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Some Action Stars Who Are Actually Great Actors

Action film scribes have got it pretty easy when it comes to their main character’s motivation, because they know that vengeance is the ultimate plot point to take a movie from Point A to Point B and allow for some serious—but narratively appropriate—beat downs in the process. In the 1980s, it was Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. In the 1990s, the honour was passed to Bruce Willis and Jean-Claude Van Damme.

There are actors who actually find the space to be great within the very limited confines of the action genre – the great, deep, brilliant action films being made right now rarely star an A-lister, but a few of the reigning champs of blockbuster action fare are actually excellent, and they do their best to elevate the characters they’re playing. Here’s a list of actors who are known for their valiant efforts in acting.

Jackie Chan

After Lee’s tragic, unexpected death in 1973, Chan was singled out as a likely successor of his mantle as the king of Hong Kong cinema. By that time, Chan had decided that he wanted to break out of the Lee mold and create his own image. Blending his martial arts abilities with impressive nerve—he insisted on performing all of his own stunts—and a sense of screwball physical comedy reminiscent of one of his idols, Buster Keaton, Chan found his own formula for cinematic gold. At 62 years old, the Chinese star is mostly doing films in his native Hong Kong now, since his time of stardom in American cinema was an unfortunate one, with mostly poorly directed action movies chock-full of CGI that didn’t let his charisma and knack for physical comedy show.

Sylvester Stallone

This man who slept in the streets and sold his dog just because he couldn’t even afford to feed it, is one of the GREATEST Movie Stars who ever walked the Earth. He’s been sporadically great not only as Rocky, the role he was clearly born to play, Sylvester Stallone’s career is bound to heroes defined by sport. More than any other action star, Stallone has articulated his persona by embodying athletes. His sport roles include manager of a wrestling brother (Paradise Alley, 1978), soccer goalkeeper (Victory, 1981), arm-wrestler (Over the Top, 1986), mountain climber (Cliffhanger, 1993) and race-car driver (Driven, 2001). Stallone’s investment is clear: these are among the movies that Stallone has not only starred in, but also (except Victory) written, and often directed. All inevitably funnel through his performance as boxer Rocky Balboa. Only John Rambo is as vital to Stallone’s career and identity.

Jason Statham

Whether he’s The Transporter, The Mechanic, or one of The Expendables, don’t let the nondescript title of an action movie fool you. It’s all a ruse to not give away very much about the character or the plot line (if one does indeed exist), and is a titling trick that has worked well for the genre for years now. When he came along, though, Statham was a welcome breath of fresh air: especially after the first Crank (2006), (it was clear this guy had a dead-on focus on what his characters were all about). Be it Guy Ritchie’s riveting and misunderstood Revolver (2005) or the crime drama with a pinch of British satire The Back Job (2008), or the all-out comedy romp Spy (2015), the films are testaments to Statham’s versatility and daredevil spirit.

Bruce Willis

Bald is badass. Watch out for his performances in The Sixth Sense (1999), Unbreakable (2000), Sin City (2005), 16 Blocks (2006) and Looper (2012), and you’ll see that Willis has a way for making characters unforgettable. He’s also been terrific as John McClane in the Die Hard franchise. Willis’ charm and willingness to let the audience come with him in those harrowing survival journeys are absolutely memorable.

Liam Neeson

A quick look at Paul Haggis’ The Next Three Days (2010) or Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005) gives you a good reason why Neeson is such a great actor. Liam Neeson’s rich history of dramatic and powerful roles before his submersion into action cinema post-2008 was supreme. He was supremely great in Schindler’s List (1993), and memorable in Michael Collins (1996), Kinsey (2004) and a host of other parts.

Not every muscle-guy in Hollywood is a talentless glorified stuntman, as these guys from multiple generations prove. For every Doph Lundgreen or Arnold Schwarzenegger, there’s an action star that surprisingly kills it when he’s given the chance to do a more “serious” part.

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