If you’re looking to get your heart pumping, but don’t want to leave the couch, check out our list of the 60 best action films of all time. From war-time action and historical dramas to post-apocalyptic wastelands and superheroes, there’s an action movie for all tastes.
1. Avengers Endgame
Superhero movies are the ultimate in heroic action-adventure. Avengers Endgame, the pinnacle movie of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) franchise, follows on from Thanos’ disintegration of half the planet. The film has an all-star cast, plus time travel, alternate realities, and a high-stakes outcome, resulting in a heart-pounding three-hour watch.
2. The Matrix
The Matrix is not only a great action film; it revolutionized special effects. Full of notable characters, quotable one-liners, and iconic scenes, it’s a sci-fi masterpiece. Directed by The Wachowskis, it won four Academy Awards and received industry-wide critical acclaim.
An epic tale of vengeance, Gladiator, won countless awards. Set in the Roman Empire, the story follows Maximus Meridius, an army general and enslaved Gladiator. The film features numerous Colosseum fights and brutal deaths but is rounded out by compelling storytelling.
4. The John Wick Trilogy
Never mess with a man’s dog. This tale of retribution earned itself a cult following and two sequels. Starring the ever-popular Keanu Reeves, it has epic doses of incredible fight choreography and extravagant gun battles, making this neo-noir action-thriller a must-watch.
5. Iron Man
Iron Man was the first release from the MCU. It depicts Tony Stark’s development from arrogant weapons and tech tycoon to a mechanically enhanced superhero. The witty banter, visual effects, and charismatic cast was a breath of fresh air and set the tone for the future MCU movies.
6. Top Gun
Being a fighter pilot has never looked as impressive as it does in Top Gun. Tom Cruise’s character, Maverick, is sent to the Naval Fighter Weapons School to refine his flying skills. The competition is fierce, as he battles with his recklessness and deals with loss and love.
7. The Fifth Element
The Fifth Element is on the wackier side of sci-fi action movies and stars Bruce Willis, the king of action. While there’s a desperate attempt to save the world from evil, there’s also flying cars, an alien opera singer, an outrageous talk-show host, and incredible costumes.
8. The Dark Knight Trilogy
There are endless versions of the Batman story. However, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Night trilogy is undoubtedly one of the darkest and grittiest. Supported by excellent performances from Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, and Tom Hardy, as well as physical, rather than visual effects, it’s firmly in the classic action movie category.
James Cameron’s Aliens is the follow up to the original Alien movie. Just as nightmare-inducing as the original, there are more aliens, betrayal, space marines, and another grotesque chest-bursting scene.
10. Die Hard Series
Die Hard is a genuinely iconic action film series. Hostages, explosions, machine guns, terrorists, assassinations, plane crashes, cyber-warfare, Bruce Willis — it ticks all the action-movie requirements with ease.
11. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
Arguably the best of the original trilogy, Star Wars: The Empire Strike Back, has brilliant storytelling and portrays significant story development arcs, for many of the main characters. Of course, it’s backed up by a substantial amount of action, including the snowy Battle of Hoth.
12. Mad Max: Fury Road
Mix post-apocalyptic landscapes, with steam-punk styling, and an epic road-battle, and you’ve got a recipe for a great action film. Starring Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, Max Max: Fury Road is a thrilling and visually dramatic telling of the collapse of civilization.
13. The Bourne Identity
The Bourne Identity has far fewer explosions than some of the other action movies on this list, yet makes up for it in hand-to-hand combat and gunfights. Plus, it combines amnesia induced mystery with character development to create a solid storyline that supports the action.
Aside from all the throat punches, car chases, and gunfights, Liam Neeson’s ‘A Very Particular Set of Skills’ speech is the highlight of this movie and will give you chills.
15. Thor: Ragnarok
Taika Waititi, director of Thor: Ragnarok, took a unique and fresh approach to this movie from the MCU. Despite the fact the movie was about the fall of Asgard, it’s surprisingly light and comedic, yet still packed full of classic MCU action. It also has a killer soundtrack.
16. Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Director James Cameron has always been a leader in large-genre movie-making and ambitious special effects. Terminator 2: Judgement Day is no exception. From truck chases in downtown Los Angeles to the ‘liquid metal’ Terminator T-1000, the visuals, as well as the storyline, are genuinely gripping.
17. Guardians of the Galaxy
Coming out of the MCU is Guardians of the Galaxy, a rag-tag team of unlikely allies, who need to save the galaxy from evil. The smart, witty script, killer soundtrack, and unique characters combine with the iconic MCU action to create a hugely entertaining watch.
Skyfall is one of the more profound movies in the Bond franchise, bringing some storylines to a close. However, like it’s predecessors, it still maintains that classic James Bond flavor. As such, there are still high-stakes chases, massive explosions, witty one-liners, sexual innuendo, and all kinds of high-tech gadgetry.
The stylized action, superb acting, and visual effects set 300 apart from other historical action-dramas. It’s truly a great film. Leonidas’ inspiringly aggressive speeches, combined with seas of washboard abs, and epic battles between the Spartans and the Persians, creates a visual masterpiece.
20. Con Air
Con Air is worth a watch just to witness Nicholas Cage’s majestic hair. However, it’s also packed full of action when a group of high-security prisoners takes over a transport flight. Subsequently, Nicholas’ character needs to save the day so that he can make it home to his wife and daughter.
21. Jurassic Park
Does it get much more action-packed than being chased by dinosaurs? Jurassic Park, with Steven Spielberg at the helm, revolutionized visual effects at the time, mixing animatronics with CGI and brilliant acting. It’s a heart-pounding 126 minutes that proves you should not mess with Mother Nature.
22. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Directed by Peter Jackson, this was the final installation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings saga. The action is intense. There’s the Witch-King of Angmar, armies of the dead, the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, and The Black Gate, plus Frodo’s ongoing journey to destroy The One Ring.
23. Edge of Tomorrow
Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt star in this action-packed sci-fi thriller about alien invasions and looping time. The concept of ‘live, die, repeat’ ensures there’s a multitude of horrible deaths, battles with aliens, and massive explosions as humans battle to regain control of Earth.
24. Bad Boys
Director Michael Bay is synonymous with over-the-top action movies. As such, his 1995 film Bad Boys, starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence is a classic 90s action flick. There’s plenty of guns, attitude, and explosions, plus an excellent soundtrack to back it all up.
25. First Blood (Rambo)
The first in the Rambo series, First Blood, is where we meet Sylvester Stallone’s iconic character. Chaos follows when John Rambo, a former Green Beret in the Vietnam War, is wrongfully arrested by a dirty cop. There’s guerrilla warfare, massive explosions, and huge guns.
Sci-fi horror meets action in this film about an invisible alien that hunts for sport. Set deep in the Central American jungle, the Predator stalks an elite special forces team on a rescue mission. The film’s success spawned several sequels, as well as crossovers with other alien movies.
Hijacking, hostages, bombs, terrorists, high-speed public transport, Keanu Reeves — this is the perfect formula for a thrilling action movie. Also starring Sandra Bullock and Dennis Hopper, the film won multiple awards, including two Academy Awards and two BAFTAS.
This somewhat satirical action film is set in the dystopian future and packed full of cyborg butt-kicking. While it’s perhaps not aged as well as other cheesy 80s action flicks, it’s worth adding to your watch list for the eerily accurate prediction of the future, and Peter Weller’s acting as Robocop.
29. Kill Bill Volume 1
If you’re in the mood for a blood bath, then Kill Bill Volume 1 is the action movie for you. This tale of an assassin’s ruthless revenge is typical Quentin Tarantino style, with wide-shot, highly-stylized and large-format fight choreography, plus blood-soaked sets.
