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The 25 Greatest Action Movies of All Time!

The 25 Greatest Action Movies of All Time!

What are the best action movies of all time? It’s a controversial question, isn’t it? Any time any publication or site puts out a new list of what they consider the greatest action movies of all time, it can’t help but generate a ton of controversy. Nevertheless, we here at JoBlo have decided to throw our hats into the ring with a list we really hope generates some nostalgia among our viewers but also encourages them to seek out the movies on this list that they may not have seen. But first, some may wonder where superhero movies are on this list. Given how broad that genre is, we decided to stick to old-school action, so we have left them off the list, as they deserve their own ranking. There are also a few absences from the list, notably some Jackie Chan films, with those to follow in another planned list, so stay tuned!

With that out of the way, here’s our Top 25 Best Action Movies Ever Made!

25. Hard Target:

Jean-Claude Van Damme is one of the biggest action stars of all time, and Hard Target is his masterpiece. Beautifully directed by John Woo in his American film debut, it’s not only gloriously violent and lovingly photographed, but it has one of the most memorable villains of all time, Lance Henriksen’s Emil Fouchon. It’s a take on the classic Most Dangerous Game formula, but it gives the heroes and villains equal screen time, making it highly unique as an action film. One note – to fully appreciate this movie, you must see the uncensored, unrated version, which Kino recently reissued on Blu-ray.

Leon: The Professional

24. Leon: The Professional:

Luc Besson’s 1994 hitman drama ranks as one of the most stylish action movies ever made. Sporting a lush score by Eric Serra, and an iconic performance by Jean Reno as the titular “cleaner”, this one inspired many knockoffs. It also introduced the world to Natalie Portman, who plays Leon’s pseudo-daughter figure, Mathilda, who he helps avenge her family’s murder (Portman seems curiously mixed on the film now, though). Plus, Gary Oldman delivers the greatest villain performance of his career as cinema’s most iconically evil corrupt cop. 

Casino Royale

23. Casino Royale:

You can’t seriously do a list like this without including at least one James Bond movie. While I’d wager On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and maybe Goldfinger are better James Bond movies in terms of action, I think Martin Campbell made the best overall action film of the franchise with Casino Royale. It re-invented James Bond for the 21st century, and it is an excellent showcase for Daniel Craig. Once people saw him doing parkour, all doubts about his ability to carry the franchise were immediately put to rest.


22. Commando:

Arnold Schwarzenegger became a star in Conan the Barbarian and The Terminator, but Commando changed his image from a killing machine to a more personable, loving variation. Sure, he still sends 137 souls to meet their maker, but he also establishes a loose persona as a caring dad that really changed the way people see him. Plus, Commando has some of the most creative carnage of all time packed into the insane climax. The woodshed scene alone is glorious.

Rambo first blood part ii 1985

21. Rambo: First Blood Part 2:

The Vietnam War was a psychic wound on America of this era, and I’m not sure contemporary audiences are aware of the cultural importance of Rambo: First Blood Part 2 in the United States throughout the eighties. Along with Commando, this was one of the first “one-man-army” movies and was endlessly imitated. It was also the second highest-grossing movie of 1985 and boosted Stallone into the stratosphere. It was also name-checked by the sitting president – Ronald Reagan – and, in some ways, paved the way for more serious examinations of the Vietnam War, such as Platoon. It’s also worth noting that the MIA issue was widely debated at the time, so of all the films on this list, it could be argued that this might be one of the most culturally significant ones. 

20. Top Gun:

Tom Cruise’s Maverick is one of the most iconic movie characters ever. Rumour has it enlistment into the US Navy skyrocketed after this Tony Scott-directed masterpiece, which stars Cruise as the famously cocky pilot. From a stylistic standpoint, this might actually be the most influential film on the list – the only reason it’s this far down is that the action is mainly contained to aerial dogfights. You could also make a good case for the sequel, Top Gun: Maverick being one of the best action movies ever, too.

19. Road House:

While some may chuckle at Road House’s inclusion on this list, it belongs here for several essential reasons. For one, it upends the era’s idea of an action hero. Many of the era’s biggest stars were monosyllabic types, but Patrick Swayze was different. His character, Dalton, is intelligent, stylish and cerebral, with a degree in philosophy and a low-key vibe that invites people to underestimate him – to their doom. But, the main reason Road House makes this list is that the fights in this movie feel real, with them the perfect antidote to the over-choreographed bouts that followed in its wake. In this one, people whack each other with tree trunks, and by the time it’s over, Swayze’s Dalton can barely stand. It’s a masterpiece of its kind (and we’re excited to see the well-received remake, even if it will never replace the original in our hearts).

