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Kurt Russell’s 10 Best Action Movies, Ranked

November 17, 20239 Mins Read


  • Kurt Russell has had a successful career as an action star, with many of his greatest and most famous credits falling within this genre.
  • Some of Kurt Russell’s best action movies cross over into other genres, such as horror, superhero, and Western, making for an outstanding and diverse list.
  • While not all of Kurt Russell’s best movies are critically acclaimed, they are highly entertaining and have a dedicated following, solidifying his status as a beloved action hero.

Kurt Russell is one of the foremost action stars in modern cinema and has appeared in some thrilling and spectacular movies throughout his career. Russell has acted since the early 1960s and made his big screen debut with an uncredited role in the Elvis Presley musical It Happened at the World’s Fair. Afterward, he became a Disney movie star and then a comedic action hero through his many collaborations with John Carpenter, and he still performs to a high standard today.

While not all of Kurt Russell’s best movies are action offerings, most of them are — it’s fair to say his greatest and most famous credits are in this genre. His action appearances also crossover into other genres, such as horror, superhero, and Western. That means picking his finest action movies is difficult, but it also makes for an outstanding list.


Kurt Russell’s Horror Movies, Ranked Worst To Best

Kurt Russell has appeared in just about every genre over the course of his career, and here’s his horror work – including The Thing – ranked.

10 Tango & Cash (1989)

Guilty Pleasure Buddy Cop Action-Comedy

Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell as Tango and Cash in the rain and staring off to the side

Objectively, Tango & Cash is not a brilliant movie. However, it’s an easy guilty pleasure, a quintessentially ’80s cheese-fest, and undoubtedly entertaining enough to warrant its place among Kurt Russell’s best action movies. It’s a buddy cop action comedy focusing on two Los Angeles police detectives who, having been rivals with opposing methods and personalities, must work together when framed for murder by a criminal mastermind. Sylvester Stallone plays Lieutenant Raymond “Ray” Tango, a slick and disciplined cop, and Russell plays Gabriel “Gabe” Cash, a reckless “cowboy cop.” Tango & Cash is full of energy and back-and-forth banter, and it falls under the so bad it’s good category of movies.

9 Unlawful Entry (1992)

Brilliant Psychological Action Thriller

Kurt Russell as Michael Carr in Unlawful Entry

The action-packed psychological thriller Unlawful Entry is perhaps the least known of Kurt Russell’s best movies, but it deserves more recognition. It’s about an upscale Los Angeles couple who befriend a lonely police officer, resulting in a chilling scenario in which the cop develops an obsession with the wife. Russell plays Michael Carr, Madeleine Stowe plays his wife, Karen, and Ray Liotta plays creepy cop Pete Davis. Unlawful Entry is tense and suspenseful, with frighteningly convincing performances full of depth and emotion — especially from Liotta, who is genuinely terrifying. Much of the film is far-fetched, but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining.

8 Death Proof (2007)

Quentin Tarantino Action-Packed Grindhouse Feature

Kurt Russell's Stuntman Mike smokes in a bar in the Grindhouse film Death Proof

Death Proof

Release Date
May 22, 2007

113 minutes

In Quentin Tarantino’s action thriller Death Proof, Russell stars as Mike “Stuntman Mike” McKay, a homicidal stunt performer who murders young unsuspecting women using a doctored car, then walks away unscathed. Russell is deliciously cool and ruthless in the role, making Death Proof the slightly better of the Grindhouse double feature entries Tarantino put out with Robert Rodriguez. It’s not one of the best Tarantino movies, but it’s certainly among his most fun. It’s an entertaining romp with more than enough twisted violence and carnage to satisfy horror and action fans alike.

7 Backdraft (1991)

Action Thriller Following Chicago Firefighters

Kurt Russell as Stephen McCaffrey surrounded by other firefighters facing forward and upward in Backdraft.

Backdraft is an action thriller and one of a spate of memorable ’90s disaster flicks. It stars Kurt Russell as firefighter Stephen “Bull” McCaffrey as he and his colleagues look to identify and thwart a serial arsonist. The incredible supporting cast includes William Baldwin, Robert De Niro, Scott Glenn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rebecca De Mornay, and Donald Sutherland. Everyone performs brilliantly in this one, with Russell the standout, and the special effects are spectacular. Its story is hardly the most complex, and it doesn’t require much thought to enjoy, but the performances and spectacle make it one of Russell’s more fun popcorn flicks.

6 Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Colorful Cosmic Superhero Movie

Kurt Russell as Ego with part of his face missing in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Release Date
April 19, 2017

Dave Bautista , ​Chris Pratt2 , Chris Sullivan , Vin Diesel , Kurt Russell , Zoe Saldana , Karen Gillan , Elizabeth Debicki , Sylvester Stallone , Glenn Close , Sean Gunn , Nathan Fillion , Tommy Flanagan , Michael Rooker , Pom Klementieff , Bradley Cooper

137 minutes

The 15th installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, follows the titular team through the cosmos as they attempt to help their leader, Peter Quill, find his elusive and mysterious father. Kurt Russell plays Ego, the dad in question and a powerful Celestial being who turns out to be an evil megalomaniac. It’s a colorful, action-packed, funny film full of heart, and Russell is fantastic. He’s the movie’s standout star, convincingly playing Ego as a character with a kind front and a savage side that, unlike many Marvel movie villains, feels like a genuine threat.

