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Action films might seem like the cornerstone of American cinema, but some of the all-time greats have come from nations around the world and that number continues to grow today. Seeing that Killer Elite stars two Brits, was directed by an Northern Irishman and filmed in Wales and Australia, what better way to celebrate then by looking the 10 greatest — as we see them —of all time. Accompanying each star is a clip of them at their finest.
10. Gerald Butler
Before becoming an actor, Gerald Butler trained to be a lawyer but turned his back on that profession. He had roles in the horror movie Dracula 2000 and the musical Phantom of the Opera before playing King Leondias in 300 where he found his calling: action. In 300, Butler was able to buff himself up and show off his credentials for fighting with swords, shields and spears and delivering speeches and one-liners. But since 300, Butler’s career has been mixed, starring in good movies like RocknRolla and How to Train Your Dragon have been countered with Gamer and Law Abiding Citizen. Still, if Butler can find the right roles he can continue to rise as an action star.
9. Yun-Fat Chow
Yun-Fat Chow is a Hong Kong superstar and most of his best action movies were helmed by John Woo in his heroic bloodshed movies. He has shown to be both a talented actor and decent at martial arts, particularly at John Woo’s kung-fu style of action. Career highlihgts include the "A Better Tomorrow" trilogy, Hard Boiled and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
8. Jason Statham
Before Jason Statham was cast in Guy Ritchie’s first two movies, he was a model and a member of the British Driving Team. Since starring in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, Statham has been able to define himself as an action hero, earning himself the Frank Martin role in The Transporter series. He is one of the few pure action stars to emerge in the last decade. There is a lot of joy to seeing Statham fighting in movies and he's grown strong enough as a star that he can stand firmly alongside Sylvester Stallone and Jet Li as he did in The Expendables.
7. Jackie Chan
After the death of Bruce Lee, Hong Kong cinema was thrown into a state of chaos. Filmmakers and studios literally looked for the next Bruce Lee, even making movies like Bruce Lee: The Man, The Myth and The Clones of Bruce Lee. Jackie Chan was able to rise to the forefront with Drunken Master. He was very different; he brought comedy into martial arts movies and has become an international superstar ever since. As well as his physical style of comedy, Chan showed he was a great fighter and willing to do most of his stunts (God knows what insurance companies think when Chan is around). He has also had success in Hollywood, appearing in the Rush Hour series and The Karate Kid (where he got to show his dramatic side).
6. Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold Schwarzenegger is the definition of an action star, a huge hulk of a man who could handle a gun and deliver a one-liner without so much as thinking. He came from a period of action heroes that included the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Bruce Willis and Schwarzenegger was the king of them all. He has starred in some of the most popular action movies ever: Conan the Barbarian, Terminator and sequel, Predator and Total Recall. His abilities as an actor are limited and for some strange reasons directors made him play American characters despite having a thick Austrian accent, but many have made it work. This scene from Terminator 2: Judgement Day shows everything that made Schwarzenegger great.
5. Michelle Yeoh
Michelle Yeoh is sadly the only woman to make this list, (the beautiful Ziyi Zhang fell just short). Hailing from Malaysia, Yeoh made most of her movies in Hong Kong. Despite not being a trained martial artist she is a trained dancer and uses her training for fighting and performing stunts. She is a capable actor having appeared in Sunshine and Memoirs of a Geisha, but it is her action roles that got her on this list. She was one of the toughest Bond girls, someone who could easily hold her own.
4. Jet Li
Bruce Lee dominated the '70s, the '80s and part of the '90s was Jackie Chan’s time, but much of the '90s belonged to Jet Li, the Wushu champ who become a major star in Hong Kong, China and Hollywood. Training from the age of eight, President Nixon even asked if he would like to be one of his bodyguards. He responded by saying, "I don't want to protect any individual. When I grow up, I want to defend my one billion Chinese countrymen!" He even got to play Wushu legend Huo Yuanjia in Fearless and quick style of fighting resorted to Richard Donner asking Li to slow down when filming Lethal Weapon 4. There is no denying there is a lot of entertainment to be had watching Li beating various bad guys and sometimes good guys in his movies.
3. Sean Connery
Like Schwarzenegger, Sean Connery started his career as a bodybuilder before becoming an actor. He was an unknown when he got the Bond role, beating off the likes of Cary Grant, Patrick McGoohan and David Niven. Connery’s Bond was cool, suave, resourceful and a fine action star. He is considered by the majority of Bond fans as the best Bond. But even after Bond he continued in action roles and proved that older men can still kick-ass. He was a highlight of Time Bandits, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Highlander and of course, The Rock.
2. Tony Jaa
Compared to the likes of Jet Li and Jackie Chan, Thailand’s Tony Jaa is a new kid on the block for material arts stars but he has already made a great impact. He made a real splash with Ong Bak back in 2003, which advertised that he did every stunt himself. The results brought his Muay Thai fighting style to a worldwide audience. Jaa has shown he is a great action star in the Ong Bak series and The Protector because of his fighting ability and like his idol Jackie Chan, does most of his own stunts. But he'll have to learn English if he wants to break into Hollywood and have an audience beyond the material arts crowd. But I do urge you to see Ong Bak and The Protector.
1. Bruce Lee
I know this is slightly cheating because Bruce Lee was born in San Francisco, but he grew up in Hong Kong and had Chinese parents, so I think he counts. After playing Kato in The Green Hornet TV series, Lee made his name in Hong Kong and his influence helped make Hong Kong cinema become the third biggest in the world. He only made four full movies, but they are four excellent material arts movies. There is no underestimating his influence on material arts; he had a number of protégés and turned Hong Kong cinema from mindless swordplay to dramatic storytelling in an action setting. His quick, skilled and committed style won him fans the world over and despite dying at the young age of 32, his popularity is everlasting. Enjoy this video showing why Bruce Lee is the only man Chuck Norris ever feared.