The 10 Best Action-Adventure Movies Of All Time

Nov 15, 2005

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The Bottom Line Ready for some action? Here is my list of the 10 best action/adventure movies of all time.

Action movies are by far my favorites when it comes to movies that I like to see in the theater. It's heaven to me to see films take full advantage of the big-screen, and bring forward some great action and adventure for the audience to participate in. Coming up with a list of what I feel are the 10 best action/adventure movies of all time isn't/wasn't an easy task, but I was willing to put the effort into it. What I came away with was a great list of films that fit into my own definition of what the category is. It probably says something that they have all been made in my lifetime, but I guess that since I was born into a generation where action films were able to do more, that I have certain expectations when it comes to the action. You can call it a list of the "best action movies of my life", but I didn't find one outside of those years that I would want on here.

These are not thriller/suspense type movies, but ones where you can get lost in the story. They can't dumb you down, or they won't leave a lasting impression causing you to watch them again, and they don't have to have great dramatic acting in order to win me over. They do have to have great action sequences, and certain potential peril that the main characters have to overcome though. I came up with about 25 movies that could have made the cut for my list, and it was a little difficult to knock it down to 10, but here is my list of what I feel to be the 10 best action/adventure movies of all time.


Die Hard / Die Hard With a Vengeance (1988 and 1995) -- Starring Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson

This is a combination of 2 films, with the first Die Hard being included, and then the third part in the series. Bruce Willis plays the lead character of John McClane who is a New York police detective. In the first Die Hard, he is taking a Christmas vacation to Los Angeles, and is the only man who can stop a heist taking place in the newest city office building. What transpires are a series of action packed sequences and events, that helped show the world exactly where an action movie could go, and pretty much set a standard that a lot of movies are now compared to. Die Hard spawned a sequel which was a rehash of the first plot with an airport, and then in 1995 came up with the third installment that did the first one justice. In Die Hard: With A Vengeance, MaClane is again tapped to save New York City from someone threatening to blow up nearly everything. Sam Jackson plays an innocent bystander swept up into the fray, who helps MaClane get through to the end of the film. Both Die Hard films do a great job of giving the intense action that is needed in films such as these, and really do a great job of keeping the action believable and realistic to its audience. These are two films that should be in the collection of any action-film junkie, and two which will remain near the top of my list for years.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) -- Starring Johny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, and Keira Knightley

The funniest of the entries into my action/adventure list of films, Pirates of the Caribbean was a box office smash that centered on Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) and his adventures that take place pursuing his old ship. As captain of the Black Pearl, Sparrow had been the victim of a mutiny, and been left for dead on a deserted island. Years later, he has a chance to strike back at the men who wronged him. Rush plays Captain Barbossa, who was the leader of the mutiny, and is now a ghost-like pirate searching the sees for the final pieces of a cursed treasure. With Orlando Bloom playing the son of one of the pirates, and Keira Knightley starring as his love interest, the film has many subtle plots that when intertwined turn Pirates of the Caribbean into a great action/adventure film. Sword fights, battles between ships at see, and many other adventurous moments turned this film into a great one, and one which should not be missed. Adding to all of the great action, is the great humor that really put this movie over the top.

The Matrix (1999) -- Starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, and Carrie-Anne Moss

When The Matrix came out, it flat out blew audiences away with the special effects wizardry that the Washowski brothers put on the screen. They had invented new ways to use the camera, and the term "bullet-time" was entered into our collective consciences to stay. The premise of the story was that a computer hacker named Neo (Keanu Reeves) learns from a few people that he could be the catalyst in a war against machines that have taken over the planet. It turns out that the human race no longer runs the planet, but serves as an energy source to the machines that now cover everything. The movie helped set the standard by which all action movies are made now, and the slow-motion sequences with rotating cameras has become something that we see in a lot of films. Not only that, but the movie has already led to two follow-up films in the 4 years since it came out. They were very good action films in their own right, but nothing could hold up to the original Matrix, which again rejuvenated the genre with brand-new ways to show action sequences.

Star Wars (1977 / 1980 / 1983) -- Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Billy Dee Williams

The first set of Star Wars films showed us exactly what could be done in space with the right technologies. George Lucas brought a new facet in terms of where action films could be shot, and just how they could be done, by giving us full-scale action that wasn't centered around Earth. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, these stories took place about the battle between good and evil sides of "the force". In a world run by evil, a band of rebels must group together to take down an emperor and all of his minions. Led by Luke Skywalker, and assisted by Princess Leia and Han Solo, the rebel Alliance must take down the evil empire before the galaxy is lost forever. Exploding planets, death stars, fighting space-ships, and light-sabers lead the way through 3 films that are packed not only with intense action, but an equally strong story to carry the entire trilogy. The films are all very exciting, and belong on any greatest film list, with each one actually deserving of a single slot. Since they are so similar in characters and story though, I am counting the first Star Wars trilogy as one entry in my list.

Crimson Tide (1995) -- Starring Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman

On a United State Nuclear Submarine, orders have come through that the crew of the Alabama is to launch their load of weapons against a Russian target. The only problem is that the orders are incomplete, and could mean basically anything. The Captain (played by Hackman) wants to launch the missiles without delay, but is thwarted by his First Officer (Washington) who insists that they wait for confirmation on a complete set of orders. With other subs tracking them, and firing upon them off the Russian cost, a dramatic set of events is unfolding faster than either man would like. As everything falls apart around them, both men try to control a ship that could either prevent or start a 3rd World War. Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman are both very intense in their roles within Crimson Tide, and take the film to another level with just how well they fall into the two main characters. The action and the dramatic events of the film bring a tenseness to everyone that watches it, and it makes the film just that much better. Crimson Tide earns its spot on my list because of the drama and superb acting that surround the action-packed plot.

