Skip to content

The 25 Best Action Movies for Adrenaline Junkies

These flicks will get your heart pumping.

There's nothing like the paradox of relaxing comfortably on your couch while watching a big, loud action movie that gets your heart pumping. Whether it's an intense fight between martial arts masters, a chaotic shoot-out, or a high-speed chase, a great action movie is hard to beat.

The genre is a crowded one, but there are some films that stand tall above the rest as true achievements in action filmmaking. So here, we've collected some of the best action movies for adrenaline junkies for your viewing pleasure. (To ensure plenty of variety, we limited this list to one movie per franchise. John Wick is great, but we don't need to use up three more slots telling you that the second, third, and fourth movies in the series are also great action flicks, too!) Read on to discover which 25 action movies hit the hardest, so to speak…

RELATED: The 25 Best Sports Movies of All Time.

Enter the Dragon (1973)

The one and only Bruce Leewho tragically died one month before Enter the Dragon's premiere — stars in this iconic '70s martial arts classic. In it, Lee travels to a crime lord's private island to investigate him, using the martial arts tournament as cover. It's a premise that's been imitated (and parodied) countless times since, but Enter the Dragon does it better than anything else because of the star's innate physicality, talent, and charisma. There's never any doubt that he's actually doing the incredible feats we see him do on the screen—and indeed you almost find yourself wondering how much he's holding back for the camera.

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

It's possible to classify Indiana Jones' first globe-trotting quest as more of an adventure movie rather than an action one, but Raiders of the Lost Ark is full of some of the best action filmmaking of all time, courtesy of Steven Spielberg. The breakneck truck chase sequence is an absolute masterclass, propulsive with lots of moving parts and ever-escalating stakes, but at no point is the action difficult to follow.

Police Story (1985)

There are many moments in Police Story where you'll find yourself wondering how Jackie Chan didn't die, including a car chase down (and through) a hillside shantytown and a multiple-story slide down a pole covered with lights. Police Story is scene after scene of some of the most jaw-dropping stunt work you'll ever see, interspersed by earnestly funny bits of comedy as Chan's police sergeant deals with an uncooperative witness and a jealous girlfriend.

Aliens (1986)

It's been said that Ridley Scott's Alien is a perfect horror movie and James Cameron's sequel, Aliens, is a perfect action movie. Aliens ups the ante on the original, pitting a group of hardened space marines against multiple Xenomorphs rather than just the unsuspecting crew of one old spaceship—and then having these tough guys get totally obliterated, leaving only Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) standing against an Alien Queen inside a rad mech suit.

Die Hard (1988)

Don't get lost in the sideshow debate about whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie. The real question is whether or not it's the greatest action movie ever made. It just might be, as John McClane's outgunned everyman's takedown of a skyscraper full of terrorists is filled with iconic moments thanks to winning performances by Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman, plus John McTiernan's direction.

RELATED: The 25 Best Mystery Movies That Every Whodunnit Fan Needs to See.

Akira (1988)

Were it just for the opening motorcycle chase through the neon-lit cyberpunk version of a dystopian future Tokyo, Akira would have a claim to be one of the best action movies ever made (and certainly one of the best animated ones). The rest of the anime classic—which was entirely, astoundingly, hand-drawn—lives up to the memorable opening, offering vivid, dense, and unforgettable images of battle, body horror, and destruction.

Road House (1989)

Patrick Swayze stars as the chillest and deadliest bouncer of all time in this late-'80s classic. After James Dalton is hired to work at a new nightclub in a small Missouri city, he finds himself putting his considerable skills to use when a corrupt businessman attempts to further cement his control of the town by any means necessary.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

The brief shot of Arnold Schwarzenegger cocking a shotgun with one hand while driving a motorcycle down the concrete canyon of the LA River is, on its own, better than most films in their entirety. So what a joy it is that it's just one small part of an entire action masterpiece. Director James Cameron pushed the boundaries of technology in the sequel to the comparatively grimier Terminator (especially with the liquid metal T-1000), and he pushed the boundaries of what a blockbuster action movie could be, too.

