Here at Man of Many, we love all things that go ‘boom’, in the night. Or during the day for that matter. The sight of a gigantic, ripped Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson punching another fully grown man in the face, or Arnold S. ‘Hasta la vista-ing’ his enemies into oblivion just resonates with us in a way that a carefully laid out period piece simply can’t.
Some action movies are like a shotgun blast to the god damn face, leaving little to the imagination – like Nicholas Cage’s ‘Con Air’, which is the mullet haircut of movies. Others, like Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Apocalypse Now’, are real pieces of ‘cinema’ – an important tile on the Mozaic of films past and present. But with so many in the action movie back-catalogue, comes a dire need to organise and sort; to sift through the empty bullet casings, charred corpses, burnt rubber and slick one-liners, and determine exactly which explosions were the coolest to walk away from without looking back.
So here it is, for those who prefer their dialogue served rare and their gunfights in ample portions, Man Of Many’s comprehensive list of The 50 Best Action Movies Of All Time, Ranked.
1. Apocalypse Now
Considered one of the all-time classics, Apocalypse Now is directed by industry heavyweight, Francis Ford Coppolla and is eerily accurate in depicting the various human atrocities of the Vietnam War – its a psychologically demanding film, to say the least. Starring Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall and Dennis Hopper, this feature boasts one of the most memorable pairings of music and film in any scene throughout cinema history.
2. The Matrix
Undeniably one of the best sci-fi movies out there, The Matrix also totally holds it’s own as an action movie. Kung-fu, machine guns, tasty one-liners: there isn’t a shortage of action movie tropes to be found in this Wachowski Siblings film that turned the heads of both critics and viewers at the turn of the century.
I mean come on. This scene. Unbeatable stuff. Host to a slew of Hollywood heavyweights, including Joaquin Phoenix and our own Russel Crow (eff off New Zealand, he’s ours), Gladiator was a straight-up action hit as soon as it was announced. Sprinkle in a little bit of character acting and an incredible score and you get an action-movie classic that is near-unsurpassable.
4. Mad Max: Fury Road
One of the most visually arresting action films of all time, Mad Max: Fury Road is a worthy continuation of an already iconic series of films. Starring Tom Hardy & Charlize Theron who are both as valuable in the acting department as each other, Fury Road boasts metalhead gimps, supercharged post-apocalyptic battle scenes and traverses themes of lost-humanity, undoubtedly making this film worthy to live in the top 10 of this list.
5. Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Director James Cameron’s magnum opus, Terminator 2: Judgment Day is an impossibly slick action flick. From the semi-trailer scene that saw downtown L.A left in ruin, to Arnie’s endless list of one-liners, T2 was genre-defining at the time of its release – this was in part thanks to the incredible CGI effects that still hold fast today.
6. The Dark Knight Trilogy
Nolan’s take on the caped crusader was for its time, nothing short of a masterpiece. Made iconic by Australia’s own Heath Ledger as the ‘Joker’ in the second instalment, and driven by Christian Bale’s steady-as-a-coal-train performance, the Dark Knight Trilogy is nothing short of a masterwork. Nolans decision to use practical effects wherever possible – and this includes that scene where Bane (Tom Hardy) drops the hull of a plane from the sky – has undoubtedly solidified this set of films as total classics.
7. Die Hard Series
Whilst we were tempted to save this one for a ‘Best Christmas Movies’ list, Die Hard is an O.G action flick that deserves to sit with the rest of the top brass. Starring Bruce Willis while he still had a smidgen of hair, Die Hard has it all: genius-level villains, impossibly quick-quips, machine guns, hostages, explosions and even a touch of romance. Die Hard was so good in fact, that it went onto spawn several impressive follow-up films, and the franchise will undoubtedly rear it’s head again before the next decade is over.
8. Saving Private Ryan
Arguably Spielberg’s best film, aside from maybe Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan is one of the most realistic depictions of war to have ever been put to film. Of course, there is a bit of movie magic sprinkled in by way of a rag-tag crew on a mission to bring home the last of a family of military men, but the D-Day scene at the start of the film is nothing short of movie perfection.
9. The John Wick Trilogy
The little franchise that could. The original John Wick film was an indie-film as far as action movie budgets are concerned. And yet, thanks to a perfect mix of gun-karate, Keanu ‘always pays for dinner’ Reeves, exquisite choreography and just enough emotion to ensure the stakes feel real, The John Wick Trilogy has gone on incense a level of fan-fever that is rarely seen in today’s intellectual film-landscape.
10. Avengers Endgame
We’d be remiss in not including the highest-grossing film of all time – which just so happens to also be a rollicking humdinger of an action movie, featuring some of the world’s most recognisable actors. The conclusion to an epic storyline surrounding a big purple dude and those who would seek to bring him to heel, Avengers Endgame is the action movie to end all action movies, only losing points for its slightly too family-centric execution and bullshit second release in theatres.
