The Best Action-Thriller Movies Ranked

By Rick Gonzales | Published

The Best Action-Thriller Movies

What makes a good action-thriller movie? Is it one with relentless action, explosions, gun fights, and hand-to-hand combat? Well, those definitely make for a good action movie, but to fall into the action thriller category there needs to be a bit more to it. Not only does a film need to have all of that action, but a little thought behind it is what makes these films so special.

So, when it comes to the best action-thriller movies, there are plenty to choose from. We have narrowed it down to 10 (not an easy chore).

liam neeson

10. Taken (2008)

Taken is a great action-thriller movie that put Liam Neeson on the action star list. Written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, the Pierre Morel-directed film has Neeson starring as Bryan Mills. He’s an ex-CIA operative who must use his “very particular set of skills” to track down the Albanian human traffickers who have kidnapped his daughter and her best friend while they were traveling through France. The film produced two sequels.

keanu reeves speed feature

9. Speed (1994)

Speed is an action-thriller from director Jan de Bont that stars Keanu Reeves as LAPD SWAT bomb disposal expert Jack Traven. He finds himself on a city bus that has been rigged with a bomb that will explode if the speed falls below 50 miles an hour. Sandra Bullock is Annie Porter, a passenger on the bus who ends up having to drive the bus. Dennis Hopper is the man who has reasons for rigging the bus with the explosive.

8. Casino Royale (2006)

Daniel Craig made his very first appearance as 007 James Bond in Casino Royale, a Martin Campbell-directed action-thriller, based on novelist Ian Fleming’s greatest creation. Although the announcement of Craig becoming the next Bond (after Pierce Brosnan) proved to be controversial at the time, Craig eventually became one of the all-time favorite Bonds. In this one, 007 is on assignment in Montenegro where he is to bankrupt the terrorist financier Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen).

harrison ford kevin costner

7. The Fugitive (1993)

Harrison Ford is Richard Kimble in The Fugitive, a riveting action-thriller directed by Andrew Davis and based on the 1960 television series of the same name. Here, Kimble, a vascular surgeon, is framed for the murder of his wife and sentenced to death. During his transport, the bus crashes and Kimble makes his escape, going on the run trying to prove his innocence. Tommy Lee Jones is U.S. Marshall Sam Gerard and is hot on Kimble’s trail.

6. Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018)

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is the sixth and latest action-thriller in the franchise. It has Tom Cruise back as IMF agent Ethan Hunt in a film written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie. In this one, Hunt and his IMF team are on the move trying to stop nuclear weapon technology from getting into the hands of the Apostles, a nasty bioterrorist group that is an offshoot of the Syndicate. Fans of the franchise will be thrilled to know that two more films are on the way – Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One arrives this year while Part Two is set for a 2024 release.

5. The Bourne Identity (2002)

Is it just us or is Matt Damon one of the last actors you’d expect to see as an action hero? Surprisingly, Damon pulled it off quite well as Jason Bourne. When we first meet him he is suffering from psychogenic amnesia and spends much of the film being chased by CIA agents who want to stop him from regaining his memories that concern a CIA conspiracy. The action-thriller is based on the Robert Ludlum novel of the same name and was directed by Doug Liman.

4. The Dark Knight (2008)

The Dark Knight is considered to be one of the greatest superhero films ever made and you would be hard-pressed to debate that fact. This Christopher Nolan-directed action-thriller is the second in his Dark Knight Trilogy. It brings back Christian Bale as Batman who this time must deal with the maniacal machinations of the Joker, brilliantly played by the late Heath Ledger. Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, and Maggie Gyllenhaal also star.

3. John Wick (2014)

Keanu Reeves went legendary as John Wick, an action-thriller by director Chad Stahelski. Wick is a retired hitman who is forced to come out of retirement to seek revenge on the men who killed his puppy. The dog was a final gift to him from Wick’s wife who had recently passed. Now, John will stop at nothing to make the men pay.

arnold schwarzenegger terminator 2 shotgun

2. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

He said he would be back and he wasn’t lying. Arnold Schwarzenegger was definitely back as the T-800 Terminator, but this time he is on the side of good. James Cameron co-wrote and directed this second action-thriller in the franchise, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, often considered to be the best in the series.

This one has Arnie returning as the protector of a young John Connor (Edward Furlong), who will grow into the man leading the resistance against Skynet. Linda Hamilton also returns as Sarah Connor and Robert Patrick is the T-1000 shapeshifting cyborg sent to take out young John.

1. Die Hard (1988)

Okay, is it or is it not a Christmas movie? That has long been the debate with Bruce Willis’s Die Hard, a John Mc Tiernan-directed action-thriller that has our hero, New York police detective John McClane, Los Angeles bound for the Christmas holiday.

Upon arriving, he is taken to the Nakatomi Plaza to meet up with his estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) at her Christmas party. Once there, all hell breaks loose when terrorists, led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), arrive to steal some bearer bonds. Thankfully, John McClane is there to save Christmas.