10 Classic Action Movies Everyone Should See

Boiling down all the classic action movies into a list of the top 10 is not an easy task. There will always be some films that don’t make it for one reason or another, but the goal here is to find those 10 films that have stood the test of time in the genre (with one notable, newer exception). So if you’re an action film junky, here are 10 films that you have to see.

1. The Raid: Redemption (2011)

Iko Uwais Prepares Himself

The Raid: Redemption | Source: Sony Pictures Classics

This is the youngest film on this list by nearly 20 years, but just enough time has passed that The Raid: Redemption deserves a place on this list as a modern classic and one of the best action films ever made. Featuring a star-making performance by Iko Uwais — who helped choreograph the film’s fight scenes in the style of Indonesian martial art, pencak silat — the film perfectly matches its frenetic action with camera work that serves to highlight and not distract from the hard-hitting martial arts scenes. If you think it’s too early to put The Raid: Redemption on a list of the greatest action films, it’s time you check it out and see what all the fuss is about.

2. Seven Samurai (1954)

Dir. Akira Kurosawa

Seven Samurai | Source: The Criterion Collection

Seven Samurai is generally considered to be legendary director Akira Kurosawa’s greatest film but what can get lost in the discussion is that it’s also one of the greatest action movies ever made. From a storyline perspective, the film has directly influenced many films who have built their story around a group of different individuals coming together for one purpose. From a technical perspective, Kurosawa pioneered the use of long, telephoto lenses for action scenes so that he could use more than one camera at once to immerse audiences in the action.

3. Aliens (1986)

Ellen Ripley, Aliens

Aliens | Source: 20th Century Fox

The first two films in the Alien franchise form an imposing one-two punch. While the first film, Alien, is easily one of the greatest horror films of all time, James Cameron’s subsequent Aliens is one of the greatest action films of all time. Rather than trying to rework the elements that made Alien a classic (one alien and lack of fighting experience), Cameron pushed the sequel in the opposite direction by introducing a team of formidable soldiers and an army of aliens, not to mention a huge queen alien. Cameron has said that one of his primary inspirations for the film was the Vietnam War — specifically, the idea of a group of skilled and heavily armed soldiers going up against forces in a hostile foreign environment.

4. Predator (1987)

The Predator Goes Old School

Predator | Source: 20th Century Fox

At first glance, Predator seems like a ridiculous movie — a union of some of the biggest muscles in Hollywood unite to take down an alien with dreadlocks. However, the film’s conceptual purity is its greatest strength. The movie features action from start to finish in the backdrop of a sweltering, oppressive jungle that starts to feel as dangerous as the alien. Add in the iconic predator design by Stan Winston and a performance from Arnold Schwarzenegger at the top of his game, and you have the kind of classic action film you can put on once every month or two and never get tired of.

5. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Arnold Will Be Back

Terminator 2: Judgment Day | Source: TriStar Pictures

Terminator 2: Judgment Day is one of those films that always finds itself near the top of the list. An ode to an earlier era in Hollywood action films, Terminator 2: Judgment Day is filled with action scenes dominated by thrilling practical effects and stunt work. Yet, what truly makes the film stand out is its emotional depth, as three completely different characters come together to try and avoid an apocalyptic future.

6. The Wild Bunch (1969)

The Final Showdown

The Wild Bunch | Source: Warner Bros.

Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch might seem relatively tame by today’s action standards, but there’s no getting around the film’s stylistic influences. The story of aging outlaws at the Texas-Mexico border explodes into a finale with an impressive body count and a number of revolutionary (at the time) techniques including slow-motion, quick-cuts, and multi-angle shooting. So for any fans of modern action films, The Wild Bunch is definitely worth a watch to see the origin of action techniques still used today.

7. Hard Boiled (1992)

The Famous Bannister Slide

Hard Boiled | Source: Golden Princess Film Production

When it comes to the action sub-genre where gun fights look like a choreographed dance and a gun in each hand is essential, no film comes close to director John Woo’s Hard Boiled. The movie starts off with an action scene in a teahouse that sees our hero sliding down a bannister while firing two guns. The film later reaches action nirvana in a hospital shootout that includes a two and a half minute tracking shot. While the argument can be made that Woo’s other two modern classics, The Killer and Bullet in the Head tell a more satisfying story, neither can boast the kind of masterful action scenes seen in Hard Boiled.

8. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)

Mel Gibson as Max

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior | Source: Warner Bros.

While the newest addition to the Mad Max series, Mad Max: Fury Road is probably good enough to make this list, it feels like a little more time needs to pass before that judgment is made. Until then, we’ll go with the previous series high: Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. Featuring the same kind of frenetic filmmaking seen in Fury Road, The Road Warrior displays the enormous talents of director George Miller on a smaller budget. In fact, when watching the final action scene in The Road Warrior it’s easy to see how it may have served as the blueprint for Fury Road, which came decades later.

9. Die Hard (1988)

Bruce Willis in 'Die Hard'

Die Hard | Source: Fox

The Die Hard franchise continues to live on to this day, but no film will ever match the highs of the first film in the series. Bruce Willis, previously known as a TV comedy actor, became a bonafide action movie star following the film’s success. Die Hard shows the actor going up against slew of enemies by himself — and famously without shoes on for most of it. Featuring non-stop action, an iconic villain played by the late Alan Rickman, and Willis’s famously sarcastic portrayal of John McLane, Die Hard is as essential as a film can be in the action genre.

10. Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark | Source: Paramount Pictures

Forget the action genre — Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark is among the greatest films of all-time. Featuring Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones in one of the actor’s most iconic roles, director Steven Spielberg crafted an action-adventure film that continues to be timeless. From an opening scene that sees Indy swiping a precious idol and nearly getting crushed by a giant boulder to Nazi soldiers melted by the power of the Ark, Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of those films you can watch over and over again and still find yourself excited by what you see.

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