The 10 greatest Jason Statham films

Odd List Duncan Bowles 4 May 2012 - 12:15

To celebrate the presence of Safe in UK cinemas, here’s an updated list of action hero Jason Statham’s very best films to date…

2011 was without doubt Jason Statham’s best year so far. He managed a grand total of four cinematic releases, though at one point that total was nearer six, until 13 seemed to vanish without a trace and Safe was sensibly pushed back to 2012, thus avoiding an overload of machismo greater than the average human could cope with.

As a result of his insane productivity, our long-standing list of his greatest movies so far needed an update, an event that will hopefully need to be done annually, as he continues to be one of the most productive actors working today.

Statham’s still sensibly chosen to concentrate on making action movies and thrillers all squarely aimed at an adult audience, providing a constant and much-needed fix for someone as bloodthirsty as me, in a time when even vampires have had the good grace to clean up their image. Finding genuinely R-rated thrills (18 certificate doesn’t quite have the same ring to it) is surprisingly difficult when looking for a movie outside of the horror genre, at a time when tougher content is traded in for a lower certificate and therefore greater financial gain.

Praise be to The Stath then, that nearly two years after the release of the first Expendables, his loyalty, reputation and CV are still intact and free from such blights as The Pacifier or Mr Nanny. 2012 has already seen the year off to a fine start with Safe, and promises to deliver even more 80s throwback violence with The Expendables 2, a film which has chosen to address my own personal wish for the sequel – casting Jean Claude Van Damme. I really can’t wait.

With Statham currently filming Hummingbird, Parker in post-production and the remake of Burt Reynolds’ Heat lined up, he’s as busy as ever, but the real question is; when will we get another Crank and Transporter sequel? I’d still be happy if every other film he made was a sequel to one of his three franchises, but in the meantime, here’s a list of his best films to date, still sticking to my rule of choosing only one film from a series in order to give his other work a look in.

10. London

“C’mon you f**kin’ dirty, sh*t, c**t, whore! F**kin’ whip me!”

Oh yes. The line above was delivered by the big man while recounting his experience in an S&M parlour, and it’s a monologue filled with comedy gold. Be warned the language doesn’t get any prettier, in a film in which all the characters have potty mouths.

London appears to be the only film directed by Hunter Richards, and information about it seems a little thin on the ground. It was released the year after stars Statham, Jessica Biel and Chris Evans appeared together in Cellular (further down the list), so I assume the casting was no accident. London feels more like a play than a film, with the majority of the 90-minute runtime playing out in a bathroom at a house party.

Tonally, it’s very similar to the work of Bret Easton Ellis, with all the characters displaying their ugly character flaws, being mostly unsympathetic, rich and taking a lot of drugs, so it won’t appeal to a lot of people. Curiously, Statham’s character name is Bateman, while Biel appeared in a film adaptation of another of Ellis’ books, The Rules Of Attraction.

Evans and Statham drive the bulk of the film and do so in style, but it’s the latter who proves the most entertaining, revelling in the chance to show a rare display of emotions (just try to ignore his awful hairstyle), while spitting out the C word with such panache, that, at times, the dialogue feels improvised. If you want to see Statham playing against type (for the majority of the film) then I’d give it a go; just be prepared for quite a lot of rambling, coked-up dialogue, which adds to the authenticity, while not always holding the attention.

Oh, and don’t watch it if you’ve just broken up with someone.

9. The Bank Job
“I know what's at stake, and I know how expendable we are. So I'm changing the deal.”

Our Statham does seem to like a good ensemble, as multiple entries further prove, though The Bank Job is notable for making sure that he gets top billing, and is surrounded by people who are less well known (in Hollywood terms that is, not British TV). This does mean that he’s really given a chance to excel, as his character draws respect from all those around him and holds the film together.

I knew nothing about The Bank Job when I first saw it, except what the title implied, so I was quite surprised to see a 70s-set British crime thriller, instead of a glossy, American action film like the other ‘Job’ below. It’s a really solid little movie with some great performances under the direction of Roger Donaldson, whose eclectic career has involved the likes of 80s Kevin Costner thriller No Way Out, Cocktail, Species, Dante’s Peak (go team Brosnan!), Thirteen Days (Costner again) and The Recruit.

