Action movies can provide brief thrills before their memories quickly fade in the minds of audiences, but the greatest in the genre are truly unforgettable. From science fiction thrill rides to pioneering adventures that revolutionized the genre, there have been countless action movies that have stood the test of time. But the best of the best not only define the genre, but stand up to the greatest movies of any genre.
The following 15 are truly special action films that range from character-driven emotional roller coasters to insane blasts of fun that only want to entertain. In any case, a great action movie speaks a language that anyone can understand. Whatever your preference may be, these movies are guaranteed to thrill and amaze time and time again, no matter who you are or how many times you’ve seen them.
See #30 through #16 in Part 1 of The 30 Greatest Action Movies of All Time! Have your own personal favorites? Let me know in the comments section below.
15. Edge of Tomorrow
A heady mix of action, thrills, character, comedy, and a killer science fiction concept mean Edge of Tomorrow is one of the most well balanced and exciting action films made in recent years. Starring Tom Cruise as Major William Cage, a man who is forced to relieve the same day over and over again each time he dies in a battle against an overwhelming alien force, this is a supremely smart and fantastically crafted piece of filmmaking. Reliving the day over and over means that Edge of Tomorrow is composed of a very unique character arc for Cage and is made up of a narrative that keeps subverting expectations in the best way possible. Plus, Emily Blunt’s Rita Vrataski is one of the most badass characters in recent years, man or woman. Underline this all with countless fights using futuristic but grounded exoskeleton technology against a terrifying alien force and you have a heart-racing film that thrills time and time again.
Best Action Scene: Cage relives his chaotic beach landing, where an alien ambush causes mayhem to break out and countless soldiers to die. While he dies many times in an effort to reach Vrataski, he gets just a little better after every brutal but terribly funny death.
Modern sword and sandal epics are legendary for being bad. The only reason these films are still being made is that Ridley Scott’s Gladiator worked so well. Following the story of Roman General Maximus Decimus Meridius, who was betrayed and enslaved only to seek revenge for the death of his family, Gladiator has the visceral action that genre fans crave while delivering fantastic acting and storytelling for those looking for a great film. Of course, Russel Crowe’s turn as Maximus and Joaquin Phoenix’s take on Emperor Commodus are titanic performances of the film. But they are surrounded by an amazing cast and a story that packs a huge emotional punch, which means that the action is not only visceral but underlined with the investment from audiences.
Best Action Scene: Maximus faces off against the legendary Tigris of Gaul, who has been brought to end the gladiator once and for all. These two trade fierce attacks in an epic duel that gets in your face and puts lives on the line. Then the tigers come out to attack.
13. Casino Royale
However, the rebirth of James Bond in Casino Royale was an event marked with tons of fantastic action scenes while still maintaining the charm and style the series had been known for in the decades prior. Not only did Daniel Craig’s Agent 007 have far deeper characterization, but he took part in the most brutal and jaw-dropping action scenes the series had ever seen. As a reboot of the character, fans were given a greater understanding of who James Bond truly is while also seeing the series shed its campy setbacks and tired clichés. You don’t have to be a fan of James Bond movies to love Casino Royale. You don’t even have to be a fan of action movies. This is just an incredibly well made film that can please a wide audience without compromising its focus and its often artistic style.
Best Action Scene: Bond chases a bomb maker through Mumbasa, running after the man through a construction site and into an embassy. It’s full of chaos, great action, and wonderful practical stunts that show Bond as a brutal, efficient, and deadly agent.
12. The Raid 2
Gareth Edward’s The Raid: Redemption was a gritty and tightly focused Indonesian martial arts movie that was immediately loved by action fans around the world. Its follow-up in The Raid 2 sought to paint a far bigger picture by telling a gangster epic along the lines of The Godfather, but with insane action and tons of amazing fights that outclass most films with a far bigger budget. While the story may lag in some aspects when it tries to tell a complex narrative, there are plenty of amazing pieces of action to keep your blood pumping. Everything the early prison fights to the climactic showdowns thrill in unique ways, with each offering something special and never repetitive. Plus, Iko Uwais proves he’s a true action star in his return as Rama – the baddest man alive.
Best Action Scene: Rama faces off against the nameless assassin in a kitchen in what is clearly the film’s big boss fight. Mutual respect and a test of skills soon changes to a brutal and bloody struggle full of lightning fast strikes and brutal kerambit cuts. Easily one of the best movies fights in years.
11. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Writer and director James Cameron really knows how to do a sequel. While The Terminator was an inspired piece of science fiction, Terminator 2: Judgment Day not only explores the concepts of time travel, destiny, and artificial life, but is one of the greats in the action movie hall of fame. This is a movie that knows how to do bigger and better while still keeping real heart and an investment in characters. Arnold’s turn as the T-800 is easily his most iconic performance, Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Conner is one of the best female heroes in film, Edward Furlong’s John Conner is one of the best child heroes, and Robert Patrick’s T-1000 is one of the most terrifying villains of all time. Throw in iconic lines, wonderful fights and shootouts relying on practical effects, and revolutionary CGI and T2 is timeless and constantly imitated.
