Some time ago, I planned a list of the 100 greatest action movies ever made. As it was being written, I started feeling that it just wasn’t working out the way I had planned. Figuring out exclusions so as not to take up almost a quarter of the list with James Bond movies, wondering what actually could define an action movie from an adventure movie, the sheer blandness of the list thanks to so many popular choices etc… Those were problems. But as I forced on to complete it, I started to notice that I was including some movies that I personally am a major fan of, but most other people may not have known them at all. And that’s when it hit me! Instead of telling people that ‘Die Hard’ and ‘Lethal Weapon’ are two of the greatest action movies ever (Who doesn’t already know that?!), why not instead put together a list of all those forgotten or need-to-be-seen-more action gems, the movies that deserve their own pedestal, every bit as much as the major classics? Almost all of them anyway. So with some great ideas tossed around, this new list has been born. The 100 action movies that must be seen by anyone who considers themselves real fans of action film making. I hope you enjoy reading this list and exploring these must-see movies, as much as I have enjoyed putting this together. As with past pieces I’ve done, the numbering is to help you keep track, not to note preference, until the final part of this mammoth list, which will be broken into 10 parts for your convenience over the following weeks. Brace yourself for the first 10 explosive entries!
100 – ‘The Raid’ (2011) / Stars: Iko Uwais, Joe Taslim. Director: Gareth Evans.
Kicking off the list is, in my opinion, the second greatest foreign language action movie ever made (My number one choice will feature in the future). When a team of super cops are sent into an apartment block to capture a notorious crime lord, they are met with a force of many vicious killers intent on fending of the police attack and keeping their boss from prison or death. Floor by floor, they make their way up to capture their target, with blood and bullets flying everywhere, as the cops dispatch heavy justice, led by the spectacular Rama (Iko Uwais). With the finest martial arts action ever put to film, and with more brutal violence than you’ve ever seen, ‘The Raid’ is an action movie masterpiece that must be seen by all.
99 – ‘Blown Away’ (1994) / Stars: Jeff Bridges, Tommy Lee Jones. Director: Stephen Hopkins.
1994 was a wonderful year for cinema. And with many major action movies coming around, such as the classic ‘Speed’, some movies were sadly overlooked. ‘Blown Away’ was one of them. With a recently escaped IRA terrorist/ explosives genius (Tommy Lee Jones) hiding out in Boston, after escaping from a Northern Ireland prison, a bomb disposal expert (Jeff Bridges) thinks life couldn’t be any sweeter, as he settles into a new marriage and a life of retirement. But as he sits back an lets his friends take care of business, he is sucked into a deadly game of cat and mouse, as he shares a dark past with the psychotic bomber and is about to take on his biggest assignment yet… Protecting his new family from a horrific fate, as he watches his old colleagues perish one by one. As a 10 year-old boy, I became a massive fan of ‘Blown Away’, after I had seen clips of it, read articles on it and begged my parents to rent it from our local video club as a new release. With some censorship from my folks (There’s some seriously bloody scenes), I sat down to this movie with a bag of popcorn, a packet of sweets and the biggest grin on my face, as it lived up to everything I had hoped for, and more. With a stunning display of incredible explosions, nerve-shredding tension and an especially creepy and over the top performance from Tommy Lee Jones, ‘Blown Away’ packed a massive punch that I’ve never forgotten. It’s also ironic that the director, Stephen Hopkins, would go on to become one of a group of directors on my favorite TV show, ’24’. You’ll see the similarities. As fantastic and exciting as it was 22 years ago, it’s a movie that I’d recommend to anyone.
98 – ‘Breakdown’ (1997) / Stars: Kurt Russell, Kathleen Quinlan, J.T. Walsh. Director: Jonathan Mostow.
My favorite Kurt Russell movie, ‘Breakdown’ follows a couple’s terrifying ordeal when their new car breaks down in the New Mexico desert, and a gang of kidnappers take advantage of the man and wife, Jeff and Amy, capturing her and forcing her husband to deliver a hefty ransom before time runs out. With no time to waste, Jeff sets out on a dangerous rescue mission to save his wife from a certain death at the hands of the criminals. ‘Breakdown’ is classic ’90’s action, with a major leading star, a fresh new director (Jonathan Mostow, of ‘Terminator 3’ fame) and very simple story. Although rarely spoken of, it remains one of my personal favorite action movies, thanks to Kurt’s sheer awesomeness (He performs his own stunts here too!), Mostow’s terrific eye for action and the spectacular chase sequences.
