It would be impossible to live without action movies . Or, at least, I find it particularly difficult to imagine how to survive from day to day without being able to enjoy in all its splendor a feature film built on mountains of bullet casings , gunpowder, explosions, fractured bones, piles of corpses and muscle-loving heroes. Drop lapidary phrases at the first opportunity.
And what better way to celebrate the existence of a genre that has given us so many moments of healthy —and violent— escapism thanks to veteran filmmakers such as Walter Hill, John McTiernan, John Carpenter, Paul Verhoeven , and emerging figures like the new martial arts master Gareth Evans , who with this list in which we compile what, in a personal capacity, I consider to be the 32 best action movies in history
And if you still want more adrenaline, death and destruction , don’t miss our selections with the best car movies of all time, the best boxing movies or the best action movies of the decade.
‘The Warriors, the masters of the night’ (‘The Warriors’)
Directed by: Walter Hill
Cast: Michael Beck, David Harris, James Remar, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, Thomas G. Waites, Dorsey Wright
From among the large list of notable action films that make up Walter Hill’s filmography, I am forced to choose this ‘The Warriors’. An urban epic set in a New York dominated by gangs that drinks from classical Greece and that today continues to be as fresh, iconic and surprising as the first day. A small feature film turned into a cult classic in its own right.
‘Operation Dragon’ (‘Enter the Dragon’)
Director: Robert Clouse
Cast: Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Ahna Capri, Shih Kien, Jim Kelly, Robert Wall
Who better than Bruce Lee to inaugurate a list that includes the best action films of all time, and what better film to represent the martial arts icon than ‘Operation Dragon’; Probably the best film in the entire filmography of the star.
‘1997: Rescue in New York’ (‘Escape From New York’)
Directed by: John Carpenter
Cast: Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Season Hubley, Isaac Hayes
The master John Howard Carpenter no sooner directs you an enduring horror film classic like ‘Halloween’ than he pulls out a dystopian action film like ‘Rescue in New York’. A master class in economy of resources, with an exemplary use of urgency in the script and an unrepeatable protagonist whose image and cockiness have made him transcend as a popular icon. Long live Serpent Plissken!
‘Coup in Little China’ (‘Big Trouble in Little China’)
Directed by: John Carpenter
Cast: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, Kate Burton, Victor Wong, James Hong
‘Coup in little China’ not only demonstrated the good hand of John Carpenter to address the genre of action; it also proved the director’s versatility—and that his collaborations with Kurt Russell are pure gold. On this occasion, the master of horror delighted us with a light action comedy free of all gravity that unapologetically embraced the cliches of classic martial arts cinema with a delightful touch of fantasy. Eighties glory in its purest form.
‘Arma Letal’ (‘Lethal Weapon’)
Directed by: Richard Donner
Cast: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Mitchell Ryan, Tom Atkins, Darlene Love
Although it was Walter Hill’s brilliant ‘Limit: 48 hours’ that popularized the buddy cop movie subgenre , ‘Lethal Weapon’ raised it to Olympus by bringing together two geniuses such as director Richard Donner and screenwriter Shane Black. Adding to the equation the pairing of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in the roles of the mythical agents Riggs and Murtaugh, and an almost perfect balance between comedy, drama and action, the result can only be one of the best films ever produced. the history of the genre.
‘Crystal Jungle’ (‘Die Hard’)
Directed by: John McTiernan
Cast: Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, Alan Rickman, Alexander Godunov, Reginald Veljohnson, Paul Gleason
All the words that can be written to extol this authentic wonder are few. John McTiernan, with his third feature film, not only reached the peak of his career —with all due respect to ‘Predator’ and ‘The Hunt for Red October’—, but also gave birth to what, for the undersigned, is the best action movie of all time. Spectacular, hilarious, violent, with an outrageous antagonist and with an unrepeatable Bruce Willis in his role as John McClane. Yippee Ki yay!
Directed by: Paul Verhoeven
Cast: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Kurtwood Smith, Miguel Ferrer, Ronny Cox, Dan O’Herlihy
“Half man, half machine, all police.” With this tagline crowning his poster, it’s impossible for ‘Robocop’ to disappoint anyone. Not only is it one of the most violent movies on this list—the scene where poor Murphy is massacred is still creepy; rather, it treasures a brilliant direction from a Paul Verhoeven whose debut in the United States marked a before and after in his career.