Also worthy of note is that the script was written by legends Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. The Bank Job could also be seen to put more distance between poor Saffron Burrows and Deep Blue Sea in which, at test screenings, the audience bayed for her characters’ blood so vocally that the studio changed the ending.

8. The Guy Ritchie Chronicles: Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch and Revolver
“No food here. Not today, sunshine. My eyes are open and the restaurant's closed. Jog on. Slide off.”

By setting my own rules about not populating this list with the Statham sequels, it also seemed unfair to then fill it with a string of Guy Ritchie films, especially when they’ve all been so high profile for one reason or another and because they can all, if you’re feeling a little anti-Ritchie, seem a little too similar.

Lock, Stock has to be mentioned because it was the film that gave Statham his big break, apparently after French Connection (who Statham modelled for at the time) invested in the picture and introduced him to Guy Ritchie.

I actually avoided Lock, Stock like the plague when it came out, for exactly the same reason I’d done the same with Trainspotting a couple of years before – because it was absolutely everywhere, being talked about by everyone as being ‘the best film ever’, regardless of how many films the people saying that had seen. They both achieved a status of being iconic and cool and posters were therefore slapped on to every student’s wall, adorned and revered like some kind of religious cult, so naturally I ran the other way.

Admittedly, this was partly to upset anyone who happened to revere the above films, but for the most, was so I could watch them after all the hype had washed away and judge them on their own merits. For the record, I thought they were both great, though they’re never on my radar when anyone mentions favourite films. The same goes for Snatch, though I enjoyed that far more than I thought I would, and not just because I worked in retail when the DVD was released and took great delight in having people ask me “Have you got any Snatch left?” Puerile? Yes. But it sure made the day go quicker.

As for Revolver, well I’d avoided that with gusto too, but only because I’d heard what an awful, pretentious mess it was. But in the name of being thorough and out of sheer dedication to this article (and to Statham), I finally watched it.

Good grief. What a tremendously enjoyable mess. A while back we introduced a single gold star rating, which hasn’t had much of an airing since, but Revolver was made for it. At first it seems like a fairly standard gangster film, with Mr Statham sporting what can best be described as his Cage/Con Air look, involving some nice lank long hair and a rather glorious moustache. Things quickly go downhill as Ritchie takes it upon himself to tell us all that, yes, he’s actually read a book (apparently on Kabbalah in this instance) and can therefore transfer his new found skill into a film.

It really doesn’t work though, by either convincing us that the film possesses the intelligence needed to pull off any form of spiritual or existential content, or by being able to contain the cinematic craziness of Ray Liotta, who is off the leash throughout. At one point, Ritchie even tries to insert some Japanese-style animation, but without the context or understanding that Tarantino achieved in Kill Bill.

Statham is given quite a range of emotions to express, as well as a guiding voice over and fairs a lot better than you’d expect, but it’s the ever excellent Mark Strong that steals the film.

7. Cellular
“Time’s up!”

There’s a fair chance that you’ve never heard of Cellular, let alone seen it. I only caught it when it dawned on me that there was a Statham movie I hadn’t seen, which also starred the mighty Chris Evans and William H Macy, so I ordered it immediately. Like so many of Statham’s films, it’s tight, exciting, perfectly executed and I loved it.

He also gets to play an out and out bad guy from the start, kidnapping poor Kim Basinger (or ‘bitch’ as he prefers to call her – it’s just the way he rolls) and her son, in an attempt to find her husband. I only mention Kim Basinger now, as I’m still mad at her for being the only person from LA Confidential to be nominated for (and win) an Oscar. All she really did was pout and cry, while Russell Crowe, Guy Pierce, James Cromwell and Kevin Spacey were absolutely incredible, arguably never better and they got nothing. I know it’s not her fault, but it really made me question both her ability and the Oscars themselves and I found both to be lacking. Still, I loved her when I was a young boy, and she still has the ability to make me wobble, especially in Tim Burton’s Batman.

Anyway, in Cellular she gets to cry and pout a lot, Jason Statham is mean and threatening, William H Macy is as effortlessly loveable as always and Chris Evans runs and drives about, while managing to avoid being the awful himbo that his character seems to dictate at first, mostly thanks to Evans’ own charisma. Oh and talking of Evans - almost any chance I get, I’ll mention The Losers, since it was upsettingly neglected at the box office and I can do nothing but encourage people to watch it.

