his pound of flesh is former partner Val Reisnic (Gregg Henry), who betrayed him and shot him for $70,000, which he used to settle a debt with and buy into the Outfit, an organized crime syndicate that very much takes care of its members. And oh yeah, Reisnic also convinced Porter's wife Lynn (Deborah Kara Unger) to help with the betrayal by making her believe he was having an affair with a call girl named Rosie (Maria Bello) he was driving around.

Porter begins killing his way up the criminal ladder in the Outfit, trying to get to Reisnic and his share of that original $70,000. All he wants is what he's owed, something he's forced to clarify on multiple occasions. He uses Rosie's help to work his way up to the very top of the Outfit, at which point the syndicate's bosses are amazed he would go to such lengths for such a meager sum. Rather than doing things the easy way, the Outfit's kingpins insist on taking out a guy with enough moxie to wage war on their entire operation.

The Boondock Saints

If any movie on this list is going to cause massive confusion, our money is on "The Boondock Saints," because plenty of people love this movie. They may be surprised to learn, then, that critics absolutely savaged the beloved cult film. Some fans may not be shocked if they analyze it with a critical eye, but then it's at least a guilty pleasure. The Rotten Tomatoes entry for "The Boondock Saints" reveals the massive disparity between how critics viewed the film as opposed to general audiences. The 1999 action thriller sports a lowly 28% critics score and an impressive 91% audience score, so clearly it did something right.

"The Boondock Saints" follows two brothers — Connor (Sean Patrick Flanery) and Murphy (Norman Reedus) MacManus — who love carousing at the local pub in Boston but end up getting mixed up with some hardcore lowlifes in the local Russian organized crime scene. Faced with a death-defying scenario, the MacManus brothers come out on top and set about cleaning up the city's underbelly one scumbag at a time, all while trying to stay ahead of the inept Boston police department and a sharp-eyed FBI agent named Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe). Their hard work taking out bad guys puts them on the radar of local mafia don Papa Joe Yakavetta (Carlo Rota), but don't worry, he's actually in their sights. Just as soon as they shake the shadowy hitman known as the Duke (Billy Connolly) that Papa Joe's sicced on them.

The Punisher

The 2004 incarnation of "The Punisher" is one of a few to have graced the big screen and was met with about the same response as the first "Punisher" movie from 1990 and the reboot, "Punisher: War Zone," which came out in 2008 — all three films have either a 28% or 29% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes. Whereas 1990's version and the 2008 reboot both begin in medias res, "The Punisher" of 2004 is an origin story for the Marvel Comics character of the same name, a former decorated soldier named Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) whose family is killed by criminals, setting him on a scorched-earth path of revenge. It earned a 29% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus reading that the film's talented cast couldn't save a film reviewers considered by-the-numbers. But that talented 2004 cast is exactly why "The Punisher" is worth giving another shot and its 63% audience score seems to indicate that's not lost on viewers.

Jane's turn as Frank Castle added a bleak humanity that actor Dolph Lundgren didn't quite muster in 1990 and Ray Stevenson didn't quite attempt in 2008. His performance in the role is matched only by Jon Bernthal's Castle-Punisher take on the character in the Netflix series "Daredevil" and "Marvel's The Punisher." "'The Punisher' is so grim and cheerless, you wonder if even its hero gets any satisfaction from his accomplishments," famed film critic Roger Ebert wrote in his review of the film and he's completely correct — but that speaks to what the film got right about the character, not where it fell short.

The Losers

With a name like "The Losers," who could have thought this movie would end up being a bust? Self-fulfilling prophecy or not, this Vertigo comics adaptation from 2010 only managed to gross $29.8 million at the global box office, barely recouping its $25 million budget (via The Numbers). More than one critic compared the film to the classic action TV series "The A-Team," a film adaptation of which came out just a couple of months after "The Losers" was released. It's something of a fair comparison, though the characters comprising this movie's titular group have a much harder edge than the lovable soldiers-for-hire playing good Samaritan in the L.A. underground.

Similarities notwithstanding, "The Losers" tells of an elite unit of special-ops soldiers' path to revenge after being burned and set up to take the fall for busted mission to take out a South American drug lord that resulted in the deaths of children. They had, in fact, gone off mission and evacuated the children from harm's way but were double crossed by their shadowy handler, Max (Jason Patric), who blew up the helicopter transporting the children to safety, thinking the Losers were onboard. Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) leads the group, with the fiery explosives expert Roque (Idris Elba) serving as his de facto second in command, as they lay low in Bolivia until the mysterious Aisha (Zoe Saldana) shows up with intel and a way back into the United States to potentially clear their names and get revenge on Max. As with any good mysterious stranger who comes bearing gifts, there's more to Aisha than anyone at first realizes.


