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The 25 Best '90s Action Movies Ranked

The 1980s saw action movies really come into their own. Action heroes got buffer, fights got bigger, and explosions became more fiery than ever before. Classics like "Aliens" and "Predator" combined sci-fi with military action, and for better or worse, movies got bloodier and more graphic than ever before. But did the genre stop there? Heck no, and when the decade rolled over into the 1990s, Hollywood only upped the ante. 

Revolutionary advances in special effects allowed for filmmakers' imaginations to come to life in ways never dreamt of before, and inventive new ideas started hitting the big screen with regularity. Arguably the best decade for big action movies, the '90s were full of cyborg heroes, secret agents, and space warriors — heroes in virtual realities, outer space, and even the far future. The decade also saw the international rise of actors and filmmakers from across the globe, from Robert Rodriguez and Antonio Banderas to John Woo and Jackie Chan. All these artists brought fresh new blood to the genre and delivered films that gave audiences action they'd never seen.

Some of today's biggest franchises began in the 1990s as well, with some fan favorites we still love sparked out of action movies from the era. But which are the cream of the crop, and which one in particular is the best of the best? Read on to discover the 25 best 1990s action movies, ranked.

25. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Few movies have ever arrived with such enormous levels of hype ahead of their release as "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace," the long-awaited prequel to the original "Star Wars" trilogy. With a cast led by Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, and Natalie Portman, the film had a strong pedigree, not to mention eye-popping visual effects that pushed the boundaries of what was possible on screen. The story introduced wise veteran Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jinn (Neeson) and a young Obi-Wan Kenobi (McGregor), who get caught up in a plot that threatens galactic peace.

It wasn't just the groundbreaking CGI characters and environments that made "The Phantom Menace" such a wonder at the time, but the action-packed set pieces that continued the franchise's legacy of fast-paced thrills. Though the movie was met with mixed reviews from critics, time has been kind to "The Phantom Menace." Its script may certainly leave something to be desired, but when it comes to action, it's among the best of its day. Thanks to its energetic lightsaber duels, terrifying new villains, exhilarating space battles, and iconic score, the film has become a classic and action-packed '90s adventure, if one with its fair share of problems.

24. Lethal Weapon 3

The first "Lethal Weapon" film to land in the 1990s, "Lethal Weapon 3" continued the series' one-upmanship by adding another new cast member with star Renee Russo ("Outbreak," "Ransom"). In the film, Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Murtaugh (Danny Glover) are dragged into a case being run by Lorna Cole (Russo), head of the Internal Affairs division.

Though Murtaugh has just six days until he's due to stand down and retire, the partners are tasked with hunting down a dangerous weapons dealer named Jack Travis (Stuart Wilson), with former criminal informant Leo Getz (Joe Pesci) returning to lend a hand. Complicating matters, however, is the fact that the villain just so happens to be a former LAPD cop. 

As the third entry in the series, reviewers were quick to point out that the film was a bit less fresh than previous installments, but that didn't stop it from being a wildly entertaining action flick. Bigger and more bombastic than ever before, the movie embraces the action with a bear hug, featuring more chases, gun fights, and explosions than its predecessors. And with Gibson and Glover as good as ever, "Lethal Weapon 3" is as funny and clever as it is exciting.

23. Demolition Man

In 1993, Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes – two of the biggest action stars of the decade — teamed up for "Demolition Man," a film that perfectly captures the style and tone of the era. Snipes plays stone-cold 20th-century killer Simon Phoenix, one of the most ruthless criminals of the 1990s, who's ultimately brought down by Stallone's John Spartan — an L.A. cop with a history of recklessness. But when their final confrontation results in the death of innocent bystanders, both Phoenix and Spartan are imprisoned and sentenced to a new kind of incarceration that sees them cryogenically frozen in an experimental rehab process.

Decades later, Los Angeles has been transformed into a peaceful utopia where crime no longer exists. But then Phoenix somehow escapes his confinement and resumes his old habits of mayhem. To stop him, authorities revive Spartan to hunt him down. Back with a badge, Spartan is paired with young and naive officer Lenina Huxley (Sandra Bullock), and he soon discovers that Phoenix's escape is at the heart of a vast conspiracy. 

With a heavy load of gut-bursting violence and tongue-in-cheek comedy, "Demolition Man" is about as fun as a '90s action movie can get. And with a pair of charismatic superstars at the peak of their respective careers, it became an instant classic, even if it wasn't exactly a critical darling.

22. Broken Arrow

Hong Kong director John Woo arrived in Hollywood with the Jean-Claude Van Damme movie "Hard Target" in 1993. After a three-year break, Woo returned to direct "Broken Arrow," an action thriller starring John Travolta — who was in the midst of a career comeback — and Christian Slater at the height of his '90s fame. The film proved to be a much bigger box office hit than "Hard Target," showing Woo's capabilities as an international director. 

