The 51 best action movies of all time

Here's our complete list of the best action movies ever made, including everything from The Rock to Kill Bill and The Raid to John Wick.

What are the best action movies you can watch right now? Across the internet, there are plenty of movies to choose from. Maybe you want hard-hitting fist-fights, high-octane stunts, or a little escapist fantasy for your family movie night.

In order to save you from spending half your viewing time on streaming services trying to pick something, we’ve listed the top choices on a range of platforms, allowing you to sit back, relax, and enjoy the explosions. We’ve got beloved staples, quasi-reboots, alien movies, super-soldiers, and even a Christmas movie treat. The set pieces are elaborate, the romance movie elements fleeting, and the heroes ruggedly handsome.

Some may baulk at what we’ve excluded, but hard choices had to be made while writing this list. These are the 51 best action movies, the cream of the crop, the absolute elite in thrill-ride cinema. Well, some are just personal favourites we think you’re very likely to enjoy. But that’s enough rambling; let’s get down to business.

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51. Aliens (1984)

There’s been a debate among Alien fans for decades now about which film in the franchise is better. Is it Ridley Scott’s original terrifying masterpiece or James Cameron’s boisterous explosive sequel?

While we can’t answer that particular question, we can say that Aliens is one of the best action movies ever made. The set pieces are exciting, the action’s extremely well-directed, and Sigourney Weaver’s unforgettable Ripley serves as an effective emotional lynchpin, holding the whole thing together.

Check out our full Aliens review here.

Best action movies: A Better Tomorrow

50. A Better Tomorrow (1986)

John Woo’s filmography is full of action classics, yet A Better Tomorrow stands as perhaps his most influential and groundbreaking. Defining the idea of a hero cleaning shop in a hailstorm of bullets, A Better Tomorrow has an array of sequences where firepower and death are treated like dance choreography.

A former criminal, Sung Tse Ho (Ti Lung), is trying to go straight after a stint in prison. Resisting the urge ultimately leads to violence, Sung’s old pal Mark (Chow Yun-fat) along for the ride. There are a lot of bodies, and it’s a lot of fun – relaunching Woo’s career and propelling Chow Yun-fat into stardom.

Best action movies: Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum

49. The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

This action sequel signified the end of the original Bourne trilogy, effectively locking in Matt Damon as one of his generation’s biggest and best action stars. The movie ended up providing satisfying answers to some of the franchise’s overarching questions — plus, it was the accumulation of several years worth of action sequencing.

Ultimately (get it?), The Bourne Ultimatum understood exactly what audiences loved about the film series, and amped everything up to its peak. The fast-paced editing amplifies the adrenaline of the sequences, and the climatic car chase may just be one of the best you’ll ever see.

The best action movies of all time: Robert De Niro in Heat

48. Heat (1995)

Robert De Niro. Al Pacino. Val Kilmer. In a Michael Mann movie. Do we need to say any more, really? Admittedly, the best scene in the film comes as McCauley (De Niro) and Hanna (Pacino) dine in a restaurant, putting their cat-and-mouse chase on hold to get to know each other a little better, but this ‘90s movie is full of intense, action-packed moments, too. Fun fact: the shootout scene in Heat is so good, the Marines use it for training.

Harrison Ford in The Fugitive one of the best action movies ever made

47. The Fugitive (1993)

The Fugitive’s thrilling script and low-key but dramatic set-pieces make it one of Harrison Ford’s best movies and one of the greatest action films ever made. Potentially the ultimate dad movie (although Air Force One gives it a run for its money), The Fugitive is a pulpy, propulsive thrill ride that never fails to entertain.

Best action movies: Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack

46. Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack

The first Gundam movie brings to a head storylines spread across no less than three anime series from the franchise. Despite this, Char’s Counterattack manages to be remarkably easy to understand, mostly because there’s a supreme amount of giant robots blowing each other up.

Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino directs the picture, as he would many other instalments, and his inventive editing keeps us moving from one space-based munitions exchange to the next. Viewers tend to come away wanting to understand all the lore, but just as great without such context.

