A stalwart of modern popular culture, action movies pay ongoing tribute to the power of cinematic spectacle. The genre's origins are as old as the medium itself, though action films as we know them didn’t really take off until the 1970s. With the development of CGI and other technologies, they’ve continued to prosper well into the 21st century. For proof, look no further than the superhero subgenre, arguably the most predominant cultural influence of the last decade.
Despite their reputation of fun but dumb popcorn flicks, a number of modern action films don’t sacrifice character development and plot in their pursuit of spectacle. It’s no wonder then that the best examples inspire such loyal followings and cosplay costumes. While they’re seldom the biggest champions during awards season, these stories nevertheless show that a solid story is fundamental to a film’s overall success.
One might also look upon the action blockbuster as the last refuge of hope for the dying theater experience. Given the current disruptions to traditional moviegoing, it’s going to take all the spectacle that Hollywood can muster to lure audiences back into theaters. As Tom Cruise put it himself in (supposedly) leaked audio, “They’re back there in Hollywood making movies right now because of us. Because they believe in us and what we’re doing.”
By “us,” Tom Cruise was specifically referring to the crew behind the upcoming “Mission: Impossible” installment. However, he might as well be referring to the action genre as a whole. After all, fewer experiences are better realized on the big screen than a sprawling battle sequence or explosive, stunt-packed chase scene. There may even come a time where movie theaters more or less exclusively exhibit action movies, while less extravagant fare heads straight to streaming. Whether that’s good news or terrible news probably depends on who’s being asked.
From epic swashbucklers to the cream of the comic book crop, Stacker compiled data on all action movies to come up with a Stacker score—a weighted index split evenly between IMDb and Metacritic scores. To qualify, the film had to have an “action” listing on IMDb, a Metascore, and at least 5,000 votes. Ties were broken by Metascore, and further ties were broken by IMDb user ratings. All data is accurate as of Jan. 11, 2021.
Starting with the great, counting down to the greater, and ending with the greatest, here are the 100 best action movies of all time.
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