Happy New Years Eve everybody! As we approach 2018 tomorrow it’s time to wrap up my Best of 2018 series with a look at the films that provided the most fun and thrills of the year. Action and thriller films aren’t always the most artistic films to come out of Hollywood, but in the end their goal is usually more geared towards being entertaining than thought provoking. The best of these movies manage to be both at the same time. Today’s list puts the spotlight on those movies that were either action packed, incredibly thrilling or a fine combination of both and provided some of the best examples of cinematic escapism that 2018 could offer. Whether through CGI explosions, practical effects, social commentary or great mysteries these are the movies that kept us glued to the screen all year long. So to close out my look at 2018 before I count down the best movies of the year these are my picks for the Top 10 Action & Thriller Films of 2018.
For this list I looked at any movie considered primarily to be a thriller or action picture. I did not include anything more fitting of fantasy, science fiction, animation, horror or biographical content as they got their own lists in this series. However I did include political or historical thrillers that focused more on a specific event rather than a specific single person or persons lives.
This is part of a series of lists focusing on the best films in each genre for 2018 all leading to my picks for the 20 best films of the year to be posted TOMORROW afternoon. As usual a film can only apply to ONE of the lists in my Best of 2018 series so if you don’t see a movie you thought deserved to be recognized be sure to check out the rest of the series to see where your favorite movies landed.
That said I want to hear from you. What was your favorite action movie or thriller film of 2018? Let me know in the comments below and enjoy the list. Be sure to check back tomorrow afternoon for my list of the best movies of 2018, and as always if you’d like to read my reviews of each movie on this countdown simple click on the film’s name to get started.
10. “The Commuter”
We rarely go a year without at least one Liam Neeson action film and starting off this list is his offering from 2018 that paired him with his usual partner Jaume Collet-Serra. The film follows Neeson as a life insurance salesman recently let go from his job who makes the same commute on a train every single day. When a strange woman arrives and offers him enough money to solve all his problems Neeson’s character is told in order to keep the cash he has to mark a target for death or suffer consequences worse than losing the money. “The Commuter” is one of those films you don’t go into hoping for art and sophistication. It’s a Liam Neeson action film and we get exactly what we want. Suspense, thrills, some badass hand-to-hand combat and an over-the-top train crash all amp up the action to ridiculous levels. Despite being an obvious and shameless action romp “The Commuter” still manages to bring something fresh to the table that helps it stand out. It’s a fun and original addition to Liam Neeson’s growing list of action movies and for me personally one of the most memorable films in that filmography to date.
9. “Assassination Nation”
I love movies that pack great social commentary and although “Assassination Nation” may be a little TOO on the nose it was still one of the best films of its kind in 2018. The story takes place in Salem, Massachusetts and features a modern-day witch hunt as residents’ personal data are breached and exposed to the public leading people to be crucified by the court of public opinion and riots seeking out the person responsible. While many have called “Assassination Nation” a pretentious “Purge” rip-off it actually asks some very daring questions about modern day dependence on technology and social media as well as sexism and other harsh realities of American society today. The film embraces some great visual flair as well and features an amazingly shot home invasion scene that serves as the most thrilling part of the movie. “Assassination Nation” isn’t for everyone, but it’s still a solid picture that says what needs to be said without giving a damn about hurt feelings or egos. After all, this movie wasn’t exactly built for subtlety.
8. “Red Sparrow”
I do love me some Jennifer Lawrence and while she didn’t offer a lot in 2018 “Red Sparrow” was a fine addition to her filmography. “Red Sparrow” features Lawrence as Dominika, a sexpionage agent who uses her body and skills to extract information from targets at the demand of Mother Russia. When Dominika is charged with bonding with an American agent to catch a Russian mole she questions her allegiance to either country and must decide which path she wants to take. While “Red Sparrow” didn’t make to many waves upon its release it’s still a solid thriller charged by great performances by the likes of Lawrence and Joel Edgerton and the story, while not completely compelling, offers plenty of fun, action and suspense as we wait to see how Dominika proceeds in her double agent role. While it is a bit drawn out, I enjoyed “Red Sparrow” and complimented it as “a pretty fun experience”. Spy movies like this that tackle American and Russian relations are a dime a dozen, but “Red Sparrow” manages to be one of the more memorable and thrilling such films in quite some time.
7. “Operation Finale”
While this list does exclude biographical pictures, it does NOT exclude thrillers based on real events. Such is the case with “Operation Finale”. This feature depicts the mission to apprehend Nazi SS Adolf Eichmann, the man considered to have conceptualized the Holocaust. The film follows a team of operatives and their attempts to smuggle him away for a trial. Eichmann uses his charm to try and justify his actions before Jewish operative Peter Malkin in an epic confrontation of ideals that forces viewers to consider when and where hypocrisy or evil can be accepted or forgiven. This feels like a story that deserves to be told and the way it’s presented adds a lot of depth to the characters and the stakes at hand. While some creative liberties are taken to bring the story to life I still called “Operation Finale” a “fine movie, if a flawed one” and complimented its respect for history and its willingness to humanize a villain viewers were already predetermined to despise. It’s an awesome cinematic experience that dares to delve into the mind of a real madman and the people who sought to bring him to justice.
