The 2000s were simpler. Social media was in its infancy and it was actually cool to connect with school friends (until you finally realized why you didn’t stay in touch with them in the first place). The music was better, with artists who could actually play instruments and didn’t rely on “beef” or “leaked” intimate tapes to get famous. Friends was still funny and entertaining (or maybe not), and the action movies were off the hook.
While there’s a whole bunch of them that you already know of, there are plenty you’ve probably forgotten about over the years. Sure, some weren’t so memorable for obvious reasons– such as the lack of quality or fan interest– but there’s at least a handful or two that are criminally underrated. (Except for Chuck Norris’ movies, though, because there’s no way that we could ever forget about him.)
So, let’s take a trip down memory lane and relive some of the overlooked action pictures from the 2000s. A lot of these are available on all good streaming services, or the bargain bin at your favorite store, so consider your weekend’s entertainment sorted.
With that said, read on and find out the 15 ’00s Action Movies You Completely Forgot About.
15. Romeo Must Die (2000)
Marking Andrzej Bartkowiak’s directorial debut and with fight choreography by Corey Yeun, Romeo Must Die bursts at the seams with high-octane action and over-the-top fight scenes that’ll inspire you to beat the snot out of your shadow. Additionally, it’s cited as the movie that broke Jet Li into Hollywood, so there’s that novelty too.
Loosely inspired by William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, a former police officer (Li) travels to the United States to avenge his brother’s death. In the process, he falls in love with a mobster’s daughter (Aaliyah), but their relationship faces trials and tribulations as they battle the Chinese and American mobs. Do they die like Shakespeare’s young lovers, though? You’ll just have to see for yourself.
Romeo Must Die is also fondly remembered for being Aaliyah’s first feature film, earning her numerous plaudits for her performance. Unfortunately, she passed away a year later in a tragic plane crash at the young age of 22.
14. Behind Enemy Lines (2001)
When you think of action heroes, the first name that pops to mind is probably not Owen Wilson. Yet, he was the star of the show in John Moore’s Behind Enemy Lines – and he was surprisingly good in his role as Lieutenant Chris “Longhorn” Burnett. Joining Wilson were Gene Hackman and Gabriel Macht, who added some extra sheen to the cast list.
The film is loosely based on the 1995 Mrkonjić Grad incident that occurred during the Bosnian War. A naval flight officer, Burnett, is shot down over Bosnia where he uncovers the genocide taking place. It’s up to his commanding officer to launch a rescue mission to get Burnett the hell out of there.
While the film received generally negative criticism, it did okay at the box office, making $92 million from a budget of $40 million. As a result, three direct-to-video sequels– Behind Enemy Lines II: Axis of Evil, Behind Enemy Lines: Colombia and SEAL Team 8: Behind Enemy Lines– were produced.
13. Ninja (2009)
Scott Adkins has become a name to watch in action movies. Not only is he a bona-fide rebel who’s well-versed in several martial arts, but he’s built up quite the fan base over the years. Consider him this generation’s Dolph Lundgren, if you will.
In fact, it was his performance as Casey Bowman in Isaac Florentine’s Ninja that got a lot of people talking. The story follows an orphaned Bowman who studies the art of Bushido and then beats up a bunch of bad guys as he aims to protect an armored chest known as the “Yoroi Bitsu.”
After his turn as Bowman, many fans pointed out how similar Adkins looks to Bruce Wayne and that he should be the next Batman, due to his incredible range of fighting skills and good looks. Obviously, this hasn’t happened, but it’s an interesting argument nonetheless.
12. Equilibrium (2002)
Before John Wick, Equilibrium brought gun kata to the mainstream audience. The action sequences were out of this world and the science-fiction backdrop certainly didn’t harm the film, either.
The film revolves around John Preston (Christian Bale), an enforcement officer from a dystopian future in which feelings are outlawed and drugs are taken to suppress emotions. After missing a dose, Preston starts to experience emotions, making him question the society he lives in. Naturally, the fascists aren’t too happy with his newfound autonomy and conflict ensues.
Unfortunately, the film was a financial flop, grossing only $5.3 million from a $20 million budget. Despite the visual candy, cinema goers didn’t bite and neither did the critics.
