40 best action movies

Thrills, spills, chills, and kills: this is why we go to the movies, to see big, amazing, improbable and/or impossible stuff happen on the big screen. It just gets the blood pumping to see impressive feats of stunt work and death defiance—which is why tons of action movies come out every year. While many are certainly satisfying, only a few contain that elusive combination of a great story, unforgettable characters, and an unmatched technical mastery of stunts 'n' squibs necessary to transcend genre thrills and achieve great cinema. These movies have all reached that lofty status. Here are Looper's picks for the best action movies ever made.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Raiders is supposed to be an homage to the action-adventure serials that director Steven Spielberg and producer George Lucas grew up watching in the 1950s. But the thing is, those often weren't very good movies—Raiders completely overshadows its source material, as it's pretty much a perfect film. Every scene is crowd-pleasing, particularly the action sequences: the boulder chase, the whip-vs.-gun fight, the airplane fight sequence. Plus, a guy's face melts off! Raiders is pure fun, beginning to end, even after 100 viewings.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

The original Terminator movie from 1984 is pretty fantastic in its own right—dark, gritty, weird, and menacing, all with a charming, low-budget air. Terminator 2, while a sequel of course, was one of the most expensive movies of all time—but the money is all up there on the screen, and that sheen suits the plot and feel of the story: highly advanced robots traveling through time to alternately kill and rescue the future savior of the human race, John Connor (Edward Furlong). Especially well executed is the motorcycle sequence, which involves a high-speed chase, a semi-truck, and shotguns. And every time a puddle of liquid metal reshaped itself into that evil Terminator? Still cool, and still looking state of the art after more than 25 years. People that don't even like action movies can appreciate this one, thanks to the stellar pacing of director James Cameron: action, catch a breath, escalated action, a breath, climax. That, combined with the high stakes of the plot (that kid had to save humanity) and the fact that by the end we're all somehow crying over a robot in sunglasses being consumed by fire, made for a blockbuster for the ages.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Reboots generally don't work—and even if they do, they're still doomed to pale in comparison to the original thing. Not so with Mad Max: Fury Road, which expands and improves on the Mad Max universe with a nonstop ride through the familiar, harrowing, post-apocalyptic wasteland on modified car/tank/war machines piloted by crazed, survival-driven nomad warriors. Mad Max creator George Miller returned to direct Fury Road, and his 35-plus years of experience as a filmmaker are up there on the screen with an action movie that's both endlessly thrilling and emotionally compelling. It helps that Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron are along for the ride…to say nothing of "Doof Warrior," a guy who stands on a moving vehicle and plays a fire-spewing electric guitar. Best. Character. Ever.

Aliens (1986)

James Cameron took an entertaining if simple horror movie in space put forth by Ridley Scott with Alien in 1979, and expanded the mythology of the Alien universe to create a terrifying battle between human and alien, the outcome of which is never certain. It's claustrophobic like a thriller, but it's also a science fiction movie because of all the space and, well, alien action. Cameron's Aliens also further developed the most butt-kicking action movie character of all time: the unstoppable and unflappable Ellen Ripley, portrayed by Sigourney Weaver in an Academy Award-nominated performance. Suddenly, the genre wasn't just for dudes anymore.

The Bourne Identity (2002)

In 2002, as the James Bond franchise was slumping its way through an era of stale, lazily delivered clichés, came a refreshingly modern, wholly American spy movie that reflected a more current environment of geopolitics. As Bond's Cold War era slipped into history, a sense of "what now?" developed on the world stage, embodied by Matt Damon's ultra-trained superwarrior who doesn't know his own identity…but is aware of his own incredible fighting abilities. Thanks to the paranoid, shaky camerawork and urgent pace established by director Doug Liman, the audience rarely knows more than Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) does, and as a result they never quite get to take a breath either.

Face/Off (1997)

This film has such a preposterous concept that would have been a ridiculous misfire had it been made by anybody but legendary Hong Kong auteur John Woo, director of classics like Hard Boiled and The Killer. But Face/Off might just be his best. The film also finds the perfect role for Nicolas Cage: Castor Troy, a giddily crazed terrorist who tries to kill FBI agent Sean Archer (John Travolta). Then, in order to learn where Castor hid a massive bomb, Archer has his own face surgically replaced with Castor's…and then Castor gets his replaced with Archer's. It's like Freaky Friday, but with bizarre science, riots, boat chases, and some of the most epic shootout sequences ever caught on film.

