The 25 Best Action Movies Of The 21st Century So Far

The 25 Best Action Movies Of The 21st Century So Far

 

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We think it was Jean-Luc Godard who once said “the purest form of cinema is Tom Cruise dangling off something very high.” Well, maybe it was Bresson. Regardless, this week sees the release of “Mission Impossible — Rogue Nation,” the fifth in the long-running spy series that over the last twenty years has presented some of the most spectacular set pieces for the screen in modern times, and in a year when action cinema has been thrillingly revived, it marks a high point.

The action movie has been around since 1903’s “The Great Train Robbery,” and when done right, it’s a form of pure cinema injected straight into the veins. It’s a very particular set of skills, one that’s thwarted many great directors, but in able hands capable of precisely choreographing a fight, battle, chase or showdown, to shoot them in inventive and thrilling ways, and to cut them to maximize tension and visceral qualities, the form can reach a level of transcendence.

With Ethan Hunt smashing up motorbikes and hanging off planes again, it seemed like the perfect time to turn the spotlight of our Best Of The Century So Far series (see Comedies, Sci-Fi, Music Documentaries, Animations and Horror) to the action movie. We tried to exclude films in slightly adjacent but different genres —war, thriller, superhero— and those that had already appeared in one of our lists, but otherwise, any theatrically-released action fare was game. Take a look below and let us know your favorites in the comments.

25. “Bad Boys II” (2003) 
Love him or hate him (and it’s increasingly difficult to love him), few would deny that Michael Bay is a master of action. Perhaps Bay-Max’s finest hour, at least in this century and before he entered the ‘indistinguishable pieces of colliding metal’ phase of his career, is “Bad Boys II.” A thoroughly reprehensible, morally appalling, deeply queasy piece of entertainment, the film values excess to the exclusion of all else, like most of Bay’s work. But this cop flick, which pits Will Smith and Martin Lawrence against Cuban Ecstasy dealers (not that it matters), is also stuffed with thunderingly good action sequences, from shootouts to not one but about five freeway chase sequences, including one where the villains literally throw cars at our heroes, and a metaphorically insane recreation of the opening of Jackie Chan’s “Police Story” as a humvee demolishes a shanty town. In other words, shit just got real.

24. “Unstoppable” (2010) 
He was unquestionably one of the modern-day action masters, but only the most insistently vulgar auteurists would suggest that much of the late, great Tony Scott’s 21st century output was up to his best. Fortunately, the filmmaker went out on a high with “Unstoppable,” a throwback disaster movie that mixed old-school genre tropes with his own hyperactive style to surprisingly effective effect. The premise couldn’t be simpler: a high-speed train (“a missile the size of the Chrysler building”) is out of control, and only engineers Denzel Washington and Chris Pine can stop it. But Scott gets a surprising amount of variety and tension out of a film that’s literally on the rails —it looks spectacular, and it’s full of fun little performances from Rosario Dawson and Kevin Corrigan. It might be a cliched journey, but it’s one that leaves your knuckles white in the best sense, and a reminder of how much we’ll miss Scott.

23. “Lucy” (2014) 
In the early ’90s, after “Nikita” and “The Professional,Luc Besson looked like he might be the next big action director, but he produced a string of misfires, and though he was more successful than ever as the producer of the “Taken” series, he had seemingly stepped away from directing. And then came “Lucy,” a $500 million sleeper hit that must number among the strangest blockbusters ever. Scarlett Johansson plays the title character, a naive ex-pat who’s forced into being a drug mule, only for the drug to, essentially, turn her into a god. Careening into increasingly trippy territory until a third act that’s probably best experienced on some kind of hallucinogen, Besson makes the whole thing look great on a relatively slim budget, and more impressively, pulls off the trick of making the action thrilling even when there are little stakes involved.