Best action movies: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

45. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

You could easily justify any of Peter Jackson’s trilogy on here, and some might think The Return of the King is more deserving. But what makes The Two Towers the finer action flick is the focus on one central battle that demonstrates the mettle of our favourite Lord of the Rings characters.

Sauron fails to conquer Helm’s Deep in a muddy struggle where even the strongest warriors are pushed to their limit. Gimli and Legolas develop greater fondness in the heat of killing Uruk-hai, and the mighty Ents save the day. Aragorn’s will always light up the room, no matter how many times we’ve seen it – a sure sign of the middle-chapter’s magic.

Edgar Wright: Ansel Elgort in Baby Driver

44. Baby Driver (2017)

Edgar Wright took car chase chaos to a whole new level with this 2017 movie, in which he merged a heist thriller with a musical to innovative effect. The protagonist loves to drive while listening to music in his headphones, and the action is elegantly choreographed around it, delivering some exceptional set pieces.

There’s a great ensemble cast including the likes of Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez, and Jamie Foxx, but this movie is all about the musicality of Wright’s direction. It’s a whole new way of putting together an action movie, and it’s joyous.

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43. Top Gun Maverick (2022)

It would have been the predictable choice to add the original Top Gun to this list, but quite frankly, the surprise hit sequel just takes the cake on this one. With stunning aerial stunts, adrenaline-pumping sequences, and Tom Cruise at his finest zipping around the sky, Top Gun Maverick was the film of the summer last year. And with good reason. Maverick? We salute you.

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42. Rocky IV (1985)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Rocky IV is the best movie in the franchise — and a big part of that is due to its gripping action sequences. Apollo Creed’s death at the hands of Ivan Drago sets him up as someone who isn’t just villainous but monstrous.

The level of destruction he brings to the ring is matched only by his cold indifference to killing his opponent, leading to a training montage in the depths of the Russian mountains that seems so physically taxing and action-packed you get tired out just watching Stallone. In these types of movies, it’s clear whose gonna win the ultimate fight, but that doesn’t stop the final bout from being any less nail-biting.

Best action movies: Hot Fuzz

41. Hot Fuzz (2007)

Directed by Edgar Wright, Hot Fuzz is hands down one of the best action-comedy movies that you can watch and rewatch no matter the occasion.

Following the story of a London police officer who gets relocated to a rural town, Hot Fuzz has a gripping mystery plotline as murders and a massive conspiracy are uncovered. The film has shootouts, explosions, a masked killer on the loose, and even chase scenes involving rogue swans. Basically, here is a movie that plays on every aspect of the genre and delivers a brilliantly entertaining love letter to classic cop and action flicks.

Hot Fuzz is a film truly for the fans. Over 100 action movies were used as inspiration for this bullet-heavy comedy movie – and with Bad Boys references and mentions of Keanu Reeves, it is impossible not to have a good time.

The best action movies of all time: Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke in Training Day

40. Training Day (2001)

What’s better than an Ethan Hawke movie? How about a Denzel Washington movie with Ethan Hawke as his co-star? Yeah that should do the trick. This cool cop thriller is packed with great dialogue and tense set-pieces, all brought to life by a brilliant dynamic between the two stars.

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39. Air Force One (1997)

Unfortuantely they don’t make action movies like Air Force One any more. The premise — that a group of terrorists hijack Air Force One and the president has to rescue everyone on board  — is absolutely ridiculous, and it’s very cliched, but Air Force One is incredibly thrilling and has some great set pieces. Best of all, Harrison Ford actually seems to care about the film, which is always nice.

Kick-Ass is more than just a superhero spoof, it's a great action movie

38. Kick-Ass (2010)

Matthew Vaughn’s superhero movie send-up is more than just a spoof: it’s a rough, powerful action movie in its own right. Based on the comic by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr, it stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson as a teenager who becomes a masked vigilante without ever thinking through the consequences.

