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40 Best Action Movies of All Time, Ranked

March 8, 202418 Mins Read

Few genres benefit from the art form of film as much as the action genre does. More grounded, less explosive genres (like crime, mystery, or drama stories) sometimes work just as well in novel form or as stage plays, for example, as they would in the form of a movie. Yet while there might be some good action-heavy books out there, there’s an argument to be made that action just hits harder when it’s visual, audible, and presented on the big screen.

Let’s be honest: the best action movies are often better – or at least more entertaining – than the best movies from any other genre. Good action movies are worth celebrating, and that’s what the following list of titles aims to do: show the action genre at its very best. Adrenaline junkies and action fans should make it a priority to check out all the following, as they comprise what can be definitively declared the best action movies of all time. In celebration of what could be the most cinematic genre out there, here’s an overview of the action genre throughout the decades, and the movies that represent it best. With a mix of classics and newer films, the following is an attempt to rank some of the greatest action-packed movies of all time, with all being essential viewing for fans of the action genre.

40 ‘Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril’ (1972)

Director: Buichi Saitō

Lone Wolf and Cub - Baby Cart In Peril - 1972
Image via Toho

Not to be mixed up with the similarly named Chuck Norris filmLone Wolf McQuade, Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril is instead an installment in the legendary Lone Wolf and Cub samurai movie series. This is the fourth film that was made within that series, and somehow came out the same year that the first three did: 1972. It’s remarkable how quickly they were all churned out, considering how good they are.

Baby Cart in Peril continues the adventures of the revenge-seeking former executioner Ogami Itto and his young son, here being assigned with killing a notorious assassin while clashing with a feared clan of fighters. The plot isn’t always super necessary, with this Lone Wolf and Cub movie – like most of them – being most concerned with delivering bloody, over-the-top action and taking no prisoners in the process. In that sense, it’s a rousing success, and a blast to watch.

Watch on Max

39 ‘Last Hurrah for Chivalry’ (1979)

Director: John Woo

Damian Lau as Tsing Yi and Pai Wei as Chang Saam in Last Hurrah for Chivalry
Image via Golden Harvest

Any discussion about great on-screen action is inevitably going to involve name-dropping John Woo one or several times. Few directors have delivered explosive shootouts quite as well as he has, but less well-celebrated are his efforts within the martial arts genre, and it’s one of his earliest moviesLast Hurrah for Chivalry – that shows his surprising knack for staging elaborate combat sequences that don’t contain firearms.

Last Hurrah for Chivalry is one of the most underrated action movies of its era, and an essential martial arts film for those who like this brand of action. Its plot can be convoluted, throwing together a group of skilled fighters and giving them all intense reasons to dislike each other and clash, but it never loses the plot entirely, and even if it did, most wouldn’t mind when the fight scenes are as good as they happen to be here.

Watch on Criterion

38 ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ (1989)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Sean Connery Harrison Ford
Image via Paramount Pictures

While it’s not the only Indiana Jones movie worth bringing up when discussing great action movies, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is usually considered a series highlight, and likely to be either the second-favorite or favorite for most people. It retreads some familiar territory during this third time around for the titular roguish hero, but The Last Crusade does have an ace up its sleeve in the form of Sean Connery.

He’s paired expertly here with Harrison Ford’s protagonist, portraying Indy’s father, Dr. Henry Jones Sr., with their dynamic injecting a healthy dose of comedy into the proceedings and making this action/adventure film also feel like a buddy movie. That coupled with typically great action sensibilities from the ever-versatile Steven Spielberg ensures The Last Crusade is a great time, and one movie that manages to blend action with suitable amounts of humor and heart very well.

37 ‘The Good, The Bad, The Weird’ (2008)

Director: Kim Jee-woon

The standoff in The Good, the Bad, the Weird
Image via CJ Entertainment

Anyone who’s a fan of both action cinema and the classic Western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly owes it to themselves to stop whatever they’re doing and watch The Good, The Bad, The Weird. It’s a Korean film that takes a similar premise to Sergio Leone’s legendary 1966 film and injects it with broader comedy and more over-the-top action, making for a relentless and dizzying viewing experience.

The characters of The Good, The Bad, The Weird inhabit a cruel world and are similarly hard-edged for survival’s sake, all the while scheming and competing to get to a hidden stash of treasure before anyone else. It’s a film that shows how you don’t, by any means, need to come up with a brand-new plot for a movie to have a reason to exist, as the presentation, emphasis on action, and style of The Good, the Bad, the Weird prove to be more than enough to make it feel fresh and unique.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird

Release Date
July 17, 2008

Jee-woon Kim

Song Kang-ho , Lee Byung-hun , Jung Woo-sung , Oh Dal-su

130 minutes

Watch on Tubi

36 ‘Mad Max 2’ (1981)

Director: George Miller

Mad Max 2 - 1981
Image via Warner Bros.

