25 of the Best Action Movies of All Time

Action movies don’t always get the respect they deserve. They are often written off as popcorn movies and obvious money grabs for actors. Also, it’s rare for them to get any awards outside of the technical categories.

But a great action movie often has a compelling hero and an interesting villain. Some of them even make the audience think and reflect on humanity. When an action movie is a hit, it often becomes a beloved franchise or trilogy.

So which action films are the best of the best? Here are the 25 best action movies of all time.

1. The Dark Knight (2008)

Batman is standing on a head of rubble in The Dark Knight.
Christian Bale in The Dark Knight | Warner Bros.

The second installment in the Christopher Nolan trilogy shows Batman trying to stop the chaotic Joker who is wreaking havoc on Gotham. Actor Heath Ledger disappears in his role as the psychopathic villain, and it’s the main reason why the movie was such a hit. Sadly, it was the actor’s second to last movie before he died, but it won an Oscar.

The movie certainly has the action that appeals to its fan base, but what makes it great, is the emotional toll we see our hero go through. It also dives into the relationship between good and evil. This is perhaps the Batman movie that every future film will be compared to.

2. Alien (1979)

Sigourney Weaver looks up as she is holding a gun in Alien.
Sigourney Weaver in Alien | Fox

The first movie to kick off the long franchise, shows a spaceship crew going home after a mission, when they come across an alien creature on board the ship. Sigourney Weaver played Ellen Ripley, who stands out in the cast.

The movie successfully meshes several genres together and is still the best that the franchise has to offer, even after all of these years.

3. Predator (1987)

This is a close up on the face of the predator.
A still from 1987’s Predator | Amercent Films

In Predator, a team of commandos is on a mission in the jungle when they come across a terrifying creature. The movie is thrilling and is obviously influenced by great action movies that came before it. But its original monster stands out, giving the film a solid place in pop culture.

4. Die Hard (1988)

Bruce Willis is crawling in an air vent in Die Hard.
Bruce Willis in Die Hard | 20th Century Fox

Police officer, John McClane (Bruce Willis) is stuck in a hostage situation during a Christmas party, when terrorist Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) takes over the building in order to steal a safe. McClane’s task of taking out Gruber’s team is pretty tough considering it’s just one man against a team of terrorists.

Die Hard‘s influence has lasted for quite some time. The movie is known for the iconic catchphrase, “Yippee ki-yay” and Gruber is considered one of cinema’s best villains.

5. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Indiana Jones is getting ready to make a switch in a cave.
Indiana Jones | Paramount

In the film, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is hired by the U.S. government to find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis. It has an iconic opening scene that shows Indiana trying to take a gold idol and escape a booby-trapped gauntlet.

The movie is thrilling and critically acclaimed, winning four Oscars in 1982 after being nominated for eight.

6. RoboCop (1987)

Robocop stands in front of a crowd in a hallway and is pointing a gun in the opposite direction.
RoboCop | Orion Pictures

The movie shows a terminally-wounded cop being turned into a cyborg. He then continues his work by patrolling crime-ridden Detroit, while remaining troubled by memories of his life before.

The movie could have easily been cheesy, but the black comedy and satire strengthen the film rather than lessen it. The movie holds up visually, given that the costumes and action are mostly practical.

 7. Jaws (1975)

Two men are shocked as a shark is trying to get them on their boat.
Jaws | Universal

This movie changed movie culture by becoming the first summer blockbuster and by setting box office records.

The movie thrillingly shows a white shark terrorizing a beach resort. An unlikely team is put together in order to take on the scary creature. This is another movie that is constantly quoted and it holds up today due to the practical effects used to create its believable action sequences.

8. Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)

Princess Leia is holding a gun and talking to Han Solo in a hallway in Star Wars: A New Hope
Princess Leia in Star Wars: A New Hope | Lucasfilm

The Star Wars movie that started it all shows Luke Skywalker unexpectedly joining the Rebel Alliance after coming across two droids. The movie successfully built a whole new world in a galaxy far, far away and changed pop culture forever.

Star Wars: A New Hope is full of action that still holds up over time, but the script and characters are what truly makes this movie great.

9. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Bonnie and Clyde are looking to the side as they're sitting in a car.
Bonnie and Clyde | Warner Bros.

Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty play a real-life criminal couple in this 1967 movie. The film shows the real consequences of the murderous crimes that were committed, rather than glamorizing the event.

The performances are great and the movie is wonderful to look at, so it’s no surprise that it won an acting Oscar and another for cinematography.

10. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

a still of a mans hand giving the thumbs up by chains in Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Terminator 2: Judgment Day | Warner Bros.

In the film, the Terminator came back to protect Sarah and John Connor from another cyborg who is out to kill them. This is perhaps one of the best movie sequels out there. One reason for Terminator 2: Judgement Day‘s popularity is due to the updated cyborg, which makes for an impressive villain.

11. The French Connection (1971)

Jimmy and Buddy look back in a car in The French Connection.
Jimmy and Buddy look back in a car in The French Connection. | D’Antoni Productions

The 1972 Best Picture Oscar winner shows two New York City cops trying to crack the case on a drug smuggling ring. The movie is full of tension and has some of the best chase scenes in movie history. The classic movie is so strong, that it’s known for influencing future cop movies.

12. Goldfinger (1964)

James Bond is in a white tux.
Sean Connery in Goldfinger | Eon Productions

The James Bond franchise has a long history, but this 1964 movie starring Sean Connery, the first actor to portray the character, has been hard to top.

In the film, the spy investigates a gold magnate who is one of the flashiest movie villains ever to make it to the screen. In fact, one of the villain’s first kills includes painting a woman in gold. The villain also has an iconic henchman who can take off someone’s head using his hat.

