Actions Movies

The 46 Best Action Movies of All Time

January 18, 20246 Mins Read


First Blood (1982)

Nose, Mouth, Hairstyle, Black hair, Portrait photography, Portrait, No expression, Painting, Mythology,
Sunset Boulevard//Getty Images

John Rambo would become increasingly cartoonish as the sequels went on, but in the original, he was just a scared veteran trying to survive out in the real world.



The Raid 2: Redemption (2014)

best action movies
Sony Classics

The Raid was more frenzied, but the sequel (also written and directed by Gareth Evans) got grand, introducing an intricate crime-drama plot. Didn’t matter: Redemption is brilliantly violent, a ballet of broken bones, perfect punches and crazy car chases.



Ong-Bak (2003)

best action movies
Sahamongkol Film International

The film marked the breakout moment for Muy Thai martial artist Tony Jaa and the beginning of one of the best action franchises ever. There’s not a lot of fakery in Jaa’s fight scenes. Dudes are getting punched for real.


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Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)

kill bill
©Miramax/Everett Collection

The second film is more dialogue-heavy, but the first half is essentially nonstop action … and it’s a good thing the Crazy 88 fight is in black and white, because it’d almost be too bloody to watch otherwise.



The Bourne Ultimatum (2006)

a man on a motorcycle
Everett Collection//Everett

What should have been Jason Bourne’s final adventure is a thrilling, satisfying conclusion to this kinetic trilogy. Director Paul Greengrass and star Matt Damon permanently reshaped how we think of the globetrotting espionage thriller. James Bond is still playing catch-up.



Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

Collar, Outerwear, Formal wear, Coat, Dress shirt, Suit, Suit trousers, Blazer, Woodwind instrument, Brass,
David James

You can’t go wrong with any in this series – though it has only gotten better as the years have gone along – but the introduction of Rebecca Ferguson to this series just amped up the emotional stakes.


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John Wick (2014)

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Everett Collection

Keanu Reeves’ first of two masterful franchises on this list, John Wick gave us a mournful 21st-century assassin who won’t let his grief get in the way of shooting every bad guy in the head at point-blank range.



Enter the Dragon (1973)

Shoulder, Standing, Chest, Style, Barechested, Jaw, Muscle, Waist, Abdomen, Monochrome,
Bettmann//Getty Images

Bruce Lee was popular before this film, but this is what sent him into the stratosphere. Well-made from start to finish, and absolutely unrelenting. The best part about it is that there isn’t a gun to be found in the whole film.



Ip Man (2008)

best action movies
Mandarin Films

Ong-Bak gave us Tony Jaa and Muy Thai, and Ip Man gave us Donnie Yen and Wing Chun. While Yen had been in many other great action films previously (check out Kill Zone — S.P.L.), its the Ip Man films that will define his legacy, the character forever his—the semi-biographical person of Ip Man, Bruce Lee’s trainer. Though the films can feel a bit jingoistic at times (they’re basically Hong Kong’s Rambo), the fight scenes are femur-breaking legendary.


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House of Flying Daggers (2004)

best action movies
Sony Pictures Classics

Zhang Yimou’s magnum opus, Daggers is maybe more love story than a martial arts film—and so the most action-packed love story of all time—but “love story” is no cinematic pejorative. The film features the most colorful and vibrant cinematography of any film on this list. Action is a visual genre. And no film here is more pleasing to the eyes.



The Killer (1989)

two tired men sitting next to one another
Circle Films/Everett Collection

John Woo’s Hollywood career wasn’t as sparkling or consistent as fans would have hoped, but this late-‘80s peak remains a glorious salute to melodramatic plotting and poetic shootouts. Chow Yun-fat made for a fierce, soulful assassin — and, never forget, The Killer is where Woo began his obsession with dove-filled action scenes, which have been parodied everywhere from 21 Jump Street to Scary Movie 2.



Aliens (1986)

Purple, Sky, Light, Illustration, Fictional character, Space, Music venue, Night, Graphic design, Graphics,
Mondadori Portfolio//Getty Images

Oh, don’t dare not think of this as an action movie. The existential dread of Ridley Scott’s original is replaced by James Cameron’s trademark intensity, and even though this has aliens and spaceship, this is as concentrated a dose of thriller mania as you will find. You’re gripping your chair just thinking about it, aren’t you?


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Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Warner Bros.

George Miller had been mulling a new Mad Max film for years, and clearly, he spent that time coming up with every possible permutation of a chase sequence. This movie remains thrilling, almost insane, four years later.



Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Human, Boot, Working animal, Livestock, Stock photography, Pack animal, Horse, Horse tack,
Sony Pictures/Everett Collection//Everett

Because of Ang Lee’s prestige and the glamorous international cast, there is sometimes a sense that this film is bland, good-for-you Important Filmmaking. But watch it again today. This movie is iconic for a reason: it’s a blast, and a euphoric ride.



Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

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TriStar Pictures/Everett Collection//Everett

If the first installment was more of a gritty thriller, then T2 is where director James Cameron cranked up the action spectacle. (That’s the kind of thing that happens when you have a much bigger budget.) Harnessing the power of then-new CG technology, this sequel threw down a challenge at the start of the ‘90s that other blockbuster filmmakers struggled to answer.


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Men in Black (1997)

best action movies
Sony Pictures

Men in Black is that perfect mix of boot-chasing, gun-firing acton with so much outer-wordly originality, Hollywood is still trying to suck every last ounce of life-force out of the 1997 original. Can we just leave the classics alone?



Bullitt (1968)

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Getty Images//Getty Images

Yes, the car chases are as amazing as you’ve heard, but what’s striking today is how well this holds up as a cop procedural. Steve McQueen was an incredible movie star, and he was never better than he was here.



The French Connection (1971)

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Silver Screen Collection//Getty Images

Popeye Doyle is the perfect action star for the ‘70s: grizzled, cranky, morally compromised, not the least bit likable, but absolutely tenacious about getting the bad guy, even if it’s for reasons he can’t even necessarily comprehend. Gene Hackman was at the absolute peak of his powers at this point.


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Seven Samarai (1954)

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Hollywood remade Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece as The Magnificent Seven. It couldn’t compare: Not only is Seven Samurai an epic of scope and scale, it’s one of the most emotionally nuanced of action movies, featuring a slew of characters you come to care deeply about.



Heat (1995)

Alcohol, Human, Liqueur, Drink, Beer, Pleased,

Michael Mann’s epic is the culmination of everything he’d been working toward his entire career; the years since still feel like his own response to it. Everybody remembers the diner scene, but the bank heist sequence feels like a magic trick even more today.



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