Action movies provide an escape from reality. They transport us to worlds not too dissimilar to ours, albeit with more explosions, more gunfire, and more crazy stuff happening. There have been hundreds of great action movies released over the years. This article will list the top 10 action movies of all time.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career was at an all time high in the 80s and 90s. The former Mr Universe didn’t have much success in Hollywood at first. Most casting agents said he was too muscular and his Austrian accent was a huge turn off, so he had difficulty finding jobs. Writer/director James Cameron saw something in Schwarzenegger, however, and cast him as the unstoppable killing machine the Terminator in 1984’s ‘The Terminator’. The film put Schwarzenegger on the map and propelled him to the top of Hollywood’s hot list.
1987’s ‘Predator’, directed by John McTiernan, is easily one of the best films in Schwarzenegger’s action filmography. The film saw Schwarzenegger playing Dutch, an elite commando given the task of extracting a group of kidnapped hostages from a militia base located in a dense Central American jungle. While on the mission, Dutch and his crew found themselves being hunted by a powerful alien creature called the ‘Predator’. Predator was a huge hit and it cemented Schwarzenegger’s reputation as an action star. The film was expertly directed by McTiernan with an undercurrent of tension and dread that flowed throughout the film.
Predator went on to receive rave reviews from critics and audiences everywhere. It is currently rated at 7.5/10 on imdb.com and 78% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.
Robocop was a surprise hit when it hit cinema screens in 1987. Director Paul Verhoeven was relatively unknown in Hollywood at the time – his previous films only saw cinema releases in his home country of the Netherlands – and Peter Weller, star of the film, had only starred in a handful of TV movies. Hollywood had relatively meagre expectations for the film – they expected it to be a moderate success – but the film went on to be one of the highest grossing films of 1987 and one of the most beloved action movies of all time. Robocop told the story of Alex Murphy, a cop who gets fatally injured while trying to stop a gang from carrying out some evil deeds. In an attempt to save his life, a group of doctors and scientists fused Murphy’s body and mind with that of a robot, creating a man-machine hybrid which they called Robocop.
Robocop featured state of the art special effects and a fantastic script packed with great action beats and an interesting story. Weller delivered an excellent performance as Murphy too, bringing a lot of humanity to the role.
Robocop was well received by audiences. The film currently has a 7.5/10 rating on imdb.com. It was also well received by critics who scored it an impressive 88% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.
1979’s ‘Alien’ was a revolutionary film. On top of being one of the first sci fi horrors to ever be released, the film featured a bevy of excellent performances, including lead Sigourney Weaver. In 1986, James Cameron was given the difficult task of creating a sequel to Ridley Scott’s Alien. While many considered the task impossible, Cameron saw it as a challenge.
Instead of creating a sequel with a similar tone to the original, Cameron dramatically changed the tone for ‘Aliens’. Instead of making tense sci fi horror film, Cameron made a ‘balls to the wall’ action movie that redefined the genre. Aliens saw Sigourney Weaver returning to play the character of Ripley for the second time. Picking up 67 years after the first Alien film, Aliens followed Ripley as she returned to the planet LV-426 with a group of space marines to fight off a nest of evil alien creatures.
Aliens was a huge hit. Weaver delivered a spirited performance and Cameron cemented his reputation as one of the finest directors in the action genre. Critics loved the film, scoring it an impressive 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences loved it too, and went to see it in the millions. The film is currently rated at 8.5/10 on imdb.com
7. First Blood
Sylvester Stallone is not one to give up. As the story goes, when writing ‘Rocky’, Stallone locked himself away in his apartment for a week until he completed the screenplay. After finishing his writing duties, he then went to every agent and studio in Hollywood and pitched his movie to them. While many offered to buy the script, Stallone refused because he wanted to star in the film himself. Finally, after months of pitching, Stallone was finally given the greenlight by United Artists to produce and star in the film.
Rocky was one of the biggest films of 1976. It won three Oscars, including best picture and best director, and Stallone became a star. After finishing up Rocky, Stallone set his sights on the action genre. He set to work on a new screenplay starring a new character. The result was 1982’s First Blood’.
First Blood saw Stallone playing ‘John Rambo’, a former special forces agent who finds himself being hunted by a group of sheriffs hellbent on killing him. Stallone delivered a fantastic performance for First Blood. He embodied John Rambo completely, bringing a lot of weight to the character.
First Blood was reviewed well by critics who scored it an impressive 87% on Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences loved it too, eventually scoring it 7.6/10 on imdb.com.
6. Lethal Weapon
Richard Donner was one of the most successful directors of the 70s and 80s. His first big release, ‘The Omen’, scared audiences the world over, while his other major releases, ‘Superman’ and ‘The Goonies’, thrilled both adults and children everywhere. In 1987, Donner turned his hand to the action genre with the release of ‘Lethal Weapon’. The film starred Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as a pair of mismatched cops trying to stop a gang of drug smugglers from bringing in a huge shipment of drugs into LA. Donner was the perfect director for the film. He brought out great performances from Gibson and Glover and crafted a number of exciting set pieces for the film.
Audiences loved Lethal Weapon and the film became one of the highest grossing movies of 1987. It was also reviewed well by critics who scored it 84% on Rotten Tomatoes. Lethal Weapon is currently rated at a respectable 7.6/10 on imdb.com.
