There’s nothing that can suck an audience into a movie faster than an opening action sequence. Just as there’s nothing that can leave an audience as satisfied than when the hero emerges victorious from the film’s climactic battle scene. This is why action-heavy movies have and continue to be some of the biggest blockbusters of all time. However, just because studios continue to pump out more and more of these types of movies, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re getting any better. We’re sure we’re not the only ones who have emerged from the theater with our ears ringing and our eyes burning after what felt like three hours of explosions. In other words, sometimes more isn’t always better. And as action movies have now become a year-round affair, they’re struggling to stand out amidst the never-ending supply of intricate set pieces, savage fist fights, and lengthy car chases.
Of course, critics are a lot harder to impress when it comes to this type of spectacle. So it's no wonder that some of the best-reviewed action movies on Rotten Tomatoes are from decades past. This may be because these films did it better, or simply because they did it first. But whatever the reason may be, modern audiences shouldn't be dissuaded by these older release dates. Since a ton of movies contain action sequences, we've zeroed in on the movies where action is the predominant genre. So movies that would better fall into another category (sci-fi, fantasy, superhero, etc.) won't be seen here.
With that in mind, here are the 15 Best Action Movies According To Rotten Tomatoes (And 5 Stuck With 0%).
20 Raiders of the Lost Ark (95%)
One of the most beloved movie characters of all time, Indiana Jones made his debut in the 1981 action-adventure Raiders of the Lost Ark. The film found Harrison Ford suiting up to play yet another iconic hero, who is set on tacking down the mythical Ark of the Covenant before the villains can get their hands on it. While countless movies have tried to recreate the success of this blockbuster masterpiece, few have managed to give audiences as enjoyable a ride as Raiders.
Unsurprisingly, the film was a critical and commercial success upon its release, grossing nearly $400 million at the box office and earning a Best Picture nomination. It went on to spawn three sequels with a fourth currently in the works — which we dearly hope is nothing like Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
19 The Prince (0%)
Bruce Willis may have starred in arguably the greatest action movie of all time with 1988’s Die Hard. But in the last decade, the aging action star has appeared in a string of flops and straight-to-VOD spectacles that have aligned him with the wrong side of the Tomatometer.
In 2014, Willis appeared alongside John Cusack and Jason Patric in The Prince — an action-thriller that many called a totally uninspired knock-off of Taken. And much like Taken, the film follows a former assassin who must spring into action after his daughter is taken away. As one critic writes, "Originality, either in terms of writing or direction, is in short supply in this assembly-line vigilante thriller." Unfortunately, that same line could be copied and pasted under the majority of Willis's recent films.
18 Super Cop (96%)
Originally released in 1992, this action-comedy finds Jackie Chan suiting up for his third Police Story movie — which would go on to earn him internationally success in the States under the title Super Cop. Here, Chan reprised his role as Chan Ka-Kui, a Hong Kong police officer who is assigned to take down the drug lord, Chaibat. Ka-Kui ends up going undercover in Chaibat’s gang, which often carries out in comedic fashion as the police officer tries to convince the gang members that he’s just as much of a criminal as they are.
Super Cop features the perfect balance of comedy and martial artist that Jackie Chan has become synonymous with, and the fact that Chan actually performed these stunts makes them all the more thrilling to watch.
17 Dr. No (96%)
The tent-pole film of the James Bond franchise, Dr. No was released in 1962 to great critical and commercial success. Drawing inspiration from the Ian Fleming novel, the movie found Sean Connery suiting up to play the MI6 agent, who is sent to Jamaica after a fellow spy disappear.
Made on a relatively small budget of $1.1 million, Dr. No doesn’t boast the flashy spectacle of subsequent Bond installments. But as one critic writes, Dr. No is “about as perfect a franchise-starter as you could imagine and certainly accomplished the task of leaving you eagerly anticipating Bond’s next adventure.” Of course, the franchise has seen its fair share of ups and downs since the 1962 original. But even still, James Bond as regarded as one of the greatest action heroes cinema has to offer.
16 The Fugitive (96%)
Drawing inspiration from the 1960s TV series, The Fugitive is a 1993 film starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones. Here, Ford plays Dr. Richard Kimble, a man who has been sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison after being incorrectly convicted of his wife’s murder. He manages to escape, leading him on a search for the truth while U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard (Jones) tries to track him down.
The critics on Rotten Tomatoes praise The Fugitive for its tight script, effective action pieces, and two powerful performances from the film’s leads. This is a movie that could very easily slip into the realm of ridiculousness, but it’s simply too well made to stop viewers from getting sucked into the adrenaline rush.
15 Term Life (0%)
In recent years, Vince Vaughn has struggled to shed his comedic persona in favor of more dramatic work. In 2015, he played career criminal Frank Semyon in the massively-underwhelming second season of True Detective. And the following year, he starred in the action-drama Term Life, which earned unanimously negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.
