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Best Action Movies From Each of the Last 10 Decades

October 19, 20237 Mins Read

Action cinema has evolved significantly throughout cinematic history. Filmmakers have been interested in pushing the boundaries of human physicality since the silent era, resulting in modern franchises like Mission: Impossible and John Wick continuously pushing the envelope.

The genre is as restless as the action it contains. It has successfully stayed relevant, reinventing itself with different styles, approaches, plots, and actors. It’s remarkable to see which older action films still hold up within a modern context. Here are the best action films of each of the past ten decades.

10 ‘The General’ (1926)

Buster Keaton in The General (1926)
Image via United Artists

Buster Keaton’s comedic physical humor became one of the highlights of the silent era. Keaton directed many influential films, including Sherlock Jr. and The Navigator. However, his 1926 historical action-comedy epic The General pushed th’ bouGeneral’of what audiencKeaton’sused to seeing on screen.



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Keaton stars as a cowardly railroad conductor who finds himself in the middle of a warzone after his train heads straight into the middle of a major Civil War conflict. Although it blends comedic elements into the plot, The General is mainly an action-adventure and one of the all-time best action films.

9 ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’ (1938)

Robin Hood kissing Maid Marion's hand in The Adventures of Robin Hood.
Image via Warner Bros

There have been countless actors who have attempted to capture the iconic heroic nature of Robin Hood. However, with all due respect to Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, Cary Elwes, Russell Crowe, and Taron Egerton, none have ‘ome even close to nailinHood’t made the outlaw of folklore as brilliantly as Errol Flynn.

Flynn’s performance in the 1938 masterpiece The Adventures of Robin Hood personifies heroism at its finest. The classical adventure story tells an essential piece of Robin Hood’s fictional history involving his first romance with Maid Marian (Olivia de Havilland) and the fight to restore Nottingham to its former glory. The Adventures of Robin Hood is sweeping, romantic, and thrilling, mixing every major element needed for a greHood’sion movie.

8 ‘Foreign Correspondent’ (1940)

Foreign Correspondent (1)
United Artists

1940 was an important year for Alfred Hitchcock. The Master of Suspense helmed the iconic romantic psychological thriller Rebecca, the best-known film of that year. However, he made another picture, the underrated spy thriller Foreign Correspondent. The film is set within the ongoing World War II conflict and focuses on the American crime reporter John Jones (Joel McCrea) during a critical mission overseas.


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Foreign Correspondent might not rank as highly when looking at Hitchcock’s oeuvre, but the film deserves more praise. It’s a tight, stylish, handsome picture featuring some of Hitchcock’s most impressive set pieces. Foreign Correspondent seamlessly balances action and intrigue, resulting in a clever and riveting film that ranks among Hitchcock’s best and continues to defy expectations.

7 ‘Seven Samurai’ (1956)

Toshirō Mifune as Kikuchiyo in 'Seven Samurai'
Image via Toho

Akira Kurosawa is among the all-time greatest filmmakers. The director helmed some of the most significant samurai films ever made, including Rashomon and Yojimbo, but 1956’s Seven Samurai stands as perhaps his best film.

Seven Samurai tells the story of seven warriors called upon to defend a defenseless village from invading criminals. The film features some of the best swordplay and combat in any of Kurosawa’s films, becoming a landmark of action cinema. The narrative of Seven Samurai has inspired many other films, and its visual style and approach to action have become the benchmark against which future films are measured.

6 ‘Point Blank’ (1967)

Lee Marvin as Walker holding a gun and looking down at something in the film Point Blank

Arthouse cinema has never been as explosive as in John Boorman’s 1967 action thriller Point Blank. The groundbreaking revenge thriller starred Lee Marvin as the assassin Walker, who seeks revenge on his former partners after waking up from a near-death experience.

Boorman’s film is highly entertaining due to the visuals and shocking kills, but it’s also fascinating on a psychological level. Audiences are left to wonder if Walker is simply dreaming and imagining the events transpiring. Is this real or the revenge fantasy of a dying assassin? Point Blank is among the most influential action films in history and is arguably the perfect thriller from beginning to end.

5 ‘Dirty Harry’ (1971)

"Dirty" Harry takes aim on the streets of San Francisco in 1971's Dirty Harry
Image via Warner Bros.

Clint Eastwood already had an iconic Western hero under his belt with his role as “The Man With No Name” in Sergio Leone’s “Dollars” trilogy. Still, he successfully created another beloved protagonist, Harry Callahan, in 1971’s Dirty Harry‘ The plot follows the title character pursuing a psychopathic rooftop killer.


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The action in Dirty Harry is fast and remorseless, reflecting the bleak worldview of so many films within the New Hollywood era. Although the film spawned a popular series, Dirty Harry remains the best entry thanks to Andy Robinson’s menacing performance as the villainous assassin Harry is so desperate to track down.

4 ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ (1981)

Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones and Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood in 'Raiders of the Lost Ark.'
Image via Paramount Pictures 

Steven Spielberg’s 1981 adventure film Raiders of the Lost Ark served as a homage to the classic action-adventure films of the 1930s. Harrison Ford stars as Professor Henry Jones Jr., a daredevil archeologist raising against the Nazis to recover the legendary Ark of the Covenant, said to make any army invincible.

Indiana Jones was everything audiences wanted to see out of an action hero. He’s romantic without being sentimental, suave without being obnoxious, and heroic without ever being self-congratulatory. Raiders features a good amount of historical insights alongside its now-iconic set pieces; many, like the boulder sequence, have never been topped.

3 ‘The Matrix’ (1999)

The cinematography of The Matrix
Image via Warner Bros.

The Wachowski Sisters drew from anime, Asian action cinema, and the philosophy of Plato to create one of the most unique science fiction films in the genre’s history. The Matrix was a groundbreaking film within the pre-Y2K era that took ad’antaMatrix’n audience’s fear of technological forces that couldn’t be explained.


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Keanu Reeves had already proved himself in films like Speed and Point Break, but The Matrix gave him his best character to date. The film’s inventive visual style and approach to action, particularly the widely revered “bullet time sequence,” would be replicated countless times within the next decade.

2 ‘Miami Vice’ (2006)

Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell working on a mission in Miami Vice
Image via Universal Pictures

Miami Vice is among the oddest studio films ever made. While the 1980s series had been slick and stylized, Michael Mann’s 2006 adaptation felt dour, downbeat, and existential. The adventures of Sonny Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Rico Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) are more grounded when placed in realistic environments.

Mann’s use of evolving digital filmmaking techniques allowed theMann’sto feel closer to realistic crime scene accounts than a cheesy cop series could ever be. It was an extraordinary move by Mann to satirize and reflect upon his previous work. Although it received mixed reviews upon release, audiences now see Miami Vice as a misunderstood action masterpiece.

1 ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ (2015)

Furiosa stands in front of truck in desert
Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

It didn’t seem like George Miller could ever top himself after what he did with the original Mad Max trilogy. 1979’s Mad Max was the quintessential revenge thriller, and 1982’s Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior brought to life the Western inspirations within the franchise.

However, Miller’s return to The Wasteland in 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road couldn’t have been more satisfying. The film featured outstanding achievements in practical filmmaking with its incredible stunt work, resulting in electrifying chase sequences unlike anything fans had previously seen on screen. No one missed the controversial Mel Gibson thanks to the introduction of Charlize Theron as the fearsome Imperator Furiosa.

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