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The 12 Best Action Movie Franchises, Ever!

How does John Wick fare against Mad Max, Indiana Jones, and Ip Man? It's an all out brawl for Fresh supremacy, and the Tomatometer is deciding.

by | May 21, 2019 | Comments

With John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum unleashed into theaters last week– and currently sitting pretty, and bloody, at 88% on the Tomatometer, with John Wick: Chapter 4 just announced – we wanted to know which action movie franchises have the highest Tomatometer averages ever. So, we did a deep Tomatometer dive into over 80 action franchises and found 12 Fresh series that punched, kicked, and sprinted their way ahead of the pack.

Since John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is the third film in the Wick saga, we decided to focus on action franchises with at least three Tomatometer-rated films that told a continuous story. We split up the Spider-Man, Planet of the Apes, James Bond, and Batman franchises into chunks, as they had multiple directors, reboots, and often happened in different universes. For example, we looked at the Sean Connery Bond films as a separate entity from the Daniel Craig Bond films, and the Christopher Nolan Batman films as separate from the 1980s and ’90s movies; we did however include Fury Road with the original Mad Max trilogy, as it centers on the same Max – albeit played by a different actor – and is directed by George Miller. Also: sci-fi, fantasy, and animated films were out; superhero flicks were in.

Basically, we were hoping for an eclectic list and we got one!

Will Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy be ranked higher than Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones franchise? Can any action franchise defeat Miller’s Mad Max quartet? How in the hell is Mission Impossible not on this list?! (Sorry, blame the just Fresh first Mission Impossible, and the Rotten Mission Impossible 2.) Check out the list below and let us know which action franchises you love in the comments.


12. Iron Man (2008 – 2013)

Iron Man

(Photo by @ Paramount)

Tomatometer Average: 81.7%

Movies: Iron Man (2008) 94%, Iron Man 2 (2010) 72%Iron Man 3 (2013) 79%

Highest Rated Film: Iron Man (2008) 94%

Lowest Rated Film: Iron Man 2 (2010) 72%

In 2008, the Jon Favreau-directed Iron Man became a smash hit that was beloved by critics and audiences alike. The 93% Tomatometer-rated film featured Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, a “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” who becomes the superhero Iron Man, and it kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So, it’s significant. Less significant, though still very well regarded, are the movie’s two Certified Fresh follow-ups: Iron Man 2, also directed by Favreau, and Shane Black’s Iron Man 3. The sequels couldn’t recapture the Tomatometer heights of the first film, but they were box office blockbusters – Iron Man 3 is the seventh highest-grossing MCU movie, just behind Captain Marvel – with high enough Tomatometer scores to land the franchise at the 12th spot on our list.


11. Spider-Man (2002 – 2007)

Tomatometer Average: 82%

Movies: Spider-Man (2002) 90%, Spider-Man 2 (2004) 93%Spider-Man 3 (2007) 63%

Highest Rated Film: Spider-Man 2 (2004) 93%

Lowest Rated film: Spider-Man 3 (2007) 63%

With all the superhero films that have been released since 2002, it’s easy to forget how popular Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy was in the 2000s. In 2002, the 90% Tomatometer-rated Spider-Man was a massive success that cleared $100 million in its opening weekend (which was huge at the time) and introduced us to Tobey Maguire’s amazingly earnest take on the popular web-slinger. It was followed up by the 93% Tomatometer-rated Spider-Man 2, which is one of the most critically beloved sequels of all time. The franchise took a bit of dip in 2007, with Spider-Man 3 – OK, a “bit” might be understating it. However, its Fresh score of 63% was just enough to ensure its placement in this list. Cue dancing Emo Spidey!


10. Jackie Chan’s Police Story (1985 – 1996)

Supercop

(Photo by Courtesy the Everett Collection)

Tomatometer Average: 84.5%

Movies: Police Story (1985) 93%Jackie Chan's Police Story 2 (1988) 83%Supercop (1992) 94%Jackie Chan's First Strike (1996) 57%

Highest Rated Film: Supercop (1992) 94%

Lowest Rated Film:Jackie Chan's First Strike (1996) 57%

An action movie list without a Jackie Chan film wouldn’t feel right. Kicking off in 1985, Chan directed Police Story, which introduced the world to Sergeant Chan Ka-Kui (Chan), an incredibly likable and athletic cop who engages in the greatest shopping mall fight ever. The acclaimed Police Story 2 (92% on the Tomatometer) was also a huge success and featured the greatest playground fight ever (are you sensing a trend?). Basically, the four core Police Story movies starring Jackie Chan feature all-time great action scenes – made great because of the brilliance of Chan and his commitment to hurting himself to entertain audiences. (Note, while Supercop was released in 1992, it didn’t get a theatrical release in the U.S. until 1996.)


