140 Essential Action Movies To Watch Now
Welcome to our guide to the most Essential Action Movies! Where everyone enters…and only 140 leave. Which sounds like a lot, but when you’re considering thousands of action movies, it’s only the most thrilling, the most exciting, the most brutal, and the influential who make the cut!
Action is a wide-open genre and term, and we endeavored to include something from every era, style, and movement of action movies. We have the classics (Die Hard, The French Connection), modern fan favorites (Hardcore Henry, John Wick), superhero blockbusters (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), and plenty from the macho ’80s (Commando, First Blood). Not to mention some action genre crossovers: sci-fi (Equilibrium), horror (They Live), and, of course, comedy (Beverly Hills Cop).
Internationally, we reach as far as Hong Kong (Police Story, Hard-Boiled), Australia (The Road Warrior), England (Kingsman: The Secret Service), France (La Femme Nikita), Indonesia (The Raid: Redemption), Korea (The Villainess), and beyond.
These are the action movies whose influence can be seen in the films that followed. They spawned franchises, pushed back against time, defined and even expanded the genre. These are the badass movies that make audiences feel cooler from having seen them. In the interest of keeping the Essential Movies as tight and pure as possible, we excluded the genres of war, sports, Western, and samurai. Otherwise, a movie’s Tomatometer score was not a factor, so long as the plot was kicked forward in a hail of bullets, car chases, fist fights, and martial arts wizardry.
Now, it’s time to pound faces and popcorn, with the 140 Essential Action Movies to watch now!
Adjusted Score: 61.19%
Critics Consensus: Running Scared struggles to strike a consistent balance between violent action and humor, but the chemistry between its well-matched leads keeps things entertaining.
Distinguished by a sharp, witty dialogue between its two cop protagonists, Ray and Danny (Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal), this... [More]
Adjusted Score: 41.975%
Critics Consensus: Equilibrium is a reheated mishmash of other sci-fi movies.
In the nation of Libria, there is always peace among men. The rules of the Librian system are simple. If... [More]
Adjusted Score: 100.597%
Critics Consensus: With death-defying action sequences and epic historic sweep, Hero offers everything a martial arts fan could ask for.
Hero is two-time Academy Award nominee Zhang Yimou's directorial attempt at exploring the concept of a Chinese hero. During the... [More]
Adjusted Score: 40.638%
Critics Consensus: Whether Road House is simply bad or so bad it's good depends largely on the audience's fondness for Swayze -- and tolerance for violently cheesy action.
Dalton (Swayze) is a true gentleman with a degree in philosophy from NYU. He also has a flip side -... [More]
Adjusted Score: 91.408%
Critics Consensus: As fast, loud, and relentless as the train at the center of the story, Unstoppable is perfect popcorn entertainment -- and director Tony Scott's best movie in years.
In this action thriller from director Tony Scott, rookie train operator Will (Chris Pine) and grizzled veteran engineer Frank (Denzel... [More]
Adjusted Score: 92.063%
Critics Consensus: This is the man that would risk his neck for his brother, man. Can you dig it?
Shaft, a highly successful film, spawned an industry of sequels and imitations. The daughter (Sherri Brewer) of Bumpy Jones (Moses... [More]
Adjusted Score: 85.755%
Critics Consensus: The Villainess offers enough pure kinetic thrills to satisfy genre enthusiasts -- and carve out a bloody niche for itself in modern Korean action cinema.
Since she was a little girl, Sook-hee was raised to be a deadly assassin. She gladly accepts the chance to... [More]
Adjusted Score: 70.722%
Critics Consensus: People hate Highlander because it's cheesy, bombastic, and absurd. And people love it for the same reasons.
Among humans for centuries, an immortal specie existed. Connor MacLeod is a member of this specie. Unaware of his powers,... [More]
Adjusted Score: 72.295%
Critics Consensus: It lacks the fresh thrills of its predecessor, but Die Hard 2 still works as an over-the-top -- and reasonably taut -- big-budget sequel, with plenty of set pieces to paper over the plot deficiencies.
"Another basement, another elevator...how can the same thing happen to the same guy twice?" asks John McClane (Bruce Willis), in... [More]
Adjusted Score: 49.632%
Critics Consensus: National Treasure is no treasure, but it's a fun ride for those who can forgive its highly improbable plot.
Benjamin Franklin Gates is a third generation treasure hunter. All his life, Gates has been searching for a treasure no... [More]
Adjusted Score: 55.386%
Critics Consensus: Despite some impressive fight scenes, this trimmed-down version of the Thai action pic is an off-putting mix of scant plot, choppy editing, and confusing subtitles and dubbing.
