Last year, we were treated to instant classics like ‘The Batman’ and ‘Top Gun: Maverick,’ adding to the already impressive collection of timeless action movies. For those seeking a similar adrenaline-packed experience, IMDb collective voters have identified some of the best action films of all time.
IMDb’s list of highest-rated award-winning action movies features several genre-defining classics. Naturally, it’s no surprise that hit franchises like Star Wars and the entire Lord of the Rings series are well-represented in these rankings. We’ve listed the top 10 action movies of all time, with other must-see adrenaline-rush action flicks available below it. Each of these action films can be found on the IMDb Top 250 Movies list.
10 ‘Léon: The Professional’ (1994)
Director: Luc Besson
Stars: Jean Reno, Gary Oldman, Natalie Portman, Danny Aiello
‘Léon: The Professional’ tells the story of an unlikely bond between a ruthless assassin and twelve-year-old Mathilda (Natalie Portman), who is left orphaned after her parents are killed by a corrupt DEA agent. With no one else to turn to, Mathilda looks towards Léon (Jean Reno) for protection. Over time their relationship blossoms into something much more – as he teaches her the art of assassination.
The movie centers around the captivating and often controversial relationship between its two protagonists, however, it is also full of extremely thrilling action scenes. Léon and Mathilda’s strong connection with viewers provides a high level of emotional intensity to each perilous confrontation they encounter, making their conflicts feel even more intense.
9 ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ (1991)
Director: James Cameron
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick
‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ masterfully pairs science-fiction and action, weaving an exciting tale around a T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) machine sent from the future to safeguard John Connor (Edward Furlong) – humanity’s last hope. However, Skynet retaliates by dispatching the unyielding shape-shifting T-1000 (Robert Patrick) with nothing but one goal in mind; killing young John.
Director James Cameron outdid himself with the 1991 sequel to ‘The Terminator,’ taking the visuals, story, and action sequences of its predecessor to a whole new level. The T-1000’s confrontations against the T-800 (see above clip) left audiences in awe due to its groundbreaking special effects. It was definitely an iconic action movie experience for all.
8 ‘Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope’ (1977)
Director: George Lucas
Stars: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Alec Guinness
This first installment in the Star Wars franchise quickly became a worldwide phenomenon. Written and directed by George Lucas, this classic sci-fi adventure follows Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) as he embarks on an epic quest to save Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) from Darth Vader.
The action sequences throughout the movie are legendary, from Luke and Han Solo’s (Harrison Ford) daring assault on the Death Star to the thrilling lightsaber duels between Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) and Vader. To this day, ‘A New Hope’ remains one of the most beloved action films ever made, giving us some of the most iconic characters, locations, and events in action cinema history.
7 ‘Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back’ (1980)
Director: Irvin Kershner
Stars: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams
Three years after the events of ‘A New Hope’, Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars sequel, ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ continues to follow the extraordinary Skywalker Saga. The Galactic Empire ruled by Emperor Palpatine and his formidable army is pitted against Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and her Rebel Alliance forces in a relentless fight for freedom throughout the galaxy. Meanwhile, Luke (Mark Hamill) voyages to the planet Dagobah to seek out Jedi Master Yoda so that he can ready himself to face off with none other than Darth Vader.
There’s no doubt that the 1980 movie was, and still is, the most beloved film from the first Star Wars trilogy. It provided a plethora of breathtaking action sequences which were enhanced with perfectly crafted character arcs that left fans wanting more. Iconic scenes forever remain in our hearts as they demonstrated how powerful storytelling can be.
6 ‘The Matrix’ (1999)
Directors: Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving
‘The Matrix’ is an iconic action movie that forever changed the sci-fi genre. Through its subsequent successful sequels, viewers are taken on a thrilling journey with the protagonist (hacker by night) Neo (Keanu Reeves) as he discovers reality isn’t what it appears to be. Initially, just another computer programmer named Thomas Anderson, his world quickly begins unraveling.
Spectators were entranced by the thought-provoking fight sequences in the action-packed movie that showcased Neo’s newfound understanding of his artificial environment. No one will ever forget witnessing its bullet-dodging moments (see clip above) on the big screen. Or how close agents from the simulated reality came to apprehending Neo and his cohorts.
5 ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers’ (2002)
Director: Peter Jackson
Stars: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom
Related: The Rings Of Power: Can It Succeed Like The Trilogy?
