Top 20 Action Movies of the Century (So Far)
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Top 20 Action Movies of the Century (So Far)

VOICE OVER: Ryan Wild
These are the action films that have defined the century...so far. For this list, we'll be looking at the most bombastic, creative and memorable live-action thrillers released over the last 22 years. Our countdown includes “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”, “Edge of Tomorrow”, "Free Guy", “John Wick: Chapter 3– Parabellum”, “Skyfall”, and more!
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Top 20 Action Movies of the Century So Far


Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 action movies of the century so far.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the most bombastic, creative and memorable live-action thrillers released over the last 22 years. We’ll leave superhero movies to soar on a list of their own. And we’ll also be sticking to one entry per franchise. If you haven’t seen some of these landmark movies, watch out for spoilers ahead.

What is your favorite action movie of the 21st century? Let us know in the comments below!

#20: “Kingsman: The Secret Service” (2014)


After the resourceful and street smart Eggsy sees a well-dressed agent demolish some thugs, he eventually applies to join the secretive Kingsman agency. His fantastic journey entertained us while shaking up the spy genre. Eggsy and the other characters are self aware enough to poke fun at various action cliches. At the same time, the narrative embraces its genre with slick and unforgettable fight sequences. Every time Eggsy and his friends rushed into battle, we knew we were in for a tightly choreographed and refreshing scene. Their adventures all took place in a quirky world that was later explored in a sequel and a prequel. In the end, Eggsy’s Kingsman’s journey opened up the doors to a new and exciting franchise.


#19: “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” (2010)


Director Edgar Wright brilliantly balanced video game aesthetics, romantic comedy and fast-paced scenes in this cult classic film. When Scott Pilgrim falls for Ramona Flowers, he learns that he must defeat her seven evil exes. He takes on every single one of them all in fight scenes that stand out from most films because they feel exactly like video game boss battles. In between climatic frays, Wright loaded the film with plenty of humor, easter eggs and quotable lines. The movie also has the added bonus of having an absurdly stacked cast full of hilarious actors and future stars. If you’re looking for a funny film with nostalgic references and innovative action scenes, then Scott’s story is a must-see.


#18: “Upgrade” (2018)


A man named Grey is living a fairly humble life in an advanced society before it's suddenly turned upside down. After a vicious assault, he loses his wife and ability to move his body. When an advanced computer chip helps him regain full motion, he decides to hunt down the ones responsible. Since Grey’s advanced software can take over his body while he observes, we get darkly funny and unique fight scenes. All of the movie’s heart-pounding sequences are shot extremely well and take advantage of the futuristic setting. And to top it all off, “Upgrade” has a few massive twists we won’t ruin for you. The movie’s slick action and surprising story made it a twisted and exciting romp through an uncertain future.

#17: “Taken” (2008)


We bet most moviegoers could recite the plot of “Taken” by heart. Audiences loved watching the middle-aged Liam Neeson fight to save his daughter and her friend from terrible fates. Although we were pulled in by the relatively grounded and gritty sequences, the movie’s structure really stayed with us. “Taken” inspired an entire subgenre of movies where middle-aged characters, usually parents, stepped out of their normal lives to get vigilante justice. While many have come close to matching “Taken’s” formula, none of them are as quotable as Neeson’s original. The lines he recited before and after thrilling scenes still continue to be parodied and referenced over a decade later.


#16: “21 Jump Street” (2012)


Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum teamed up to star as a duo of unimpressive police officers that are asked to pose as high school students to solve a case. Not only do they have amazing comedic timing and chemistry, but they also excel at bringing hilarious action scenes to life. Each bombastic sequence manages to be more creative and funnier than the last. And along the way, they manage to take shots at everything from movie cop tropes to chase scenes. All of the nonsensical explosions and failures to fly are weaved into a solid and surprising story. Fortunately, we got to see the bumbling duo return to give us more high-octane and gut-busting scenes in “22 Jump Street”.




#15: “Free Guy” (2021)


When a background video game character named Guy breaks out of his normal routine, he unintentionally becomes an action hero within his digital world. He soon becomes one of the only beings capable of saving all the virtual people in his city. “Free Guy” takes full advantage of its digital world to craft action scenes that would be too ridiculous for other blockbusters. Power-ups, healing items and even weapons from other franchises are all brought in to help Guy inch closer to his goals. Not only are these virtual sequences fun, but Jodie Comer’s dual performance, Taika Watiti’s over-the-top Antwan and Reynolds' sweet take on Guy hit the right notes. “Free Guy’s” earnest characters and unique world made it into an extremely refreshing blockbuster.

