Special Report

Discover the 20 Best Action Films of All Time!

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Action films are a testament to excitement, violence, and acts of physical might. As the genre has grown, its aims have been codified into stories that feature a talented and efficient hero as they face improbable odds. Other genre staples include dangerous situations, seemingly unbeatable villains, and a narrative arc that sees the hero attain victory after a long, hard-fought struggle. All of these tropes are present in the 20 best action films of all time.

Arguably, the first action movie ever made was “The Great Train Robbery” in 1903. This film featured concrete portrayals of action and violence amidst a train robbery. The film was so realistic that audiences reportedly hid for cover when a gun was pointed at the screen.

As time went on, action movies blossomed into a variety of depictions, including that of war, westerns, spies, police procedurals, and samurai stories. (Click here for the best war movies of all time.)

The genre also catalyzed innovations in film such as stuntmen, pyrotechnics, and computer-generated imagery (CGI). In the modern day, action films have grown into a powerhouse of filmmaking, often demanding the biggest budgets and captivating audiences with near-mythological themes of good versus evil, and man triumphing over insurmountable struggles.

To determine the best action movies of all time, 24/7 Tempo developed an index using average ratings on IMDb, an online movie database owned by Amazon, and a combination of audience scores and Tomatometer scores on Rotten Tomatoes, an online movie and TV review aggregator, as of October 2023, weighting all ratings equally. We considered only movies with at least 5,000 audience votes on either IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes. Directorial credits are from IMDb.

20. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

  • IMDb user rating: 8.1/10 (1,042,131 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 86% (129,988 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 97% (439 reviews)
  • Directed by: George Miller

Taking place in an apocalyptic future, “Mad Max: Fury Road” follows the journey of Max Rockatansky as he is captured by the warlord Immortan Joe and taken into his desert citadel. Enslaved as a blood resource by Joe, Max witnesses the power struggles of the kingdom. When the Imperator Furiosa escapes with the warlord’s five wives, she allies with the captive Max. Together, in a fortress on wheels, they attempt to outrun Immortan Joe and his henchman through the desert wastelands in a high-speed chase.

What makes “Mad Max: Fury Road” one of the best action films of all time is the combination of imagination and a good ol’ car chase. Set in a made-up world, the film blends eccentric details, archetypical characters, and simple, concrete struggles into a dazzling display of visionary might. The industry agreed as “Fury Road” won six Academy Awards, including Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Production Design, and Best Costume Design.

 19. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)


  •   IMDb user rating: 7.7/10 (28,840 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 88% (9,478 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 100% (42 reviews)
  •   Directed by: Joseph Sargent

Set in crime-infested New York City, “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” follows the hijacking of the subway system by criminal mastermind Ryder, who, along with his goons, threatens to kill everyone on the trains unless a ransom is paid. The city’s only hope is train dispatcher, Garber, who uses his encyclopedic knowledge of the transit system to outsmart the hijackers and save the kidnapped passengers.

“The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” triumphs as an action caper due to its gritty depiction of New York City and a wry sense of excitement. Not only do the supporting characters make the film come alive in a raucous but restrained display, the film has a gritty sense of humor that elevates it from a simple heist film to pure entertainment. The film’s success, and its perfect Rotten Tomatoes score, led to a remake of the same name in 2009. (Here is a list of other R-rated movies with a perfect score.)

 18. Logan (2017) 

  •   IMDb user rating:  8.1/10 (688,052 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes audience score:  90% (93,272 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score:  93% (423 reviews)
  •   Directed by:  James Mangold

Reeling from tragedies and loss, the film follows Logan (previously known as Wolverine) as he cares for a sickly Professor X in a lonely outpost near the Mexican border. Hoping to hide from the outside world, Logan instead is forced to reckon with it, after meeting a young mutant girl who has powers much like himself. Taking on the role of her protector, Logan must battle dark forces seeking to capture her.

“Logan” takes well-known superhero characters from the X-Men series and transforms them into characters with real human feelings and frailties. The film is gritty and action-packed, yet imbued with real emotion, breathing fresh life into well-worn characters. It’s one of the best action films of all time because the grounded story makes it easy to relate to supernatural characters, suggesting it’s always worth fighting for something better.