Two decades before Damon Wayans took on the role of Detective Roger Murtaugh in the "Lethal Weapon" television series, he starred in an entirely different kind of buddy cop project, one in which he was undercover cop named Jack Carter whose buddy is criminal Archie Moses (Adam Sandler). Jack poses as a small-time criminal named Rock Keats to earn Archie's trust, all as part of an operation to finally take down drug kingpin and car salesman Frank Colton (James Caan), for whom Archie runs point on his illicit operation. When Archie finally brings Rock-Jack inside to assist on Colton's latest shipment, he's caught wearing a wire and things go haywire, with Jack accidentally taking a bullet to the dome in the process.

Jack survives — hence the title — and makes a full recovery, though he has a metal plate in his head. He's enraged to learn that his captain is asking him to help bring Archie in to testify as part of a plea deal — the guy did shoot him in the head, after all. Like everything that happens involving Jack and Archie, the prisoner transfer is blown and the former friends must band together to survive and make it back to Jack's precinct in order to figure out how Colton knew about the transfer.

Critics absolutely savaged "Bulletproof," as evident by its 8% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes, but Sandler and Wayans have an on-screen rapport that gives the crude film a bit of life, making it worth another watch.

The Quest

Throughout his career, action movie legend Jean-Claude Van Damme had plenty of hits, but some notable misses as well, keeping in mind the lower expectations typically reserved for his milieu. Van Damme's 1996 film, "The Quest," is considered among the actor's misses. The period movie is set in the 1920s, with Van Damme starring as Chris Dubois, a theatrical pickpocket who looks after a troupe of orphaned street children, all of whom steal in order to survive. One particular job ends with him needing to escape by stowing away on a boat, where he's later found out by its crew. After an overly complicated first act, Dubois ends up as a slave training in Muay Thai on an island near Thailand. Having mastered the art, a familiar face in the form of Lord Edgar Dobbs (Roger Moore) — who originally sold him into slavery — secures his freedom in order to enter Dubois into a fighting tournament set to take place in the fabled Lost City, which is somewhere in Tibet. The only problem is, he doesn't have an invitation — but American heavyweight boxing champion Maxie Devine (James Remar) sure does.

When it comes to "The Quest," critics were not impressed, and the film has a bleak 14% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes. For martial arts fans, hearing Muay Thai pronounced "moo tie" is enough reason to give this movie another chance, but for those who need more convincing, Van Damme's passion for this movie, which was his directorial debut, is so evident throughout the film, from the nuanced characters and incredible settings. It's convoluted with some unnecessary subplots but the movie has such an earnestness that's it's easy to forgive the sometimes-fumbling storytelling.

End of Days

Let's all admit one thing: if the Devil is real, Arnold Schwarzenegger probably could have beat him up in his prime. That's seemingly the shower thought that led to 1999's so-bad-it's-good supernatural action-horror flick "End of Days." The "Terminator" star took on the role of former cop Jericho Cane, a private security contractor whose wife and daughter were murdered years ago, for which he's lost his faith in God. It turns out the rich, hotshot banker (Gabriel Byrne) who just hired him and his team — including pal Bobby Chicago (Kevin Pollak) — has been possessed by Satan. Why, you ask, would Satan need bodyguards? To protect against assassination attempts by a murderous priest, of course! After foiling said priest's attempt on his client's life, Cane has some questions for Father Thomas Aquinas (Derrick O'Connor), who offers up a prophecy. Cane's former colleague, detective Marge Francis (CCH Pounder) finds that a bit hard to believe, considering the priest had seemingly cut out his own tongue some time ago.

As it turns out, Satan has taken this guy's body for a spin to find the woman prophesied to bear his child, the Antichrist. As luck would have it, her name is Christine York (Robin Tunney) and she lives right here in New York City! Not only does Cane have to keep her out of the Devil's clutches, he's got to protect her from the Vatican Knights, a sect of holy men who are willing to kill the innocent young woman in order to prevent her from conceiving Satan's offspring. "End of Days" is pretty bad, but it's also a lot of ridiculous fun and Byrne's smugly charismatic take on the Devil alone is worth watching.

Bulletproof Monk

"Bulletproof Monk" — with an unimpressive 23% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes — was among Seann William Scott's earlier major, non-"American Pie" roles and he got to share the spotlight with the likes of Chow Yun-fat. Chow appears as the title character, a monk who's been chosen by fate to safeguard a scroll containing ancient, forbidden knowledge. His duty imparts on him eternal youth and seeming invulnerability, both of which are useful assets when your destiny also includes a near-constant flight from Strucker (Karel Roden), the Nazi officer whose relentless pursuit of the scroll has lasted nearly 60 years. Near the end of his journey, while on the run from Strucker's men, he encounters good-natured thief Kar (Scott), who himself is on the run from the police. Both stop their flights to save a young girl from being hit by a runaway car. 

