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The Best Action Movies Of The 2000s Ranked

For some, the 1980s will always be the best decade for action movies, with classics like "Predator," "Aliens," the "Terminator" series, and plenty of explosive thrillers. But in the 1990s, the genre matured, with bigger and more epic action than ever before, and by the dawn of the 2000s, the genre was seeing a reinvention, with high-quality computer-generated special effects augmenting even the most down-to-Earth action films. 

The 2000s featured some of the best action movies of all time and across every sub-genre, from sci-fi space adventures to street-level thrillers. The decade even saw the return of classic adventure tales of old, with pirates, gladiators, and kung fu fighters all getting the spotlight. The superhero action genre also finally began to hit its stride in the 2000s, with big-budget blockbusters adapting the most famous comic book characters.

There's representation from all corners of the action genre on this list. So sit back, pop open a can of cola, and bust out the popcorn, because these are the best action movies of the 2000s, ranked.

15. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

It's not so often that a theme park ride can inspire a multi-billion dollar blockbuster movie franchise, but in 2006, Disney set sail with "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl." The movie features a cast of stars including Johnny Depp as the pirate Jack Sparrow, "Lord of the Rings" alum Orlando Bloom as swordsman Will Turner, and newcomer Kiera Knightley as headstrong damsel-in-distress Elizabeth Swann.

The adventure begins when Jack Sparrow is enlisted to help Will rescue Elizabeth, his true love and daughter of the local governor, who's been taken prisoner by a group of pirates led by the vile Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). As it turns out, the young woman is in possession of a golden medallion that may be the key to reversing an ancient curse that's left Barbossa and his men to a terrible undying fate.

Despite pirate films not being terribly on-trend in 2006, the combination of big-budget action, fantasy adventure, and a charismatic cast made "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" a rip-roaring blockbuster. It grossed well over $600 million in theaters and was met with rave reviews from both moviegoers and critics, who praised it for its action, excitement, and endless charm.

14. Gladiator

By the year 2000, sword-and-sandal epics had long been out of favor in Hollywood, despite once ruling the industry. Then acclaimed director Ridley Scott brought them back with seismic repercussions. "Gladiator" is a filmmaking tour-de-force, a sprawling epic, and the kind of true adventure that cinema audiences had clearly been craving. The cast is led by Russell Crowe, who stars alongside Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Djimon Hounsou, and Richard Harris.

Set during the height of the Roman Empire's dominance, the film stars Crowe as a powerful Roman general named Maximus Decimus Meridius, who's hand-picked by the emperor to succeed him. But the emperor's son Commodus (Phoenix) is incensed at the indignity of being passed over, and he leads a coup that overthrows his father, taking the kingdom for himself while sending Maximus to the pits of the gladiatorial arena in a fit of vengeance. With the madman Commodus on the throne, the state of the empire begins to crumble, and Maximus leads a slave revolt in the hopes of bringing an end to his reign. 

With some of the most impressive ancient action ever seen on the silver screen, "Gladiator" slayed at the box office en route to a number of accolades, including the Academy Award for Best Picture.

13. Kill Bill

Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino was one of the hottest directors to emerge in the 1990s, with a string of violent crime dramas including the genre-defying "Pulp Fiction." How would he top his first wave of success as the calendar rolled over to the new millennium? With a pair of action-packed, blood-soaked films that combined to form one of the most satisfying revenge thrillers ever made. "Kill Bill" stars Uma Thurman as a vengeance-seeking assassin who carves a path of destruction on her mission to get back at her former boss — a man who betrayed her and left her for dead.

Co-starring "Kung Fu" star David Carradine alongside Michael Madsen, Lucy Liu, and Darryl Hannah, "Kill Bill Vol. 1" is a unique and innovative film with so much more to offer than just some surprising twists and turns. Mixing multiple genres into a masterpiece of modern cinema, Tarantino once again shows that a violent action film need not be mere mindless mayhem. The two films also prove with aplomb that his success in the '90s was no fluke, opening his next decade of filmmaking in style.

Not for the faint of heart, "Kill Bill" is Tarantino at his best, delivering two films worth of violence and bloodshed as only he can make.

12. Avatar

Director James Cameron tackled one of his most ambitious movies ever in 2009 after more than a decade hiatus with the release of the science fiction epic "Avatar." The film introduces audiences to the planet Pandora, a lush and immersive alien world inhabited by a spiritual people called the Na'vi. But their homeworld becomes a warzone when it's overrun by unscrupulous corporate mercenaries who've arrived from Earth to mine their habitat for its precious resources. 

