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The 10 best action movies ever made, ranked

Action movies have long been one of the most successful genres in all of cinema. Every year, audiences everywhere flock to theaters to watch riveting and beautiful films where people punch each other, shoot each other, or blow stuff up.

While that sounds concerning at first, moviegoers enjoy finding an exciting escape from their everyday lives with these films, many of which are among the most profitable and beloved in history. But in a genre filled with worthy contenders, these movies defeat the rest by being the best action films of all time.

10. John Wick (2014)

John Wick
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Keanu Reeves reinvented kung fu for the second time in this gunslinging revenge film. After Russian mobsters steal his car and kill his dog, John Wick comes out of retirement to wreak bloody vengeance on them. Prior to this film’s release, John Wick seemed like just another generic action movie, and the premise sounded kind of silly.

However, it featured many marvelous action scenes with terrific choreography and a plethora of vibrant visuals. And like his titular character, Reeves made a spectacular comeback in his career as he unleashed the film’s unique brand of “gun-fu.” Payback never looked so cool.

9. Enter the Dragon (1973)

Enter the Dragon
Warner Bros. Pictures

Who could forget watching Bruce Lee kung fu fight his way through his opponents like a man possessed? Mixing martial arts with James Bond-style spy movies, Enter the Dragon was a cultural phenomenon that continues to be regarded as the quintessential kung fu movie.

It also made Lee the face of martial arts to audiences worldwide. The film has since left its mark in countless forms of media, most notably in the Dragon Ball, Street Fighter, and Mortal Kombat franchises. It’s just a shame Lee didn’t live long enough to see his film’s staggering success.

8. The Matrix (1999)

Keanu Reeves in The Matrix.
Warner Bros. / Warner Bros.

Lana and Lilly Wachowski blew audiences’ minds with their revolutionary cyberpunk epic. After the hacker Neo discovers the world he lives in is a computerized simulation, he and his new team use their reality-defying powers to revolt against their digital oppressors and save humanity.

Countless filmmakers have replicated multiple hallmarks of The Matrix, most notably its iconic “bullet time” action scenes, and the film spawned several sequels. While those sequels didn’t quite live up to the hype, the original is still a masterpiece of modern cinema.

7. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Paramount Pictures

Steven Spielberg and George Lucas reinvented classic movie serials for the modern age with the story of Indiana Jones. Armed with just a gun, a whip, and his fists, Indy takes on the Nazis with his partner Marion as they travel around the world in search of the fabled Ark of the Covenant.

The first few minutes of the film alone are legendary, as they feature Indy’s classic quest for a golden idol before getting chased away by a giant boulder and a tribe of Hovitos. Raiders of the Lost Ark is a roller coaster from start to finish, and it has since become a piece of cinema treasured by audiences and filmmakers alike.

6. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Edward Furlong and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2.
TriStar Pictures

While the first Terminator film was a landmark action movie, the second film, in many ways, takes things in a bold new direction. It shows Sarah Connor returning and Arnold Schwarzenegger ‘s Terminator coming back to protect John Connor instead of trying to kill him.

Thanks to this film’s enormous budget, Judgment Day far surpassed the original with its many spectacular shootouts and high-speed chases. It also featured a pioneering use of CGI to create the frightening and shapeshifting T-1000, which has become one of the greatest villains in cinema history.

5. Seven Samurai (1954)

Toho / Toho

This landmark film follows a village of farmers who hire a group of samurai to protect them from a gang of bandits planning to steal their harvest. Like many of his other films, director Akira Kurosawa’s samurai epic has served as the template for countless Westerns like The Magnificent Seven.

It has also influenced many of the world’s greatest blockbusters, including Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and The Avengers. So without Seven Samurai, cinema as everyone knows it wouldn’t exist today.

4. The Dark Knight (2008)

Image used with permission by copyright holder

While many exemplary superhero films in the past few decades classify as action movies, The Dark Knight stands above them all in a class by itself — and not just because of Heath Ledger’s Joker.

In true Christopher Nolan fashion, this movie presents many thrilling action scenes that were filmed entirely with practical effects, most notably the ones where Batman flips over an 18-wheeler and the Joker blows up a hospital. This all makes for a gripping and gritty crime thriller that looks like it could happen in real life. Many comic book movies have since modeled themselves after it.

3. Aliens (1986)

Image used with permission by copyright holder

After Ellen Ripley barely survived battling just a single Xenomorph in Ridley Scott’s Alien, James Cameron’s sequel took the franchise to a whole new level by having her face an entire horde of them.

Ripley and the Colonial Marines engage in an all-out war straight out of Vietnam, sending the audience on a cinematic thrill ride with its many heart-pounding shootouts and frightening scares. The film even ends with Ripley fighting the Alien Queen in a giant mech suit, cementing her status as an action-hero icon.

2. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Warner Bros.

Though this was his first Mad Max film in 30 years, director George Miller brought audiences back to the Wasteland in a high-octane adventure beyond anything they’d seen before.

Fury Road jumps right into the action from the minute it starts, and it rarely slows down as Immortan Joe chases Max and Furiosa across the desert with his army of War Boys. This film unleashes wave after wave of extreme and elaborate set pieces, making the entire road trip feel like one glorious fever dream.

1. Die Hard (1988)

Bruce Willis crawling through a vent in Die Hard.
20th Century Studios / 20th Century Studios

Is Die Hard a Christmas film or not? The debates rages on, but no one can dispute the movie redefined the action genre to the point that the film became a genre in itself. Bruce Willis’s hero wasn’t the unstoppable macho man that had been commonly seen in action movies.

Instead, he was just a regular guy forced to battle overwhelming odds, and Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) proved himself to be just as groundbreaking as the film’s cunning antagonist. Die Hard had spawned many imitators over the years, but none of them could quite replicate the action-packed magic of John McClane’s bloody Christmas Eve.

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Anthony Orlando
Anthony Orlando is a writer/director from Oradell, NJ. He spent four years at Lafayette College, graduating CUM LAUDE with a…
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