25 Best Action Movies Every Fan Needs To See

There have been some epic action movies over the years, and some are true classics, but which one came out on top?

John McClane Die Hard Crawl

Action has been a staple of cinema since the very beginning. In 1903, The Great Train Robbery was the first movie to utilize composite editing, on-location shooting, and a moving camera, which would all become integral to early action cinema.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s many films were made which further explored the use of action set pieces, often inspired by stage productions and using many of the same tropes. Swashbuckling movies, starring Errol Flynn in particular, were huge draws for audiences which marvelled at the ever-growing sense of wonder as colour and sound were added to productions. The rise of the Western genre saw ever bigger and more exciting landscapes brought to the screen, allowing for even bigger set pieces.

The Second World War changed action cinema forever. Movies were keen to depict the many battles fought by the brave returning soldiers. Movies such as The Guns of Navarone in 1961 inspired filmmakers to focus on resourceful individuals at the centre of the action, which in turn led to the spy genre seen throughout the ‘60s, typically the James Bond movies starring Sean Connery.

Each era has seen changes, new interpretations, and a host of new technologies. What remains constant is the desire for filmmakers to go bigger and better, delivering the ultimate forms of escapism.

After much debate, tears, tantrums, and arguing over which movies deserve to make the final cut, here are ScreenRant’s 25 Greatest Action Movies Ever Made.

25 John Wick - 2014

Keanu Reeves in John Wick

Most action movies are defined by their legacy. Many entries on this list have grown more popular over time due to their impact on the genre and the nostalgia they invoke. John Wick is the exception. It is one of those truly rare things: an instant classic. Drawing on classic revenge thrillers for inspiration, John Wick also pays homage to anime, martial arts movies, and John Woo-style Gun-Fu movies as well subtle nods to spaghetti westerns.

While the story follows many of the tropes seen in revenge thrillers, for instance, the lead character is grieving, has a high degree of skill as a one-man-army from a previous career etc., it also brings new life to the genre.

As much a love-letter to the revenge thrillers of the ‘60s and ‘70s, John Wick breathes new life into the action genre and stands out against the comic book franchises that a prevalent. With a much-anticipated sequel on the way, John Wick could be the next major action franchise.

24 Battle Royale - 2000

Battle Royale

Battle Royale is a movie that very nearly didn’t get made. Huge efforts to ban the novel, and then the movie, ensured there was plenty of controversy surrounding Kinji Fukasaku’s masterpiece.

The very definition of a high-concept action movie, Battle Royale’s premise is brutal in the extreme: a class of teenagers are taken to a remote island, fitted with explosive collars, and forced to battle each other to the death until a solitary teen remains. (If it sounds familiar, The Hunger Games borrows heavily from Battle Royale, so much so that fans have been keen to point out the similarities for years.)

Battle Royale is insanely gory, but doesn’t simply use violence for its own sake. Rather, it uses violence to underpin its message about how far we are willing to go for the sake of entertainment, our acceptance of violence in society, and how modern Japan has changed in terms of entertainment.

23 Face/Off – 1997

John Travolta and Nicolas Cage in FaceOff

While John Woo’s Hong Kong cinematic efforts remain classics in their own right, the high-point of his time in Hollywood remains Face/Off. Packed with all John Woo’s signature styles, slo-mo gunplay, heroes and villains leaping through the air while firing, and of course slo-mo doves, Face Off delivers a slick, if silly, Hong Kong-style action thriller for western audiences.

Originally pitched as a sci-fi movie with cigarette smoking monkeys, Face/Off was stripped down to its basic premise of two adversaries forced to assume each other’s identities as they play a deadly game of cat and mouse. Their intimate knowledge of each other’s lives allows them to fool even their closest friends as they each close the net around the other leading to the inevitable climax.

As silly, even nonsensical, as the premise is it works thanks to Nicholas Cage and John Travolta’s performances. Not just playing their own characters, but each-others too, they both chew through their lines and have probably the most fun of their careers.

