Best Action Movies of All Time is a list of my top ten action movies. Like any true top ten list, I have included films that I have a personal connection with.
I grew up during the ’80s which was dominated by action films. As a child, my initial love for cinema bloomed through films such as ’Bloodsport’, ‘Commando’, ‘Predator’, ‘Aliens’, and a host of others.
In the ’80s, action heroes were the modern-day superhero. The majority of the films followed the simple structure of order, disorder, and restoration of order, however, the events involved unimaginable feats. A single man could stand against a tyrant and his horde of minions and leave unscathed.
Arnold Schwarzenegger was my idol. I repeatedly watched his films over and over again and did everything in my power to emulate him. I think it’s safe to say that a number of his films will feature in the following list!
I’ve been humming and hawing about the inclusion of ‘Dredd‘, primarily due to it being a fairly new release. Another reason is that until recently, I didn’t have a personal connection with the film.
My son was born early 2012 and since then, my home life has been exceptionally difficult. Without going into specifics, my wife is struggling and I have been the focus of much of her anger and frustration.
My wife left to stay at her parents, which gave me the opportunity to sit down and watch ‘Dredd’ in 3D. I felt like a child again and I was transported to another world, allowing me to escape my personal problems.
‘Dredd’ is an old fashioned action film, that feels like a John Carpenter classic. While watching ‘Dredd’, films like ‘Assault on Precinct 13’, ‘They Live’ and ‘Big Trouble In Little China’ came to mind. Not because of the subject matter but, for the strong s.ense of isolation that John Carpenter masterfully presents on screen.
9. The Expendables
I sometimes find it hard to believe that I am now of an age where ‘retro’ covers a decade I lived through.
The Expendables is often referred to as an 80’s throwback to the action film genre. It is an uncomplicated film with unrelenting action that tallies up an impressive body count to rival any existing film.
As action films go, The Expendables has the perfect blend of action, stunts and special effects. The film also boasts a stellar cast of action movie legends.
Buy The Expendables
During the 80’s, the British social activist, Mary Whitehouse, actively campaigned against violence, nudity and swearing on television.
This resulted in the broadcast of many films (including ‘Commando’) having alterations made. Scenes were cut and/or swearing was dubbed over in order to soften it’s impact on viewers.
The most notable scene missing from ‘Commando’, was when Schwarzenegger’s character, John Matrix (how cool is that name!) kills an enemy by throwing a saw blade at his head!
‘Commando’ brings back many fond memories of my childhood. It reminds me of visiting my cousins, pretending to be John Matrix and creating new adventures with my toys. I also warmly look back on the many of the alterations made to ’Commando’ that my cousin and I still discuss.
7. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
There isn’t much that I can add about ‘Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior’ that has not already been said.
What I will say, is that ‘The Road Warrior’ is a fantastic post apocalyptic action film, that introduces elements of John Wayne’s ‘The Alamo’ and William Wyler’s ‘Ben Hur’.
It is a must own film for anyone who enjoys action films.
Buy Max Mad 2
6. Die Hard
The 1988 action film ‘Die Hard’ was adapted from the 1979 best-selling novel, ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’ and was the first big break for Bruce Willis to move from television to film.
‘Die Hard’ could be described as a nontraditional action film. Not only was the film well received by the critics, it boasts a standout performance by Alan Rickman as the chief villain, Hans Gruber.
Unlike many action films, the musical score consists of ‘Beethoven’s 9th Symphony’. This is utilized by the filmmakers to further convey the intelligence of John McCain’s nemesis.
‘Die Hard’ also features a hero who is an everyday man, caught up in exceptional circumstances. This allows the viewer to instantly connect with the leading character, John McCain as he is never portrayed as a ‘superhero’.
Against the grain, Bruce Willis lacks the muscular physique that many action hero stars of the time had. Unlike many characters presented in action movies, John McCain is rarely one step ahead of the villains and most importantly, can be hurt like you or I.
Buy Die Hard
5. Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Many film enthusiasts would perhaps place James Cameron’s ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day’ much higher on their list. Indeed, if I were to ask myself aged 12, if Terminator 2 was the best action film ever made, I would answer with a resounding ‘yes!’.
Two memories come to mind when I reflect back on Terminator 2.
The first memory is of the glowing review given by the British film critic, Barry Norman. I can vividly remember being blown away by the scene involving the T-800 landing his motorbike behind the T-1000’s commandeered truck.
My second memory, is watching the film for the first time on pay-per-view in Orlando, Florida. At the time, many films were released in America months before the UK. Being able to see Terminator 2 before any of my friends was a true privilege.
Buy Terminator 2
I have a fondness for James Cameron’s ‘Terminator’ and in my opinion, it is a better film than it’s a sequel. Much like ‘Clerks’ or ‘El Mariachi’, it is a testament to what can be achieved through low budget film making.
It could be argued, that ‘Clerks’ is a fluke as opposed to the by-product of genius however, Terminator is an expertly woven piece of cinema, that took calculated risks.
The film primarily consists of actors who prior to the film being released. Were relatively unknown. The premise of the film is that the villain could blend into the background as an everyday man.
Despite this, the then bodybuilder, Arnold Schwarzenegger was cast as the villain. His frame and size went against everything that the script described the ‘Terminator’ to be however when listing to James Cameron as well as watching footage of ‘Terminator’ being shot, it becomes clear that the success of ‘Terminator’ is due to his talent as a film-maker – not by chance.
Buy The Terminator
‘Predator’ is a fantastic sci-fi action film, that pits Arnold Schwarzenegger against an alien hunter.
Unlike many action films, the hero is joined by a group of allies, who at first glance, seem as deadly and as capable as he is. To help convey this, the opening act focuses on our heroes decimating a village of foes. If injured, they simply jest ‘I don’t have time to bleed’.
As the film progresses, our heroes are picked off one by one until Dutch (Schwarzenegger) is the last man standing. Unconventionally, the hero relies on his intelligence (opposed to brute force) to conquer his enemy.
In my opinion, ‘Aliens’ is one of the greatest sequels ever made.
The concept of ‘Aliens‘, could have destroyed the believability in the danger faced in the first film. Unlike it’s predecessor, ‘Aliens’ features a number of the alien creatures that are gunned down in numbers by the film’s heroes. The film also features a superior alien dubbed ’The Queen’ that in every way, outmatches the villain from the first film.
Despite this, ‘Aliens’ manages to preserve the audience’s respect for the alien creatures and invents new and exciting ways to shock and thrill its audience.
Much like ‘Total Recall’, I see no reason as to why ’Robocop’ needs to be remade for a ‘modern audience’. I could perhaps attribute part of this opinion to my fondness of the original.
At face value, ‘Robocop’ is just like any action film. Our hero acts alone, impervious to damage, and comes out victorious against his villainous foes!
Unlike many traditional action movies, ‘Robocop’ has depth to its principle characters and overall themes. The film explores humanity, religion, wealth, greed, and of course, corporate and industrial America.
Much like ‘Commando’, I have fond memories of watching ‘Robocop’ as a child. Not only did I idolize the main character, but censorship also affected the broadcast of ‘Robocop’ on British television.
My cousin and I still refer to ‘get that mother humper’, a crude inclusion that dubbed over one of many naughty words. The British broadcast also had a number of edits made in order to adhere to censors. Sadly, I no longer own a copy of this cut.