Sure, it's a very objective process, and the criteria Simmons uses certainly eliminates a lot of famous action heroes and heroines from contention. It had to be done: he defines "action hero" as the protagonist of a very specific kind of movie, which makes determining a champion much easier. But it also highlights two very different things. The first is that there are number of truly great action-movie performances that never spawned action-oriented careers. For example, one of the first ones to come to my mind was Sigourney Weaver's Lt. Ellen Ripley in the Alien movies, but particularly 1986's Aliens. But Weaver never really pursued a career as an action star, so she didn't count toward this project. There were some who made the list who moved on to other types of projects - Bruce Willis, Mel Gibson, and Denzel Washington, for example - but they had streaks where they starred in consecutive action movies. It's the "one-hit wonders," for lack of a better term, who missed out.
Bruce Willis in Die Hard
More after the jump.
This isn't to say that the genre is completely dead, of course. This weekend will see the release of The Raid 2, the sequel to 2011's bone-crunching bloodbath. The Raid is actually a perfect example of the old-school action movie's current situation. It's a punishing film that invests far more into its carnage than it does into plot or characterization, which is exactly what fans were hungry for anyway. It is also an Indonesian production, and the fact that it was made outside of Hollywood is also a part of what made it an international sensation. Independent filmmakers are keeping this genre alive, and they're doing so without "stars" in the Hollywood sense. It's also no coincidence. that in The A.V. Club's "Watch This" feature, four out of this week's five films recommended as "ultraviolent action movies" hail from the Asian continent.
So let's revisit the question that the title of this post asks: who is the "action hero" star of the moment? Simmons' piece names Liam Neeson, and given his streak of Taken, Taken 2, and Non-Stop, it's hard to argue with that point. But who else could qualify for the distinction? In order to really discuss this, though, we have to throw out Simmons' "no franchises/superheroes" rule, since they are the action heroes of the past 15 years. Here are a few candidates for "biggest action star" of today.
Vin Diesel / Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson
Jai Courtney / Jason Momoa / Channing Tatum / Sam Worthington
from top: Courtney, Momoa, Tatum, Worthington
Who else could go on this list? And what do you think makes an "action star" or "action movie" these days? Let's discuss it in the comments.