22 Gladiator – 2000

Russell Crowe is Maximus in Gladiator

Imagine the how amazing the pitch for this movie must have been! A genre (sword and sandal) that hadn’t been popular in decades, a director that was in a career slump (Ridley Scott), and a leading man that had some great performances under his belt (L.A Confidential) wasn’t a household name. Whatever was said in the studio executive’s office that day, whatever deal was struck, we’re so glad it happened!

Russell Crowe has never been better as the former General-turned-slave, Maximus Decimus Meridius. His family murdered by a political adversary, he becomes a gladiator and fights his way to Rome until he eventually manages to extract his revenge, albeit at the cost of his own life.

Not only did Gladiator win Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor (Russell Crowe), and Best Visual Effects, it ushered in a new era for movies. Star power, which had been the box office draw for the ‘80s and ‘90s, began to wane in favour of larger epics. It also breathed new life into the sword and sandal genre for a time with Troy, and Alexander both following after a few years.

21 Hard Boiled – 1992

Chow Yun Fat in Hard Boiled.

While John Woo’s career tailed off after the ‘90s (Mission Impossible: 2 saw the beginning of a career slide he never came back from), his stylish Hong Kong flicks remain an impressive high-point for action cinema. While Woo spawned many classics in this era, Hard Boiled remains the best of an outstanding bunch.

While Hard Boiled does sacrifice character development when it comes to Chow Yun-Fat’s Tequila, it is the epitome of gun porn. Chow Yun-Fat has never been better as the one-man army of destruction as he smashes through walls, destroys tea-rooms, and even levels a hospital.

A must-watch for any action movie fan, Hard Boiled influenced everything from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Face/Off, and The Matrix. It also made international stars out of Chow Yun-Fat and John Woo. If you haven’t seen it, watch out for the scene where the cop has a shotgun in one arm, and a baby in the other. It's iconic for a reason.

20 The Wild Bunch – 1969

Ben Johnson Warren Oates William Holden and Ernest Borgnine in The Wild Bunch

While director Sam Peckinpah was known for a variety of great movies, The Wild Bunch remains his magnum opus. Famed for its revisionist approach to the western genre as well as its graphic depiction of action and violence, The Wild Bunch also deals with the conflict between the values and ideals, as well as the corruption in human society. The “Bunch” themselves are men out of time, left behind as the march of progress in the old west leaves them behind. Considering the rapid social and technological changes in contemporary society, The Wild Bunch is as relevant to modern audiences as it was in 1969.

The Wild Bunch is unrelenting action starting with a botched robbery, then onto stealing rifles for a Mexican warlord, then climaxing with a bloody last stand at a Mexican hacienda. The violence emphasizes the bloody and brutal nature of the wild west far more than the other legend of the genre, John Ford, ever seemed to do but it also added a sentimental element to the era alongside its nihilistic nature.

19 Conan The Barbarian – 1982

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Conan the Barbarian

Given the mythical nature of Conan The Barbarian it’s somehow fitting that the movie itself has developed some mythology of its own. From the story of how Mattel were going to make toys of Conan to sell to kids, but then discovered the movie was excessively bloody so re-tooled them to make the He-Man franchise, to the story of how producer Dino De Laurentis initially wanted to cast Schwarzenegger as Flash Gordon, but discovering his Austrian accent chose to make him Conan instead.

Despite the technical limitations of the day, indeed the giant snake looked fake even in the pre-CGI era, director John Milius took the entire production very seriously. From the quote by Nietzche at the beginning to the sober tone, right through to the epic soundtrack, the movie strove to be more than its own pulp origins. While Milius failed in his efforts to make the sword and sorcery equivalent of Star Wars, as he had hoped, he did manage to create a revenge-driven action epic that is often put into the same lists as Ben-Hur (1959) or El Cid (1961) when it comes to action epics.

While Schwarzenegger himself may never win an Oscar, he so perfectly suited the role of Conan that it is hard to imagine anyone ever owning the role so completely. As a larger-than-life barbarian wielding a massive blade, he’s rarely been better. But we’ll get to that, because as he says, he’ll be back…

18 The Raid 2 – 2014

Iko Uwais The Raid 2

While The Raid seemingly burst out of nowhere with its simple storytelling, yet mind-blowing action, The Raid 2 managed a rare feat for an action sequel, it surpassed the original and yet managed to still be respectful to it. The extreme violence of the franchise is the selling point but it’s not just mindless violence. The violence itself tells a story, if you’re smart enough to see it.

