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Top Ten Action Flicks of All Time

Updated on May 10, 2012

So I got myself thinking the other day about what are the greatest action flicks of all time and decided to construct a top 10. Now, there are a few rules to the list. First, the list includes nothing from the Superhero realm, so no Supermans, Batmans or the like. Also no fantasy realm or science fiction (sorry Indiana Jones, still love you). Also, no sports movies. Finally, to make the list, I have had to see the movie. So if you think a movie should have been included, but is not, it is likely because I did not see it. So here goes… enjoy.

No. 10: Hard to Kill (1990) – Many would argue that Above the Law is Steven Segal’s best movie. Maybe so, but from a pure action standpoint, Hard to Kill is hard to top. Segal plays super cop Mason Storm, who along with his wife, is gunned down in his home by crooked cops who have been sent by a crooked politician (William Sadler). After seven years in a coma, Storm emerges to seek revenge. With the aid of future real-life wife Kelly LeBrock, Storm returns to health and systematically takes out the bad guys.

Best line: Storm (after stabbing the man who killed his wife with a broken pool stick): "This is for my wife. F**k you and die!”

Best Kill: The one associated with the above quote.

No. 9: Heat (1995) – Seldom would a movie make a list like this simply for one scene, but that is just what Heat does. A classic cat-and-mouse caper between police officer Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) and thief mastermind Neal McCauley (Robert DiNiro) culminates in a shootout in downtown L.A. between the police and DiNiro’s heavily armed crew. The rest of the movie is tight and entertaining, despite its nearly three-hour run time, but the feather in this flick’s cap is the shootout scene – one that I have never seen rivaled in film.

Best Line: Vincent:(after walking in on his wife with another man) "I'm angry. I'm very angry, Ralph. You know, you can ball my wife if she wants you to. You can lounge around here on her sofa, in her ex-husband's dead-tech, post-modernistic bulls**t house if you want to. But you do not get to watch my f**king television set!"

Best Kill: During the shootout scene, Tom Seizmore’s character picks up a little girl as cover as he is trying to escape. No matter, Pacino snipes him with a single shot to the head.

No. 8: First Blood (1982) – Lost among the fact that this movie spawned three grand sequels in which our protagonist John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) saves the day in one-man against the world fashion is the fact that the first entry into this series was a taut thriller that delved into Rambo’s psyche as much as it did into the action sequences. Brian Denehey plays an overzealous police chief named Teasle who decides he has an axe to grind against the seemingly vagrant Rambo. Little does he or his band of locals realize, they are dealing with a combat tested, former POW Medal of Honor winner who turns them from hunters to hunted.

Best Line: Teasle: "He was just another drifter who broke the law!"
Trautman: "Vagrancy wasn't it? That's gonna look real good on his grave stone in Arlington: Here lies John Rambo, winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, survivor of countless incursions behind enemy lines. Killed for vagrancy in Jerkwater, USA."
Teasle: "Now don't give me any of that crap Trautman. Do you think Rambo was the only guy who had a tough time in Vietnam? He killed a police officer for Christ's sake!"
Trautman: "You're goddamn lucky he didn't kill all of you."

Best Kill: Actually, better than any kill is how Rambo dismantles the local police who are hunting for him without actually killing any of them.

No. 7: The Rock (1996) – I’ll be the first to say that I am not the biggest Nicolas Cage fan, but for his first foray into the action arena, the man did a great job. Sent into a terrorist situation on Alcatraz with an elite Navy SEAL team, Cage sees the band of renegade Marines, led by a perfectly cast Ed Harris as General Frank Hummel, gun down the entire SEAL team except for him and Sean Connery, who plays a convict that is brought on to the trip because he had escaped from Alcatraz some thirty years before. Cage’s Stanley Goodspeed, a lab rat unexpectedly thrown into a harrowing situation, is perfectly balanced by Connery’s John Mason - a grizzled and efficient killer that the terrorist group never expected.

This movie came out when I was 16 and I saw it three times in the theater. No lie.

Best Line: Mason: "Your best? Losers always whine about their best. Winners go home and f**k the prom queen."

Best Kill:The Mexican Standoff in the end, where two of Hummel’s charges turn on him leading to a bloody foray that leads to the death of Hummel and two others.

No 6.: Commando (1985) –In Commando, Schwarzenegger plays John Matrix, a retired special forces guru trying to live a normal life with his pre-teen daughter, played by a very young Alyssa Milano. Matrix’s past comes back to haunt him when a vengeful former team member named Bennett kidnaps his daughter in an effort to get Matrix to assassinate a foreign dignitary. Of course, Matrix deviates from his enemies’ orders and goes on a killing spree that seems to total somewhere in the hundreds.

Is this movie believable? Absolutely not. But it was Schwarzenegger at his bulked-out best – hitting both his enemies and one-liners with great efficiency.

Best Line: Gen Kirby: "You leave anything for us?"

Bennett: "Just Bodies."