Die Hard (1988)

Part of the reason Die Hard works so well is its cinematic context. Action movies at the time all tended to feature stoic dudes with huge muscles laying waste with boulder-sized fists and machine guns, never doubting their utter alpha maleness and barely cracking a smile. Contrast that with Die Hard, in which Bruce Willis is a relatively normal-sized, normal looking guy who cracks wise and expresses fear and self-doubt as he almost single-handedly beats back terrorists to literally save Christmas. It helps that Willis, best known at the time for the TV detective dramedy Moonlighting, was incredibly charismatic—but let us not forget that Die Hard also gave us a breakout performance from the beloved Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber, one of the all-time great movie villains. Yippie-kay-yay.

The Fugitive (1993)

The Fugitive is way better than it has any right to be. Its source material, an old TV series starring David Janssen as Dr. Richard Kimble, a man wrongly accused of killing his wife, was compelling—but in the hands of director Andrew Davis and star Harrison Ford, the story became one of the most thrilling chase movies of all time.

Nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, The Fugitive boasts two of the most famous set pieces in film history: the train crash that allows Kimble (Ford) to escape, and the sequence that ends when Kimble dives off a dam to evade the U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard. Tommy Lee Jones won an Oscar for his performance as Gerard—as it's quite the accomplishment to upstage Indiana Jones and Han Solo in an action movie.

Predator (1987)

Director John McTiernan mixed elements of war movies with horror and science fiction and wound up with one of the most rollicking, thrilling, and unpredictable action flicks ever made. An elite military squad, led by Major Alan "Dutch" Schaefer (Arnold Schwarzenegger), is supposed to track down a hostage kidnapped by rebels. While avoiding attack by insurgents and the natural dangers of the jungle is enough to worry about, the team also has to deal with something even nastier—the gigantic alien that's tracking them for sport.

The Raid (2011)

Gareth Evans' The Raid is a claustrophobic police thriller that hits the ground running almost immediately. A young police officer named Rama (Iko Iwais) heads off to work for the day—to join his armed-to-the-teeth S.W.A.T. team taking down a run-down Jakarta apartment building. The goal: Eliminate a crime lord and his top associates who run the block, allowing criminals sanctuary. The movie plays out like a real-life video game, as the elite police squad clears the lower floors and handles various thugs, well on their way to the crime bosses…until they realize they've been trapped and are being hunted by a gaggle of ticked-off criminals. The goal quickly changes for Rama and his squad: get out with their lives.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Imagine a sweeping war drama and epic romance like Gone With the Wind…but everybody in it has supernatural martial arts fighting abilities, and the way they fight is more technically perfect and beautiful than the greatest ballet company. That may sound ridiculous and lame, but in the able hands of director Ang Lee and main cast members Chow Yun-fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, and Chang Chen, the result is one of the most stunningly beautiful and deeply moving films ever made. Right, sure, but the action: there are so many amazing martial arts sequences in the film, such as the gang of fighters meeting their end against one young woman in a restaurant…and the near wordless battle in the sky, on the fragile tips of trees. While action movies often rely on special effects to do all of the heavy lifting, in Crouching Tiger, they merely enhance or flavor the preternatural abilities already captured on film.

The Dark Knight (2008)

Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy is really more like one long movie, but the middle part is definitely the best chapter, showing the result of Bruce Wayne's rise and training in Batman Begins and what will play out in The Dark Knight Rises. Indeed, The Dark Knight is arguably the best-made superhero movie of all time, with a tone that reflects the character and shows utter faithfulness to the comics upon which it's based. One could argue that it's a psychological drama first and a superhero movie second, as Christian Bale does a lot of brooding and quiet acting in between unbelievable, high-speed Batmobile chase sequences, Harvey Dent going off the rails, and Heath Ledger giving a chilling and unforgettable performance as the not-funny-at-all Joker (while also blowing stuff up real good).

The French Connection (1971)

Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle (Gene Hackman) just…never…stops running. Or driving. Or punching, or kicking, or knocking some thug to the ground in pursuit of justice. His methods may not be normal, but then again neither is the nearly verité-style of direction by William Friedkin. Despite being so frenetic, so tough, so new, and so very violent, The French Connection won Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It's the only action flick ever to do so.