The most sophisticated Bond film, Skyfall was truly the film to bring the Bond series – and the once two-dimensional James Bond character – into the modern age. Not without its one-liners, sexual innuendo’s, henchmen deaths and martini’s – don’t get us wrong, this is still a classic Bond film, through-and-through – Skyfall seeks to explore deeper thematic issues, making it a more sophisticated body of work than the rest.
12. Inglorious Basterds
From Director Quentin Tarrantino, Inglorious Basterds is one of the greats. Not just as far as action movies go, but outside of genre’s entirely, this film exists in rarified air. One of its key moments, not only from a plot perspective but in order to qualify for this list, is the slaughter of the Nazi leadership (including Hitler) at a propaganda film premier. Genius.
13. Iron Man
Yet another Marvel entry, the first Iron Man breathed life into an otherwise limp set of superhero films. Taking the torch from the X-Men trilogy and running for its life, Favreau’s Iron Man starring Robert Downey Junior surprised and delighted audiences around the world, proving undeniably that the superhero film would dominate the box office for years to come.
14. The Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King
The final film in Jackson’s basically perfect adaptation of Tolkiens masterwork, Return Of The King is, put simply, balls-to-the-wall fantasy action. Just when audiences thought they had experienced as much epic-ness as they could in the previous films ‘Battle Of Helms Deep’, ROTK came in with the fkn ghost army, bby. That and Miranda Otto’s tingle-inducing scene with the Witch King Of Angmar and you’ve got a recipe for action movie greatness. For Rohan.
Highly-stylised, and superbly acted, the story of Leonidus and his 300 was brought to life by Zack Snyder in a way that no other Director could. From the CGI six-packs to the creative reimagining of the enemies of Greece, 300 was destined for action cinema history no matter how dodgy the script might have been – the second Gerard Butler kicked that messenger down a well, audiences were hooked.
16. Casino Royale
Not just a good film, Casino Royale was an important one. Taking over from Pierce Brosnan, who let’s face it had done one too many Bond films and was sporting a pretty solid dad-bod by the end of it, Daniel Craig showed us a different kind of JB. One who was unquestionably ripped, capable and not one bit sleazy (well, maybe a bit) – opting instead for an icy exterior that paired perfectly with his proclivity for ultra-violence. Also, parkour.
Starring Keanu ‘best boi’ Reeves and Sandra Bullock, Speed was always destined to succeed. With a simple, yet explosive premise, two hunky, tanned stars and the kind of blockbuster script that we just don’t seem to get quite right these days, Speed is a car-chase in film-making: high-octane and utterly thrilling.
18. Bad Boys
You can’t get more 90’s action than this. With Marcus the family guy and Mike LOW-REY the ladies man, this action movie classic centred around three things: guns, girls and explosions – which is fine with us. And although neither, Will Smith nor Martin Lawrence received an Oscar nod for their performances, they damn well should have.
19. Con Air
Nicholas Cage. John Malkovich. Southern accents. Terrifying criminals. A clever plan. A bunny out of its box. Yes, please.
20. Independence Day
One of the more family-friendly entries on this list, Independence Day is a melting pot of action movie tropes that just works. Not to mention, this film boasts one of the most stirring movie speeches of all time and more than rightfully earns itself a place in our top 20.
21. Thor: Ragnarok
Almost more of a buddy-comedy than your typical Marvel action movie, New Zealand Director Taika Wattiti saw the ‘funny’ amidst the muscles and extracted performances from his cast in a way that no one saw coming. Bonus points for the bloody sick fight scene at the beginning of the film.
22. The Bourne Identity
The movie that made Matt Damon a man, The Bourne Identity is a great slow-burn action flick that takes its time, ensuring that when the action does kick-in – it’s not just fluffy action fodder.
23. Mission Impossible
Starring Tom Cruise just before he went all weird and Scientologist on us, Mission Impossible was a major blockbuster at when it came out. That’s probably because it’s a staunch-as-fuck action movie that took in over 457 Million at the box office at the time of its release in 1996 (for those playing at home, that’s a shitload of cash for the 90’s).
24. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
You’re probably wondering why this movie features so far from the no.1 spot – and fair point because The Empire Strikes Back is one of the best movies of all time. But as far as classic action movies go, it’s not the choreography or action-affects that get your heart racing in the first three Star Wars films – it’s the universe and its characters. So there.
25. Jurassic Park
Headed up by Spielberg (and a few other blokes) Jurassic Park’s CGI effects broke the mould at the time of its release. A mixture of picture-perfect (almost) animatronics and solid performances from Sam Neil and Newman from Seinfeld were just what the action-movie doctor ordered.