5 Bone Tomahawk (2015)

Brutal But Gripping Western

Kurt Russell as Sheriff Franklin inspecting a fire poker in Bone Tomahawk

Bone Tomahawk

Release Date
October 23, 2015

S. Craig Zahler

Patrick Wilson , Kurt Russell , Sean Young , Lili Simmons , Matthew Fox , Zahn McClarnon

132 minutes

The Western movie Bone Tomahawk follows the sheriff of the small town of Bright Hope as he forms a rescue party and leads them on a mission to save three people who were kidnapped by an inbred cannibalistic Native American tribe. Russell plays Franklin Hunt, the sheriff, and he expertly leads an impressive ensemble that includes Richard Jenkins, Matthew Fox, Patrick Wilson, Sid Haig, and David Arquette. Bone Tomahawk features some utterly brutal action and gore, melding the horror, action, and Western genres in a peculiar but effective way. It’s a slow-burner but engaging thanks to its outstanding cast’s terrific collective performance.


Every Kurt Russell Western, Ranked Worst To Best

Kurt Russell has only made a few Westerns in his career like The Hateful Eight, but his outings have been some of the genre’s best in recent years.

4 Escape From New York (1981)

John Carpenter’s Crime-Filled Sci-Fi Action Movie

Escape From New York

Release Date
July 10, 1981

Isaac Hayes , Donald Pleasance , Kurt Russell , Lee Van Cleef , Harry Dean Stanton , Adrienne Barbeau

99 minutes

The sci-fi action movie Escape from New York stars Kurt Russell as the prisoner and ex-soldier Lieutenant S.D. “Snake” Plissken. Set in a then-future 1997, it depicts a crime-ridden America in which Manhattan has been converted into the most secure prison in the country. When anti-government rebels intentionally crash Air Force One there, Snake is given a day to rescue the U.S. president in exchange for a pardon. Russell is utilized excellently by director John Carpenter and oozes attitude in this gritty, atmospheric, often thrilling, and highly entertaining escapist movie that seems to get better with age. It boasts superb imagery and is among John Carpenter’s highest-grossing movies.


Every John Carpenter & Kurt Russell Movie Ranked Worst to Best

Director John Carpenter is a horror and sci-fi legend and actor Kurt Russell is probably his greatest collaborator, so here’s how their movies rank.

3 Big Trouble In Little China (1986)

Another Carpenter Classic That’s Colorful And Exciting

Big Trouble in Little China

Release Date
May 30, 1986

Kurt Russell , Kim Cattrall , Dennis Dun , James Hong , Victor Wong , Kate Burton

99 minutes

John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China is an action-comedy with fantasy elements, and there’s no other movie like it. Kurt Russell stars as Jack Burton, a trucker drawn into an underworld fight with an ancient sorcerer who has kidnapped his friend’s green-eyed fiancée, so he can marry her and escape an ancient curse. This is Russell at his best, as he gives a John Wayne-esque performance that’s funny, energetic, and charismatic. Big Trouble in Little China is as fun as a cartoon, with loads of action, an intriguing aesthetic, impressive special effects, and the feel of a Hong Kong martial arts B-movie, which works brilliantly.

2 The Thing (1982)

One Of The Finest Horror Remakes Ever

The Thing (1982)

Release Date
June 25, 1982

T.K. Carter , David Clennon , Keith David , Kurt Russell , wilford brimley

109 minutes

John Carpenter’s The Thing is a sci-fi horror movie with plenty of action, and it’s one of the best remakes of all time. The second film adaptation of John W. Campbell Jr.’s 1938 novella Who Goes There? chronicles a team of American researchers in Antarctica as they face an extraterrestrial being that can assimilate and mimic other life forms. Kurt Russell stars as R.J. MacReady, the group’s fearless helicopter pilot who leads the fight against the alien. His exceptional performance is the primary reason for the film’s success. The Thing is a terrifying, suspenseful, brilliantly atmospheric movie teeming with paranoia. It’s a must-watch for any sci-fi, horror, or action fan.


Every Kurt Russell Sci-Fi Movie, Ranked

Kurt Russell has been a force to be reckoned with across a plethora of genres. Here are the best science fiction films Russell starred in, ranked.

1 Tombstone (1993)

Stylish Action-Packed Modern Classic Western


Release Date
December 25, 1993

George P. Cosmatos

Bill Paxton , Charlton Heston , Sam Elliott , Powers Boothe , Val Kilmer , Kurt Russell , Michael Biehn , Jason Priestley

130 minutes

Tombstone is one of the best Western movies in recent memory and a modern genre classic. It follows a successful lawman as he intends to quietly retire in Tombstone, Arizona, only to have it disrupted by outlaws — the kind he built a reputation for thwarting. Kurt Russell plays Wyatt Earp, one of several historical figures depicted, as his retirement is interrupted. He’s phenomenal in the role and only equaled by Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday. The brilliant supporting cast is a Hollywood who’s who and includes Powers Boothe, Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, and Charlton Heston. Tombstone is action-packed, emotional, and highly quotable. It’s Kurt Russell’s best movie, period.

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