‘Total Challenge’ (‘Total Recall’)
Directed by: Paul Verhoeven
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside, Rachel Ticotin, Ronny Cox, Marshall Bell
A good sample of the heritage that ‘Robocop’ on the run in Paul Verhoeven’s action is reflected in this great adaptation of the story ‘We can remember everything for you’ by Philip K. Dick. Its Martian setting is extraordinary, as is its overwhelming production design; although if we will remember her for something, it is for the role of a particularly inspired Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Directed by: Mark L. Lester
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rae Dawn Chong, Dan Hedaya, James Olson, Bill Duke, Vernon Wells
Be careful, because the participation of good Arnie in this list is not limited to a single title —or two—; and it is that the former “Governator” has given us pearls like this ‘Commando’: a canonical and testosteronic eighties action film, with a protagonist with a name as cool as John Matrix and muscles about to explode, a final duel of the body to body and a ton of lapidary phrases such as “I eat green berets for breakfast, and right now I’m hungry.” There is nothing.
Directed by: John McTiernan
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Sonny Landham, Bill Duke, Elpidia Carrillo, Richard Chaves
Continuing with the “Chuache”, how can we forget the bellow that hits, torch in hand, to warn the Predator that his hours are numbered. John McTiernan demonstrating once again why, with only 12 titles behind him, he is one of the great action directors. Again, he testosterone galore in a curious approximation to science fiction that has failed to be surpassed by any of his estimable sequels.
‘Risk lies’ (‘True Lies’)
Directed by: James Cameron
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold, Charlton Heston, Art Malik, Bill Paxton
There are not a few voices that affirm that action cinema with a more eighties essence died in 1994 at the hands of James Cameron with the great ‘Risky Lies’. Pure craftsmanship – the bridge sequence continues to be one of the key points in the history of the genre – violence, emotion, a light tone and tremendous chemistry between Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis. oh! And a striptease that has gone down in the history of the seventh art, that we don’t forget.
‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ (‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’)
Directed by: James Cameron
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick, Earl Boen, Joe Morton
Of all the feature films starring good old Arnie, ‘Terminator 2’ is probably the best. An orgy of perfect action that raises the stakes —and the quality— of its predecessor to unimaginable heights, with a James Cameron unleashed at the address and amazing special effects never seen until the time of its premiere. A cult jewel rooted in the collective imagination of the most respectable cinephile and the occasional public.
‘Aliens: The Return’ (‘Aliens’)
Directed by: James Cameron
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Carrie Henn
Legend has it that James Cameron came up with his idea for a sequel to the Ridley Scott classic by writing the word “Alien” on a blackboard, adding an “S” to the end, and turning it into a dollar sign with two vertical lines—”ALIEN$ “—— The rest is history; specifically one starring a group of space marines, hordes of xenomorphs and an Ellen Ripley who still had many cartridges to burn to strengthen her hegemony as the queen of the genre.
‘Cornered’ (‘First Blood’)
Directed by: Ted Kotcheff
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Brian Dennehy, David Caruso, Jack Starrett, Michael Talbott
Speaking of mythical characters, we couldn’t forget John Rambo: the war veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder who made his debut in this estimable classic signed by Ted Kotcheff in 1982. A new character to add to the list of icons personified by Sylvester Stallone, with his hair in the wind, her ribbon in her hair, her belt of bullets and her shady relationship with Colonel Trautman and American society.
‘Hard Boiled (Hervidero)’ (‘Hard Boiled’)
Directed by: John Woo
Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Teresa Mo, Philip Kwok
We could not talk about proper action movies without mentioning the master John Woo. Although I could have selected ‘The Killer’ as his best work —and as one of the best representatives of the Hong Kong scene—, I have a special affection for Inspector Tequila, who was played by Chow Yun Fat in the brutal ‘Hard Boiled’; whose shooting at the hospital is probably one of the best action sequences filmed in the history of the seventh art.
