The Action Hero Championship Belt: Your Emails

After reading four days of email responses to my Action Hero Championship Belt column from last Thursday, I now wish the following things: that I had created a second, Intercontintental hero belt (for lower-budget action movies and foreign movies); recognized Jack Bauer as the only TV crossover belt holder (maybe in 2003-04); given a belt to 1996 Sean Connery (for The Rock) as a career achievement award more than anything; taken better care of 2006 Gerard Butler in 300; mentioned 2000 Russell Crowe (for Gladiator); and made certain that I wasn’t the only person on the planet who liked Daylight (because I think I am).

Whatever. What’s done is done. Here’s a mega-sampling of feedback for that column. Thanks to everyone who wrote in.

Name: Benjamin Swan
City: Brooklyn, NY
Disagree with you on Bullitt because Goldfinger (1964) was the first action movie. While neither Dr. No or From Russia with Love fill that description, Goldfinger’s sole purpose was to generate an action hero with mythical heroic attributes and let him kick some ass.

Name: Vinny
City: Allston, MA
How could you not follow the WWE’s lead and also include an Intercontinental Action Hero Belt? It would be a great way to honor the lesser stars, especially when viewing it as the “workhorse title.” Van Damme may have never been the top guy, but he could have held the IC hero title half a dozen times, similar to Chris Jericho’s career.

Name: Ari
City: Hamilton
When I read the list initially, I was disappointed with the lack of representation of Asian action stars. I understand why they weren’t included (no buzz in the US), but they warranted more of a mention. That being said, I think the Intercontinental action hero belt is a great idea. In wrestling, the IC belt went to the guy who was the best worker in the business and, although he may not look like Hulk Hogan (and thus represent the company to the masses), could entertain the fans night in and night out with in-ring ability.

Moreover, the guy that would have been a longtime IC Action belt champ was Jackie Chan. Although his early work was not big in America (it was massive in Hong Kong), he put out one great performance after another. He did all his own crazy stunts and fight choreography to boot. He is basically that smaller wrestler who is known in Japan and Mexico as fantastic but never got his big break until he got older and time was given for his genius to come through. Chris Jericho or Chris Benoit are guys that come to mind as equivalents. Chan was in the mix from 1978-1998 with a stretch of working that rivals any action star on earth; Drunken Master, Young Master, Dragon Lord, Project A, The Protector, Armour of God, Project A Part II, Police Story II, Dragons Forever, Operation Condor, Super Cop, Twin Dragons (Double Impact before JCVD did it), Crime Story, Legend of Drunken Master, Rumble in the Bronx, First Strike, Mr. Nice Guy and Rush Hour. He may not have held the Intercontinental belt every year, but he probably had 2-3 sustained runs.

Name: Dan
City: San Jose, CA
I cannot accept Jackie Chan winning 2007’s belt. Did you see Rush Hour 3? It’s horrible, and at no point did you think he could win in a fight unless he got lucky. I think 2007 should just be a vacant belt year to remind everybody that nothing good existed.

Name: Alec
City: Oklahoma City
You haven’t seen many Jackie Chan movies, have you? Watch this clip (and wait for the part with the ladder) — This happened during your alleged Nick Cage title run. Later, in the same movie, he fights underwater while bleeding, in a tank surrounded by real sharks. And this isn’t even one of his 10 best movies. Giving him the belt “by default” for the travesty that is Rush Hour 3 is like giving Tom Brady the title of greatest Pat “by default” because Hernandez is in prison (too soon? too soon.)

Name: John Curtis
City: Woodland Hills, CA
You nailed almost every section. Almost. Because you clearly brushed over the 1994-1995 time period, with a causal letting Arnold keep the title through Eraser. While I agree that True Lies was incredible, you missed a major contender for the remainder of 1994 and into 1995: the one and only Jackie Chan with The Legend of Drunken Master and Rumble in the Bronx. Jackie could have easily taken the title away for that one and a half year period with his two tales of defending his own culture against the perils of foreigners. One on his own soil, and the other in … the Bronx. How can you go wrong with that?!

Name: Paul
City: Lewisburg, PA
I am appalled, APPALLED, at your total disrespect for Jackie Chan. You don’t even acknowledge his existence until 2007?! Jackie has been kicking ass since the early ’70s, he was in Enter the Dragon for godsakes! He’s just been so good for so long that it’s hard to pick only one era where he was the champ. Sly and Arnold may have had bigger moments, but if there were a greatest action star of all time belt it would go Jackie Chan.

