Coming up with a list of the top 50 best action movies of all time was a lot simpler than making a list of the greatest movies ever made. With action movies good acting is merely a bonus and any Oscar nominations, let alone wins, are particularly unexpected. All that matters is that the pace of the movie is fast and furious and keeps you on the edge of your seat. Cutting edge special effects are an important factor, but not an absolute must. Violence, explosions and car chases are all criteria that go into the greatest action movies, and most of the films on this list will have one or more of those elements. With all that in mind here are my picks for the best action films ever made. See how they stack up against your own list and feel free to leave comments if you think I’ve made any glaring errors.
50 – Shoot ‘Em Up – An action movie title that leaves little to the imagination. Actually this Clive Owen film is meant to be an over-the-top spoof of action films, but despite the tongue in cheek theme of the movie it still winds up being a pretty decent action flick.
49 – Starship Troopers – I did mention acting wasn’t a prerequisite, didn’t I? Michael Ironside andNeil Patrick Harris are the best of the bunch in this campy blood-soaked science fiction film where humankind goes to war against an army of giant bugs.
48 – Batman Begins – This one definitely bucks the trend when it comes to acting. Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman and Michael Caine are all brilliant in this dark, gritty film that completely revitalized the flagging Batman movie franchise.
47 – Crank – Jason Statham is one of the biggest action stars on the planet these days, and he gives an adrenaline-fueled performance in this non-stop action-fest where he has to keep the pedal to the metal and his heart beating a mile a minute if he wants to stay alive.
46 – The Terminator – The movie that made Arnold Schwarzenegger, the biggest action star of the 80s, an international superstar. James Cameron’s masterpiece is also one of the best sci-fi movies of all time.
45 – Ronin – One of the best car chases in movie history earns this Robert De Niro thriller a spot on the list. Throw in a fair dose of violence and a very cool plot and it is hard to argue this stylish film’s inclusion.
44 – 300 – Epic violence with incredible special effects and buckets of blood makes this tale of King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans a no-brainer.
43 – Blade – Wesley Snipes in the best role of his career as Blade, The half-vampire Daywalker who kills vampires in droves in an effort to protect humankind.
42 – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – Probably the most beautiful movie on this list of the best action films, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon starring Chow Yun-Fat, Ziyi Zhang and Michelle Yeoh left audiences breathless with its stylish battle sequences.
41 – The Transporter – Jason Statham makes another appearance as a man with a seemingly simple job: delivering packages from one place to another. However, he has a special skill set that sets him apart from your friendly UPS driver, and there is plenty of violence, incredible stunts and breathtaking car chases to keep audiences on the edge of their seat throughout.
40 – Ben Hur – A little classic content on this list of the top 50 best action films of all time. The legendary Charleton Heston stars in this 1959 epic that captured 11 Oscars. No car chases, but chariots are just as good.
39 – Jurassic Park – One of the greatest special effects movies ever to come out of Hollywood. Steven Spielberg directs this almost plausible sci-fi romp about genetically engineered dinosaurs that terrorize a small group “beta-testing” a very unique theme park..
38 – The Fifth Element – Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich star in this cool futuristic sci-fi film where Evil (with a capital E) threatens all life and only the Fifth Element can save humankind from extinction.
37 – Saving Private Ryan – This one, another Spielberg classic, would capture a high spot on a list of the best war movies of all time. War movies are, by the nature of the subject matter, loaded with action, but Saving Private Ryan takes the intensity to the next level. Much heavier subject matter than most of the fluff on this list, however.
36 – Star Wars – The original film that launched a worldwide phenomenon, this space opera is arguably the most popular movie of all time. There is plenty of action for adrenaline junkies including lightsaber fights, laser blasters, and spaceship battles.
35 – Robocop – Peter Weller stars as a fatally wounded cop who is brought back from the brink of death by an experimental procedure that turns him into a powerful cyborg who rejoins the force as an almost unstoppable weapon against crime.
34 – Heat – Two of Hollywood’s most accomplished actors – Robert De Niro and Al Pacino – face off in this battle between a savvy cop and a brilliant thief.
