Action has been an integral part of cinema since its inception. Responsible for delivering thrills and chills, action movies have considerably changed over time, while they have also done their bit to change cinema. While there might be a lot of great action movies, there are only a handful of them that can qualify as influential and legendary.
So without further ado, here’s the crème de la crème of the genre, ranging from martial arts flicks to ballads of bullets, from swashbuckling Westerns to awe-inspiring sci-fi spectacles. These following films haven’t just defined the action genre, but have also played an active part in shaping modern-day cinema as we know it.
10 Hard-Boiled (1992)
When it comes to the action genre, there’s no other director that’s done more for it than John Woo. Before making his name in Hollywood with films such as Face/Off and Mission: Impossible 2, Woo wooed fans in Hong Kong and China, serving them a cocktail full of bullets and chaos, garnished with morally upright emotions.
Sticking to his favorite subject with Hard-Boiled, Woo’s film is a cop crime action film that follows a cop ‘Tequila’ Yuen (Chow Yun-Fat) who goes on a rampage to seek revenge for the death of his partner. In order to infiltrate the ring that killed his partner, Tequila teams up with another undercover cop that’s pretending to be a gangster’s hitman, before tag-teaming and annihilating everything and everyone in that stand in their way.
9 Die Hard (1988)
What starts with the hope of being a romantic get-together with his estranged wife, soon turns into a full-blown terrorist attack for NYPD officer John McClane (Bruce Willis). As McClane enters his wife’s skyscraper office, he soon finds himself in a cat-and-mouse game that sees him take on a bunch of hardened terrorists single-handedly.
Apart from being credited as the film that did wonders for Bruce Willis’ career, transforming him from a TV wise-guy to a bona fide movie star, Die Hardalso gave birth to a successful concept that spawned a few sequels and thrilled both fans and critics alike.
8 Enter the Dragon (1973)
Despite passing away five decades ago, Bruce Lee’s impact and influence as a martial artist and movie star hasn’t declined or diluted. Having been introduced to Hollywood with Enter the Dragon, Lee’s charisma and charm swept the audience off their feet. Along with firmly solidifying Lee’s stance as a movie star, Enter the Dragon inspired many Western filmmakers to incorporate hand-to-hand martial arts in Western films as well, paving the way for other martial artists like Jackie Chan and Jet Li.
7 The Dirty Dozen (1967)
The Dirty Dozen is set against the backdrop of WWII, where 12 of America’s most degenerate, homicidal prisoners are sent on a mission to eliminate a number of high-ranking Nazi officers so that the Allies can breach Normandy and significantly gain the upper hand in battle. .
Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen wasn’t the first movie that depicted hardened men undertaking a dangerous mission, but it’s arguably the most influential one, boasting of a heavyweight star cast of some of Hollywood’s greats (John Cassavetes, Charles Bronson, and Robert Ryan). A completely macho film filled with lots of bullets and explosions, The Dirty Dozen is a classic, old-school hypermasculine film that practically wafts testosterone off the screen.
6 Casino Royale (2006)
Daniel Craig’s inaugural 007 incarnation establishes him as a version of Bond that’s as ruthless as he’s charming. A fine balance between suave and brutish, Craig embodies Bond with a physicality that’s been missing since the Sean Connery days. Reveling in a maze of Parkour chases and bouts of well-choreographed hand-to-hand combat sequences, Casino Royale is home to the perfect marriage between style and substance.
5 Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
George Miller’s post-apocalyptic extravaganza is often considered the gold standard for action films. After having successfully established Max Rockatansky’s, barren, dystopian, sepia-fueled world in his three previous movies, Miller gave Mad Max: Fury Road the old-school treatment with a lot of practical stunts and a rich world full of odd-ball characters. Add to that a string of strong performances from Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, and you’re left with a turbocharged adventure that makes every chase and explosion feel scary, real, and believable.
4 The Matrix (1999)
A melting pot of science fiction and martial arts, The Matrix revolutionized action by employing never-before-seen stunts and technology. Championing the “bullet time” stunt where bullets are fired at a hyper-slow pace, the Wachowskis ushered in a new breed of action that defied science and logic but was very appealing to the senses.
3 Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day is yet another example of the perfect combination between science fiction and action. James Cameron leverages sci-fi’s reliable tropes and pairs them with a string of hardcore action sequences, creating one of cinema’s most iconic characters and movie experiences. Terminator 2: Judgment Day is one of the few films that seem to have the perfect balance between cutting-edge effects and a tight script, making it one of the most enjoyable and influential action movies of all time.
2 John Wick (2014)
What started off with a death of a puppy resulted in the annihilation of 439 criminals. Looking like a lanky, everyday Joe on the surface, John Wick doesn’t look very menacing, but is more than equipped to kill a man with just the tip of a pencil. A brainchild of stuntman-turned-director Chad Stahelski, John Wick is a cultural potpourri of violence, playing out like visceral visual poetry.
1 Seven Samurai (1954)
Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is often considered as the holy grail of filmmaking. One of the best action films to have ever been made, Kurosawa’s magnum opus operates on human emotion as much as it does on violence and our primal need for it. Rather than being an all out assault on the senses, Seven Samurai focuses on the many shades of violence, before finally building up to a brutally epic, blood-fueled finale.