Though it feels, in hindsight, a bit like a feature-length warm-up for a certain 2015 film within the same series, Mad Max 2 is still an excellent action/sci-fi movie in its own right. Sometimes called The Road Warrior, Mad Max 2 takes the character and world of the first movie and does something radical with them, as while the original from 1979 was more of a revenge thriller that was surprisingly light on action, Mad Max 2 goes for broke and feels a great deal bigger.

And sure, the Mad Max series as a whole would wage into even more grand territory further down the road, but Mad Max 2 was pretty unreal for its time. The titular character clashes in a post-apocalyptic landscape with a foe known as Lord Humungus, who lives up to his name and becomes a great source of conflict, leading to a ton of action crammed into a runtime that’s only a little over an hour-and-a-half long.

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

Release Date
May 21, 1982

George Miller

Mel Gibson , Bruce Spence , Michael Preston , Max Phipps , Vernon Wells , Kjell Nilsson

96 minutes

35 ‘A Touch of Zen’ (1971)

Director: King Hu

A shot of Hsu Feng holding a sword in A Touch of Zen.
Image via Union Film

A Touch of Zen could well be definable as a fantasy movie, as it gets pretty mystical in parts and has an overall strange and otherworldly atmosphere. While it does eventually reveal itself to be a rather fantastic martial arts movie, it’s a patient film that takes some time to get to the action, so to speak. For the first hour or so of the fantasy-action movie’s mammoth three-hour runtime, there’s little to no action to be found.

Instead, A Touch of Zen is all about atmosphere and is dedicated to being a slow-burn, though once the action does start, it’s spellbinding to watch. The plot is fairly straightforward overall, being about a woman on the run and how she joins forces with a group of monks to eventually stand up to those pursuing her, but it’s the execution that makes the film special, and an undeniably essential watch for any and all martial arts fans.

Watch on Criterion

34 ‘The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter’ (1984)

Director: Lau Kar-leung

Eight Diagram Pole Fighter - 1984
Image via Shaw Brothers Studio

Like the aforementioned Touch of Zen, The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter is another absolutely essential martial arts movie classic that’s lost none of its impact in the decades since its original release. The plot is minimal, all things considered, with The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter’s narrative essentially boiling down to an elongated and bloody quest for revenge on the part of one inexperienced martial artist (who soon becomes very experienced) after a violent and bloody betrayal.

It might be a little unclear what all the hype is about surrounding The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter at first, but viewers should stick with this one for the long haul. The final 15 to 20 minutes delivers some of the best and most brutal action sequences in the history of the action genre, and it’s all a sight to behold (so long as one isn’t looking away from the screen, owing to all the surprisingly gruesome violence that still feels a little hard to watch to this day).

Watch on Mubi

33 ‘To Live and Die in L.A.’ (1985)

Director: William Friedkin

To Live and Die in L.A. - 1985
Image via United Artists

When it comes to the filmography of the legendary William Friedkin, you can’t really go wrong with much of what’s there. And sure, his best efforts were probably from the 1970s (looking at you, The French Connection and The Exorcist), but beyond that decade, his best single film might well be that of To Live and Die in L.A., which is a gritty blend of crime/action/thriller genres that feels of its time, yet also somehow timeless.

Like a great many action movies, the plot here never gets too complex, more or less being focused on one man’s quest for revenge against an elusive criminal after his Secret Service agent partner is killed in cold blood. To Live and Die in L.A. is relentless, violent, and unpredictable, and delivers some seriously impressive action within its runtime, including an all-time great car chase sequence.

To Live and Die in L.A.

Release Date
November 1, 1085


Buy on Amazon

32 ‘Hero’ (2002)

Director: Zhang Yimou

Hero - 2002
Image via Beijing New Picture Film

For a movie that’s got a title as simple as Hero, this 2002 martial arts epic does have a surprisingly complex and intricate structure, even if the plot itself isn’t too convoluted, at the end of the day. Things revolve around one hugely talented warrior detailing how he took down three assassins in rapid succession, each playing out through a series of gorgeously filmed and quite stunning flashbacks.