It contains a great Nicolas Cage supporting performance, paying homage to Batman actor Adam West, and gave Chloe Grace Moretz her breakout turn as the foul-mouthed Hit Girl. The sequel might have been a bit of a tough sell, but this first movie had big laughs and even bigger punches.

best action movies: the unbearable weight of massive talent

37. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022)

This list already has a number of Nicolas Cage classics, like Con Air, Face/Off, and The Rock — so naturally, the best thing about The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is that it pays tribute to all these action greats while also taking the genre in itself to increasingly hilarious, ridiculous heights. Solid gold guns? Check. Car chases? Check. Obsessive Nicolas Cage fan and potential arms dealer played by Pedro Pascal? It might be a niche one, but you guessed it — check. This 2022 movie has it all.

Best action movies: Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight

36. The Dark Knight (2008)

One might argue that The Dark Knight falls too far into the superhero genre to be part of this list, but we disagree. Stacked with explosive set pieces that are continuously topping the last, The Dark Knight is a sure-fire adrenaline-boosting experience.

Plus, with Nolan’s artful sensibility, The Dark Knight provides a lot more than just fun chase sequences and full-on explosions. Instead, the action scenes are merely a backdrop against this dark and thoughtful Batman movie, amping up the drama and giving audiences something to remember.

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35. Kung Fu Hustle (2004)

Sometimes the best action movies are those that fully lean into fun and deliver a cracking 90-minute adrenaline-filled ride. This is the case with the delightfully self-aware and silly action comedy Kung Fu Hustle.

Directed by Stephen Chow, the movie is pure over-the-top action at its finest, bordering on carton levels of violence and featuring completely outlandish physics. Set in 1940s Shanghai, two crooks, Sing and Bone, seek to join the infamous Axe Gang. However, as conflict in the slums continues and hidden martial arts masters are revealed, it seems like the two have bitten off more than they can chew.

Kun Fu Hustle is a movie that never fails to make us laugh. It isn’t strictly a parody of wuxia films but doesn’t hold back in showing us how extreme fights and violence can go. If you are after a fun pick for movie night, this is a title that will be right up your alley.

The best action movies of all time: Emily Blunt in Sicario

34. Sicario (2015)

Denis Villeneuve may be better known for crafting stunning science fiction movies these days, but before Blade Runner and Dune, the filmmaker brought us a thrilling flick about the war between the cartel and the American government. This is an Emily Blunt movie first and foremost, but also boasts incredible performances from Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin. Sicario also features incredible set pieces, such as the tension-filled shootout at the border.

Best action movies: Lady Snowblood

33. Lady Snowblood (1973)

A ferocious rage burns in Toshiya Fujita’s hugely influential revenge film, an anger that seems barely contained by celluloid. Yuki, a 20-year-old warrior, slices and cleaves through any number of assailants in order to achieve vengeance on behalf of her mother, who was tortured and killed.

Yuki doesn’t inherit much from her family beyond her unyielding desire to kill, channeled into assassination. Poetic cinematographic captures the grace of her abilities, Meiko Kaji coming at her targets like John Wick some decades later. Everyone dies all the same.

Best action movies: Demolition Man

32. Demolition Man (1993)

If you don’t know how to use the three shells, you’re probably reading the wrong list. Demolition Man stars Sylvester Stallone as the cryogenically frozen supercop John Spartan (a name second only to John Matrix in cool-as-f*ck action names) who’s thawed out to track down the psychotic crime lord Simon Phoenix.

While it’s not a particularly nuanced film, it is wildly entertaining, and there’s a satirical streak buried under the bullets and booms that gives it an edge over other films in the genre.

Chris Evans in action movie Snowpiercer

31. Snowpiercer (2013)

In the years before Bong Joon-ho conquered the Oscars and the world with Parasite, he made his first foray into English-language filmmaking with this dystopian tale set on a train full of passengers fleeing climate catastrophe. As you’d expect from a Bong movie, there’s a satirical edge, with the rich elites at the front of the train and those less fortunate crammed into the back.

Chris Evans leads an all-star ensemble that also includes Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, Jamie Bell, and the late John Hurt. Broadly, it’s the story of a guy fighting his way from the back of a train to the front, but it’s done with undeniable flair, brutality, and so many prickly edges of pitch-dark satire. There was plenty of potential to pick up on in its TV series spin-off too.