Name: Shane
City: Durham, NC
I know this is a U.S.-based podcast, but recognizing Jackie Chan’s action stardom by pointing out Rush Hour 3 is like bringing up Michael Jordan just for the last year of his stint with the Wizards. It’s wrong and misleading. Jackie Chan is like the Arvydas Sabonis of action stars. He spent his prime years overseas being the greatest action star in the world while the U.S. developed its own campy action schtick. The best we got were a few decent but neutered later pieces and some badly-translated, watered-down imports. It’s tragic.

Name: Taylor Pickett
City: Seattle
Thank you so much of acknowledging TONY JAA (name must be in all caps). My friend and I have used “TONY JAA!!!!!” as a word to describe anything amazing happening in front of our eyes. Also, we think he may actually kill all those people he hits in his movies.

Name: Tony Davis
City: Salem, OR
Giving the 2007 action hero belt to Jackie Chan is preposterous, when Tony Jaa was Jackie Chan on acid. Thousands of college males like me from 2003-2008 would stay up late drinking and watching Tony Jaa kill people, and I don’t mean in the movie sense. He actually killed people. My buddies and I would debate how many Thai prisoners they killed filming Ong-bak 1 and 2. Go back and watch that montage, he is hitting the shit out of people. He beats up a guy that threw an elephant ….That’s right, THREW AN ELEPHANT!!! Even with that you still knew Tony was going to win. The Protector was Taken before its time. His elephant was taken. Why? Who the hell cares Tony was going to kill everyone to get it back. In the end though how many action stars can we tie to Mark Cuban. That should be all that matters. Now back to watching the Blazers slowly implode, and them falling out of the playoffs but not enough to get our pick back.

Name: Michael F
City: Cincinnati
As I read your Action Hero Championship Belt piece, it occurred to me that your idea for the differing sizes of NBA MVP trophies from the Book of Basketball could easily be adapted to this article. For example, Jackie Chan’s belt in 2007 could have been five pounds and made out of wood, and Arnold and Sly would have had massive 40-pound belts for their respective reigns.

Name: Chris
City: Chicago
An argument can be made for Russell Crowe in Gladiator in 2000. You have Cage in that spot for Gone in Sixty Seconds and, although memorable, he doesn’t kick much ass in it. Meanwhile, Crowe beats mounds of ass in Gladiator. Plus it’s an all time great. My lacrosse coach took us to see that movie before our state championship game in high school that year. It was the greatest inspirational coaching move ever. We beat the shit out of the other team.

Name: Jared Thomas
City: Johnson City, TN
Gladiator should be considered an action movie which mean 2000 Russell Crowe should be added to this list. Your punishment for missing this — Patrick Beverly blows out his knee and ends all chances of a malee with the Thunder and Rockets.

Name: Chad Jackson
City: Wilmington, DE
You missed Gladiator, a game-changer that spawned dozens of ancient-themed spinoffs. Crowe wasn’t too far removed from Bud White in LA Confidential, and clearly this was the “dead ball era” of action movies that gave Nicolas Cage (NIC CAGE!!) the title. If only Russell wasn’t trying for “tough guys with a heart” roles like Cinderella Man, Gladiator could have easily been a stepping stone to a title.

Name: Bob Robertson
City: Lincoln, NE
You brought up the “Vin Problem” about how he’s only likable in Fast movies. Sit down and watch xXx again — it’s of a place and time every much as Arnold and Stallone movies were of their place and time. It’s basically a 90 minute Mountain Dew commercial from the late ’90s. Everything in it is XTREME (with an “X”) back when everything being marketed was XTREME. Back when ESPN 2 was trying to be the X-Games network (with the commercial tag line ESPN, ESP IN YOUR FACE). Imagine the pitch meeting for this movie — “Okay, so we’re picturing Vin Diesel as, get this, a Generation X James Bond. Everything he does, is XTREME” and the execs, trying to be hip and cool, just greenlit the idea.