A lazy writer/director would have taken the success of The Raid and simply applied the Die Hard 2 formula, make the same s*** happen to the same guy twice. But Welshman Gareth Evans, creator of The Raid didn’t simply make The Raid 2: Raid Harder. He goes out of his way to expand on the universe he’s created and takes it beyond the cramped setting of the original. The Raid 2 takes place over years, and not a single day, it explores the gritty Indonesian underworld. It takes many elements from The Godfather Part 2, such as the ever-shifting allegiances of the criminal underworld. But, if you’re going to borrow from a movie, The Godfather Part 2 is pretty much the best place to look for inspiration.

While less action-heavy than its predecessor, The Raid 2 is a cerebral action-thriller which, while slow to tell the story at times, does manage to deliver some exceptional set-pieces. As different as Aliens is to Alien, The Raid 2 tells its own story and like Aliens showcases a director with talent to spare.

17 The Adventures of Robin Hood – 1938

Errol Flynn The Adventures of Robin Hood

Dated by today’s standards, for sure, but The Adventures of Robin Hood was a marvel of the Technicolour era. Not only does the movie set a standard for action that would not be surpassed for at least a decade, it also sets up many tropes of action cinema that are used to this day, particularly the Marvel movies. While the movie appears to be a jolly romp across the countryside interjected with thigh-slapping and trading quips, Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood has a cinematic steel edge that is often missed by contemporary audiences. As a romantic lead and rebel leader, few action characters can surpass him.

The Adventures of Robin Hood is one of the last great movies of the pre-war era and the last to glamorize violence as having little consequence. The dastardly Guy of Gisborne (Basil Rathbone) is menacing, but not truly terrifying. When audiences returned from the Second World War, action cinema changed to reflect their experiences, making this movie the crowning achievement of its era.

Robin himself has been re-imagined many times since, most famously by Kevin Costner, but he’s never been more dashing and has never clashed a foil with quite as much gusto.

16 First Blood – 1982

Sylvester Stallone as Rambo

Unlike the ridiculous one-man-army approach taken by the Rambo franchise as it progressed, First Blood is actually an intelligent drama that was one of the first to explore PTSD in soldiers returning from the horrors of the Vietnam War. Driven over the edge by a small-minded and petty small-town sheriff, John Rambo escapes into the woods and becomes the living weapon he had been trained to be.

Proving that he’s a far better actor than most of his critics would suggest, Sylvester Stallone is utterly believable as the soldier haunted by his actions and all he had seen in the horrific theatre of war. Unlike many action films the protagonist is that ever-elusive and crucial thing, believable.

The only thing that keeps First Blood from reaching a higher place on this list is the ending. Unlike the novel from which it is adapted, Rambo survives. This gives a slightly happier ending than the rest of the movie naturally leads to. Had it ended with tragedy, it would have been a far more devastating journey for the audience.

15 Kill Bill Volume 1 – 2003

Uma Thurman The Bride Kill Bill

Where Volume 2 was a slower-paced, story-driven Western, Kill Bill Volume 1 is an unashamed love letter to the Eastern cinema kung-fu action epics that Quinten Tarrantino so obviously loves. The plot is almost superfluous, The Bride is almost killed on her wedding day and spends the next several years in a coma. When she awakens she sets out to kill those who left her to die: The Black Mamba Assassination Squad, led by the titular Bill.

Whereas Volume 2 is all about Bill, and the ultimate destination of the showdown, Volume 1 is all about the journey. The battle sequence between the sword-wielding Bride (Uma Thurman in a career highpoint) and Lucy Liu’s O-Ren Ishii is one of the most spectacularly choreographed fight scenes in cinematic history. Arms and legs are cut away like paper until The Bride gives O-Ren Ishii a final haircut, proving herself a master with a blade.

