If it is true that cinema must excite, then action films are a veritable epitome of cinema . Punches, explosions, chases, duels to the death, acrobatics: the ingredients are all there. Despite this, some people wrongly see action cinema as a B-series genre, barely worthy of being associated with other, more “serious” incarnations of the seventh art.
Yet, beyond the intent to entertain without too many thoughts, action films have a lot to say, especially on a stylistic level, given that some of the best action movies have revolutionized the way of making cinema .
For this reason, we have tried to collect the thirty best action movies ever (this is, of course, a point of view, open to criticism, discussion and suggestions) and to pay homage to a genre as a whole. You are ready? Here is the top 30!
THE RANKING OF THE BEST ACTION FILMS
30. Bad Boys (1995)
DIRECTOR: Michael Bay
ACTORS: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Tea Leoni, Joe Pantoliano, Theresa Randle
The typical model of the ’80s buddy movie, transposed a decade later. But the formula continues to work thanks to the understanding between Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. Opposites as expected – one womanizer and over the top, the other classic family man – will have to switch roles to be able to solve a particularly thorny case.
29. Crank (2006)
DIRECTOR: Neveldine / Taylor
CAST: Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Carlos Sanz, Efren Ramirez
A film in which every scene is “beyond” and in which the action is truly an end in itself. The only (stated) purpose is to entertain an adrenaline junkie audience. After all, the adrenaline and also the problem of the protagonist Chev Chelios, a hitman of the evil to whom a colleague / rival injects a substance capable of inhibiting the influx to the point of stopping the heart. The solution? Always remain, constantly high, and in the meantime find a remedy and take revenge on those who did this to him. Jason Statham non-stop hero.
28. The Rock (1996)
DIRECTOR: Michael Bay
ACTORS: Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage, Ed Harris, William Forsythe, David Morse, John Spencer
After Bad Boys , Michael Bay is back in the ranking of the best action movies ever with a film that brings together two Hollywood veterans, namely Sean “the real James Bond” Connery and Nicolas Cage. Here the problem lies in an American army general who improvises himself as a terrorist and decides to occupy the Alcatraz island / prison. The solution is to send a former British secret agent in the past detained and escaped from the famous prison, together with a chemistry expert. The result is more than two hours of pure cinematic fun.
27. Mission Impossible Fallout (2018)
DIRECTOR: Christopher McQuarrie
ACTORS: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Alec Baldwin, Henry Cavill, Angela Bassett, Vanessa Kirby, Michelle Monaghan, Simon Pegg, Sean Harris, Ving Rhames, Joey Ansah
Ethan Hunt finds himself completing his mission with a new member, August Walker, on his team. This is an agent that the CIA imposed on him. A thug who can easily solve any question with brute force. The opposite of Hunt, who will also have to understand who intends to play the double game. The government thinks he’s the mole.
26. Rambo (1982)
DIRECTOR: Ted Kotcheff
ACTORS: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Brian Dennehy
Vietnam War veteran John Rambo roams a small town. He has discovered that a former comrade of his has passed away and, after being brutalized by local policemen, relives the nightmares of war. Something snaps into him and, taking refuge in the woods, a lethal manhunt begins.
25. Escape from New York (1981)
DIRECTOR: John Carpenter
ACTORS: Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Isaac Hayes, Season Hubley, Adrienne Barbeau, Harry Dean Stanton
Delinquency in the United States is out of control. In this reality, New York has been transformed into a maximum security prison. When a terrorist commando crashes the presidential plane inside the city perimeter, Jena Plissken is sent to that pit of violent criminals to retrieve it.
24. Point Break (1991)
DIRECTOR: Kathryn Bigelow
ACTORS: Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze, Lori Petty, Gary Busey
Long before scoring the Oscars with The Hurt Locker , US director Kathryn Bigelow had already packaged a hugely successful film like Point Break, one of the most popular films of the 90s and the perfect demonstration that even women can say theirs in the field of action cinema. Keanu Reeves and Johnny Utah, former FBI quarterback and freshman who finds himself undercover investigating the “gang of former presidents”, a gang of surfer-robbers led by the charismatic Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), with whom he forms a deep relationship of friendship.