22. “Blackhat” (2015) 
The biggest flop of 2015 so far is also one of the best action movies in quite some time. Michael Mann’s divisive techno-thriller just edged out “Miami Vice” for a slot on this list (“Collateral” and “Public Enemies” also have some stunning sequences, but we wouldn’t classify them as ‘action’ in the same manner), but really the two films are something of a piece: both are propulsive actioners shot virtually entirely in gorgeous nighttime, where the romance is just as important as the bullets flying. For our money, “Blackhat,” in which Chris Hemsworth famously plays a blackhat hacker named Hathaway who teams with the Chinese to take down a mysterious figure who’s caused a nuclear meltdown and may have worse planned, takes the honors. Mann pushes further into a kind of action-movie expressionism than ever before, driven by mood, atmosphere and sound, and the results are glorious.21. “The Good, The Bad, The Weird” (2008)
Hollywood may have given up on the Action-Western (and if they hadn’t before “The Lone Ranger,” they certainly have now), but Korea hasn’t, as Kim Jee-Woon’s agreeably nutty “The Good, The Bad, The Weird” makes abundantly clear. Like Sergio Leone directing a mash-up of “Treasure Of The Sierra Madre” and “Raiders Of The Lost Ark,” the film’s convoluted plot sees the title characters (Jung Woo-sung, Lee Byung-hun and Song Kang-ho) tussling over a treasure map in 1930s Manchuria. Beginning with three cracking sequences in a row —a train robbery, a siege and a heist— the film barely lets off the gas from there, until the epic closing horse and motorcycle sequence. With the tone-juggling magic that often characterizes Korean cinema and Kim’s killer skills behind a camera, it’s essential for anyone that loves Westerns, Asian action flicks or cinema in general.

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Comments

John Stark

Only made it thru page one, but this is the worst list i’ve ever seen. All Is Lost? Not an Action movie, much less top 25. What are these movies? Black hat? WOW someone here has terrible taste.

bill

Good List. Although I think I would have included mentioning Heywire which had some fantastic action sequences.

Actual Action Fan

Who the F made this list? No debate over Mad Max being top 1, (or 2 or 3, will not drop further thankfully).

But rest of this lost is sh**. Some are great, (Raid, Good Bad and Ugly, Crank) but no 300 in main list?

Mr. Everett

I guess neither The Dark Knight nor The Winter Soldier deserve any consideration. Good list, anyway.

lonestarocker

How can you not put troy on this list or kung fu killer smh.

Marko

"Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" had 10 Oscar nominations, it won 4.

Eli

I’m a big fan of Day of Reckoning and am curious as to where it might have landed if it wasn’t discounted. Care to indulge my interest with a rough guess?

John Stark

It seems like these picks are based on these movies having great action scenes, but many of these movies aren’t complete films. I prefer a well told story with action elements vs. non-stop action that has very little point.

Slen

Not a bad list but I think Dredd and Edge of Tomorrow deserve to actually be on the list. And I think Raid 2 deserves either a tie with its originator or a solo spot.

John Stark

Maybe these aren’t straight action movies so you chose to exclude them, but where is: LOTR, Minority Report, SpiderMan 2, The Incredibles, Batman Begins, Dark Knight, Iron Man, Children of Men, 300, Beowulf, Inception, Tron Legacy, Django, The Avengers, Fury and so many more.

david

How about Rambo? One of the best pure action movies of any century?

Cromby

‘Blackhat’? Are you serious?

tristan eldritch

Eternal respect for having the balls and taste to put BLACKHAT in there, but DREDD is a pretty serious omission.

Charles Parlapanides

Where is Tony Scott’s MAN ON FIRE? Or even THE PROPHET. You could argue the later is more a drama. But there is no excuse to leave MAN ON FIRE off this list.

thislalife

I love this site but this list is suspect at best. The Raid 2 is an improvement in every way over The Raid but it gets mentioned, it should be in the top 5! Agree with the above gotta have Dark Knight, Winter Solider, and maybe The Avengers in there as well. Also where is Edge of Tomorrow? City of God? The Guest? You’re Next? So much missing.

Kate

Where on earth is Haywire?

The Guy

It’s funny because a lot of these movies are pretty damn terrible. "Lucy" alone makes this a terrible list.

Dave

I like the DGAF nature of this list. Although I’m against lists in principle, I more or less approve.

Otello

Are you trolling with Us? This list is awful!

James

Great list, but I would argue that BOURNE SUPREMACY is by far the better film. It has an emotional heart that ULTIMATUM lacks, and a pure and simple goal, revenge for the girl’s murder, along with the compelling need Bourne has to atone for his sins. The series could honestly have ended there for me. The third film is fun, but it was clearly being written as they went along, and much of the structure of it is copied form the previous film, down to the final car chase where he drives the villain into a tunnel divider. SUPREMACY and EDGE OF TOMORROW are my two favorite action movies of the last decade.

