We all love a good action movie. They're exciting and have plenty of good one-liners. Each of the 15 movies listed will have its IMDB score, Rotten Tomatoes score, best scene and best line.
To keep things simple, movies are limited to one film per franchise. This means more variety and that the list isn’t just Indiana Jones and James Bond movies. This list is also limited to just action movies. No superhero, science fiction, war or western movies. No superhero or western movies is pretty straightforward. No science fiction movies means no "Star Wars," "Terminator," "Predator," "RoboCop," "Aliens" or "Mad Max." If there are aliens, outer space or a post-apocalyptic future, then it counts as science fiction. No war movies means no "Gladiator," "Braveheart" or "Rambo." However, movies with people trying to prevent war, like James Bond movies, are ok.
That just means more possible movie lists in the future. Anyways, enough with the intro, here are the 15 best action movies ever.
15) The Rock (1996)
Rotten Tomatoes: 66%
Best scene: The car chase between a Hummer and a Ferrari through downtown San Francisco.
Best line: “Honey? Uh, you wanna know who really killed JFK?” – Stanley Goodspeed to his wife after finding microfilm with all of America’s secrets.
Sean Connery and Nicholas Cage team up to take down domestic terrorists holding hostages at Alcatraz? I’m sold.
Aside from Connery and Cage, this movie is loaded with actors that are recognizable and familiar but just can’t quite be placed. Recognizable faces like Ed Harris, John Spencer, David Morse and John C. McGinley that set off light bulbs in your brain.
Michael Bay gets a lot of flak as a director now, much of it deserved, but “The Rock” is probably his best movie.
14) Taken (2008)
Rotten Tomatoes: 58%
Best scene: Mills fighting his way through a yacht that his daughter is held hostage on.
Best line: “But what I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.” – Bryan Mills to a trafficker involved in kidnapping his daughter.
Taken is essentially an entire season of the television show "24" condensed down into two hours of action. After his daughter is abducted by human traffickers, Bryan Mills, a former CIA operative, goes on a one-man mission across France to get her back.
If you’ve ever wondered how far a person can go to get someone or something back, Mills is probably the logical extreme of that.
13) Speed (1994)
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Best scene: The bus finding a large gap in the Los Angeles freeway and being forced to jump it.
Best line: “Yeah? Well, I’m taller.” – Jack to the bomber after the bomber continually repeated that he was smarter than Jack.
Frequently referred to as "Die Hard on a bus", this Jan de Bont directed movie shows that a bus can actually be a pretty entertaining place for an action movie. Keanu Reeves plays Jack Traven, a Los Angeles SWAT officer trying to take down a crazed bomber, played by Dennis Hopper, that put a bomb on a transit bus. Sandra Bullock plays Annie, a young woman forced to drive the bus after the driver is accidentally shot.
12) Face/Off (1997)
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Best scene: Sean Archer, while posing as Castor Troy, escaping from a maximum security prison during a riot.
Best line: “Dad, I'm sorry I shot you.” – Jamie Archer to her father, Sean, after shooting him while he looked like Castor Troy.
Could you become someone you hate to survive? “Face/Off” literally shows that as an FBI agent switches faces, hence the title, with a terrorist that killed his son in order to gain information in an attempt to stop a weapon of mass destruction.
John Travolta starts the movie playing FBI agent Sean Archer, then Archer switches faces and identities to become Castor Troy, played by Nicholas Cage. Troy then, sans face, takes Archer’s face and assumes his identity. If all that sounds weird, it kind of is. But Travolta and Cage do well playing each character.
11) Enter the Dragon (1973)
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Best scene: Bruce Lee fighting the main villain in a room full of mirrors.
Best line: “Boards don't hit back.” – Lee after someone else breaks a board thrown into the air.
If you've ever enjoyed a movie about a tournament full of tough guys in single-elimination fights against each other, then you have "Enter the Dragon" to thank.
Lee, a highly-skilled martial artist played by Bruce Lee, accepts an invitation to compete in a high-profile martial arts tournament. Lee is convinced by a British intelligence agent to spy on a crime lord while competing in the tournament.