97 – ‘Rage’ (1995) / Stars: Gary Daniels, Kenneth Tigar. Director: Joseph Merhi.
Have you ever watched a low budget action movie and wondered how it’s action scenes rival those of the far more expensive action movies? This is one of those for me. Starring martial arts champion Gary Daniels, ‘Rage’ is set around a school teacher, Alex Gainor, who is used as a guinea pig against his will, and is injected with a new super drug that creates super soldiers of ordinary citizens. Armed with new fighting skills and unmatched adrenaline, Gainor becomes a desperate fugitive who is forced to fight back against the assassins who are sent out after him to silence him and keep the experiment as secret. With several really spectacular action scenes, terrible dialogue and some woeful B-movie performances, ‘Rage’ is the ultimate guilty pleasure. The action is truly wonderful, some of the best I’ve seen, and Gary Daniels has fighting skills that defy all logic. Those are the qualities that made some of his early movies so fantastic to watch. Sadly, he slipped into some pretty awful stuff afterwards, with stock-footage garbage ruling his later career (Aside from appearing in ‘The Expendables’). But ‘Rage’ is proof that Gary Daniels is a kick-ass action hero. Hunt down a DVD copy now.
96 – ‘Equilibrium’ (2002) / Stars: Christian Bale, Taye Diggs, Sean Bean. Director: Kurt Wimmer.
As a major fan of movies, I sometimes grow a psychotic love for a particular movie. That movie you see that just takes you over and you just can’t stop thinking or talking about it. ‘Equilibrium’ is of those movies for me. Having now watched it around 150 times, I’ve finally gotten it slightly out of my system. But as I type this, I feel its power once again creeping back in. The action. The sets. The story. The directing. It’s as if Walt Disney himself came back from the dead to make just one violent action movie, before taking his well-deserved seat in heaven once again. ‘Equilibrium’ stars Christian Bale as John Preston, a “Cleric”, a cop in the near future who is part of a law enforcement unit who fight to keep a country free of human emotion. With entertainment, art forms and displays of affection all made illegal, it’s up to the “Clerics” to keep the peace and starve people of emotion, in the hopes of avoiding war and hatred. But as Preston begins to suffer from his own humanity, the future’s law is about to become his latest target. Bale is magnificent in ‘Equilibrium’, in every way. He looks fantastic, sounds fantastic, and he handles the glorious action scenes like he’s born for it. The man is an absolute star. And if Batman wasn’t enough proof that he’s a spectacular action hero, this movie from 3 years before ‘Batman Begins’, is all the proof you need. The supporting cast are also fantastic, especially Taye Diggs, who just relishes his role as the man assigned to hunt down the hero. Gun Kata is the greatest movie gun play ever, even greater than John Woo himself. This is a movie you seriously need to experience, one of the greatest action movies ever made.
95 – ‘Escape Plan’ (2013) / Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Sam Neill. Director: Mikael Hafstrom.
Arnie has had an unusual comeback since returning to movies. ‘The Expendables 1-3’ are of course fantastic, and ‘The Last Stand’ is terrific, even if it hands too much time to its supporting cast. But ‘Terminator Genisys’ is severely disappointing and ‘Sabotage’ was a total mess. Thankfully, ‘Escape Plan’ is the big comeback I had hoped for with Arnie. And Stallone never really went away to be fair, just became slightly swallowed up in Hollywood. But here, the two action giants are on top form as prisoners who team up to escape from a state of the art maximum security prison. With great support from Jim Caviezel and the legendary Sam Neill, ‘Escape Plan’ delivers some marvelous action and laughs. The last half hour is wonderful. Aside from the lazy title, this is a really solid entry in the comeback of Schwarzenegger to movies, actually one of the best movies he’s starred in. You can’t beat the legends!
94 – ‘Universal Solider’ (1992) / Stars: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren. Director: Roland Emmerich.
