The past decade has birthed stars, sequences and technological leaps that will define the action genre – and movies in general – for entire generations. Sprawling sagas of gods and royalty. Death-defying, awe-inspiring, stunts. The 2010s have been an amazing decade for action movies, and with all of that has come a host of unforgettable characters and performances.
These movies have changed our own self-images as much as they have the industry around them. From the most muscular heroes to the unassuming badasses waiting to surprise us all, these are our picks for the ten most iconic action movie characters of the 2010s.
Dwayne Johnson stole the whole movie away from the combined casts of all the previous Fast & Furious movies and then, with the help of Jason Statham, he stole the whole franchise. The super-powered man-mountain sometimes known simply as ‘Samoan Thor’ isn’t even in the Fast & Furious sequels all that much, but Johnson’s face has become one of their biggest selling points.
Though Dwayne Johnson has played many an iconic character in popular culture, Hobbs is Johnson’s defining role in the decade of the superhero. He may have been attached to play the character of Black Adam for so long now that it feels like he’s appeared on screen as him, but Johnson never actually entered into the comic book craze during its peak. Luke Hobbs was his Iron Man.
9 Black Panther
There’s no denying the impact that Black Panther had when it was released. The movie rode a colossal wave of reactions all the way to the Oscars, to claim the crown for being the first superhero movie nominated for Best Picture. The most legitimizing success yet for a studio that many consider to have owned the decade in terms of movies.
Chadwick Boseman was by no means an unusual choice for Marvel Studios. He fit right in with the likes of Chris Evans and Robert Downey, Jr. when he was introduced in Captain America: Civil War. But, as a symbol of the times, he’s become more iconic than even Chris Hemsworth as Thor. In half the time, too.
8 Wonder Woman
A movie so many decades in the making that, regardless of your feelings about the finished product, it was generally just a relief that it finally got made. It was the first real hit of the new DC Extended Universe and it made Gal Gadot the face of a timeless superhero.
Wonder Woman drew praise and criticism alike for its depiction of gender politics and femininity, but it succeeded quite undeniably in its most crucial goal. It was a roaring adventure story that gave all of the hallmark action hero poses to the figure who would've once been simple eye candy.
7 Judge Dredd
While the name and likeness of Judge Dredd may have appeared in Danny Cannon’s 1995 movie of the same name, the classic comic book character Judge Dredd did not truly appear on our screens until he was given life by Karl Urban in 2012’s Dredd.
Urban is the perfect blend of Clint Eastwood and Maniac Cop that the character requires. To simply call Judge Dredd an anti-hero wouldn’t do him justice, and that’s not how Urban plays him. Instead, he encapsulates that satisfyingly cynical postmodern view of the heroic-looking figure in a situation where there are no heroes.
6 The Man from Nowhere
If you’ve never heard of Cha Tae-sik from The Man from Nowhere then you may want to start broadening those horizons. The titular character from the immensely popular South Korean action thriller takes the particular set of skills from Liam Neeson in Taken and puts them into a much younger body.
Won Bin’s turn as the devastatingly deadly special forces soldier turned-reluctant-hero was a shock. It was as much of a departure from previous roles for the notoriously selective heartthrob as Taken was for Neeson. His deceptively boyband-ish exterior perfectly covers his skills in fight choreography and helped the movie with its surprising twists of action, making for an extravaganza of bloody vengeance.
5 Rita Vrataski
One of the best things about latter-day Tom Cruise has been his eagerness to share the spotlight, not least with female co-stars who are cast to deliberately outshine Cruise in the action department. Edge of Tomorrow (A.K.A. Live. Die. Repeat.), though a little underappreciated at the time of its release, is generally considered to be one of Cruise's biggest contemporary successes and Emily Blunt’s performance as Rita ‘Angel of Verdun’ Vrataski is an integral part of that success.
Sometimes just called the ‘Full Metal B****’, Vrataski is the most famous soldier of Earth’s final resistance against an invading alien horde and a mech-suited war machine. Ruthlessly pragmatic and stoically heroic, she puts many overly-sexualized comic book heroines to shame.
4 Officer KD6-3.7
Is Blade Runner 2049 an arthouse movie with a relatively high number of fight scenes or is it an action movie with relatively few? It could be both. One thing that’s for certain is that Ryan Gosling’s lead performance will be remembered as vividly as Harrison Ford’s from the original Blade Runner for years to come.
Much like Ford’s role in the original, Gosling’s character is built around the unique elements of his star persona. It incorporates his most iconic looks, from the unforgettable jacket of Drive to the irresistible charm of his rom-com days. K is everything that’s great about Gosling, but with superhuman killing machine powers on top.
Director Gareth Evans and star Iko Uwais struck pop culture gold on their second collaboration, The Raid, which broke both of them out from obscurity to quickly become genre legends. Uwais’ use of Indonesian 'pencak silat' martial arts, coupled with his almost-entirely fresh face, catapulted him and his police rookie character, Rama, to international fame.
Each of Uwais' sparring partners were iconic martial arts villains themselves and they served to make him look all the cooler as Rama plows through whatever the world can throw at him. From buildings full of bad guys to whole prison riots, Rama single-handedly demolishes opponents in hand-to-hand combat like most of us demolish Pringles. Once he gets going, the man just cannot stop.
2 John Wick
Baba Yaga himself, John Wick may be the role that will end up defining Keanu Reeves’ career as an actor one day. There was a familiar vein of Taken-esque incongruity with Reeves’ casting as the character in the beginning (Reeves was fifty-years-old when John Wick came out). However, fans came to realize very quickly that the unstoppable assassin could never have been played by anyone else.
Before finding the global success of the John Wick franchise, director Chad Stahleski was the stunt double, and co-ordinator, for Reeves on the Matrix movies. His acute knowledge of Reeves’ physical capabilities with fight choreography brought out something unparalleled in its showstopping execution. John Wick became something unbelievable happening right in front of your very eyes.
1 Imperator Furiosa
A cosplayer’s dream and a cinematic force so iconic that it united all fans of the genre in one glorious moment of mutual respect and admiration. The one-armed post-apocalyptic trucker shucked gender norms that even the most optimistic moviegoers had considered to be immovable fixtures of modern Hollywood filmmaking.
As a figure within popular culture, she’s mostly compared to Sigourney Weaver’s return as Ellen Ripley in Aliens, but that’s mainly because Ripley’s one of the few reference points that are even applicable to Furiosa. Her character wasn’t ahead of her time, she wasn’t above the bar – she was precisely of her moment, she was everything that most of us had been demanding for so long that we’d almost given up entirely. She’s hope in a hopeless world.