Business Insider Edition

The 73 best action movies of all time, according to critics

John Lynch , Business Insider US
 Jul 28, 2018, 03:00 PM

Not just a contemporary phenomenon, action movies have been a consistent box-office draw for decades — and the best of them have earned laudatory reviews from film critics.

The list we compiled here from the reviews aggregator Rotten Tomatoes includes the site's most critically acclaimed films featuring an "Action & Adventure" tag. We excluded animated films and any movie that leaned more toward adventure than action.

The site ranked movies by an adjusted critical score that Rotten Tomatoes derived from a weighted formula to account for the variation in number of reviews for each film.

Their eclectic list includes several entries from the James Bond franchise, a number of classic Westerns, and contemporary acclaimed hits like "Mad Max: Fury Road" and "Baby Driver." 

Here the 73 best action movies of all time, according to critics:

73. "Johnny Guitar" (1954)

Critic score: 95%

Audience score: 85%

What critics said: "One of the boldest and most stylised films of its time, quirky, political, twisted." — RogerEbert.com




72. "The Twilight Samurai" (2004)

Critic score: 99%

Audience score: 94%

What critics said: "One action movie older movie audiences should love as much as younger ones." — Chicago Tribune



71. "Drive" (2011)

Critic score: 93%

Audience score: 79%

What critics said: "The extreme and escalating violence will prove off-putting to some — frankly, I'm surprised not to have been among them — but for the rest, 'Drive' is a needle-punch of adrenaline to the aorta." — The Atlantic



70. "Hero" (2004)

Critic score: 95%

Audience score: 87%

What critics said: "The austerity of 'Hero' makes you realise how cluttered other action movies are." — Slate



69. "Spider-Man 2" (2004)

Critic score: 93%

Audience score: 81%

What critics said: "The web-slinging sequences are bigger-better-brighter-faster than the already spectacular ones in 2002's 'Spider-Man,' and at the same time, the film's smaller emotional moments are denser, richer and more resonant than those in the first." — Associated Press



68. "The Wild Bunch" (1969)

Critic score: 94%

Audience score: 91%

What critics said: "The on-screen carnage established a new level in American movies, but few of the films that followed in its wake could duplicate Peckinpah's depth of feeling." — Chicago Reader



67. "The Killer" (1989)

Critic score: 94%

Audience score: 91%

What critics said: "The on-screen carnage established a new level in American movies, but few of the films that followed in its wake could duplicate Peckinpah's depth of feeling." — Chicago Reader



66. "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" (2003)

Critic score: 93%

Audience score: 86%

What critics said: "Pops your eyes, excites your senses and brings you in as close as a whisper for scenes of startling emotion." — Rolling Stone



65. "Apollo 13" (1995)

Critic score: 95%

Audience score: 87%

What critics said: "'Apollo 13,' Ron Howard's soaring salute to space exploration, lifts off with a payload of the right stuff-courage, can-do, grace under pressure and other qualities derided as machismo by some and applauded as old-fashioned values by others." — The Washington Post



64. "From Russia With Love" (1964)

Critic score: 96%

Audience score: 83%

What critics said: "Standing at the pinnacle of the series, 'From Russia with Love' shows how good a Bond film can be when all the ingredients mesh." — ReelViews



63. "Superman" (1978)

Critic score: 94%

Audience score: 86%

What critics said: "Pure escape and good, clean, unadulterated fun." — New York Daily News



62. "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981)

Critic score: 95%

Audience score: 96%

What critics said: "'Raiders of the Lost Ark' has it all — or, anyway, more than enough to transport moviegoers back to the dazzling, thrill-sated matinee idyls of old." — Time



61. "In the Line of Fire" (1993)

Critic score: 96%

Audience score: 79%

What critics said: "Generously exciting, 'In the Line of Fire' is mercifully free of that artificial energy that makes so many new movies look as if they were created with steroids." — Newsweek



60. "Dr. No" (1962)

Critic score: 96%

Audience score: 82%

What critics said: "An entertaining piece of tongue-in-cheek action hokum." — Variety



59. "The Bridge on the River Kwai" (1957)

Critic score: 94%

Audience score: 93%

What critics said: "A stirring drama of World War II, in which Spiegel has had the excellent help of British director David Lean, in charge of the action, and of a fine company of international players." — New York Daily News



58. "Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes" (2014)

Critic score: 90%

Audience score: 88%

What critics said: "This just might be the most engrossing, the smartest and the most daring 'Apes' movie ever put on film." — RichardRoeper.com



