Human Size T-800 Endoskeleton Model from the Terminator 3D in Universal Studios Japan.

Human Size T-800 Endoskeleton Model from the Terminator 3D in Universal Studios Japan. (Photo by Sarunyu L on Shutterstock)

Get your popcorn ready, it’s movie night. When you’re looking for some entertainment, there aren’t many better choices than a good action-packed storyline. Many times, the best action movies involve a blend of excitement, storytelling, comedy, and sometimes even romance to go with all of the high-octane action. 

Regardless of the elements involved in your ideal action movie, a recent survey suggests that you might be spending more time watching television than you might think. On average, people watch almost four hours of television per day. That’s over 1,200 hours of television every year and nearly 80,000 hours over the span of a lifetime. That’s a lot of time spent in front of a screen, folks. 

Still, you could be doing worse things with your time. Besides, television can be a true source of education and motivation for a lot of people. It’s such a motivating factor that fans of action movies use these flicks to motivate their daily behaviors. Another survey found that 60 percent of people feel they could be action movie stars. Of the respondents, another 35 percent say that action movies are a huge influence on their fitness goals while nearly 60 percent say the right action movie leaves them feeling more motivated.

Motivation aside, we can probably all agree that a good action movie leaves us feeling satisfied and entertained. StudyFinds consulted 10 pop culture and entertainment websites in an effort to deliver the best action movies of all time. Our list is comprised of the top five picks across each of these sites. As always, feel free to share your favorites with us in the comments section below. 

The List: Best Action Movies of All Time, According to Critics


1. “Die Hard” (1988)

Topping the list of the best action movies of all time is “Die Hard.” Released in 1988, this action-packed film stars Bruce Willis as John McClane and takes place on Christmas Eve, sparking the great debate – is “Die Hard” a Christmas movie? According to the critics, it is NOT a Christmas movie, but it is, in fact, one of the very best action movies of all time. The classic is so beloved that it appeared in the top spot across half of all the sites we consulted, making it the definitive choice for our top spot. 

 “The story is so ingenious, it’s incredible no one had thought of it before: A group of terrorists invades a state-of-the-art skyscraper and takes the inhabitants hostage. Their only hope is a man locked in with them, yet free to roam, a lone hero who must pick off the bad guys one by one, arcade-game–style, until he reaches the Big Boss,” writes TimeOut

The “Big Boss” that TimeOut refers to is Hans Gruber, played by Alan Rickman, who is, perhaps, one of the most identifiable villains in action movie history. 

"Die Hard" movie poster
“Die Hard” movie poster

“Bruce Willis’s hero wasn’t the unstoppable macho man that had been commonly seen in action movies. Instead, he was just a regular guy forced to battle overwhelming odds, and Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) proved himself to be just as groundbreaking as the film’s cunning antagonist. Die Hard had spawned many imitators over the years, but none of them could quite replicate the action-packed magic of John McClane’s bloody Christmas Eve,” explains Digital Trends

The setting of “Die Hard” makes the movie that much more believable and Bruce Willis’s character all the more loveable. We can all imagine what we’d do if we found ourselves in a similar situation to John McClane. 

“NYPD officer John McClane just happens to find himself at his estranged wife’s Christmas party in a Los Angeles skyscraper when terrorists take over the building. What comes next is a cat-and-mouse game that utilizes the limitations of a single, contained locale to incredible effect,” adds Rolling Stone

2. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981)

Coming in at the second spot on the list is none other than “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” This was the first movie of the iconic Indiana Jones franchise, and it helped make Harrison Ford a box office star. “Raiders of the Lost Ark blurs the line between action and adventure, but has enough iconic sequences, chases, and fights that it’s rightfully gone down in history as one of the greatest action movies of all time,” writes Movie Web

To be fair, just about every action movie that’s worth watching involves aspects of other genres such as fantasy, adventure, and romance. One of the main reasons this movie is so iconic has to do with the director. 

Indiana Jones - Raiders Of The Lost Ark - Movie Poster (1982 Re-Release)
Indiana Jones – Raiders Of The Lost Ark – Movie Poster (1982 Re-Release)

“Indiana Jones’ first adventure is like a comic book, flipped through at 24 panels a second. Nazis drag our hero along Cairo’s dusty streets, strongmen (and a whirling propeller) threaten to squash him to [a] pulp in the fisticuffs of a lifetime, and a megaton boulder chases him through a cobwebbed labyrinth. Not once through it all does Spielberg slip in a throwaway cut or zig when he should zag just to disorient us,” adds Thrillist

Raiders of the Lost Ark gets your attention from the very start and keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout the movie. “The first few minutes of the film alone are legendary, as they feature Indy’s classic quest for a golden idol before getting chased away by a giant boulder and a tribe of Hovitos. Raiders of the Lost Ark is a roller coaster from start to finish, and it has since become a piece of cinema treasured by audiences and filmmakers alike,” adds Digital Trends

3. “Aliens” (1986)

Coming in at the third spot on the list of the best action movies of all time is “Aliens.” It’s the sequel to the original “Alien,” featuring Sigourney Weaver, and is directed by one of the biggest names in action movies – James Cameron. 

