Every decade has plenty of great action movies, but the 2010s featured some genuine stunners. Even amid the bland action that dominates so many superhero franchises, we got plenty of genuinely thrilling set pieces that were largely unrelated to superpowers.
The movies on this list prove that there’s still plenty of new things to be done with action as a genre. They’re also a reminder that, for all the wonders that CGI can bring, there’s often nothing like filming some action against the backdrop of the real world.
One of the greatest action movies not just of the decade, but of all time, Mad Max: Fury Road is pure kinetic motion from its very first frame. The film follows its hero Max as he comes to the aid of a group of women who are all working together to escape sexual slavery.
Ultimately, though, this movie is much more about each of its central women than it is about Max — and maybe most of all, it’s about all the different ways you can blow up a vehicle. Most movies have standout sequences, but singling out a moment in Fury Road would only be to ignore all the many others that are just as stunning.
Tom Cruise really puts it all on the line to entertain audiences, and that may never be more apparent than in Fallout, the sixth Mission: Impossibleinstallment and maybe also its finest hour to date. The movie follows Cruise’s Ethan Hunt as he chases down nuclear warheads, but what really makes the movie work is how visceral every single action beat is.
There’s a brutal fight in the bathroom of a club where mustachioed co-star Henry Cavill cocks his fists like their guns, a stunning sequence involving a helicopter chase in Kashmir, and an excellent car chase through the streets of Paris. These movies have always featured great set pieces, but Fallout has the finest assemblage of them all.
Cruise has basically only made action movies for the last decade or more, and Edge of Tomorrow is another one of his best. The movie follows a cowardly army spokesperson who suddenly finds himself thrust into a frontline conflict with an alien race that seems unbeatable. When he starts living the same day over and over again, he teams up with a much more seasoned soldier to ultimately save the day.
Edge of Tomorrow works thanks to a combination of the crackling chemistry between Cruise and Emily Blunt, and a version of Groundhog Day that manages to feel genuinely new and exciting.
If Casino Royale launched James Bond into the modern era, Skyfall proved that the character still had new ways to surprise us. In his first outing directing a Bond movie, American Beauty helmer Sam Mendes launched the character firmly into an era when he could compete with the action in other modern franchises.
There are sequences here to rival anything created for a modern blockbuster, and there’s also a solid emotional through line involving Judi Dench’s M that brings rare pathos to the franchise. Skyfall cemented Daniel Craig as one of the best actors to ever play Bond, and it proved to be one of the best Bond movies ever made.
The motion capture work that Andy Serkis does has been astonishing for decades, but never more so than in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, when he plays the movie’s lead character, Caesar.
The middle chapter in this Ape strilogy, Dawn follows Caesar as he attempts to balance his desire to protect the ape society he’s built with his desire to trust humans who seem to be trying to do the right thing. The war that inevitably breaks out is both thrilling and heartbreaking, amid the realization that it may be harder for Caesar to keep everything he’s gained than he thought.
A small movie that unexpectedly launched an entire franchise, the original John Wick became such a phenomenon in part because it grounded its action in very real, practical stunts.
In spite of its relatively small budget, this movie about a retired assassin who comes back to avenge the death of his dog resonates because it feels like the people involved truly care about making their movie good. At a moment when Keanu Reeves was at a low ebb in his career, John Wick helped to change everything, reminding everyone why he is one of our great movie stars.
The most recent Fast movies have become so dense and absurd that they feel like parodies of the movies they once were, but Fast Five hits all the right notes. The movie, which is the first that manages to unite all the various strands this universe had built to date, is an old-fashioned heist flick that features plenty of great action and a genuinely compelling finale.
It also may be one of the best performances Dwayne Johnson has ever delivered, which is admittedly a low bar to surpass with Black Adam recently stinking up theaters. Unfortunately, like everything else in this franchise, Johnson eventually wore out his welcome and the franchise hasn’t been the same since.
You could certainly call Train to Busan a horror movie, but this zombie thriller has more action than almost any other film in the genre’s history. Telling the story of a group of survivors who have to fight through a zombie outbreak in their train car, Train to Busan is sharply directed, wonderfully plotted, and makes full use of its claustrophobic setting.
In such a well-trodden genre, it can sometimes feel like there’s no room left for innovation. What Train to Busan firmly proves, though, is that new things are always possible, even in tried-and-true genres.
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