There’s no experience quite like watching a great action movie.
Whether it’s an all-guns-blazing epic, a revenge thriller or a more subversive choice, action films are among the most visceral and exciting Hollywood has ever produced.
It’s interesting, though, that whatever your favourite subgenre of action film, the majority are united by the same central narrative: the conflict of good and evil and the struggle between hero and anti-hero.
For all the mega-budget production and pyrotechnics in these movies, it’s this central premise that makes action movies one of cinema’s most compelling forms and helps connect with millions of fans around the world.
THE BEST ACTION MOVIES OF ALL TIME – IN PICTURES
From Die Hard to Con Air, these are the 10 best action blockbusters of all time.
Bruce Willis came out of relative obscurity to lead the cast of this perfectly formed action blockbuster, while the late, great Alan Rickman gives an unforgettable performance as sinister villain Hans Gruber. It’s also a great Christmas movie, giving you the perfect excuse to watch it at least once a year.
The Matrix not only represented one of the coolest films of the 1990s but also introduced revolutionary action sequences and filming techniques to the world, including bullet-time and amazing 360-degree cinematography. The sequels may have failed to live up to the promise of the original but The Matrix remains one of the most influential action films ever made.
All-action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger makes his first appearance on the list with James Cameron’s 1984 classic film The Terminator. It’s a hugely influential film that spawned one of the most terrifying on-screen villains of all time, as well as a string of successful sequels. Amazingly, the incredibly accomplished movie was only the second film directed by Cameron, preceded only by his 1981 film Piranha Part Two: The Spawning.
The Bourne Identity
Paul Greengrass’s Bourne Identity eschewed all the usual action cliches in brilliant style in 2002, with the excellent Matt Damon in the titular role. This gritty film’s unconventional sequences proved the perfect antidote to the overblown scenes we’d seen in the Bond series down the years and helped it become one of the most influential action films of the decade.
The Dark Knight
It’s the action movie we need but not the one we deserve right now… 2008’s The Dark Knight not only changed the face of superhero films, but also marked one of the best action films made in the 2000s. Christopher Nolan’s epic featured a masterful performance from the late Heath Ledger, as well as some of the most explosive action sequences of the decade.
This gripping action movie from Die Hard director John McTiernan incorporated sci-fi elements and remains a firm favourite among fans of action cinema. Schwarzenegger proved himself as one of the leading stars of 1980s blockbusters in the lead role as Major Alan “Dutch” Schaefer, who battles the mysterious and downright terrifying predator. Truly classic stuff.
While Ridley Scott’s original Alien was a horror movie, James Cameron’s Aliens was an all-out action movie. Incredible set pieces, terrifying xenomorphs and an unforgettable final showdown helped make this one of the best movies of the 1980s. It’s stood the test of time too, with more recent Ridley Scott efforts Prometheus and Alien: Covenant paling in comparison.
Ridley Scott strikes again with Gladiator, one of the most successful and most-loved films ever made. The movie boasted huge spectacle, epic storytelling and brutal action sequences, and featured Russell Crowe at the peak of his powers. Cinema fans were gripped by the journey taken by Crowe’s Roman general Maximus, who is betrayed after the son of Emperor Marcus kills his father and takes the throne, and the film is just as powerful and impressive now as it was back in 2000.
Indiana Jones & The Raiders of the Lost Ark
And it’s at this point that we say a big hello to Harrison Ford, one of the greatest action heroes of recent decades. Star Wars and Blade Runner also deserve honourable mentions but Raiders of the Lost Ark showcased Ford at his action-hero best. Playing Indiana Jones, Ford showed it was possible to be an archaeology teacher and incredibly cool at the same time, and brought humour and charm to Steven Spielberg’s classic action movie.
What would you do if you had to transport some of the world’s most dangerous criminals from one place to another? What you probably wouldn’t do is put them all on a huge aeroplane with a handful of inept guards, which is exactly what happens in this preposterous, yet brilliant movie. John Malkovich, John Cusack and Nicolas Cage all star in the film, which boasts a great cast list. It’s big, it’s explosive and it’s downright ridiculous, but remains one of the most enjoyable action movies of the decade.