14 The Bourne Ultimatum – 2007

Matt Damon in The Bourne Ultimatum

Five years after his introduction in The Bourne Identity, Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne reached the end of his first journey. Finally gaining some closure as to the mysteries of Treadstone, the government department that made him into the psychologically-conditioned super-agent, Jason Bourne finally escapes the clutches of those that would control, or kill, him.

While previous entries each had epic moments, The Bourne Ultimatum is the franchise high-point as it is an unrelenting chase-thriller from start to finish. Not only did it cement Matt Damon’s legacy as one of the premier stars of his generation, it also established director Paul Greengrass as the definitive action/thriller director of the millennium so far.

While a great movie from an action standpoint, The Bourne Ultimatum also serves to finally answer not only the central question of the series, but a question posed by heroes in literature since ancient times, “Who am I?.” in doing so, The Bourne Ultimatum gave a satisfying end to a genre-changing series. It’s just a shame that the 2016 Jason Bourne went and ruined it.

13 Goldfinger – 1964

Shirley Acton in Goldfinger

While modern audiences may consider Daniel Craig to be “their” Bond, it’s hard to argue against the marvel that is Goldfinger. The definitive Bond, in the quintessential Bond Movie, this is the Bond Movie that all others are measured against.

Connery had two previous outings to get used to the role, and third time out he is at his most comfortable and self-assured. Not only handsome, but charming and deadly, Bond is yet to devolve into the cartoon he would become in later interpretations. Connery is not just comfortable, but not yet bored by the role and his investment in the movie is clear to see. He still likes the character and finally knows how to master him.

This movie is also the one to finally have all the key pieces in place. It has the megalomaniac villain, Auric Goldfinger himself, it has the iconic Aston Martin DB5 (loaded with gadgets, but not yet cartoonish) and it has one of the greatest Bond-Girls in Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore. Her wit and charm truly a match for Connery’s own, it’s a shame the series never found a way to bring her back.

For better or worse, Goldfinger is the movie that nailed the formula for Bond Movies. It’s just a shame it took 2006’s Casino Royale to finally step out of its shadow.

12 Speed – 1994

Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock in Speed

Mixing action-thriller and disaster movie in much the same way as Die Hard (we’re getting to that) Speed is essentially split into three set pieces. To fully explain why this works so well you have to appreciate that every good action movie is told in three parts: the initial set-piece which sets the tone , the often-slower middle section, then the epic finale. Only Speed never slows down, literally, as the middle section is the one most people remember. “Pop-quiz hotshot, there’s a bomb on a bus. What do you do?” in Speed the three set pieces, the elevator, the bus, and the train are all breakneck and told with a seriousness which belies the ridiculousness of the overall premise. (Dennis Hopper’s former cop could have found easier ways to make money).

While director Jan De Bont never quite found a way to scale the heights he reached in Speed again, there’s no doubting he hit each note here flawlessly. Even the middle act on the bus, with all its limitations for storytelling, never feels overlong. Perhaps this is due to the frantic pace set by the bus, unable to slow down lest it explode, perhaps its due to the uncanny sexual tension between Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. Either way, the bus never slows down and neither does the action. Even after it blows up, Jan De Bont manages to deliver a high-speed finale and face-off on top of a subway train where Dennis Hopper’s unstable villain finally loses his head.

11 Lethal Weapon 2 – 1989

Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon 2

Try to discuss this movie with a friend or co-worker without them faking an Afrikaans accent and saying the words “Dip-lo-mat-ic-imm-un-it-y!" go on, try it.

This movie is not only the best part of the franchise, it’s the one that has entered the public consciousness the most. It’s got everything; - action, political intrigue, and an unforgettable Bond-style villain. It even manages to deliver a genuine surprise to the audience when it killed off Patsy Kensit’s sweet South African government clerk off-camera.

What truly makes Lethal Weapon 2 work so well is the on-screen chemistry between Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. In the first movie they were chalk-and-cheese, here they’ve truly bonded and look like they’re having the time of their lives. While there are elements of the action-comedy blend that the series became in later instalments, the truly brutal third act delivers some of the greatest action of the ‘80s.

Go on, one last time, “Dip-lo-mat-ic-imm-un-it-y!"

