15 Best Action Movies Of All Time, Ranked (According To IMDb)

15 Best Action Movies Of All Time, Ranked (According To IMDb)

There is no shortage of action films for viewers that enjoy a good fistfight or a high-speed chase. But among the hundreds of movies in the genre, there are a few standouts that deserve the critical acclaim and recognition they’ve gotten over the years.

RELATED: The 10 Best Action Movies Ever Made (According To The AFI)

Looking at IMDb’s ratings of the best action films ever made, the titles that garner the best scores are those that pair a good story with skillfully choreographed action sequences. The highest-rated movies would go on to birth franchises and inspire future filmmakers, cementing their spot as being among the best that the genre has to offer.

Updated on March 2nd, 2022, by Hannah Saab: There is a myriad of good action movies to choose from at any given time, with more coming out every single year. As tastes and expectations for the best action movies change over the years, it’s not surprising that IMDb’s top-rated films from the genre continue to shift. New entries like Spider-Man: No Way Home and Asuran should be considered essential viewing for fans of the genre.

15 Terminator 2 (1991) – 8.5

Sarah, John, and the T-800 in Terminator 2

• Available to rent on Apple TV.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day is a great sequel to the original that birthed one of the most iconic sci-fi action franchises of all time. Director James Cameron took the original Terminator and improved it on a grand scale – from its plot to its visual effects. This time, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s task is to protect Sarah Connor’s son, John, from a more advanced and visually impressive T-1000.

With the entire human race at stake, it’s not surprising that Terminator 2 had mind-blowing action scenes like helicopter stunts, massive explosions, and car chases. Despite being released in the early 90s, viewers can get the same sense of excitement and fear when the T-800 and T-1000 clash.

14 Léon: The Professional (1994) – 8.5

Leon holding a gun to his front door while looking through the peep hole

• Available to stream on HBO Max.

Directed by Luc Besson, Léon: The Professional revolves around the story of professional hitman, Léon and the 12-year-old, Mathilda. He takes her in after her family is murdered and she learns from Léon’s own murderous ways.

The premise of this film sparked controversy, and understandably so. However, it can’t be denied that as an action film, it did its job. The fast-paced shoot ‘em up scenes in the movie were only made better by Natalie Portman’s performance as the vulnerable Mathilda and Jean Reno’s portrayal of the loveable Léon. What made the shootouts so compelling was the viewer’s attachment to these two protagonists who came together under the most unusual circumstances.

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13 Gladiator (2000) – 8.5

Russell Crowe stars in Gladiator 2

• Available to rent on Apple TV.

Often considered one of the best gladiator films ever made, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator brought the love for these movies to a wider audience. Full of murder, revenge, and great performances by the likes of Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix, the film continues to be a favorite among action and historical drama fans today.

Director Scott worked with cinematographer John Mathieson to perfect the film’s action sequences, which incorporated a unique manipulation of frame rates that produced a stop-motion effect. This made every battle sequence and even the gladiator training scenes both grittier and more realistic.

12 Seven Samurai (1954) – 8.6

• Available to stream on HBO Max.

Helmed by the legendary director, Akira Kurosawa, Seven Samurai is often touted as the best among Japan’s samurai films. The film highlights the events in a poor village, where farmers are attacked by a group of bandits. They seek the help of seven wandering samurai who risk their lives to defend the villagers.

The exciting action scenes in the film were groundbreaking for their time. Kurosawa used multiple cameras to capture the fights, which was uncommon in the 1950s when a shot-by-shot technique was the typical approach. Improvisations by talented actors like Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura also made the fights appear more realistic and dangerous.

11 Harakiri (1962) – 8.6

• Available to rent on Apple TV.

The 1962 action drama directed by Masaki Kobayashi depicts the story of a samurai who asks to commit seppuku, a form of suicide once considered honorable among the Japanese. Kobayashi questions this practice by weaving a tale of corruption, hypocrisy, and poverty into a poignant film that captures the struggles of the protagonist.

RELATED: 10 Must Watch Japanese Movies That Aren’t Kurosawa, According To Reddit

Harakiri’s slow pace and thoughtful dialogue add depth to its more intense and violent scenes. It deals with heavier themes of false honor and entrenched power, which are punctuated by its brutal portrayals of seppuku and merciless samurais who are quick to hurt those they deem unworthy.

10 Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977) – 8.6

Star Wars (1977)

• Available to stream on Disney+.

Although A New Hope may not be considered the best Star Wars movie ever made, it’s not an overstatement to say that it completely transformed the sci-fi genre. The 1977 film gave fans iconic characters like Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, and masterfully depicted the most captivating story to ever be set in space.

The ambitious film showcased new possibilities for cinema, with its incredible blending of sci-fi and action underscoring the potential of complex narratives set among the stars. Even those who are not fans of the franchise know that its first entry represents a monumental moment for the filmmaking industry.

9 Asuran (2019) – 8.6

A man walks with blood on his face in Asuran.

• Available to stream on Amazon Prime.

2019’s Asuran is an underrated foreign film that tells the hard-hitting story of a teenager from an underprivileged caste who makes the grave mistake of killing an upper-caste landlord. Chaos ensues as his father attempts to save his son from the caste clash that follows, and things only get worse as the bodies pile up.

Asuran unapologetically comments on the prevailing caste system in India through its controversial story, which highlights the stark contrast between the rich and the underprivileged. The gripping action movie has one perfectly-choreographed scene after another, which are punctuated by its more intimate tear-jerking moments.

8 Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980) – 8.7

yoda looking up in star wars

• Available to stream on Disney+.

Even more iconic characters like Yoda and Emperor Palpatine are introduced in the epic sci-fi action film, The Empire Strikes Back. Fans watch the grand battle between the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire unfold as the well-loved main characters work through their own individual storylines.

