HomeUncategorizedEvery Liam Neeson Action Movie, Ranked Worst to Best

Every Liam Neeson Action Movie, Ranked Worst to Best

This list was updated in March 2024 to include In the Land of Saints and Sinners.

“I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career, skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you. I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.”

It’s the monologue that would redefine a career, as 2008’s Taken saw Liam Neeson, previously known as a solemn, melancholy character actor (with a Best Actor nomination for his dignified turn as Oskar Schindler in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List), transform into a lanky, gruff, uncompromising action star.

At the time, it felt like a momentary departure for the man, a $25 million lark coasting on the success of the Bourne films and making expert use of Neeson’s sequoia-tall frame and voice like crackling bark (it’s no surprise he’d later play a talking tree in 2016’s fantasy tearjerker A Monster Calls). But as fate would have it, Taken would make more than $200 million at the box office, and a franchise — and subgenre — would be born.

By 2024, Neeson would star in around seventeen films that could qualify, in one form or another, as a Taken-y action movie (or, as Nate Fisher would dub them at RogerEbert.com, the “January Neesons”), with a variety of directors and a wide variety of budgets.

The ingredients are simple: Cast Neeson as an over-the-hill spy, ex-cop, or other expert in the rarefied field of dispensing violence. Give him some kind of physical or emotional impairment: He’s an alcoholic, he’s got a tragic past, dead or estranged relatives, financial troubles. Sometimes, you can make him lose his memory or even his identity. Make him drive an ice road truck over dangerous territory, or strap him in a car with a bomb under his seat (as this week’s Retribution does). But no matter what contrivances or obstacles you put in his path, he’ll weather them and even overcome them — even if he doesn’t always make it to the end.

What sets these apart from a lot of other middling actioners like it is, of course, Neeson himself, a man with the build of an action star but the quiet dignity and brittleness of a trained Shakespearean actor. Neeson, who grew up in Ireland, trained as a boxer and worked as a forklift driver for Guinness (how Irish is this guy?) before moving into theater and eventually finding starring roles on film in works like Under Suspicion and Nell.

He carries himself with immense precision, his sad eyes and grimacing face as capable of remarkable tenderness as it is murderous rage. His action heroes are broken, torn-down men, worn by age and drink and despair, the plots of these movies often involving late-in-life attempts at redemption for the things he’s done.

Even in the worst of these, it’s Neeson who holds all the ramshackle pieces together. And in the best of these (particularly his long collaboration with Jaume Collet-Serra, who calibrates the Taken persona into more intriguing and genre-fueled directions in the mid-2010s)? He’s magnificent.

In celebration of hitting seventeen movies where a man in his late sixties still murders folks with all the skill of Jack Bauer, we’ve decided to run down the list of the Neeson-led action films, the times where he took a break from playing holy men (Silence) and romantic leads (Love, Actually) to dispense justice on the wicked and defend the innocent. And maybe, just maybe, giving his own crumbling body a moment of peace.

17. Memory (2022)

Who Is Liam Neeson? Alex Lewis, an elderly assassin who’ll take any job and get it done…. unless it involves killing kids.

What’s His Particular Set of Skills? As a professional killer, he’s handy with a pistol and not a bad driver to boot. But unfortunately, his old age has added another handicap to his toolbox: advanced Alzheimer’s, leading him to occasionally lapse and forget where he is or why he’s doing what he’s doing.

Who’s He Avenging? A 13-year-old victim of sex trafficking he was assigned to kill, and who was murdered by the underlings of an unscrupulous businesswoman (Monica Bellucci).

The Verdict: Neeson’s worst movies in this vein are, unfortunately, his most recent: Memory qualifies as the bottom of the barrel thanks to a clunky, overlong script (the movie clocks in at two hours) and some cheap DTV filmmaking that not even Bond director extraordinaire Martin Campbell can save.

But maybe the most tragic part of his is Neeson, or rather, the lack of him: when he’s on screen, playing a bit with his gruff-killer persona with moments of confusion and vulnerability, it ain’t bad. But really, the film’s protagonist isn’t Neeson, but Guy Pearce as a haggard FBI agent trying to break up Bellucci’s crime syndicate, which means the scenes with Neeson are sandwiched between tedious police procedurals with Pearce, who gets so little to work with. The idea of an old assassin who’s still got a quick trigger-finger, but a failing memory, is interesting, but it’s wasted on such a humdrum story.

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