There are so many ridiculous XTREME sports packed into this movie for absolutely no reason. My favorite one: xXx is in an outdoor cafe with his XTREME Bond girl, and a sniper is on a bell tower. He grabs a silver platter from a waiter, and blinds the guy with the reflection, and he misses his shot. Then, he starts running down the street, and turns to a stairwell. Now, he could have just run down the stairwell, jumped down it, but that’s for baby boomer squares. xXx takes that silver platter and GRINDS THE RAIL down the stairs, and kick flips the platter to boot. For no reason at all, other than he’s Vin Fucking Diesel, and he does it his way. If he would have made xXx 2 (instead of Ice Cube derailing the franchise), xXx could have had a five movie run. So I disagree with you — Vin is watchable in other action roles, he just doesn’t take the right ones.

Name: Harper
City: Provo
In your “Action Hero Championship Belt” column you wrote: “And now, everyone under 30 knows Steve McQueen only as the guy who directed 12 Years a Slave. Bizarre.”

As a 26 year old naive trophy generation piece of shit I am offended. Not only do I know who action hero Steve McQueen is, I saw him in movies you didn’t (or hardly) mention like The Great Escape and The Magnificent 7. Which you could have pointed out as being the birth of one of America’s great bad ass movie icons. He was not top billing in The Magnificent 7, he was in The Great Escape, but shared huge parts of the movie with other greats. There are sub-30 year-olds that know a thing or two. And one of them one day is going to grow up to be like you.

Name: Joey
City: Stratton, ME
Using Steve McQueen and Bullitt in 1968 is an ok place to start the Action Belt except that Lee Marvin was in The Dirty Dozen and Point Blank both in 1967. And if ever there was a guy who couldn’t be killed, watch those movies.

Name: Eric
City: Withheld
You made a mistake when you wrote,”Die Hard unleashed a never-ending slew of hero battling terrorists in a skyscraper/train/airplane/cruise ship/stadium/bus.” To which I quote Hans Gruber in rebuttal, “Who said we were terrorists?” Did you put that in there just to see if anyone was paying attention? A large part of the premise is that they are not terrorists, they are thieves! I quote the GOAT again, “I am an exceptional thief, Mrs. McClane.”

Name: Sam
City: New York
I have way too much time on my hands, so I made a timeline of the AHCB. To be updated with 2nd place, 3rd, etc. Hope you like it!

Name: Michael
Portland, OR
You wrote that you don’t know what happened in the mid 2000s to the action movie genre. What happened was that we all bought HDTVs, then we watched Jack Bauer kick ass every week for five years.

Name: Sam Robb
City: Portland, OR
How can you not even mention Kiefer Sutherland in the Belt conversation? For a solid 10 years, Jack Bauer was all that stood between the U.S. and complete terrorist destruction. And inadvertently may have readied our nation for the acceptance of an African-American president (David Palmer). We all knew that whatever Bauer faced, he’d prevail in glorious asskicking fashion. We didn’t need to go to the movies to see the best action star — he was right in our living rooms every week. Jack Bauer was unstoppable.

Name: Alex Siskin
City: West L.A.
Was psyched to see Denzel grabbing the belt in 2004. The Equalizer trailer will dribble out soon enough now, and it’s pretty much everything your article would want it to be. Denzel has watched Neeson very carefully, and as a former champ he knows what it takes to get the belt. The movie appears to be a crowd pleaser of the highest order. Justice is coming in September.

Name: Josh S.
City: San Francisco
I STILL talk to friends of mine (younger ones) about seeing T2 in the theatre and how ground-breakingly awesome that was. I will never forget how I felt the moment that the T-1000 poured himself into the helicopter cockpit and told the pilot to get out. I can still hear the audience collectively lose their shit on the floor.

Anyway, Nic Cage violates Rule no. 1. I never believed Nic Cage could kick anyone’s ass. If he was in a fight with Tom Cruise, I take Tom Cruise. Or with Travolta. I’d believe it if Travolta destroyed him. INSTEAD, I say that you go with Jet Li. I re-watched the scene in Lethal Weapon 4 where he kicks the shit out of Riggs while dismantling the gun one-handed like 15 times. In that movie, Romeo Must Die, Kiss of the Dragon, The One (underrated AND with Jason Statham who couldn’t hold Jet Li’s jock yet so they had to have Jet Li fight Jet Li instead), and Hero, there is absolutely NOTHING that I didn’t think he was capable of. AND he made Jackie Chan look like a total joke. It was like when JCVD started making movies and Steven Seagal was like, “that guy only kicks with one leg and he calls himself a martial artist. I could do that.” (Or when Bonds watched while Sosa and McGwire started hitting all those home runs and Bonds was all F–K THAT!) That’s how it felt when Jet Li came on the scene.