6. “The Post”
A political thriller based on real events, “The Post” depicts the Washington Posts crusade to release the Pentagon Papers, documents that eventually led to harsh realizations about America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. While depicting the real life people who helped in that endeavor, “The Post” earned numerous award nominations in 2018 including two Oscar nods (Best Picture and Best Actress) and six Golden Globe nominations. While it didn’t win anything it certainly earned the recognition giving us a thrilling take on a timely story in an age where journalists, especially those seeking to expose the truth of the United States government, are experiencing more scrutiny and public judgement than ever before. Even with it’s relevance to the present day discord in America, “The Post” manages to handle its subject matter tastefully and fairly and uses a fine combination of dramatic tension and thrills to keep viewers invested even when we already know the final result.
It’s kind of neat that we got two found-footage-esque movies in 2018 that utilized social media as a way to convey the story. “Searching” was one such film and became an immediate hit for being the first mainstream Hollywood thriller headlined by an Asian-American actor, John Cho. Yet it rose above the hype proving itself a worthy viewing experience regardless. “Searching” follows Cho’s character as he tries to unravel the mystery of his missing daughter. The audience sees the story play out through computers and smartphones. Despite this limited filming style we get to learn SO much about the relationship between father and daughter and how Cho’s character is coping thanks to him playing videos, making phone calls or trying to do research on the internet. It’s surprisingly engaging and left me on the edge of my seat waiting to see how it all played out. “Searching” proves thrills don’t have to be force-fed to the audience. Sometimes they can happen organically with the right idea and performers to pull it off.
4. “A Simple Favor”
Part black comedy but mostly super engaging thriller, Pail Feig’s “A Simple Favor” is one heck of a ride providing plenty of twists, turns and a neat mystery all powered by charismatic performances by Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively. The story see’s Kendrick’s Stephanie, a reserved blogger and widow, befriend Lively’s more eccentric Emily. When the later goes missing under suspicious circumstances Stephanie takes it upon herself to uncover the truth which in turn unravels a larger conspiracy from Emily’s past. “A Simple Favor” seamlessly blends humor, drama and thrills into a nice package that keeps the viewer and the characters guessing as to what’s true and what’s not. The cast and the script keep it fun while never overshadowing the serious nature of the narrative and there’s even some commentary built in as well for those who want to take the time to find it. All in all, “A Simple Favor” is one of 2018’s most thrilling films and one I still highly recommend.
It’s a shame this movie didn’t get the attention it deserved upon its release because “Bad Times at the El Royale” is the absolute definition of what a thriller should be. Led by Drew Goddard, one of the brightest film writers of today, “Bad Times” focuses on a group of strangers who are all staying at the shady El Royale Hotel on the California-Navada border in 1969. Their individual dark secrets start to unfold through flashbacks as a larger threat puts all of their lives in danger. While a little long “Bad Times at the El Royale” offers plenty pf great story to make it worth the time. All of the characters are fun and the way their individual arcs play out helps us invest in their fates. It might be a tedious experience for some, but it’s a fun one all the same. I called it a film that feels “unique and fresh” in my review with great action, awesome dialogue, an intense finale and some neat social subtext. Simply put it’s a fun moviegoing experience with style and substance that should have been a much bigger and more respected product than it ended up becoming.
Based on the 1983 television series of the same name, “Widows” was an early award season favorite and while it hasn’t received the respect it deserves it’s still one of the best action thrillers of the decade in my opinion. The story focuses on a group of widows whose husbands died in their most recent heist. When the man they were stealing from approaches the wives to get his money back the widows must team up to pull off their husbands’ final job. This could have easily been a phoned in token gender swap kind of film and it’s actually one of two female led heist movies from 2018 after “Oceans 8”. While I enjoyed “Ocean’s 8” though I LOVED “Widows” which packed plenty of thrills and action supported by layered characters, great direction and sharp writing making it solidly one of the most engaging and fun thrillers of 2018. While nothing has developed yet from it’s award season buzz “Widows” really is deserving of consideration.
Talk about upping the ante. You would think that after five movies the “Mission: Impossible” franchise would be worn out by now, but nope. The sixth cinematic feature based on the classic television show brings back many fan favorite characters, including perpetual star Tom Cruise, as well as the series’ first returning villain in an action-packed thrill ride that dominated the genre and the box office in 2018. “Fallout’s” premise sees Ethan Hunt and his team take on The Apostles, a rogue group of Syndicate sympathizers, who are trying to obtain plutonium for a potentially destructive terror attack. Not only does “Fallout” contain everything we’ve come to love from this franchise, it enhances these elements and brings the idea of what an action film can be to a whole new level. Moments like the HALO Jump and the helicopter chase promise to live on as some of the most iconic genre moments from the entire decade. “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” is not just a solid sequel, it sets a whole new bar for future action epics to come.