Best action movies: Sean Connery as John Patrick Mason in The Rock

30. The Rock (1996)

You’ll no doubt be seeing a lot of Nicolas Cage on this list, since when it comes to over-the-top, impossible concepts with insanely enjoyable execution, he wins every time. The Rock follows the story of Stanley Goodspeed (Cage), a chemist, and his team-up with an ex-convict (Sean Connery) as they attempt to undo a hostage situation and terrorist attack housed in the famous Alcatraz prison.

Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery together? Explosions? A hilarious opening sequence that blessed us with the famous “His wife” tombstone exposition? You need to have watched this movie, yesterday.

Best action movies: Kill Bill

29. Kill Bill (2003-2004)

Kill Bill is one of Quentin Tarantino’s most bombastic and stylised films to date and is impossible not to appreciate. While Kill Bill is technically split into two movies with Volume 1 and Volume 2 – to appreciate the cutting story and grand visuals fully, you will want to watch both films back-to-back.

The movie follows the bloody revenge story of an assassin known as the Bride. Played by Uma Thurman, who wields swords left, right and centre during brilliant sequences, the Bride is out for the lives of everyone that left her, and her unborn child for dead. Kill Bill is colourful, adrenaline-inducing, and despite being a tab bit overindulgent, is a blast that has to be experienced.

Best action movies: True Lies

28. True Lies (1994)

True Lies beautifully balances over-the-top farce with top-notch action thanks to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis’s flawless acting work. While it might not be the best James Cameron movie, it’s easily his most watchable and boasts a number of unforgettable action set pieces, including a horse in an elevator and a fight on a Harrier jump jet. What could be better? Maybe a horse on a Harrier?

Best action movies: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

27. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is martial arts action at its finest. Directed by Ang Lee and starring acclaimed actor Michelle Yeoh this 2000s movie is a must-watch for fans after epic dramas, beautiful choreography, and award-winning stories.

Widely known as one of the best wuxia movies ever made, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon tells the story of a young Chinese warrior who steals a weapon from a famed swordsman before making a grand escape. There is drama, romance and, of course, plenty of flying kicks and ariel combat too. In short, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has it all and is a title that any action fan has to see at least once.

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26. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

Lau Kar-leung and Gordon Liu’s kung fu epic is as singular and transformative now as it was in 1978. Loosely drawing from the life of Chinese monk San Te, Gordon Liu stars as Liu Yude, a wannabe revolutionary who turns to the ancient art of Shaolin martial arts to challenge the oppressive Manchus.

His journey takes him to the brink of death, clawing his way back through sheer determination. The 35 Chambers are frequently breath-taking – Lau took the director’s chair after years as a fight choreographer, bringing huge expertise to the storytelling. He understands the beauty is in the journey, not the destination, and we see that on full display.

best action movies: daniel craig in no time to die

25. No Time to Die (2021)

No Time to Die was Daniel Craig’s swan song as James Bond — and what a thrilling goodbye it was. From the movie’s opening moments, where we see Madeleine face off against Safin (Rami Malek) for the first time, you are exhaling for the film’s entire 2 hour, 43 minute runtime.

There’s something especially sinister about biological warfare, so while Safin won’t go down in history as one of the most compelling Bond villains, the science in and of itself is villainous enough. No Time to Die continually pushes the envelope when it comes to action sequences and last-minute plot twists, and ensures that Craig’s iteration of Bond goes out with a decisive bang rather than a whimper.

Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in Logan

24. Logan (2017)

Everyone loves Wolverine. Hugh Jackman gives great gruff-voiced grouchiness throughout the X-Men movies, and there’s a reason he tops lists of the best X-Men characters all the time. But when James Mangold stripped everything back and allowed the character to grow old in Logan, he found a new level for the adamantium-clawed badass.

Jackman is tremendous as a version of Logan with the ability to swear, bleed, and cause pain in a movie that took the safety foam off the end of the pointy-fingered fella’s digits after 20 years on screen. And his chemistry with Dafne Keen as X-23 gave us The Last of Us before The Last of Us. As superhero movies go, it’s tough to best this one.

The best action movies of all time: Akira

23. Akira (1988)

Some of the best action around can be found in anime, and there’s few that do it better than the ‘80s movie Akira. The epic anime movie uses a dystopian, apocalyptic setting in neo-Tokyo as the framing for science experiments gone wrong, superhero analogies, and super-cool motorcycle stunts.