26. Lethal Weapon
Responsible for many buddy-cop stereotypes, including lines such as “I’m gettin’ too old for this shit, Lethal Weapon will arguably stand the test of time thanks to its inherent charm – and Mel Gibson’s hair.
Two words: throat punch. That’s all Taken is. A bunch of expertly delivered throat punches. Throat punches thrown at henchmen. Throat punches delivered to the box office.
Despite being more inconsistent than the outer layer of a Golden Gaytime, Braveheart really is a classic. Focusing on the ‘kind-of’ true story of William Wallace, Braveheart still lives on to this day as one of the movies you simply have to see before you cark it.
29. Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade
Whilst the other two Indiana Jones films are brilliant in their own right, Sean Connery taking down a Nazi fighter plane with nothing but an umbrella and a bad temperament is just too good to pass up.
30. Django Unchained
From the maestro of massacre himself, Quentin Tarrantino, Django Unchained is an action movie for the intellectual – and while the film may satisfy most cinephiles, it also does a great job of pandering to the masses. Which is what an action movie is, at its core – a movie for everyone.
Sometimes, ‘less is more’, and in the case of the staunchest movie of all time (Sicario), it’s the dialogue-heavy moments with little to no action, that adds gravitas to the moments that get your heart going. Not only a great action movie but one of ‘the greats’.
It was always going to be that Arnie would take a few spots on this list – and Predator is no exception. Featuring one of the coolest villain-reveals of all time and some straight-up popcorn dropping kill scenes, Predator is undoubtedly an action-movie classic.
33. The Fifth Element
For those who like their action askew, The Fifth Element is as sci-fi as it gets – without being too up its own ass.
34. First Blood (Rambo)
“To survive a war, you gotta become war” – John Rambo. Action-movie Shakespeare if nothing else, Rambo is a top-shelf bloodbath and we are personally big supporters of Stallone in his prime, even if we can’t understand a word he’s saying.
35. Kill Bill Volume 1.
The Crazy Eighty-Eight scene. Nuff said.
Directed by James Cameron, who has never failed to produce a box office smash, Aliens was less suspense-driven than its predecessor – probably due to the insane budget Cameron commands from studios.
37. Point Break (The Original)
Starring the internet’s main beau, Keanu ‘McDreamy’ Reeves, and IRL world boyfriend at the time Patrick Swayze, Point Break is an exceptional heist film. Mad gnar bro.
Starring Scarlett Johanson, Lucy is an underappreciated gem full of well-thought out fight choreography and slick gun-fights. Do yourself a flavour if you haven’t seen it, yet.
Before you wig out and question the placement of this iconic Bond film, remember we are not ranking the ‘Top Fifty 90’s Games’.
40. True Lies
Based on the French original ‘La Totale!’, True Lies is gut-bustlingly funny and more action-packed than you might think. So if you’re a Schwarzenegger fan, and haven’t seen this before, get onto it.
The most literal film title of all time, Face/Off asks the question: what do you get when you swap Nicholas Cage’s face with John Travolta? The answer: a near-perfect action movie, if it weren’t for the god-awful script.
42. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
An absolute classic, and perhaps a touch further on the drama/fantasy side than we would like, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is without question a stunningly choreographed action-flick that will live on for years to come.
43. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Whilst we’d love to attribute 100% of points to this monumental scene, Rogue One is jam-packed full of epic fight scenes, as well as aircraft battles.
Part-cop. Part-machine. All ass-kicking.
At the time of its release, there hadn’t been anything like Kick-Ass before, especially when it came to foul-mouthed children slicing fully grown men to pieces.
Similar to Denis Villeneuve’s masterwork ‘Sicario’, Looper is another slow-burn action movie – a style that this writer has a particular appreciation for. By adding weight to the action points in the film, Looper manages to introduce real stakes – thus, making for a superior action film.
48. The Fugitive
Aside from starring Harrison Ford – which is almost enough in its own right – The Fugitive is a genuinely thrilling film. It’s got it all: an innocent man accused of murder, a vicious man-hunt, and most importantly: explosions, bby.
48. Dirty Harry
One for the cowboys out there, Dirty Harry may lack some of the wizz-bang, fandangle special effects that have become synonymous with the genre, however you can’t beat Clint Eastwood smoking fools with his six-shooter.
49. The Matrix Reloaded
A thrilling sequel to the original blockbuster that blew everyone’s cerebral cortex away, The Matrix Reloaded boasted a bigger budget – making for 2x the action. Oh and that highway scene ain’t too bad either.
50. Black Hawk Down
A smash-and-grab kind of action movie, with a title that is potentially cooler than its actual content, Black Hawk Down is undeniably an action movie worth seeing, at least once.