Before ‘Independence Day’ took the world by storm, the genius of Roland Emmerich was summed up in smaller budget sci-fi movies that garnered him a loyal fan base and brought the big studios to his door. With ‘Stargate’ making him a household name, ‘Universal Soldier’ was a great box office hit in its time. But in the years that followed, it’s become a forgotten early ’90’s action movie that deserves so much more love and attention than it gets. With two of the biggest names in action cinema, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, ‘Universal Soldier’ is a sci-fi action thriller in the mold of ‘The Terminator’ and ‘RoboCop’, carrying on the obsession with cyborg-ish action. When two soldiers murder each other in the Vietnam war, their bodies are frozen and used 30 years later in an experiment to create a team of invincible fighters who can be used to take on dangerous missions. But when past memories come back to the two former enemies, they once again go war against each other, with deadly consequences for those around them. ‘Universal Soldier’ may use ideas from other movies, but it does so with such originality that it grows a style of its own. Hyper violent, extremely funny and brilliantly directed by future big budget mayhem maestro Emmerich, ‘Universal Soldier’ is two legendary action stars and a magnificent film maker on top form.
93 – ‘Swordfish’ (2001) / Stars: John Travolta, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle. Director: Dominic Sena.
‘Swordfish’ has always been an easy movie to review. Halle Berry topless. Instant 5 stars. But the action is also amazing, the soundtrack is pumping and John Travolta just has the time of his life. Hugh Jackman’s character needed a serious re-write, but still fun seeing him and Halle on screen together again after ‘X-Men’ the previous year. ‘Swordfish’ is no masterpiece, and it never tries to be, but it is 100 minutes of total escapism. From Halle being blazing hot to that incredible finale, there’s way too much to love here. And with Joel Silver as a producer, you just can’t ask for more.
92 – ‘Metro’ (1997) / Stars: Eddie Murphy, Michael Wincott, Michael Rapaport. Director: Thomas Carter.
Eddie Murphy is one of the few movie stars that everyone loves at least one of his movies. While I’m a big fan of his, I always have one clear favorite. ‘Metro’. The movie that made me look at Eddie Murphy as more than a funny man with a foul mouth who gets caught up in crazy situations. I love seeing him as a far tougher and far more kick-ass action star, as he is here. When a hostage negotiator investigates the gruesome murder of his cop friend and partner, he unwittingly becomes the killer’s next target. The killer in question is a genius jewel thief, a vicious and extremely violent psychopath who takes the cop on a terrifying thrill ride through San Francisco, leading to some of the most awesome action scenes I know of. The tram chase is absolutely amazing. While Eddie keeps some of his trademark humor, he takes on a completely different role than before, playing far more straight and serious than people had known him for. While a lot don’t know of ‘Metro’ or consider it one his best, I personally think it’s his most brilliant movie. And Michael Wincott plays one of the best villains I can remember, he’s fantastic. I’m a big ‘Metro’ fan. A little trivia: I mentioned earlier of Gary Daniels appearing in stock-footage low budget movies, one of which is titled ‘Epicenter’, which steals the actual tram chase scene from ‘Metro’, and inserts new scenes in between the action, to pass it off as a scene belonging to that cheap movie.
91 – ‘The Crow’ (1994) / Stars: Brandon Lee, Michael Wincott, Ernie Hudson. Director: Alex Proyas.
Thinking of ‘The Crow’ is always a very sad time. Brandon Lee, the son of iconic martial arts star Bruce Lee, died long before his time on the set of the movie. Accidentally killed with a bullet casing fired from a gun, Brandon’s life and career were horribly cut short, leaving many fans in shock. But what he left behind has helped to form a posthumous superstar status for him, thanks to his fantastic performance in ‘The Crow’. Although well know for several action movie beforehand, this was the one set to propel him to dizzy heights. Playing a vengeful rock musician who returns from the dead after he and his fiance are murdered, Brandon delivered a chilling and exciting performance, in a brilliantly produced and written comic book movie. And although his untimely death did leave the movie in limbo, it eventually was deemed too good to go unseen, and has since garnered a loyal cult following. Although perhaps not as known for the movie rather than the awful passing of Brandon Lee, ‘The Crow’ is a movie that needs to be seen, for its fantastic action scenes, incredible set design and the powerful rock soundtrack. And of course above all else, Brandon’s performance. May he rest in peace.
Be sure to check back for the next 10 action-packed movies in our mammoth 100 Action Movies You Must See countdown, and make sure to see as many of these awesome flicks as you can!
Want to check out the rest of the films on our top 100? Then click here.