Nic Cage in Face/Off

22. Face/Off (1997)

As subtle as a punch to the back of the head, Face/Off is John Woo’s deliberately overblown masterpiece. While the premise has all the delicacy of a reversing dump truck, its uninhibited (and surprisingly violent) action scenes deliver enough thrills to keep even the most jaded adrenaline junkie enthralled. If that’s not enough, you’ve also got  John Travolta and Nicolas Cage pretending to be each other. What’s not to love?

Daniel Craig led the first of his James Bond movies in action movie Casino Royale

21. Casino Royale (2006)

James Bond movies are essentially a synonym for action, and Casino Royale might be the most action-packed of the lot. Daniel Craig’s debut as 007 hits very hard indeed, from the incredible parkour chase in the opening act through to that sensational Aston Martin flip, which set a Guinness World Record for the most barrel rolls in a car.

But the real success of the movie is in dragging the Bond franchise down to earth after the invisible cars and sci-fi flourishes of Die Another Day. It’s grounded, brutal, and laid the table for arguably the best James Bond actor ever to start his reign.

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20. The Matrix (1999)

Before we get into questions of genre: yes, The Matrix is an action movie. It may very well have a science fiction movie premise, but it’s an action movie at its heart.

If you need convincing, take the scene where Neo and Trinity attempt their rescue of Morpheus. It’s an extended (and visually ground-breaking) set-piece filled with martial arts action, gun action, and slo-mo action. Every kind of action is welcome here, in a movie brimming with style and substance.

best action movies: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, and Rebecca Ferguson inMission Impossible Fallout

19. Mission Impossible — Fallout (2018)

The Mission Impossible franchise is ageing like fine wine, and its movies continue to get better. Fallout has Tom Cruise fighting on a helicopter, dealing with a lost love, and delivering on high-octane thrills.

Fan or no, Fallout is up there at the peaks of these spy movies, and was an instant classic with its fun twists, impeccably shot set pieces, and high stakes. Wall-to-wall action with just enough character stuff to juice it up into another next-level realm. Rebecca Ferguson is also in it, hello?

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18. Battle Royale (2000)

When you start discussing modern-day action movie classics, the Japanese 2000s movie Battle Royale needs to be in the conversation. Battle Royale is the last film to come from director Kinji Fukasaku and is an unapologetic adaptation of Koushun Takami’s controversial novel of the same name, which centres around a deadly game that a group of junior-high-school students are forced to play.

In this movie, violence against adolescents is front and centre. Battle Royale’s plot revolves around a bunch of teens who must fight to the death or be killed by the Japanese totalitarian government’s wishes. The plot is straightforward, making this flick seem simple from the outset. But as tension rises and classmates betray and turn against one another, your heart rate is guaranteed to accelerate.

Along with influencing the likes of Quentin Tarantino, the Netflix series Squid Game, and other ‘teen killing films’ such as The Hunger Games – Battle Royale has gone down in history as one of the best action movies and one of the most impactful flicks on pop culture too.

Best action movies: Tom Hardy in Mad Max: Fury Road

17. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

After twenty years making family movies, George Miller finally got back in the driver’s seat for another Mad Max. Needless to say, it was worth the wait. Mad Max: Fury Road is a miracle of filmmaking. A circus of fire and metal, souped-up cars driven by members of a death cult, in the desert of post-apocalyptic Australia. One guy’s job is to just play riffs over a gigantic set of speakers, shooting flames from his guitar while shredding.

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This go around, Tom Hardy is Max, taking over from Mel Gibson, and he’s helping Charlize Theron’s Furiosa to escape Immortan Joe, a tyrannical leader who monopolised the water supply. Unfortunately, there’s nowhere else to run, and instead, they take the fight to Joe by driving back the way they came. Pedal to the metal from the moment go. You can rewatch this a thousand times and still notice something new.