33 – Mission: Impossible – Based on the classic TV show from the 60s and 70s Mission: Impossible stars Tom Cruise as agent Ethan Hunt, who must battle overwhelming odds (hence the title) to clear his name.
32 – The Rock – One of the best action movies of the 90s The Rock stars the best James Bond of them all – Sean Connery and Nicholas Cage, who must team up to break in to Alcatraz to neutralize a group of marines who are holding a group of tourists hostage.
31 – Black Hawk Down – Another gritty, visceral war movie, this film features Josh Hartnett and Ewan McGregor who are among the U.S. soldiers dropped into the middle of a war zone in Somalia. Non-stop bullets, explosions and almost disturbing realism put the audience right in the center of the action.
30 – The Wild Bunch – One of the best western movies of all time and a true Hollywood classic this film about a group of outlaws trying for one last score is a must see for all film fans even if they aren’t fans of the genre.
29 – First Blood – How could I make a list of the best action films ever and not have Sylvester Stallone somewhere on the list. He has made 4 Rambo movies to date, and some of the others might have better special effects and bigger explosions but the original is still by far the best in my mind.
28 – Seven Samurai – Known overseas as Scichinin no samurai this classic foreign film is one of the greatest films ever made in any genre. Epic battles in feudal Japan with no shortage of action.
27 – Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – Peter Jackson’s masterful retelling of the first part of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings left audiences picking their jaws up off the floor. Though perhaps slower in pace than most of the other films on this list there is still plenty of swordplay to thrill the audience, and the battle against the cave troll and the orcs is one of the best battle scenes ever.
26 – The Professional (AKA Leon) – Jean Reno is superb as Leon, a professional assassin who finds himself a surrogate father to Natalie Portman’s Mathilda after her parents are killed. Touching and violent at the same time, this film is much different than the others on this list, but is still a spectacular action film despite its thoughtful nature.
25 – Desperado – It seems fitting that the legendary action hero El Mariachi would mark our entrance into the top 25 action movies of all time. Antonio Banderas stars in the lead role and the action is virtually non-stop from the opening to the ending credits.
24 – Commando – About time another Arnie movie appeared on the list. This time Arnie plays an ex-commando who racks up a massive body count as he attempts to rescue his daughter from the evil dictator who is holding her hostage.
23 – Hard-Boiled – Chow Yun-Fat makes another appearance, this time directed by legendary action movie director John Woo. After a gunfight kills his partner, Tequila (Chow Yun-Fat) teams up with an undercover cop to bring down a vicious gang of gun smugglers.
22 – Ong-bak – If you are a fan of Jackie Chan movies then you will absolutely love Ong-bak. Tommy Jaa defies the laws of physics with his incredible athletic ability and Muay Thai skill. If you love martial arts movies then definitely check this one out. Tons of action and truly mindbending stunt work in this film.
21 – The Road Warrior – Mel Gibson starred in several of the best action movies of the 80s, and 1981’s sequel to Mad Max about survival in a post-apocalyptic world ranks up there as his best work. If you enjoy vehicular combat this film will be right up your alley.
20 – Enter the Dragon – The original king of martial arts movies, Bruce Lee inspired most of today’s martial arts movie stars. Enter the Dragon is the best of his many great films and audiences get to see Lee at the absolute pinnacle of his ability.
19 – Speed – Though Keanu Reeves is undoubtedly one of the most wooden actors ever to step behind a camera the guy manages to land himself roles in some pretty big action blockbusters. 1994’sSpeed was the very definition of a non-stop adrenaline-pumping thrill ride as he and a young Sandra Bullock are given the seemingly impossible task of keeping a bus moving at over 50 MPH lest it blow up and kill everyone on board.
18 – Gladiator – Russell Crowe, known for his thoughtful work in films like A Beautiful Mind and The Insider steps into an action packed role as a Roman General who winds up a gladiator, forced to fight and kill for the entertainment of the mob.
17 – Braveheart – Mel Gibson’s epic telling of the tale of William Wallace, a Scottish commoner who becomes a hero as he wages a personal war against the oppression of the English. If you enjoy swordplay then this one has plenty of medieval warfare to sate your appetite.
