Making an action movie is hard enough. Coming up with great fight choreography, unusual stunts, or other ways to wow an audience is always a challenge. Making a great action sequel is even harder, in part because it’s difficult to avoid just doing whatever it was that made the first movie a success.
Each of the sequels on this list ups the stakes of its predecessor in fundamental ways. The action is better, the plots are tighter, and everything leaves you just a little bit closer to the edge of your seat than you were the first time. These are the best action sequels ever made.
Every Mission: Impossible movie has great action, but Fallout took its key sequences to an entirely new level. This movie features an all-time great fistfight in the bathroom of a club, a car chase through the streets of Paris that is both wonderful and incredibly intense, and a final set piece that features what seems like a terrifyingly real helicopter fight.
In between, there’s the kind of zippy spy plotting these movies have become known for, as well as a genuinely great, villainous turn from Henry Cavill and his mustache.
The first Terminator plays out like a combination horror/action movie, but the sequel is all action, all the time. This time, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 is a good guy, out to protect John Connor and his mother from the more advanced unit that is chasing after them.
The final set piece here, which sees Schwarzenegger do battle with the T-1000 inside of a factory, is just one of many great sequences in the film. On top of that, T2 manages to be a fairly affecting story in which Schwarzenegger is allowed to show a little more emotion, in spite of his icy robotic exterior.
Perhaps the greatest feat of action direction in cinema history, Mad Max: Fury Road is unrelenting basically from the moment it starts. Following Max Rockatansky as he aids a group of women attempting to escape from sexual slavery, the film is essentially one extended car chase, but manages to feel deeply exciting in part because of the sheer scale of what’s being depicted.
The film’s best sequence comes about a third of the way through its runtime, and features a truly epic sandstorm that all of the central characters decide to drive right into. It’s as disorienting and beautiful as that may sound.
The third movie in the original Bourne trilogy, The Bourne Ultimatum is the pinnacle of the shaky-cam action that this movie franchise became known for. It was also the best-reviewed movie of the trilogy and was widely hailed as one of the best movies of the year it came out.
Attempts to return to Bourne in the years since have not been met with this level of widespread acclaim, but that’s in part because Ultimatum was such a perfect capper to the story of Jason Bourne. He had ridden off into the sunset, and we probably should have let him stay there.
The pinnacle of the Fast & Furioussaga was reached with this fifth installment, which is essentially when all of the various tendrils of this universe come into alignment. It also helps that Fast Five is something of a heist movie in which Dom comes up against a federal agent who might just have what it takes to track him down.
The action in this installment is definitely absurd, but it manages to stay grounded enough to feel winning from beginning to end. If the Fast movies had ended after this installment, they would have gone out on the highest possible high.
Although you would probably benefit from seeing The Raid first, The Raid 2 is widely regarded as one of the pinnacles of action filmmaking in the 21st century.
It has wildly inventive action choreography, as well as a thrilling mix of kung fu and other fighting styles that makes it representative of much of what action cinema has looked like in recent years. Many of the best action movies that have come out since The Raid 2 owe something to this movie, and to the sharp, smart direction of Gareth Edwards.