Believe it or not, it’s been 10 years since you first heard Liam Neeson murmur “I will find you, and I will kill you” into a phone. How’s that for a dose of reality? Taken, the film responsible for these hallowed words, spawned an entire genre of films and reinvigorated several acting careers. Taken provided the formula: take an aging actor who’s career isn’t at its highpoint; plunk them in an action movie; and give them a badass set of skills, a reason to be angry and lots of bad guys to kill. Then Taken made it viable by launching two direct sequels, two seasons of television and a spoof. It was only natural that a host of imitators join the fray.
Anyway, here’s our incredibly complex and scientific ranking of Taken, it’s direct sequels, its indirect sequels from the Liam Neeson Taken Cinematic Universe and it fanboy wannabes (some of which are not bad at all).
One bit of trivia before the rankings: the Neesons himself doubted that Taken would go beyond its first sequel as far back as September 2012. He then said he was retiring from action movies after 2018’s The Commuter. Shows what the fuck he knows.
18. Tooken (May 26, 2015)
The only spoof on the list, Tooken gets recognition simply for existing. Given the veritable Charlie Sheen-sized coke stash of material present in the Taken Universe, Tooken was an understated, un-inflated, and generally uninteresting take on the phenomena. You get more comedy on the topic in two minutes from Key & Peele.
17. The Commuter (January 12, 2018)
Next up, a truly awful example of the Taken formula, The Commuter, which I’ve already thoroughly trashed. It’s a film that deserved to be seen by no one, aside from film students learning “what not to do,” yet sadly, it still nearly broke even at the domestic box office, and bagged over $84M overseas, meaning plenty of you did anyway.
16. The November Man (August 27, 2014)
You can’t blame Pierce Brosnan for trying. After Bond, it’s been all downhill, and if a tried and true formula presents itself offering the opportunity at not only redemption, but rebirth, from a formula made manifest by an actor of the same age, you’re going to take it. Sadly, no one was buying what Pierce was selling. Now a sequel to The Thomas Crowne Affair, that might get our attention.
15. The Equalizer 2 (July 20, 2018)
This sequel squandered everything good about its source material (Denzel doing everything Denzel does well) in the first 30 minutes. Right around then the filmmakers must have said ‘fuck it,’ because things really go to shit by the conclusion. Need proof? Currently, there is no Equalizer 3 in planning or pre-production.
14. Run All Night (March 13, 2015)
Run All Night is the tale of a former hitman who has to go on the run with his son after killing a local mob boss’s son. It suffers from being the third of back-to-back-to-back Neeson films released from September 2014 to March 2015. The last, Taken 3 wasn’t even on on Blu-Ray when this one was released. It probably got the least attention from Neeson and his frequent collaborator, director Jaume Collet-Serra, and it shows. Not memorable, but not terrible. It’s still better than some on our list.
13. Unknown (February 18, 2011)
It’s true, most of you probably don’t know this film. It was the first Neeson film in the Neeson Universe to come after Taken and its filmmakers opted to go for the amnesia McGuffin copout plot found in all shit writing right out the gates. The plot holes in this one are big enough to warrant lewd jokes.
12. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (October 16, 2016)
The less enjoyable sequel to Jack Reacher. See number (4) below.
11. Taken 3 (January 9, 2015)
It’s the third and worst in the series, but Liam Neeson doing something for the third time is still better than others doing it for the second. If you liked Taken, there’s a 50/50 chance you might enjoy this one.
10. John Wick: Chapter 2 (February 10, 2017)
In many ways, John Wick: Chapter 2, recaptures what made John Wick enjoyable and keeps it going. Keanu still hasn’t mastered looking natural during action sequences, but he’s much better here than he was in the Matrix films.
9. Non-Stop (February 28, 2014)
Originally known by the working title Please Stop, this middling foray into Neesonology handles an impossible situation (a man fighting and killing bad guys on a 747 without anyone hardly noticing) ten times better than The Commuter did. For that alone, it earns some credibility. Neeson is his most panicked, irrational self here meaning it’s great for a laugh. And if you love onscreen texting as your McGuffin for driving action, boy oh boy are you in for a treat.
8. The Grey (December 11, 2011)
I only rank The Grey so high because out of all this derogative celluloid ‘storytelling,’ it’s the only film with any gravitas to it at all. There’s just something about a pack of wolves picking off hapless oil and gas geologists one by one that’s scary AF and visceral enough to haunt my dreams.
7. Peppermint (September 7, 2018)
Yo dawg, where are all the females on this list? Is literally what Jennifer Garner must have thought before she signed up for Peppamint. The story of an adorable animated piglet, her younger, dinosaur-obsessed, brother George, their dotting sow mother and dimwitted, overconfident father, Daddy Pig, Peppamint is pure gold with a heart white as snow. When Peppa Pig learns that her family has been murdered by nefarious criminals and that the justice system will do nothing to hold those responsible accountable, she takes the law into her own hooves.
6. Taken 2 (October 5, 2012)
Basically doubling down on what audiences loved about Taken, Taken 2 provides even more bad guys for Liam Neeson to shuffle towards before shooting them in the face. It’s the perfect balance of number of bad guys killed with number of sequels filmed.
5. A Walk Among the Tombstones (September 19, 2014)
While all of the non-direct Taken sequels owe their allegiance to their canon brethren, it doesn’t mean that one of them can’t earn accolades of their own now and again. Here, this murder-who-done-it takes a more cerebral approach and slows the pace to one on par with the reality of old man Neeson. It’s a welcome change, offers some great cinematography, and visits the beautiful Green-Wood in Brooklyn—definitely worth a visit if you’ve never been.
4. Jack Reacher (December 21, 2012)
The Reacher film and its sequel are the outsiders here. Star Tom Cruise never really lost his box office mojo and has been releasing major studio releases on a yearly basis since he first slid onto the scene in socks in 1983 with Risky Business. But the timing of the Lee Childs’ adaptation coming to life on the big screen allows us to include it. It’s still an aging actor throwing a hundred to show off just how superior he is to every henchman, hitman, and head villain alike for 90 minutes. Jack Reacher was a surprisingly decent release and as such moves up the list.
3. John Wick (October 24, 2014)
John Wick and The Equalizer are very similar films—in one, Keanu plays a former Russian mafia hitman trying to play it straight, and in the other, Denzel plays a former US government operative trying to play it straight. One is drawn back to killing because bad guys force his hand, directly, the other is drawn back to killing because bad guys force his hand, less directly. John Wick only ranks lower by default because of its depressing puppy-killing and wife-with-cancer plotlines. We’re not here to cry, we’re here to watch bad guys bite it!
2. The Equalizer (September 26, 2014)
See above (15).
1. Taken (January 30, 2008)
The original. ‘Nuff said. Here’s to you Mr. Neeson! May you keep making this shit and making millions off it into your 80s! If Clint can do it, so can you.
In case you haven’t yet satiated your craving for this genre, note that we’ve got Liam Neeson on the horizon in Cold Pursuit dropping February 8 and Keanu Reeves back as John Wick for a 3rd go on May 17.