Here, Vaughn plays Nick Barrow, a heist orchestrator who must go on the run after he’s double-crossed. Nick takes his estranged daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) with him, who will inherit Nick's life insurance policy so long as he can survive the few weeks until the new policy kicks in. While Vaughn and Steinfeld are certainly capable of believable performances, such is not the case in Term Life. Critics agreed that both leads felt horribly miscast, and the uninspired work behind the camera certainly wasn't doing them any favors.
14 From Russia with Love (96%)
As far as the Tomatometer is concerned, the first and second James Bond movies are pretty much neck and neck with one another in terms of quality. From Russia with Love was released just one year after Dr. No and, thanks to the success of its predecessor, the film enjoyed twice as big of a production budget. That meant even grander and more inventive action sequences for audiences to feast their eyes upon.
The film follows Bond as he’s tasked with tracking down a Soviet encryption device that has fallen into the hands of SPECTRE. As many critics have noted, this Bond installment is bristling with confidence and From Russia with Love is notable in that it introduced a number of concepts and quirks that would become integral to the series.
13 Enter the Dragon (96%)
Before he tragically passed away at the age of 32, Bruce Lee completed his work on the 1973 film Enter the Dragon — which is widely regarded as the greatest kung fu film ever made. The action film has a no-frills story that involves Lee’s character (also named Lee) venturing to the private island of the crime lord Han, who is hosting an elite martial arts competition. While there, Lee attempts to gather evidence against Han, while also seeking out the man responsible for the loss of his sister's life.
Enter the Dragon was lauded for being pure action entertainment, unencumbered by an overcomplicating plot which allowed the immensely talented Bruce Lee to steal the spotlight.
12 Mad Max: Fury Road (97%)
For a movie that is ostensibly a two-hour chase scene, Mad Max: Fury Road managed to become one of the best-reviewed movies of 2015 — earning it a Best Picture nomination and a near-perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes. Written and directed by George Miller (the very man who launched the original Mad Max franchise back in 1979), Fury Road finds Tom Hardy taking on the role of the eponymous hero. But it’s ultimately Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa who steals the show, as she kicks-off the story by fleeing the Citadel, taking with her the five wives of the tyrannical Immortan Joe.
The film was lauded for its intense chase scenes, along with its ability to weave in timely themes without ever feeling heavy-handed.
11 The True Memoirs of An International Assassin (0%)
This 2016 Netflix release follows Sam Larson, a lowly accountant and hopeful novelist who is working on a book about an accomplished assassin. However, when his story is mistakenly published as a non-fiction memoir, Sam is taken under the hopes that he will help his captors carry out a real-life crime. The True Memoirs of An International Assassin may have an intriguing premise, but the action-comedy ultimately falls flat on both fronts — failing to provide any significant laughs or thrills. Kevin James provides his same brand of slapstick that we've come to expect from the Paul Blart: Mall Cop actor. But the schtick seems to have long worn out its welcome.
Out of the slew of negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, at least one critic was nice enough to note that it's not as embarrassing as The Ridiculous 6.
10 Bullitt (97%)
This 1968 action-thriller follows San Fransisco police lieutenant Frank Bullitt, who is assigned to protect a key witness before they can testify against the mafia. However, things grow far more complicated for Bullitt when the witness is knocked off by two hitmen and a state senator quickly tries to dismiss the case. Upon its release, Bullitt was a critical and commercial success, grossing over $42 million at the box office and earning it a number of Academy Award nominations. Critics praised Steve McQueen’s austere performance as the title character, helping earn the film a near-perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes.
But the standout of Bullitt is the high-tension car chase that takes place on the steep streets of San Fransisco. This action sequence alone is reason enough to take Bullitt for a spin.
9 Goldfinger (97%)
With only two negative reviews out of a total of 59, Goldfinger inches ahead of Dr. No and From Russia with Love as the best-reviewed Bond film on Rotten Tomatoes. The third 007-outing found Sean Connery back at it again, this time by tracking down the eponymous gold-smuggler who has plans to destroy the currency housed within Fort Knox. While the first two films set the franchise up for success, critics agreed that things really snapped into focus with Goldfinger, which featured the now-expected pre-credits action sequence and Bond’s increased use of gadgets.
Interestingly enough, critics also thought that Goldfinger was far less realistic than the first two installments. But apparently, that didn't stop them from enjoying this action-spy film even more.
8 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (97%)
Upon its release, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a surprising hit, which enjoyed success well beyond its home country of China. The film even managed to earn a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards, a rare feat for a foreign language film. Directed by Ang Lee, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon blends together numerous genres, including martial arts, romance, drama, and even a touch of fantasy — which all make for a wholly original movie-watching experience. A testament to this is the impressive 149 positive reviews that the film currently boasts on Rotten Tomatoes.
While the fighting scenes in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon may fly in the face of physics, they better help the viewer get swept up into this tale of revenge and romance that’s set in 18th century China.