Pure action spectacle, the story of "Broken Arrow" follows two air force pilots, Major Vic Deakins (Travolta) and Captain Riley Hale (Slater), who're assigned to escort a pair of nuclear warheads in a stealth bomber on a classified mission. But while in the air, Deakins goes rogue, ejects Hale from the bomber, and escapes with the stolen warheads, which he plans to use for nefarious purposes. Left to fend for himself, Hale tries to stop Deakins, and he gets help from an intrepid park ranger named Terry Carmichael (Samantha Mathis). 

A classic John Woo action flick, "Broken Arrow" is an entertaining joyride with slick and stylish direction, pulse-pounding gun fights, and plenty of explosions.

21. Con Air

Hot off of his breakout action role in "The Rock," Nicolas Cage returned in "Con Air" to establish himself as the genre's newest superstar, acting alongside John Malkovich, John Cusack, Ving Rhames, Danny Trejo, Colm Meaney, and Steve Buscemi. The directorial debut of Simon West, the movie became one of the biggest hits of the year, finishing close behind another Cage classic, "Face/Off."

In the film, Cage stars as former U.S. Army Ranger Cameron Poe, who's sentenced to a decade in prison after a fight to defend his wife leaves a man dead. Years later, while on a transferring prison flight, Poe finds himself caught between hardened convicts and bloodthirsty killers who enact a plan to hijack the plane and escape. Utilizing his military training and expertise, Poe decides to stop the villains himself. 

Fully embracing its ridiculousness, "Con Air" goes so far over the top that it almost becomes a comedy, but that's where the film shines. The ensemble cast delivers unexpectedly fun performances all around, and massive action set pieces like the climactic crash through the Las Vegas strip keep things exciting from start to finish. With sky-high levels of calamity, the film helped set a new bar for action directors like Michael Bay, from which there would be no going back from.

20. Rush Hour

The 1990s saw an explosion of international talent succeeding in America, including Hong Kong action legend Jackie Chan. Though he'd been in films like "The Big Brawl" as early as 1980, and his Hong Kong action movie "Rumble in the Bronx" had been successful in the states, the action comedy "Rush Hour," co-starring Chris Tucker, made Chan a bonafide Hollywood star. 

Following in the footsteps of the buddy cop genre's best, Tucker and Chan star as mismatched police officers. Chan plays the straight-laced detective Lee, who arrives in Los Angeles to track down the kidnapped daughter of a prominent Chinese diplomat. Assigned to work with him is the snarky Detective Carter (Tucker), and neither is particularly happy to be working with the other. Though the fish-out-of-water story is an old one, the chemistry between Tucker and Chan makes it fresh and fun, keeping the film both lively and entertaining. 

With sharp wit and breezy high-speed action, it's no wonder that "Rush Hour" established itself as one of the best action comedies of the decade.

19. Desperado

Acclaimed action director Robert Rodriguez has had a long and diverse career, including the family film series "Spy Kids," episodes of "The Mandalorian," and the 2005 noir classic "Sin City." But among his earliest efforts is the neo-Western "Desperado," the film that helped put both Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek on the map. Unknown to many at the time, the film was actually a sequel to Rodriguez's 1993 directorial debut "El Mariachi," and it was later followed by "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" almost a decade later.

Taking over the lead role from Carlos Gallardo, Banderas stars as a legendary gunslinger called El Mariachi — a brooding, guitar-playing drifter looking for revenge against those who've wronged him. His search leads him to Bucho (Joaquim de Almeida), the leader of a Mexican drug cartel who killed the woman El Mariachi loved. With a guitar case full of guns and the help of bookstore owner Carolina (Hayek), El Mariachi carves a bloody path to Bucho's door and exacts his vengeance.

A crowd-pleasing revenge movie with a fresh style that audiences hadn't seen before, "Desperado" made Banderas one of the decade's great action heroes. And with non-stop shootouts, big explosions, and one of cinema's greatest and bloodiest bar-room gun fights, "Desperado" also established Rodriguez as one of the genre's most exciting new directors.

18. Twister

Not every action movie has to feature muscle-bound, gun-toting heroes, and the 1996 disaster movie "Twister" proves it. Written by "Jurassic Park" creator Michael Crichton, the film stars Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Cary Elwes, Jamie Gertz, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman in a story about a group of storm chasers hunting for a powerful tornado to further their scientific research.

Hunt stars as Jo Harding, a meteorologist who develops a new storm tracking system called "Dorothy." But deploying it will mean getting up close and in the path of a powerful twister. Paxton plays Bill Harding, Jo's estranged husband who tracks her down with divorce papers, only to join her mission when another storm chaser (Elwes) tries to steal Jo's idea. The two former lovers are forced together once more in an effort to get Jo's invention out into the field before their rival can do the same.