Best action movies: The Night Comes For Us on Netflix

16. The Night Comes For Us (2018)

If the names Iko Uwais or Timo Tjahjanto don’t mean anything to you now, they will after you watch this. Uwais has made waves in Hollywood over the last decade since starring in Gareth Edwards’ The Raid in 2011, and its 2014 sequel, while The Night Comes For Us marks Indonesian director Tjahjanto’s first feature to get wide distribution.

A sordid tale of gang violence in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, The Night Comes For Us is absolutely hard as nails. Every fight is a martial arts battle to the death, featuring makeshift weapons, and absolutely no regard for anyone’s opponents. You can tell Tjahjanto has a background in horror movies when a small army of goons invades an apartment building like a horde of zombies, forcing the heroes therein to struggle for their lives using little more than their fists.

Joe Talsim, Sub-Zero in the latest Mortal Kombat movie, stars opposite Uwais, and the climactic showdown between the two is like an ab workout in itself. As gruelling as it is compelling and available anywhere, you can access Netflix.

Best action movies: Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz in The Mummy

15. The Mummy (1999)

Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz face off against one of the Universal Monsters. If that doesn’t sound appealing, we are very different people. After they accidentally reawaken the mummy Imhotep using the book of the dead, Weisz’s Evelyn is captured, and Fraser’s Rick O’Connell leads the charge to save her. Much hijinks, scarabs, and talk of Egyptian curses ensue.

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Made in 1999, The Mummy is very plainly of that era. Everything’s just a little bit louder than it needs to be, sequences oscillate rapidly between tense and slapstick, and the computer-generated imagery looks like it was ripped from a video game demo reel. The cast all know exactly the kind of monster movie they’re in, though it’s Fraser’s turn as the heroic lead that still lingers after the credits roll.

Best action movies: Furious 7 from Universal

14. Furious 7 (2017)

Really, any of the Fast and Furious instalments from Fast 5 onward would be comfortable here, but Furious 7 is the one we’re going with. The mid-movie jump between Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Towers in a $3.4 million Lykan HyperSport alone justifies this positioning, a scene so over-the-top nobody except Vin Diesel seems to believe it’s even happening.

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Come for the quasi-loop-the-loops and sudden drops, stay for the overture of familial companionship. Co-lead actor Paul Walker passed away towards the end of filming, making this the last sequel to feature the core cast. The Fast series has always been corny, but this time, when Diesel and Walker go their separate ways, Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s ‘See You Again’ playing overhead, it’s hard not to feel a bump in the throat.

Best action movies: Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

13. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2016)

Dipping into the Marvel Cinematic Universe can require a week’s worth of homework to understand anything. Some of the Marvel movies need a mercifully little context, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier is one of those.

Joe and Anthony Russo’s introduction to the franchise is just a rock-solid thriller, about a principled soldier who decides to blow up a corrupt system rather than serve it.

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Steve Rogers, the titular Captain, played by Chris Evans, has some reservations about SHIELD’s methods of surveillance. Turns out, his gut is right, and SHIELD turns out to be infested by Hydra, a fascist organisation.

When Rogers challenges this, he ends up on the run, accompanied by Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johannsson) and Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie). On top of that, an old friend of Steve’s appears to be working for the other side. Winter soldier is a sequel that relies more on what’s happening on-screen than some complicated history to keep you enthralled, and all the better for it.

The best action movies of all time: The cast of Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers

12. Starship Troopers (1997)

Yes, thanks to Disney’s acquisition of Fox, Starship Troopers, the incredibly violent send-up of fascist ideals directed by Paul Verhoeven is on the same platform as The Lion King, Toy Story, and whatever Mickey Mouse is up to.

Soldiers with big guns try, and mostly fail, to make a dent in ever bigger insects. Neon-coloured blood, severed limbs, and state propaganda abound.

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A poignant satire on the military-industrial complex running even more amok than usual, and an audacious and nihilistic flick about trying to blow up giant bugs.

The presentation is undeniably Verhoeven, from the straight-faced advertisements and vignettes to all the blocky, grey technology, and a young Neil Patrick Harris proves he had charisma from the jump. Some of the acting otherwise isn’t outstanding, but when there are this many six-legged creatures to worry about, you’ll hardly notice.