 17. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) 

  •   IMDb user rating:  8.2/10 (717,370 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes audience score:  94% (768,808 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score:  88% (73 reviews)
  •   Directed by:  Steven Spielberg

In another quest of adventure, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” follows the eponymous hero Indiana Jones in a pursuit to rescue his father, who has disappeared while looking for the Holy Grail. Using clues from his father’s notebook, Indiana Jones is led throughout Europe. In the process, he allies with a beautiful professor, and together, they fight sinister forces in an attempt to save his father.

An extension of the classic Indiana Jones series, “The Last Crusade” works because it humanizes Indiana through the intimate depiction of a father-son relationship. Though Steven Spielberg’s movie is packed with action, most notably with the circus train chase sequence, it does so in a witty and charming display. Its success led to two Academy Award nominations, and one win for Best Sound Editing. (These are all of Steven Spielberg’s movies, ranked.)

 16. RRR (2022) 

  •   IMDb user rating:  7.8/10 (154,757 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes audience score:  94% (909 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score:  95% (100 reviews)
  •   Directed by:  S.S. Rajamouli

The movie depicts the fictionalized account of Alluri Sitarama Raju and Komaram Bheem, two young Indian revolutionaries on a faraway journey in the 1920s. After learning that the British Raj threatens to upend their country, they return home to fight the colonialists in a bid for freedom.

The most expensive Indian film ever made, “RRR” pulls out all the stops in telling its visually exciting story of revolution and freedom. Though the movie is almost three hours long, “RRR” fills nearly every minute with jaw-dropping action, immaculate set pieces, and impressive dance sequences.

 15. Inception (2010) 

  •   IMDb user rating:  8.8/10 (2,171,143 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes audience score:  91% (571,783 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score:  87% (361 reviews)
  •   Directed by:  Christopher Nolan

This film follows Dom Cobb, a thief with a unique skill—the ability to enter into other people’s dreams. His capacity to steal secrets from the subconscious of his victims makes Cobb a high-value actor in the world of corporate espionage, but it comes at the cost of everything he loves. When he is faced with his biggest challenge yet, planting an idea in someone’s mind, Cobb must outsmart the enemy in pursuit of the perfect crime.

“Inception” functions like a high-stakes game of chess. The film asks the viewer to make sense of the challenging multiple dimensions and realities but compels this journey through the labyrinth of the mind with innovative, conceptually dazzling visuals. For its vivid depiction of dreams, “Inception” won Academy Awards for Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Visual Effects, and Best Cinematography.

 14. The Terminator (1984) 

  •   IMDb user rating:  8.0/10 (820,969 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes audience score:  89% (776,923 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score:  100% (65 reviews)
  •   Directed by:  James Cameron

A robot assassin disguised as a human is sent back in time from the year 2029 to kill a woman named Sarah Connor. Also traveling back in time is Kyle Reese, sent to protect Connor, whose unborn son will one day lead the fight against the artificial intelligence system Skynet. In the future, this machine will take over the world and spark a nuclear holocaust.

When “The Terminator” first came out, it received mixed reviews and was considered to be inflated, comic book trash. However, as time went on it was considered to be a great action film with classic quotes. Due to its impressive scope on a tight budget, its explosive, brutal action, and its almost mythical story, “The Terminator” has become a mainstay of sci-fi cinema and one of the best action films of all time.

 13. Avengers: Endgame (2019) 

  •   IMDb user rating:  8.4/10 (939,893 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes audience score:  90% (72,727 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score:  94% (546 reviews)
  •   Directed by:  Anthony & Joe Russo

Opening in space, “Avengers: Endgame” follows Tony Stark as he attempts to send for help through his assistant Pepper Potts. Meanwhile, the rest of the Avengers crew, including Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, and Bruce Banner try to figure out how to revive their old allies for a showdown with Thanos, the powerful villain hell-bent on destroying the universe.

The final installment in Marvel’s Infinity Saga series, “Avengers: Endgame” works due to its excitement and emotional impact. It takes a well-worn formula and still finds new avenues to explore, resulting in an epic blockbuster finale film that satisfies even the most critical Marvel superhero fan. (Here is a list of blockbuster movies that are actually critically acclaimed.)

 12. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

  •   IMDb user rating:  8.9/10 (1,710,236 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes audience score:  86% (34,679,773 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score:  93% (275 reviews)
  •   Directed by:  Peter Jackson

The conclusion of Peter Jackson’s epic Lord of the Rings trilogy, “The Return of the King” depicts the ultimate confrontation between good and evil. As hobbits Sam and Frodo finally reach Mordor and attempt to destroy the “one ring,” their ally Aragon leads his army in a battle against the malevolent sorcerer Sauron and his wicked ranks.