Best Kill: After chasing down the weasel-like Sully down, Arnold holds him with one arm over the cliff and reminds him of his promise to kill him last. Arnold then tells Sully he lied and drops the bad guy to his death.

No. 5: 48 Hrs (1982). – I will say it up front; this is my favorite movie of all time. It was Eddie Murphy’s breakout role and has a ton of quotable one-liners and an excellent chemistry between tough-guy cop Jack Cates (played by Nick Nolte) and Murphy’s Reggie Hammond. What is often overlooked about this movie is just how well this movie plays as an action flick. A lot of that can be credited to James Remar of Dexter fame, who plays the villainous Albert Ganz to perfection. From the opening prison break, Ganz and partner Billy Bear (Sonny Landham) are remorseless in their killing spree. The shootout in the hotel at the beginning of the movies is one of the better action scenes around.

Best Line: Reggie Hammond: "Listen up, I don’t like white people. I hate rednecks. You people are rednecks. That means I’m enjoyin’ this."

Best Kill: In the final scene, Reggie breaks in on an unsuspecting shirtless Billy Bear who is armed with only a knife. A trembling Hammond, after assuring Billy Bear he would lose if he didn’t drop the knife, pumps two bullets into Billy’s bare chest, sending the knife flying and instigating the movie’s final shootout scene.

No. 4 Lethal Weapon (1987) – Because the three sequels it spawned play increasingly like action comedies, it is easy to forget the raw power of the first. Mel Gibson plays a borderline psychotic cop named Martin Riggs who is partnered with straight-laced family man Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover). The sadistic Mr. Joshua, played by a not-yet insane Gary Busey serves as a great villain. What separates this movie from the sequels it inspired is the lack of intentional comedy. That is not to say that there are not funny moments, but Gibson plays a character who is truly in danger of going off the deep end for the entire movie and his rescue of Murtaugh and his daughter in the final scenes of the movie show a character who kills with stone-cold efficiency.

Best Line: Riggs to Mr. Joshua: "How 'bout it Jack? Would ya like a shot at the title?"

Best Kill: The aforementioned rescue scene where Riggs takes out a half-dozen evil doers in about thirty seconds.

No. 3 Tombstone (1993) – Tombstone is one of two movies about Wyatt Earp released in short succession in the early 1990s (Wyatt Earp starring Kevin Costner as the title character) and is the far superior of the two. The shootout at the O.K. Corral is one that is surpassed only by the aforementioned gun battle in Heat. Kurt Russell is excellent as the straight-laced lawman Earp, but it is Val Kilmer who steals the show as the ailing gunslinger Doc Holliday. If you love Westerns and haven’t seen this movie, you are missing the best of what the genre has to offer.

Best Line: Wyatt Earp: “From now on I see a red sash, I kill the man wearing it. So run you cur. And tell the other curs the law is coming. You tell 'em I'm coming! And Hell's coming with me!”

A close second would be the sequence where Holliday and villain Johnny Ringo verbally spar at the Farrow table in Latin.

Best Kill: Bad guys Stillwell and Ike Clanton go to the train to kill the Wyatt and Virgil Earp. Upon arriving on the tracks, Stillwell yells to Wyatt’s wife who is seated by a window on the train, “Hey Mattie, where’s Wyatt.” Earp, who has gotten the drop behind him replies “Right behind you Stillwell,” before blasting him away with his shotgun.

No. 2 Man on Fire (2004) – Never in any movie, have I so enjoyed watching bad guys get what was coming for them. In describing protagonist John Creasy (Denzel Washington), old Special Opps buddy Rayburn (Christopher Walken) claims, “Creasy’s art is death. He's about to paint his masterpiece.” So true. Creasy is a tortured soul who is offered a chance at redemption when given the job of guarding a little girl named Pita (Dakota Fanning) in Mexico City. After his charge is kidnapped (an abduction attempt that saw Creasy kill four of the perpetrators before being overwhelmed) Creasy vows revenge and goes on a killing spree to punish the guilty parties.

Needless to say, awesome destruction is left in his wake.

Best Line: Creasy: "I am going to ask questions. If you don't answer fully and truthfully, you will suffer much more than you have to. I'm going to cut your fingers off. One by one, if I have to."

Best Kill: When Creasy finds the first kidnapper, he drives him to a remote cliff, duct tapes his hands to the steering wheel and says the lines written above. He then proceeds to cut off several fingers along with the kidnapper’s ear before shooting him and pushing the car over a cliff.

No 1. Die Hard (1988) – This is the movie that set the standard for all action movies made before or since. What puts Die Hard at the top of this list is the earnestness of Bruce Willis’ everyman hero John McClane. Tough yet vulnerable, McClane does not play the role of a super hero, but instead a tough New York cop who finds himself in a harrowing situation and reacts as best he can to save himself and the hostages that are being held captive on the 30th floor of a Los Angeles high rise. The best feature of this movie is how well it stood the test of time. It is nearly 25 years old, and with the exception of some clothing styles, it could just as easily be set in present day.

Best Line: Mclane: “Yipie-ki-yea mother f**ker.”