The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996) -- Starring Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson

Geena Davis stars as Samantha Caine, who is married with a child, and is leading what would appear to be a quite normal life. The only problem, is that she cannot remember anything before her daughter came along, and it has troubled her for years. Sam Jackson plays the detective who has been looking for information (although without much effort) and suddenly comes across a clue to her past. Of course Samantha has to look into it, and with the help of Mitch (Jackson) she is going to find out what happened to her those 8 years ago. What they find is something far different than they expected, and their lives along with the lives of her family, and put in harms way immediately. Suddenly they are put in the middle of a conspiracy that ties into her past, and leaves both characters feeling a need to take action. And take action the do, in many great action shots and sequences that got this movie on to my list. A shaky plot at first, it became even more interesting as the story progressed and turned this into a better film than many expected.

Face/Off (1997) -- Starring John Travolta and Nicolas Cage

John Woo has always been great at bringing action to the big screen, and Face/Off was no exception to that rule. In Face/Off John Travolta plays an agent who has his son killed by the character of Nicolas Cage. Travolta's character is Sean Archer, a married man with a single daughter. Cage on the other hand, is Castor Troy, who lives the life of a criminal. While Archer is pursuing Troy, there is an accident that puts Troy into a coma. But, when Archer discovers that there is a bomb somewhere in Los Angeles with a running timer, he must go undercover as Troy to get to the bottom of it. But in order to do that, he must become Troy, and through surgery takes on his face. Unfortunately, while Archer is undercover, Troy wakes from his coma and is not too happy. All of the interactions between the characters played by Travolta and Cage are extremely exciting, and it is really a neat trick to see the actors switch roles halfway through the movie. Both do a great job of playing Archer and Troy, and the action sequences including a Hummer vs. a plane, a speed-boat chase, and a face-off between Travolta and Cage all lead to this being one heck of an action film.

Cliffhanger (1993) -- Starring Sylvester Stallone, John Lithgow, and Janine Turner

Stallone stars as Gabe Walker, a mountain ranger, who has been through some rough moments in life (including the dramatic opening sequence of this film), and is now going to the rescue of what he believes is a downed plane. It turns out though, that the downed plane is the result of a mid-air heist that has turned into a plane crash with 3 briefcases of cash lost in the mountains. Totaling almost $100 million the hijackers want the money, and will stop at nothing to make sure they can retrieve it. Stallone's character is taken hostage, and forced to help them find it, under the threat that his friends will be killed otherwise. The quest for the missing money gets underway in the frozen snowy mountains, and we are taken for the ride along cliffs and dangers that must be overcome for the heroes of the film to win out. Action packed, and white-knuckled for the duration, Cliffhanger does a great job of putting you right on that cliff, fearing for the lives of the people involved, and wondering just what action sequence will help save the main characters.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) -- Starring Harrison Ford and Karen Allen

Steven Spielberg and George Lucas cast Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones in what would be the first of three (and maybe soon 4) movies. Jones is an archeologist who doesn't do everything necessarily by the book. He is a rough cut man, who knows that with every excavation and discovery that danger can lurk behind every corner, and he is ready for it. Rather than falling into the role of the normal book-smart archeologist, Jones instead has fun with everything he does, and puts himself into dangerous situations that make his searches just as thrilling as they are exciting to watch. In this first film, of what would turn into a 3 part series, we learn a lot about our central character, and find out that he is definitely a break from the norm. From the very first scene of the film, we see that we are in for a movie that is much more than a simple archeological film. The main character of Indiana Jones will stop at nothing to complete a task assigned to him, and it is hammered home as he makes his way through a series of booby-traps to retrieve an archival statue. One of the most famous scenes in film takes place as, at one point, Jones is forced to escape an onrushing boulder that would surely crush a weaker man. This sequence of events, and his escape from the island following it, sets the tone for what we soon find to be a great action film. Some would even say that the first few scenes of the movie are enough to pay for the admission in the first place, and that the rest of the film is just the bonus. The film redefined what could be an action film, and helped to usher in a new facet: putting a deep story behind the explosions and gun-fights. Indiana Jones is one of those characters that will be around forever, and Raiders is the film that got it all started.

The Lord Of The Rings (2001-2003) -- Starring Orlando Bloom, Ian McKellen, Sean Astin, Elijah Wood, Cate Blanchett, and Sean Bean

Once again, I have to do a little cheating with this entry on my list, but I have to pay homage to the way that these films were made, and how great the presentation of the stories was. These 3 films were intensely filled with action, and a whole lot of adventure took place over the span of 3 years, and more then 10 hours of movie. Basically, I count it as one long film that was split up into 3 parts to make it into theaters. Standing alone, the films are pretty good, but combining all 3, and you can see the greatness of the story telling. Peter Jackson gets a ton of the credit for bringing this story to cinematic light, but we also have to give J.R.R. Tolkien the credit for writing the characters so well. Beautifully shot, full of action, and acted superbly by the entire cast, The Lord Of The Rings really shows what an epic film is supposed to look like. Crossing the entire span of its own world, the story evolves through its characters, and is driven by each of their quests. As it was said, they must all work together, and the story is the same way, where the actors all had to work together to put on screen the best possible product. What they came away with was a great set of 3 films that people will be watching for years to come.

Other Films that could have made the list:

The Rock
True Lies
Air Force One
Independence Day
Lethal Weapon
Top Gun

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The Best Films of All Time

The Best Comic Book Films of All Time

The Best Clint Eastwood Films of All Time

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The 10 best Submarine movies of all time

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