The movie is a must-see for anyone who is interested in the iconic franchise.

13. The Matrix (1999)

Keanu Reeves has his hand up to stop bullets mid-air in The Matrix
Keanu Reeves in The Matrix | Warner Bros.

The movie shows Neo joining forces with rebels who teach him about the true nature of his reality. Due to the sci-fi theme, there are some impressive action scenes that take things like gunfights and hand-to-hand combat to a whole new level.

It’s also impressive that the movie is totally original, which is so rare in the movie industry today.

14. Jurassic Park (1993)

A T-Rex is roaring while standing next to two cars.
Jurassic Park | Universal Pictures

A theme park full of dinosaurs … what could go wrong? The action movie answers that question and entertains while doing it. The 1993 movie is a perfect mesh of practical effects and CGI, used to bring the prehistoric creatures to life. Jurassic Park is so effective that it won three technical Academy Awards and visually holds up after all of these years.

15. Speed (1994)

Keanu Reeves is looking angry as he is talking on a pay phone.
Speed | Fox

Keanu Reeves plays a police officer who has to prevent a bomb from exploding by having a bus constantly speed at 50 mph. His co-star is Sandra Bullock, and the two have great chemistry and a tough job of carrying the movie. Speed has a simple premise, but the execution in aerial shots and stunts is what makes it great.

16. Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)

The Bride stands in a blood-covered yellow jump suit surrounded by men in suits.
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 | Miramax

A former assassin, known as The Bride, wakes up from a coma after four years to find out her closest loved ones were murdered. She then goes on a mission of revenge using her martial arts skills.

The Quentin Tarantino movie is so great because it pays homage to the martial arts movies that came before it, like The Game of Death. It also has a compelling story and isn’t afraid to have strong female roles carry the film.

17. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Yu Shu Lien is in a stance holding up one hand and a samurai sword in the other.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon | The Weinstein Company

A Chinese swordsman steals a sword known as Green Destiny and goes on a wild adventure in this 2000 flick. The action sequences are some of the best choreography in cinema and the movie also happens to have a fantastic love story.

The film unsurprisingly won four Oscars.

18. The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

Jason Bourne is on a motorcycle in the Bourne Ultimatum.
The Bourne Ultimatum | Universal Pictures

In this film, Jason Bourne has to uncover his past while being chased by a secret CIA organization. The main character is very resourceful, which leads to action sequences with common objects used as weapons. The premise of this franchise is similar to that of James Bond, but is less fantastical and has an element of mystery, leading to great storytelling.

19. First Blood (1982)

Rambo has blood trickling down his face as he is going through the woods.
First Blood | Anabasis N.V.

John Rambo is a former Green Beret who has to rely on his survival skills in the mountains after being falsely accused of a crime. The movie is thrilling and therefore keeps the audience on their toes for the film’s entirety. It’s also dark and complex, instead of solely relying on violence to entertain viewers.

The movie launched its main character, Rambo, into a pop culture icon and started an action franchise.

20. The Way of the Dragon (1972)

Bruce Lee has his arms out and is flexing.
The Way of the Dragon | Concord Production Inc.

The Bruce Lee movie shows a man protecting his family and their business from mobsters. He defends them using his kung fu skills. The Way of the Dragon really portrays the brilliance of Lee, and shows why he is an icon. The film also has a great battle between him and actor Chuck Norris.

21. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Tom Hardy looks ahead and is in a desert in Mad Max: Fury Road.
Tom Hardy in Mad Max: Fury Road | Warner Bros.

This movie rebooted the franchise by having a woman (Charlize Theron) take on the tyrannical ruler with the help of Max (Tom Hardy).

The movie is a feast for eyes, even though the film’s setting is a desert. The post apocalyptic world also has some pretty unique villains. The movie won six Oscars and excited both new and longtime fans of the franchise.

22. Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol (2011)

Tom Cruise scales a skyscraper in Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol | Paramount Pictures

Tom Cruise returns as Ethan Hunt, an agent who has to go rogue after the IMF is shut down. The film includes one of Cruise’s crazy stunts, when the character scales the Burj Khalifa tower.

Simon Pegg plays Hunt’s funny sidekick, helping to prove that the franchise still has steam in it.

23. Dirty Harry (1971)

Clint Eastwood as Harry is pointing a gun downward.
Dirty Harry | Warner Bros.

In Dirty Harry, Harry Callahan is a police inspector who is hunting down the Scorpio Killer.

The classic film is what helped Clint Eastwood become the icon he is today. The movie is fun to watch and is still often quoted with, “You’ve got to ask yourself a question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ ‘Well, do ya, punk?'”

The movie caused political outrage in its day, so it’s an interesting film to watch.

24. The Warriors (1979)

The gang, The Warriors are all lined up. dressed in brown leather vests with no shirt on
The Warriors | Paramount Pictures

The New York City gang, The Warriors, is falsely accused of killing a gang leader and is therefore on the run from other gangs. The entire movie follows their mission to get back to Coney Island safely.

The Warriors is very stylized and there isn’t really another movie like it. It’s a cult hit that has stuck around because of how unique it is.

25. Bullitt (1968)

Steve McQueen is speeding away in a mustang and looking back out of the window.
Bullitt | Solar Productions

The movie shows a San Francisco cop who is trying to uncover the world of a drug kingpin after a witness is killed under his protection. This is one of Steve McQueen’s most famous roles and the movie has an excellent story. It won an Oscar for film editing.

Follow Nicole Weaver on Twitter @nikkibernice

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