Best Kill:McClane is on his back under a table being chased by a terrorist. After the bad guys exclaims that McClane is out of table to hide under and offers the advice of not hesitating when having the chance to kill someone, McClane responds by shooting him through the table several times before thanking him for the advice.

Honorable Mention 11-20: 11. Forced Vengence (1982), 12. Point Break (1991), 13. Lone Wolf McQuade (1983), 14. Grosse Pointe Blank (1997) 15. Taken (2008), 16. Gladiator (2000), 17. Lethal Weapon 2 (1989) 18. Die Hard 2 (1990) 19. Dirty Harry (1970) 20. The Delta Force (1986)


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    • profile image

      John S. 

      6 years ago

      Die Hard is the granddaddy of them all. It made Bruce Willis a star. Hans Gruber is one of the great movie villians of all time.

      First Blood is a very unrated movie and I'm glad to see that it made the list. I know that Rocky and Rambo have spawned a lot of sequels of questionable quality, but the originals are tremendous.

      I'm not a huge fan of Commando (generic Arnold movie) or The Rock (Nic Cage? eh...). Here are a few of my favorites that I think are worth mentioning:

      True Lies - Arnold's finest movie outside of Predator, Total Recall, Terminator or T2). Great action and lots of laughs. Tom Arnold stole the show.

      The Untouchables - Costner is a little wooden which is par for the course, but Connery and De Niro are awesome.

      I know that Connery was nominated for an Oscar for his role and he might have won.

      The Fugitive - Arguably Harrison Ford's last great movie and Tommy Lee Jones was great as US Marshall Sam Gerard.

      Hooper - For you young kiddies out there, Burt Reynolds was once the biggest star in Hollywood. If you haven't seen it, watch it. In Hooper, Burt plays Sonny Hooper, a Hollywood stuntman in the twilight of his career who wants to pull off one more death defying stunt before he calls it quits. It's not Citizen Kane, but it's a lot of fun.

    • Margaret Scarboro profile image

      Margaret Scarboro 

      6 years ago


    • profile image


      6 years ago

      "Taken" should be number 1.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      "Heat" should be No 1. Love "48 hrs". "Taken" for #3. "Robin Hood" w Costner. "Dirty Harry" near the top. No to "Rambo"/ "Tombstone" and "Man on Fire" - 2 thumbs up. "Commando" - NO WAY! Do another one - best comedies.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      The original Dirty Harry deserves more than honorable mention. Who doesn't love the line "do you feel lucky"? Must admit I did not see most of them but do love "48 Hours".Great writing though!

    • rahul0324 profile image

      Jessee R 

      6 years ago from Gurgaon, India

      nice list!

    • M A Williams profile image


      6 years ago from New Hampshire

      You're probably right Komo. I love Tombstone, but probably wouldn't make the cut as an action film on a list of mine. As you suggest Bourne Identity is a good suggestion.

    • libby101a profile image


      6 years ago from KY

      Good List of movies...I think everyone has their own picks... a good movie you didn't list was "Armageddon" another is "Conair".... and a very good recent one is "Priest"...

      I agree on tombstone... a very good movie indeed. I enjoyed all the die hard movies as well. Bruce Willis is always good!

      Good job putting together a good list of action films...

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Good job on the list! Here are some suggestions: Heat other then the bank robbery is not an action movie, good movie, but pretty slow altogether. While Tombstone is entertaining its not a top 3 and to be honest would be tough to crack a top 10 all time Western film list. 48 hours??? Come on, maybe makes a 10 ten buddy action/comedy list, but not pure action compared to your other films... Some others missed might be "No Country for Old Men", "Bourne Identity"or any of the sequals, "300", "True Romance", "Reservoir Dogs", "Fight Club"... tough to pick a list like this...

    • M A Williams profile image


      6 years ago from New Hampshire

      Great hub. I am going to revisit some of these films. "Yippe Ki Yay" is the perfect quote for the Die Hard movies.

    • DS Duby profile image

      DS Duby 

      6 years ago from United States, Illinois

      This is a pretty good list regardless of the previous comment, and it was well written and very descriptive. Great job. As far as the last comment goes there's a no it all in every crowd.I give it an interesting thumbs up.

    • ikels0001 profile imageAUTHOR

      John Turner 

      6 years ago from Ivyland, PA

      Actually, Another 48 Hrs is not on the list at all. The original is. Fair enough comment on the yippie-ki line... not sure what you mean by aggressive hand job, but thanks for reading nonetheless.

    • profile image

      Huckle Buck Jones 

      6 years ago

      I'm sure you're a nice and intelligent guy... that being said, the fact that your list is an aggresive handjob--not very consistent top to bottom but overall it was okay--and the fact that you have the ever so played out "Yippie..." quote to represent Die Hard shows that you don't know your ass from your elbow when it comes to ranking movies (should have gone with and Ellis line or a DPC Dwayne line). Another 48 Hours in the top 3? Why not Mean Girls? Get it together grouch. (But thanks for giving me something to read that was entertaining.)


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