‘The Two Towers,’ directed by Peter Jackson, follows Frodo’s (Elijah Wood) continuing quest to destroy the One Ring in this Lord of the Rings sequel. After the Fellowship part ways, Frodo and Sam (Sean Astin) soon discover they are being followed by a mysterious character named Gollum. Meanwhile, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and his companions Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli make their way to Rohan where its King Theoden (Bernard Hill) has fallen under Saruman’s (Christopher Lee) evil enchantment. As tensions rise between Sauron’s ally and the divided Fellowship, it is clear that only epic battles will decide who emerges victorious in the war for Middle-Earth.
‘The Two Towers’ was a captivating movie filled with thrilling battles, riveting dialogue, and breathtaking scenery. Viewers were transfixed by the epic fight scenes between the armies of Mordor and the Riders of Rohan, as well as Aragorn’s valiant leadership during their quest. The movie was filled with iconic moments that will forever remain in the hearts of viewers, such as Gandalf’s (Ian McKellen) remarkable entrance and the incredible Battle of Helm’s Deep.
4 ‘Inception’ (2010)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Elliot Page, Ken Watanabe
Christopher Nolan’s acclaimed sci-fi action movie ‘Inception’ features a team of professional thieves led by Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio). Unlike other extractors, their mission is to implant an idea in the victim’s mind instead of swiping information from them. The task turns out to be more complicated than initially anticipated as they face unexpected obstacles in their victim’s subconscious and Cobb’s own personal history. As one of the best sci-fi movies of all time, ‘Inception’ continues to wow audiences with its daring story and thrilling special effects.
The movie has been praised far and wide for its remarkable visuals, creative story structure, and riveting action sequences. Set in a dreamlike world, Nolan artfully crafted memorable combat scenes inside of a person’s subconscious. These thrilling action set-pieces feature imaginative choreography that is truly captivating to watch.
3 ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring’ (2001)
Director: Peter Jackson
Stars: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Sean Bean
In 2001, director Peter Jackson took J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved literary classic and all its unbelievable characters to the big screen. He adapted ‘The Fellowship of The Ring’ into an epic action masterpiece that film-goers continue to revere today. This fairytale adventure follows Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) and his fellowship of brave hobbits, elves, humans, and dwarves on their quest to save Middle-Earth from the Dark Lord Sauron.
Earning near-universal praise, ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring’ remains a favorite among fans all over the world. Despite its great ranking, the finale of the Rings trilogy sits highest amongst the three on the list.
2 ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’ (2003)
Director: Peter Jackson
Stars: Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom
Director Peter Jackson’s masterful conclusion to his trilogy, ‘The Return of the King’, triumphantly ties together all of J. R. R. Tolkien’s major narratives from the previous two movies in a breathtaking manner. The always brave Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) is ever closer to Mount Doom as Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and friends mobilize their alliance for an epic battle against Sauron that just might grant our beloved Hobbit a fighting chance at success.
Fans of the trilogy often agree that the third movie is their favorite, as it brings all previous narratives to a memorable conclusion. Furthermore, its grand depictions of the final battles (see above video) show our valiant characters at their bravest.
1 ‘The Dark Knight’ (2008)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine
Christopher Nolan’s unforgettable sequel ‘The Dark Knight’ is still one of the finest adaptations of Batman ever made. The gritty and dark movie follows the Caped Crusader (Christian Bale) as he joins forces with district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) and police lieutenant James Gordon (Gary Oldman), in a bid to stamp out crime in Gotham. However, their efforts are somewhat hindered by a mysterious new villain known as the Joker (Heath Ledger).
The characters in the film are brilliantly portrayed as both heroic and conflicted, making it stand out from other superhero movies in the action genre. Its action scenes feature a captivating blend between Batman’s signature moral ambiguity and the villain’s ruthless cruelty – demonstrating why this action film is so acclaimed by audiences.
More Notable Best Action Movies
Not every action film can make the top 10, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worthy of consideration. Here are a few films from other fan-favorite action movies that (barely missed the cut) you should check out next.
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed
‘Gladiator,’ which is based on Daniel P. Mannix’s 1958 book, ‘Those About to Die,’ became an acclaimed blockbuster that depicts the struggles of Roman general Maximus Decimus Meridius (played by Russell Crowe). An ambitious Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) treacherously kills his own father (Emperor Marcus Aurelius) and Maximus’ family before seizing power for himself. Consequently, our hero is sold into slavery and finds redemption as a gladiator on his mission for vengeance.