Unfortunately, Bruce Lee died shortly before the movie was released. It was the last full movie he filmed.
10) Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003)
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Best scene: The Bride fighting all of the Crazy 88s.
Best line: “Those of you lucky enough to have your lives, take them with you. However, leave the limbs you've lost. They belong to me now.” – The Bride.
After being shot at her own wedding and left for dead, The Bride, played by Uma Thurman, goes on a one-woman revenge tour against those that wronged her. Directed by Quentin Tarantino, "Kill Bill" is very stylish and extremely violent. It also proves that hell hath no fury like a woman left for dead on her wedding day.
9) True Lies (1994)
Rotten Tomatoes: 72%
Best scene: On the island when the Uzi falls down the stairs, shooting and killing a room full of terrorists.
Best line: “Yeah, but they were all bad.” – Harry Tasker’s response to his wife, while under the effects of truth serum, after being asked if he’s ever killed anyone.
Probably the funniest movie on this list, "True Lies" stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as Harry Tasker, a spy trying to stop a terrorist organization with a nuclear weapon. Tasker is thought to be a mild-mannered used-car salesman to his wife and daughter though. The humor comes when Tasker tries to juggle both his home and work life while trying to save the world.
8) John Wick (2014)
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Best scene: John Wick taking out a host of hit men sent to his house.
Best line: “People keep asking if I'm back and I haven't really had an answer. But now, yeah, I'm thinking I'm back.” – John Wick.
Keanu Reeves stars as John Wick, a former assassin coping with the recent death of his wife. After the son of a Russian mobster sees how nice Wick's car is during a chance encounter, Wick's car is stolen and puppy killed later that night. Angering a former assassin is probably not good for one's long-term health.
The action is stylish, the body count is high and the plot is pretty simple. For some movies that would be a negative, but it all works well together for “John Wick.”
7) The Raid: Redemption (2011)
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Best scene: Rama and Andi in a two-on-one fight against Mad Dog.
Best line: “For the same reason you stayed in that uniform. It just fits.” – Andi after being asked why he won’t leave a life of crime.
The lone movie on this list that isn't in English, this Indonesian film will require you to read subtitles. Honestly though, the dialogue is sparse and not the reason to watch it in the first place.
An Indonesian SWAT team is tasked with taking down a crime lord holed up in a high-rise apartment complex he owns and operates out of. Things quickly go wrong and the cops have to fight their way out.
Of all the movies on this list, "The Raid" is easily the most action heavy. The opening 30 minutes is packed with more gunfire and fisticuffs than most movies could fit into two hours. The rest of the movie isn't half bad either, like if "John Wick" chugged three energy drinks while listening to heavy metal.
6) The Bourne Identity (2002)
Rotten Tomatoes: 83%
Best scene: Jason Bourne using a pen in a fight against an assassin with a knife.
Best line: “Who has a safety deposit box full of money, six passports and a gun? Who has a bank account number in their hip? I come in here, and the first thing I'm doing is I'm catching the sightlines and looking for an exit.” – Jason Bourne dealing with memory loss.
The American version of James Bond, the Bourne movies were known for their intense action and focus on close-quarters combat. This was the toughest franchise to pick a single movie from. The sequels, “The Bourne Supremacy” and “The Bourne Ultimatum” were also quite good, but the original movie wins out
“The Bourne Identity” is about an injured man, played by Matt Damon, found in the Mediterranean Sea who slowly finds out that he is a CIA assassin.
The Bourne movies certainly had an impact on the Bond franchise. Starting with “Casino Royale,” the Bond movies focused much more on hand-to-hand combat and a more gritty style.
5) Casino Royale (2006)
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Best scene: James Bond chasing a bomb maker on foot through the streets of Madagascar.
Best line: “I'm sorry. That last hand nearly killed me.” – James Bond's quip while returning to a poker game after nearly dying from poisoning minutes earlier.
Speaking of “Casino Royale,” there have been 26 James Bond movies, but only one can make this list due to the one-film-per-franchise rule. In "Casino Royale," Bond, played by Daniel Craig, has just received his license to kill and is officially 007. Bond is tasked with taking down Le Chiffre, a man that finances terrorist organizations.