30. Lethal Weapon
One of the original buddy-cop movies, Lethal Weapon, has an abundance of recognizable one-liners, brilliant action sequences, and majestic mullets. Mel Gibson and Danny Glover star as mismatched LAPD detectives who need to navigate their new working relationship, as they solve a murder.
31. Mission Impossible
As the beginning of a very successful franchise, Mission Impossible took the covert operations genre to the next level. From the iconic theme song to the implausibly insane action sequences and masked men, Mission Impossible has everything you need in an action movie.
32. Saving Private Ryan
Steven Spielberg brings his movie-making magic to this realistic war-time film, set during the Normandy Invasion. It’s intense, horrifying, and heart-wrenching at the same time, as a team of American soldiers seeks to bring home the final living son of a military family.
33. Casino Royale
Casino Royale ushered in the Daniel Craig era of James Bond movies. Undeniably fit, and much more ripped than his predecessor, this Bond movie involves a lot more physicality, including an ambitious parkour chase scene.
A centuries-old blood war rages between vampires and lycan in Underworld. This gritty action movie is dark, stylish, and sexy. Featuring ruthless violence, CGI werewolf transformations, and skin-tight latex, it’s a visually exciting thriller.
35. Django Unchained
Quentin Tarantino brings his signature mayhem and gore to this bounty hunting movie, which is a stylized tribute to the Spaghetti Western genre. Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz turn in excellent performances, in a film that tackles the difficult subject of slavery in America.
36. Apocalypse Now
Set in the Vietnam War, Apocalypse Now was directed by legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. While it’s a demanding watch, depicting the atrocities of war, the star-studded film did create iconic moments such as the Ride of The Valkyries helicopter scene.
37. Point Break (The Original)
Keanu Reeves pops up regularly on this list for a good reason. Point Break is a classic action film, that should be on everyone’s must-watch list. Keanu stars as an undercover FBI agent, who infiltrates a surf gang who seek thrills both on the water and in lethal bank robberies.
38. Inglourious Basterds
Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds is just as much a dark comedy as it is an action movie. During WWII, a Nazi-hunting American-Jewish paramilitary unit set out to instill fear in the Germans. Meanwhile, a former Jewish victim sets in motion an ironic death for the Nazi leadership.
Directed by and starring Mel Gibson, Braveheart won an array of awards, including five Academy Awards. This historical action film, based on the First War of Scottish Independence, featured some of the best sword fighting, and incredible battle scenes that cinema had seen up to that point.
40. True Lies
Another James Cameron film, True Lies, is a surprisingly funny action movie. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character discovers living a double life as a spy, and a suburban husband is tricky. He has to save the world and fix his marriage all at the same time.
When there’s questionable face transplant surgery, you know it’s going to be a wild ride. Nicholas Cage and John Travolta play a terrorist and an FBI agent, respectively, out to kill each other. Enjoy high-speed boat chases, double gun shoot-outs, and plenty of action dives.
42. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Similar to many of the movies in the Star Wars universe, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is packed full of action. There’s an abundance of aircraft battles, fight scenes, and, of course, the vengeful Darth Vader. Heads up though, the ending is unexpectedly brutal.
43. The Matrix Reloaded
The revolution against the Machine Army continues in The Matrix Reloaded, which had twice the budget, and much more action. Directed again by The Wachowskis, there is extraordinary weaponry, enhanced abilities, an epic highway fight scene, and a multiplied Agent Smith.
44. Black Hawk Down
Black Hawk Down is based on the Battle of Mogadishu during the United States’ mission to end the Somalian civil war. It’s a brutal movie that depicts the reality of war as Black Hawk helicopters are shot down by militants loyal to warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid.
Goldeneye is a classic Bond film from Pierce Brosnan’s heyday. Like many of the Bond movies, the plot is centered around the potential destruction of the world by a dastardly villain, accompanied by plenty of attractive women, one-liners, and lethal tech-toys.
46. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
The world’s most adventurous archaeologist, Indiana Jones, returns in another epic adventure to save his missing father. Sean Connery stars alongside Harrison Ford as Jones Sr. Chock full of Nazi gunfights, old nemeses, explosions, live rats, plane crashes, and a Holy Grail; it’s not short on action.
Inception has mind-bending action on so many levels. Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, this sci-fi action thriller stars Leonardo DiCaprio as an ‘extractor’ tasked with altering people’s subconscious. Littered with Easter eggs and physics-defying stunts, much of the movie is open to interpretation.
48. Independence Day
Nothing says classic action movies like alien extermination of planet earth. Consequently, Independence Day has many of the action film tropes that make a winning formula. It includes rousing presidential speeches, conspiracy theories, laser beams, Will Smith’s one-liners, and massive explosions.
49. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, was met with critical acclaim. Female-driven at its core, it’s a sensational story about unexpected warriors and romantic adventure. This classic wuxia film boasts visually incredible and physics-defying fight choreography, from Yuen Woo-ping, who also choreographed The Matrix.
The memoir of Unites States Marine, Anthony Swofford, is the basis for this biographical war movie. It is unique in its distinct lack of war-time action, as it delves into the psychology of training men to kill, who are then not faced with the requirement to fire their weapons.
51. Dirty Harry
Inspector Harry Callahan, played by Clint Eastwood, is on the hunt for a psychopathic killer, who killed, kidnapped, and held innocent people ransom. Dirty Harry is also the film that coined the famous phrase, “‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do you, punk?”.
Not even Robin Williams’ comedy chops could make this movie not terrifying. After getting sucked into the game from hell, Jumanji, Alan Parrish, has to play through rabid monkeys, animal stampedes, and a deranged hunter to finish the game and escape. The Jumanji drum beat will send chills up your spine.
Sicario is an intense action movie, with tense moments of non-action contrasted dramatically with gunfights, explosions, and close-quarter combats. It follows the blurred lines in the war against the drug cartels in Mexico and is a great, heart-pounding watch.
If you’re offended by swear words and exaggerated stylized violence, Kick-Ass may not be your cup of tea. The movie’s lead characters are Kick-Ass — a kind of average superhero; Hit-Girl — a proper butt-kicking superhero; and Red Mist — one of the dorkiest villains of recent cinema.
Lucy is a fascinating exploration of the concept of elevated consciousness and human existence. Scarlett Johansson’s titular character becomes an unwitting drug mule, which kicks off the events that lead to her becoming a butt-kicking assailant with heightened abilities.
Guillermo del Toro’s 2004 Hellboy takes inspiration from the graphic novel. The plot is simple — a demon baby from another dimension grows up to fight bad guys and face off against monsters. There are plenty of guts, gore, pyrotechnics, and secret government agencies to tick all the action movie boxes.
57. The Fugitive
An innocent man, wrongly accused of murdering his wife and being hunted by the police, is the perfect set-up for a thrilling action movie. The lead character, played by Harrison Ford, races against time and the police to clear his name and find the real killer.
Looper is a slow-burn action movie, set in a time where assassins can time-travel, looping backward and forwards, to kill their targets. Worlds and timelines collide when character Joe has to close the loop, a.k.a eliminate his future self, but Old Joe escapes with a different plan.
Judge, jury, and executioner is the role of Judges in the future dystopian wastelands of the United States. Judge Dredd takes a recruit to eliminate a drug empire located in a tower block slum. As they become trapped gunfire rages, people get thrown from balconies, and bodies pile up.
60. Starship Troopers
Directed by Paul Verhoeven, who also directed RoboCop, is Starship Troopers, another satirical sci-fi action movie. Soldiers from planet Earth travel across the universe to battle aliens intent on all-encompassing invasion. Similar to RoboCop, the visual effects haven’t aged well, but the cheesy action tropes remain entertaining.
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