23. Ong-Bak – Born to fight (2003)
DIRECTOR: Prachya Pinkaew
ACTORS: Tony Jaa, Petchtai Wongkamlao, Pumwaree Yodkamol
The film that made Muay Thai, the Thai martial art, popular also in the West. A group of thugs steals the head of a Buddha statue from a small village. The inhabitants are desperate, so a young martial arts expert volunteers and leaves for chaotic Bangkok to recover the precious artifact.
22. Triple Frontier (2019)
DIRECTOR: JC Chandor
ACTORS: Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, Pedro Pascal, Adria Arjona, Sheila Vand
Film set in the triple South American frontier. A border area between Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, where the villa of a well-known trafficker stands. Five friends, former soldiers, decide to rob him, so as to obtain the rich pension that their country has never given them. Many unexpected events and risks, which will put their friendship and life on the razor’s edge.
21. 1917 (2020)
DIRECTOR: Sam Mendes
ACTORS: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch
Two young corporals, great friends, are chosen for a delicate mission to say the least. They will have to cross enemy territory, so as to deliver a message to a battalion of 1,600 men, including the brother of one of the two. Their mission, if carried out, will avoid a real massacre.
20. Commando (1985)
DIRECTOR: Mark L. Lester
ACTORS: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Pure 80s action cinema, with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the role (indeed, in the muscles) of commander John Matrix, who lives quietly in the mountains with his 10-year-old daughter. Some of his former comrades kidnap the girl and blackmail him, asking him to carry out a murder on behalf of a South American dictator. But John is not the type to be threatened, and so in the “one man army” version he challenges everything and everyone to recover his beloved baby.
19. Battle Royale (2000)
DIRECTOR: Kinji Fukasaku
ACTORS: Takeshi Kitano, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Taro Yamamoto
One of the best known (and discussed) Japanese films abroad, first become a blockbuster at the box office at home, then a cult in the rest of the world. In the near future when juvenile delinquency has become a social problem, a school class is randomly selected from within a revolutionary educational program, whose various students are taken to a remote island. Here, equipped with randomly drawn weapons, they will have to kill each other until there is only one survivor left. So much violence and never a moment of boredom. Unforgettable Takeshi Kitano as the ruthless Professor Kitano.
18. The 3 of Operation Dragon (1973)
DIRECTOR: Robert Clouse
ACTORS: Bruce Lee, Ahna Capri, John Saxon, Shih Kien, Jim Kelly, Robert Wall
The last Bruce Lee movie released while he was still alive. Here the martial arts legend and Lee, a member of a Shaolin temple who is approached by the British secret services to investigate the illicit trafficking of Mr. Han. To do this, he decides to participate in a martial arts tournament that the criminal organizes every year on an island of his own. One of the greatest combat films ever.
17. The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
DIRECTOR: Paul Greengrass
ACTORS: Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, David Strathairn, Joan Allen
Third chapter in the film saga of Jason Bourne, which however most of all embodies the spirit of the series based on the books of Robert Ludlum. The forgetful former CIA agent played by Jason Bourne continues to try to shed light on his past prior to his involvement in Operation Treadstone, but new adversaries stand in his way. Intrigue, chases and a mystery to solve – all it takes to get one of the best action movies ever.
16. Atomic blonde (2017)
DIRECTOR : David Leitch
ACTORS: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Sofia Boutella, John Goodman, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan, Daniel Bernhardt, James Faulkner
And 1989 and Charlize Theron is an incredibly skilled spy, on a mission to Berlin shortly before the fall of the wall. One step away from the Cold War, he must find out who has betrayed an agent, collaborating with David, of the local intelligence, who could play a double game. He can’t trust anyone, in an incredible race against time.
