Being in the line of fire certainly helps a scene to come alive, but it isn’t the only thing. If the dreaded writer’s block ever pops up, I know I can always trust the big screen to throw me some great ideas.

Here’s my list of the Top Classic Action Films that I turn to when the ol’ memory needs reviving.

Where Eagles Dare (1968) with Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood

This was the type of film guys my age sat down to watch with their dad's, it was a natural part of growing up. The Alistair Maclean classic Where Eagles Dare is not your stock standard war film: it’s full of double-agents, behind the lines missions and really powerful characters pitted against each other. I loved it as a boy and I still do. It highlighted conflicts and betrayals on both sides of the war rather than the standard ‘us against them’. Real life is much more complex and they nailed that well in the context of an action movie. The cable car scenes are legendary and the ending is just brilliant, but I won’t give it away. The character that I most identify with is Major Smith, played by Burton: a cold, hard and relentless professional – that’s how I see him.

Taken (2008) with Liam Neeson

This film copped a bit of flak over stereotyping certain people and groups, but I’ll leave it there. The real strength of the film’s premise is in displaying a father’s commitment to the protection of his child and the inherent instinct to protect them no matter the cost. I love the way that they convey the normal dad behaviour, with all the normal insecurities and sometimes overbearing characteristics, pitted against the man as a professional spy. They do that really well. For me, it reinforces that no matter how specialist and dangerous people may be due to their career choices, at the end of the day they’re just people. Neeson looks like he would comfortably sit down and have a beer at the bar with you, just as easily as loppin’ your head off.

The Eagle has Landed (1976) with Michael Caine

This is a favourite among ex-Paratroopers. Michael Caine plays the German Paratrooper (Fallschirmjäger) Commander perfectly. Once again, it’s the character interplay and people not necessarily being who they seem to be that keeps this movie current, despite its WWII setting - especially the scene where a young German soldier dies in the process of saving a little English girl from drowning. It’s written by another of my favourite authors, Jack Higgins. As an aside, I remember one of the guys in the regiment years ago loved this film so much that he changed his name by deed poll to Kurt Steiner (the name of Caine’s character). That’s dedication!

Bad Boys I (1995) with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence

A little out of left field for me, I know, but I love the way that they nailed the banter between two really tight friends in a very contemporary way. It’s over the top and out of control but funny, and the things that make it funny are all the normal human elements of the characters, not the gun ho, macho, shoot ‘em up stuff that, as you may know, the movie is full of.

Iron Man Series (2008-10)

My favourite superhero movie series of recent times is the Iron Man series (with another set for release in April 2013). The reason it's my favourite is simple: Robert Downey Jr. RDJ has made an unbelievable character somehow believable. He’s cocky, self-assured, fearless, and funny at the same time. The combo of him and the director, Favreau, who also appears in the movie as Happy Hogan, is fantastic. They just understood what they wanted to achieve when they set out to do the movie and they delivered it. It’s a fast-paced, thoroughly entertaining blockbuster. Hand in hand with that is another Marvel, The Avengers (2012) with Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, and Jeremy Renner. Absolutely fantastic movie and anything with Scar-Jo has to be tops (fortunately, my Sar agrees).

The Peacemaker (1997), with George Clooney and Nicole Kidman

When this came out in the late nineties, I liked it because it was a contemporary action thriller that focused on relevant and current issues at the time. The lone radical individual carrying a nuclear weapon in a backpack around a major city is now almost a clichéd scenario but back then I think they forecast pretty well the fears of a major incident in just about any city of the world - sadly, all too familiar now. I like the two lead characters a lot. Clooney’s military officer character was understated and mission focused; a ‘get the job done’ kind of guy. Kidman’s nuclear specialist was a great model for strong, independent and intelligent female leads, equally adept at saving the day as her male counterpart, far removed from the clichéd window-dressing of old. They make a great partnership.

Finally, I’d say Skyfall (2012) with Daniel Craig and Javier Bardem

Skyfall has the essential ingredients of the Bond franchise: glamour, humour and charm. It took Bond back to basics. It humanised him, pushed him back into his family history and brought out his loyalty and sense of duty to his country that is a really important part of that character’s background and the original premise that Fleming created him on. Without being a Fleming story, they got as close as they ever have in bringing Fleming’s Bond back to life, even more so than in Casino Royale (2006). You can read my Skyfall review on the Momentum blog here.

Skyfall is the perfect dose of realism and escapism that might be found in my favourite action flick of all time (to come), and that would be any featuring Alex Morgan and Intrepid!

These are the action films that are kept at the ready by my desk when I need some inspiration. They capture all of the elements that I try to include and emulate in my own spy stories: the human elements behind the action heroes; the interactions, betrayals and insecurities that are so familiar to everybody; and, from an action point-of-view, the characters are relentless, cold, hard-hitting professionals that no matter what, get the job done.


Related posts:
Celebrating International James Bond Day
Ten Lesser Known Facts About Ian Fleming
Top Five Action Thriller Book Characters

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