This, I guess, is embarrassing. I’ve never seen a single frame of a Terminator film. Arnold Schwarzenegger, to me, is more a doofus ex-politician than an action hero. Terminator, so I’m told, is a kind of rescue movie that involves time travel, Austrian anatomy, and James Cameron’s predilection for shiny things.
This short list contains films that I have both seen and liked, hence the omission of the Terminators and the seminal Dane Cook-voiced animated action romp Planes: Fire & Rescue from 2014. Sorry, Dane. Always the bridesmaid and never the bride.
With the recent release of Ridley Scott/Matt Damon’s latest film, The Martian, I started thinking about the other films I’ve seen where the plot point driving the story was some form of rescue mission. And while just one of these is a direct descendent of any previously published source material, this blog is a place for us to voice our opinions on both books and film, even as mutually exclusive pieces of intellectual quality. Plus, I do what I want. I’m an adult with a blog and a 401(k).
- Toy Story (1995)
Hands down, the most important film of my youth (I was four) was Toy Story. I was basically Andy’s age and ascribed human qualities to my toys and stuffed animals; I wanted so badly for them to come alive — even if I couldn’t be there to witness it.
It’s jealousy that fuels the plot here. You know the story: Woody and Buzz get left at Pizza Planet, picked up by their owner’s cruelly experimental neighbor, Sid, and must find a way to get back home. Sid and Andy’s toys work together to save Woody and Buzz before they become fodder for dismemberment (quick question, what happens to grownup Sid? Does he end up at MIT or in prison?). The rescue literally involves a high wire act with a ticking clock and a pretty damn impressive chase scene as Woody and Buzz race to catch Andy’s moving truck. The whole third act highly coordinated and its imaginative powers of storytelling here bring me back to my own childhood. You might call it, falling (action) with style.
- Saving Private Ryan (1999)
I saw a picture going around the internet a few days ago that showed Matt Damon’s characters from The Martian, Interstellar, and Saving Private Ryan with the caption “the USA has spent so much money rescuing Matt Damon.” And that’s totally true. And besides those three films, it invested a good deal of time, money, and resources in the X project that resulted in Jason Bourne.
Saving Private Ryan was first; when paying an exorbitant amount of money to save Matt Damon was less cliché. Damon’s character, Private Ryan, fights in WWII, as do his three brothers. When they all are killed in combat, it’s decided that the remaining Ryan should be brought home to his grieving mother to spare her one more tragedy. The job falls upon Tom Hanks and his decreasingly-merry band of misfits (and A-list character actors) to bring our boy home. To do so, they literally fight their way through physical and emotional Hell to find Private Ryan. It’s my favorite Spielberg, favorite Hanks, and encouraged me to research how Matt Damon could get his teeth that impossibly white and perfect.
- Speed (1994)
Keanu. Sandy. A bus. A bomb. While this film probably isn’t as traditional a rescue movie as the others on this list, this list is a personal ranking and I make the rules here. Keanu Reeves is Jack Traven, a cop tasked with saving the people on a bus spiked with explosives set to detonate should it decelerate under 55 miles per hour. The effects are a little dated today, but the tension holds up. Plus, Dennis Hopper turns in an all-time great movie villain performance.
This movie is silly, to be sure, and the aspiring screenwriter in us all will roll our eyes at some of the dialog here (“But I’m taller.”). But the script embraces this, written by Graham Yost. It’s cotton candy art: you won’t expect to feel full or remotely good about yourself, but goddamn if it isn’t tasty.
- Die Hard (1988)
Until I graduated college two years ago, the only Die Hard movie I had seen was the fourth. (I went through a Timothy Olyphant phase after binging a few seasons of Justified, so what?) I kind of liked TITLE and set out to watch the others. Die Hard, as any screenwriting teacher will tell you, is just about crafted out of a story laboratory — an expert mash of character, action, conflict, and pace that makes the journeyman writer with his laptop and latte wonder why the hell it’s not that easy for him.
Directed by John McTierman, written for the screen by Steven de Souza and Jeb Stuart, and based on Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp, the emotional center of the movie lies in John McClane’s (Bruce Willis) efforts to rescue this wife (and other hostages) from a group of criminals executing a heist. Not to be outdone, Alan Rickman plays a perfect villain with an equally perfect name (Hans Gruber) and equally perfect hair. For those interested in screenwriting or movie structure, consider Die Hard your entry-level seminar.
- Moon (2009)
If you define a rescue movie as “saving X from Y” then, boy, did I do a great job of shoehorning an underseen but worthy choice into this list! Moon is a 2009 sci-fi indie from first-time director Duncan Jones and staring Sam Rockwell and the voice of Kevin Spacey. My guess is that any beyond basic plot summary counts as a spoiler, so: Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is an astronaut who mines the moon for an alternative fuel source to send back to earth. One day, he gets into an accident and discovers a secret about his environment. That inciting incident sets the rescue story in motion whereby Bell and humanity both need saving.
It’s a political mystery set within a sci-fi world, though this trip to the moon wouldn’t work without its one, blazingly charismatic star, Rockwell. It’s his show and after watching this you’ll wonder why he hasn’t been in more movies. You’ll tab over to search him on IMDB and then you’ll realize — he’s actually in everything.