RoboCop (1987)

Is RoboCop is a violent, action-packed, futuristic cop movie…or is RoboCop a violent, action-packed, futuristic cop movie that satirizes movies from its era that are equally (or more) violent? Like any good work of satire (such as The Simpsons), it works on both levels. RoboCop has a lot to say about the value of human life in the crime-ridden future world of New Detroit. For example, it's about a cop (Peter Weller) who falls dead to some pretty intense violence…but he's then resurrected as a cyborg to summarily execute as many criminals as humanly possible. It's bloody, it's gory, it's full of gunplay, but it's also got some sweet robot action. And isn't that what really matters?

The Wild Bunch (1969)

Westerns used to be thought of as kid stuff. Back in the '30s and '40s, kids loved Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and other good guys in white hats singing along the trail as they foiled train bandits and horse thieves. The real Old West was nothing like that—it was probably more akin to the absolutely gonzo, lawless nightmare world of Sam Peckinpaw's Texas-Mexico border-fight epic The Wild Bunch. A huge influence on latter-day filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, The Wild Bunch embraced blood, violence, and moral ambiguity. In 1969, movies by and large did not show blood—guys got shot and they fell down. The Wild Bunch showed (and kind of celebrated) the real consequences of violence with its multiple, never-ending shootout sprees. (One guy's got a cannon that more properly belongs on a warship.) But sometimes cowboys and gunslingers had to shoot each other, and that made the good guys a little bad, and the bad guys a little good.

The Matrix (1999)

A college-level philosophy class was never so eye-popping. The Matrix kind of blew everybody's minds with its central conceit: that there's no point to human life beyond their bodies being bags of energy. Neo (Keanu Reeves) gets to decide if he's cool with that, or if he wants to try to exist on a higher plane via his own free will. Pretty heady stuff for the multiplex, but fortunately The Matrix features a lot of bells and whistles, such as the fight in the creepy cyberworld between Neo and an infinite number of Agent Smiths, and that innovative "bullet time," which seemed to bend the very nature of time itself. Not only did it look incredibly cool to watch somebody contort their body around bullets or even stop them, but it complement the themes of the movie, too.

Marvel's The Avengers (2012)

After decades of B-movie status, films about guys with capes were slowly adopted into the mainstream with the critical and commercial success of Christopher Reeve's Superman films, the Batman movies directed by Tim Burton, the Batman movies directed by Christopher Nolan, and the Spider-Man movies from the 2000s. The genre really got going when Marvel Studios started laying the groundwork for its cinematic universe, with individual solo movies to both set the stage and whet audience appetite for the single greatest superhero team-up possible. For the Avengers' long-awaited big-screen debut, Marvel hired a director who really understood comic books—Joss Whedon—and assembled a cast of acclaimed actors who were like the Avengers of movie stars: Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man, Mark Ruffalo as the Incredible Hulk, and Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, to name a few. No expense was spared making a movie that was limitless in terms of superpowers, earth-shattering fights, things from space—like a comic book come to life. The Avengers is now the standard by which all other big, fun superhero movies are judged.

Speed (1994)

By the mid-'90s, action movies were dying under their own weight: huge budgets meant lots of explosions but not a lot of depth or character. Then along came Speed, Jan de Bont's fat-trimmed, all-killer-no-filler thrill ride couched in a simple premise: If a Los Angeles city bus slows to under 50 mph, a bomb planted on board explodes. It breaks with form to make for lots of surprises (a lead actor dies early in the film, for example), and the plot necessitates absolutely non-stop action. But there's also a lot of humanity in Speed: Everyday people from many different walks of life are thrust together onto the city bus and the situation, and they come together as a team to rise up and meet the challenge. Of course, there are also plenty of explosions, buses jumping over chasms, and death-defying leaps, along with Keanu Reeves as a newly minted action hero and a star-making performance by Sandra Bullock.

Bullitt (1968)

Steve McQueen was one of the first action stars, and a pioneer of the form. He even did as much of his own stunts as film studios would let him—for example, he did some of the driving for the landmark, on-location car chase scene in Bullitt. In fact, that chase is the reason this movie is chiefly remembered today, and if Bullitt consisted entirely of that scene, it would still make this list. It's just that good. The plot is loaded with twists and intrigue, something to do with a politician, hitmen, and organized crime, and it all culminates in McQueen as the fortuitously named Lt. Frank Bullitt chasing the bad guys in their 1968 Dodge Charger R/T through the very real, very hilly streets of San Francisco. No standard issue police cruiser for Bullitt—he's got a sweet 1968 Ford Mustang GT. The high-speed pursuit ends the only way it could, and in the best possible way: with a gas station explosion.