When one of the mercs, Jake Sully, comes to sympathize with and appreciate the beauty and culture of the Na'vi's world, he turns on his superiors and joins the alien natives, inciting an all-out war for the fate of Pandora and its people. Emerging stars Sam Worthington ("Terminator Salvation") and Zoe Saldana ("Guardians of the Galaxy") headline the cast, alongside Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, and Giovanni Ribisi. But it wasn't just the immersive story and stunning CGI that drew audiences in 2009. 

Filmed using groundbreaking 3D technology, "Avatar" sent moviegoers to the theaters in droves never before seen, and before long it had toppled Cameron's previous epic "Titanic" as the highest-grossing film in the history of cinema (via The Guardian). Eye-popping action and over-the-top spectacle combined with a heartrending story helped make "Avatar" an instant classic upon release.

11. Iron Man

Marvel released "Iron Man" into theaters in 2008 to raucous applause, launching what's become the biggest film franchise in history, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Robert Downey Jr. led the way as Tony Stark, with a supporting cast of stars including Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Terrence Howard. Up-and-coming star director Jon Favreau took the helm behind the camera, resulting in one of the best action movies of the decade — a comic book adventure that set a new bar for the genre.

In "Iron Man," we meet billionaire industrialist and snarky playboy Tony Stark, whose technology company has been building weapons for the military. But when he's taken hostage by terrorists who force him into making them a dangerous new missile system, he uses breakthrough technology to build a suit of armor and escape his captivity. Back home, he vows to close his weapons manufacturing business — angering his CEO Obadiah Stane (Bridges) — while refining his armor prototype and ultimately becoming the high-flying hero known as Iron Man. When Stane gets a hold of Stark's new technology, though, he builds his own battle suit and vows to kill Stark and take over the company.

The start of an unprecedented interconnected universe of films that's changed the whole film industry, "Iron Man" astounded audiences with a phenomenal cast and some of the best superhero action that comic book fans had ever seen.

10. The Bourne Identity

Based on the spy novel of the same name by Robert Ludlum, 2002's "The Bourne Identity" isn't the first adaptation of the story (that honor goes to the 1988 television miniseries starring Richard Chamberlain). But this time, with Doug Liman behind the camera, a breezy script by Tony Gilroy, and hot young Hollywood icon Matt Damon starring, it became the start of a Hollywood franchise — an American answer to "James Bond." Jason Bourne's debut film remains one of the best in the series, becoming a film known for its action and secret agent intrigue.

The movie opens in enigmatic fashion, with a mysterious man emerging from the ocean who seems to have no memories of who he is or how he got there. He's clearly not just your average seaman, however, as he's an expert hand-to-hand combatant and has a small device embedded under his skin. With the help of a young woman named Marie (Franka Potente), he learns his name is Jason Bourne, but he still doesn't know why he's being hunted by a group of deadly assassins.

An absorbing mystery, the film is punctuated by mesmerizing action sequences, fast-paced gun fights, car chases, and tense hand-to-hand melees. The movie also helped launch Matt Damon to superstardom, with the actor returning for three more films in the series. 

9. Minority Report

The 2002 sci-fi action film "Minority Report" is based on a story by legendary author Philip K. Dick, whose work has been the basis for such classics as "Blade Runner" and "Total Recall." With Steven Spielberg at the helm and Tom Cruise starring, it quickly became a blockbuster success, and like those other films, it's a stunning visual masterpiece on top of being an action-packed thriller. Colin Farrell, Max von Sydow, and Samantha Morton co-star.

The film follows agent John Anderton, an officer with the Department of Precrime in a near future where crime can be predicted. With the assistance of a trio of telepathic humans dubbed "Precogs," the agency can track and identify violent criminals before they ever strike. While investigating a future incident, Anderton discovers that he himself is to be their next target, as he's marked as a future murderer. On the run from his own agency and hunted by the ambitious and unforgiving Agent Witwer (Farrell), Anderton discovers evidence that the entire program may be compromised. Dead set on clearing his name and exposing a sinister conspiracy, he kidnaps one of the Precogs in the hope of upending their entire society.

With pulse-pounding action, futuristic shoot-outs, and thrilling chase scenes, "Minority Report" might be one of the best sci-fi action thrillers ever made, and it certainly received plenty of praise upon release.