“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” is, quite simply, a powerful cinematic experience. Keeping the momentum of the previous two films, “The Return of the King” delivers majestic, emotionally fulfilling moments, spellbinding visuals, and an epic climax that rounds out the trilogy perfectly.

 11. Die Hard (1988)

  •   IMDb user rating:  8.2/10 (820,820 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes audience score:  94% (574,298 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score:  94% (79 reviews)
  •   Directed by:  John McTiernan

NYC policeman John McClane is visiting his estranged wife and two daughters on Christmas Eve. He attends a Christmas party at his wife’s corporate office, which is soon interrupted by a group of terrorists seeking to hijack the building and capture everyone in it. Quickly, John McClane realizes the only person who can save the hostages is himself.

One of the best action films of all time, and an underrated Christmas story, “Die Hard” was Bruce Willis’ breakout role. The film succeeds because it takes a simple setting and transforms it into an intelligent thriller, where a reluctant hero finds his redemption through righteous violence and ingenuity.

 10. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

 

  •   IMDb user rating:  8.5/10 (1,033,964 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes audience score:  94% (749,360 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score:  93% (84 reviews)
  •   Directed by:  James Cameron

Picking up 11 years after the original film, “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” follows teenage John Connor as he is sought by a new, more advanced assassin robot sent from the future. Fortunately, the original Terminator robot has been reprogrammed and is sent back to protect John, who forms an unlikely bond with his former assassin as they flee the new killer robot.

“Terminator 2: Judgement Day” succeeds due to its expanded scope, incredible visual effects, and a new, cold-blooded villain. It is, no doubt, an evolution of the original film, discarding an amoral tone for one of compassion, intimacy, and the value of human life. For its range, “Terminator 2” won Academy Awards for Best Sound and Best Special Visual Effects.

 9. Aliens (1986) 

  •   IMDb user rating:  8.3/10 (678,602 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes audience score:  94% (430,019 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score:  97% (77 reviews)
  •   Directed by:  James Cameron

Set in the future, “Aliens” depicts the hero of the first film, Ripley, after she is discovered floating in space for over half a century. After being assigned to a space marine crew investigating what happened to a space colony, Ripley finds the only survivor there—nine-year-old Newt. What follows is a heart-stopping tale of survival deep in the confines of outer space.

What makes “Aliens” such a great sequel to the already innovative “Alien” is the raising of its stakes. Instead of a crew ignorant of the horrors that await them, this time it’s fully-equipped space marines ready for battle. But, even they are no match for the horrifying aliens. This results in an intense yet funny elevation of the original’s tale of survival against all odds. It also makes it one of the best action films of all time.

 8. Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) 

  •   IMDb user rating:  8.3/10 (649,300 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes audience score:  98% (25,000 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score:  93% (411 reviews)
  •   Directed by:  Jon Watts

One of the newer films in the Spider-Man franchise, “No Way Home” follows Peter Parker after his Spider superhero identity has been revealed. Now, he is troubled with the blurring lines between his normal human life and his superhero side job. So, he seeks help from Doctor Strange, resulting in a dangerous journey where Parker learns what it means to be Spider-Man.

What makes “Spider-Man: No Way Home” great is it elevates the stakes from previous films without losing that funny, almost ironic emotional core of the character. It leans into postmodern tropes, but keeps its humanity, creating a satisfying watermark in the long-running Spider-Man film series.

 7. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)

 

  •   IMDb user rating:  8.6/10 (1,277,193 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes audience score:  96% (863,326 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score:  92% (132 reviews)
  •   Directed by:  George Lucas

Attempting to hold off a rebellion against its Galactic Empire, the Imperial Forces take Princess Leia hostage. In response, the very different characters of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, as well as companion droids R2D2 and C-3PO, join forces to save the princess, help the rebel alliance, and restore justice to the Galaxy.

The beauty of the first Star Wars film was it managed to synthesize space opera with action and adventure. Armed with a fully realized alien world that still feels human, “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope” uses jaw-dropping effects, an ambitious scope, and simple humor to create a classic of cinema.

 6. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) 

  •   IMDb user rating:  8.8/10 (1,731,527 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes audience score:  95% (1,355,751 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score:  91% (235 reviews)
  •   Directed by:  Peter Jackson

The first film in an incredibly successful trilogy, “The Fellowship of the Ring” follows young Frodo after he inherits a deceptively powerful ring. Upon learning the ring’s power and its ability to change the world, Frodo teams up with eight others on a mission to destroy the ring before the sorcerer Sauron can take it for himself.

