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...

Ah.

Given that this is a very long list, we've had to cut it over two pages. We always feel a bit apologetic about that, but have to split the very longest articles this way. We do not make a habit of it, and the day we split once of these articles over dozens of pages, you have permission to deny us Statham for a week. For now, back to the great man...

13. Crank: High Voltage (aka Crank 2)

“What's that? Fucking C@nt-a-nese?”

God I love Crank 2.

The fact that it’s so very, very obscene meant that its main strength also proved to be its undoing for some. The film almost asked too much of its audience, as it pushed the limits of taste more than any other mainstream movie I can still think of, which left people either revelling or reviled.

Blood and gore fill the screen with the same kind of gusto which is normally reserved for hardcore horror films: organs and limbs are sliced and smashed with stomach turning vigour, while Chelios and his surrounding company of miscreants turn the air bright blue. If you thought the language in Crank was bad, High Voltage is likely to be a hard movie to beat in its swear words to dialogue ratio, with Statham spitting out the c-word more times than I’ve ever heard before. It’s amazing, looking back, that I didn’t try to give it five stars in cinematic review (You did. - Ed).

There’s a twisted beauty in watching Statham tear up the screen in such spectacular fashion and I can imagine few actors that would throw themselves so wholeheartedly (no pun intended) into such an insane film, managing to convince us that he could actually connect himself to a car battery, via jump leads to his tongue and nipple and then run a couple of miles without blinking. Now where in the hell in the third one?

12. The Mechanic

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

Back 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 then handed directorial duties over to West for The Expendables 2. 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 – he’s also reteamed with Statham for a third time in the forthcoming Heat remake, recently retitled Wild Card, with a fine cast that also includes Stanley Tucci, Sofia Vergara and Milo Ventimiglia.

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.

11. Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels

“'Too late, too late!' will be the cry, when the man with the bargains has passed you by.”

Lock, Stock was the film that gave Statham his big break, apparently after French Connection (who he 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 instantly iconic and so cool that 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 part it was so I could watch them after all the hype had washed away and judge them on their own merits. It proved a wise decision as Lock, Stock (like Trainspotting) turned out to be a work of unique genius and one that's still as downright thrilling and hysterical as ever. You hear the term ‘modern classic’ bandied about on a regular basis, but it’s utterly deserved when it comes to the oft imitated gangster flick. Plus it gave the film world Jason Statham and there’s no arguing with that as far as merits go.

The film would place higher on this list if the rating was based on the quality of the film alone, but since Statham is one part of a much bigger cast, with less of a spotlight on him than in Snatch, it should probably slot in right here.

10. 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 (still building 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 it's half way through, just to open with a scene of The Stath beating hoodies up with a hurley while quipping about carpet.

9. 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 some years ago, 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 high concept and I love it. Sadly the film's director David R Ellis passed away last year, as his work was always appreciated here at Den Of Geek

Statham 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. Ever since his villainous turn I’ve always thought it would be great to see him playing a rotter in an existing mainstream action franchise and it looks like I’ve finally got my wish with Fast & Furious 7 next year. I’d always had Stath facing off against Daniel Craig in a Bond movie in my mind, but who’s to say that still can’t happen.

Cellular sees Kim Basinger crying and pouting a lot (something she’s perfected over the years), 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 and, more relevantly, because both she and Chris Evans have the honour of appearing in two completely different Statham films on this list (see: London).

8. Hummingbird (aka Redemption)

“You've got a knife? I've got a spoon.”

In Hummingbird, The Stath plays a homeless veteran who’s given an accidental opportunity at a second chance, when circumstances lead him to an unoccupied flat and the tools needed to assume a different, more fortunate life. The film depicts London in a hauntingly beautiful light, while managing to avoid easy categorisation, as it contains drama, tragedy, violence, romance and redemption. It’s a movie that, on release, seemed to draw a wider appreciation from audiences who up to that point had been less engaged with his more action fuelled antics and it's well worth checking out, especially as Statham’s performances continue to get stronger with each film he makes.

Hummingbird is surprising in many ways, with surreal imagery punctuating the visual aesthetic, which also includes some of the most striking depictions of the neon lit streets of London yet. The main character of Jones fits more of an anti-hero role, as he struggles to fit in to normal society while trying to stay on the right path and gives Jason Statham a chance to finally show a wounded vulnerability that’s not normally at the heart of his characters.

It also sees Statham back to the more dramatic, character based roles that have peppered his career, much to the surprise of the casual viewer I imagine. Certainly in press circles there was much made of his break from the action movie mould into more serious acting, but it’s worth pointing out that all of his Guy Ritchie collaborations (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch and Revolver) as well as the likes of The Bank Job and London were all a world apart from the glorious insanity of the Crank and Transporter sequels, which really helped to cement his career as an action icon.

7. 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 on this list 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.

If Crank (below) represents one half of his career and the more extreme fans that embrace it, then The Bank Job is truly the respectable choice and the flipside of his work. It’s always a sign of those who appreciate the fact that Stath isn’t just an action hero, as bemoaned above. The Bank Job was released just before his action persona was fully established.

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’ he starred in. 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 were baying for her character’s blood so vocally that the studio changed the ending.

6. 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.

Stallone’s support of Statham has resulted in yet more great work since, with Homefront below providing one of their best collaborations to date, though Sly was only responsible for scripting duties on that (I say ‘only’ as if he wasn’t an Oscar nominated writer). So I still maintain that if someone as experienced as Stallone entrusts the future of action to Statham, then who are we to stand in the way?