8. Sin City

The 2005 crime drama "Sin City" is based on the comic books of the same name by luminary artist and writer Frank Miller, author of such famed works as "The Dark Knight Returns" and "300." For the groundbreaking adaptation, "From Dusk Till Dawn" helmer Robert Rodriguez was enlisted to help Miller — who co-directed –  create a revolutionary neo-noir action movie with some of the most stunning and visually exciting action in years. With a mostly computer-generated backdrop, the film's cast is dropped into a dark, sobering, and filthy comic book city populated by violent thugs, drug dealers, and killers.

And what a cast it is. Joining star Bruce Willis as Detective Harry Hartigan are Jessica Alba, Clive Owen, Benicio Del Toro, Rosario Dawson, Devon Aoki, Carla Gugino, Rutger Hauer, and Mickey Rourke as the brutish Marv. The film tells three separate but loosely related stories, which include Marv's quest to find the man responsible for his lover's death, Dwight (Owen) helping a group of women warriors avoid trouble with the corrupt police force after they unwittingly kill a cop, and Harry Hartigan's hunt for a sociopathic serial killer who's also the son of a powerful political figure.  

Stylish visuals, gut-punching black-and-white action, and appropriately pulpy performances help make "Sin City" one of the best and most unforgettable action films of the 2000s.

7. Spider-Man 2

After the success of the character's big-screen live-action debut in 2002 with "Spider-Man," director Sam Raimi ("Evil Dead") and star Tobey Maguire ("Pleasantville") reunited for the sequel just two years later. More refined and confident than its predecessor, the 2004 comic book action film "Spider-Man 2" is the rare sequel that improves an already great original in almost every respect. Roller-coaster action set pieces, a heartfelt story, and one of the best comic book villains ever put to screen turned it into an all-time superhero classic that's still beloved today.

The film sees the cinematic debut of one of Spider-Man's greatest foes from the comics, the dastardly mad scientist Doctor Octopus, played by veteran character actor Alfred Molina. Molina's charming and sinister performance brings the character to life, turning a kind atomic researcher into a criminal madman when his experimental mechanical arms go haywire. While Peter Parker is struggling with his dual identity, Ock becomes obsessed with using his latest invention and allies himself with Harry Osborn, who still wants revenge on the wallcrawler for the death of his father. 

A superhero revenge thriller of sorts, "Spider-Man 2" boasted some of the best action ever seen in a comic book movie when it was released, including a memorable fight sequence atop an elevated train. But it's not just mindless action, as the film scored big with critics too, who were forced to finally take silly superheroes seriously.

6. Casino Royale

Like many of the films on this list, the 2006 spy action movie "Casino Royale" is a franchise reboot — this time restarting the venerated "James Bond" series. Where the previous Pierce Brosnan-led entry "The World Is Not Enough" seemed to have lost its way by devolving into camp, the relaunch directed by Martin Campbell brought 007 back to his gritty, spy drama roots. Incoming lead actor Daniel Craig, the breakout star of "Layer Cake," stepped into the tuxedo and behind the wheel of the Aston Martin for the first time, delivering a more visceral and brutish version of the British super-spy.

Adapted from the classic "Bond" novel of the same name, the story follows an early-career James Bond who's yet to fully establish himself at MI6. He faces off with a villainous criminal money-man named Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelson), who sets his sights on 007 after he inadvertently costs him millions of dollars by averting a terrorist attack. In a climactic and now-iconic sequence, Bond's showdown with Le Chiffre comes not at the business end of his Walther PPK, but at the poker table. 

Featuring tense drama and nail-biting action, "Casino Royale" remains one of the best "Bond" movies ever, and it started Craig's era off with a bang.

5. Star Trek

By 2009, it had been almost a decade since "Star Trek" had been on the big screen, with the series shuttered after the failure of "Star Trek: Nemesis." But director J.J. Abrams breathed new life into the franchise with his action-packed blockbuster reboot, the singularly titled "Star Trek," starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Anton Yelchin, Karl Urban, and John Cho as the crew of the USS Enterprise.

Bringing the series back to the beginning, the story deftly uses sci-fi hijinks to start a new universe of stories that are built off the old. Leonard Nimoy returns as the original Mr. Spock, who inadvertently creates a parallel reality while trying to save an alien world. It's there that we meet a young James T. Kirk, who's catapulted into the captain's chair aboard the Enterprise when a Romulan villain called Nero arrives to find Spock and wreak havoc on this new reality. Packed with over-the-top sci-fi action, it's a roller-coaster adventure that impressed audiences and earned itself strong reviews while turning Pine and Saldana into bonafide stars.