16 – The Killer – Chow Yun-Fat and director John Woo team up again in this stylish Hong Kongaction film about an assassin who tries to right a previous wrong, taking one last assignment so can afford to help a lounge singer he accidentally blinded.
15 – True Lies – Recognizing a pattern here? Yes, Arnie makes another appearance as a government agent who must thwart a terrorist attack while teaching his wife a lesson. As action packed as it is funny this one would rank high on a list of the best action comedy movies.
14 – Drunken Master 2 – Jackie Chan has starred in dozens of action films over his illustrious career, but his best work to date is his role as Wong Fei-hung, a “Drunken Boxer” who becomes a devastating fighter after having a little nip of the grape. Like True Lies this film serves up the comedy and the action in equal doses.
13 – Goldfinger – Okay Bond fans you can relax, your boy made the list. Sean Connery, the best Bond ever, delivers punches and punch lines in equal measure. Plenty of gadgets and a final battle against an evil villain made this film the defining movie of the series, and the gold standard against which all other Bond films are judged.
12 – Kill Bill: Vol. 1 – If you demand plenty of violence and blood in your action films then you won’t be disappointed in the first half of Quentin Tarantino’s tale of brutal revenge. Uma Thurman is one bloodthirsty girl and she deals death to her enemies in astonishing numbers.
11 – Con Air – Just the title of the film screams action movie. Nicholas Cage stars as a convict who winds up on the wrong plane at the wrong time and must take down a group of the most dangerous group of killers ever to board a plane together.
10 – Lethal Weapon – Here we are in the top 10 action movies ever made, and the heavy hitters are really starting to come out. Mel Gibson teams up with Danny Glover as two cops who couldn’t be more different but still manage to achieve results (with plenty of explosions along the way) as they thwart a deadly gang of drug smugglers.
9 – Predator – With perhaps the most testosterone ever seen on a movie screen at one time Predatorteams Arnold Schwarzenegger up with a muscle bound crew that includes Carl Weathers and ex-wrestler Jesse “The Body” Ventura. Between them they blow the jungle all to hell as they battle against guerillas and a lethal hunter from outer space that wants to add their skulls to his trophy collection.
8 – Terminator 2: Judgment Day – As good as the original was, this 1991 sequel is head and shoulders above it. Arnie is back, but this time as a good terminator who must help save John Connor against the new and improved Terminator model who is hunting him.
7 – The Dark Knight – Arguably the best superhero movie of all time, this film raked in over half a billion dollars domestically. The late Heath Ledger was absolutely superb as The Joker and earned an Oscar for his portrayal of the legendary villain.
6 – The Bourne Ultimatum – Like James Bond on steroids, Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne was made for the big screen, leaping off the pages of Ludlum’s novels and into action. Matt Damon stars in the lead role and the action never seems to abate as he tries to dodge the assassins sent to dispatch him.
5 – The Matrix – Though now 10 years old 1999’s The Matrix can still stand today against any other film as a special effects masterpiece. A science fiction mindbender, this film electrified audiences, and though number 2 and 3 tarnished the series as a whole the original still remains one of the best sci-fi movies ever made.
4 – Aliens – Director James Cameron raises the bar set by Ridley Scott in the original Alien film. This time Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and her crew must take on a horde of the murderous beasts who has wiped out a space colony.
3 – The Empire Strikes Back – Much like Aliens this movie is another case where the sequel is a little bit better than the original. The action is ramped up in this chapter as the mighty Empire puts the boots to Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo and their pitiful rebellion.
2 – Raiders of the Lost Ark – This was a tight race, but ultimately Steven Spielberg and George Lucas’s 1981 adventure film collaboration came in a tight second. With spiders and snakes, whips, guns, fisticuffs, and a melting face or two the film will keep even the most demanding action junkies entertained from beginning to end.
1 – Die Hard – Bruce Willis and his heroic cop character John McClane take top spot on the list of the top 50 best action movies of all time. The best of the 4 Die Hard movies the film never seems to take a breath as McClane becomes the fly in the ointment and sabotages the best laid plans of Hans Gruber and his cronies.