The second-highest-grossing film of 1996, "Twister" became a huge box office smash, and its high-speed, car-crushing, cow-tossing action was a big reason why. Giving audiences a new kind of thrill, the film was met with praise for its jaw-dropping special effects and edge-of-your-seat tension, with Empire calling it a "white knuckle ride" that all but demanded repeat viewings.

17. Independence Day

The writing and directing team of Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich found success with 1992's "Universal Soldier," and even more with the 1994 sci-fi war movie "Stargate." But in 1996, it was "Independence Day," a near billion-dollar blockbuster, that made them a true Hollywood dream team. Before the movie was even released, the trailers caught viewers' attention with the unforgettable shots of the White House being blown to smithereens, setting the stage for one of the 1990s' biggest action films.

An alien invasion flick with a disaster movie twist, "Independence Day" features groundbreaking special effects and blockbuster action. The movie sees the Earth attacked by aliens, with landmarks across the globe being destroyed and a rag-tag group of heroes sent off to defeat the seemingly unstoppable invaders. Air Force captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith) and computer engineer David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) team up to strike back at the alien mother ship, while down-on-his-luck farmer and UFO-abductee Russell Casse (Randy Quaid) finds a measure of revenge in combat against a squadron of alien fighters. 

Though alien invasion movies had been done many times before, they'd never been done quite like this, with top-notch special effects and massive action sequences that practically burst off the movie screen. The result was a box office smash to the tune of more than $800 million, strong reviews, and an Academy Award.

16. The Rock

Fresh off his directorial debut on "Bad Boys," Michael Bay helmed a stellar sophomore outing in 1996's  "The Rock." Starring Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery alongside "Apollo 13" star Ed Harris, the film proved to be a watershed action flick that helped set the tone for the next decade of the genre.

"The Rock" sees a group of former soldiers go rogue and take a group of tourists hostage on Alcatraz Island, the former home of America's most notorious prison. With deadly weapons at their disposal, they demand a king's ransom while threatening a massive attack on neighboring San Francisco. In response, an elite team of Navy SEALs is sent in, alongside FBI agent Stanley Goodspeed (Cage) and the only prisoner ever to escape the island, former British SAS agent John Mason (Connery). When the rest of their team is taken down, it's up to Goodspeed and Mason alone to take down the extremists.

One of Michael Bay's best movies to date, "The Rock" is infused with the director's distinct style, and it's filled with non-stop action. The film features a huge range of exciting set pieces, from fiery shootouts and high-speed car chases to massive explosions and brutal fist fights. Whatever character drama you might be missing in "The Rock" is more than made up for by its endless action.

15. The Mummy

The early 1990s saw Hollywood attempt to make darker, grittier takes on classic monster movies, like Francis Ford Coppola's "Bram Stoker's Dracula" and Kenneth Branagh's "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein." But with no classic literature to fall back on, "The Mummy" was resurrected as a full-throttle action-adventure flick far more reminiscent of the pulp fun of "Indiana Jones" than any kind of gothic horror. Brendan Fraser stars as Rick O'Connell, a notorious adventurer and charming hero who gets caught up in an otherworldy journey.

Set in the 1920s, the film introduces rogue relic hunter Jonathan Carnahan (John Hannah) and his sister Evelyn (Rachel Weisz), who hire O'Connell to lead them to a fabled lost city. But in their search for treasure, the trio unwittingly releases an ancient evil, the spirit of an Egyptian high priest named Imhotep, whose 3,000-year-old quest for vengeance threatens to rain death and destruction upon the land. 

A throwback adventure with late '90s action and big CGI thrills, "The Mummy" brought back a classic movie monster, kicking off a long-running series of modern films and spin-offs. Directed by Stephen Sommers, the film proved to be a rip-roaring, old-school action flick with plenty of style and flair. 

14. The Fifth Element

After "La Femme Nikita" and "Leon: The Professional," director Luc Besson hit Hollywood with the 1995 sci-fi epic "The Fifth Element," starring action hero Bruce Willis and newcomer Milla Jovovich. A strong blend of comedy, action, science fiction, and surrealist fantasy, the film boasts the visionary world of "Blade Runner," the epic galactic quest of "Star Wars," and the run-and-gun thrills of Willis' "Die Hard" movies. The eclectic cast also includes comedian Chris Tucker ("Friday"), veteran character actor Ian Holm ("Alien"), TV star Luke Perry ("Beverly Hills 90210"), and Gary Oldman ("Bram Stoker's Dracula").

An epic space action movie, "The Fifth Element" follows Willis as downtrodden 23rd-century taxi driver Korben Dallas. Dallas' ordinary future life is turned upside down when he meets a mysterious young woman named Leeloo (Jovovich), whose existence may be the key to preventing a cosmic evil from returning to Earth and destroying the world. Though she has no memory and doesn't speak a word of any language Dallas can identify, Leeloo is a trained assassin, and according to a secret society of monks, she's one of five "elements" needed to stop a global armageddon.