10 Commando – 1985

John Matrix Commando

Commando is pretty much the ultimate distillation of what the ‘80s action movie era was. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s John Matrix is a seemingly unstoppable one-man-army as he sets out to rescue his daughter Jenny (Alyssa Milano) from the clutches of Dan Hedaya’s evil South American wannabe-dictator.

The plot is wafer-thin, and while it appears to be a revenge-thriller, it’s an excuse to put Schwarzenegger in tactical gear and equip him with enough ordnance to level a small country single-handedly. It’s not a bad thing though as Schwarzenegger has never dispatched more henchman in his career and never looked like he’s having as much fun with the role.

And while Schwarzenegger delivers his share of one-liners, who could forget Vernon Wells as his former comrade-turned enemy, Bennet, who sports a Village People moustache and a chainmail wife beater, and is insanely brilliant. It’s definitive ‘80s gun-porn and a throwback to the excess of an era defined by excess, but that’s by no means a bad thing.

9 Robocop – 1987


On the surface, Robocop is a high-concept movie about a futuristic cyborg policeman who takes down the criminals who once ‘killed’ him. Beneath that it is a savage satire that explores class and consumerism as well as serving as a religious parable with a narrative structure which borrows liberally from classic folklore.

The deeper you go, the more you find. From Alex Murphy’s ‘crucifixion’ (his hand blown apart by a shotgun instead of nailed to a cross) to his literal ‘walking on water’ as he battles his enemies at the abandoned factory. It’s a movie loaded with images of death and rebirth but it serves as a simple shoot ‘em up too. Like Verhoven’s Starship Troopers, Robocop is far smarter than it seems. Given that the far weaker sequels and the terrible 2014 re-make totally miss the point of Robocop, perhaps Starship Troopers should be considered its spiritual sequel.

As much as the lead character remains the focus throughout, it’s the villains that truly steal the show. Perhaps their villainy is enhanced by the director’s own skewed perspective (it was only Verhoven’s second English-language film) or perhaps there’s something truly terrifying in the cultural zeitgeist when it comes to a society that has begun to collapse.

8 The Matrix – 1999

Movies are often given the moniker ‘game-changer’ but very few deserve it as much as The Matrix. The effect that The Matrix had on the 21st century’s action movies is still being felt to this day. The focus on effects, action, mythology, and storytelling over star power saw a massive change from the action era of the ‘80s and ‘90’s where stars such as Schwarzenneger, Stallone, and Willis were the box-office draw.

As mentioned, The Matrix was heavily praised for the special effects, in particular “bullet time”. While this wasn’t strictly speaking a new technology, The Matrix utilized it in such an eye-popping way that it felt fresh. It also benefitted in the cultural zeitgeist by coming out opposite Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. While TPM made more money, it was critically mauled for its weak storytelling, clunky dialogue, and terrible acting. Compared to that, The Matrix was a fresh take on action that had brains to go with its brawn. It posed philosophical questions amongst its many explosions. Of the two big sci-fi releases of 1999, The Matrix was far superior.

Of course, you cannot mention The Matrix without heaping praise on Keanu Reeves. Far from the first choice (Johnny Depp, Will Smith, and many more passed on the role) Reeves nailed the deadpan killing machine role and continues to make movies in the same mould to this day (Man Of Tai-Chi and John Wick). Not bad for a guy that, apart from Speed, was still perceived to be a stoner-type.

Despite its visual style being ripped off to the point where audiences began to hate bullet time within a few years, The Matrix manages to look fresh almost two decades after its release. (Just don’t mention the sequels)

7 Terminator 2: Judgement Day – 1991

Edward Furlong and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2 Judgment Day

While 1984’s The Terminator managed to establish Arnold Schwarzenneger as the definitive action star of the 1980s and simultaneously make director James Cameron a major force in Hollywood, it wasn’t a movie that demanded a sequel. It’s a classic but it would have worked as a self-contained story. But along came one of the greatest sequels of all time which not only expanded the story, but set a benchmark for high concept action which is rarely equalled to this day.