Directed by: Michael Bay
Cast: Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage, Ed Harris, Michael Biehn, William Forsythe, John Spencer
And from a great Hong Konger, we move on to another of the benchmarks of the genre in the United States: the incombustible Michael Bay. As much as I love ‘Pain and Money’ or both parts of ‘Bad Cops’, ‘The Rock’ is —and will be— not only his best film, but one of the best orgies of shooting, death and destruction to come. that we can face Textbook “Bayhem” with a trio of greats like Ed Harris, Sean Connery and our beloved Nic Cage giving it their all.
‘Speed: Maximum power’ (‘Speed’)
Directed by: Jan de Bont
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper, Joe Morton, Jeff Daniels, Alan Ruck
Its premise is as simple as it is effective. Its address as functional as it is precise. Its cast so, a priori, bland —with the exception of Denis Hopper—, as unusually inspired and brimming with chemistry. One of the best action films of the 90s only needed a bus, a bomb and a speed limit to leave us with our butts nailed to the seat and our nerves on the verge of causing us to collapse.
‘Matrix’ (‘The Matrix’)
Address: Lana & Lily Wachowski
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Hugo Weaving, Marcus Chong
‘Matrix’ is probably the film that convinced me when I was 12 years old that cinema had to form a fundamental part of my life experience; and no matter how many years go by, their hand-to-hand fights, their shooting in the room of the columns, their hodgepodge of references, the wonderful planning of the Wachowskis and their amazing special effects, continue to fascinate me as if it were the first day.
‘John Wick (Another Day to Kill)’ (‘John Wick’)
Directed by: Chad Stahelski & David Leitch
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters, Adrianne Palicki
The combination of the word “action” and the name “Keanu” inevitably leads us to one of the great “covers” of recent times. A splendid ‘John Wick’ directed by a couple of specialists who gave free rein to their knowledge in the noble art of distributing cookies to build a true landmark of the genre that, sadly, premiered directly on television within our borders.
‘John Wick: Blood Pact’ (‘John Wick: Chapter 2’)
Directed by: Chad Stahelski
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Bridget Moynahan, Ruby Rose, Peter Stormare, Ian McShane
If the first ‘John Wick’ was already a model action movie, its second part, subtitled ‘Blood Pact’, took the concept to even higher levels of quality if possible. More stylized, with even more risky stunts —which opens with a picture of Buster Keaton is quite a declaration of intent—, with a delicious extension of his private universe and with a Keanu Reeves who was born to play this relentless killer.
Directed by: Wilson Yip
Cast: Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Siu-Wong Fan, Gordon Lam, Lynn Hung, Hiroyuki Ikeuchi
Ip Man was a Chinese martial artist, master of Wing Chun. This description doesn’t say much, but if we mention that he had Bruce Lee himself as a student, things change. Donnie Yen steps into the boots of this legend in one of the best martial arts films ever, with a fantastic Sino-Japanese War setting and, as you might expect, some spectacular choreography.
Directed by: Wong Kar-Wai
Cast: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Zhang Ziyi, Zhao Benshan, Chang Chen, Brigitte Lin, Zhang Jin
Five years after ‘Ip Man’, the renowned Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai addressed the legend of Bruce Lee’s teacher in a film that captivates the retinas. His impressive cinematography, nominated for an Oscar in 2013, is the icing on a delicious cake with action sequences as beautiful as they are compelling.
‘Murderer Raid’ (‘The Raid’)
Director: Gareth Evans
Cast: Iko Uwais, Doni Alamsyah, Joe Taslim, Yayan Ruhian, Pierre Gruno, Ray Sahetapy
I still remember as if it were yesterday the screening at the Sitges Festival in which I discovered ‘Redada Asesina’. The cinema Retreat to bursting, people screaming and even getting up from their seats at some point to cheer on the protagonists… a real party to accompany one of the best martial arts films of the century, shot with austerity and intelligence, with some wild choreography and starring an Iko Uwais with impressive skills.
‘Murderer Raid 2’ (‘The Raid 2: Berandal’)
Director: Gareth Evans
Cast: Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Alex Abbad, Oka Antara, Tio Pakusodewo, Julie Estelle
With the second part of ‘Redada Asesina’, Gareth Evans decided to flee from the simplicity of his predecessor and bet on building a more complex criminal drama without neglecting the action brand of the house. The result will always be remembered as “‘The Godfather’ of martial arts cinema”; title more than deserved judging by the quality of its essential two and a half hours of suspense and top quality cake salads.
