The qualities of actors that are the most successful at portraying action heroes in film may shed some light on what characteristics that are most common among the hero archetype. Action heroes often are stereotyped as giant, muscular fighting machines. In many cases this stereotype is accurate. Be it the many roles Arnold Schwarzenegger played following his legendary bodybuilding career, such as Conan or the Terminator, or the stoic roles played by martial artists Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Yet there is more to being a great action hero than simply having muscle. Secret agent James Bond, played by many actors, also has his gadgets, cunning, and resolve. In “The Matrix,” Keanu Reeves as Neo is a reluctant hero despite being “The One” — humanity’s hope for a better future.
Sometimes, a talented action actor can build a following. With such actors, fans will be drawn to any action movie in which the actor appears. For example, Schwarzenegger appears on our list for his roles in both “Total Recall” and the Terminator series. Similarly, Sylvester Stallone is represented multiple times for his work in the Rambo and Expendables films. The longevity of these actors’ careers is a testament to their talents in front of the camera.
While audiences still love those actors – further illustrated by the success of the recent Expendables franchise, which features multiple action actors both old and young – many have turned to the recent wave of big budget superhero movies to get their action fix. Instead of relying on a famous action star to open a major movie, studios are now looking to establish franchises with multiple likeable characters. The list features 13 superheroes who appear in multiple movies, including Wolverine, who has appeared in all nine X-Men films, and many of the stars of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
To determine the most popular action heroes of all time, 24/7 Wall St. ranked characters based on the number of reviews of the movies they have starred in on Internet Movie Database. Only the lead characters from movies with the action genre tag and at least 5,000 votes on IMDb were considered. Because older films are considerably less likely to have been rated by IMDb users, we assigned greater weighting to older movies by scaling the number of ratings a given movie received to the total number of user ratings received by all films released the same year. We scaled the number of user ratings for each actor to his or her position on the movie’s IMDb cast list. Actors and actresses listed the highest on the IMDb cast page for a specific movie received the full number of user reviews for that movie in his or her aggregate user review count, and actors and actresses listed the lowest on the IMDb cast page had their user reviews from that particular movie weighed down in their total review count.