The film wasn't without its critics, though, who felt that turning the more cerebral sci-fi series into an action film did a disservice to the franchise. Nevertheless, its success was undeniable, leading to two blockbuster sequels and heavily influencing the next wave of "Star Trek" series with its tone and style.

4. The Bourne Ultimatum

While it's an unusual feat for a sequel to top its predecessor, it's even rarer for the third film in a trilogy to be the best. But in 2007, "The Bourne Ultimatum," the final installment in the initial "Bourne" trilogy, became just that. Written again by Tony Gilroy, directed by Paul Greengrass, and starring Matt Damon, the film is a big step up from the previous entry, "The Bourne Supremacy," and the results at the box office reflected that too, topping out at nearly half a billion dollars – no small feat for a modestly-budgeted action thriller.

The film sees Damon back in action as Jason Bourne, a highly trained assassin on the search to discover the truth of his shrouded past. As he investigates his missing memories and at long last discovers the secrets behind his origins, he's hunted by CIA assassins and chased around the globe in an effort to stop him from getting too close to the truth. 

Upping the stakes and the action, "The Bourne Ultimatum" is still the best entry in the "Bourne" saga. Between the incredible action, exhilarating chases, and nerve-wrecking suspense, you'll be on the edge of your seat until the very end.

3. The Dark Knight

Like "Spider-Man 2," 2008's "The Dark Knight" ups the ante as the sequel to a promising first film, the 2005 "Batman" reboot "Batman Begins." Auteur crime thriller director Christopher Nolan returns, and he brings the Caped Crusader's greatest comic book villain, the Joker, with him, reinvented as an unstoppable psychopathic serial killer played by Heath Ledger. 

Freed from the shackles of an origin story, Nolan crafts a brilliant crime thriller that sees the murderous Clown Prince of Crime causing mayhem in Gotham, becoming a thorn in the side of both police and the warring mobs. But when he gruesomely disfigures District Attorney Harvey Dent in an assassination attempt, he starts a violent war in the city streets that Batman may be powerless to stop.

A shocking new take on the legend of the comic book vigilante and his clownish rival, Bale is better than ever as the world's greatest superhero detective. But it's Ledger's Joker — like Jack Nicholson's before him in 1989's "Batman" — who steals the spotlight in a performance that earned the late star a posthumous Academy Award. Combined with an impeccable script and high-octane action that sees Batman hunting Gotham's streets in the Batmobile, "The Dark Knight" swung its way to becoming a landmark comic book film that remains among the very best in the genre to this day.

2. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Hong Kong action films had found cult followings in America throughout the 20th century, but in 2000, Columbia Pictures had director Ang Lee — who'd already helmed a handful of Hollywood movies — produce the martial arts action film "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" as an international venture. The film became a breakout success at the American box office and proved the appeal of Hong Kong cinema in the United States.

With a cast of stars who were mostly unknown to American audiences at the time, the film helped launch the Hollywood careers of Michelle Yeoh ("Crazy Rich Asians"), Chow Yun-Fat ("Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End"), Zhang Ziyi ("House of Flying Daggers"), and Cheng Pei-pei ("Mulan"), among others. The film centers on a pair of warriors on the hunt for a powerful sword known as the Green Destiny, which is stolen by a cunning adversary. The trail leads them on an adventure filled with epic wuxia action, glorious romance, and high fantasy.

A massive and unexpected hit, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" became the highest-grossing foreign film in the history of American movies (per Box Office Mojo). It was nominated for numerous Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and ultimately won Best Foreign Film and several other accolades.

1. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

The only modern fantasy film ever to win an Academy Award for Best Picture, the 2003 action-adventure adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Return of the King" caps off Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy in epic fashion. Despite its mammoth run time, audiences packed the theaters for the finale of the sweeping fantasy tale — a story filled with the biggest battles and most intense action that could be imagined on the big screen.

Following from where "The Two Towers" leaves off, Sam and Frodo approach Mount Doom in the hopes of destroying the One Ring and preventing the return of the Dark Lord Sauron. Warriors Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, and the armies of elf and man meanwhile prepare for a final confrontation with Sauron's forces at the steps of Minis Tirith for the fate of all Middle-earth. With the arrival of unexpected allies — including undead phantom warriors and an army of giant eagles — the film produces what arguably remains the greatest battle in cinema history, with a scope and scale rarely seen.

Blowing the doors off the box office, "Return of the King" concludes the hit saga with a bang and plenty of jaw-dropping action. Landing to critical acclaim, it stands tall as one of the most beloved fantasy films ever made.