Essential Summer Viewing: Eight Great Action Movies from the 90s

Action films are staples of summer entertainment for moviegoers of all ages. To make the season all the more enjoyable, here are eight of the best action films from one of the most excellent decades for that genre, the 1990s:

Point Break (1991, dir. Kathryn Bigelow) – Proof positive that a woman can direct an action film that’s every bit as awesome as anything directed by a man, this ripsnorter bears the tagline “100% Pure Adrenaline” for good reason. Wicked (to borrow some 90s jargon) surfing scenes, exciting bank-robbing scenes (with one of the most epic on-foot chases ever) and some of the coolest skydiving moments possible combine to make this California-set film a classic. It hardly even matters that Keanu Reeves’ character has the ridiculous name “Johnny Utah” (never mind the fact that he’s also a rookie FBI agent) and Patrick Swayze is the mystical “Bodhi.” Somehow it all makes sense.

Jurassic Park (1993, dir. Steven Spielberg) – I’m pretty sure that this movie is the ultimate 90s summer movie experience. It stands up so well to repeated viewings and the first dinosaur-attack scene (pictured above) is still as thrilling as it was two decades ago. Besides, Jeff Goldblum’s discomforting laugh will always be a true cinematic high point.

The River Wild (1994, dir. Curtis Hanson) – There’s not much more you could want from a movie other than Meryl Streep fighting for her life on a raft. Terrorized by psycho Kevin Bacon and eventually helped out by her slightly nerdy husband, David Strathairn, Streep acquits herself well on the rapids. There’s also Joseph Mazzello, aka the little boy from Jurassic Park, playing Streep and Strathairn’s son, and John C. Reilly as Bacon’s partner in crime.

Speed (1994, dir. Jan de Bont) – It’s Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. On a bus. That’s going really fast. What more do you need? Oh, that’s right: Dennis Hopper is the villain. Perfection.

Die Hard: With a Vengeance (1995, dir. John McTiernan) – I don’t think the first Die Hard movie, brilliant as it is, should count as summertime entertainment since it takes place on Christmas Eve. (Die Hard 2… let’s just pretend that one didn’t happen at all. Yikes.) The third installment in the franchise is a lot of fun, though. Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson make a great team, which is helped by the fact that there are no love interests bogging down the plot. And only Jeremy Irons, speaking in a German accent and strolling around in a tank top, could come close to the snarling-but-sexy menace of Alan Rickman’s villain from the first film.

Independence Day (1996, dir. Roland Emmerich) – Truly the only movie worth watching on July 4, this mega-blockbuster is the final word in alien invasion flicks. Will Smith’s goofy Everyman shtick is less grating than it is in other comedies, while Jeff Goldblum’s bespectacled and (how 90s!) flannel-wearing scientist character supplies all the necessary genius know-how to save the planet from extraterrestrial destruction. Sweet.

The Rock (1996, dir. Michael Bay) – Far better than Nicolas Cage’s other big summer action movie from that era, Con Air (1997), The Rock gives Nic the good fortune to be paired with one of the most beloved movie stars ever, Sean Connery. Boasting a cast that includes many other renowned actors (Ed Harris, John Spencer, David Morse, William Forsythe, Michael Biehn, John C. McGinley, Tony Todd), this action-thriller is definitely one of Bay’s finer achievements. Hey, if you can seriously buy Nic Cage as a chemist, then you can probably suspend disbelief for anything.

Twister (1996, dir. Jan de Bont) – Yes, Jan de Bont gets two titles on this list. He’s just that good. With plenty of great tornado scenes, good chemistry between leads Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton and also some striking cinematographic work by Jack N. Green (who had photographed Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven four years earlier), this natural-disaster action movie has a lot going for it. Bonus points: the film also features Cary Elwes as a nefarious storm expert and Philip Seymour Hoffman as one of Hunt’s twister-hunter colleagues. Further bonus points: Twister has my favorite MPAA rating of all time, “rated PG-13 for intense depiction of very bad weather.”

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