The top 25 greatest Jason Statham films

Odd List Duncan Bowles 15 Aug 2014 - 06:54

How do you rank perfection? Duncan has a go, as he lists the top 25 Jason Statham films...

For regular Den Of Geek readers, it will come as little surprise to see this list come round. We've chosen our favourite Statham films before, but such is the productivity of the great man, it was decided that a mere top ten was no longer large enough to contain his ever growing body of work. Last time I mentioned updating this piece to the man himself back in 2012 due to his insane workload, he cracked up and responded, “My productivity is overwhelming! 'Have a fucking day off!'”

Since this list has now expanded to encompass 25 of his movies, it seemed only right to include multiple sequels, with his big trio of action franchises all spawning some thoroughly entertaining fare worthy of mention, though I’ve tried to exclude the personal bias that would rank them all quite highly, to make space for some of his more notable work. It’s great to see that he now has several trilogies under his belt, with The Expendables likely to continue further, box office permitting, though I really can’t emphasise exactly how much the world needs a third Crank film.

We’ve also now accumulated quite the celebrity database covering what his peers vote for as their favourite Jason Statham film, which you can find here. And when we asked the man himself for his choice, here was his response:

"I have good memories of working with Guy Ricthie. He started me in the business, so I owe him so much, and I’ve always enjoyed the films. Those two films, Lock Stock and Snatch were just such a great thing for me. And I also like The Bank Job. The Bank Job for me, was a great opportunity for me to do some good acting, you know? Other people might dispute that fact [laughs]. It was a great story, a true story, and I got to work with some brilliant actors and I’m really proud of that film".

So with that in mind, let’s get stuck in to the world of Statham…

25. Revolver

“No food here. Not today, sunshine. My eyes are open and the restaurant's closed. Jog on. Slide off.”

Revolver got a whole load of bad press on release, citing it as an awful, pretentious mess. 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 train wreck. 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 that he’s actually read a book on Kabbalah and can therefore transfer his new found skill into a film.

Sadly 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 an emotional range to explore and an interesting character, as well as a guiding voice over that works well as it had done in Snatch, but it’s the ever excellent Mark Strong that steals the film in this case.

24. Mean Machine

"Do that again, I'll rip your head off."

Now here's a movie that I never, ever expected to watch, as it involves football, prison, and Vinnie Jones, none of which sounded like the recipe for a fun night in. I was quite wrong, though, much to my chagrin, as Mean Machine was a surprisingly light hearted, comedic little film.

Now, technically, Statham only has an extended cameo in the film, so it's debatable if it should make the list, but, my word, what a cameo. 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.

Vinnie Jones' character, a disgraced footballer by the name of Danny ‘Mean Machine' Meehan, is being shown the ropes inside the prison, when we are introduced to Statham's character, Monk, whom we're told has killed 20-odd men with his bare hands.

The real joy to be had from Monk, though, is during the climactic football match between the inmates and the wardens, in which the commentators, fellow Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels actors Jason Flemyng and Jake Abraham (the cast is mostly populated by the Lock, Stock actors, on account of it being produced under Matthew Vaughn and Guy Ritchie's Ska Films) observe and discuss Monk.

We're then treated to two insights into his inner thoughts, one of them being some of the most glorious and comical seconds you'll ever have seen Statham perform, as Marilyn Manson's Fight Song suddenly blares out and we see exactly what Monk would like to do to the opposing team...

23. War

“All we have to do, ladies and gentlemen, is pull the fucking trigger.”

War is a surprising film in several respects, choosing to prioritise its twisting, turning plot over and above the action, which is relatively minimal for a film that stars both Statham and Jet Li. War is also so full of double crosses and betrayals, that anything less than full attention will leave you struggling to keep up, as the F.B.I find themselves stuck in the middle of a gang war between the Triads and Yakuza. I once made the mistake of watching it as part of a beer and pizza night and after several imbibes had no clue what was going on.

It’s a slick and intriguing little action thriller and a considerable way better than Chaos, which Stath had filmed several years earlier, and is notable for being yet another film in which he stars alongside Jet Li, which is no coincidence when you know that they share the same manager, Steven Chasman, who has also produced a fair few of their movies, including War, The One, Kiss Of The Dragon, The Transporter trilogy and more.

Action wise, there’s still plenty of highlights, including the thrilling sight of the two leads going head to head in spectacular fashion, poor Stath being attacked by an axe once more (which bad guys should really know is folly by now) in a bloody showdown and a decent sword fight involving Mr Li.

Strangely, War’s director, Philip G Atwell, who has a background in rap music videos and a couple of episodes of The Shield to his name, hasn’t directed anything since, which seems like a real shame after the promise shown in his first and last feature movie.