15. Revenge (2017)
DIRECTOR : Coralie Fargeat
ACTORS : Matilda Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe, Guillaume Bouchede, Jean-Louis Tribes
Jen is a beautiful young woman, led by her wealthy lover to a refuge in the desert, where her traditional hunting trip will begin a few days later. His friends arrive early, however, discovering the two. While Richard is away, his friend Stan rapes Jen, who tries to escape and is thrown by the three down a ravine. But she doesn’t die and starts an incredible manhunt, aiming to get her revenge in any way possible.
14. Drive (2011)
DIRECTOR: Nicolas Winding Refn
ACTORS: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Oscar Isaac, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman
Ryan Gosling is a phenomenal stuntman and mechanic. A driver without equal, who lends his talent as a driver for robberies, so as to round up. His is a monotonous life, except for the action on the street. Everything is turned upside down by the meeting with Irene and her son Benicio. The two live in his palace and await the return home of Gabriel, Irene’s companion who has ended up in prison and ready to return, given the business he conducts. In order to avoid Irene suffering, she decides to intervene and try to make her man earn the money he needs to pay off debts with a local boss. But things will not go as planned, far from it.
13. Hard Boiled (1992)
DIRECTOR: John Woo
ACTORS: Chow Yun-fat, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Philip Chan, Teresa Mo, Philip Kwok
John Woo’s latest made in Hong Kong film, before his temporary move to Hollywood. The protagonist is Tequila (played by Chow Yun-fat), a police sergeant who sees his partner die in a gunfight with gangsters. But the cop finds himself paired with Alan, a murderer of the malady, who is actually an undercover agent. An excessive and unfiltered action movie. In short, a real blast.
12. Mission: Impossible (1996)
DIRECTOR: Brian De Palma
ACTORS: Tom Cruise, Emmanuelle Beart, Jon Voight, Jean Reno, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vanessa Redgrave, Ving Rhames
Difficult to choose which chapter of the Mission: Impossible saga deserves more than the others to enter the list of the best action movies ever. But for sure, the initial episode directed by the great Brain De Palma has an edge over all the others. After all, it starts with a bang, with IMF veteran Jim Phelps and his team slain during an operation to retrieve burning documents. The sole survivor of the CIA’s special division appears to be Agent Ethan Hunt, who is suspected of being a mole and must at the same time refute the allegations and understand what lies behind.
11. Fast & Furious – Hobbs & Shaw (2019)
DIRECTOR: David Leitch
ACTORS: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Vanessa Kirby, Idris Elba, Eddie Marsan, Stephanie Vogt, Eiza Gonzalez, Helen Mirren, Teresa Mahoney, Cliff Curtis, John Tui
Sworn enemies Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw find themselves side by side on a desperate mission. They have to face Brixton, an anarchist with a modified and enhanced body. A war machine, run by a mysterious organization.
10. Heat – The Challenge (1995)
DIRECTOR: Michael Mann
ACTORS: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer, Danny Trejo, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, Henry Rollins
Two movie giants like Robert De Niro and Al Pacino face off in this flawless action thriller directed by Michael Mann. The first is a late-career robber struggling with the organization of the last, memorable heist. The second is a policeman completely dedicated to his work, willing to do anything to capture him. Obviously, the challenge will be no holds barred.
9. The Raid (2011)
DIRECTOR: Gareth Evans
ACTORS: Iko Uwais, Donny Alamsyah, Ray Sahetapy, Yayan Ruhian, Joe Taslim
Along with Fury Road , another film that helped redefine the concept of action cinema by fitting more pure action sequences into one film than was previously thought possible. Incredibly choreographed, the Indonesian adventure directed by Welsh Gareth Evans sees an elite squad of Jakarta police raid a crime lord’s stronghold building. It will be a desperate undertaking, as the young officer Rama suspects from the start. The sequel The Raid 2: Berandal lives up to the original .