Lethal Weapon (1987)

Detectives Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) are mismatched cops, with the former being a loose cannon who doesn't play by the rules, and the other a by-the-books guy who is "getting too old for this s***." Almost every other cop movie and TV show before and after has used this formula, but Lethal Weapon actually makes it work because the chemistry between Gibson and the reactive audience surrogate Glover is so charming. That, and the plot—largely couched in dark comedy—never goes where the audience thinks it will. Riggs just doesn't care that he's going to get caught in the crossfire when he orders cops to unload on a drug bust he's in the middle of…or worry about maiming himself by jumping off a ledge with a guy instead of talking him down. This s*** never gets old.

Kill Bill (2003, 2004)

Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill is an epic tale of revenge, centered on a hero of near-superhuman abilities and unrelenting focus…but with enough vulnerabilities and human motivation to make audiences root for her. The Bride (Uma Thurman) goes on a quest to locate and murder every member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad that left her for dead years earlier—and find the baby she was pregnant with at the time of the attack.

The trail ultimately leads to the gang's leader, and her baby's father, Bill (David Carradine), of course, but along the way, the Bride must subdue each of her enemies in insane, insanely choreographed fight sequences, any number of which would be the centerpiece of a semi-decent action movie. But Kill Bill is loaded with them, from the suburban battle with Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) to the acrobatic battle with O-Ren Ishii's (Lucy Liu) Crazy 88 in Japan, to the "five finger death punch" that subdues Bill.

John Wick (2014)

Ultra-violent revenge movies generally don't have plots hinging on an adorable puppy, but that's part of what makes John Wick so delightfully different. After the death of his wife, assassin John Wick (Keanu Reeves) tries to fill the void in his life by adopting a cute dog named Daisy and riding around in his classic Ford Mustang. (A good action movie almost always has a sick car.) After he refuses to sell it to a Russian gangster, the spurned buyer and his cronies follow Wick home, knock him out, steal the car, and—horrific spoiler alert—kill the dog.

Exacting his revenge pulls Wick back into the seedy underbelly of organized crime, as well as numerous, atmospheric gun battles and fistfights across nightclubs, churches, safe houses, docks, and more. This is exactly the kind of action movie that's perfect for watching with friends, rewinding and replaying favorite moments because they're just too good to be believed.

Gladiator (2000)

"Swords and sandals" movies hadn't been popular for decades when director Ridley Scott and star Russell Crowe brought them back in a big way with 2000's Gladiator. The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and Crowe for his performance as Roman general-turned-slave Maximus Decimus Meridius. Against a classical Roman backdrop, audiences root for Maximus's quest to avenge the misdeeds of the evil emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), win his freedom, and survive the brutal gladiator arena— and Scott stages some of the most thrilling action sequences ever put to film. There's hand-to-hand combat with and without weapons, gladiator mismatches, re-enactments of old military campaigns, and even a climactic fight between Maximus and Commodus. People get stabbed. People get beaten to a pulp. People get beheaded. Ancient Rome was not a nice time to be alive.

Jurassic Park (1993)

The original Jurassic Park was a revelation in 1993, popularizing a sub-genre known as the "techno-thriller." Pioneered by Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton, these fables inevitably involve technology run amok to the shock and horror of the humans that created it. But of course, that's all a lot of fun to watch, especially when the technology is dinosaurs trying to kill people in a rainstorm, dinosaurs spitting venom in a bad guy's face, dinosaurs chasing kids, and dinosaurs ripping each other to ribbons. Add in a majestic, unforgettable score by John Williams and enthusiastic direction by Steven Spielberg, and you've got a modern masterpiece of popcorn cinema.

Baby Driver

Edgar Wright is best known for directing Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, movies that are predominantly comedies but laced with plenty of innovative action. With Baby Driver, he makes the leap to full-blown action, and the result is as frenetic and assured as Baby's driving.

Ansel Elgort plays the title character, a young but very skilled driver recruited to handle the getaway car for a heist squad. The unreal stunts in Baby Driver make the movie deliriously fun, and the filmmaker's extensive movie knowledge and vocabulary inform his self-assured direction with a mishmash of homages and techniques gleaned from other films, making for a thoroughly satisfying assault on the senses. The end result is pretty much everything audiences could want out of an action film.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Sometimes the problem with comic book movies is that they take themselves so darn seriously, forgetting the whole point of their source material—they're supposed to be ridiculously fun, and also a little ridiculous. Guardians of the Galaxy embraced its DNA to deliver one of the most purely enjoyable comic book-based movies of all time. It's as much a comedy as it is an outer-space action ride, with Chris Pratt perfectly cast as the funny and fearless Peter Quill (or "Star-Lord," as no one will call him). Add in a space prison, a telepathic arrow, '70s rock classics, a foul-mouthed raccoon, a talking tree, and one epic space battle and hand-to-hand bout after another, and the end result is a joyous blast.

