Action movies have been around almost as long as the cinema. The celebrated 12-minute Western short “The Great Train Robbery” is cited by some historians as being the first example of the genre. Others date its genesis from the swashbucklers of the 1920s and ‘30s starring such actors as Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn, or at last from the first appearances of James Bond in the 1960s. This is every James Bond movie ranked worst to best.
Some observers, though, maintain that the true action movie didn’t appear until the 1970s, when Clint Eastwood introduced filmgoers to “Dirty Harry” and Gene Hackman starred in “The French Connection.” Or maybe it was the 1980s, with Bruce Willis launching the “Die Hard” franchise, Sylvester Stallone beginning his Rambo series, and Arnold Schwarzenegger telling the world “I’ll be back” in the first of the Terminator movies.
No matter when it was made, almost every action movie has a plot in which a hero or a hero-in-waiting encounters a series of dangerous challenges while trying to fight against a villain or evil force. By the end of the film — most of the time — the hero has prevailed. Crazy car chases and spectacular explosions are also common to the genre. There’s plenty of action in some of the biggest box office hits since 2000.
To identify the best action movies ever made, 24/7 Tempo reviewed the 1,196 films in the action genre that had at least 25,000 reviews on IMDb, an online movie database owned by Amazon, or Rotten Tomatoes, an online movie and TV review aggregator. We calculated an index of each movie’s IMDb rating, Rotten Tomatoes audience score, and Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score, with all ratings weighted equally. To provide context, each movie’s ranking out of the 17,276 movies in our database across all genres was also included. Data on domestic box office came from The Numbers, an online movie database owned by consulting firm Nash Information Services. Ranking context for domestic box office gross was also provided out of the 4,230 films for which data was available. Box office figures are not adjusted for inflation. Cast information comes from IMDb.
Whatever the particulars — and even if it’s animated or framed with humor — these action movies will have you on the edge of your seat.