The chase in Madagascar is the best action sequence in all of the Bond films.
4) Dirty Harry (1971)
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Best scene: Harry stopping a bank robbery early in the movie.
Best line: “I know what you're thinking. ‘Did he fire six shots or only five?’ Well to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I kinda lost track myself. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and would blow your head clean off, you've gotta ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?” – Harry Callahan to a bank robber.
One of the first movies with a tough-guy, hard-edged, loose-cannon cop that doesn't play by the rules, Clint Eastwood stars as Harry Callahan, a San Francisco homicide detective investigating a string of murders committed by a sniper. Callahan is dubbed "Dirty Harry" by his coworkers because he always gets stuck with the jobs that nobody wants.
This is arguably Eastwood's most famous role in a career filled with famous roles. Callahan has plenty of good lines, although the “make my day” quip is in the sequel, “Sudden Impact.”
3) Lethal Weapon (1987)
Rotten Tomatoes: 83%
Best scene: Riggs at the shooting range taking a target that Murtaugh shot and turning it into a smiley face.
Best line: “Well, I haven't killed you yet.” – Martin Riggs to his partner after being asked if he had ever met anyone he hadn't killed.
The best buddy cop movie, “Lethal Weapon” combines the loose-cannon cop that doesn’t play by the rules along with an older partner that’s just too old for this stuff.
After an apparent suicide by a young woman, LAPD detectives, Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh investigate and eventually uncover a heroin-smuggling operation run by former Special Forces operators.
Riggs, played by Mel Gibson, is a former Special Forces soldier himself that is coping with the recent death of his wife. Murtaugh, played by Danny Glover, is a 50-year-old sergeant that is already aching to retire. Gibson and Glover have fantastic chemistry and mix humor and partnership into a relationship where the two guys should hate each other. They develop a genuine friendship though and will always have each other's backs.
2) Die Hard (1988)
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Best scene: John McClane jumping off the side of the building with a fire hose attached as a harness to avoid a massive explosion.
Best line: “Come out to the coast, we'll get together, have a few laughs.” – John McClane recalling his wife’s invitation while huddled in an air vent to avoid terrorists.
Not too many movies can claim that they changed entire genres, but “Die Hard” did just that in 1988. When most action movies of the day starred muscle-bound guys like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone that flexed all over the place, Bruce Willis essentially played just a normal guy dealing with a crazy situation.
John McClane, played by Willis, is an NYPD detective on vacation in Los Angeles during Christmas trying to reconnect with his estranged wife. Unfortunately for McClane, the building he and his wife are in is seized by terrorists. McClane, who isn't even wearing any shoes, must find a way to overcome the odds and stop the terrorists while also freeing the hostages.
Maybe the best example of the impact and longevity of "Die Hard" is just to think of how many times the formula has been recycled in other movies. A lone man or woman is called to action and forced to step above "regular-person" status to stop impending doom at the hand of terrorists. Many films have successfully used it, but none quit as well as "Die Hard."
1) Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Best scene: Tie between Indiana Jones navigating traps at the temple in Peru to open the movie and then later "fighting" the swordsman in downtown Cairo towards the middle of the film.
Best line: “It's not the years, honey. It's the mileage.” – Indiana Jones to Marion after she said that he wasn’t the same man she knew 10 years ago.
It was a neck-and-neck battle for the top spot with "Die Hard," but "Raiders of the Lost Ark" is the winner. All it takes is an idea from George Lucas in the prime of his career as a creator, the eye of Steven Spielberg as a director in the prime of his career and Harrison Ford playing an iconic character in the prime of his career as an actor.
Set three years before the start of World War II, Ford plays Indiana Jones, a professor by day and artifact-discovering archaeologist by night. Jones is tasked by the U.S. government with finding the Ark of the Covenant, which holds the 10 Commandments, and keeping it out of the hands of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.
"Raiders of the Lost Ark" combines action, adventure, humor and fun better than any other movie on this list. That's why it finishes as the top action movie ever.