Kar does what comes naturally and picks the monks pocket, though he thinks the loot he's just taken is junk. Eventually, the monk becomes convinced Kar may be the next person to safeguard the scrolls from the rest of the world, owing to a rather liberal interpretation of some fairly specific prophesies. With the help of a fellow street thief named Jade (Jaime King), who's actually a rich girl masquerading for kicks, they uncover that the Nazis have been taking part in a masquerade of their own under the front of the Human Rights Organisation, led by Strucker's granddaughter, Nina (Victoria Smurfit).

File "Bulletproof Monk" under "dumb fun." Chow provides plenty of action and Scott manages to imbue his character with enough charm to make the movie endearing in its failures.

Lucky Number Slevin

Another charming action romp, "Lucky Number Slevin" was accused of being derivative, with reviewers claiming it owed a bit too much to Quentin Tarantino and tried too hard to replicate his smash success "Pulp Fiction." Whether those criticisms are valid is up to the viewer, but the film — with a middling 52% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes — fared better with critics than a lot of the other films we've detailed above. Slevin Kelevra (Josh Hartnett) arrives in New York City to meet up with his friend Nick Fisher, only to be mugged on his way to Nick's apartment. He meets cute with nosy neighbor Lindsey (Lucy Liu) and soon after is met by a pair of thugs sent to collect him. Or, rather, sent to collect Nick, who owes sizable gambling debts to two rival gangsters. The Boss (Morgan Freeman) is the first to send for Nick, only to get Slevin instead. The trouble is, Slevin can't prove to anyone who he is, nor can he prove he's not Nick Fisher, and since both gangster's bookies were recently killed, they don't know what Nick Fisher looks like. After The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley) sends for Nick, it becomes clear that the mysterious hitman Mr. Goodkat (Bruce Willis) has it in for Slevin. Or Nick; it's not entirely clear. 

In fact, nothing is entirely clear when it comes to the plot of "Lucky Number Slevin," but that's all by design. What viewers have to figure out is whose design, exactly, is making things unclear for whom. Based on the film's much higher RT audience score of 87%, plenty of people liked what they saw when the dust settled.

Behind Enemy Lines

Owen Wilson as an action star? Yes, you can say it: wow! For an actor best known for comedic buffoonery with pal Ben Stiller, Wilson actually had a credible performance in "Behind Enemy Lines," playing downed U.S. Navy fighter pilot Chris Burnett, whose jet was shot out of the sky on what was supposed to be a routine recon mission over Bosnia during the Bosnian War in the 1990s. Local forces, however, were in the midst of covering up mass graves, evidence of their genocide against the Bosnian people, when the jet veered off course and flew overhead, resulting in them shooting it down. After Burnett sees his co-pilot Jeremy Stackhouse (Gabriel Macht) executed rather than being taken captive, he decides to take off on foot, rather than meet the same fate. With intermittent radio contact with his aircraft carrier and his commanding officer, Admiral Leslie Reigart (Gene Hackman), Burnett is forces to survive in hostile conditions until it's safe for friendly forces to extract him — assuming he lives that long. After all, since the United States did not officially participate in the Bosnian War, he was there under NATO command, which has more complex bureaucratic processes than the United States military.

"Behind Enemy Lines" sports a lowly 37% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes, but the film benefits greatly from emotive performances from its cast, notably Hackman. Wilson injects just enough levity to lift this action war film above standard fare and merit another chance.


If there's an even less likely action star than Owen Wilson, it's probably talented character actor and Academy Award-winner Adrien Brody, whose Oscar comes courtesy of his acclaimed performance in the role of composer, musician, and Holocaust survivor Władysław Szpilman in "The Pianist." While not everyone may agree — critics certainly didn't, evidenced by the film's middling 64% score on Rotten Tomatoes — Brody managed to pull it off, appearing as mercenary Royce in the 2010 sci-fi action thriller "Predators." The film serves as the second sequel to the popular "Predator" franchise that's endured since the original 1987 entry. 

"Predators" shakes things up in a way the first sequel didn't manage; rather than hunting the massive alien hunter in the jungles of Earth, a group of trained killers is transported to an alien jungle planet that functions as a sort of game preserve. Here, the Predators can take on prey of all kinds. In this case, they're hunting a rag-tag group comprised of former special ops soldier Royce, IDF sniper Isabelle (Alice Braga), murderous death row inmate Stans (Walton Goggins), Yakuza assassin Hanzo (Louis Ozawa Changchien), cartel enforcer Cuchillo (Danny Trejo), death squad soldier Mombasa (Mahershala Ali), Spetsnaz soldier Nikolai (Oleg Taktarov), and meek doctor Edwin (Topher Grace), who doesn't seem to belong. They band together in order to survive the assault from their alien captors, in the hopes of somehow making it back to Earth.

There's plenty of action and firepower to be found in "Predators," though it also features some pretty solid performances from a talented ensemble cast.