25 best action movies

18. Beverly Hills Cop:

Being an action hero isn’t all about brawn. Attitude has a lot to do with it, and there’s arguably never been a hero with more attitude than Eddie Murphy as Axel Foley. He’s not a muscle man, but he’s young and street-smart. What’s also great about this movie is how director Martin Brest allows the film to be hilarious but takes the action very seriously, especially towards the end. I also always liked that Axel becomes pals by the end with the real Beverly Hills Cops that initially antagonize him. I’m cautiously optimistic about the upcoming fourth film.

John Wick: Chapter 4, director's cut, Keanu Reeves

17. The John Wick Franchise:

Granted, we’re cheating a bit with this one, but it’s pretty amazing how what started as a movie that nearly went to VOD became one of the biggest action franchises of the century. At the time this was made, Keanu Reeves was on the verge of becoming a DTV star, but this reinvented him for a new generation and gave him one of his most iconic characters to play – with him becoming the most iconic movie hitman since Chow Yun Fat ditched his guns. Chad Stahelski’s take on action choreography has been tremendously influential, with every action flick that comes out nowadays owing the franchise a sizeable debt. 

Kill Bill 4K

16. Kill Bill Volume 1 & 2:

Quentin Tarantino has made some incredible films, but in terms of action, none was more influential than his ode to Kung-Fu cinema, Kill Bill. The first volume alone has some of the most stylish and memorable action sequences of the last quarter century, including the iconic “Showdown at the House of Blue Leaves”. Each volume is half of a bigger whole, but in terms of action, performance, direction and music, I think a case that Kill Bill is one of the greatest action movies of all time can easily be made.

Mad Max: Fury Road, Furiosa, first look

15. Mad Max: Fury Road:

Not every movie is a walk in the park, and it figures that sometimes, to get excellent results on the big screen, you need a little behind-the-scenes chaos. Indeed, Fury Road was a madhouse of a shoot, with the two stars, Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy, famously feuding. In the making of book, Blood, Sweat and Chrome, both look back at the complex making of the film with regret, with it seeming like no one ever knew exactly how much of a classic it would become, with Hardy especially noting how his head he was. The result on screen was arguably worth it. George Miller took decades to get a new Mad Max movie underway finally, and the result was widely considered one of the greatest movies of its kind ever made.

14. Point Break:

In 1991, Point Break was considered another quite solid action movie. Still, like another movie starring Patrick Swayze on this list, its legacy grew over time, with it being one of the most quotable and rewatchable movies of all time. It helped make Keanu Reeves an action star, and it’s one of the best-directed studio films of the nineties, with Kathryn Bigelow’s movie ripped off over and over in the years to follow- most notably by The Fast and The Furious. There. We said it. Vin Diesel doesn’t have anything on Crazy Swayze. 

predator 1987

13. Predator:

Fact: there has never been a more macho movie made than Predator. Think about it – you have Arnold Schwarzenegger, the late Carl Weathers, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, Bill Duke, crazy Sonny Landham, and the Predator! Even before the alien shows up, this would be up there with the greatest “men on a mission” movies ever made, but when suddenly the team starts getting picked off, and Arnold has to go mano-a-mano with his otherworldly foe, you know you’re watching a classic. Also, Predator pulls off a neat trick – it makes Schwarzenegger an underdog. This won’t be the last John McTiernan movie on this list.

12. First Blood:

While Rambo 2 is maybe more impressive from a pure carnage standpoint, First Blood is devastating and arguably Sylvester Stallone’s best-ever movie after the original Rocky. John Rambo is a tragic character here, and the action, while lower-key than in the next film, will blow you away, such as his fantastic cliff-dive. There’s an incredible score by Jerry Goldsmith and Stallone’s astonishing action in the shattering climax. 

best action movies of the 90s

11. The Matrix:

The only bad thing about The Wachowskis The Matrix is that it was so good a whole slew of movies tried to copy it, only for no one to do it quite as well. Even the Wachowskis were never quite able to nail a follow-up, with none of the sequels particularly good, even if they have their fans. The first is one of the best sci-fi action movies ever, with Keanu Reeves reinventing himself as Neo, one of the millennium-defining heroes.

Iko Uwais and more have joined Eiza González and Aaron Paul in the sci-fi thriller Ash, directed by Flying Lotus

10. The Raid:

Audiences who saw Gareth Evans’ The Raid at its original TIFF Midnight Madness screening walked out of this one feeling like they’d just been hit by a freight train. The martial arts action movie was re-invented by this, and it’s an equally impressive sequel, with Iko Uwais showing off moves as we’d never really seen on the big screen before. The sequel, The Raid 2, is arguably just as good. We’re pretty excited to see Evans’ long-delayed Havoc, starring Tom Hardy, which should hit Netflix this year.

lethal weapon 5, mel gibson, danny glover

9. Lethal Weapon:

While it’s not the first buddy-cop movie, this is the one that made it a genre unto itself. Mel Gibson and Danny Glover are perfectly cast as the iconic pals Riggs and Murtagh. Richard Donner’s lean and mean direction gives the movie a pulse. The (admittedly excellent) follow-ups come close to matching, but not quite. Gibson’s Riggs, in particular, feels like one of the few truly dangerous action heroes.

