These are the films that provided pulse pounding entertainment and rocked us to our core with thrilling twists and turns in 2019. Thrillers and action movies take us to the very edges of our extension of disbelief every year through energetic narratives often mixed with elements of comedy, horror and drama to further drive home their stories. It’s these movies that I’ll be examining today as I continue my look at the best films of 2019. Action and thriller movies are usually among the biggest blockbusters or crowd-pleasers of any given year, sometimes thanks to quality fast-paced insanity or edge of your seat stories that keep you guessing about the outcome. All of the films I’ll be discussing in today’s countdown helped give us some of the most exciting and exhilarating cinematic experiences of the last twelve months. These are my picks for the Top 10 Action and Thriller Films of 2019.
For this entry in Best of 2019 series I’ll be looking at films that are primarily considered action films or thrillers that I felt were standout products of the past year but don’t fully fit into horror or other genres. Horror thrillers were considered for my Best Horror Films of 2019 list which you can read here while dramas with thrilling elements will be represented in my upcoming list of the best drama pictures of the year in the coming days.
All of these movies are ones I reviewed and saw in 2019, but I only have so much time on my hands and can’t see every movie so it’s possible one of your favorite films didn’t make this list. With that said I want to know from you, what was your favorite thriller or action film of 2019? Let me know in the comments below. Let’s get to it!
While “1917”, which hasn’t received a wide release and thus is more a 2020 film for me, is the real notable war movie exiting the decade “Midway” earned its own following during Veterans’ Day as a not-so-surprise hit. Directed by Roland Emmerich and focusing on the famed World War II battle that gives it its name, “Midway” may not be a shining work of art but it’s an acceptable tribute to the soldiers and airmen who fought in the conflict and the significance of their victory to the larger war at hand. In my review I called “Midway” a “pretty basic war movie at best” but a commendable effort in Emmerich’s otherwise sub-par filmography. I also called it “tasteful and inspiring in several different ways and keeps you pretty well engaged in spite of its bland writing.” Sometimes that’s all you can ask for with a movie like this that, at its core, is meant more to honor its subjects that be respected as an artistic achievement.
9. “Charlie’s Angels”
While I was in minority, I did enjoy the “Charlie’s Angels” film of 2019 which soft rebooted the franchise for a new generation. Led by Elizabeth Banks and a trio of young actresses, Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska and Kristen Stewart who in particular seems to be having the time of her life, this reboot might lean a little to heavily on feminist themes but in the end it remains a fun action spy thriller that shines in spite of its cliché’s and flaws. In my review I acknowledged that it wasn’t anything new by that it stood out as “a great thrill ride that never lets up and keeps you invested from start to finish even when you already know what’s coming”. A lot of people ignored this movie in 2019 but I found it to be underappreciated and, in my humble opinion, the best of the three cinematic “Charlie Angels” movies to date even if the other two were a little closer to the campiness that made the TV show so popular.
8. “Cold Pursuit”
By now Liam Neeson starring in an action movie is a cliché in and of itself, but “Cold Pursuit” was still a nice frozen treat for early 2019. Not only did it incorporate a fun blend of dry humor into the mix, but it also saw Neeson playing a more unseasoned character who is not a professional or experienced killer but just a vengeful man on a mission after his son is killed by members of a local drug ring. In my review I called it a “great two hours of entertainment” and despite not being perfect it “does more than enough to establish itself a one of the better Liam Neeson action flicks.” It’s a fun bit of escapism that makes the best of what it has to offer even if it’s plagued with a forgettable villain and a certain lack of emotional resonance. By now we know what we’re going to get from Neeson’s action flicks and “Cold Pursuit” gives us everything we expect while never feeling like a carbon copy of his past films.
7. “Zombieland: Double Tap”
This could have been included on my horror list but, let’s face it, “Zombieland: Double Tap” is an action film with horror elements not the other way around. A follow-up ten years in the making, “Double Tap” did not disappoint even if its clear priority was to simply recapture the charm of its predecessor rather than try anything drastically new. The same cast of the first film returns, this time older and more experienced both in terms of their characters and as actors and they all feel like they’re having a great time making their way through post-apocalyptic America. In my review I stated that while “Double Tap” “depends way too much on what made the first film of the franchise enjoyable, it’s this movie’s ability to successfully recapture the first film’s magic that also makes it so much fun.” It really did provide everything fans deserved after ten years of anticipation.