Felip

Wait a sec… The first "Raid" over it’s sequel?? Madness. That end fight in the restaurant ALONE casts a shadow over most of this list.

Duke

Dredd, Shoot Em’ Up and the Guest belong in the top 10 of this list, as opposed to being omitted completely.

Kenny Ritchie

Depressing that Mad Max: Fury Road came out on top. Most overrated movie of the year. Really wanted to like the movie, but found myself bored a lot of the way through it.

Chaitanya

"Old boy" one if the finest action movies

Cleo

Please stop with the lengthy "honorable mentions" after you do a list. It defeats the purpose and ruins the fun of making a list in the first place.

John Conner

While I was happy to see The Good, The Bad, and The Weird, I find it surprising that The Man from Nowhere did not make the cut for the main list. It is one of the very few movies that I feel can compare to The Raid and Mad Max Fury Road. Good list other than that minor nitpick.

StephenM

I don’t agree with all of this list, but it’s weird enough to make it interesting, and that’s what I like to see in a list. Also, I loved Vlackhat and I’m glad to see it getting some love, even if I wouldn’t classify it as a straight action movie.

StephenM

Vlackhat=Blackhat of course.

The Little Lebowski

Only need to see the first page. This list is horrible. Lucy? Blackhat? This stupidity will not stand, man. This is generally a great site, but you’re shooting yourself in the toe with this tripe.

Smilodon

Any compilation of greatest action movies must have the Rurouni Kenshin Trilogy involved. Even Gareth Evans’ raved about it and is one of the most faithful live-action anime adaptations to date. It reinvigorates swordplay and samurai genre and expands on its possibilities.

Cameron

Can’t argue with the top 3 there. They’d be my exact choices.

Chizz

The Raid 2 is better than all of these movies put together, even the first one.

KMS

The Bourne Supremacy should have been mentioned as well.

bill

"All is Lost" is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.

jacksbrain

Unstoppable? Black hat? All is lost? WTF is this list? John Wick on 8th position?!

CobraKai4Ever

Wow, this is one hilariously bad list. Oldboy, Children of Men, Hot Fuzz, Running Scared(kills overrated Fast and the Furious films), The Way of the Gun, Narc, Harsh Times, Dog Soldiers(or any of Neil Marshall’s films really), and you put Mad Max number one? Jesus. Yes, that film was better than Battle Royale?) End of Watch, The Guest, Snowpiercer… Bad Boys 2 is better. Oh, and The Raid and The Raid 2 should be number 1 and number 2. Some people are so obsessed with CGI, people who can’t do their own stunts, PG-13 action that is very sanitized. Jet Li did make a pretty good American film with Kiss of the Dragon and that film KILLS most movies on your list. Well done!

Baulfret

While this lis has some great entries, (Mi: Ghost Protocol, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, The Raid, Mad Max: Fury Road, etc.), and some other are debatable entries. However, I can´t grasp the fact that Lucy and Blackhat made it into the list.

Ernie

Nice list, but no Expendables movies? Maybe the Stallone movies are a genre all on their own.

Mr. White

Wow! Bad Boys 2! hahaha…. This has to be one of the worst lists of all time.

Pete

Honestly, only about 5-10 of these movies deserve to be on here. One of the worst lists I’ve ever seen about movies.

THRTW

Lucy, Fast Five… And no Time and Tide, Spider-Man 2, Speed Racer, Blade 2 or Miami Vice ? Very bad list, except for Fury Road and Ghost Protocol and some others. Also Blackhat is a masterpiece that will be reassessed in the future.

Cat

Talk about a shallow click bait article.

Are these articles put together 15 minutes before your lunch break?

Have you heard of Kathryn Bigelow before? My suggestion is, if your going to put these movies together in a list, educate us on your reasons why.

lucas

LUCY? SERIOUSLY? LUCY?

Marcus Kempton

I would definitely add Tsui Hark’s TIME AND TIDE to this list.

Joey

I can accept that some of these movies are on the list for their actions sequences, and the action sequences alone, but how does Captain America: The Winter Soldier not even make it to the honorable mentions??