“James Cameron, in those days a former FX guy who’d directed a low-budget cult- sci-fi called The Terminator (plus Piranha 2: Flying Killers) took Ridley Scott’s gothic space horror and extrapolated it into a war movie, expanding the mythology in the process. We’d seen the face huggers and the xenomorphs before. But now, in one of cinema’s greatest shock reveals, we had a queen,” explains Empire.

"Aliens" movie poster
“Aliens” movie poster

We’ll be honest, “Aliens” is a movie we didn’t expect to see topping the lists of the best action movies of all time, but the critics didn’t hesitate to show their affection for this ’80s classic“If the original movie veered more towards the horror genre, Cameron shifted the emphasis towards a more action packed screenplay with an abundance of quotability,” writes World of Reel“The feminist undertones are present, but one cannot go without mentioning the action sequences that left the viewer without a heartbeat by the end of the film’s pulse pounding 146 minutes. To this day Ripley is still the set example for what a female action heroine should be.”

Don’t get twisted, though, this movie is full of iconic action scenes. “Yeah, it’s kind of a metaphor for the evils of big business, and sure, it’s an empowering fable about the strength of the female voice in a male world, but we all know what you’re here for: to watch Ripley stomp around in a huge mechanical suit and destroy some shockingly phallic alien bastards,” writes TimeOut

4. “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” (1991)

Taking us from one James Cameron masterpiece to another, this time it’s “Terminator 2: Judgement Day.” Anyone growing up in the ’90s is sure to remember this iconic action movie, the sequel to “The Terminator.” 

“The Terminator is a perfect science-fiction movie, packed with ideas and invention, but thanks in large part to its tight budget, the action can feel a little constrained. The sequel suffered no such setbacks. By this point the most in-demand director in Hollywood, James Cameron was given a blank check to realize his most extreme destructive visions, and the result is a film that rockets from one incendiary set piece to the next,” writes TimeOut

This film has some of the most memorable quotes and action scenes as well. But, for most, this movie is best remembered for groundbreaking special effects. “I remember being a teenager when it first came out and I had never seen action scenes staged quite like this before, nor had I ever witnessed special effects as inventively surreal and chaotic. I still haven’t. The special effects still hold up to this day and so does the beating heart that Cameron injects into his characters,” explains World of Reel

Terminator 2 Judgment Day
Terminator 2 Judgment Day

Still, “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” took the original story and flipped it on its head, pitting two “Terminators” against one another, and creating a landmark villain in the process. 

“It shows Sarah Connor returning and Arnold Schwarzenegger ‘s Terminator coming back to protect John Connor instead of trying to kill him. Thanks to this film’s enormous budget, Judgment Day far surpassed the original with its many spectacular shootouts and high-speed chases. It also featured a pioneering use of CGI to create the frightening and shapeshifting T-1000, which has become one of the greatest villains in cinema history,” adds Digital Trends

5. “The Matrix” (1999)

The Matrix appeared on over half of the sites we consulted and for good reason. The Matrix is a visually stunning, action-packed movie that again harnesses the power of computer-generated imagery (CGI) to create some of the most iconic scenes in action movie history. 

“The action movie was dying in 1999, Arnold was just not Arnold anymore, and there wasn’t a new action star to come and take over the throne. ‘The Matrix’ is where the action movie went techno. Literally, it went beyond the technological and creative limits we thought were set for action. For better or for worse, ‘bullet time’ reinvigorated the genre and shattered the clichés for a whole bunch of new ones to come,” explains World of Reel.  

The Matrix movie poster
“The Matrix”

The term “bullet time” refers to how the camera follows bullets along their trajectory. Although this is common to action movies of today, it was groundbreaking technology in 1999. 

“The Matrix features a lot of bells and whistles, such as the subway kung fu battle between Neo and the villainous Agent Smith, as well as that innovative ‘bullet time’ sequence, which seemed to bend the very nature of time itself. Not only did it look incredibly cool to watch somebody contort their body around bullets or even stop them, but it complemented the movie’s heady themes,” writes Looper

Still, The Matrix set a new standard for action movies, and the critics agree, it deserves a mention when you’re talking about the best action movies of all time. “Every now and again a film comes along that’s dubbed a ‘game changer.’ Some deserve it more than others, but the effect of The Matrix on the 21st century’s action cinema can’t be understated,” raves Empire

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About Matthew Sherdan

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1 Comment

  1. David Emme says:

    I do not know if this flick would make it into the top five but cannot right reckon why Fight Club did not make the cut.

    I thought this was one of the best action flicks I ever seen-Hard Boiled. This was a John Woo film. I just get the sense in this he American movies he ever made just did not connect to well with American audiences.
    do think This starred Chow Yun Fat. I think of one sees a John Woo film in his native Chinese culture, people will experience how good this producer/director is would say Hard Boiled would be the movie to see this.