#14: “Oldboy” (2003)


Why was a man named Oh Dae-su locked in a room for fifteen years? The answer to that mystery requires a lot of detective work and quite a few punches. Although this film doesn’t have as many action scenes as some other picks, the quality of its fights more than make up for that. The one take sequence where Oh Dae-su faces a group of attackers alone still takes our breath away. Ultimately, the best part of “Oldboy” are the numerous and complex twists that turn the entire story on its head again and again. Whether you know about the shocking reveals or not, we highly recommend giving this tense Korean classic your full attention.

#13: “The Bourne Ultimatum” (2007)


The third entry in the Bourne franchise sees the amnesiac titular character uncover more truths about how he became a dangerous super spy. As the thought provoking narrative unfolds, it becomes clear that gaining his impressive skills caused him to lose some humanity. It was incredible to see “Bourne Ultimatum” raise serious moral questions and deliver excellent action sequences. The suspenseful train station trek and window jump are both still stunning to watch today. No matter how over-the-top the film gets, it never loses sight of its intelligent and subversive story. “Bourne Ultimatum” definitively proves that its battle hardened protagonist is so much more than a weapon.

#12: “Edge of Tomorrow” (2014)


Shortly after inexperienced soldier William Cage is sent to the frontlines of war against aliens, he appears to die on a battlefield. But he wakes up and relives the events that led to his demise. Upon realizing he’s stuck in a time loop, Cage teams up with Emily Blunt’s Rita Vrataski in the hopes that he can stop the invaders and live to see tomorrow. This “Groundhog Day” setup is full of gigantic war scenes and scenes where humans expertly use cool exosuits in battle. It also manages to make many of Cage’s untimely deaths extremely hilarious. “Edge of Tomorrow’s” creative narrative, futuristic action and genuine humor will make you want to watch it on repeat.

#11: “Ip Man 2” (2010)


During Donnie Yen’s second outing as legendary martial artist Ip Man, he struggles to start a wing chun school in Hong Kong. Even after he acquires eager students, he still has to fight bias and other masters for the right to teach. Every clash Ip Man gets into features lightning fast blows and spectacular choreography. The way the movie blends real fighting moves with over-the-top wire work and stunts feels natural for the world. As the stakes and the bouts get increasingly bigger, small dramatic scenes keep the movie grounded. Great fight scenes and complex character work will inspire anyone who watches to push their limits as far as Ip Man did.


#10: “Hot Fuzz” (2007)


What appeared to be a silly parody of buddy cop films shattered our expectations once we dove into the story. After an overachieving officer named Nicholas Angel is sent to a small town, he stumbles upon a dark conspiracy. He teams with fellow cop and action-movie lover Danny Butterman to bring the guilty parties out into the light. The film’s fast paced editing made its high octane sequences more distinct and funnier to watch. And we got heavily invested in Nicholas and Danny thanks to great character development. Every running gag, over-the-top scene and fourth wall breaking movie reference build up a fantastic climatic shootout. “Hot Fuzz” isn’t just a love letter to buddy cop films—it’s a fantastic example of how great they can be.




#9: “Furious 7” (2015)


While “Fast Five” definitely invigorated the NOS fueled franchise, the “Fast and Furious” formula was arguably perfected in “Furious 7”. The seventh installment features cars attached to big parachutes, daring leaps off of falling vehicles and the Rock firing a giant turret. And we can’t forget the time Dom used a car to jump between skyscrapers. Our family of heroes do it all to get revenge for one of their own and to recover a dangerous computer program. After the main story wraps up, the movie slows down to pay tribute to the late great Paul Walker. The touching ending served as an unforgettable farewell to a great action star.



#8: “Baby Driver” (2017)


Edgar Wright's third and final entry on our list featured a getaway driver that stole our hearts. What Ansel Elgort’s Baby lacks in social skills, he more than makes up for with his great taste in music and superb driving abilities. His talents behind the wheel are brought to life with a combination of breathtaking practical stunts and clever editing techniques. And the music is perfectly weaved into the narrative. As Baby gets himself into deeper trouble, the sequences only get increasingly ambitious and jaw dropping. And incredibly talented actors like Jamie Foxx, Lily James and Jon Hamm all ensure scenes outside the cars are just as compelling to watch. All of these elements come together in a beautiful symphony of suspense and talent.