6. “Hobbs & Shaw”
Once in a while you go to watch a movie just for the sake of being entertained. “Hobbs & Shaw”, a spinoff of the “Fast and Furious” franchise, didn’t need to exist but, honestly the final product made me glad it does. Focusing on the titular characters from the main franchise played by Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, “Hobbs & Shaw” knows what it is an embraces everything ridiculous about its premise spectacularly right down to The Rock’s clear use of the film as an excuse to visit Samoa. Nobody went into this movie looking for subtlety or depth. Everyone who saw this knew the focus would be nonstop action and impossible scenes that stretch every limit of one’s extension of disbelief to accept and, if you keep and open mind, it makes for a great time. In my review I complimented it as a spinoff that “could have been a very easy film to phone in but instead we have a cast that feels really into it, a story that offers new paths for the franchise as a whole while standing well on its own, and enough ridiculous action, explosions and a great villain to tide us over until the series proper continues in 2020.”
5. “John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum”
The “John Wick” series has been one of the defining action franchises of the decade slowly building a dedicated fanbase with each new film. The third feature in the series hit franchise highs providing a no-holds-barred action movie experience that was near impossible to resist. Following Wick as he attempts to avoid his fellow assassins now that he has been excommunicated and marked for death, “John Wick Chapter 3” introduces new characters and elements to its world while keeping a strong hold on everything that fans have come to demand from these movies including the kinetic action that only ever stops for the briefest period of time. In my review I gave it a perfect score and called it “an astounding third entry to a persistently entertaining franchise that continues to set the bar to new heights for what action films can and should be.” Thankfully, despite rumors to the contrary and judging by the box office and ending teaser, this doesn’t look like the end of John Wick’s time on the big screen and if the followups are just as good I can’t wait to see them.
This was a hard film to place on my 2019 year end countdowns because it covers several different genres, but more than anything it’s a great based-on-real-life dramatic thriller that follows a group of strippers who con unsuspecting men out of cash by drugging them during nights of debauchery. “Hustlers” proved to be a surprising hit balancing its great real-life crime drama story with insightful dry humor and an overwhelming sense of suspense with each new score and hustle. In my review I called “Hustlers” “a fun, gorgeous, and often thought-provoking film that touches effectively on the concepts of greed and the divisions of sexes without ever delving too deep into pretentious territory.” This is one of many movies released this year that could actually be considered genreless, meaning that it doesn’t really conform to any specific genre, but by far it’s best elements are the ones that keep us on edge concerning how far these women are willing to take their crimes and whether or not they’re going to get away with it.
3. “Uncut Gems”
Many of the best movies of 2019 were saved for the later quarter of the year, such is the case with the top three films on this list starting with “Uncut Gems”. Providing something of a career resurgence for Adam Sandler with one of his best performances to date, this energetic thriller follows a problem gambler whose poor decisions cause a chain reaction of chaos all connected to a debt and a valuable opal. A non-stop cinematic experience filled with energy and suspense, “Uncut Gems” kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time and the style embraced by the directors, the Safdie brothers, allows viewers to completely lose themselves in the struggles and craziness of the main character’s life. In my review I commended it as “a gem of a film” that “is anxiety-inducing filmmaking at its best”. There’s still plenty of time for you to experience this movie for yourself so I suggest you give it a chance, it’s definitely worth it.
2. “Knives Out”
A little bit of comedy, a good bit of drama, but all mystery thriller “Knives Out” is a rebirth of the whodunit genre we’ve waited years to see. Mixing political commentary and social subtext with a genuinely intriguing narrative that is never quite what it appears to be, “Knives Out” is director Rian Johnson at his very best. Following a detective’s attempt to solve the murder of a family patriarch with a house full of suspects to consider, “Knives Out” provides a fun and engaging mystery for us and the characters to solve despite seemingly showing us the culprit right from the beginning. In my review I called the movie “a film with several layers that can be enjoyed as either a slightly subversive take on the traditional whodunit formulas or as a striking commentary on societal divide and how we treat those that are below us on the totem pole.” Packed with fun performances and an inspired plot, “Knives Out” is one of the most pleasant surprise cinematic accomplishments of 2019.
There are few films this decade that have been talked about and analyzed to the same extent as “Joker”, by far one of the most ambitious comic book movies ever made. It’s not a science fiction fantasy. It’s not a non-stop action adventure. No, it’s actually a psychological thriller that provides us a peak into the deteriorating mental state of its titular comic book villain played by an Oscar worthy Joaquin Phoenix. This film is nothing short of spectacular and timely especially considering the depths to which it tries to explore the human psyche and how societal factors can impact those with mental illness. In my review I called it “unrelenting, unapologetic, and uncompromising” complimenting it as “a movie that NEEDS to be seen, needs to be understood, and deserves to be appreciated.” “Joker” is a masterpiece in my book and completely changes the game in how it combines a popular property with committed and focused theming and filmmaking usually reserved for the most artistic of cinematic pictures. It combines the best of everything cinema has to offer into one chaotic package. It’s not just the year’s best thriller, it’s one of the year’s best films for sure.