Kham's life is turned upside down when an international mafia syndicate, based in Australia, captures his two beloved elephants and... [More]
Adjusted Score: 97.682%
Critics Consensus: Revenge slices and dices genre tropes, working within an exploitation framework while adding a timely -- yet never less than viscerally thrilling -- feminist spin.
Jen (fearlessly embodied by Matilda Lutz, Rings) is enjoying a romantic getaway with her wealthy boyfriend which is suddenly disrupted... [More]
Adjusted Score: 94.516%
Critics Consensus: Made on a shoestring budget, El Mariachi's story is not new. However, the movie has so much energy that it's thoroughly enjoyable.
Filmed in two weeks on a budget of 7,000 dollars, El Mariachi was one of the singular pleasures of the... [More]
Adjusted Score: 98.456%
Critics Consensus: A brilliantly directed feast for the eyes with an epic story to match, A Touch of Zen marks a groundbreaking achievement in the wuxia genre.
According to this drama, set in 14th-century China, a state-run secret police organization made life a living hell for anyone... [More]
Adjusted Score: 60.022%
Critics Consensus: Though it features some of the most memorable and electrifying aereial footage shot with an expert eye for action, Top Gun offers too little for non-adolescent viewers to chew on when its characters aren't in the air.
Devil-may-care navy pilot Pete Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is sent to Miramar Naval Air Station for advanced training. Here he vies... [More]
Adjusted Score: 58.722%
Critics Consensus: Con Air won't win any awards for believability - and all involved seem cheerfully aware of it, making some of this blockbuster action outing's biggest flaws fairly easy to forgive.
Former war hero Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage) is sentenced to eight years in prison when he accidentally kills a man... [More]
Adjusted Score: 71.251%
Critics Consensus: Taut, violent, and suitably self-deprecating, The Expendables 2 gives classic action fans everything they can reasonably expect from a star-studded shoot-'em-up -- for better and for worse.
The Expendables are back and this time it's personal... Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Yin Yang (Jet... [More]
Adjusted Score: 61.59%
Critics Consensus: It's difficult to make a persuasive argument for The Mummy as any kind of meaningful cinematic achievement, but it's undeniably fun to watch.
Loosely adapted from the classic 1932 horror film starring Boris Karloff, The Mummy is set in Egypt, where over 3,000... [More]
Adjusted Score: 65.975%
Critics Consensus: Although this action-romance suffers from weak writing and one too many explosions, the chemistry generated by onscreen couple Pitt and Jolie is palpable enough to make this a thoroughly enjoyable summer action flick.
John and Jane Smith are an ordinary suburban couple with an ordinary, lifeless suburban marriage. But each of them has... [More]
Adjusted Score: 63.74%
Critics Consensus: A kick-ass addition to the cop-buddy film genre.
Brett Ratner directed this action-comedy that found box-office success by teaming Chris Tucker with Jackie Chan -- performing his own... [More]
Adjusted Score: 67.414%
Critics Consensus: The Equalizer is more stylishly violent than meaningful, but with Antoine Fuqua behind the cameras and Denzel Washington dispensing justice, it delivers.
In The Equalizer, Denzel Washington plays McCall, a man who believes he has put his mysterious past behind him and... [More]
Adjusted Score: 106.601%
Critics Consensus: Captain America: Civil War begins the next wave of Marvel movies with an action-packed superhero blockbuster boasting a decidedly non-cartoonish plot and the courage to explore thought-provoking themes.
Marvel's "Captain America: Civil War" finds Steve Rogers leading the newly formed team of Avengers in their continued efforts to... [More]
Adjusted Score: 78.923%
Critics Consensus: This late-period Harrison Ford actioner is full of palpable, if not entirely seamless, thrills.
In this action drama, Harrison Ford plays James Marshall, a onetime combat hero in the Vietnam War who is now... [More]
Adjusted Score: 40.053%
Critics Consensus: This is where it all began for the Muscles from Brussels, but beyond Van Damme's athleticism, Bloodsport is a cliched, virtually plotless exercise in action movie recycling.
U.S. soldier Frank Dux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) has come to Hong Kong to be accepted into the Kumite, a highly... [More]
Adjusted Score: 59.558%
Critics Consensus: Though some may find the plot a bit lacking, Blade's action is fierce, plentiful, and appropriately stylish for a comic book adaptation.