The pace is near perfect, while the second act does much to expand the mythos it doesn’t feel like it drags and sets up third act events like Miles Dyson’s sacrifice. A more emotionally engaging movie than its predecessor, it manages to genuinely make you feel for the fate of a machine by the end of the movie.

Despite the storytelling being excellent, it’s the effects that truly blew off the socks of audiences back in 1991. Many people weren’t even aware of CGI back then so the sight of a fully realised liquid metal man was as awe-inspiring as the space battles of Star Wars had been back in 1977. Incredibly, the effects have barely dated in the quarter of a century since the movie was released and T2 remains the best of the franchise.

6 6.Raiders Of The Lost Ark – 1981

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, Harrison Ford

Once referred to as “The love child of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas” Raiders Of The Lost Ark is a true classic. Cleverly using Nazis as the bad guys (because there really isn’t a bigger bad to use) combined with biblical mythology and one of the most charming leading men of all time, Raiders was a throwback to the serials of the 1930s and 1940s which Lucas had grown up with. The iconic set pieces, in particular the giant boulder, weren’t truly original but seemed utterly spellbinding to the audiences of 1981 largely due to the movie wisely not taking itself too seriously, but resisting the urge to devolve into slapstick.

While the story is full of logical inconsistencies, indeed events would play out the same way if Indy had never intervened, it’s really the charm and wit of Indy himself that makes Raiders so great. Harrison Ford is a rare beast, he’s a true movie star that elevates the material with sheer charisma and has rarely been better than as the archaeologist protagonist (proteologist??) who teaches classes in the morning, uncovers hidden relics in the afternoon, and seduces women by evening. Arguably a Mary-sue, Indy is such a wonderful character, and the movie so entertaining, we simply don’t care.

5 Jaws – 1975

Roy Scheider in Jaws

Despite a career that has seen such masterpieces as Jurassic Park, E.T The Extra-terrestrial, Saving Private Ryan, and of course Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Jaws remains almost quintessentially Spielberg. Borrowing much from Alfred Hitchcock in terms of building suspense (they had to limit the screen time for the shark because it kept sinking and breaking down) and use of the colour yellow to invoke fear (Alex Kintner’s inflatable, the yellow drums Quint uses to hunt the shark) Spielberg created a whole new kind of movie; the summer blockbuster.

Breaking box office records in the summer of 1977, Jaws inspired not only dozens of similar creature features, but scared vacationers from the beach for the next few summers. It also changed the way movies were marketed, previously, movies were released slowly and generated word of mouth. After Jaws, movies released everywhere at once and made a massive impact before slowly fading.

As for the movie itself, its success is down to the performances of Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfus, and Robert Shaw. Dreyfuss and Shaw were reported to hate each other and it came across in every scene they were in, adding to the tension on the small boat they used to hunt the improbably large shark. As chief Brody, Roy Scheider typifies the ‘everyman’ caught up in extraordinary circumstances perfectly.

4 Mad Max Fury Road – 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

Incredibly, this is a studio movie. Generally, only Indie flicks take this many risks! Warner Brothers handed 150 million dollars to George Miller and gave him the chance to make a bleak, bizarre, and utterly brilliant movie in an era when most studios are playing it safe with trusted franchises and comic book adaptations. But here is a movie that sees ‘Doof Warriors’ playing flaming guitars atop rolling engines of destruction and uses CGI sparingly in favour of practical effects.

Fury Road is respectful to the Mel Gibson series of a generation previously but tells its own tale and uses inspiration from outside its own series, such as the epic westerns of John Ford and Sergio Leone. There’s subtle hints to the Dollars movies, but this truly is a unique movie.

Wisely paying no attention to continuity (is it a remake, a sequel, or a reboot? Who cares!) Fury Road is old school filmmaking. It’s a movie made to entertain an audience with old fashioned spectacle and performance. It’s campfire storytelling, it’s myth and legend. It’s sheer brilliance.

Despite talk of continuing the series, it’s hard to imagine seeing another movie like Fury Road for quite some time.