5. The Matrix
The Wachowski Brothers were relatively unknown in the mid 90s. While they had achieved some fame and success with 1996’s hot and steamy thriller ‘Bound’, few people knew of their existence.
1999’s ‘The Matrix’ changed things for the Wachowsks. Overnight, the two brothers were propelled to the top of the Hollywood hot list and they instantly became part of the Hollywood elite.
The Matrix starred Keanu Reeves as Neo, a hacker trying to track down the elusive terrorist Morpheus. The film followed Neo as he learned the truth about his existence and learned how to harness the powers available to him in the Matrix, a computerised construct designed to enslave humanity. The Matrix had it all – an exciting story, excellent special effects, and perfectly choreographed action scenes. The Wachowskis were masters of their craft and they created one of the most stylish action movies ever made.
The Matrix was a huge hit with critics who scored it an impressive 87% on Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences, similarly, loved the film, scoring it 8.7/10 on imdb.com.
I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.
One of our favorite action movie quotes!
2008’s Taken was an unexpected delight. Directed by French director Pierre Morel, director of the Transporter films, the film was one of the biggest surprises of 2008. Taken saw actor Liam Neeson playing Bryan Mills, a retired CIA agent visiting France with his daughter. During their trip, Mills’ daughter gets kidnapped by a group of international terrorists and Mills has to put his CIA skills to use in rescuing her.
Taken was a straight forward no-nonsense action film. While it had a story, it was barebones and designed only to keep the action flowing. Neeson was fantastic as Mills. He was confident, dangerous, and intimidating in the role. He was a joy to watch on the screen. Morel’s action direction was brilliant, too. Instead of focusing on shaky cam techniques like most action directors of the 00s, Morel focused on crafting steady cam shots that framed the action perfectly.
Critics, on the whole, reviewed Taken fairly well, scoring it 57% on Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences, however, enjoyed the film thoroughly, and they went to see it in huge numbers. Taken is currently rated at 7.9/10 on imdb.com.
3. Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark
1975’s ‘Jaws’ made Steven Spielberg a household name. The film was one of the biggest hits of 1975 and earned Spielberg his first Oscar nomination. After making sci fi movie ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ and war comedy ‘1941’, Spielberg turned his attention to the action genre. Working with close friend George Lucas, writer, director, and producer of Star Wars: A New Hope, Spielberg set to work on ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, a film that harkened back to the comics Spielberg and Lucas used to read as children. Raiders of the Lost Ark hit cinema screens in 1981 and it was instantly crowned a film classic.
Raiders of the Lost Ark starred Harrison Ford as the adventurous archaeologist Indiana Jones. The film followed Jones and his compatriots as they travelled the world trying to track down the lost Ark of the Covenant while battling the Nazis. Raiders of the Lost Ark is considered one of the greatest action movies ever made. George Lucas supplied an excellent story framework for the film which screenplay writer Lawrence Kasden used to craft a fantastic script. Spielberg then brought the script to life with his direction while Harrison Ford delivered one of his greatest performances to dates.
Critics adored Raiders of the Lost Ark, scoring it 95% on Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences loved the film too, scoring it 8.6/10 on imdb.com.
2. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
1984’s ‘The Terminator’ put writer/director James Cameron on the map. The film was an overnight phenomenon and Cameron quickly became one of the most popular directors in Hollywood.
While Hollywood execs begged Cameron to release a sequel to the Terminator, Cameron held off because he didn’t want to release a sub standard followup to the first film. Finally, in 1991, after 7 years of waiting, Cameron released ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day’ into cinemas.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day saw Arnold Schwarzenegger once again returning to play The Terminator, a relentless killing machine sent back in time from the future to change the past. While the first film saw Schwarzenegger playing an enemy Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgement Day saw Schwarzenegger playing a friendly Terminator trying to safeguard the future from the computer AI Skynet.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day improved on its predecessor in virtually every way. The action set pieces were bigger, the special effects were better, and Cameron’s script and direction were crisper and more focused. Stars Schwarzenegger, Robert Patrick, Edward Furlong, and Linda Hamilton delivered great performances too, with Schwarzenegger being a particular standout.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day was a huge hit all over the world. Critics enjoyed the film, scoring it 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, while audiences loved it, scoring it 8.5/10 on imdb.com.
1. Die Hard
In the mid 80s, Bruce Willis was best known for playing David Addison Jr. in the 80s sitcom ‘Moonlighting’. He was also well known for his singing career as the illustriouus ‘Bruno’. 1988’s ‘Die Hard’ changed Willis’ profile overnight. In the space of 24 hours, he became one of the most well known action movie stars in the world.
‘Die Hard’ saw Bruce Willis playing Officer John McClane, a New York Police Officer trying to rescue his wife from a group of German terrorists in control of the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles. Willis was fantastic as McClane. He was easy going, likeable, and a badass. Audiences loved his performance and McClane quickly became one of the most popular action movie characters of all time. John McTiernan’s direction was also excellent for the film. McTiernan ramped up the tension perfectly and brought out great performances from Willis and fellow actors Alan Rickman and Bonnie Bedelia.
Die Hard was one of the biggest hits of 1989. Critics scored it an impressive 92% on Rotten Tomatoes while audiences scored it 8.3/10 on imdb.com.
While Die Hard has spawned a number of sequels, none have managed to capture the magic of the original which is generally considered to be the best in the series and the best action movie ever made.