Once the stories are over, other things transpire that aren’t worth spoiling, but the overall structure and slow-burn narrative building in the film’s present does somewhat mimic the storytelling found in Masaki Kobayashi’sHarakiri. Hero is a good deal more action-centered than that iconic samurai drama movie, though, and is worth a watch for just how visually beautiful it is alone (that the action is also very good honestly just feels like icing on the cake).

Rent on Apple TV

31 ‘Drunken Master II’ (1994)

Director: Lau Kar-leung

Jackie Chan in 'Legend of Drunken Master.'
Image via Golden Harvest Company 

It’s impossible to talk about great action movies without bringing up the legendary Jackie Chan, who’s been in so much (and many of those titles get underrated/overlooked). One of his earlier starring roles was in Drunken Master, and while that film was a more than a solid piece of martial arts entertainment, its eventual sequel, 1994’s Drunken Master II (sometimes known as Legend of the Drunken Master) was a significant improvement in almost every regard.

This 1994 flick is funnier and far more bombastic when it comes to action, delivering some huge sequences where Chan’s character and an ally take on dozens of foes, as well as a climactic fight where Jackie Chan fights another skilled martial artist in a scene that feels like it never ends, all the while continually escalating. Those who aren’t familiar with martial arts outside American cinema ought to make watching the martial arts classic Drunken Master II a priority, because it does undoubtedly represent this genre at its best.

Rent on Apple TV

30 ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ (2022)

Director: Joseph Kosinski

Maverick takes off from an aircraft carrier
Image via Paramount Pictures

The original Top Gun is a solid enough movie, but not one that holds up particularly well. It’s probably liked for nostalgic reasons, rather than for being a genuinely great movie, but thankfully, Top Gun: Maverick was able to build upon it and spin the familiar into something great, in turn feeling like one of the very best movies released during the 2020s so far. It’s also no secret at this stage that it’s one of the highest-grossing in recent memory, too.

It was far better as a movie than just about anyone was expecting, and arguably stands as one of the greatest sequels of all time, given how much of an improvement it is on the first. Tom Cruise‘s dedication to the role makes it shine, and all the scenes of aerial training and combat are genuinely thrilling to watch.

29 ‘Predator’ (1987)

Director: John McTiernan

Predator Men Shooting Into Jungle

Even if Predator isn’t the very best Arnold Schwarzenegger movie out there, it has to be a contender. Predator is a fantastic blend of action, sci-fi, and even a little horror, given it pits a fearsome team of commandos up against a rarely-seen alien enemy who hunts them for sport, and with ruthless efficiency, deep in a Central American jungle.

It’s at its best in the final act, when Schwarzenegger’s character is essentially alone against the titular monster/alien, with the extended one-on-one battle of wits playing out with minimal dialogue, and plenty of suspense. It’s a well-polished movie that’s far less schlocky than its reputation might have one believe, and deservedly stands as a 1980s action classic, with the film perfectly combining action and sci-fi to stunning effect.


Release Date
June 12, 1987

107 minutes

28 ‘The Killer’ (1989)

Director: John Woo

The Killer - 1989 (1)

A John Woo movie that was clearly influential on the action movies that followed in its wake, The Killer is an overall excellent and action-packed film. It follows a remorseful assassin who wants to atone for a hit that went wrong with unintended consequences, only for his personal quest to land him in even deeper trouble.

It’s both a tragedy and an explosive, gunfight-heavy spectacle, and the way it balances its somber story with very over-the-top action is something of a filmmaking miracle. Later John Woo movies might deliver even more wild action set pieces, but few action movies hit as hard as The Killer does when it comes to the emotional content of the stories they tell. For that main reason, it’s pretty much an action movie masterpiece.

Buy on Amazon

27 ‘Heat’ (1995)

Director: Michael Mann

Robert De Niro and Val Kilmer armed with assault rifles in Heat
Image Via Warner Bros

Heat might not have as frequent action scenes as most action movies, but here, it’s all about the quality, rather than the quantity. Its legacy as a great piece of action cinema is cemented by its bank robbery/shootout sequence alone, which is a perfectly executed – and ferociously intense – scene that’s lost none of its power in the years since Heat was first released.

Also helping Heat is the fact that it has a fantastic cast led by Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, and a solidly told story that unfolds steadily over an almost three-hour-long runtime. It earns that length and feels suitably epic, making it among the best action movies of its decade. It’s also a film that could well rank as the greatest achievement within Michael Mann’s career, which is certainly saying something, considering how many high-quality movies he’s made.