‘Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair’
Direction: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Lucy Liu, Daryl Hannah, Vivica A. Fox, Sonny Chiba, Chiaki Kuriyama
I am one of those who believe that the first and second volumes of ‘Kill Bill’ should not —and do not deserve— to be judged individually, but that they are part of a whole that, all told, is a true genius. An authentic ode to martial arts cinema that references, under Quentin Tarantino’s unmistakable filter, from the classics of Bruce Lee to the delirious films of the Shaw Brothers to shape an epic that hasn’t aged in the slightest since it was released.
Directed by: Pete Travis
Cast: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Wood Harris, Warrick Grier, Domhnall Gleeson
Seventeen years after the forgettable ‘Judge Dredd’ starring Sylvester Stallone was released, Pete Travis —although gossips say it was Alex Garland who directed it from behind the scenes— gave the ‘2000AD’ character the feature film he deserved. A pure and hard action film with all the essence that the genre oozing in the eighties starring Karl Urban who does not remove his helmet or the angry grimace on his mouth throughout the film.
‘Crank: Poison in the Blood’ (‘Crank’)
Directed by: Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor
Cast: Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Dwight Yoakam, Efren Ramirez, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Carlos Sanz
Is ‘Crank’ a good movie? Not quite. Does it deserve to be on a list of the best action movies in history? Without a doubt. The duo made up of Neveldine and Taylor, allied with the always effective Jason Statham, give shape to one of the most deranged exercises in the genre, violent, outdated and with a spiciness that fits its premise like a glove.
‘Shoot ‘Em Up – At the Point of View’
Directed by: Michael Davis
Cast: Clive Owen, Monica Bellucci, Paul Giamatti, Greg Bryk, Stephen McHattie, Ramona Pringle
In the wild and crazy line of ‘Crank’, although perhaps more solid in global computing, is this hilarious delight starring Clive Owen. A bacchanalia of gunpowder, bullets, explosions and tons of corpses, with action sequences shot with a very good hand and watered by a spectacular soundtrack that includes groups such as Nirvana, Motley Crue or Motorhead. Special mention for Paul Giamatti, completely unhinged in his role as the villain of the show.
‘Atomic’ (‘Atomic Blonde’)
Directed by: David Leitch
Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Eddie Marsan, John Goodman, Toby Jones, James Faulkner
One of the two halves who co-directed the first ‘John Wick’ continued his solo career alongside Charlize Theron in this twisted thriller set in Germany at the end of the eighties. A notable exercise in style that hides among its numerous set-pieces a violent and spectacular sequence shot that stands out among the best action sequences in the history of the genre.
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender, Antonio Flags
With ‘Indomitable’, the peculiar and always interesting Steven Soderbergh approached action cinema in a spy thriller starring MMA fighter Gina Carano, and characterized by the sobriety and realism with which the fight sequences are treated. A rare bird that well deserves a place in this compilation.
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Timothy Dalton, Jim Broadbent, Paddy Considine, Kevin Eldon
Editing is an indispensable piece to properly articulate a good action film, and few editions can be found as precise, dynamic and spectacular as those contained in Edgar Wright’s feature films. With ‘Fatal Weapon’, the Briton triumphs again, exploiting the stereotypes and cliches of the genre together with his faithful squires Nick Frost and Simon Pegg in a work that is as vibrant as it is fun.
‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ (‘Mad Max: Fury Road’)
Directed by: George Miller
Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Angus Sampson, Zoe Kravitz
I’ve been tempted to include ‘Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior’ on this list, but this belated sequel, which virtually no one expected to see, almost completely eclipsed George Miller’s 1982 signature masterpiece. With Tom Hardy picking up the witness of Mel Gibson, and with a Charlize Theron that steals all the spotlights, Miller builds with his ‘Fury Road’ an authentic cathedral of action cinema. Excellent cinematographic caviar in multiple aspects, with a strong —and not at all imposed— feminist reading, with an artisanal will and with some breath-taking set-pieces . History of modern cinema.