Point Break (1991)

It actually makes perfect sense that a woman directed the most "dudes rock" movie of all time, because you need an outside observer like Kathryn Bigelow to see the earnest absurdity of masculinity well enough to really fully celebrate it. Keanu Reeves stars as an undercover FBI agent who falls in with a group of adrenaline junkie surfers/bank robbers led by Patrick Swayze, forcing him to decide if his loyalties lie with his duties or this new lifestyle he's fallen in love with.

RELATED: The 25 Best Movies Directed by Women.

Hard Boiled (1992)

The amount of gunfire in John Woo's Hong Kong action classic is truly, gloriously absurd. Chow Yun-fat stars as a cop with the nickname Tequila who dives into the criminal underworld to help take down a Triad leader. The action culminates with a massive shootout inside a maternity ward while the cops try to take out the baddies while keeping all the babies safe. It's a hoot.

The Rock (1996)

Michael Bay's masterpiece stars Nicolas Cage as a nebbish chemical weapons expert who must team with Sean Connery, playing the only man to ever escape from Alcatraz, in order to break into the island prison. Their mission? To stop a group of rogue soldiers (led by Ed Harris) who are holding San Francisco hostage with missiles filled with deadly nerve gas.

The Matrix (1999)

Few movies are as revolutionary as The Matrix, as the Wachowskis' landmark sci-fi action movie changed sci-fi, action movies, and cinema, broadly, when it came out at the turn of the century. There's a reason why every action movie that's been made since The Matrix is trying—and largely failing—to capture the thrill of seeing "bullet time" for the first time. Keanu Reeves stars as Neo, the prophesied "one" who might be able to free humanity from the digital prison simulation the Machines have trapped us in.

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000)

Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon is a remarkable movie because it's a thoughtful, melancholic, and beautiful exploration of themes such as love, loss, and duty. And, also, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon contains, like, five of the coolest fight scenes ever committed to film. It's truly a marvel, and you'll find yourself moved by Zhang Ziyi's character's plight, as the young woman tries to escape the box society has made for her, while also watching slack-jawed awe as she fights Michelle Yeoh, who uses every weapon in the armory in an attempt to best a fabled purloined sword.

Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)

The second half of Quentin Tarantino's genre-blending revenge epic is arguably the better, more complex film, but Kill Bill Vol. 1 is no slouch, either. It opens with a brutal knockdown fight in a suburban home and ends with Uma Thurman's Bride cutting through dozens of martial arts goons with her katana. For pure action excitement, Vol. 1 is hard to beat. (And then you get the benefit of watching the conclusion in Vol. 2.)

300 (2006)

Zack Snyder's heavily stylized adaptation of the Frank Miller graphic novel about the Battle of Thermopylae hasn't aged well in a few respects. The once-dazzling CGI shows its age, the politics have an ugly racial implication, and parts of 300 have become so memed to death that it's hard to take them seriously. And yet 300, for all of its flaws, remains an exhilarating action movie about the toughest, most outnumbered underdogs in history.

RELATED: The 25 Best Classic Movies That Every Film Fan Needs to See.

Hot Fuzz (2007)

Edgar Wright's Hot Fuzz manages to be a hilarious parody of action movies—what with all their tropes and cliches—and at the same time it's a thrilling action movie in its own right. Simon Pegg stars as a hotshot London supercop who is transferred to a sleepy country village, only to find that a nefarious, dangerous criminal conspiracy is afoot.

Unstoppable (2010)

When a runaway freight train carrying explosive chemicals—described as "a missile the size of the Chrysler Building"—speeds towards certain disaster, only Chris Pine and Denzel Washington, two engineers on another train, have a chance to stop it. Tony Scott's final film is a high-speed thrill, and it's to Scott's credit as a director that he makes the action as exciting as it is, since conveying speed (especially for something as big as a locomotive) is deceptively hard to do on camera.