Release Date
December 15, 1995

Michael Mann

170 minutes

26 ‘Speed’ (1994)

Director: Jan de Bont

Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock in Speed
Image via 20th Century Fox

There’s a wonderful simplicity and silliness to Speed‘s premise that makes it instantly hook the viewer in. The characters are stuck on a bus that is set to explode if the bus drops below a certain speed, and so things are always moving forward and feeling tense, given that the danger inherent from such a premise; danger that never fully goes away.

It helps make Speed one of the best movies of 1994, with its cast – including Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, and Dennis Hopper – enhancing things further. Speed is a constantly thrilling action movie, and it delivers something that’s consistently fast-paced and never boring, making it easy to recommend for fans of cinematic excitement.


Release Date
June 9, 1994


25 ‘Fast Five’ (2011)

Director: Justin Lin

Image via Universal Pictures

The Fast and Furious series has turned into a behemoth franchise at this point in time. It began in 2001 and had a 10th entry released in May 2023, with the series focusing on illegal street races near the beginning, and then transitioning to more spy/espionage-focused stories in later entries.

Fast Five was the point where the series made that dramatic transition, with far more explosive and over-the-top action, and less street racing than had been seen before. It was instrumental in transforming the series into one of the 21st century’s biggest action-heavy movie franchises so far, and holds up as a series high point, ultimately being worthy of squeezing into a list of the best action movies of all time.

Fast Five

Release Date
April 29, 2011

130 minutes

24 ‘RRR’ (2022)

Director: S.S. Rajamouli

A man rides a horse while his friend rides a motorcycle next to him.
Image via Netflix

In a year when some people began to express a certain amount of superhero fatigue, RRR stepped up to the plate and showed the world how modern action blockbusters should work. It fictionalizes the exploits of two Indian revolutionaries (who never actually met in real life), essentially turning the pair into superheroes while showing them teaming up to take on the Crown rule in India during the early 1900s.

RRR has a lengthy three-hour runtime that nevertheless flies by thanks to good pacing, fantastic action, and a straightforward yet emotionally satisfying story filled with likable heroes and immensely hateable villains. It’s explosive and over-the-top in the best way possible, with RRR deserving worldwide success in 2022.


Release Date
March 25, 2022

S.S. Rajamouli

Ram Charan , Ajay Devgn


Watch on Netflix

23 ‘Avengers: Endgame’ (2019)

Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo

Captain America, Hulk, and Thor getting ready for battle at the end of 'Avengers: Endgame.'

The impact of Avengers: Endgame is only truly felt when one’s seen the majority of the MCU movies that came before it. It was technically the second-last Phase 3 film, but still served as a climax for the first three phases of the MCU as a whole, given it centered on fighting back against Thanos and reversing the damage he caused to the universe at the end of 2018’s Infinity War.

Through a time-travel narrative, it manages to revisit previous films in the series and view them from different perspectives, all before things culminate in the largest superhero battle depicted in the MCU so far. It’s a great finale, earning its huge runtime and setting a high bar that subsequent MCU movies have (so far) failed to match. Grand superhero crossover movies haven’t gotten much better than this, and it remains to be seen whether it’ll ever be equaled or topped in the future.

22 ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’ (2007)

Director: Paul Greengrass

A man in all black running

Beginning with The Bourne Identity in 2002, the series about Jason Bourne – a CIA assassin struggling to recollect his past – proved hugely influential for the action genre. The first three movies were particularly great, and helped usher in a fresh style of action movies, focusing on grittier, more realistic fights, fast-paced editing, and often shaky camerawork. When it came to the last of those, such a stylistic choice did become less aggressive and in-your-face as the series went on.

It’s a style that certainly doesn’t always get imitated well, but the first three Bourne movies pulled it off. The best of them is likely 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum, which wraps up many of the trilogy’s mysteries satisfyingly and makes for a great ending (especially considering 2012’s The Bourne Legacy and 2016’s Jason Bourne weren’t so good).

The Bourne Ultimatum

Release Date
August 3, 2007

115 minutes

21 ‘Casino Royale’ (2006)

Director: Martin Campbell

James Bond Casino Royale Crane Jump

The James Bond series is one of the longest-running in cinema history, and it’s a vitally important one within the action genre as a whole. For as great as the campier, escapism-heavy entries could be, however, there’s a case to be made that 2006’s Casino Royale is the best of the lot.

It took some inspiration from the aforementioned Bourne movies, with a darker tone and slightly more grounded action. It’s a tough, lean, brutally effective take on James Bond, and ushered Daniel Craig into the titular role in immense style, cementing him as a star and one of the best on-screen Bonds so far. Purists might still want to stick to Sean Connery, but Craig established himself as a 007 to be reckoned with in this dynamite film; one of the very best in the entire long-running movie series.

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