Well, we’ve upgraded our list of the mighty Statham’s finest movies, though it saddens me to say that in the years since this article’s first inception, we are still without a third Crank film, which the world needs now more than ever I’m sure you’ll agree.
Thankfully last year proved to be his most successful to date, certainly from a box office perspective, as he finally returned to the big screen as an out and out villain for the first time since Cellular, in the Fast & Furious mega-franchise, with his turn in Fast 7. Likewise Spy added another string to his bow, allowing self-parody in the most glorious way. Wild Card might not have taken a lot of money, but it at least allowed Statham to release another of his more independent-minded movies and made for a fine blend of action and black comedy.
While his productivity is normally so high that he has a multitude of movies lined up in any one year (some years ago I mentioned updating this piece to the man himself due to his insane workload, he cracked up and responded, “My productivity is overwhelming! ‘Have a fucking day off!’”) I think we’ll allow him 2017 to take a well-deserved break, with Mechanic: Resurrection his only film out this year.
We’ve also now accumulated quite the celebrity database covering what his peers vote for as their favorite 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 Ritchie. 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…
“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 considerably 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.
Buy now from Amazon: War
24. Transporter 3
“Nope, I am not ‘the gay’.”
Transporter 3 has, I believe, a unique honor 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 humor 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.
Buy now from Amazon: Transporter 3
23. 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 flirt between blood-soaked action and looking after children, their template seemed to become a necessary rite 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.
Buy now from Amazon: Gnomeo & Juliet
22. 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.
Buy now from Amazon: The One
21. 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.
Buy now from Amazon: The Expendables 2
20. 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 W.S. 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.
Buy now from Amazon: Death Race
19. 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?
Buy Now from Amazon: Transporter 2
“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.
Buy now from Amazon: London
17. 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’s 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.
Buy now from Amazon: The Italian Job
16. Wild Card
“I’ve been knocked down, blown up, lied to, shit on, and shot at, so nothing surprises me much anymore.”
One of the many reasons to be grateful for Jason Statham, is that it seems to have led to Simon West’s return to directing big, explosive action movies. Their other two collaborations have made this list, but Wild Card chalked them up a trilogy and a strong one at that.
Wild Card is far from the conventional movie that seemed inevitable when the “remake” was announced, as the trailer promised a certain amount of familiar action antics, with a little gambling on the side. The film that actually surfaced is more of a Dante-esque trip through one man’s addiction, that traps his in a place surrounded by colourful bad guys and the pervading sense that he’ll never escape his own personal hell.
Episodic in nature, it tells of Nick Wild’s encounter with everyone from an always joyfully sleazy Milo Ventimiglia, to a smitten young gambler who’s constant fawning and brush offs make him the filmic equivalent of how I imagine I’d be if encountering Statham in a bar.
Buy now from Amazon: Wild Card
15. 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.
Buy now from Amazon: The Mechanic
14. 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?
Buy now from Amazon: Crank 2
13. Fast 7
“You don’t know me, but you’re about to.”
The Expendables 3 might have missed a beat with its lack of violence and the side-lining of most of its best characters, but it’s like Fast 7 was there to make everything better. Not only did it set Statham up with a fantastically evil debut during the credits of part six, but also gave him a face-off against both The Rock and Vin Diesel. As if that wasn’t already verging on the kind of wish trilogy that Kinder have no doubt copyrighted, it also features Kurt Russell (a man who declined an appearance in The Expendables) in his first big action scene in years.
Fast 7 might not give Deckard Shaw as much screen time as his mauled brother, but it’s the quality here that counts and just those encounters above make the film infinitely stronger for his presence. I’m sure I can’t be alone in waiting for the day that Dwayne Johnson went toe to toe with The Stath, but even after all those years of expectation and hope, it still lived up to its promise.
The only slight glitch in casting Statham as a total bastard, is that a love of his work can have the inadvertent side effect of making you root for him instead of our trusty heroes, but then again that’s a trait I’ve always suffered from. It’s a testament to him though that, as I had expected, he’ll live to fight and maim another day, but it seems unlikely that he’ll be able to side-switch like so many of the others as he’s a full blown killer. I’m still hoping for some far-fetched future scenario where Luke Evans wakes from his coma, gets miraculously better and then fights with him side by side. That’s more the remit of Crank though, to be fair.
Buy now from Amazon: Fast 7
“During the threat of an assassination attempt, I appeared convincingly in front of congress as Barack Obama.”
Ah, Rick Ford. The most difficult aspect of including Spy on this list, was picking just one quote. Ideally this write up would just consist of his sublime dialogue, but then if you haven’t seen the film it would rob it of half the joy. Those of us that are familiar with the ins and outs of Stath’s work know that there’s almost always a vein of humor running throughout it, regardless of how action heavy it might be and it’s something he rightfully prides himself on.
Spy, however, gave him the chance to play a full-on parody of his action persona, which works better than it really has any right to. Ford embodies that awful kind of person that simply has to prove that whatever you’ve done, they’ve done it bigger and better, but his outlandish brags provide more and more hysteria instead of annoyance.
While I have a lot of love for Spy, like Fast 7 and several other films on this list, there’s not quite enough screen time for Statham to crack the top ten, though it’s mighty close. As a whole though, Spy proves that action comedies are always a surprising source of actual thrills when done well and the film as a whole, is as funny as it is exciting and would no doubt rank higher if this list belonged to Melissa McCarthy.
Buy now from Amazon: Spy
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.
Buy now from Amazon: Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels
“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.
Buy now from Amazon: Blitz
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. 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).
Buy now from Amazon: Cellular
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 categorization, 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.
Buy now from Amazon: Hummingbird
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.
Buy now from Amazon: The Bank Job
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 favorite 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 romanticize 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?
Buy now from Amazon: The Expendables
“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.
Buy now from Amazon: Snatch
“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 humor 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.
Buy now from Amazon: Homefront
“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 favorite 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 humor 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.
Buy now from Amazon: Safe
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.
Buy now from Amazon: The Transporter
“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 favorite 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.
Buy now from Amazon: Crank