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The Best Action Movie Scenes You Missed In 2021

With filmgoers going back to theaters in 2021, we saw the release of a lot of big tentpole action movies. Beyond the MCU releases like "Spider-Man: No Way Home," which dominated the holiday season, the year also featured action franchises like "James Bond" and "Fast and Furious" reaching new heights, sometimes literally, with "No Time to Die" and "F9." Even nearly forgotten early year titles like "Mortal Kombat" had action scenes that impressed us. But some of the best action scenes in 2021 movies were not in these blockbusters: Many of them you couldn't even find in theaters.

Smaller indie films, streaming releases, and foreign language cinema have all been great places to look for a variety of action sequences in 2021. From beloved Hollywood actors performing brutal acts to martial arts experts showcasing their legendary skills, there was plenty to choose from. So if you love the genre, take a moment to track down some of these overlooked titles. It's hard to narrow it down to just a few, but these are some of the action scenes you may have missed in 2021.

Nobody - The Bus Fight

Bob Odenkirk revealed that he is much more than just a comedian with his performance as Saul Goodman on "Breaking Bad." Over a decade after the show first premiered, its spinoff "Better Call Saul" has found significant success, largely thanks to the efforts of Odenkirk in the lead role. And in 2021, he broke out as an unlikely action hero in "Nobody." 

The well-received action movie stars Odenkirk as a vengeful father who summons up his inner rage following a home invasion targeting his family. In an early scene in the film, Odenkirk starts to show his potential as a brutal action figure as he quarrels with a group of punk youths on a public bus. After telling the bus driver to leave, Hutch (Odenkirk) proceeds to take the group of punks to town in an aggressive scene, one of the most wince-inducing fight sequences of the year. Once the knives start coming out, it's game over. 

The Harder They Fall - The Climactic Shoot-out

One of the most under-the-radar movies from 2021 was the Netflix Western "The Harder they Fall." This genre film features a rockstar all-Black ensemble cast that includes Jonathan Majors, Zazie Beetz, Idris Elba, LaKeith Stanfield, Regina King, and Damon Wayans Jr. The eccentric troupe of characters guide the audience through what could be a convoluted plot in lesser hands, but is elevated here by its engaging stylistic elements.

At the end of the film, all the threads come together in (what else?) a final shootout in a Western town that oozes old Hollywood energy. A gunfight (set to a Seal song recorded especially for the film) plays out as all the major characters come together, creating one heck of a finale. Not to mention it has its share of the blood, death, and campy violence that define the rest of the film.

One Shot - The Last 20 Minutes

Back when "Birdman" won best picture at the 2015 Academy Awards, the one-shot gimmick was everywhere. There's a good reason for this: It admittedly does look pretty cool when a long sequence or sometimes even an entire film looks like it doesn't have any cuts or edits. From Best Picture nominee "1917" to 2018's "God of War," this technique is still a popular stylistic choice across a variety of genres.

In 2021, "One Shot," an action movie about Navy SEALs, is the work best highlighting this technical flourish. Especially within the context of action sequences, it can be really impressive if well-employed, and "One Shot" pulls it off. The entire movie is filled with stunts and effects, but it comes together into something special during the final 20 minutes of the film. You can hardly have a good action movie without a mind-blowing climax, right?

The Swordsman - Jang Hyuk vs. Joe Taslim

One of the biggest and best onscreen rivalries of 2021 comes from "The Swordsman," a South Korean period action drama starring Jang Hyuk and Joe Taslim. This movie is a go-to if you're a sucker for Samurai movies and precise sword combat, led by strong performances from its two experienced stars: Jang Hyuk is an actor and musician who has been appearing on South Korean TV and movies for almost two decades now, and you might recognize Joe Taslim from this year's "Mortal Kombat," where he took up the mask as Sub Zero.

Seeing these two stars of Korean cinema face off in a dramatic sword fight at the end of "The Swordsman" is all you've been waiting for the whole movie. It's right there in the name! All of the martial arts action that runs through the entirety of the film is at its peak in this climactic battle.

Hydra - The Final Fight

While it was released in its home country of Japan in 2019, "Hydra" didn't make its way to VOD in the U.S. until the summer of 2021. By the time it premiered stateside, the kung fu thriller had already gained a reputation for its impressive hand-to-hand combat. "Hydra" has a straightforward plot featuring Takashi (Masanori Mimoto), a hitman who cannot run from his past. He tries to get out, exchanging the violence of his life for peace and stability, but he finds it difficult to escape when he is faced with one final job that he can't refuse. As Takashi realizes he may be in over his head, the fights ramp up and "Hydra" is filled with hard-hitting action scenes. 

The final hand-to-hand showdown in particular is a distillation of the movie's energy. From the quick cuts that accentuate the speed of the actor's movements to the slow-motion shots that highlight the choreography, the final fight in "Hydra" makes the entire production worth a watch.