The 80s Horror Memories docu-series continues its journey through 1987 with a look at Paul Verhoeven's RoboCop

8. Robocop:

Paul Verhoeven’s hyper-kinetic, ultra-violent future cop movie will never be equalled. Peter Weller is iconic as the tragic Alex Murphy-turned-Robocop, and it’s one of the few movies on this list that no one could ever accuse of being dated. Everything about it is cutting edge, from the novel use of miniatures to the social commentary and the excellent score by Basil Poledouris.

The latest episode of the 80s Horror Memories docu-series looks at one of the most popular sequels ever made, Aliens

7. Aliens:

This is unique because it’s an action movie sequel to a tight horror flick. Everyone has their own opinion about whether James Cameron’s space actioner matches Ridley Scott’s original. Still, it remains one of the best sci-fi actioners ever made, with Sigourney Weaver our choice for the greatest action heroine ever. Plus, the movie also has Michael Biehn in one of his best roles (Corporal Hicks), Bill Paxton, an amazing score by James Horner and more.

6. The Road Warrior:

Some will say George Miller’s Fury Road is better, but for my money, nothing matches the intensity of The Road Warrior, which is shot without the benefit of CGI and any other bells and whistles. The vehicular carnage is fantastic, and Mel Gibson, like it or not, is the definitive Mad Max. It’s a rollercoaster ride of a movie. While one could argue that the first Mad Max film was more influential, Miller always considered it a rough draft of what he wanted to do with the franchise.

enter the dragon 1973

5. Enter the Dragon:

Very few movies on this list are as influential as the final film made by the great Bruce Lee; this movie would have broken him through to a North American audience. Granted, his dying does add to the mystique, but boy, is this ever one of the best martial arts action movies ever made? With Enter the Dragon, I wonder if English-language martial arts action stars like JCVD or Steven Seagal would have ever happened. Simply put, Enter the Dragon gave North American audiences the appetite for martial arts mayhem.

John Woo hard boiled 1992 Chow Yun fat

4. Hard-Boiled:

John Woo was at the peak of his filmmaking abilities when he made this buddy cop action flick, pairing Chow Yun-Fat’s rebellious cop, Tequila, with an undercover operative played by Tony Leung. The last forty minutes of this film have never been matched from a shoot-out standpoint. Someone once told Quentin Tarantino that “John Woo sure can direct an action sequence”, to which he replied, “yeah, and Michelangelo sure can paint a ceiling.” Watch Hard-Boiled and see what he’s talking about.

best action movies

3. Raiders of the Lost Ark:

Steven Spielberg’s Ode to Adventure is the most iconic film of its kind, introducing us to the great Indiana Jones, played by Harrison Ford. What else can be said about the adventure masterpiece that hasn’t been said already? If you’ve never seen this movie in a theater, I urge you to go check it out if it ever plays near you. There’s something different about watching this movie with an audience in a theater, especially during the last hour, where it just goes from set-piece to setpiece. Also, has any action star ever thrown a better punch than Harrison Ford as Indy?

terminator 2

2. Terminator 2: Judgement Day:

The greatest sequel of all time remains the last of its’ kind, being a huge budget action flick done in the old ways, with real explosions and real heart, with Schwarzenegger giving his most affecting performance as the cyborg who slowly learns the bittersweet truth about being human. Plus, Linda Hamilton as a newly musclebound Sarah Connor is one of the greatest action heroines. So many movies, including Terminator films, have tried to recapture the magic of this one, but have failed. It’s one of a kind.

Die Hard Christmas

1. Die Hard:

What else could it be? Bruce Willis’s John McClane is the definitive action star, as he is a regular guy forced into action and wants to get home to his family for Christmas. Willis, Alan Rickman, the score, and everything else about this movie are iconic, but what makes it so great is that Willis isn’t a superhero but a man. Yes, it’s the best Christmas movie of all time, but it’s also – in our opinion (and that of many others) that it’s the greatest single-action film ever made.  

So, those are our picks for the twenty-five greatest action movies, but I’m sure there are titles we left off the list that you think belong on here with the others. Let’s discuss it in the comments!

Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/the-25-greatest-action-movies-of-all-time/