Writer/director Kurt Wimmer aired his candid thoughts about the critical reception, saying, “F–k the critics. Why would I make a movie for someone I wouldn’t want to hang out with? Have you ever met a critic who you wanted to party with? I haven’t.” Ouch.
11. Bulletproof Monk (2003)
Back in 2003, Chow Yun-fat and Seann William Scott were riding the waves of their respective popularity. Along came Paul Hunter – better known for his directorial work on music videos – who paired the two up for the action-comedy affair Bulletproof Monk.
Loosely based on the comic book series by writers Brett Lewis, Gotham Chopra, RA Jones and artist Michael Avon Oeming, we’re introduced to the nameless monk who has protected a scroll that holds the key to unlimited power for 60 years. However, the time has come for him to seek a new scroll keeper.
Perhaps unfairly, Bulletproof Monk has a low score of 23% on Rotten Tomatoes. While it’s no cinematic masterpiece by any means, it does deliver on its promise of action and humor. So, what more do you want from it?
10. DOA: Dead Or Alive (2006)
While not as popular as Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat or Tekken, the Dead or Alive franchise is still loved by many gamers – especially the beach volleyball element of it. As expected with any video game that moves more than its fair share of sales, a film adaptation titled DOA: Dead or Alive was released in 2006.
The film’s plot was thin and frankly irrelevant, serving only as a momentary breather between the battles – and yes, there was a volleyball sequence included as well. Considering it’s a B-grade event, though, it did manage to pull together a decent cast list, featuring the likes of Devon Aoki, Matthew Marsden, Jaime Pressly, and Eric Roberts.
Like most video game adaptations, DOA: Dead or Alive doesn’t live up to the franchise’s incredible hype. That said, you could do a lot worse than this film; lest we forget that Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li exists.
9. Ninja Assassin (2009)
Produced by the Wachowskis, Joel Silver, and Grant Hill, and with a screenplay by J. Michael Straczynski (the creator of Babylon 5 and Sense8), you must know that Ninja Assassin isn’t the trash that the critics claimed it to be. In fact, you could say that it played a major part in revitalizing the interest in the martial arts genre as a whole.
The plot is rather straightforward, focusing on Raizo (Rain), a disillusioned assassin who seeks revenge on his former mentor, Lord Ozunu (Sho Kosugi). It’s the bloody and intense mayhem, however, which sets this movie apart from anything else. We certainly don’t envy the people who had to clean up the set after every scene.
8. xXx: State Of The Union (2005)
It’s difficult to fathom xXx without Vin Diesel, but it happened in 2005 after Diesel and Rob Cohen, director of the original, dropped out because of a dislike of the script and scheduling conflicts respectively. Step forth Ice Cube and Lee Tamahori to take their places for xXx: State of the Union.
In the sequel, Xander Cage is reportedly killed in Bora Bora (obviously xXx: Return of Xander Cage proved otherwise), so it’s up to Agent Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) to find his replacement, Darius Stone (Cube). The unhinged Stone (who’s been given a lot of ammunition) is then tasked with bringing down a group of terrorists who infiltrated government ranks.
7. The Condemned (2007)
By 2007, Steve Austin had retired his ring tights and focused on his movie career, with The Condemned being his first film as a headline star. While he’s never reached the same Hollywood heights as his WWE colleague Dwayne Johnson, he’s amassed a tidy filmography as predominantly an action star.
In many ways, the premise of The Condemned is similar to The Hunger Games, except it focuses on 10 convicts who are forced to fight to the death as part of a game being broadcast to the public– talk about taking reality TV to another level. Now if only Keeping Up with the Kardashians could be this exciting…
6. In Hell (2003)
It’s a travesty to even mention a Jean-Claude Van Damme film on this list. How is it even possible to forget an effort from Earth’s greatest action movie star?! Nonetheless, the straight-to-DVD In Hell is an overlooked relic from 2003.
Marking the third collaboration between Van Damme and filmmaker Ringo Lam, we meet Kyle LeBlanc (Van Damme) who ends up in a Russian prison after killing the man who murdered his wife. The prison is renowned for its brutality, however, and LeBlanc must participate in the arranged battles in order to survive.