9. Sean Connery Bond Films (1962 – 1971)

Tomatometer Average: 85.3%

Movies: Dr. No (1962) 95%From Russia With Love (1963) 97%Goldfinger (1964) 99%Thunderball (1965) 87%You Only Live Twice (1967) 73%Diamonds Are Forever (1971) 64%

Highest Rated Film: Goldfinger (1964) 99%

Lowest Rated Film: Diamonds Are Forever (1971) 64%

Bond. Sean Connery’s James Bond. The action world was changed forever when Dr. No was released in 1962. The movie, Certified Fresh at 96%, was an adaptation of Ian Fleming’s spy novel and the first to feature Sean Connery as the smooth-talking badass who traveled the world, killed with ease, and wooed way too many women. Peaking with the classic 97% Tomatometer-rated Goldfinger, Connery’s six Bond films set a new standard for action in the 1960s, shooting on location around the world and featuring a “hero” who had a literal license to kill.


8. Ip Man (2010 – 2016)

Ip Man 3

(Photo by © Well Go USA / courtesy Everett Collection)

Tomatometer Average: 86.3%

Movies: Ip Man (2008) 86%Yip Man 2 (2010) 97%Ip Man 3 (2015) 76%

Highest Rated: Yip Man 2 (2010) 97%

Lowest Rated: Ip Man 3 (2015) 76%

Many non-action film fans may only know Ip Man star Donnie Yen from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, XXX: Return of Xander Cage, or Blade 2. However, Yen is an action icon who has been hurting onscreen henchmen since the early 1990s. That’s why it’s awesome to include on this list the Wilson Yip-directed Ip Man franchise, which tells the story of Ip Man, the famous martial artist who mentored Bruce Lee and is considered the grandfather of the Kung Fu hybrid Wing Chun. The trilogy of films have allowed Yen to engage in some truly wicked brawls that showcase his martial arts prowess and ability to learn an insane amount of fight choreography. (Note, we are not including this year’s, Master Z: Ip Man legacy, as it does not feature Yen and is a spin-off set in the same universe rather than directly part of the series.)


7. Indiana Jones (1981 – 2008)

Tomatometer Average: 86.5%

Movies: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) 96%Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) 84%Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) 88%Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) 78%

Highest Rated: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) 96%

Lowest Rated: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) 78%

We know many people think Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the fourth entry in the Indiana Jones franchise, nuked the goodwill of the original trilogy. However, its Certified Fresh 78% Tomatometer score got the franchise to swing into the top 10 where it deserves to be — so it’s not all bad. Harrison Ford’s portrayal of the archaeologist who spends his days teaching college students and weekends globetrotting to deadly locations in hunt of ancient artifacts, still feels fresh and full of charm. It also helps that Steven Spielberg directed all four movies and loaded them with action-packed set pieces, memorable characters, and some very twisted moments – yes, this is a family flick featuring hearts being pulled from people’s chests.


6. The Avengers (2012 – 2019)

Tomatometer Average: 86.5%

Movies: Marvel's the Avengers (2012) 91%Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) 76%Avengers: Infinity War (2018) 85%Avengers: Endgame (2019) 94%

Highest Rated: Avengers: Endgame (2019) 94%

Lowest Rated: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) 76%

The Avengers franchise made the pointy end of the list because of the two critically beloved blockbusters that bookend the franchise. Joss Whedon’s Marvel’s The Avengers, 92% on the Tomatometer, was a massive blockbuster that proved a movie featuring the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s mightiest heroes could be funny, surprising, and most importantly, capable of giving every superhero a moment to shine (except for the zombie Hawkeye thing). Most recently, the Russos-directed Avengers: Endgame pulled off an equally impressive feat by giving what feels like 7,000 characters something to do in a narrative that makes logical sense. And it’s the highest-rated movie in the franchise, Certified Fresh at 95%.


