Ask any movie fan to name a specific breed of big screen adventure, and action is sure to be among the first. Providing audiences with memorable heroes and grand escapism, action movies have entertained moviegoers time and time again, establishing too many beloved characters and franchises to count. But which ones stand out from the rest? Here are Screen Rant’s 10 best action movies ever made.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
George Lucas and Steven Spielberg teamed up to deliver a thrilling homage to film serials of the ’30s and ’40s with this sweeping adventure. Harrison Ford was perfectly cast as the lead, injecting Indiana Jones with the same charm and roguish attitude that made Han Solo a fan-favorite. The action sequences were brilliantly crafted, as everything from Ford’s truck stunt to the airplane fight made good on the film’s tagline of hailing the return of “the great adventure.” It also didn’t hurt that the villains Indy faced were tenacious and terrifying. More than deserving of its Best Picture nomination, Raiders is the definition of a timeless adventure classic.
Arguably the best example of an action movie in its purest form, Die Hard still holds up more than 25 years after its release. The movie was noteworthy for painting John McClane as a vulnerable action hero, and not an invincible superhero. Every hit the New York cop took drew blood, and forced him to push through more adversity – to the point where he – and the audience – believed he wasn’t making it out alive. We’d be crazy to not praise Hans Gruber, one of the action genre’s most iconic villains, never slipping out of control, and able to inspire feari in nearly anyone. Between great characters and standout set pieces, Die Hard is required Holiday viewing.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
James Cameron upped the ante considerably with his sequel to The Terminator and didn’t disappoint. T2 was a watershed moment for the film industry, pioneering CGI technology with the frightening T-1000 and ushering in a new age of Hollywood special effects. The director proved he was at the top of his craft by helming nail-biting action sequences that constantly escalated from one scene to the next. The film also had a powerful narrative and themes about fate and friendship, centering on the young John Connor and the Terminator sent back in time to protect him. Even now, it’s hard not to shed a tear when Arnold sacrifices himself with a final thumbs-up.
Michael Bay may divide fans these days, but his career got off to a rousing start. Combining a slick visual style with the energetic coupling of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, Bad Boys instantly became one of the absolute standout buddy cop flicks. The chemistry between the two stars was entertaining to watch, and Bay made it clear that few directors had his eye for large-scale action. Though the story didn’t reinvent the wheel, it was still a blast to see it all unfold, with unexpected comedy, unforgettable set pieces, and a killer soundtrack. Is it any wonder why people are begging for a third installment?
Equal parts creative and groundbreaking, the Wachowskis gave a generation of moviegoers one of their defining sci-fi films with this tale of man vs. machine. The directors raised the bar for visual effects, introducing moviegoers to the awe-inspiring possibilities of bullet time, allowing them to break convention and deliver something never before seen. The movie also had great substance to go with that style, giving Neo a great character arc and rounding out the cast with talented actors like Lawrence Fishburne and Hugo Weaving. The Matrix inspired countless imitators, but we never get tired of watching the pioneers at their best.
The Bourne Ultimatum
One of the few franchises that got better with each installment, Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon exceeded all expectations with this trilogy finale. Further developing his mastery of the “shaky cam” aesthetic, the filmmaker incorporated real stunts into his techniques, giving us tense fights that always hit home. It also didn’t hurt that the talented cast gave honest and compelling performances, with David Strathairn proving a slimy and worthwhile adversary for our hero. Unpacking more about Bourne’s past also gave this film some dramatic heft to compliment the action. Fans can’t wait to see Matt Damon return to the role, and given his send-off, it’s easy to see why.