Cellular also has Jessica Biel in a small role. This is important because I rather love her.

6. Blitz
“A word of advice girls – if you’re picking the wrong fight, at least pick the right weapon.”

Blitz is by far the most alarming and upsetting of Statham’s films to date, containing such a high level of grime and brutality that the film packed an unexpectedly hard punch when I first saw it. While Killer Elite may contain some nasty and bleak moments, Blitz has an ace up its sleeve in the form of its protagonist, Weiss, played with frightening menace by Aidan Gillen (currently chalking up another detestable character, Littlefinger, in Game Of Thrones). So many action thrillers fall down when it comes to providing the one simple element that can lift the level of emotional engagement with a film – the nastier the villain, the more on side you are for the hero to get revenge.

There are few physical opponents that couldn’t be overcome by Statham onscreen, so Blitz’s genius is in creating a character that is able to mentally threaten and torment our (anti)hero with his psychotic attitude, while staying one step ahead of the police force he’s murdering. The film’s also strengthened by Statham’s rogue brute, Brant, contrasting perfectly against Paddy Considine’s smooth Sergeant Nash, as the two team up for the classic ‘buddy cop’ dynamic in order to catch the twisted cop killer. Considine’s a fine actor, though still far too underused for my liking, so seeing him playing opposite Statham was quite a kick.

Certainly it’s a film that follows conventional genre clichés in many ways and which occasionally loses its way with a main subplot, but the residual memories of Blitz are of how vile its villain was and how cold and disturbing the murders he commits are, making the manhunt all the more exciting and tense. I also have respect for any film that starts as if its half way through, just to open with a scene of The Stath beating hoodies up with a hurley while quipping about carpet.

5. The Mechanic
“I want you to listen to me closely. I don’t care who I hurt, or who I kill, understand?”

When The Mechanic was released, we enthusiastically pointed out how happy we were to see Simon West back directing big screen action, as Con Air gets an awful lot of love here at Geek towers. Little did we know at the time, but it seemed to be a return also appreciated by one Sylvester Stallone, who has since handed directorial duties over to West for The Expendables 2. This bodes incredibly well, as West has always shown a flair for directing action and his work in The Mechanic is a fine example of how to make a lean, brutal movie.

Roughly half of The Mechanic’s swift 90-minute run time is given over to fight scenes, shoot outs, car chases and all other kinds of mayhem and carnage – after all, why should a movie take the lazy route of having someone stabbed in the face for a second time, when they can be thrown through a window and in front of an oncoming car? The Mechanic also wins a large amount of respect for using its modest budget to show off real stunts while avoiding CGI - the downfall of many an action movie that tries to be gritty and violent.

Despite The Stath’s lessons on how to be a great assassin delivered throughout the film, there’s one life lesson to be gleaned from The Mechanic that can happily applied to everyday life and one that endless bad guys never heed; don’t fuck with Jason Statham.

4. Safe
“Trees ‘n’ shit.”

The newest of Statham’s films is also one of his best, which I loved enough to place straight near the top of this list. Having recently seen the trailer again at the cinema I was reminded that, action scenes aside, Safe’s greatest asset is its humour, as the dialogue provides a string of pithy one liners that really do make the best of Statham’s deadpan delivery.

His tongue in cheek attitude is actually a key contributor to the man’s success, as the action genre will almost always stretch the realms of believability in order to provide big thrills (it’s one of the many reasons I love it), so a healthy sense of fun will always help to broaden appeal, while keeping the audience onside when everything starts to explode. Just a quick mention of some of the greatest action flicks ever made, such as Die Hard, Con Air or Predator, will reveal a quip filled hero, gun in hand, flying through the air as things blow up, making dry humour just as essential as bullets.

Safe is a great example of the above criteria, while also highlighting another of Jason Statham’s films high points: the supporting cast. The obvious example of a superb line up is in The Expendables below, but Safe is infinitely better in its clever use of great, but underappreciated actors, from James Hong, Robert Burke and Chris Sarandon, to Reggie Lee, Anson Mount and newcomer Catherine Chan. It makes every scene hold the attention, while providing some memorable adversaries for Stath’s Luke Wright to verbally and physically spar against.