Name: Brian
City: Illinois
What do you have against Jet Li? Lethal Weapon 4, Romeo Must Die, The One, Kiss of the Dragon, Hero between 1998-2003. In Lethal Weapon 4, he steals the spotlight from a previous champion in their own franchise. The One he plays 100 different versions of himself and has the epic fight in the end, while upstaging Jason Statham. Kiss of the Dragon is the meh movie with still some crazy fight scenes that you still end up watching. Also, Unleashed and Fearless in 05/06. Unleashed has the best description in fewest words possible: Jet Li, unleashed. You didn’t even give him an honorable mention when he is easily the most believable of all action stars because he was actually a fighter at one point and didn’t bulk up on steroids to appear to be stronger.

Name: Keith Matheny
City: Detroit
Man, did you drop the ball in ’71. This 48-second clip alone should be enough to cause you to hang your head in shame at your grievous omission Tom Laughlin as Billy Jack was the prototypical “slow to anger but God help you when you finally do” action hero. This nearly forgotten (as you and the Grantland staff obviously prove) movie is full of great fight scenes, one-liners and general bad-assery.

Name: Jonathan Lampert
City: Vancouver, BC
It is long overdue for someone to publicly sing the praises of the 1996 film The Long Kiss Goodnight. Not only is Gena Davis one of the all-time ass whuppers in this film, but the irony with which it is done is fun, clever, and surprisingly sub-textual. Stallone in Daylight cannot come close the the fun of watching a frumpy soccer mom viciously kill an enemy with a pie plate. A correction is in order. And beware those who make muffins!

Name: David
City: Houston
Left one out that at least deserves an honorable mention — Antonio Banderas in Desperado. “El Mariachi” takes down Arnold in Eraser and True Lies easily, and he’s certainly more of a John McClane.

Name: Chris
City: San Francisco
I’m 31, so The Matrix came out in the summer of 1999 when I was 16 yrs old and I can’t even explain the feeling me and my best buddy had walking out of that theater. I mean, “were we living in the Matrix”? “Can you believe the guy from a Walk in the Clouds was the chosen one?” If you are gonna give Cage the belt for Face/Off and Con Air I say bravo, but to not include Neo in favor of Snake Eyes, I think is a big mistake. Ask anyone who is 30 what the significance of the blue pill had on them.

Name: Ariel
City: Houston
The only thing you forgot about Schwarzenegger in the Terminator series was that OJ almost got that role instead of him, only James Cameron didn’t think that people could take OJ as a serial killer seriously. How amazing is that? And what is the ‘What-if’ ranking on that one? What would have happened to Schwarzenegger’s career, and what would have happened to the Terminator series?

Name: John Benton
City: New York
Don’t you think Rowdy Roddy Piper deserves mention for 1988? Yes, 1988 was packed for action movie stars and it was only one really good movie (violating Rule no. 3), but Piper definitely passes Rule no. 1 that he “can he kick everyone’s ass” test. I bet even now he could take out Vin Diesel (no offense!). He ad-libbed the epic line “I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and I’m all out of bubble gum” line. Roddy didn’t just act the bad-ass, he was the bad-ass. In fact, I’m not convinced Piper was not given a script — I think they just handed him props and filmed the reaction. They Live also had the greatest, longest fight scene in any movie. It still stands up, even by today’s standards. You telling me that Carl Weathers gets a shout-out, but not Piper?

Name: Marty Ward
City: Tamworth, Australia
Just when you think you have all the answers to the Action Hero Championship Belt … Roddy Piper changes the questions. Not sure whether he was the hardcore champ in 1988, or the ECW champ. All I know is that he’s all out of bubblegum.

Name: Kevin R.
City: Montclair, NJ
Although I agree with the majority of your action belt column, Vin Diesel was automatically disqualified from this list after breaking Rule No. 1 in Fast Five. When my buddies and I first saw Fast Five, we were in love with the film — with the exception of one issue we had in regards to the believability of the film. It didn’t have anything to do with the motor vehicle action sequences (the opening scene could happen, right?). Rather, we all left the theater thinking THERE IS NO WAY VIN DIESEL BEATS DWAYNE DOUGLAS JOHNSON IN A SMACKDOWN!

Name: Allan Barnes
City: Philadelphia
I’m driving the campaign bus for Tim Riggins to succeed Paul Walker (RIP) in the Fast movies.