22. Parker

“If you don't tell me what I need to know, I'm gonna press down on this chair until it crushes your trachea. Trust me, it's agonizing. Plus, there's the posthumous humiliation of having been killed with a chair.”

Parker is a strange beast. Watching it is like switching channels mid-movie and then switching back towards the end.

To begin with it chooses to follow the action thriller route, with a fine opening scene leading to a bloody betrayal, but then falters due to a tonal shift in the middle, where Statham’s titular character finds himself shown around houses by Jennifer Lopez for no apparent reason - or certainly not one that warrants so much screen time. I’m still baffled by the casting of Lopez, and if it was done, as I suspected, to try and broaden the appeal of Stath’s movies to a larger audience, it didn’t work. And though I have nothing against Lopez as an actress, there’s no point to her character at all, especially when we know that Parker already has a girlfriend.

Still, there’s fun to be had, as there’s enough left from the core plot to keep things fluid, and it’s great to see our man put in a charismatic turn in the lead role, as he really does keep things entertaining, and proves yet again why he’s consistently able to carry a big screen adventure. Parker also has a cracking fight scene that proves, as we all suspected, that Statham is in fact knife proof.

21. Transporter 3

“Nope, I am not ‘the gay’.”

Transporter 3 has, I believe, a unique honour at Den Of Geek. When the press screening took place back in November of 2008, two writers were sent and both submitted reviews. One was titled ‘Transporter 3: the We Liked It review’ and the other ‘Transporter 3: the We Didn't Like It review.’ No prizes for guessing which one mine was.

For me it’s the humour in Transporter 3 that makes it so much fun, and it’s arguably even more of an asset than the action sequences. From the opening dialogue between Frank and returning character Tarconi (played by the fantastic François Berléand) things feel sharper and more self-aware, making the film as a whole immensely entertaining. The strangest part of this Transporter is that at times it’s so very slick it actually verges on feeling like a proper film - and I don’t mean any disrespect by that, merely that in its increasing similarities to the likes of Bourne and Bond (location trotting, the casting of Jeroen Krabbé) it is actually in danger of becoming comparable, though more as a spoof than anything.

The plot, however, remains ludicrously high concept -this time Frank can’t be more than 75 feet from his car without his newly acquired bracelet blowing him sky high, leading to the kind of ingenuity stunt-wise that makes Transporter 3 a closer relation to Crank, although it can never quite match the sheer insanity of that film. Special mention should go to the scene which sees him chase down a car on a BMX, while The Stooges' I Wanna Be Your Dog blares out, which in itself gets a big gold star from me.

20. Gnomeo & Juliet

“Well Benny, I didn’t think it was possible but your mouth is getting even bigger than your hat!”

On my list of the several thousand questions I’d still like to ask The Statham, is whether he’s been regularly approached about doing more child friendly roles. After all, while Stallone and Schwarzenegger had managed, with mixed success, to flit between blood-soaked action and looking after children, their template seemed to become a necessary rites of passage for their muscular successors. Both Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Vin Diesel fell into family fare with The Tooth Fairy and The Pacifier, but mercifully they both came back to more grown up fare and now even share the success of the Fast & Furious franchise.

Hopefully the world will never have to witness a movie poster depicting Statham holding some form of upside down child/nappy (see: diaper) or other ‘comical’ weapon substitute, but it’s nice to have at least one film on this list that can be shown to little ‘uns as a Statham introduction (especially if you now find yourself as a new parent with more than a passing interest in his work).

He gets to play the villain of the piece and even has an animated slice of action, including a lawnmower race. But even more surreal than listening to Stath voice a garden gnome, is watching him talk to his little deer sidekick, voiced by Ozzy Osbourne. It’s a sweet, clever little movie and a fine way to get children indoctrinated in to the church of Statham, as his shouty, uncredited cameo in The Pink Panther hardly counts - even if he did get to smooch Beyoncé in it.

19. The Expendables 2

“By the powers vested in me, I now pronounce you man and knife.”

By rights the second Expendables film should rank higher on this list than the first one as, for my money, it was superior in almost every way to the original. The franchise, though, has always made for curious splits on opinions. Some loved the first, not the second, while many couldn’t get past the novelty of the original, but loved the sequel. However, the one area in which The Expendables 2 didn’t surpass part one was in screen time and character moments to Stath’s character of Lee Christmas, so as a consequence it places here.