Wonder Woman (2017)

Not only is it a great action movie, Wonder Woman just might be the perfect blockbuster. It's mind-blowing that this is director Patty Jenkins' first go at an action flick, because she perfectly balances so many tough elements. Wonder Woman is an origin story, a World War II movie, a romance, and it even has a twist ending and comic moments. This is to say nothing of Gal Gadot's revelatory performance as Diana Prince a.k.a. Wonder Woman, who so thoroughly and powerfully embodies heroism that you don't know whether to cry, cheer, or catch your breath when it's all over.

Rogue One (2016)

It would be both sacrilegious and inaccurate to say that Rogue One is the best Star Wars movie. It's not even part of the main storyline—it's a side story about a scrappy crew that comes together to take advantage of a fatal flaw in the Death Star by swiping the plans out of enemy hands. Therein lies the reason why Rogue One made this list—it's less a space opera or sci-fi movie like its Star Wars predecessors, and more a heist movie that just happens to be set in the Star Wars universe. As the team comes together, plans the crime, and pulls it off (although not without severe consequences) the action is as unrelenting as it is eye-popping.

Logan (2017)

Hugh Jackman's Wolverine was always the best part about every X-Men movie, and while he's had his own standalone films featuring everyone's favorite clawed Canadian, Logan shreds them all. It completely reinvented what a superhero movie can be, as Jackman applied his dramatic chops to create a nuanced characterization of a superhero nearing the end of his life and his mission. And somehow, young actress Dafoe Keen steals almost every scene as Laura, Wolverine's daughter and diminutive clone. Logan and Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) evade the bad guys and shuttle Laura to safety in a road movie more fast-paced, unpredictable, and casually violent than Smokey and the Bandit.

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

It doesn't seem like a cross between Groundhog Day and Independence Day would work, but director Doug Liman crafted Edge of Tomorrow into one of the most innovative action-adventure movies in years. In this smart and chaotic sci-fi/military adventure, seemingly indestructible aliens called Mimics terrorize Earth until they have to square off against Maj. William Craig (Tom Cruise). They kill him too—except not really, because Craig gets caught in a time loop and keeps returning to the moment just before his death, fighting and dying—and becoming a better fighter—each time. Edge of Tomorrow is a video game-inspired action movie with a moral: If at first you don't succeed (at killing aliens), try, try again (to kill the aliens).

District 13 (2004)

In the early 2000s, parkour, the sport-meets-art of ignoring the laws of physics so as to walk up walls and jump from one structure to another, was a minor fad in the United States. In Europe, the practice is a way of life. The craze gave the world at least one great parkour-themed movie: District 13, also known as Banlieue 13 or B13. That's the name of the extremely poverty-ridden and overcrowded Paris suburb where the film takes place. Set in the far-off, futuristic 2010s, the government keeps B13 in check by surrounding it with high walls topped with razor wire. Gangs control the lawless prison colony and make their living running drugs. A man named Leïto (David Belle, a creator of parkour) tries to fight the gangs, which he does with his wits as well as his gravity-defying parkour skills, executed without wires or CGI.

Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior (2003)

This low-budget martial arts adventure from Thailand more than makes up for its simple plot and straightforward presentation by the sheer force of its unbelievable star, Tony Jaa. In rural Thailand, a village is distraught after thugs from Bangkok steal the head of the town's cherished Buddha statue. Jaa plays Ting, the brave local who ventures into the city to retrieve the head, with only his Muay Thai fighting skills to protect himself. Fortunately, Jaa is one of the most agile and adept martial artists in the world, which he proves during some brutal underground fights. Despite an endless parade of more experienced and ruthlessly violent thugs coming after him both in and out of the ring, Ting triumphs.

Rumble in the Bronx (1995)

After a deluge of comedy-laced action films made him a massive star around the world for decades, English-speaking audiences were finally and formally introduced to the singular cinema of Jackie Chan with Rumble in the Bronx, and it was quite representative of Chan's talents. The plot is about good guys vs. bad guys, and it involves illegal diamond deals, but there's also a romance, Chan's self-deprecating humor, and, of course, stunts that look impossible (particularly some motorcycle acrobatics) but aren't because Jackie Chan never fakes the stunts that almost kill him.