5. Captain America (2011 – 2016)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

(Photo by @ Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, @ Marvel Studios)

Tomatometer Average: 87%

Movies: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) 79%Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) 90%Captain America: Civil War (2016) 90%

Highest Rated: Captain America: Civil War (2016) 90%

Lowest Rated: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) 79%

The Captain America franchise kicked off in 2012 with the Certified Fresh Captain America: The First Avenger, 80% on the Tomatometer. The Joe Johnston-directed superhero origin story struck a chord with audiences who loved its nostalgic vibe – Johnston directed The Rocketeer and it showed – and lead performance by Chris Evans. But, it wasn’t until 2014 that the Russo brothers’ Captain America: The Winter Soldier (90% on the Tomatometer) propelled the franchise into the critical elite. The Russos struck gold again in 2016 with the Captain America: Civil War; its Tomatometer score of 91% makes Captain America the only superhero franchise to have its Tomatometer score improve with each installment.


4. John Wick (2014 – 2019)

Tomatometer Average: 88%

Movies: John Wick (2014) 86%John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) 89%John Wick: Chapter 3 -- Parabellum (2019) 89%

Highest Rated: John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) 89%

Lowest Rated: John Wick (2014) 86%

Much like the immortal Keanu Reeves, the John Wick franchise keeps getting better with age. Kicking off in 2014, the 86% Tomatometer-rated John Wick introduced the world to an unstoppable assassin who wiped out hundreds of well-groomed henchman in his quest to get revenge on the people who killed his adorable puppy. His quest for revenge lead him to the 89% and 88%-Tomatometer rated John Wick: Chapter 2 and John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, which also feature him killing hundreds of well-groomed henchman and assassins who want him dead. Guided by director Chad Stahelski (and co-director David Leitch for the first film), the trilogy has remained incredibly consistent, and we’re hoping the duo of Stahelski and Reeves keeps up the high-scoring work when Chapter 4 is released in 2021.


3. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011 – 2017)

War for the Planet of the Apes

(Photo by © 20th Century Fox Film Corp.)

Tomatometer Average: 88.3%

Movies: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) 82%Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) 90%War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) 94%

Highest Rated: War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) 94%

Lowest Rated: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) 82%

OK, so we’re bending the “no sci-fi” rule here a touch, given the technology to enhance apes’ intelligence doesn’t yet exist. But, aside from that, this series is kept relatively grounded (or, at least, tree-bound). Director Rupert Wyatt kicked off the Apes reboot trilogy with Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), which set up the heroic journey of Caesar (another incredible performance-capture performance from Andy Serkis). The successful prequel/reboot was followed up by the even more successful Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (90%) and War for the Planet of the Apes (93%), which continued Caesar’s story, and gave thousands of visual effects artists plenty of work. Matt Reeves directed the two later films, and his insistence of shooting at actual locations, instead of sound stages, made the films look authentic, real, and dangerous. Between the large battles, incredible CGI and committed performances, this trilogy was an inventive, action-packed surprise.


2. The Dark Knight (2005 – 2012)

Tomatometer Average: 88.3%

Movies: Batman Begins (2005) 84%The Dark Knight (2008) 94%The Dark Knight Rises (2012) 87%

Highest Rated: The Dark Knight (2008) 94%

Lowest Rated: Batman Begins (2005) 84%

*The Dark Knight Trilogy and the Rise of the Planet of the Apes Trilogy both have 88.3% Tomatometer averages. The Dark Knight Trilogy has a higher ranking because it has more reviews (967 > 897).

Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy is the highest Tomatometer-rated superhero franchise ever – impressive, considering expectations were low for 2005’s Batman Begins after Batman & Robin put a freeze on the franchise in 1997. However, DC fans and audiences soon learned that Nolan was the right person to guide Batman through three films that took on a grittier tone, featured beautiful cinematography, and gave the world an all-time-great performance by Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight. Ledger’s portrayal won him a posthumous Academy Award in 2009 and helped people realize that superhero movies could also be taken ‘so serious.’


1. Mad Max (1979 – 2015)

Tomatometer Average: 91.25%

Movies: Mad Max (1979) 91%Mad Max 2 (1981) 94%Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) 81%Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) 97%

Highest Rated: Mad Max 2 (1981) 94%

Lowest Rated: Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) 81%

George Miller’s Mad Max trilogy featuring Mel Gibson as the titular Max, is a perfect example of  a handmade action franchise. The mayhem in the Mad Max world felt primal (and feral), which is a testament to Miller’s direction and a fearless crew who didn’t mind blowing up dozens of vehicles. If you haven’t seen Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, Certified Fresh at 98%, we totally recommend it. Why? Not only is it the highest Tomatometer-rated movie featured in this entire list, it also features one of the greatest vehicular chase scenes ever made.


Let us know about you favorite action movie franchises in the comments! Also, how in the heck is the Blade trilogy Rotten?

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