British director Stephen Norrington helmed this David S. Goyer adaptation of the Marvel Comics character created in 1973 by scripter... [More]
Adjusted Score: 45.855%
Critics Consensus: Bad Boys stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence have enjoyable chemistry; unfortunately, director Michael Bay too often drowns it out with set pieces and explosions in place of an actual story.
Former video director Michael Bay had his first big hit with this action comedy, which also returned producers Jerry Bruckheimer... [More]
Adjusted Score: 55.855%
Critics Consensus: Die Hard with a Vengeance benefits from Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson's barbed interplay, but clatters to a bombastic finish in a vain effort to cover for an overall lack of fresh ideas.
Bruce Willis returns as misfit cop John McClane in the third film in the Die Hard series. McClane has fallen... [More]
Adjusted Score: 63.508%
Critics Consensus: The Running Man is winking sci-fi satire with ridiculous clothes and workmanlike direction.
An unjustly accused prisoner in 2019 is given a slim chance at freedom if he enters a battle-to-the-death on a... [More]
Adjusted Score: 63.734%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Not to be confused with the 1960 film of the same name, this fast-paced karate action flick stars Chuck Norris,... [More]
Adjusted Score: 72.087%
Critics Consensus: As preposterous and over-the-top as Shoot 'Em Up may be, its humor and non-stop action make for a very enjoyable film.
A mysterious man delivers a baby during a shootout and is entrusted with protecting the child from criminals out to... [More]
Adjusted Score: 63.532%
Critics Consensus: It's a film about a guy injected with Speed... wait, there's no bus. It's a film about a guy who has to kick a bunch of squirmy butt to stay alive... wait, no snakes or planes here. But it is a film about doing lots of drugs and pulling lots of punches, and it entertains accordingly.
A one-time freelance hitman who was just attempting to turn his life around is forced to keep his heart pumping... [More]
Adjusted Score: 77.274%
Critics Consensus: Machete is messy, violent, shallow, and tasteless -- and that's precisely the point of one of the summer's most cartoonishly enjoyable films.
A blade-wielding ex-federale hides out as a day laborer when he is double-crossed by a corrupt senator. ... [More]
Adjusted Score: 99.853%
Critics Consensus: With its hyper-stylized blend of violence, music, and striking imagery, Drive represents a fully realized vision of arthouse action.
Ryan Gosling stars as a Los Angeles wheelman for hire, stunt driving for movie productions by day and steering getaway... [More]
Adjusted Score: 76.639%
Critics Consensus: An eerie, haunting spectacle, Batman succeeds as dark entertainment, even if Jack Nicholson's Joker too often overshadows the title character.
Jack Nicholson is the Joker, who emerged from a horrible accident as a maniacal criminal. Michael Keaton is the Caped... [More]
Adjusted Score: 78.301%
Critics Consensus: A well-directed action thriller that makes the most of its confined setting, Under Siege marks a high point for early '90s action -- and its star's spotty filmography.
Andrew Davis directed this exciting thriller starring Steven Seagal, sans ponytail, and featuring electric, over-the-top performances by Gary Busey and... [More]
Adjusted Score: 67.727%
Critics Consensus: The plot is thin and so is character development, but as a thrilling, spectacle-filled summer movie, Independence Day delivers.
A group of intrepid humans attempts to save the Earth from vicious extraterrestrials in this extremely popular science-fiction adventure. Borrowing... [More]
Adjusted Score: 100.408%
Critics Consensus: Steve McQueen is cool as ice in this thrilling police procedural that also happens to contain arguably the greatest movie car chase ever.
Robert L. Pike's crime novel Mute Witness makes the transition to the big screen in this film from director Peter... [More]
Adjusted Score: 78.47%
Critics Consensus: Wanted is stylish, energetic popcorn fare with witty performances from Angelina Jolie (playing an expert assassin), James McAvoy, and Morgan Freeman that help to distract from its absurdly over-the-top plot.
Wesley's (James McAvoy) life is over - his pathetic old one, anyway... Fortunately, it is all because of a girl.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 101.021%
Critics Consensus: Superman deftly blends humor and gravitas, taking advantage of the perfectly cast Christopher Reeve to craft a loving, nostalgic tribute to an American pop culture icon.
Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel in a big-budget epic with Oscar-winning effects. Marlon Brando, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman,... [More]
Adjusted Score: 71.221%
Critics Consensus: Ronin earns comparisons to The French Connection with strong action, dynamic road chase scenes, and solid performances.