Best Action Scene: The escape from Cyberdyne goes from bad to worse as the T-1000 pursues the gang in a helicopter, with huge explosions and crashes leading to the fantastic faceoff in the steel factory finale. What a way to end a movie!
10. The Raid: Redemption
Blending modern crime films with thrilling martial arts action, The Raid: Redemption is a pulse-pounding creation that has the spirit of a classic action film and the style of a modern one. Gareth Edward’s story focuses on an Indonesian police squad tasked with storming an apartment complex controlled by a a criminal kingpin. Of course, things go terribly wrong from the start and The Raid is spectacularly chaotic all the way to the end. While it’s Iko Uwais’ Rama who is the star, that’s not readily apparent from the start, meaning that the deaths of the characters are often surprising and devastating. From jaw-dropping fist fights to insane chases that blast from room to room and floor to floor, The Raid is an action film you simply cannot miss.
Best Action Scene: Brothers Rama and Andi team up to fight the ruthless Mad Dog, who has destroyed everyone else in his way. But even together these two take a terrible beating in a thrilling and desperate fight that pulls no punches.
9. Seven Samurai
Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is a masterpiece that has been copied time and time again, but no copy can beat the original. Set in feudal Japan, one noble samurai gathers six other men in an effort to defend a small village from a gang of bandits that have been robbing them year after year. While Kurosawa’s film may be three hours in length, this epic journey flies by thanks to its magnificent acting, spectacular cinematography, and powerful narrative. Seven Samurai is also punctuated by thrilling duels and massive clashes between the forces of good, evil, and everyone in between. Kurosawa’s style of both incredibly artistic and brutally real, meaning that the film’s action can be enjoyed on multiple level. Most importantly, it’s a film filled with characters you care about, which makes the action far more personal and meaningful.
Best Action Scene: Constant back and forth between the village forces and the bandits culminates in one last all out invasion. It’s brutal, dirty, and bloody. By the end, a victor is declared and countless beloved characters are dead in the end to one of cinema’s all time great movies.
8. The Road Warrior
George Miller’s lean and mean follow-up to the Australian cult classic Mad Max is a tightly focused and adrenaline-filled piece of insanity. Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) roams the wasteland to survive, but is pulled into a battle between a group of refinery workers and the marauding forces of Lord Humongous. But Max is no hero, he’s just looking for enough guzzoline to survive. Between wild car chases and brutal fights, we see the redemption of Max, who learns to become a man once again in the wasteland of the world. Miller’s film is brutally efficient in its storytelling, but still manages to create interesting characters and countless iconic scenes. Gibson’s Max may be a man of few words, but he’s magnetic nonetheless. The Road Warrior is still a thrill today.
Best Action Scene: In an effort to save everyone else, Max and a small group lead the gasoline tanker out on the road and are viciously pursued by Humongous and his gang. It’s a desperate struggle that soon sees Max trying to save the stowaway Feral Child in a lengthy stretch of vehicular insanity with a jaw-dropping ending!
7. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Very few superhero films can stack up to the best action movies due to a reliance on special effects and often underwhelming set pieces. Often, it’s everything but the action that makes superhero films special. That’s definitely not the case with Captain America: The Winter Soldier– one of the most thrilling and spectacular superhero films ever made. This is a Marvel Comics movie that has everything going for it – iconic hero, great villain, wonderful supporting characters, layered plot, and, of course, amazing action. Chris Evans’ performance of Captain America is lynchpin for the entire film, which pivots on the decisions of a noble man in a dark and shady world. Thanks to lots of practical effects and a focus on grounded action, the fights are far more thrilling than most other superhero films and the Russo Brothers stage them in a kinetic but not confusing manner. Combined with a thought-provoking and relevant narrative, The Winter Soldier is a modern masterpiece.
Best Action Scene: It’s a tie between Captain America fighting a dozen armed soldiers in a tight elevator and his lightning fast combat with The Winter Soldier after being ambushed on the freeway. Both are infinitely better than any other fight scenes produced by Marvel or DC today.
Throw together science fiction, horror, and classic Schwarzeneggar action and you have Predator. But this sci-fi actioner is more than the sum of it’s parts, it’s a well-crafted and incredibly balanced film that knows when to restrain itself and when to dive headfirst into madness. Following an elite Delta Force squad that becomes hunted by an alien killer, Predator knows how to thrill and entertain in equal measure, as this is a film split into two distinct halves – commando film and horror movie. But the top-rate action is found throughout, with the scares coming fast and the Predator itself being one of sci-fi’s great monsters. Schwarzeneggar is fantastically charismatic here, but this is a movie that doesn’t even need his charm and muscles, they just make it that much better!
Best Action Scene: With his entire platoon decimated, Dutch faces the Predator alone using makeshift traps and pure machismo in the jungle at night. This is a desperate battle for survival even the musclebound Schwarzennegar may not win.
5. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Take everything great about Raiders of the Lost Ark and add in more character development and stronger relationships and you have Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. But the third Indy film is far more than just a revisit to the themes of the original action adventure classic. Not only does Last Crusade provide a fitting cap to the trilogy by bringing back beloved characters and the threat of the Nazis, but it ups the stakes by introducing Indy’s father – Henry Jones (Sean Connery). Connery and Ford make an amazing duo that really adds emotional heft to the story. Not on only that, but there are fantastic action sequences galore, including the amazing motorcycle chase, the tank battle, and the climactic journey through the Holy Grail’s trials. This is one of the few part threes that works both on its own and part of a larger whole. Last Crusade is easily the best action movie part three ever made!
Best Action Scene: It’s Indiana Jones on horseback versus a Nazi-filled tank in one incredible sequences that combines elements of chases, gunfights, hand-to-hand combat, and huge emotion as Indy tries to save his father and friend from certain death.
4. Mad Max: Fury Road
While it may be the newest film on the list, Fury Roadis an instant classic and the epitome of the power of a well-made action movie. Writer/Director George Miller was able to not only bring the Mad Max franchise roaring back with new life, but created something that is far more thrilling and artistically genuine than the vast majority of action films being made today. While the story is simple – Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is caught up in a struggle for freedom that plays out over one long movie-length chase – the vibrancy of the world created and the characters that inhabit it make it far more complex than it may seem at first glance. The abundance of practical effects and stunning direction/editing mean that the film moves at a breakneck pace akin to a heavy metal song being brought to life in movie form. Mad Max is alive and well and there is a new benchmark for modern action movies found in Fury Road.
Best Action Scene: Max is strapped to the front of a War Boy car, struggling to free himself as scores die around him and an enormous sand storm envelopes everyone. This is pure and beautiful insanity.
While Ridley Scott’s Alien is easily one of the best horror films ever made, James Cameron’s follow-up in Aliens takes the frightening world the first established and uses it as the basis for one of the greatest action movies of all time. Rather than being a cheap follow up like most horror movies or a film that subverts everything in the original like countless sequels, Aliens is about making everything bigger and badder. More aliens, more weapons, and a far better development of Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley. Rather than being trapped on a spaceship with a single creature, Alienshas Ripley and a troop of Colonial Marines go to an outpost that has been overrun with Xenomorphs in an effort to save any survivors. Everyone from minor Marin characters to the main cast is supremely developed, which means the stakes are far higher and the deaths are far more painful. Aliens is also still a horror movie, which means this is a thrill ride that will have you sweating as things become far worse than you can possibly imagine. Aliens is easily the scariest action movie of all time.
Best Action Scene: Ripley. Alien Queen. Power Loader. Utter badassness.
2. Raiders of the Lost Ark
Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Arkis one of those classic movies that don’t need to be revered by critics in order to be cemented in the annals of film history, but it is anyway. As a loving homage to old movie serials and an update on the action adventure genre, Raiders encapsulates decades of filmmaking while influencing decades more. This is Harrison Ford at his utter best, meaning he can carry the movie entirely on his shoulders, but he doesn’t have to since everything is executed so perfectly. From the cold open that introduces us to Indy to the insane supernatural ending, Raiders can be watched again and again without getting old. But it also can be closely studied for the sake of understanding Spielberg’s mastery behind the camera. This is moviemaking at its most enjoyable.
Best Action Scene: You can really pick any of them since each is spectacular, but the truck chase is something truly special. Practical effects, visual storytelling, and a breakneck pace make this one of the all-time great action scenes.
1. Die Hard
Based on the sheer number of imitators alone,Die Hard is one of the most influential action movies ever made! And with due cause, it’s amazing in every element. The setup is simple – police officer John McClane (Bruce Willis) visits his estranged wife in Los Angeles for a Christmas work party, only for the skyscraper they are in to be taken over by terrorists. Now, it’s McClane against overwhelming force in an all out battle. Literally every scene in the movie works perfectly. Not only is Willis pitch perfect as McClane, but his nemesis in Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber is every bit as good. The action is amazing, the supporting cast is iconic, there are wonderful emotional beats, the film is endlessly quotable, and it pulls no punches with its R rating. Everyone can have a favorite different part of Die Hard because everything works in an amazing fashion. There’s a reason why so many movies have been described as “Die Hard on a …” this is the action film that rocked cinemas and will continue to work for years to come. No action movie beats Die Hard.
Best Action Scene: McClane rushes to the tower’s roof to save dozens of hostages from an incoming explosion, only to be targeted by an FBI helicopter who believe he’s a terrorist. Cue insane machinegun fire, a massive fireball, and McClane hurtling off the skyscraper roof with only a firehose as his lifeline.
Honorable Mentions: Tombstone, Point Break, Man on Fire, The Terminator, The Avengers, Speed, Mission Impossible III, Snowpiercer, Total Recall, The Matrix, The Bourne Identity, Skyfall, From Russia With Love, Desperado, Con Air, Kung Fu Hustle, How to Train Your Dragon, The Incredibles