Compared to the greased-up, musclebound machismo of the 80s -- which stands as the apex of the action genre -- the 90s stand as an undoubtedly strange time for action movies.
By 1990, the genre's biggest names had begun transitioning into lighter fare. The resulting vacancy atop Action Hero Mountain created a unique battle for the throne amongst new wave martial artists (Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal), 80s holdovers (Kurt Russell, Bruce Willis), brooding-but-violent hunks (Antonio Banderas, Will Smith) and, somehow, Nicolas Cage.
As a result, action movies became much more diverse than ever before. Directors started to explore the genre's nooks and crannies, and felt increasingly unafraid to get weird with it. At the same time, production values exploded, the sheer number of action movies ballooned, and audiences were inundated with blockbusters seemingly every week.
Due to the overwhelming amount of unique action flicks hitting the shelves, some were bound to slip through the cracks. In between the world losing their collective mind over Terminator 2 and The Matrix, some really excellent shoot-em-ups and blow-em-to-hells came and went without much fanfare. (Or, sometimes, absolute disdain.)
Whether misunderstood or overlooked, these deep cuts deserve better than the kick to the crotch they got from critics and/or audiences.
10. Die Hard With A Vengeance
Let's kick things off with a sequel that isn't necessarily underrated in and of itself, but deserves much more credit in the grand scheme of its franchise. Die Hard With a Vengeance isn't better than the original Die Hard (saying so would be downright blasphemous), but it is just as good.
After watching director Renny Harlin perform a rushed copy-and-paste job on Die Hard 2, John McTiernan returns to put a much more vulnerable (and hungover) McClane into a game of cat and mouse with Simon Gruber, older brother to Hans.
Nothing will ever beat John McClane uttering that first "yippee ki yay" or Hans Gruber being dropped -- in exaggerated slo-mo -- off the top of the Nakatomi Tower. But Die Hard With a Vengeance has its own set of standard-bearing moments: The "joyride" through Central Park, the helicopter chase, McClane standing in the middle of Harlem wearing a super racist sandwich board...
Samuel L. Jackson elevates this buddy cop version of Die Hard to its apex. The interactions between Willis and Jackson, who plays reluctant sidekick Zeus, are so golden they should be locked up in Fort Knox. The fact that so much of the film takes place over the phone and still manages to remain engaging for its entirety is a pretty substantial feat, too.