When an international team of former intelligence agents and Cold War warriors meet in a warehouse, their adventure of love,... [More]
Adjusted Score: 89.533%
Critics Consensus: A politically subversive blend of horror and sci fi, They Live is an underrated genre film from John Carpenter.
A homeless drifter discovers a reason for the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor: a conspiracy by non-human... [More]
Adjusted Score: 71.939%
Critics Consensus: While it can't escape comparisons to the movies it borrows from, Cliffhanger is a tense, action-packed thriller and a showcase for the talents that made Sylvester Stallone a star.
Producer Neal H. Moritz and writer Joe Gazzam team with Studio Canal for this remake of the 1993 mountain-climbing adventure... [More]
Adjusted Score: 104.868%
Critics Consensus: Thanks to a script that emphasizes its heroes' humanity and a wealth of superpowered set pieces, The Avengers lives up to its hype and raises the bar for Marvel at the movies.
Marvel Studios presents Marvel's The Avengers-the Super Hero team up of a lifetime, featuring iconic Marvel Super Heroes Iron Man,... [More]
Adjusted Score: 97.627%
Critics Consensus: The brilliant minds behind Shaun of the Dead successfully take a shot at the buddy cop genre with Hot Fuzz. The result is a bitingly satiric and hugely entertaining parody.
A top London cop who is so good at his job that he makes his fellow officers look like slackers... [More]
Adjusted Score: 91.932%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Walter Hill's hip, super-stylized action film unfurls in a dystopian near-future, when various gangs control New York City. Each gang... [More]
Adjusted Score: 65.431%
Critics Consensus: A fun movie...if you can accept the excessive gore and wooden acting.
Paul Verhoeven has fashioned a visually spectacular, morbidly funny comic book adventure that seems to merge the fresh-faced youths of... [More]
Adjusted Score: 93.516%
Critics Consensus: Elite Squad: The Enemy Within is a bleak, violent descent into the Brazilian underbelly, ripping into the favelas with unstoppable and kinetic force.
The sprawling slum that towers over Rio de Janeiro is one of the most dangerous places on Earth, and as... [More]
Adjusted Score: 72.064%
Critics Consensus: Absurd, over-the-top, and often wildly entertaining, Point Break is here to show you that the human spirit is still alive.
Kathryn Bigelow's fourth action film follows FBI agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) as he goes undercover to infiltrate a cache... [More]
Adjusted Score: 71.646%
Critics Consensus: Smart, sharp-witted, and fueled by enjoyably over-the-top action, The Long Kiss Goodnight makes up in impact what it lacks in consistent aim.
The comfortably drab life of a working mom becomes a nightmare when she finds herself pursued by an assassin who... [More]
Adjusted Score: 94.851%
Critics Consensus: Boasting enough intelligence to bolster its darkly violent thrills, The Guest offers another treat for genre fans from director Adam Wingard.
From the director of YOU'RE NEXT and featuring a standout, badass performance from Dan Stevens ("Downton Abbey"), comes THE GUEST:... [More]
Adjusted Score: 63.188%
Critics Consensus: Taken is undeniably fun with slick action, but is largely a brainless exercise.
An ex-soldier (Liam Neeson) traveling through Europe embarks on a frantic quest to rescue his daughter (Maggie Grace) after the... [More]
Adjusted Score: 67.679%
Critics Consensus: A simple-minded but visually exciting experience, full of blood, violence, and ready-made movie quotes.
Sin City author Frank Miller's sweeping take on the historic Battle of Thermopylae comes to the screen courtesy of Dawn... [More]
Adjusted Score: 71.768%
Critics Consensus: If it doesn't reach the heights of director James Cameron's and star Arnold Schwarzenegger's previous collaborations, True Lies still packs enough action and humor into its sometimes absurd plot to entertain.
Borrowing liberally from the French film La Totale, this is an action picture, domestic comedy, and political thriller rolled into... [More]
Adjusted Score: 63.541%
Critics Consensus: A better-than-average sci-fi shoot-em-up with a satirical undercurrent, Demolition Man is bolstered by strong performances by Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, and Sandra Bullock.
The plot of this action film begins in 1996, with Los Angeles in a violence-crazed conflagration. One of the LAPD's... [More]
Adjusted Score: 55.914%
Critics Consensus: Hardcore Henry seems poised to reinvent the action flick, but without a story or characters worth caring about, its first-person gimmick quickly loses its thrill.