Packed with impressive visuals and cast wonderfully, “The Fellowship of the Ring” is a ride for the ages. Arguably a perfect adaptation of the book, this film finds enchantment in even the simplest moments. It’s exciting, fun, and tender. Ultimately, this movie journeys through the world of myths and monsters without losing its human heart.

 5. Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

 

  •   IMDb user rating:  8.4/10 (917,143 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes audience score:  96% (827,087 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score:  96% (84 reviews)
  •   Directed by:  Steven Spielberg

The first in the Indiana Jones film series, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” follows a professor and adventurer Indiana Jones. A reluctant hero, Indiana Jones, nevertheless, seeks to outwit a band of Nazis by discovering a unique religious object as he battles his fear of snakes and the ire of an ex-girlfriend.

What’s so special about the “Raiders of the Lost Ark” is its synthesis of old and new. Arguably an homage to older adventure films, “Raiders” maintains an innocence about it as Indiana dashes through endless perils and life-threatening moments. The characters are unique, and the adventures are hair-raising, but the fun never gets too far away from the film.

 4. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

 

  •   IMDb user rating:  8.7/10 (1,546,188 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes audience score:  95% (1,341,428 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score:  95% (255 reviews)
  •   Directed by:  Peter Jackson

Picking up where the last film left off, “The Two Towers” follows Frodo and Sam on their journey to destroy the ring. During this adventure, they realize they are being followed by the mysterious and greedy Gollum. Meanwhile, the others in their band of heroes come across the Rohan Kingdom, whose King has been put under a spell by the evil Sauron.

Though arguably the most filler of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, “The Two Towers” still succeeds on its own merits. It balances epic action and careful storytelling, preparing the saga for its explosive ending without sacrificing much along the way. Ultimately, the film flourishes in its introduction of new characters while still maintaining its fantasy edge.

 3. Top Gun: Maverick (2022) 

  •   IMDb user rating:  8.3/10 (520,850 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes audience score:  99% (50,000 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score:  96% (465 reviews)
  •   Directed by:  Joseph Kosinski

The sequel to the incredibly successful original, “Maverick follows its hero Pete “Maverick” Mitchell. Now, decades later, Maverick is training a group of pilots for a special assignment. This training forces Maverick to uncover his past, face his deepest fears, and sacrifice himself for a great mission.

“Maverick” succeeds as both a harkening back to the crisp, sun-bathed world of the original movie and to its innovation of flying stunts. It’s a true blockbuster movie, with a self-referential ethos and impressive visual effects.

 2. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

 

  •   IMDb user rating:  8.7/10 (1,205,389 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes audience score:  97% (1,058,608 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score:  94% (105 reviews)
  •   Directed by:  Irvin Kershner

The long-awaited sequel to the original film, “The Empire Strike Back” picks up where “A New Hope” left off. With Princess Leia now rescued, she, Luke Skywalker, and Han Solo must face off against the Empire on an icy planet called Hoth. While Leia and Solo escape, something beckons Skywalker to the mysterious swamp planet Dagobah. There, he learns of his past and the true power hidden inside of himself.

Though it originally received mixed reviews, “The Empire Strikes Back” is now considered the best Star Wars project and one of the best action films ever. This is because it expands the original’s scope and takes real chances. The shocking reveal in its climax and the cliffhanger ending make this film a true sci-fi action classic. Many also consider it to be one of the best sequels ever made.

 1. The Dark Knight (2008)

  •   IMDb user rating:  9.0/10 (2,419,864 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes audience score:  94% (1,831,566 reviews)
  •   Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score:  94% (345 reviews)
  •   Directed by:  Christopher Nolan

Collaborating with Police Lieutenant Jim Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent, Batman has kept crime down in Gotham. However, an agent of chaos called the Joker appears in the city. As the Joker causes Gotham to fall into complete disarray, Batman must walk a fine line between justice and vigilantism to defeat this villain.

Unsurprisingly, “The Dark Night” is the best action film of all time. It’s dark, gritty, and full of moments of genuine terror. While everyone plays their part well, Heath Ledger truly inhabits the character of the Joker mesmerizingly. This results in a poignant and entertaining film, reinventing the Batman world without losing its classic feeling. (Click here to see a ranking of all the actors who have played Batman.)

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