Casino Royale (2006)

By 2002's Die Another Day, the final film in which Pierce Brosnan played super-spy 007, the James Bond franchise had descended into a checklist of the familiar: tuxedos, gadgets, shaken-not-stirred martinis, and a pretty actress in the thankless role of "Completely Interchangeable Bond Girl." It was time for a modern twist on the formula, and Casino Royale knocked it out of the park. Daniel Craig took over as a younger James Bond, and the movie took cues from other forward-thinking action films of the new millennium—it's gritty, intense, and completely lacking the usual James Bond smirkiness to deliver the best entry in the series since Sean Connery was creating action movie tropes back in the '60s.

Ip Man (2008)

Action movies are usually over-the-top, absurdly fun cinematic roller coasters, but every now and then, one of them is actually a true story. Ip Man is the loosely biographical story of Ip Man, a Wing Chun grandmaster who famously trained the all-time greatest martial arts film star, Bruce Lee. In Ip Man, Ip Man is the best martial artist and fighting trainer in the Chinese city of Foshan. His low-key life and appreciation of martial arts for their own sake are tested after the Japanese invasion of 1937. He competes for bags of rice in fighting competitions against Japanese troops, and he seeks revenge when his friend Lin disappears for good after a bout. At the heart of the movie, however, are the high-stakes battles between Chinese and Japanese fighters, all under the backdrop of war.

Dredd (2012)

The 1995 version of Judge Dredd was merely an action vehicle for Sylvester Stallone in the waning years of his tenure as an action star. As such, it was an endlessly violent shoot-'em-up that lacked the humor, irony, and satire of John Wagner's source comics. Hollywood got it right with this remake (for once). In this exceptionally violent but winking action extravaganza, Karl Urban plays the most fearsome of the judge-jury-executioners that stalk around the futuristic, radiation-soaked wasteland that is Mega City, formerly the northeastern United States. Dredd kills his way through his days as he tries to eradicate Slo-Mo, a drug that, amusingly, makes people experience life in slow-motion. (And that's about the only thing that's slow in Dredd.)

Kung Fu Hustle (2004)

What if they made a movie that played like a hilarious, live-action cartoon, but also there was just nonstop kicking, punching, and intricately choreographed fight scenes? Well, then that would be an irresistible movie called Kung Fu Hustle. Chinese superstar Stephen Chow directs, co-writes, and stars in this dazzling and dizzying action epic set in China in the 1940s. Chow plays a guy named Sing, who is desperate to join the scary, cool Axe Gang, and willing to do criminal stuff like fight and steal. Things get interesting when he attempts a heist of an apartment complex where a remarkable number of the residents are quite adept in aerial kung fu. Fortunately, for the audience at least, Sing's group is equally skilled at axe-based fighting and other martial arts.

First Blood (1982)

Who would have thought that Sylvester Stallone could make a tragic, thought-provoking movie about the dangers of violence and how war destroys a man? Of course, the Rambo sequels that followed completely missed the point of that first movie, which is a psychologically and physically realistic action movie about a man a decade removed from the Vietnam War still fighting it. After a mental break in Washington, it's up to John Rambo's old commanding officer (Richard Crenna) to save the on-the-run ex-soldier from himself and authorities.

The Purge: Election Year (2016)

The Purge movies have gotten a surprising amount of mileage out of an implausible premise: In the near future, crime has been almost completely eliminated in the U.S. thanks to occasional "purges"—set periods of time in which violence is permissible, thus allowing people to get all their bad impulses out of their systems. The third film in the series, The Purge: Election Year, imagines the political and electoral implications for a country that "purges." Elizabeth Mitchell plays Senator Charlie Roan (sole survivor of a "Purge Night" family massacre) running for president on a promise to end purges. Of course, she has to survive even more thuggish behavior and coordinated attacks by her political opposition in her attempt to find safety, and then she has to win the election on top of that.

The Equalizer (2014)

The Equalizer is technically a remake—it's a big-screen adaptation of a vaguely remembered action TV series from the '80s. But it's such an elegantly-made, fast-paced flick that it's hard to fathom that it began life as a cheesy CBS show. The spry and charismatic Denzel Washington replaces Edward Woodward as Robert McCall, an ex-government spook trying to balance out the horrible things he did by now helping people who really need his unique set of skills. This time, it's McCall against some truly frightening Russian mobsters.