Fast Five (2011)

The safe heist at the end of the fifth Fast & Furious movie is still the high-octane high watermark for the franchise. The four movies prior and the five movies since have all had plenty of setpieces that are exciting and/or absurd, but towing a safe through the streets of Rio is truly next-level movie magic. It helps that the climax comes at the end of a movie that's had several other memorable action scenes, and that it marks the introduction of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson to the Fast universe.

The Raid (2011)

The Raid, an Indonesian action masterpiece, starts at a 10 and doesn't stop for the entirety of its 101-minute runtime. The film follows a police squad who are attempting to raid (naturally) an apartment building that's suspected to be a drug lord's base of operations. However, once inside they discover that they're surrounded, and they have no choice but to fight their way through the complex—which they do, in glorious, brutal, fist-pumping fashion.

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Also known as Live Die Repeat, Edge of Tomorrow is a modern sci-fi action masterpiece starring Tom Cruise as a cowardly public relations officer for the army who is forcefully deployed on the front lines of humanity's last stand against an alien invasion. However, he finds himself trapped in a time loop, and each time he meets a grisly end (which he does, many times), he wakes up at the start of the day a little smarter and a little stronger. Emily Blunt co-stars.

RELATED: 27 Movies With Shocking Twist Endings You Won't Recover From.

John Wick (2014)

John Wick didn't just revitalize Keanu Reeves' career for the umpteenth time, it also revitalized action movies, marking the start of a hard pivot from the fast-cutting, shaky-cam style that had largely been in vogue since The Bourne Identity. We see every impressive, brutal aspect of legendary retired hitman John Wick's quest for revenge against the fools who killed his dog, as the long choreographed takes showcase both the "gun fu" and the talents of the stunt people who bring this franchise to life.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Mad Max: Fury Road isn't just one of the best action movies ever made. It's one of the best movies ever made, full stop. Even the famously stodgy Academy Awards recognized its greatness, giving it a Best Picture nomination—a rarity for genre movies, especially one as out there as Fury Road. The movie, George Miller's long gestating fourth entry in his Mad Max series, is a masterpiece in worldbuilding, conveying so much information and emotion during a staggering, nearly non-stop car chase through a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Mission: Impossible — Fallout (2018)

The magic of Mission: Impossible — Fallout is that it excels at action on multiple scales. On the one hand, you have Tom Cruise actually flying a helicopter through jagged ravines as Agent Ethan Hunt races to prevent a nuclear bomb from going off. On the other, you have him and Henry Cavill engaged in a no-frills knockout fistfight inside a bathroom. Both of these sequences are equally as thrilling; a testament to the M:I franchise's approach to action filmmaking.

RRR (2022)

For a lot of Western viewers, RRR was eye-opening, as they had no idea that Indian films could go this hard. Indeed, RRR, a Telugu-language epic about two super-strong friends who initially find themselves, unknowingly, on opposite sides of a fight against the British Raj, goes extremely hard. Every single set piece seems absurd and over the top in the best way, and then the next scene manages to outdo it. (However, the musical dance sequence, "Naatu Naatu," might be the best action scene in the whole movie.)

Top Gun: Maverick (2022)

The thing about cliches is that they're not inherently bad. When used correctly, they can be incredible. Top Gun: Maverick features a scene in which somebody literally throws a rulebook in the trash can, and yet all its familiar beats and deliberate setup are in service of some of the most exhilarating action in movie history, as Captain Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (Tom Cruise) takes to the skies on another high-flying, high-speed mission.

James Grebey
James has been an entertainment journalist for more than a decade, writing and editing for outlets like Vulture, Inverse, Polygon, TIME, The Daily Beast, SPIN Magazine, Fatherly, and more. Read more
Filed Under