Name: Beeso
City: Brisbane
Can’t believe how much you underrated Damon/Bourne. What made those movie great is that Damon just looked like an ordinary guy, someone who blended in. But when he exploded, I believed that he would kill anyone more than any other action star I can ever remember. The airport interrogation with the dumb CIA agent is the one that sticks in my mind, completely overmatched and the fight has no frills, no unnecessary swings got in by the CIA guy, just boom, done. I understand that Damon wasn’t an action star, that he was just acting the role but still, those movies kick every action movies arse in that era, including your beloved Fast and Furiouserererererererer franchise.

Name: Chris W
City: Pittsburgh, PA
I don’t know if you’re not a Kevin Smith fan, but there was already a Good Will Hunting 2, except it’s called Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season (and it’s a scene from Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back).

Name: Jake
City: Chicago
I know that you recognized Bruce Willis for Die Hard With a Vengeance under your 1994-1996 space, but can he get some points for Pulp Fiction? I know that he wasn’t the focal point of the movie, but he has to win some points between the apathetic killing of the other boxer with his bare hands, casually killing John Travolta with Travolta’s own gun right as his toaster strudels finish cooking, the gradually escalating weapon selection scene (Where he goes from a hammer to a baseball bat to a chainsaw and then settles on the samurai sword), and then goes and kills the weird redneck dude with said samurai sword. Plus the Zed’s Dead one-liner!

Name: Rodney
City: Houston
For 1986’s belt you have Stallone for Cobra. I think it should have gone to Sigourney Weaver for Aliens. You can’t tell me that Cobra is a better action film than Aliens. At least she should get a biggest challenger nod. And this line is a classic.

Name: Andrew
City: Lexington, MA
How does Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley not get even the tiniest mention here? Aliens is one of the best action movies of all time and you totally forgot about it. Hell, who doesn’t answer Aliens when you ask them what the greatest sci-fi action movie is? I’d be okay if you didn’t give Weaver a belt for just one movie. But look what you did — you gave the belt to Sly for Cobra in 1986! Can you really tell me Cobretti is a better action hero than Ripley? Does Cobra have quotes like this and this? Can Cobra top the badassness of Ripley walking into an alien hive with an assault rifle duct-taped to a flamethrower to rescue a little girl? Didn’t think so. Game over man. Game over.

Name: Africa Belgrave
City: Brooklyn, NY
In your podcast, why were you and Wesley pretending like Hollywood refuses to LET black actors be the center/lead of a high budget action movie? Look at Marvel with all these movies coming out and all we get is lip-service about Black Panther. But we’re getting Dr. Strange and Ant-Man?

Name: Eric
City: Orlando
I can’t believe you missed making the point about how The Bride was so kick-ass that the NBA’s best player at the time adopted her identity!

Name: Paul W.
City: Crofton, MD
You forgot about Gerard Butler in 300!!! That movie was in 2006, and you think Statham’s Crank keeps the belt over that movie? Are you kidding me? Have you seen 300?

Name: Patrick
City: Memphis
By far the biggest omission in your column was not giving the 2006 belt to Gerard Butler for 300. Its the corollary to your own Oscar theory, but you need to wait 10 years before you decide who deserves the belt from that year. The generational gap is probably to blame for your oversight, but every guy in high school or college those years will remember 300 and Taken as the best action movies from the decade (and it isn’t even close). He also fits your own criteria better than Statham. Butler is Arnold or Sly 2.0, in the mold of the two runaway greats of action movies, He is clearly kicking everyone’s ass and knows it (and has a more distinctive accent/mumbling/grunting). Statham is much more of a Jason Bourne type, who you disqualified for the same reason. The body of work is closer, but 300, RocknRolla, and Gamer is a better run than Tranporter 2, Revolver, and Crank. Butler has two 6 o’clockers for sure, while Statham maybe has one. Butler not winning is a greater travesty than Nicholas Cage winning anything besides being the LeBron of receding hairlines. And finally, can’t you see the 300 franchise setting themselves up just like Vin Diesel and the Fast and Furious movies, Butler misses out on a sequel or two like Vin, then they revive the franchise by bringing the star back? It’s happening Simmons, mark my words.

Name: Yuval
City: Boston
Not mentioning The Raid (or The Raid II) in an article about action movies it’s a typical American blindness. Do you want to be an American or American’t? Start by watching the best fighting scene in The Raid which starts after 10 minutes and lasts for an hour and a half. Sorry Vin Diesel, you lost your 2011 belt to Iko Uwais.