Ridley Scott’s excellent film masterfully brings history to life with its portrayal of gladiators clashing in a fight for survival. As Maximus faces off against more seasoned adversaries, the tension only escalates and viewers can’t help but anxiously watch each nerve-wracking battle unfold before them.
‘Avengers: Endgame’ (2019)
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth
The explosive finale from ‘Infinity War’ sees the remnant of Earth’s mightiest champions take on Thanos’ diabolical snap in ‘Avengers: Endgame.’ While exploring the permanence of their heroic endeavors, this heart-pounding story and action scenes prove the resilience of our favorite Avengers. This movie is sure to leave you in awe.
The Avengers embark on their most daunting mission to date in the MCU, with a narrative that spans multiple years and puts all at risk. Viewers will bear witness to heart-wrenching moments as Endgame unfolds and there is no easy resolution. Long after watching, viewers will remember these emotional scenes from one of the greatest superhero movies ever made.
‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ (1981)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, John Rhys-Davies
Steven Spielberg’s ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ was an instant classic when it first hit the screens in 1981, introducing a new cultural icon to the world – Indiana Jones. Harrison Ford brought him to life with some unbelievable stunts, like his daring escapes from swinging boulders and moving trucks that remain embedded in viewers’ minds even after all these years.
This enthralling movie overflows with breathtaking scenes that never become overwhelming. As the lovable archeologist embarks on his global journey, fans are inspired to root for Indiana Jones as he faces seemingly impossible odds. Despite being released over four decades ago, this family-friendly action flick has retained its charm and continues to captivate viewers worldwide.
‘The Dark Knight Rises’ (2012)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Gary Oldman
Christian Bale returns as Batman in Christopher Nolan’s epic conclusion of his Dark Knight trilogy, facing off against the nefarious Bane (Tom Hardy). Together with Commissioner Gordon and Catwoman (Selina Kyle), Batman must act quickly to prevent Gotham from falling into ruin.
‘The Dark Knight Rises’ captivates with its dynamic plot and engrossing ambiance, while quietly conveying the idea of hope prevailing in times of darkness. While it may be a gritty superhero movie on the exterior, the underlying lesson about human resilience shines through with clarity.
‘Avengers: Infinity War’ (2018)
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans
The thrilling events of ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ reach a climactic end once Thanos obtains the majority of the powerful Infinity Stones, thus threatening every corner of the multiverse. Exciting moments coalesce to create an enthralling buildup to its harrowing conclusion – one driven by Thanos’ devastating snap and its catastrophic consequences.
It’s a heartbreaking, unbelievable, and shocking experience to watch beloved characters vanish in the snap of Thanos’ fingers. The performances were so realistic that they only amplified fans’ grief over this mass disappearance. Fans are left desperate for justice or even just an explanation for what has happened as a result of Thanos’ actions.
‘Top Gun: Maverick’ (2022)
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Stars: Tom Cruise, Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller, Val Kilmer
Tom Cruise returned as the highly-anticipated sequel to the classic 80s action flick ‘Top Gun.’ This time around, Maverick (Tom Cruise) returns as an experienced Navy pilot who has been chosen to train elite new pilots at the Top Gun school.
Related: 21 Tom Cruise Movies in Order: Ranked Best to Worst
This story follows Maverick as he faces many personal and professional challenges while teaching the new cadets. ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ was a smash hit, with its thrilling action scenes set against a backdrop of beautiful aerial shots. The movie also explored concepts of courage, loyalty, and friendship in an excitingly modern way.
‘Die Hard’ (1988)
Director: John McTiernan
Stars: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson
The original ‘Die Hard’ (1988) shocked the world when it introduced a new type of action hero in John McClane (Bruce Willis). This classic movie follows the NYPD cop’s struggle to save his wife from a group of terrorists who have taken over Nakatomi Plaza.
The unforgettable fight scenes and witty one-liners make ‘Die Hard’ an iconic action genre hit that will remain timeless for generations to come. With his against-all-odds attitude and never-say-die spirit, audiences are left cheering for John McClane as he takes on the terrorists. The special effects in ‘Die Hard’ still hold up today, making it an exciting watch for viewers of any age.
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