Often considered the best entry in the Star Wars franchise even decades after its initial release, Episode V showcased seemingly impossible technical marvels that would redefine what is possible to depict on the big screen. Its well-choreographed action sequences, fan-favorite characters, and epic narratives continue to influence an entire generation.

7 The Matrix (1999) – 8.7

• Available to stream on HBO Max.

The Wachowskis are known for brilliant films like Cloud Atlas and V for Vendetta, but none would come close to their science fiction action film, The Matrix. The franchise needs no introduction, as the simulated reality that Neo (Keanu Reeves) must escape has become an icon among fans of dystopian movies.

Working with fight choreographers and special effects experts, the Wachowskis brought memorable action scenes to the big screen. One of the innovations the film is most known for is its use of slow motion when bullets are fired. Fans of the franchise are most likely familiar with Neo’s iconic evasions of bullets that move in slow motion. Paired with well-choreographed fight scenes that use real martial arts moves and viewers end up with a truly exciting cyberpunk movie that continues to influence pop culture today.

6 The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers (2002) – 8.7

Frodo with the ring in The Lord Of The Rings The Two Towers

• Available to stream on HBO Max.

The second entry in the legendary The Lord of the Rings trilogy once again underscores a major quality that has contributed to the franchise’s success. It’s rightly among the best fantasy and action movies of all time, as the film is able to weave its several storylines together in a seamless way, despite the numerous fantastical events taking place all over Middle-earth.

RELATED: 10 Scenes From The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy That Get Better Over Time

The Two Towers continues Frodo and Sam’s engrossing tale as they meet an odd character. There’s also the action-packed conflict between Gandalf and Saruman, and the more diplomatic scenes in the forest where Merry and Pippin have tracked down Treebeard and his friends. These all set the stage for the franchise’s epic finale.

5 Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) – 8.7

Tom Holland as Spider-Man in No Way Home

With its action-packed sequences, shocking twists, and numerous references to previous Spidey movies, it’s not surprising that Spider-Man: No Way Home has quickly become a fan-favorite, with some calling it the best entry in the franchise.

The superhero film is a genuine standout in the MCU, as it thrusts viewers into the wild multiverse as Peter Parker and Dr. Stephen Strange figure out how to conceal the protagonist’s identity. There is unsurprisingly a myriad of positive reviews that praise the way the movie innovates and breathes life into the tired old formula. It’s a promising sign of more exciting action movies from Marvel as they kick off a new phase.

4 The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (2001) – 8.8

The Fellowship in The Lord of the Rings: The Followship of the Ring

• Available to stream on HBO Max.

Director Peter Jackson introduces the likable hobbits to eager fans in The Fellowship of the Ring, where Frodo and his allies first realize the immense threat the Dark Lord Sauron poses on Middle-earth. There were high expectations for this story, as it’s the first entry in the franchise – audiences know that the film easily exceeded them through its magical world full of well-written characters.

RELATED: 10 The Fellowship Of The Ring Scenes That Live Rent-Free In Every Fan’s Head

The film’s cutting-edge visual effects, flawless score, action sequences, and more pushed the limits of what can be depicted in movies. It has become permanently ingrained in pop culture and continues to be influential to this day.

3 Inception (2010) – 8.8

• Available to stream on HBO Max.

Christopher Nolan’s Inception explores the possibilities of the human subconscious. Following the professional mind infiltrator, Dom Cobb (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), audiences are treated to a wild ride into the protagonist’s own subconscious. With talented stars like Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard, Inception’s stellar cast contributed to the film’s massive success.

The gunfights and high-speed chases in the film are made even better by the time element, as the group must find a way to implant an idea into the target’s subconscious before running out of time and without getting killed. One particularly impressive scene was the rotating hallway, where a 100 ft corridor was spun around, making Arthur’s gunfight and race against time even more thrilling.

2 The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King (2003) – 8.9

Gandalf talking to Pippin in The Lord of the Rings The Return of the King

• Available to stream on HBO Max.

The Return of the King is rightly the highest-rated and best entry in The Lord of the Rings franchise, as it builds on its massively successful prequels and caps off the fan-favorite characters’ storylines in satisfying and fantastic ways. As Gandalf leads soldiers into battle and Aragorn struggles with his role, all eyes are on Frodo as he enters the heart of Mordor.

With epic action sequences and perfectly set up storylines, it’s no surprise that the trilogy ended with its best entry yet. The critically-acclaimed masterpiece has become a timeless classic, with a permanent spot in popular culture.

1 The Dark Knight (2008) – 9.0

Heath Ledger starred as Joke in The Dark Knight

• Available to stream on HBO Max.

Another Nolan film on IMDb’s list is The Dark Knight, which is the second installment in the popular trilogy. Its success can, in large part, be attributed to memorable performances by Christian Bale as Batman and the late Heath Ledger as The Joker. More than just a superhero movie, the film is a deep dive into the gray areas between good and evil – it tackles themes of identity, love, and morality.

Of course, its action sequences are not ones that fans will ever forget. The special effects behind the explosions in Chicago and its thrilling chase scenes only further emphasize the movie’s darker themes. Nolan’s masterful action choreography brings out the best (or the worst) of the characters in this one-of-a-kind gritty superhero movie.

NEXT: 20 Most Memorable Quotes From The Dark Knight Trilogy

Split image of Avengers Mansion, Latveria and Atlantis in Marvel Comics feature

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About The Author

Saab Hannah
(299 Articles Published)

Saab is a freelance writer for Screen Rant. She’s based out of Metro Manila, Philippines, where she lives with her partner, two fat cats, and two hundred houseplants. She’s passionate about all things pop culture and design. When she’s not typing, she’s tending to her indoor garden or watching true crime stories on Netflix.

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