8. John Wick 3 (2019)
DIRECTOR: Chad Stahelski
ACTORS: Keanu Reeves, Asia Kate Dillon, Halle Berry, Jason Mantzoukas, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Anjelica Huston, Mark Dacascos, Lance Reddick, Tiger Hu Chen
John Wick violated the rules of his own world of professional assassins. He therefore finds himself with a conspicuous bounty on his head. Everyone is on his trail, which pushes him to a figure above the Great Table, a criminal organization that wants him dead. However, it does not stop his assassins, who attack the Continental, hunting him and Winston.
7. Predator (1987)
DIRECTOR: John McTiernan
ACTORS: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Sonny Landham, Jesse Ventura, Bill Duke, Elpidia Carrillo
The year before Crystal Trap , John McTiernan had already made his mark with this action-sci-fi hybrid, which sees Arnold Schwarzenegger step into the shoes of Major Dutch Schaefer. At the head of a special mission in the jungle, the veteran sees his team members slaughtered one after the other, when a mysterious alien warrior who has fallen in the surrounding area appears in their way. At that point between the two it will become a duel to the death.
6. Rambo (1982)
DIRECTOR: Ted Kotcheff
ACTORS: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Brian Dennehy, Bill McKinney
The birth of a legend. Sylvester Stallone, also working on the screenplay, puts himself body and soul into the shoes of Vietnam veteran John Rambo, shaken by the horrors of war and once back home at the center of a merciless manhunt after he rebelled against arrest by an arrogant sheriff. A character destined to enter the popular imagination and return in a series of sequels.
5. Lethal Weapon (1987)
DIRECTOR: Richard Donner
ACTORS: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Tom Atkins, Darlene Love, Mitchell Ryan
Not only one of the best action films, but also the prototype of the buddy movie, to which dozens of other films will draw, such as the aforementioned Bad Boys with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. Directed by Richard Donner, this is Mel Gibson and Danny Glover playing the pair of cops formed by Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh, one reckless and out of control, the other more experienced and poised. Two opposites that, however, balance perfectly, giving the bad guys a hard time.
4. Leon (1994)
DIRECTOR: Luc Besson
ACTORS: Jean Reno, Natalie Portman, Gary Oldman, Danny Aiello
A step away from the podium of the best action movies ever, the story of the friendship between the cold (and socially awkward) hitman Leon, played with due minimalism by Jean Reno, and Mathilda, a girl next door, whose Troubled family was slaughtered by corrupt DEA agent Norman Stansfield. It is difficult to imagine a worse matched couple, but the result is hilarious and at times moving. The comeback of French director Luc Besson after Nikita and the start of Natalie Portman’s successful career.
3. Crystal Trap (1988)
DIRECTOR: John McTiernan
ACTORS: Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, Alan Rickman, Paul Gleason
The film that inaugurates the Die Hard saga and introduces to the general public the character of John McClane, who brought fame to Bruce Willis. On the road to Los Angeles, the tough New York policeman finds himself with his wife in a dizzying skyscraper, when terrorists break in and take all bystanders hostage. All except John, of course, who manages to give the kidnappers a hard time and discover their true plans.
2. Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004)
DIRECTOR: Quentin Tarantino
ACTORS: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah
Beatrix Kiddo returns to tell her own story, hunting for Bill, her former partner and teacher, responsible for killing her future husband and left in the church for dead, ignoring the fact that she was pregnant. The woman remembers her training with the deadly Pai Mei, as she walks towards two other victims, members of Bill’s gang, last on her list. At the final step, however, an incredible surprise awaits her.
1. Mad Max – Fury Road (2015)
DIRECTOR: George Miller
ACTORS: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keyas-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoe Kravitz, Abbey Lee, Megan Gale
When the now not-so-young Australian director George Miller decided to take up his road warrior Mad Max saga, decades after the trilogy starring his compatriot Mel Gibson, no one would ever have imagined that the result would be was … well, the best action movie ever made. Two hours without ever a moment of respite, spectacular chases, a revolutionary use of rhythm and montage and a breakthrough aesthetic approach. This time the role of Max is entrusted to Tom Hardy, but to really make his mark and Charlize Theron in the role of Empress Furious. Six Academy Awards, unfortunately all “technical”.
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