57. "Doctor Strange" (2016)

Critic score: 89%

Audience score: 86%

What critics said: "See it in 3-D IMAX, people, and you're in for the hallucinatory headtrip of the year. And having Cumberbatch around really raises the bar on what's possible in comic-book fantasy." — Rolling Stone



56. "The Bourne Ultimatum" (2007)

Critic score: 93%

Audience score: 91%

What critics said: "A great action movie, exhilarating and neatly crafted, the kind of picture that will still look good 20 or 30 years from now." — Salon



55. "One False Move" (1992)

Critic score: 98%

Audience score: 75%

What critics said: "Skillfully performed and welcomely unpredictable, this low-budget crime film, made by actor turned director Carl Franklin, starts out as a herky-jerky exploitation piece, then turns into something better." — The New Yorker



54. "Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior" (1982)

Critic score: 98%

Audience score: 85%

What critics said: "Miller's choreography of his innumerable vehicles is so extraordinary that it makes Spielberg's 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' look like a kid fooling with Dinky Toys." — Time Out



53. "The Fugitive" (1993)

Critic score: 98%

Audience score: 85%

What critics said: "Thoroughly engaging, edge-of-the-seat entertainment." — Philadelphia Inquirer



52. "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (2001)

Critic score: 97%

Audience score: 86%

What critics said: "It's rare to find a film that satisfies our craving for pop while giving us the transcendence of poetry." — New York Magazine



51. "The Right Stuff" (1983)

Critic score: 98%

Audience score: 90%

What critics said: "Moviegoers seeking a grand yet edifying entertainment, right-stuffed with what Kaufman calls 'seriousness of subject matter and a wild humour that comes out of left field,' now know where to look." — Time



50. "Gojira" (1956)

Critic score: 93%

Audience score: 89%

What critics said: "A terse, lean terror with a big, swinging tail." — Dallas Morning News



49. "X-Men: Days of Future Past" (2014)

Critic score: 90%

Audience score: 91%

What critics said: "Ambitious, even audacious, the movie's mix of action and for-devotees-only intrigue can overwhelm, but there are moments of sheer virtuosity, too." — Philadelphia Inquirer



48. "Looper" (2012)

Critic score: 93%

Audience score: 82%

What critics said: "Rian Johnson's third and most ambitious feature keeps the action popping while sustaining interest in the long arc of a story about a man assigned to kill the 30-years-older version of himself." — The Hollywood Reporter



47. "No Country for Old Men" (2007)

Critic score: 93%

Audience score: 86%

What critics said: "McCarthy's ferocious tale gives the Coens room to unleash their cinematic gifts." — The New Republic



46. "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" (2002)

Critic score: 95%

Audience score: 95%

What critics said: "Part two is more a straight-ahead action flick, substituting brawn and brawling for the pastoral radiance of the first film." — Associated Press



45. "Sicario" (2015)

Critic score: 93%

Audience score: 85%

What critics said: "It has a screenplay of freshness and audacity that's brought to life by a director who understands its every psychological undercurrent. We might hope this kind of thing would happen all the time, but it's rare." — San Francisco Chronicle



44. "Assault on Precinct 13" (1976)

Critic score: 98%

Audience score: 80%

What critics said: "Mr. Carpenter is an extremely resourceful director whose ability to construct films entirely out of action and movement suggests that he may one day be a director to rank with Don Siegel." — The New York Times



43. "Casino Royale" (2006)

Critic score: 94%

Audience score: 89%

What critics said: "Now I'm glad they didn't euthanaise James Bond, because 'Casino Royale' is the best movie of the series in almost 40 years." — Seattle Times



42. "A Fistful of Dollars (Per un Pugno di Dollari)" (1964)

Critic score: 98%

Audience score: 91%

What critics said: "This is a hard-hitting item, ably directed, splendidly lensed, neatly acted, which has all the ingredients wanted by action fans and then some." — Variety



41. "Ran" (1985)

Critic score: 96%

Audience score: 95%

What critics said: "One of the cinema's greatest works, a film of true tragic vision." — Chicago Tribune



40. "Goldfinger" (1964)

Critic score: 97%

Audience score: 89%

What critics said: "Like 'Doctor No' and 'From Russia with Love,' the two previous Bond bombshells, this picture is a thriller exuberantly travestied." — Time



39. "Ghostbusters" (1984)

Critic score: 97%

Audience score: 88%

What critics said: "This movie is an exception to the general rule that big special effects can wreck a comedy." — Chicago Sun-Times