MISSING

Bang Rajang, Ninja Assassin, Django Unchained

Nater

First Blood

Zach D.

Mostly good, solid choices (the inclusion of ‘Bad Boys II’ is questionable). And you can’t really argue with that Top 3. Still, there are some noteworthy action flicks that are curiously missing: ‘Drive’, ‘300’, ‘V for Vendetta’, and ‘A History of Violence’.

Stanley Kubrick

This list is a joke.

Matt

Wow. Just wow. 15 years of movies, and I’d say 3 of these deserve to be in the top 25.

dnwilliams

I can’t believe LUCY made the list but TAKEN is in honourable mentions.

Nel

Where is A bittersweet life????

Vaughan Johnson

Not only was Gladiator a terribly dull movie, it wasn’t released in the 21st century.

Martin

Very strange list indeed.
And where is Dredd?

other song

These hipster newbies gotta stop writing columns. It’s always the same ol crap. Make some list, pepper it with a couple worthy admissions, then cap it off with a ludicrous #1 that likely just came out (and the writer may or may not be paid to dickride)

Mr. Nitpick

Well, the year 2000 actually belongs to the 20th century (think of it, there was no year 0, like there is no day 0 of any month or month 0 of any year), so "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" doesn’t belong on this list. Still, it is a fantastic action movie (forget that: it is a fantastic movie overall).

Chris138

Vaughan, Gladiator came out in 2000. That was the first year of the 21st century.

Mike Connell

What they needed to do was define what qualifies as an action movie, and what excludes it. Thrillers and action movies overlap a great deal. If an action movie is not thrilling, it’s vapid. So why can’t Munich, the Departed, Stander, or a Death Proof make this list?

Chris138

Mr. Nitpick, that’s like saying that the year 1900 belongs to the 19th century.

jamie

gladiator, memento, snatch, traffic, lord of the rings, borne identity, city of god, hero, minority report, munich, sin city, 300, casino royal, avatar… your list has a lot of c/d movies, i think you might have been going for a ‘so bad it’s good’ sorta thing with fast furious type movies?

Tams

Omg thanks for the list, I’ve been debating watching Raid 2 without Raid 1. Also wasn’t planning on watching MadMax until now…

Kaydeb

Brilliant list. To the guys that don’t think so. … trying watching these movies first !

Jean

Anything else you think deserved a mention?

Romeo Must Die, The One, Terminator 3, The Rundown, The Punisher, National Treasure, Indiana Jones 4, Run All Night, The Equalizer, Non-Stop, White House Down, Safe, Premium Rush, Jack Reacher, Switch, Hanna, Mission Impossible 4, Kick-Ass, The Expendables, Machete, Knight and Day, Salt, Faster, RED, Vengeance, Danny the Dog, Mr & Mrs Smith, The Bourne Identity, Homefront,….

Steve Whalls

This is one of the worst list of action movies I’ve ever seen. A lot of the honourable mentions are waaay better than your picks. Torque? Blackhat? LUCY? Are you high?

Alain Nallana

Totally agree with Mad Max. Blew my mind! Nicholas Hoult’s character did it for me.

toonhound

i liked blackhat, but i wouldn’t call it an Action Movie. Same for Lucy, All Is Lost. Glad to see 13 Assassins, though, along with the usual suspects.

Did i miss Casino Royale in this list?

Mogrymilian

No Oldboy? Ever seen that movie? It deserves to be at least in the Top 5!

John

Anyone consider the Japanese thriller Outrage ? Talk about action and gangsters and plenty of action ! And then there is Beyond Outrage too !

julian gerzanich

this list sucks this critic hasn’t good expertise the americna film slected are god awful the Asian one belong on the list but not in order they are

Anupam

Just wondering about a couple of movies – Skyfall, District 13 among the few I was wondering left out. Since I haven’t seen 4 of the films listed here, I can’t realise criticise but I was wondering nevertheless. Casino Royale better than Skyfall? Really?

Gin

The Dark Knight should have been on here.

