By any measure, Kurt Russell is a force of nature. In almost every industry, the ability to last or have the staying power to be relevant over the decades is an indicator of greatness. Russell got his start in television on the show Dennis the Menace in 1962.
But, movies would soon follow. Starting with Guns of Diablo in 1964, Russell became a familiar and popular film star in supporting and leading roles. The following are the 10 best action movies according to Rotten Tomatoes.
10 Unlawful Entry (73%) 1992
Unlawful Entry is a tense thriller about a couple terrorized by a police officer with boundary issues. Russell is the patient husband Michael Carr. But, when the officer, played by Ray Liotta, takes things too far, Russell fights back to protect his wife played by Madeleine Stowe.
This is a story about an everyman who is pushed to become a reluctant hero defending his home and loved one. Russell is a kind and understanding hero who only does what is necessary and does not relish violence. But, when he finally does strike, the mild-mannered Carr stands his ground and rises to the challenge.
9 Tombstone (74%) 1993
Russell was part of an all-star cast that included Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday, and Michael Biehn and Powers Boothe as the leaders of the villainous Cowboys. Russell portrayed legendary lawman Wyatt Earp. Sam Elliott and Bill Paxton played his brothers Virgil and Morgan, respectively.
Tombstone was based more around the legend of the Earps than the historical record of the famed gunman and his family. Wyatt has given up the life of law enforcement and wants nothing more than to become a successful businessman. But, when his family is threatened, Russell brings to life a vengeful Wyatt Earp hungry for blood.
8 Backdraft (74%) 1991
Backdraft was one of two major films starring Kurt Russell. The film is still famous for its haunting depictions of the danger that fires can create and the risk that firefighters face battling them. Russell and his younger brother, played by William Baldwin, butt heads when they are assigned to the same engine.
The film also paired Russell with legendary tough man Scott Glenn. The high-action firefighting scenes are coupled with a mystery arsonist and sibling rivalry. Russell’s broken marriage and life on a boat also gave an insight into the complications that firefighting can bring into marriages and families.
7 Big Trouble in Little China (77%) 1986
Despite not breaking the eightieth percentile according to Rotten Tomatoes, Big Trouble in Little China was and is a cult-classic. Russell’s ultra-macho Jack Burton is a big talker who finds himself in the middle of an ancient war. With the help of his friend Wang Chi, played by Dennis Dun, Burton joins an army of martial artists and magicians in a battle with a 3,000-year-old warlord named Lopan.
At stake is Wang’s fiancee Miao Yin, played by Suzee Pai, and a fledging reporter named Gracie Law, played by Kim Cattrall, who Burton has developed a romantic interest in. Demons, magic potions, and superb knife-throwing skills should make this a higher ranking title on Russell’s action-movie list.
6 Deepwater Horizon (83%) 2016
It’s hard to get people to care about a movie that boils down to an unstoppable eco-disaster caused by an oil company’s dangerous practices. The movie is built around the crew of the Deepwater Horizon that was present on April 20th, 2010 when the oil-drilling platform began leaking water.
In an attempt to capture the scale of one of the largest man-made disasters in the world, Jimmy Harrell is a voice of reason trying to keep the platform running and his crew safe. He is a voice of moral conviction that British Petroleum (BP) refuses to listen to.
5 The Thing (84%) 1982
This updated remake of a 1951 classic cemented John Carpenter as a master of suspense and horror. The thirty years that passed also meant better special effects. But, it’s Russell’s portrayal of helicopter pilot MacReady of the everyman thrown into a nightmare that catapulted this film into the video vault’s of fans and critics alike.
The isolated wilderness of an Antarctic research facility is the perfect setting for a thrilling psychological adventure. Facing an unknown foe that can change shape and dwindling numbers, The Thing showcases a Kurt Russell who can command a scene with tense acting and bursts of authentic action.
4 Grindhouse (84%) 2007
Grindhouse was an homage to the poorly edited chophouse films of the 70s that were cheaply made and filled with gratuitous violence, nudity, and mediocre special effects. The project housed two movies and the first was directed by Robert Rodriguez called Planet Terror. The second was directed by Quentin Tarantino and starred Russell as a crazed motorist delivering death at 200 mph who might as well be Death Proof.
Under the direction of Tarantino, Russell mows down a who’s who of celebrities including Rose McGowan and Rosario Dawson. The sleazy tribute includes fake exploitation trailers and hatchet-style edits that echo the makeshift quality that made films like this an unapologetic hit in big city low-budget theaters.
3 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (85%) 2017
Ego is the name of a living planet that originated in the pages of Marvel Comics. But, in the movie Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, hero-in-progress Peter Quill discovers that Ego is his father. Half-human and half-alien DNA saved him from the destructive forces of an Infinity Stone and made him one of the few progenies that survived.
Russell’s turn as Ego is as sweet as the character’s love for the song Brandy. Things take a violent turn when Ego reveals that eating his children is the key to the living planet’s immortality. CGI special effects only amplify Russell’s ability to bring every action scene to life.
2 Escape From New York (86%) 1981
The 1981-version of 1997 is a bleak and tragic landscape. A broken world has turned the island of Manhattan into a maximum-security prison housing some of America’s most dangerous criminals. Thankfully, Snake Plissken is willing to take the most dangerous jobs as long as the price is right.
Which is why the ex-soldier and current criminal accepts a bribe from a merciless prison warden. The deal is simple. The president’s plane was hijacked. It crashed and the president is being held, hostage. Only a hardened criminal with the skills of a soldier can offer the country the hope of getting back its leader.
1 Bone Tomahawk (91%)
Sheriff Franklin Hunt is an aging sheriff in a little western town called Bright Hope. Hunt, played by Russell, is the town’s only hope when cannibal’s kidnap settlers, including a doctor. What follows is a harrowing account of an Old West mission of rescue and redemption.
The gritty action and Russell’s relentless determination are driving forces. Along the way, the elder hero makes poignant statements like, “pain is your body’s way of talking to you. You’d do well to listen to it,” put this western at the top of Russell’s action movie list according to Rotten Tomatoes.