The best action movies of all time: Oldboy

11. Oldboy (2003)

This Korean movie basically invented the corridor fight (you’re welcome, superhero movies), and it features one of the most jaw-dropping plot twists of all time. Oldboy is a taut, tense, action-packed thriller with some of the slickest fight choreography you’re likely to see.

Best action movies: Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock as Jack and Annie in Speed

10. Speed (1994)

When it comes to a solid concept for an action flick, Speed cannot be beaten. There’s a bomb on a bus full of passengers, and if the bus goes below 50mph, the bomb goes off. Stellar stuff right there. And with action King Keanu Reeves in the driver’s seat, flanked by the comedy movie Queen Sandra Bullock, it only seems fair to give the high-octane thrill-inducing Speed its day in the sun.

Perhaps the underrated beauty of Speed is how the bus is nowhere to be found in the film’s opening. Instead, we open up on a rocket-speed-paced elevator sequence, which sets the bar for the intensely relentless ride that the rest of the film only builds upon.

Best action movies: The Raid

9. The Raid (2011)

The second appearance by Iko Uwais, and the film that helped him break into Hollywood. He’s back in Jakarta, Indonesia, this time directed by Gareth Edwards, of Godzilla fame. Like Fury Road, The Raid has a simple premise: a police squad has to fight its way through an apartment building to reach the crime lord at the top, and like Fury Road, it’s all in the execution.

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It’s hard to overstate the pace at which The Raid handles itself. Fights are quick and meticulous, everyone looking for the fastest, easiest way to put their opponent down for good.

Uwais and his co-stars put in a workout that would make even Jackie Chan sweat, moving from encounter to encounter with a lethal quickness. Close-ups of pained faces, and extended beatdowns, mean we aren’t spared any of the aches and pains, either.

Best action movies: Nicolas Cage as Cameron Poe in Con Air

8. Con Air (1997)

Con Air is a fuel-tinted, sky-high fever dream of an action movie. It’s almost impossible to accurately describe the sheer adrenaline that its outrageous premise provides, as the movie is truly an example of how something must be seen to be believed.

Nicolas Cage’s stunningly off-kilter Southern accent, paired with his wispy locks that whip against the breeze, are just some of the elements that make this film great. These, plus completely unhinged set pieces and a rambling, genuinely frightening movie villain in John Malkovich, are what makes the film unforgettable.

Best action movies: the predator in Predator

7. Predator (1987)

Something from Arnie had to be included, and what better than John McTiernan’s 1987 jungle chiller? Schwarzenegger leads a battalion as Major Alan ‘Dutch’ Schaefer on a rescue mission to a Central American rainforest, but they’re not the only visitors. Slowly, they’re whittled down by whatever’s out there, leaving only Dutch to face this thing.

Like many great exercises in sci-fi, the first Predator movie starts as one thing – a straight-laced piece of military action – before becoming something else entirely. Armed to the teeth, Dutch’s men treat death as an afterthought to their objective, but when the tables turn, they all receive grisly executions from the movie’s titular alien.

Great one-liners abound, from “Dillon, you son of a bitch!”, to Jesse Ventura’s “I ain’t got time to bleed”, and the cries of “Do it!” at the end. Arnie’s providing all the encouragement you need, really.

The best action movies of all time: Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai

6. Seven Samurai (1954)

Few actor-director partnerships have produced more great films than Toshiro Mifune and Akira Kurosawa, and Seven Samurai is among the best for either party. Literally genre-defining in that it helped mould how American studios would approach these sorts of movies for years to come, Kurosawa’s fourteenth feature film has stood the test of time and then some.

Told across two parts, seven masterless samurai come together to help protect a village under attack in 16th-century Japan. The battles and showdowns are largely why it’s here, sometimes kinetic and energising, other times tense and methodical, and always spectacular.

In typical Kurosawa fashion, these are contrasted by quiet moments of human drama that heighten the surrounding bloodshed. Alongside Mifune are other Kurosawa regulars Takeshi Shimura and Daisuke Kato, making this a fine starting position for further research into Japanese film history.

It was directly remade as The Magnificent Seven in 1960, and has been heavily copied ever since, in everything from Star Wars to A Bug’s Life. Most of the other entries on this list owe a debt to what was accomplished here.