Wrath of Man - The Final Shoot-out

In recent years, director Guy Ritchie's output has been enjoyable, yet somewhat erratic. 2019, for example, saw him helm both Disney's live-action remake of "Aladdin" and the Matthew McConaughey-led action-comedy "The Gentlemen." In 2021, he put out another action film, this time with leading man Jason Statham. "Wrath of Man" is more serious than some of his other productions, but it still packs in all the action we've come to expect from Ritchie.

"Wrath of Man" is a heist movie told in five parts. The final segment of the movie builds up to a heist that, of course, goes wrong, leading to an epic shootout in a depot following the botched robbery. It features guns, Statham, and a chaotic energy that makes it borderline incoherent. But Ritchie accomplishes the near-impossible and crams multiple major character deaths and plot points into an action sequence that refuses to slow down or give the audience a second to breathe. 

Gunpowder Milkshake - Fighting with Paralyzed Arms

Ostensibly a feminist action flick, the Netflix original "Gunpowder Milkshake" stars Karen Gillan, Lena Headey, and Angela Bassett. The story is fairly unimpressive and derivative, but the highlight of the film is unquestionably its stylish action sequences. One scene in particular shows off Gillan's presence and personality as an up-and-coming action superstar. 

In an early scene in a clinic, trained assassin Sam (Gillan) is on the run and has her arms paralyzed. In her care is Emily (Chloe Coleman), who Sam feels compelled to protect after murdering her father. In a moment of panic, Sam has Emily tie her to a chair, taping a gun to one hand and a knife to the other. The scene that follows is inventive and adrenaline-pumping, with Sam showing her prowess by disposing of multiple henchmen without the use of her arms. In a movie filled with great action sequences, this one stands out as the very best.

Riders of Justice - A Moment of Brutal Violence From Mads Mikkelsen

In the Danish dark comedy/revenge thriller "Riders of Justice," Mads Mikkelsen stars as Markus, a veteran who is returning from deployment to care for his teenage daughter after his wife dies suddenly. The threads quickly unravel to reveal that perhaps Markus's wife was murdered, leading him on a vengeful crusade to find the killer. 

"Riders of Justice" blends bone-shattering moments of action with dark humor to great effect, creating the rare action film that was lauded by critics around the world. The most brutal moment comes after Markus and his colleagues question a man they suspect to be the killer. The man pulls a gun on Markus and the group walks away ... at first. But in a moment of kinetic filmmaking, Markus returns to the man's house and snaps his neck. It is a blink-and-you-might-miss-it sort of moment, but chillingly effective in how underplayed the brutality is. 

Space Sweepers — Bubs Fights a Spaceship

One of the most overlooked movies of the year is another Netflix title that ended up buried under a mountain of new content. The Korean sci-fi action epic "Space Sweepers" hit Netflix in February 2021. Set in 2092, in a time where Earth is in rapid decline, "Space Sweepers" follows the crew of the Victory, space scrappers who live on the edge of society. (In an attempt to ensure humanity's survival, the UTS Corporation creates orbital housing that serves to keep the rich and powerful elite healthy and in power, leaving the vulnerable to fend for themselves.)

The movie has killer special effects and production design, creating a series of visually stunning scenes. But the best bit of pure adrenaline comes when Bubs, the android crew member of the Victory, takes on a spaceship in hand-to-ship (that's an expression, right?) combat — his frenetic fighting style is reminiscent of scenes from fantasy and mecha anime like "Attack on Titan" and "Gundam Wing."

The Paper Tigers — The Hilarious Swimming Pool Fight

"The Paper Tigers" somehow manages to be legitimately funny and one of the best martial arts films of 2021. It stars Alain Uy ("The Morning Show"), Ron Yuan ("Sons of Anarchy," "Prison Break"), and Mykel Shannon Jenkins ("Kick-Ass 2") as three once-great martial artists who are now well into middle age and past their prime.

One fight in particular highlights the tone of the movie perfectly. When the Three Tigers, as they were known in their heyday, are confronted by a group of young, confident fighters, Danny (Uy) steps up, only to get his butt kicked to the curb. The hooligans then proceed to take on the other two Tigers. Yuan and Shannon Jenkins fare better than their unfortunate companion, getting to display their skills in these scenes. The whole sequence is well choreographed for impact as well as humor, allowing the actors to show the silly side of their characters while proving that these old men haven't lost their touch. 

Raging Fire — A Legendary Donnie Yen Finale

Called by some the best action movie of the year, Donnie Yen once again brings us a martial arts classic with "Raging Fire." The international Hong Kong action superstar is the lead of the martial arts film series "Ip Man," which largely accounted for Yen's initial rise to prominence. Appearing in "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" brought Yen to a wider, international audience that has allowed him to take on more Hollywood roles. But in 2021, Yen returned to his roots to star in a traditional martial arts movie alongside Nicholas Tse, who has a long list of Hong Kong credits. 

In "Raging Fire," Tse plays Yen's former protege, out for revenge. The movie naturally features face-offs between the two experienced artists in deliberately choreographed combat sequences. The most intense comes during the final showdown, where the well-meaning cop and his vengeful pursuer arrive at a church under construction. In an attempt to take each other down, they use and destroy scaffolding in a fight that displays an inventive use of the unique environment.