Having only seen Safe once, I couldn’t place it above The Expendables, but repeat viewings may yet move the film higher on the list, which is high praise indeed.

3. The Expendables

“Next time, I’ll deflate all your balls... friend.”

The challenge here isn’t so much writing about The Expendables, it’s about finding words I haven’t already used to describe it.

Upon its release I was so excited that I just couldn’t stop enthusing about it before and after it came out, such was my blind love for the concept of putting so many of my favourite action stars into one film. I’m well aware that it left some people let down by its simplistic plot and off-beat humour, but it really had to have those elements to remain in any way authentic.

It’s far too easy to romanticise films from our youth, as I remember almost anything with violence in being ‘awesome’ or ‘the best thing ever’, yet my loyalty remains and I’ll happily sing the virtues of anything from Bloodsport to Commando, without the fashionable distance of irony. I love those films and I love their stars, so regardless of critical merit The Expendables will always be the first time that Stallone, Willis and Schwarzenegger appeared on screen together, fulfilling a childhood dream and essentially making the film bulletproof for me.

I know it’s a massive bias to admit, but there’s no denying that for myself and many others, the film felt like it was made for those people with an unreserved love for 80s action movies, warts and all, so how could I not love it?

From the standpoint of Statham’s career it was a landmark, with the great Sylvester Stallone hand picking him as a successor, with the kind of paternal blessing that only Stallone could give – one made of sweat and bullets. There’s a genuine rapport between the two of them throughout The Expendables, providing one of the film’s finest components (not forgetting those components that make up Terry Crews’ mega-shotgun) and it’s as exciting to see the two of them play off against each other as it was decades ago (gulp) when Stallone and Kurt Russell did the same in Tango And Cash.

It’s proof indeed that if someone as experienced as Stallone entrusts the future of action to Statham, then who are we to stand in the way?

2. The Transporter
“You don’t need your mouth to pee.”

It was a hard decision to decide between The Transporter and Crank for the top spot, as I love them both. But Crank just wins out, as my obsession with Statham was at full swing by the time Crank came out, so my enjoyment was maximised. The Transporter though, was what kick-started the whole crazy love affair in the first place.

Blockbusters’ ex-rental section always provides me with a ripe choice of action flicks – it’s a place where I’ve discovered many a joy over the years, and The Transporter was no exception. I can’t remember how I missed it at the cinema, but my expectations were fairly average by the time the DVD was released and that made the film so much better upon the first viewing.

It always amazes me when an action film comes along that is so straightforward and slickly made, that it actually feels like a breath of fresh air. And how I loved the adventures of Frank Martin within minutes of the film’s start. The plot is a simple good versus evil yarn that we all know inside out, but the fight scenes are fantastic, and truly elevate the film – the only downside to them being that, if you’ve watched the DVD special features, you’ll have seen how much of the violence was cut.

Statham himself bemoans how, in cutting the fights, an element of the tempo within the choreography has been lost, and it’s hard not to agree. More’s the pity that the quality of the uncut fights is so raw and that, despite a ‘special edition’ release, there’s been no sign of the extended fights being put back into the film.

Still, it was the first time he’d been the solo star in a film, and he seized his chance to shine.

1. Crank
“Do I look like I’ve got ‘c@nt written on my head?”

Ah Crank, blessed be. My word what an incredibly absurd and exploitative treasure you turned out to be. It proved several things about Statham: that he clearly has a sense of humour about the roles he plays, that he really does throw his all into his performances – regardless of how insane they (literally) are, that Red Bull does indeed give you wings, and that if he chooses you to ‘make with the loving’ then you’ll damn well enjoy it – even if it does take a little bit of... persuading.

I think it’s fairly safe to say that Crank isn’t for everyone, although it’s definitely the more sociably acceptable of the two films in the franchise (I’ve just had flashbacks of the strippers having their breast implants leaking out of bullet holes, in Crank: High Voltage), but that’s a large part of why I love it so much. The gusto of bad taste and high concept were so prevalent in Crank that it was only that and the man himself that kept the film afloat, as it found ever more lewd and inventive ways to keep Chev Chelios’s adrenaline up.