Best action movies: Bruce Willis in Die Hard

5. Die Hard (1988)

The best Christmas movie? We’re not so sure, but one of the best action movies? Without a doubt. Following on from putting Schwarzenegger through the wringer in Predator, the next year John McTiernan decided it was time Bruce Willis got similar treatment.

Where are they now? Die Hard cast

On one end is Willis’ John McClane, a hard-nosed New York detective visiting Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles to see his estranged wife, on the other is Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber, a German criminal who plans to steal several hundred million dollars in bearer bonds from the same building. Gruber’s plan accounted for everything except McClane, and what follows is a bloody game of cat-and-mouse to determine who’ll walk away at the end.

Where later Die Hard sequels view McClane akin to the Terminator, what makes the first essential is McTiernan’s focus on John’s pain. He’s in the wrong place at the wrong time, and just about every scene is a reminder of that in one way or another, whether it’s a close call from under a table, or walking on glass barefoot. Truly, the reprieve of the closing credits is earned.

Best action movies: Keanu Reeves in John Wick

4. John Wick (2014)

If there’s a lesson to be learned from John Wick, it’s that you should never cross the Boogeyman, and that goes double for hurting his dog. Co-directed by stuntmen Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, based on a script from Derek Kolstad, you can tell this was made by people who have an intimate understanding of what makes for thrilling onscreen conflict. Before retiring, Wick was the greatest gun money could hire, and the way he dismantles rival hit-people on his way to redemption proves his talents over and over.

Working again John? John Wick 4 release date

It helps that Wick is played by the ever-affable Keanu Reeves, who, at 50, handles the rough-and-tumble gunplay like he’s just off the back of The Matrix, yet carries the weariness of someone who’s very aware of time’s unyielding march. The supporting cast includes Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, and Willem Dafoe, meaning that while Reeves is the main attraction, there’s no vacuum in scenes he’s not involved.

In a career chock full of pop culture staples, John Wick sits among the greatest in Reeves’ repertoire, and of the 2010s in general. A satisfying, lean, muscular thrill-ride whose sequels mean you could give yourself a double-or-triple-bill if there’s enough time in the evening.

Best action movies: Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

3. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is famous for his running. We have it on good authority he’s contractually obliged to do a marathon a movie. Well, that’s a lie, but it sure seems that way, and Ghost Protocol’s sprint against a sandstorm in Dubai is monumental.

Extreme afternoon jogs aside, the fourth Cruise-led Mission: Impossible is a prime example of why every one of these flicks is worth seeing in a theatre. We’re in Russia for a stretch first, so Ethan can be busted out of prison, then it’s away to Dubai for some thrilling espionage before a climax in Mumbai involving lots of falling cars. How’s that for cardio?

Best action movies: Jackie Chan in Police Story

2. Police Story (1985)

The film that began Jackie Chan’s ascent through the echelons of Hollywood, and kickstarted his fascination with death-defying stunts. An otherwise formulaic thriller, with detective Chan Ka-Kui (Chan) framed for murder in his efforts to take down a Hong Kong crime boss, becomes exhilarating with a myriad of increasingly ridiculous sequences.

Chan shows he’s the kind of leading man that can truly do it all, directing himself through intense fight scenes, over-the-top chases, and genuine character beats. We’ve long known him to be as funny as he is quick-footed and daring; this is him realising that potential in real-time.

Best action movies: Terminator 2: Judgment Day

1. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Nobody has understood the power Schwarzenegger brings to the silver screen quite like James Cameron in the first two Terminator movies. The Terminator turned the bulked-up star into an unstoppable killing machine, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day flips that back on its head by having him face the impending threat of special effects.

Machine war: Best robot movies

The former bodybuilder shows no intimidation when faced with Robert Patrick’s liquid metal assassin, armed with a shotgun and motorbike. It’d be full throttle if not for Linda Hamilton’s weariness as Sarah Connor, the woman tormented by these machines. Her humanity brings pathos to the machines and heart to this sci-fi classic.

That’s our list of the best action movies – have a look at the best zombie movies if you’d like more wild filmmaking. We also have a guide breaking down the best new movies 2023 has to offer and a list of the best movies ever made.