Movies have been a part of our lives since 1896, and as time has gone by the quality of films have only gone up: better effects, bigger budgets, and era defining pictures that have pushed the boundaries cinema to new levels. When movies first came into existence they were generally mundane, but the first films to tell stories were riddled with action and adventure; even during the infancy of movie making viewers have been drawn to the on screen thrills, and that innate desire within us to feel that rush has established the action genre as one of the best selling genres worldwide.
There have been some incredible action titles over the years, but nobody realistically has the time to sit through all of them, so how do you know which ones are worth the watch? Worry no longer, because we’ve compiled a list of the 10 must-see action films that ever made it to the big screen; these 10 have stood the test of time and earned their title as the best of the best. How many have you seen? Here are the top 10 action movies that are guaranteed to blow you away. Hold on to your seats: it’s going to be a wild ride!
#10 – Gladiator
If you are looking for an emotional revenge film with a masterful balance of drama and bloodshed, then look no farther than Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator.” Starring Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix, “Gladiator” was a box office success that told the story of Maximus Decimus Meridius, an esteemed Roman general who is on a quest to avenge the death of his family; the only way for this hardened veteran to finally have his vengeance is by winning the affection of the Roman populace on the perilous sands of the arena!
“Gladiator” featured an array of coordinated combat that paved the way for future shows like Spartacus, and alongside films like “Braveheart” it successfully created a new demand for blockbusters centered around large medieval battles; it went on to win five Oscars at 73rd Academy Awards, which prompted the film’s writers to take a shot at the creation of a sequel that depicted Maximus as an immortal soldier that participated in every major world war, but unfortunately (or fortunately) the script was a bit too farfetched and never received funding. What’s the matter film critics, are you not entertained!?
#9 – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
“You see, in this world there’s two kinds of people, my friend: Those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig.” Spaghetti Westerns have always been known for their snappy one liners and their intense stylistic gun fights, and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” delivers in both departments; the trilogy’s third film centers around Clint Eastwood in his acting prime, who plays an unnamed gunslinger looking to strike it rich, but with 200,000 dollars in unclaimed gold things are bound to get a little ugly.
“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is a film of action and betrayal, with every character trying to get their hands on the buried prize; it made 25 million dollars on a 1.2 million dollar budget, and revitalized interest in a dying genre: before the Dollars trilogy, westerns had been seeing a dramatic decline in viewership. “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” isn’t just one of the best action films to ever be made, but it is actually considered to be one of the best films ever made period: if you have a pension for seeing wide camera angles, shootouts, and Clint Eastwood squinting at the camera, then how about you give this classic a watch.
#8 – Raiders of the Lost Ark
Before “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” had earned its name, and before Harrison Ford had established himself as the main attraction of the franchise, the film was simply known as “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Harrison’s only claim to fame before the Indiana Jones films was a series of small parts, and his major role as Han Solo in the Star Wars universe; the success of the first Indiana Jones film quickly elevated Ford from being a one hit wonder, to an A-list actor that highly desired.
“Raiders of the Lost Ark” was directed by Steven Spielberg, and was originally created because George Lucas wanted to create a modern version of the old episodic serial-films that used to premier before the main screening; viewers interested in the serial films would have to frequent the movie theater in order to stay current with the story, which was an excellent business model by movie theaters to keep fans returning. Indiana Jones is all about action and adventure, and how can you go wrong with a movie about a treasure hunter facing off against a bunch of Nazis? It made 370 million dollars for Pete’s sake!
#7 – Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
“The Lord of the Rings” is one of the bestselling books of all time, but it also happens to be one of the most successful film series of all time as well: it’s easy to see why when it contains the coolest fantasy battles to ever take place on the big screen! The last installment of the trilogy was “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” which netted over a billion dollars at the box office, and generated enough financial success to get writers clambering together to create a new fantasy trilogy for The Hobbit.
Return of the King was undoubtedly Peter Jackson’s biggest film of all time, winning a record breaking 11 Academy Awards, which has yet to be contested by any other film. What can I say about this movie that you haven’t heard before? It has anything you could ever want in a fantasy film: orcs, monsters, magic, armies, big battles, and an equally big CGI budget; no one has ever managed to compare to the perfect balance of fantasy and action like The Lord of the Rings, which has earned it the title: one series to rule them all!
#6 – The Matrix
Let’s forget for a moment that the sequels ever happened and remember how simply astonishing “The Matrix” truly was: for most of us it was the first time we had ever been exposed to a film that actually made us question our own lives (the last movie to have that effect was “The Truman Show”). Three things come to mind when you are thinking about “The Matrix:” trench coats, kung fu, and bullet time. Bullet time was considered to simply be a visual gimmick when it was first seen in the 1969 film “Zotz,” but “The Matrix” popularized and refined the technique, turning what was a simple parlor trick into something that was both action-packed and suspenseful.
