8 Action Movies To Watch That Are Confined to One Setting, Ranked

Action movies are often about high-octane excitement and escapism. They tend to throw viewers into an outlandish, intense story that presents characters dealing with things most of us never experience in real life. Such movies are action-packed, violent, and fast-paced and often have some sort of adventure element, too, taking the characters on a crazy journey or over-the-top, risky mission.



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But then, on the other end, some action movies can still be perfectly exciting and entertaining with a more limited scale. Bullet Train is the latest movie to belong to this group, centering on a group of assassins being brought together (and inevitably fighting) while on a high-speed train. In celebrating this type of action movie, here are eight other action films that mostly restrict – or completely restrict – themselves to one setting, roughly ranked from good to great.

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‘Con Air’ (1997)

Con Air stars the amazing Nicolas Cage, plus a huge supporting cast of recognizable character actors. It’s a goofy but very fun action movie that largely takes place inside a plane, where Cage’s character – about to be released on parole – has to deal with surviving the trip after several violent criminals take control of the plane and plan to fly it out of the United States.

There are admittedly scenes in the film’s opening and ending that takes place off the plane, plus John Cusack’s character is on the ground the whole time, as he plays a marshal following the flight from way down below, trying to assist Cage’s protagonist. But the core premise involves the plane being hijacked, and a good deal of the film’s action scenes / suspenseful sequences take place on the plane, making it count as a solid confined setting action flick.

‘Runaway Train’ (1985)

It’s not hard to guess the location Runaway Train utilizes for most of its action set pieces. But beyond being an action film set on a train, Runaway Train goes a step further by having it be a movie about a train that can’t stop; the brakes have malfunctioned, and two escaped convicts and railway worker need to form an uneasy alliance to stop it, as otherwise, they face certain doom.

It’s an out-there film and very unusual in terms of how it feels (and how the lead actors act), but that makes it feel distinctive. It has its own voice and style, which is rare for action movies with no-nonsense, simple premises, and it’s worth a watch for action fans who are after something a little different.

‘Free Fire’ (2016)

When it comes to confined action movies, if you want to lock things down and restrict movement to one main location, you can either set things on a large vehicle or have events play out in a single building. It’s probably harder to do the second option, given a building – and the people inside it – can’t go anywhere, but it can still be done well, and the feature-length Mexican standoff that is Free Fire is a good example of how to make it work.

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It puts many shady characters inside a warehouse for a tense weapons sale, and very quickly, things spiral out of control. The characters are stuck in a violent standoff that lasts much of the movie, as people pick each other off in increasingly violent and over-the-top ways. Despite all the bloodshed and unlikable characters, it’s still pretty fun and does well to sustain what is essentially a single scene for about an hour and a half.

‘Speed’ (1994)

Speed has all the ingredients needed for a fun, easy-to-watch action movie. It has a premise involving a bus that will explode if its speed drops below 50 miles per hour, a great cast including Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullockand Dennis Hopperand some great sustained tension by having much of the movie set on the bus, with the two lead characters trapped inside.

It might not reinvent the wheel or feel like the most unique action movie ever, but it’s a well-oiled machine of a film and highly enjoyable throughout. And, of course, it’s not 100% on the bus (and many of the side characters plus the main villain aren’t on it, either), but the speeding bus and all the stunts and excitement that come with it are ultimately what you remember most about the film.

‘The Raid’ (2011)

The first The Raid movie does wonders with its relatively low budget and confined location. It follows a squad of police officers who get trapped in a high-rise building. Things go from bad to worse when a criminal kingpin – and unofficial “leader” of the high-rise building – announces a reward for anyone in the building who can take out the police, leading the squad to fight their way out of the building or else face certain death.

The rooms and hallways the action scenes play out in look dirty, dark, and a little repetitive, but the action itself is incredible. It’s a brutally simple movie (and also a brutally brutal one), but the hand-to-hand fight scenes are truly something to behold. Everything looks remarkably real, and the violence is often wince-inducing as a result, but it does make for an adrenaline rush of an action movie. It’s certainly among the best action films that play out (almost) entirely inside just one building.

‘Snowpiercer’ (2013)

Snowpiercer takes place in a dystopian future where the surviving human population is on board a single (albeit gigantic) train that never stops moving. The wealthy live up the front of the train and exploit the poor, who are forced to live in terrible conditions at the back of the train. Eventually, those at the back of the train decide they’ve had enough, and stage a revolution, moving closer and closer to the front of the train to overthrow the ruling class and take control.

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It’s all contained within the one train, but Snowpiercer does feature a wide range of carriages that the revolutionaries pass through as they discover just how much has been kept from them. It never stops being surprising and engaging as a result. And while it’s far more than “just” an action movie, it’s worth noting that the action scenes are all well-handled and visually distinctive.

‘Das Boot’ (1981)

Viewers will get a good idea of ​​how it would have felt to be confined to a submarine while fighting in the Second World War by watching Das Boot. It’s a film that explores the boredom, exhaustion, and bursts of adrenaline that come with this style of combat, and the immensely claustrophobic setting makes this war film so gripping and nail-biting.

Viewers who aren’t good with enclosed spaces should stay away from this movie. And the fact it is so downbeat and intensely realistic means it’s far from a fun watch. But it is powerful, and it wouldn’t be right to call it slow or boring, even though it aims to show how boring war can be for those made to fight in one. It’s an experience that’s hard to shake for those brave enough to watch.

Die Hard (1988)

When it comes to single-location, confined action movies, arguably none do it better than the original Die Hard. An action-thriller about an off-duty cop playing a game of cat and mouse with a group of terrorists inside an office building on Christmas Eve, it remains one of the greatest action films of all time.

Bruce Willis is perfect in the lead role, and Alan Rickman makes for one of the best villains in film history. It’s relentlessly paced, extremely quotable, packed with memorable side characters, and gives you everything you could want out of an action movie … and does all of this while setting most of its action inside just one building, too.

NEXT: The Best Movies Set On Trains, From ‘Snowpiercer’ to ‘Strangers on a Train’

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