This is pure Van Damme carnage at its best and we get to experience all his trademark poses, one-liners, and moves as he beats the stuffing out of all his opponents. Heck, the film is only called In Hell because that’s exactly what it must feel like fighting JCVD one on one.
5. Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sever (2002)
Considering the fact that it’s the worst reviewed movie in the history of Rotten Tomatoes and sits at 0%, you know you just have to watch Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever. Sure, it’s not the most graceful or imaginative of movies, but reviews be damned, it falls right into the it’s-so-bad-that-it’s-good category.
Two former government agents, Ecks (Antonio Banderas) and Sever (Lucy Liu), go toe to toe as they search or the deadliest weapon on Earth. Of course, there are mandatory clichés and laughable moments of character redemption, but the film’s mostly about Liu and Banderas playing Spy vs. Spy with each other. Were you expecting them to sip tea and discuss the weather instead?
While Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever received a critical and financial beating, a first-person-shooter tie-in video game, Ecks vs. Sever, which was released for the Game Boy Advance, fared far better and sits at 80% on Metacritic. It’s one of the few times when the tie-in is actually better than the movie.
4. A Man Apart (2003)
Pairing up F. Gary Gray and Vin Diesel for 2003’s A Man Apart looked like smart business since Gray’s star was rising and Diesel was considered an action idol at that point. Unfortunately, the vigilante movie didn’t get the tongues wagging nor did it make a lot of money at the box office.
In the film, Diesel took on the role of undercover DEA agent Sean Vetter, who is hellbent on taking down a drug lord known as Diablo after his wife (Jacqueline Obradors) is murdered. While it’s no Death Wish, Diesel brought his snarls and tough guy attitude to the party and there was something satisfying in seeing his character transform into his own twisted version of the Punisher.
3. Shoot ‘Em Up (2007)
People seem to like gun fu, or gun kata (depending on which term you prefer), and Michael Davis’ Shoot ‘Em Up featured a healthy dose of it. Davis claimed to have been influenced by John Foo and Luc Besson, and these filmmakers’ styles certainly shine through in the film he wrote and directed.
Starring Clive Owen as the drifter Smith who rescues a newborn from an assassin named Hertz (Paul Giamatti) and his goons, Shoot ‘Em Up is literally what its title implies. It’s a NRA member’s dream come to life, really.
While the film holds a modest 67% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it underperformed at the box office, making only $26.8 million from its $39 million. Once again, it goes to show that a critical seal of approval doesn’t necessarily mean guaranteed financial success.
2. Collateral Damage (2002)
Arnold Schwarzenegger said he’d be back and he has been (several times, actually). In Andrew Davis’ Collateral Damage, a pre-Governator Schwarzenegger blew up everything in sight as he said “hasta la vista” to the bad guys.
Schwazenegger plays a convincing role as firefighter (and undoubted pyromaniac) Gordon Brewer, who embarks on a quest to avenge the deaths of his wife and son by traveling to Colombia to face his family’s killers. On his mission of vengeance, he unleashes a barrage of hell and explosions as he transforms into a one-man-wrecking crew.
It’s not vintage Schwarzenegger, but there’s still more than enough of his unique brand of action to keep his diehard fans entertained. Truth be told, if this film had been released in the ’80s, it’s likely that it would’ve been a much bigger hit than what it ended up being in 2002.
1. Gamer (2009)
On paper, the premise of Gamer sounds rather unique. It’s undoubtedly an attempt at dark humor and satire of the evolution of gaming and society, whereby gamers would get to control real-life humans as their players. Well, it would certainly take AI to the next level, that’s for sure.
However, the sci-fi action flick wasn’t the hit that the studio predicted it to be and only grossed $42 million worldwide from a budget of $50 million. The actors, effects, and action were all praised, but the direction and plot seemed to disappoint. Again, it’s odd when you consider the subtle undertones of the script.
But forget about the penny counters and critics, because they’re all noobs. Let’s sit back and watch Gamer, especially the glorious fight between Kable (Gerard Butler) and Hackman (Terry Crews).
Which other ’00s action films do you think deserve to be on this list? Let us know in the comments section!
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