Doug

If we are being technical, any movie that was released in 2000 is part of the 20th century. However, how can ‘The Incredibles’ not be in the top three… or left off the list completely?!? The action, characters, and poignant themes are as deep (well, better) as the best live action films. It is number one in my book for this century. And where the heck is ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’?!?!? Just kidding on that last one… ;)

Anto

Great list. Good mix of Hollywood and euro/asian cinema. People will argue over the numbers, since they are obviously experts. But Taking the list as a whole and not just by number, it’s a pretty good one. Would have Edge of tomorrow knock one of the 25 out though :)

Michel

Blackhat and Lucy on a "Best action movies" list? Are you joking? Fast Five?! this is just insulting.

    ROV

    See my lists of all-time great action movies on my blogger page!See my lists of all-time great action movies on my blogger page!

The "That's A Bad List" Guy

This is a mediocre list. Some good entries but far too many that do not belong or are placed too high.

Brandon

How about Snowpiecer? Or is that to Sci-Fi?

juan

for anyone who complained LOTR!!
LOTR IS FANTASY MOVIE NOT ACTION!!!!

Saw htwe

Repairing

Saw htwe

Repairing

Jack Burton

Great list, especially the honorable mentions. You left out a ton, but 25 is pretty cramped. I’d love to see your top 2500. Let’s have have a beer some time and discuss it…actually, make it a six demon bag.

joe

maybe spend more time talking about the actual film? and less time talking about remakes etc. awful

Bruce Nims

Come on guys. Dredd should have been on this list.

chris freeman

oh my fucking god, there is no fucking way mad max is the best of any list the dark knight is a far better action film, fucking memento, and more frankly the fact this movie really has no plot or story and a realized world yes a lot of sand and a fucking flame guitar is definitely a realized world were do they get gas for all this fire and there vehicles were do they get all this chrome spray

Chris Freeman

the hateful eight is a better action flick the avengers

Idris

One of the best top-something lists I’ve seen. Well thought out and I like the deliberate and courageous decision to step away from the obvious. Great job guys.

R-G Vigil

Django: unchained. Will Smith?

Don pierro

Hi

Don pierro

Hi

john

well I watched the film unstoppable and I have never seen a film as bad in my life..a runaway train where the train driver jumps off and the throttle lever goes over to high speed its self lol..

brian january

See my lists of all-time great action movies on my blogger page!

Rov

Watched "The Good, The Bad, The Weird" based upon your review. I will never get that 2 hours back. How can you rate that as "one of the best" action movies? Absolutely atrocious, with little story per se and action scenes that were pretty dull and not particularly engaging.

Truly awful movie and questionable review.

Jimmy C

This list is fucking horrible… whoever made this obviously had never seen an action movie
please delete this entire website for even being a part of this insulting list

Soumit Nath

As a die hard action fan I take this list as an insult. Page 2 and I’m done going through the rest. Some films are good for sure but the rest are simply unimaginable.

Hasani Din

How DOES 300 not make it? How come the matrix is not here? ANd How does Ip man take an honorable mention. I’m filming an action movie this summer and Whoever made this list is getting shot in the opening credits! UN-Believable smh

Chris

Wow, horrible list. They might have 5 of them right. All is lost make the list? get real.

ANOOP

Dude, where is Replacement Killers

Ola

Eww Mad Max! And there is no Jean Claude Van Damme!

Jeff

The new mad max movie is almost unwatchable.

Ben

I don’t like this list.

K frempong

Add your voice to the conversation…nico��

ms.roo

London to Brighton deserves more mention than some on the list

Luke Action

Sounds right to me, but what about Rambo,The Kingdom(Though that’s kinda a war movie) 2012, 300, Machete and Die Hard 4.0?

Zane oo

Hi

Zane oo

Hi

Rohan masud

Where is Terminator 2??

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lucka

your list is full of shit accept few of them.

Geoff

Mad Max as number 1? Seriously? If it had been called anything but Mad max I may have said it was an okay car chase movie. As a Mad Max it neither made sense nor was riveting.

bastcilkdoptb

Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an very long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyway, just wanted to say fantastic blog!

Saheed Oladele

I guess this needs an update

ROV

They might have 5 of them right

ROV

See my lists of all-time great action movies on my blogger page!

Mike Hunt

what the fuck does a fast and furious movie doing on this list?blasphemy

John Sim

For me, the best movies are from Marvel studios, and I think that this video will show you:https://youtu.be/hF6_xNZ9hh0

Unforgiven

Mad Max Fury Road as number 1 is a joke. No originality and no Mel Gibson. This whole list is bunk.

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