#7: “Skyfall” (2012)


“Casino Royale” was full of incredible action that helped establish Daniel Craig as Bond. However, it was Skyfall that elevated his take on the character to a new level. After Bond is shot during an awe-inspiring chase scene, he’s brought out of retirement to stop the dangerous Raoul Silva. But the suave spy has to avoid trains and survive tense shootouts if he wants to succeed. Javier Bardem’s amazing turn as the devious Silva and Craig’s portrayal of a weary but willing Bond are both fantastic. Their epic clash is full of emotional beats, stunning revelations and beautiful cinematography. The fact that “Skyfall” was once England’s highest grossing film further cements that you shouldn’t miss this Bond mission.

#6: “John Wick: Chapter 3– Parabellum” (2019)


Everyone’s favorite dog lover/boogeyman managed to get on the wrong side of a secretive organization by the time his third entry began. If he wants to stop being hunted by assassins, John Wick must find a way to get in their good graces once more. The sheer variety of fights, shootouts and chase scenes made this sequel more impressive than the iconic original. But the supporting cast really made this assassin’s tale stand out. Mark Dascasos, Lance Reddick and Halle Berry are so good in their respective action scenes that they sometimes steal the show. Although John Wick spends most of this narrative running from death, his world never felt more alive and thrilling to be in than it did here.

#5: “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000)


This incredibly complex and engrossing martial arts epic features some of the most talented actors to have ever worked in the genre. Chow Yun-fat, Zhang Ziyi, Michelle Yeoh and a few other iconic performers all demonstrate their acting chops and fighting skills in beautiful scenes. While their story has too many breathtaking bouts to describe here, the duel where Shu Lien attempts to face Jen Yu’s with a variety of weapons and moves is a particular film highlight. Their emotional and stunning face off is just one example of how the movie expertly layers character motivations and symbolism under every one of its fight sequences. The tremendous clashes and epic story of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” also earned it the Oscar for best foreign film.





#4: “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” (2018)


As Ethan Hunt put everything on the line to save the world from a nuclear plot on screen, Tom Cruise was pulling off risky stunts behind the scenes. He jumped across rooftops for a running scene, flew a helicopter for a chase sequence and did a high altitude jump from a plane! All these stunts blew us away while furthering the plot and characters. While these amazing sequences were great, the emotional narrative and callbacks helped make it the franchise’s finest film. And the cherry on top was the choice to include Henry Cavill and his arms as a foil to Ethan Hunt. This sixth installment’s exhilarating narrative set a new bar for “Mission: Impossible” films and other thrillers to reach for.


#3: “Kill Bill: Volumes 1 & 2” (2003-04)


Since this two part tale about an assassin trying to get revenge on her former boss Bill was originally intended to be a single movie, we’ll consider both for one entry. The entire story captured the hearts and imaginations of many viewers. Fans of westerns, pop culture and martial arts films found plenty of thrilling homages to each genre. Watching title character Beatrix take on former coworkers and goons in wildly different ways made each confrontation surprising and exciting. Uma Thurman also shook scenes up by portraying a wide variety of the assassins’ emotions with masterful acting. By the time Beatrix’s gripping mission was over, she had become an unforgettable heroine who is still imitated and praised decades later.


#2: “The Raid” (2011)


If a group of officers wants to catch a notorious criminal, they must survive a raid on the kingpin’s hideout. Unfortunately, the big bad has many incredibly capable martial artists and outlaws on his payroll. Officer Rama has to fight for his life as his coworkers slowly fall one by one. His scenes contain some of the fastest moves and best choreography we’ve seen this century. Since these awe-inspiring sequences feature great cinematography and less cuts than normal, it feels like you’re in the middle of every fray. The straightforward premise and tremendous stunt work led to an awesome sequel that left us breathless again. Even if we never get a third chapter, “The Raid” stands as a towering genre accomplishment.



#1: “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015)


Although this high-octane post-apocalyptic film doesn’t seem like a Best Picture nominee on the surface, it has lots of things going for it underneath its gritty exterior. After Max Rockatansky crosses paths with the determined Furiosa, they form an alliance to escape the evil Immortan Joe. Their thrilling team-up is full of creative editing, has incredibly emotional moments and involves practical action scenes. Unique characters and earnest performances also made this world memorable. And while Max’s name is in the movie title, Furiosa constantly commands the narrative thanks to Charlize Theron’s nuanced and badass portrayal. All of “Mad Max’s” fantastic elements earned it six Oscars and near universal praise. It deserves to race to the top of any list of 21st century action films.
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