38. "Paths of Glory" (1957)

Critic score: 95%

Audience score: 95%

What critics said: "The final scene, in which Kubrick presents close-ups of soldiers watching a captured German girl being forced to sing for their pleasure is nothing short of masterful." — Time Out



37. "Guardians of the Galaxy" (2014)

Critic score: 91%

Audience score: 92%

What critics said: "'Guardians of the Galaxy' does the impossible. Through dazzle and dumb luck, it turns the clichés of comic-book films on their idiot heads and hits you like an exhilarating blast of fun-fun-fun." — Rolling Stone



36. "Spartacus" (1960)

Critic score: 96%

Audience score: 87%

What critics said: "A surprisingly apt companion piece to 'Paths of Glory' in its consideration of the mechanisms of power." — Time Out



35. "Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes)" (1972)

Critic score: 98%

Audience score: 91%

What critics said: "Not just a great movie but an essential one." — Village Voice



34. "Badlands" (1973)

Critic score: 98%

Audience score: 91%

What critics said: "Among the great American crime movies, 1973's 'Badlands' stands alone." — San Francisco Chronicle



33. "Throne of Blood" (1957)

Critic score: 98%

Audience score: 93%

What critics said: "Akira Kurosawa's remarkable 1957 restaging of 'Macbeth' in samurai and expressionist terms is unquestionably one of his finest works - charged with energy, imagination, and, in keeping with the subject, sheer horror." — Chicago Reader



32. "True Grit" (2010)

Critic score: 96%

Audience score: 85%

What critics said: "Some people are expressing amazement that Joel and Ethan Coen would set out to make a classic western in the first place, and then that they'd accomplish it. All I can say is that those folks haven't been paying attention." — Salon



31. "Iron Man" (2008)

Critic score: 94%

Audience score: 91%

What critics said: "A supremely confident, well-tooled entertainment. It's bound to be the early pace-maker for the oncoming glut of summer blockbusters." — CNN



30. "Apocalypse Now" (1979)

Critic score: 96%

Audience score: 94%

What critics said: "Certainly, no movie in history has ever presented stronger proof that war is living hell." — New York Daily News



29. "Marvel's The Avengers" (2012)

Critic score: 92%

Audience score: 91%

What critics said: "This film is stylish, intelligent and, one hopes, influential on the next generation of superhero movies; it should leave a lasting legacy." — Minneapolis Star-Tribune



28. "The French Connection" (1971)

Critic score: 98%

Audience score: 87%

What critics said: "A knockout police thriller with so much jarring excitement that it almost calls for comic-book expletives. POW! ZOWIE!" — Time



27. "Once Upon a Time in the West" (1968)

Critic score: 98%

Audience score: 95%

What critics said: "Leone (1921-1989) is here at the peak of his epic powers." — New York Observer 



26. "Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation" (2015)

Critic score: 93%

Audience score: 87%

What critics said: "The franchise has gradually refined its combination of jaw-dropping action set pieces and sleekly cool world of espionage into something that's approaching pop perfection." — Buzzfeed



25. "Aliens" (1986)

Critic score: 98%

Audience score: 94%

What critics said: "Action thrillers assail but rarely test us; this is the tautest, most provoking, and altogether most draining example ever made." — New Yorker



24. "Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back" (1980)

Critic score: 95%

Audience score: 97%

What critics said: "Another richly imaginative, engrossing and spectacular motion picture from the redoubtable George Lucas." — Los Angeles Times



23. "The 39 Steps" (1935)

Critic score: 96%

Audience score: 86%

What critics said: "In Hitchcock's hands, however, this well-known espionage adventure provided the basis for a new sort of thriller and a new sort of comedy." — Village Voice



22. "The Terminator" (1984)

Critic score: 96%

Audience score: 86%

What critics said: "Forget that the premise is silly and the acting second-rate because director James Cameron has the action formula down pat." — Boston Globe



21. "Rio Bravo" (1959)

Critic score: 100%

Audience score: 91%

What critics said: "To watch 'Rio Bravo' is to see a master craftsman at work. The film is seamless. There is not a shot that is wrong. It is uncommonly absorbing, and the 141-minute running time flows past like running water." — Chicago Sun-Times



20. "Star Trek" (2009)

Critic score: 94%

Audience score: 91%

What critics said: "Goes back to the legend's roots with a boldness that brings a fatigued franchise back to life." — Wall Street Journal



19. "The Searchers" (1956)

Critic score: 100%

Audience score: 88%

What critics said: "A rip-snorting Western, as brashly entertaining as they come." — The New York Times