Strap in. Hardcore Henry is one of the most unflinchingly original wild-rides to hit the big screen in a long... [More]
Adjusted Score: 93.281%
Critics Consensus: Blending brilliant physical comedy with thrillingly choreographed set pieces, Police Story makes a persuasive case for Jackie Chan as one of the all-time genre greats.
This was internationally famous Jackie Chan's breakthrough action film, the work that got him past the ethnic boundaries of Hong... [More]
Adjusted Score: 76.61%
Critics Consensus: Brotherhood of the Wolf mixes its genres with little logic, but the end result is wildly entertaining.
French legend has it that a creature known as the Beast of Gevaudan -- a huge, wolf-like monster -- was... [More]
Adjusted Score: 83.264%
Critics Consensus: Stylish, subversive, and above all fun, Kingsman: The Secret Service finds director Matthew Vaughn sending up the spy genre with gleeful abandon.
Based upon the acclaimed comic book and directed by Matthew Vaughn (Kick Ass, X-Men First Class), Kingsman: The Secret Service... [More]
Adjusted Score: 74.722%
Critics Consensus: Visually inventive and gleefully over the top, Luc Besson's The Fifth Element is a fantastic piece of pop sci-fi that never takes itself too seriously.
Good and evil battle for the future of 23rd century Earth in this visually striking big-budget science fiction epic. In... [More]
Adjusted Score: 82.598%
Critics Consensus: Brimming with energy and packed with humor, Big Trouble in Little China distills kung fu B-movies as affectionately as it subverts them.
Playing in a manner that can be conservatively described as larger than life, Kurt Russell plays a macho truck driver... [More]
Adjusted Score: 92.018%
Critics Consensus: Atomic Blonde gets enough mileage out of its stylish action sequences -- and ever-magnetic star -- to make up for a narrative that's somewhat less hard-hitting than its protagonist.
A high-stakes, global action-thriller that takes place in the city of Berlin, on the eve of the Wall's collapse and... [More]
Adjusted Score: 83.307%
Critics Consensus: An entertaining Jackie Chan stunt-fest in which the impressive action sequences overcome the low production value and by-the-numbers plot.
After years as a major star in most of the rest of the world, Jackie Chan finally broke through to... [More]
Adjusted Score: 83.367%
Critics Consensus: A nonstop thrill ride, District B13's dizzying action sequences more than make up for any expository flaws.
A nuclear weapon has been stolen by the most powerful gang in Paris' treacherous, walled-in ghetto, and it's up to... [More]
Adjusted Score: 85.312%
Critics Consensus: The buddy cop movie continues its evolution unabated with this Eddie Murphy vehicle that's fast, furious, and funny.
What's that wisecracking young black guy (Eddie Murphy) in that beat-up Chevy Nova doing in lily-white Beverly Hills? He's Axel... [More]
Adjusted Score: 88.063%
Critics Consensus: While Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior may be no great shakes as a movie, critics are hailing the emergence of a new star in Tony Jaa, whose athletic performance is drawing comparisons with Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li.
Exhilarating fight sequences highlight this action-packed martial-arts adventure about an orphan (Tony Jaa) who embarks on a quest to recover... [More]
Adjusted Score: 92.531%
Critics Consensus: Driven by director Michael Mann's trademark visuals and a lean, villainous performance from Tom Cruise, Collateral is a stylish and compelling noir thriller.
A taxi driver is unexpectedly taken on the ride of his life in this stylish thriller from acclaimed director Michael... [More]
Adjusted Score: 92.573%
Critics Consensus: Iron Monkey may not have the poetic lyricism of Crouching Tiger, it makes up for it in fun and energy.
This kung fu classic weaving fact and myth earned a theatrical release in the U.S. from Miramax eight years after... [More]
Adjusted Score: 91.791%
Critics Consensus: Featuring an atmospherically grimy futuristic metropolis, Escape from New York is a strange, entertaining jumble of thrilling action and oddball weirdness.
It's 1997 and Manhattan has been turned into a maximum security prison. When the United States president crash lands into... [More]
Adjusted Score: 87.874%
Critics Consensus: Battle Royale is a controversial and violent parable of adolescence, heightening teenage melodrama with life-or-death stakes.
A long-unavailable underground hit that anticipated The Hunger Games novels by eight years, veteran director Fukasaku's epically violent, still-controversial and... [More]
Adjusted Score: 100.722%
Critics Consensus: Boasting an entertaining villain and deeper emotional focus, this is a nimble sequel that improves upon the original.
Stan Lee's all-too-human superhero returns to the screen in this highly anticipated sequel to 2002's blockbuster hit Spider-Man. Peter Parker... [More]