I have fond memories of the day a group of us saw the first Crank in the cinema too, as we’d spent several hours in the pub beforehand, but just before leaving I decided to down a couple of double vodka and Red Bulls, to get me in the right frame of mind (I didn’t actually know that it would be featured in the film itself).

When the credits rolled, I exclaimed how much I loved the film, apart from “the slow bit in the middle”, which alarmed everyone else as they had to peel me off the walls and tell me “there was no slow bit”. Take heed boys and girls, caffeine can even slow the non-stop insanity of Crank down.

Edged out of the top 10:

The One

If you haven’t seen The One, it’s an absolute blast, as Statham and the ever underappreciated Delroy Lindo, run around claiming to be multiverse agents, while bad Jet Li chops his way through the other dimensional versions of himself, leading to some quite spectacular fight scenes (The One’s fight choreographer, Cory Yuen, went on to co-direct Mr S in The Transporter). I’m always left disarmed by how ‘cute’ Li can appear, even if he’s just broken someone’s neck.

Death Race

As a stand-alone action film and ignoring my Anderson prejudice, I have to admit this was a lot of fun. The film zips along nicely, but where it excels is in the car races themselves, which are impressively long and well put together, managing to be exciting and incredibly brutal, as all kinds of chaos is unleashed on the track. Our Stath makes for the perfect wronged man, on a mission to get payback, while he’s ably supported by the likes of Ian McShane and Joan Allen (whose ‘controversial’ moment of swearing really isn’t that shocking).

The Italian Job

As with so many of Mr S’s other films, he’s part of a great ensemble cast which really help to lift the material, in this case mostly Seth Green, the ever stunning Charlize Theron and Edward Norton. The film won’t blow you away in any kind of revelatory fashion, but the film cracks along and has some great set pieces.

Mean Machine

Technically, Statham only has an extended cameo in the film, but it’s a great one that sees him playing a psychotic Scottish goalkeeper. It's his equivalent of Steve Buscemi's masterful turn as Garland Greene in Con Air, appearing for roughly the same portion of time as Buscemi did, too.

Also recommended:

Crank 2: High Voltage and both Transporter sequels, obviously.

War

Statham and Jet Li again, plus Devon Aoki and Luis Guzman. War should perhaps have made the list, but expecting it to be a fairly ropey film, I confess that I drank too much before watching it and was then slightly shocked that it actually had a coherent plot. Consequently, I can’t really tell you much, apart from that it was better than I was prepared for, so I must revisit it.

Killer Elite

My high expectations weren’t met by the film, but the beginning and end are still good. Also, fellow Geek writers and Statham fans found much to enjoy.

Avoid:

Chaos

A confused mess, which managed the fatal crime of being dull. A full review was penned, ironically, by our own confused reviews writer, Matt Edwards.

Ghosts Of Mars

By this point, my love of Statham is clear, but I love John Carpenter even more, so it’s with a heavy heart that I have to file this oeuvre under ‘avoid.’ I really wanted to like it. I tried really, really hard. I even drank some beer beforehand, but alas, no. I still don’t know why multiple directors thought that Ice Cube would make a good action lead – he just doesn’t have the stature for it. It’s so bad, even Natasha Henstridge can't be bothered to take her clothes off.

In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale

Oh dear. I’ve actually defended Uwe Boll in the past, mostly for Postal and the trashy fun that is Bloodrayne, but sadly In The Name Of The King proved to be so awful, that I didn’t actually make it to the end. Again, Ray Liotta starred alongside Statham in a filmic disaster, only this time Ron Perlman, Burt Reynolds, Matthew Lillard, Leelee Sobieski and John Rhys-Davies (violating the memory of The Lord Of The Rings) are along for the ride. A mess.

Haven’t seen:

Turn it Up

I’m looking for advice on whether this one’s worth it. Apparently, The Stath is only onscreen for ten minutes and is the only reason worth watching it, so I feel slightly vindicated.

Gnomeo & Juliet

Looks good, but the lack of bone crunching and a voice-only turn from Statham means I haven’t yet got round to it.

13

Not entirely sure what happened here, but rest assured I will get around to seeing it.

You can follow Duncan’s Statham babblings on Twitter.

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