There’s still a good deal of memorable moments for Christmas to cut a swathe through the bad guys, including the superlative and bloody opening sequence and his final fight against fellow action icon, Scott Adkins. Curiously when fellow bearded Den Of Geek writer, Matt Edwards, interviewed Mr Adkins it transpired that the fight scene wasn’t all it could be. He told us “Well, it was frustrating because we only had a day to do it. I’m there thinking ‘Surely people want to see a good fight here. Isn’t that what people want to see? Me and Statham going at it and have a good fight scene?’ But try telling that to the producers when you’re getting to the end of the schedule and people are trying to save money. But that’s filmmaking for you. That’s why they’re businessmen, not artists. It’s frustrating because they took half a day away and gave it to Djokovic hitting tennis balls around, which wasn’t even in the movie. That was very frustrating.”

The mind boggles at what might have been given a little more time, but for now we’ll have to settle for the still gratifying sight of watching what happens when you fight Stath near a helicopter blade.

18. The One

"In this, you exist. In another you don't exist. In another, you're married to the same woman. In another, you're married to a different woman. In another, you're married to a man."

You know what's better than one Jet Li? Lots of Jet Lis. You can tell someone's had a good day, when they sit back and think, "Who on earth would be the most exciting person to get Li to fight? Aha! Himself! (Note to self: not in the Double Impact tradition.)"

In this instance, the people responsible were former X-Files, Millennium and Space: Above And Beyond scribes Glen Morgan and James Wong who also earned extra affection over the years for the writing and directing the likes of Final Destination and Willard, but who have since turned back to TV with The Event, American Horror Story, The River and this year's Rosemary’s Baby and Those Who Kill.

Don't get me wrong, The One (or Jet Li's The One, if you prefer) is exactly the kind of bonkers sci-fi trash that would sit perfectly as a double with Van Damme's Timecop, but that doesn't make it any less fun.

It also marked the first of Statham's multiple collaborations with Jet Li and the first chance he had to appear in a proper action movie, and it's no coincidence that The One's fight choreographer, Corey Yuen, went on to co-direct Mr S in The Transporter after working with him on this.

Still, 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 and a good chance for Li to show both extremes of his onscreen personas.

17. Death Race

"You wanted a monster. Well, you've got one."

Now, this is a bitter pill to swallow. Not long after I started writing for Geek, I wrote an article in which I attempted to release all the anger I felt towards one Paul WS Anderson (due to not positive responses I'd had to some of his films). Those feelings haven't really dissolved, so until writing this list the first time I'd been putting off watching Death Race, because deep down I had the sickening feeling I'd like it.

I was right.

Anderson, as a director, does warrant some praise, especially from a technical point of view and for managing to make a smaller budget go a long way. I still hold that his weakness is in his writing and Death Race is another example of that. If only someone gave him a decent script, took his crayons away and firmly told him, "No! No more writing!", then he might fare better.

Death Race's plot is as predictable as you'd imagine, to the point where you could pretend to be psychic and ‘impress' your friends with how things were going to turn out. I'm also mad that Anderson chose to eradicate any reference to the original's premise of scoring points according to what type of person you hit (men, women, children, babies, old people) and instead just chose to hold a race to the death in a prison. It has more in common with The Running Man than the original Death Race.

However, as a standalone action film and ignoring any prejudice, I have to admit it 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 man makes for the perfect wronged man, on a mission to get payback, while he's ably supported by the likes of Ian McShane, Joan Allen (whose 'controversial' moment of swearing really isn't that shocking) and Mortal Kombat’s underappreciated Robin Shou.

16. Transporter 2

“Have a good life. What's left of it.”

There are two kinds of people in this world. Those who love the moment where Frank Martin flips a car in the air and flies it upside down in order to remove a bomb from the undercarriage on a hook, while the detonator is held by a women who’s content to wander round in see through bra, and those who think that’s a load of stupid nonsense. Which are you?

15. 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.

14. The Italian Job

"It's either bad traffic, peak traffic, slit-your-wrist traffic... you know, five people died from smoking in between traffic lights today."

Now, hold your horses. Before you start reading me the riot act about remakes, I should tell you that I agree, for the most part, that Hollywood really needs to stop with the incessant recycling of classic material. More importantly, it needs to stop using the names of original films, when a slight tweak would have stopped us all from screaming on the internet.

As has been stated many times over the years on Geek, the Karate Kid remake didn't even feature karate, but kung fu, yet the eternal wisdom of the Tinseltown execs must have insisted on keeping the exact same franchise name, making someone like myself steer clear, out of a love for the original. The Italian Job suffered the exact same fate, with friends of mine still refusing to watch it on principal. But, if you can push past the resentment, there's a solid crime heist movie to be found.

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, Charlize Theron and Edward Norton, plus Stath’s character name is handsome Rob and there’s no arguing the merits of that. The film won't blow you away in any kind of revelatory fashion, but the film cracks along and has some great set pieces. I'm also particularly fond of a dinner scene involving Theron and Norton, but won't say more.

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