Best Action Movies

WTOP Film Critic Jason Fraley ranks the best action movies of all time in the gallery below.

Not seeing your favorite movie? It’s probably in a different genre! Check out the full list here.

30. ‘The Fast & The Furious’ (2001) – Rob Cohen

Vin Diesel and Paul Walker turned this high-octane drag-racing flick into one of Hollywood’s top-grossing franchises.

29. ‘Drive’ (2011) – Nicolas Winding Refn

Ryan Gosling was a silent-but-deadly stuntman moonlighting as a getaway driver in this arthouse action flick.

28. ‘Speed’ (1994) – Jan du Bont

Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock must keep a bus speeding at 55 miles per hour or else it will explode at the hands of terrorist Dennis Hopper.

27. ‘The Taking of Pelham 123’ (1974) – Joseph Sargent

Walter Matthau must stop a New York subway train hijacked by Robert Shaw’s gang of Mr. Blue, Green, Grey and Brown.

26. ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ (1977) – Hal Needham 

Burt Reynolds and Jerry Reed were “loaded up and trucking,” running beer over state lines in hot pursuit by Jackie Gleason’s sheriff.

25. ‘Armageddon’ (1998) – Michael Bay

Explosion maestro Michael Bay thrilled us by sending Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler (and Aerosmith) to thwart a giant asteroid.

24. ‘Deadpool’ (2016) – Tim Miller

Ryan Reynolds’ superhero passion project turned out to be a raunchy, violent, hilarious, fourth-wall-breaking box office smash.

23. ‘X-Men’ (2000) – Bryan Singer

The 21st century superhero era was launched by Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, Halle Berry’s Storm, Patrick Stewart’s Professor Xavier and Ian McKellen’s Magneto.

22. ‘John Wick’ (2014) – Chad Stahelski, David Leitch

Keanu Reeves avenged the death of his dog with some of the most brilliantly staged action sequences ever put to film.

21. ‘First Blood’ (1982) – Ted Kotcheff

No action list would be complete without Sylvester Stallone sporting his red bandanna and ammo shoulder strap as Rambo.

20. ‘Predator’ (1987) – John McTiernan

“Get to the chopper!” This action-packed creature feature spawned two future governors in Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura.

19. ‘Hero’ (2002) – Yimou Zhang

Jet Li kicked ass as a Nameless defense officer summoned by the King of Qin to terminate three warriors in Yimou Zhang’s fight scene wizardry.

18. ‘Rush Hour’ (1998) – Brett Ratner

Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker created an action-comedy duo for the ages with the line, “Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?”

17. ‘Lethal Weapon’ (1987) – Richard Donner

Danny Glover and Mel Gibson inspired “Rush Hour” as buddy cops pursuing drug smuggler Gary Busey in this action-packed Shane Black script.

16. ‘Yojimbo’ (1961) – Akira Kurosawa

Kurosawa’s samurai classic about a ronin in a small town was later remade by Sergio Leone as “A Fistful of Dollars.”

15. ‘Kill Bill’ (2003) – Quentin Tarantino

Uma Thurman reunited with “Pulp Fiction” director Quentin Tarantino to play a kickass bloody bride who awakens from a coma to seek revenge on the assassins who betrayed her.

14. ‘Enter the Dragon’ (1973) – Robert Clouse

Bruce Lee was never better than battling the evil Han in a hall of mirrors (look for a young Jackie Chan in a bit part as one of the henchmen).

13. ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ (2000) – Ang Lee

After the Wachowskis’ “Matrix,” Ang Lee elevated the art of “wire-fu” with this Oscar-winning masterpiece.

12. ‘Wonder Woman’ (2017) – Patty Jenkins

Patty Jenkins directed the hell out of this origin story as Gal Gadot gave us goosebumps in the trenches of World War I.

11. ‘Spider-Man’ (2002-2004) – Sam Raimi

Sam Raimi’s “Spidey” gave us an upside-down kiss for the ages, teaching us that “with great power, comes great responsibility.”

10. ‘Superman’ (1978) – Richard Donner

No superhero scene has ever topped the rooftop romance of Christopher Reeve’s Superman and Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane.

9. ‘Mad Max’ (1979-2014) – George Miller

George Miller defined apocalyptic action with “Mad Max,” “Road Warrior” and “Beyond Thunderdome,” before coalescing with the kickass feminist statement “Fury Road.”

8. ‘Top Gun’ (1986) – Tony Scott

Tom Cruise felt the “need for speed” with aerial dogfights, aviator sunglasses and a “Danger Zone” soundtrack.

7. ‘Mission: Impossible’ (1996) – Brian DePalma

Numerous installments later, nothing tops Ethan Hunt rappelling into CIA headquarters and catching his bead of sweat.

6. ‘The Bourne Trilogy’ (2002-2007) – Doug Liman, Paul Greengrass

Matt Damon turned Jason Bourne into this generation’s James Bond with Paul Greengrass’ shaky-cam action.

5. ‘Goldfinger’ (1964) – Guy Hamilton

Sean Connery’s iconic Bond flick is the gold standard of the 007 franchise with Shirley Bassey wailing the opening theme song, paving the way for Carly Simon’s “The Spy Who Loved Me” and Adele’s “Skyfall.”

4. ‘The Terminator’ (1984-1991) – James Cameron

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s sci-fi action shoot-’em-up will forever have us quoting “I’ll be back,” while the “T2” sequel turned Arnold from heel to babyface to shatter a liquid-metal villain saying, “Hasta la vista, baby.”

3. ‘Die Hard’ (1988) – John McTiernan

When I close my eyes and think of the genre, I immediately think of Bruce Willis’ John McClane (“Yippee ki yay”) and Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber (“Shoot ze glass”) colliding in the high bar of all action flicks.

2. ‘Batman’ / ‘The Dark Knight’ / ‘Joker’ (1989-2019) – Tim Burton, Christopher Nolan, Todd Phillips

“Why so serious?” After Tim Burton evolved the goofy TV series into darker territory with Jack Nicholson’s Joker, Christopher Nolan delivered an action masterclass that won a posthumous Oscar for Heath Ledger, followed by another Oscar for Joaquin Phoenix in a comic triumph at the Venice Film Fest.

1. ‘The Avengers’ (2008-2019) – Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon, James Gunn, Ryan Coogler, Russo Bros.

From the initial assembly of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and The Hulk to the beloved additions of the Guardians of the Galaxy (“I’m Groot!”) and Black Panther (“Wakanda forever!”), Marvel built an unprecedented decade-long franchise that actually let the villain win with Thanos’ shocking snap in “Infinity War,” setting up Robert Downey Jr.’s “I love you 3,000” sacrifice to make “Endgame” the top-grossing global blockbuster ever.

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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