“The Matrix” is a hundred things balled up into one: science fiction, action, dystopia, martial arts, philosophy, shootouts, and all of it combines into a piece of unforgettable cinema. Watching “The Matrix” feels like you are waking up from a deep hypnotic trance, and I can promise you that you will never be the same after watching this film; you will realize how mindless we are as we complete our daily routines. Are you even listening to me, or were you staring at the woman in the red dress?
#5 – Oldboy
Every movie on this list will have you on the edge of your seat, but only “Oldboy” will have you feeling sick to your stomach: the film (originally a manga) features one of the most psychologically taxing plotlines to ever accompany a routine revenge story. “Oldboy” centers on a man that has been kept in isolation for fifteen years without any explanation, and upon his sudden release, he is determined to figure out why; the film features a brutal three minute fight scene that is shot in a single take, and is probably the most realistic interpretation of an old action movie cliché, where a protagonist fights overwhelming odds and somehow manages to come out on top.
“Oldboy” was made on a low budget of 3 million dollars, which is an incredibly small amount of money when compared to the average Hollywood film budget; despite its low cost production, it still managed to make back five times its budget, and the film has become a cult classic as an action thriller. “Oldboy” isn’t a film for a squeamish viewer, however, as it deals with some rather taboo sexual topics, and also happens to show the consumption of a live octopus, and the torturous removal of teeth with a hammer: yikes!
#4 – Inception
Every time Christopher Nolan releases a new film you can rest assured that it’s going to be another masterpiece to add to his collection: nearly every production within his entire filmography is regarded as a cinematic achievement. The concept of dreams has been explored in numerous ways before, but no one has approached the subject matter in such a riveting way as Nolan did in “Inception,” a film that won four Academy Awards and brought in nearly a billion dollars at the box office: a number so high that producers must have thought they were dreaming (somebody pinch them)!
“Inception” is a thrilling heist film set in a sci-fi world, which follows an incredibly skilled dream extractor, whose job it is to enter the subconscious thoughts of his targets and steal their safely guarded secrets; when he is presented with the most daunting job of his life, he must assemble a “dream team” like no other, in order to build a new life for his family. Like “The Matrix,” “Inception” raises a question that will linger with you long after the film concludes: is this real life, or are we really just asleep?
#3 – Die Hard
With the recent passing of Alan Rickman, it would be completely unforgivable of me not to include this classic on the list; Die Hard has gained such a cult following that some fans consider this pinnacle action flick to be a Christmas movie, and watch it with their family each year in December. “Die Hard” was originally based on a novel called “Nothing Lasts Forever,” but I think we can all agree that this is one of the few cases where the movie adaptation is simply better than the books!
John McClane, the protagonist of the “Die Hard” series, was brought to life by Bruce Willis, although surprisingly the role was originally supposed to go to Frank Sinatra; the film probably wouldn’t have taken home the same 141 million dollar yield with Frank at the helm (an incredible accomplishment in the 80s), but I would pay good money to see what that version of the film would have looked like. “Die Hard” is nothing unique; it’s a motion picture about a cop with a bad attitude that will stop at nothing to bring a band of fugitives to justice: Yippie Ki Yay, Mr. Falcon!
#2 – Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Guns, robots, and robots with guns: what’s not to love about the Terminator franchise? All right, so maybe the first Terminator film wasn’t incredible, but the second one sure made up for it! “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” is considered to be the biggest example of a sequel that surpasses the original film in every way. James Cameron directed the classic piece of action history, a story about a murderous machine sent from the future with a mission to assassinate a young boy, and the only thing standing in the way is Arnold Schwarzenegger.
When “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” was first produced in 1991, it had a budget of 102 million dollars, making it the most expensive movie to ever be created up until that point; thankfully for the studios the film made a 400 million dollar profit, and securing its position for several more sequels to come. Judgment Day won four academy awards, and was heralded by critics as being one of the greatest action and science fiction movies to ever be made, which made it a prime candidate for re-releases when new technology like 3-d viewing hit the shelves: proving that Arnold wasn’t kidding when he said he’d be back.
#1 – The Dark Knight
Don’t fight it, you know it to be true: the first time you saw “The Dark Knight” was one of the best cinematic experiences of your entire life; don’t worry, you’re not alone: it’s the highest rated action film of all time, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who was surprised by that fact. Fans of Christopher Nolan were shocked and skeptical to find out that Heath Ledger would be playing the infamous and diabolical role of the joker, but after his first appearance on screen audiences were hooked: Ledger’s unique and menacing portrayal of the clown prince of crime created the perfect villain.
“The Dark Knight” raked in over a billion dollars at the box office, as well as two Academy Awards (with eight nominations), and it is currently considered to be the best Batman film ever made. If you haven’t seen “The Dark Knight” yet then I won’t spoil the plot for you, but it features an all-star cast of A-list actors that give career defining performances. Hanz Zimmer consistently provides the best soundtracks in the film industry today, so I feel completely confident in promising you a once in a life experience: after all, it is the best action movie of all time.