Name: Eddie
City: Minneapolis
Have you seen The Raid? Go watch that, then watch The Raid 2. I think you need to put Iko Uwais on there as a super sleeper.

Name: Larry
City: Salt Lake
I’m not sure how Grantland’s home page can simultaneously run stories about the greatest action heroes of all time and The Raid 2 without listing Iko Uwais as a belt contender. Iko is clearly Rookie of the Year or Best New Artist of 2014. We caught the Raid 2 at Sundance and it is 150 minutes of non-stop action. The audience was literally clapping and cheering throughout. Iko was so incredible that I immediately watched his other movies. The man is bad and will beat the crap out of anyone. The Raid 2 passes your Fewer Words the Better test Iko + Asian Mobsters. Done! Perfect plot, loving husband and father cop duped into believing he’s entering a short undercover stint that lasts years and the only way back to his wife and son is to fight his way out. I should also mention The Raid 2 isn’t in English nor are any of his other movies. So, not only do I not care what the plot is for his next movie, I don’t even care what the characters are saying. I am there! See it now!

Name: Jackson
City: North Andover
Admittedly this was a “fun” column but your omissions and inconsistencies made it frustrating. You called it the “action hero championship belt” and then included a number of movies that aren’t action movies. Unforgiven (and many other Eastwood movies) is a western! It’s not close! Man on Fire is a thriller. Yes you said “action hero” and not “action movie”, but when you make Terminator 2, Rambo, and Die Hard the paragons, it’s obvious to anyone familiar with movies what you’re trying to talk about. There seemed to be some fundamental confusion here. It would have made more sense to call it the movie bad ass list or something like that.

Name: Shaune
City: Toms River, NJ
What killed the Action Movie? CGI. It’s unbelievable how many times studios believed that showing a computerized version of something blowing up looked and felt as awesome as watching something actually BLOW UP! Not only does it explain the death of the traditional action movie, but also 100% explains the seamless transition from Action Hero’s to super heroes. If we enter the movie already under the impression that 89% of what we see will be some kind of green screen, CGI, Hobgoblin-riding around on some ridiculous floating junk … we are primed to except that everything occurring is a part of some fantasy … and is not actually a plane exploding behind Nicholas Cage as he calmly walks toward the camera.

Name: Tony Cannestra
City: San Jose, CA
I viewed Rule no. 1 as way more important than the other rules. I would have given them a weighting system of something like 50%, 20%, 20%, and 10%. When I think back to 1999, and taking into account Rule no. 1, the movie that really made an impression on me was Mel Gibson’s Payback. While Cage’s 8MM was interesting, it wasn’t a traditional action movie, and for me, in that film, Cage did not meet the minimum bar for Rule no. 1. If you love Man on Fire, then I gotta believe you loved Gibson in Payback. He set an extremely high bar for Rule no. 1, and by the time he had ripped out that kid’s nosering while telling him “wrong answer”, I was completely bought into the fact that he was the toughest badass on the planet and that anyone he went up against was gonna end up completely beaten down. The fact that he was supposed to be a “bad guy” in the movie added to the weird feeling of rooting for him. He at least should have been in the Biggest Challenger section. I’m very disappointed, and I assume that Gibson is as well. You can probably expect to have him show up at your door sometime soon, drunk and shouting obscenities at you.

Name: Aaron
City: Richmond, VA
You didn’t mention Ryan Gosling in Drive? That movie alone should have given Gosling the belt for about six months. (Drive came out in September 2011, The Grey came out January 2012.) Don’t try to sell me on the fact that Gosling was in The Notebook and isn’t an action star. Drive fits all of your requirements.

Name: Amir Satvat
City: Cambridge, MA
Loved the piece on action stars. There were two video clips, though, that ARE action to me that you could have stood to also include. First, every Arnold scream from every movie. I couldn’t think of a more recognizable scream even if it were by Wilhelm himself: This and this. And, finally, Seagal breaking every bone in every movie. That clip is particularly great because of the simple, clear title of “Every Bone Steven Seagal Has Ever Broken.”

Name: Megan B.
City: Pittsburgh, PA
In your article on the action hero championship belt, when you introduce Liam Neeson and his acting history, you forgot to mention the film where it became obvious that this was his destiny — Darkman (1990). Fortunately, the day I read your article, my boyfriend received that movie in the mail, and although it wasn’t all there yet, you could see the beginnings of an action hero champion in that movie.