18. "Skyfall" (2012)

Critic score: 92%

Audience score: 86%

What critics said: "Among the most ambitious imaginings of Bond to date: dark, supple, and punctuated with moments of unanticipated visual brilliance." — The Atlantic



17. "Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope" (1977)

Critic score: 93%

Audience score: 96%

What critics said: "I haven't had as much fun at a movie in years. With its technical wizardry, high-velocity storytelling and spirited good humor, Star Wars dazzles the child in us." — Newsday



16. "The Hurt Locker" (2009)

Critic score: 97%

Audience score: 84%

What critics said: "Like every war before it, the U.S. invasion of Iraq has generated its share of movies. But 'The Hurt Locker' is the first of them that can properly be called a masterpiece." — Miami Herald



15. "Captain America: Civil War" (2016)

Critic score: 91%

Audience score: 89%

What critics said: "The most mature and substantive picture to have yet emerged from the Marvel Cinematic Universe." — Variety



14. "Jaws" (1975)

Critic score: 97%

Audience score: 90%

What critics said: "A grisly film, often ugly as sin, which achieves precisely what it set out to accomplish-scare the hell out of you." — Newsweek



13. "The Dark Knight" (2008)

Critic score: 94%

Audience score: 94%

What critics said: "Pitched at the divide between art and industry, poetry and entertainment, 'The Dark Knight' goes darker and deeper than any Hollywood movie of its comic-book kind." — The New York Times



12. "Spider-Man: Homecoming" (2017)

Critic score: 92%

Audience score: 88%

What critics said: "It's not only the best Spider-Man movie -- it's one of the best films in Marvel's cinematic universe." — Toronto Sun



11. "War for the Planet of the Apes" (2017)

Critic score: 93%

Audience score: 84%

What critics said: "The best summer blockbuster in years, a smart, thoughtful, confrontational and challenging allegory for a world run amok." — Detroit News



10. "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962)

Critic score: 98%

Audience score: 93%

What critics said: "Remains one of the most intelligent, handsome, and influential of all war epics." — Chicago Reader



9. "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (1948)

Critic score: 100%

Audience score: 93%

What critics said: "The characters here are probed and thoroughly penetrated, not through psychoanalysis but through a crucible of human conflict, action, gesture and expressive facial tones." — Variety



8. "Seven Samurai (Shichinin no Samurai)" (1956)

Critic score: 100%

Audience score: 97%

What critics said: "The epic action scenes involving cavalry and samurai are still without peer." — Time Out



7. "Baby Driver" (2017)

Critic score: 93%

Audience score: 86%

What critics said: "Edgar Wright's start to finish sensation is blessed with killer car chases, a star-making turn from Ansel Elgort, the year's best soundtrack and the most fun you'll have at the movies all summer." — Rolling Stone



6. "Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens" (2015)

Critic score: 93%

Audience score: 87%

What critics said: "With 'The Force Awakens,' Abrams has begun one of the most important reclamation projects of our time: the complete erasure from cultural memory of 'The Phantom Menace' and its sequels." — The Atlantic



5. "King Kong" (1933)

Critic score: 98% 

Audience score: 86%

What critics said: "'King Kong,' as spectacular a bolt of celluloid as has thrilled audiences in a couple of sophisticated seasons, is the product of a number of vivid imaginations." — New York Daily News



4. "Logan" (2017)

Critic score: 93% 

Audience score: 90%

What critics said: "The superhero category has gotten more boring as it's gotten more popular, but 'Logan' suggests an escape from escapism, a restoration of the human element in blockbusters, a stripped-down return to the feel of 1970s Clint Eastwood pictures." — New York Post



3. "Wonder Woman" (2017)

Critic score: 92% 

Audience score: 88%

What critics said: "Isn't just a triumph for women, it's a triumph, period. This is grand entertainment with rousing action, sparkling humour, a romantic streak and a titanium-strength debut from Gal Gadot in the title role." — Newsday



2. "Metropolis" (1927)

Critic score: 99% 

Audience score: 92%

What critics said: "Few films have ever been more visually exhilarating." — Chicago Sun-Times



1. "Mad Max: Fury Road" (2015)

"Mad Max: Fury Road."

Critic score: 97% 

Audience score: 85%

What critics said: "The shock, really, is how tender 'Mad Max: Fury Road' ultimately becomes. The film just wraps that tenderness in one of the most epic action extravaganzas of recent years. It's enough to renew your faith in movies." — Boston Globe


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