5. Snatch

“You show me how to control a wild fucking gypsy and I'll show you how to control an unhinged, pig-feeding gangster."

While Lock, Stock and Snatch both used Guy Ritchie’s penchant for casting large groups of fantastically eclectic actors, the latter gave Statham a much beefier role and a real chance to build on his charismatic and comical debut turn in their joint debut.

As Turkish, Stath is our light-hearted narrator through the blackly funny series of disastrous and ever escalating events, all set within the seedy world of gangsters and underground boxing. It’s a shame that at the time of release there was an air of cynicism surrounding Ritchie’s choice to make another crime caper in a similar vein to Lock, Stock, for while both films feel connected they’re both entirely great films and still stand head and shoulders above most other British gangster movies and, in fact, most contemporary British films full stop.

The uniformly excellent cast, brutally sharp script and Ritchie’s (now trademark) visual flair really have made Snatch a timeless classic - that it’s set in a world that’s so faceless in its grime and time means that it will always exist within its own cinematic bubble. A recent re-watch also made me yearn for a reunion between Statham and Ritchie, as it’s been too long since Stath had this kind of role, and that’s despite loving him above all else for being an action hero.

It’s also always a film that’ll bring a smile to my face by title alone, as back when I worked in retail the DVD was released and I took great delight in having people ask me “Have you got any Snatch left?” Puerile? Yes. But it sure made the day go quicker.

4. Homefront

“That's my fuckin’ house, anyone who comes around it again will find me standing in it.”

Homefront was by far the strongest film that The Stath released in 2013, as it seemed to take the best elements from his others that year – the charming humour and sporadically brutal violence from Parker and the more dramatic, character based work in Hummingbird – and combine them into a fantastically tense action thriller.

The film clocks in at a brisk 95 minutes, making for a lean piece of filmmaking which helps sustain the tension perfectly, as once the explosive opening sets the story up, events escalate quickly for Statham’s character, Broker, and his daughter (a great performance by  Izabela Vidovic) in a small southern town where feuds are still rife. The local meth heads, led by James Franco’s Gator, inevitably think it’s a good idea to employ their idiotic scare tactics on a man who we know has the ability to break them all in half, but the constant ebb and flow between the two factions makes for compelling viewing, as the film is constantly on the boil – their tactics grow increasingly more violent and so do his acts of retaliation. There’s always been an utterly gratifying thrill to be had from watching movies about an outsider dispensing his own justice in a small town, and Homefront is no exception.

It’s great to see Stath continue on his upward trajectory, as the characters he plays continue to become increasingly more dimensional, stretching his range as an actor while allowing his physicality to shine through in a more understated, but no less effective manner. That said, I’m still desperate for a third Crank film.

3. Safe

“Trees ‘n’ shit.”

I really can’t get enough of Safe. Ever since the cinematic release I’ve championed the film and it’s since become a beer and pizza favourite that’s enforced on any guest that hasn't had the pleasure of seeing it. If that makes it sound as if a night chez Bowles involves forcible Statham viewings regardless of personal preference, you’d be right.

The fight scenes in Safe are easily some of his best and entail some of the finest bone crunching chaos committed to celluloid that the West has ever offered. Action aside though, 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 to 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 flick through 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, 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 young 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. Superb stuff.

2. The Transporter

“You don’t need your mouth to pee.”

It’s always a hard decision to decide between The Transporter and Crank for the top spot, as I love them both, but the unique lunacy of Crank always edges it ahead. The Transporter though, was what kick-started the whole crazy love affair in the first place, as it marked the start of Stath’s ascension to action movie king after his supporting role in The One brought him to the attention of stunt legend (and The Transporter’s director) Corey Yuen, who then cast him in the lead role as Frank Martin and set about giving Statham the first of his fight fuelled franchises.

I picked up the film in the now deceased Blockbusters’ ex-rental section, which always provided a ripe choice of action flicks – it’s a place where I 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. The plot is a simple good versus evil yarn that we all know inside out, but the fight scenes are just 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.

On the film's commentary Statham himself bemoans how, in cutting the fights, an element of the tempo within the choreography was 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, but one day perhaps.

Still, it was the first time he’d been the solo star in an action film, and he seized his chance to shine and the world has never been the same since.

1. Crank

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

It’s going to take one hell of a movie to supplant Crank for the top spot, as no matter how much his future movies may improve in terms of acting and production values, there’s unlikely to be one that tops the sight of him standing atop a motorbike in a Christ pose, bottom exposed to the world in a hospital gown, while Harry Nilsson’s Everybody’s Talkin’ plays out.

Crank is such an incredibly absurd and exploitative treasure and one whose sheer thrill ride value has never worn out. It also 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 are, and that Red Bull does indeed give you wings.

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 (strippers having their breast implants leaking out of bullet holes, in Crank: High Voltage proved a little too much for many), 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.

It’s difficult not to feel a certain kinship with those who choose Crank as their favourite Statham movie, as it’s independent in spirit and unapologetically maniacal in every way. Of the intervieweees we’ve spoken to over the years, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, Seth Rogen and Rupert Grint have all championed it, while James McAvoy succinctly picked it because “he got the line, "Does it look like I've got c*nt written on my head?" and that is the best line I've ever heard in a film". Bravo Mr McAvoy. Bravo.

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