7 Precious Cargo (0%)
Another Bruce Willis bomb, Precious Cargo is a 2016 heist film that was released straight-to-VOD. Here, Willis plays the homicidal crime boss Eddie Pilosa, who is forced to deal with a couple of thieves who have some hidden intentions when it comes to the gang’s latest heist.
Precious Cargo also stars Claire Forlani and Mark-Paul Gosselaar from Saved by the Bell fame. But no amount of on-screen talent could apparently save this action film from abysmal ratings. Rotten Tomatoes critics agree that the film is utterly forgettable, with one critic writing "You will be hard-pressed to remember anything about it even only a few minutes after watching it." Out of 21 reviews, Precious Cargo has an average rating of 2.5 out of 10.
6 Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (98%)
While the original 1979 Mad Max still manages to hold an impressive 90% approval rating, critics agreed that the sequel upped the spectacle in all the right ways. As a result, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior managed to achieve a 98% based on the reviews of 43 critics. Once again, Mel Gibson returned to play Max — this time madder than ever as he wanders the desolate outback, still reeling from the loss of his family.
The fight for resources is also more apparent than ever, as Max plan to loot a tribe's oil supply before he ultimately ends up joining forces with them to help fight against an even more formidable opponent. Much like Fury Road, The Road Warrior is another reason that the Mad Max franchise is considered one of the best in the action genre.
5 Kill Zone 2 (100%)
Kill Zone 2 (also known as SPL II: A Time for Consequences) is a 2015 Chinese film that has racked up 22 positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, earning the martial arts film an average rating of 7.2 out of 10. The movie follows an undercover cop who is sent to a corrupt Thai prison by the very gang he was assigned to infiltrate. But you need not concern yourself with the overcomplicated story of this action flick — as one critic aptly writes, “No one goes to a movie called Kill Zone 2 for plot anyway.”
The standout here is the unrelenting martial arts sequences, which never fail to impressive throughout the film’s two-hour runtime. In other words, Kill Zone 2 is the perfect film for anyone who's in the mood for nothing but some gritty, hand-to-hand combat.
4 Fist of Legend (100%)
A remake of the 1994 film starring Bruce Lee, Fist of Legend finds Jet Li in the leading role of Chen Zhen, a Chinese student living in 1920s Japan. But when his master meets his demise during a fight, Chen finds himself caught in the middle of an increasingly hostile racial conflict. Unlike a lot of martial arts films, which are over the top in their choreography, Fist of Legend received particular praise from critics for just how intense many of the fights scenes are.
Of course, Li took a huge risk by remaking a movie from the most famous on-screen martial artist of all time. However, the gamble ultimately paid off big time, as Fist of Legend turned out to be both a critical and commercial hit.
3 Seven Samurai (100%)
Seven Samurai may seem a bit slow for modern audiences and the three and a half runtime may also seem like a massive undertaking. However, those who manage to lock in with this 1950s masterpiece will be rewarded with a thrilling battle that stretches for nearly the final third of the film. Largely considered Akira Kurosawa’s greatest achievement, Seven Samurai is set in 1500s Japan and follows a village of farmers who recruit a group of wandering samurai to protect their town from bandits.
The film features no shortage of memorable characters and moments, especially the action sequences. Instead of the third act feeling like an assault on one's senses, which is often the case with modern action movies, the final battle in Seven Samurai is the perfect balance of carefully executed strategy punctuated by unexpected chaos.
2 Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever (0%)
Not only is Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever the worst-reviewed action movie on this list, it also holds the distinct honor of being the worst-reviewed movie in Rotten Tomatoes’ history. The 2002 action thriller stars Antonio Banderas and Lucy Liu as two secret agents who team up to track down an experimental weapon. In other words, not even the title of this colossal trainwreck makes sense, as Ecks and Sever spend the majority of the story working together as opposed to facing off.
Out of the 116 critics who reviewed the film, not a single one could recommend checking out Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever, citing the film as obnoxiously loud and utterly incoherent. Audience wholeheartedly agreed and, despite its action-packed plotline, the film only managed to gross $19.9 million at the box office against a $70 million budget.
1 The Terminator (100%)
While T2 may be a lot bigger, bolder, and flashier than its predecessor, sometimes you just have to give credit to the original. At least as far as the critics on Rotten Tomatoes are concerned, as The Terminator dons a perfect approval rating, putting it eight percentage points higher than Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
The first film was released in 1984 and followed Kyle Reese, a man from the future who has been sent back to protect Sarah Conner from a cyborg that seeks to destroy her. Co-writer and director James Cameron cleverly cast Arnold Schwarzenegger as the untalkative terminator, as Schwarzenegger wasn’t exactly known for his acting prowess in the 1980s. Despite the film's relatively small budget, The Terminator has continued to have a massively impact on the action and sci-fi genres.
So do you agree with these Rotten Tomatoes’ ratings? Sound off in the comments!