Name: Matt
City: New Orleans
You say you had no inkling of the Liam Neeson badassery that was to come. What about Rob Roy in 1995? He annihilates Tim Roth in the duel at the end. ANNIHILATES.

Name: Brandon
City: Reno
Channing Tatum over Arnold as a Neeson contender?! Really?!?! WTF Simmons! Arnold had Last Stand in 2013, Sabotage in 2014, and…. A BRAND NEW TERMINATOR IN 2015!!! How the HELL do you pick Magic Mike and The Vow over the GOAT making a comeback?! You picking action stars is like you picking football games. Fix your error!

Name: Colin Grask
City: Iowa
Enjoying the action belt column except for that 1996 Sly nod. That’s just dumb. Daylight is almost unwatchable. I know you love Sly more than anyone so I understand the weakness that led to this decision, but The Rock is still being shown on TV and on movie channels a lot. It’s got some of the best Connery lines of all time “You must never hesitate” and “Your best?! Losers always whine about their best! Winners go home and fuck the prom queen!”, and it has a great double cross when the psycho marines turn on the overly patriotic Ed Harris. This movie is the genesis for action-star Nic Cage. We get to watch him become a badass under Connery’s tutelage. Fix it. Now. Public apology and everything. This is worse than Okafor over Howard.

Name: Dan Leipold
City: Newark
You completely whiffed on 1996 — the year that Nic Cage saved San Francisco from VX gas, and year that Carla WAS the prom queen. A movie so good that Modern Warfare 2 stole its iconic prison-shower firefight 13 years later. That movie is 100 times better than Daylight, and was the start of Nic Cage’s reign of action movie dominance from ’96 to 2000.

Name: Xavier
City: Pittsburgh

Name: Joshua Book
City: Los Angeles
How can you possibly crown Nic Cage the 1997-2000 champ without even citing 1996’s The Rock, which is unquestionably the movie that made Nicholas Cage an action star? It’s the film that catalyzed his ascent (descent?) from the very talented, often quirky, sometimes character actor Nicolas Cage to the terrible-pauses-at-all-the-wrong-moments ultra-mega-action star Nic Cage. Without The Rock, you don’t have Con Air or Face Off or eventually National Treasure … maybe we still get The Wicker Man. The Rock is one of the greatest action movies of all time, and it’s unquestionably Michael Bay’s best movie.

The only, only reason for leaving that off is possibly that Nic Cage wasn’t the kick-ass ass kicking star in that movie. Connery was. But when he gets thrown through a wall during the climactic last fight scene and mutters to himself “I love pressure” just before popping a pellet of VX nerve gas into the face of the man choking him, he has become the man we now know and love.

Name: Ben Fox
City: St. Louis, MO
There is one key exception to your James Bond rule that needs to be made. And it’s Sean Connery’s performance as John Patrick Mason in The Rock in 1996. Without that film — Cage being paired up with Connery, acting as the nerdy foil/sidekick to the Scotsman’s completely badass/invincible SAS captain — Cage’s reign with the AHCB may never have come to pass. Tell me that Cage’s turn as Cameron Poe is not a carbon-copy, Americanized, younger John Mason.

• Both are (former) members of elite military groups of their respective countries.
• Both were sentenced to federal prison.
• Both are desperate to see their daughters after being released.
• Both are anti-hero protagonists that — at the outset — infiltrate the antagonist’s lair (Alcatraz and plane, respectively) without their knowledge.

Cage owes a lot to Connery for the action hero apprenticeship that was The Rock. Looking specifically at The Rock, though, Mason fits all of the AHCB criteria. He absolutely owned everyone in his way without any doubt that he was coming out on top. (Bonus points: his foes were ALL younger than him, to a man.) He tore up half of San Francisco in the obligatory car chase scene. He delivered the obligatory, unforgettably quotable one-liner: “Winners go home and fuck the prom queen.” All of those facts add up to a strong case for John Mason as 1996’s title winner. Particularly in light of the competition that year being particularly weak. I mean … Daylight? Come on, dude … you’re telling me a movie in which an aging Sly saves a bunch of people in a collapsed tunnel trumps a salty 65-year old taking on a squad of highly-trained turncoat soldiers threatening civil biological warfare?

Filed Under: Movies, Championship Belt

Bill Simmons is the founding editor of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, click here.

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