3 Aliens – 1986

Ellen Ripley in Aliens

Aliens is a movie you just couldn’t make in the internet age. Imagine the pitch: “We’re going to take a horror movie and make a sequel. Only the sequel is an action movie.” There would be such an epic backlash that the studio would probably shelve the project amid epic fan-fury. Imagine the comments on social media: “Alien is great, it doesn’t need a sequel”, “Hollywood needs new ideas”, “Who the hell is James Cameron? Bring back Ridley Scott!!”

Thankfully, Aliens predates the internet by a decade and was made anyway. In taking the original gothic space-horror once called “Jaws in space”, Aliens expands the story and altered the franchise forevermore. It’s a war movie that is heavily influenced by the experiences of soldiers in Vietnam. Despite being well-trained and vastly technologically superior, the troops are overwhelmed by the enemies hiding in the shadows.

Aliens also served to expand the mythology of the series. We had already seen the facehugger and the beast spawned from Kane’s body, but Aliens gave us one of cinema’s greatest reveals, the Alien Queen herself! Bigger, smarter, fiercer than anything else, she’s the ultimate bad guy. Also, Aliens served not just one, but two female action heroes in Ripley and Vasquez. While the latter is the toughest of all the marines as she wields her smart-gun and goes medieval on anything that moves, the former grows into the role while simultaneously bonding with the orphan Newt and regaining her maternal instincts.

2 Predator – 1987

Predator 1987

Proof that even a simple idea can work with the right cast and director, John McTiernan’s second feature is both great and ridiculous. A mash-up of war movie, slasher horror, and sci-fi, Predator manages to take the odd swipe at its inspirations, all the while keeping a very straight face.

Loaded with homoeroticism, Predator manages to take the relationships between the soldiers and give them some real heart. Bill Duke’s Mac is genuinely traumatized by the death of his friend Blaine. It is hinted that the two men had served together for many years and seen many terrible things, and Blaine’s death finally pushed Mac past the point of sanity. It’s a very human subplot in a movie more famous for its set pieces and titular creature than anything else.

While the set pieces are flawless even thirty years later, Ol’ Painless levelling an acre of jungle is unmatched gun-porn, and the one-on-one between Arnold and the Predator is an epic beat down, it’s the performance of Schwarzenneger that makes the movie. While Conan and The Terminator remain his most famous roles, Dutch is the ultimate Arnold role. He is as epic a soldier as he was in Commando, as fearless as he was in Terminator 2, and as charming as he was in Kindergarten Cop or Twins. Wisely, he never returned for the various sequels and spin-offs making Predator his finest stand-alone movie. At the height of the musclebound action-era, he was at the top of his game.

1 Die Hard – 1988

Bruce Willis as John McClane in Die Hard

The ‘80s action movies tended to follow a similar set-up, an oversized muscle man goes on a one-man war while chain-gunning their way to an explosive finale. Then, towards the end of the decade, John McTiernan came along and broke all the rules and in doing so created the greatest action movie of all time, seemingly by accident.

Unlike the former Mr Universe, Schwarzenneger, or Stallone (who spent most of the ‘80s in the gym) McTiernan cast a TV comedy star as the lead. Bruce Willis was the star of the TV show Moonlighting alongside Cybill Shepard at the time, and while a hit show it seemed unlikely that Willis was going to be the next big thing in action. But his star making role as a regular schmoe caught in the wrong place at the wrong time was a fresh change of pace for audiences.

It’s essentially Predator in reverse. Instead of the villain picking off the heroes one-by-one, the hero must take down the bad guys one at a time while barefoot and making a white wife beater an icon of modern cinema.

Given how well Die Hard has aged it’s easy to forget it’s an ‘80s action movie. Only Hans Gruber’s yuppie terrorist and Holly McClaine’s huge hair are a giveaway to the era. Despite the body count, Die Hard manages to elicit a few laughs and keeps John McClaine unashamedly human. It’s a true timeless classic.

Yippee Ki Yay M*****F*****!!


Feel like an action favourite was missed? Maybe you like your Stallone shorn of a mullet i.e. Demolition Man? Or do you like Arnie as a one-man tank in Commando over his robotic alter-ego in The Terminator? Maybe you’re a thinking man who feels that North by Northwest is the definitive action flick? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!!

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