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The great novelist and poet Vladimir Nabokov once wrote that life was “but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.” With this in mind, we have precisely one crack of light in which to cram in as much valuable human experience as we can: a supermarket sweep of all that is beautiful, joyous and truthful. Obviously the scope of such an undertaking is way beyond our faculties here at HYDROMAG, to attempt it would be absurd – but we can at least narrow the remit to suggest you watch, if you haven’t already, some of the finest movies known to humanity.

(N.B. before readers start gnashing and wailing over omissions – we’re picking five of each genre out of thousands, if not millions, of films. We could quite easily write a top 100 for each and still offend at least one person whose favourite film is The Mighty Ducks or Sheena: Queen of the Jungle).

In this edition: Action (In a nutshell – a story centring on a clash of physical forces, usually involving rather more guns / swords than dialogue).

05 - Hard Boiled | Director: John Woo | Released: 1992

hard-boiled

A real game-changer. This tale of tough Hong Kong cops infiltrating the Triad won international acclaim and introduced the West to John Woo’s trademark balletic gunplay. It’s not an exaggeration to suggest without Woo, there would be no The Matrix. A gun in each hand, the hero acrobatically avoids super slo-mo bullets as scenery disintegrates in the background. Sound familiar? Woo introduced genuine artistry to the movie gunfight, and in Hard Boiled he ramps up the stakes with each set-piece becoming more ridiculously thrilling than the last, from the opening tea-house-shoot-up to the exhilarating denouement in a maternity ward. An absolute must-see.

04 - Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon | Director: Ang Lee | Released: 2000

crouching tiger hidden dragon

Unresolved sexual tension in ancient China; sword-wielding warriors floating across rooftops; powerful female characters and a tear-jerking love story: Crouching Tiger won multiple awards, going on to become the highest grossing foreign language film in the US. There’s so much to commend in Ang Lee’s beautifully-shot, martial-arts period-piece, as Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh pursue a mysterious sword-thief against a backdrop of bamboo forests, medieval villages, betrayal and sexual politics. What really stands out is the fight choreography, which still has the power to invoke a genuine “what the fuck!?” moment for those viewers unused to Chinese wuxia films. In particular the stunning duels between the two central female characters, played by Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi, are simply mesmerising.

03 - Die Hard | Director: John McTiernan | Released: 1988

die hard

A pioneering film of the action genre, Die Hard practically invented a sub-category of its own – the ‘lone-hero-takes-on-army-of-terrorists-in-single-location’ genre. It made Bruce Willis a star and launched a host of pale imitations. The original Die Hard remains by far the best of its type – as Willis’ wisecracking, bare-footed, wife-beater-vest clad John McClane ascends the levels of an L.A. skyscraper to save a group of hostages (one of whom being his wife). Throw into the mix one of cinema’s all-time great villains, Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber, and a slew of droll one-liners – and you have a truly entertaining thrill-ride of a movie that holds its own almost a quarter of a century after its release.

02 - Aliens | Director: James Cameron | Released: 1986

aliens

In 1986 James Cameron was given the unenviable task of making a sequel to one of the greatest movies ever made – Ridley Scott’s seminal sci-fi horror Alien. Wisely deciding to dispense with Scott’s taut, weapon-free, cat-and-mouse format; he instead stamped his own mark on the franchise, turning Aliens into a fist-pumping, gun-toting, action free-for-all.

With a larger cast (more Xenomorph fodder), a shitload of increasingly enormous weapons, thousands more monsters, and Ripley entering a queen alien’s birthing lair; this is unmissable entertainment, and firmly cements Ellen Ripley’s place in the pantheon of great action heroes.

01 - Rambo: First Blood | Director: Ted Kotcheff | Released: 1982

rambo first blood

Unfairly lumped together with its more exploitative, brain-dead sequels, First Blood has a surprising degree of pathos. Set in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, Sylvester Stallone’s psychologically disturbed veteran John Rambo hikes into a hostile, backwater town and finds himself up against the local redneck sheriff and his deputies. What follows is a thrilling manhunt through the forests of British Columbia, with Rambo, armed to the teeth, exercising his survival skills to pick off his hick pursuers one by one. The arrival of the National Guard and his ex-commanding officer (to talk him into surrender), heralds the beginning of the explosive climax. This is a rare gem – a Stallone film with genuine substance and subtlety.

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