With outer space excitement and a unique visual flare as only Besson can deliver, "The Fifth Element" received high praise and may just be the most unique '90s action movie you'll ever see.

13. Point Break

Known in the 1980s for comedies like "Parenthood" and "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure," Keanu Reeves became an unexpected action hero in 1991's "Point Break," directed by Kathryn Bigelow. Opposite Reeves was Patrick Swayze, who'd already done several popular '80s action movies like "Road House," "Uncommon Valor," and "Red Dawn." But here, the two stars made their mark on the '90s as a different kind of duo, with Reeves as an undercover agent and Swayze as a hardened crook.

A mix of thrilling action and tense cop drama, the film follows Reeves as FBI agent Johnny Utah — never mind the goofy name — who's sent on a mission to join a group of surfers believed to be responsible for a string of recent bank robberies. Their leader is Bodhi (Swayze), a devil-may-care man who's become a kind of legend in his community. Bodhi leads a group that includes Tyler (Lori Petty), a free-spirited young woman who quickly catches Utah's eye. Before long, their budding romance threatens to compromise his mission.

Combining the thrills of extreme sports with guns-blazing firefights and bare-knuckled brawls, "Point Break" takes its unforgettable action to places the genre had never seen, from surfing to sky-diving. Though the film's characters are hardly what you'd call nuanced, Bigelow knows that it's the action that you're here for, and she delivers it in spades.

12. La Femme Nikita

Though "La Femme Nikita" only received a limited release in the United States, its influence on the action genre cannot be understated. With a unique style — which Entertainment Weekly called "high-swank action fantasy" — the film inspired countless thrillers in its wake. Directed by Luc Besson, "La Femme Nikita" tells the story of a highly trained, gun-toting female assassin caught in a dangerous plot.

The film stars Anne Parillaud as Nikita, a wayward teen sentenced to life in prison who's quickly scooped up by government operatives who select her for a top-secret program. Erasing her past and providing her with specialized training in weapons, computer systems, and martial arts, Nikita becomes a skilled assassin. But her new life is disrupted when she falls in love with Marco (Jean-Hugues Anglade), a man she meets in a chance encounter.

Described by Roger Ebert as "the 'Pygmalion' legend for our own violent times," "La Femme Nikita" is a romantic action film that proved so impactful it was remade in multiple countries on both big and small screens. It became "Black Cat" in China, while Hollywood took their own stab at a remake with Bridget Fonda's "Point of No Return." The film also served as the basis for two television series (starring Peta Wilson and Maggie Q respectively), but none of these spin-offs are quite the same as Besson's original.

11. Star Trek: First Contact

When you think of action movies, you probably don't immediately think of classic "Star Trek." But before J.J. Abrams rebooted the franchise into a series of fast-paced blockbuster adventures in the 21st century, the 1996 film "Star Trek: First Contact" was its first true action movie. The second feature film for the cast of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," it's the first one that really lets the cast stand on their own. And while most "Trek" films feature their share of excitement, "First Contact" leans heavily into the action with massive starship battles, blazing phaser fights, and close-quarters combat sequences.

As the movie begins, the villainous Borg have returned and are on the verge of wiping out an entire fleet of starships when Captain Picard and Enterprise arrive to stop them. But in a last-ditch effort, the Borg send a ship back in time more than 300 years to alter history. Now it's up to Starfleet's finest to follow them back and repair the timeline. But the zombie-like Borg, led by a vicious queen (Alice Krige) take over the ship, forcing Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and his crew into a desperate struggle for survival as they fight to restore history.

With the most impressive action the franchise had yet seen, "First Contact" goes from time-travel romp to suspenseful actioner at warp speed. Met with rave reviews, it's often remembered as the best film of the "Next Generation" era, as well as one of the best sci-fi action movies of the 1990s.

10. GoldenEye

Following a two-film run with Timothy Dalton as 007, the "James Bond" franchise was reinvented for the 1990s with "GoldenEye." New star Pierce Brosnan had cut his teeth on "Remington Steele," a small screen action series centered on a different British secret agent, making him the perfect choice to lead the relaunched film series. This time, producers injected a bit more fun and light-heartedness — an element many felt was missing from Dalton's pair of more dour entries, "The Living Daylights" and "License to Kill."

The 1995 film sees Bond hunting down diabolical new villain Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean), a former MI6 operative and Bond's old colleague. Now in possession of a dangerous orbital weapon, Trevelyan threatens the world, and it's up to 007 to stop him. It's not just his former friend he has to contend with, but also the deadly skills of alluring assassin Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen). Thankfully, Bond gets help from staunch allies M (Judi Dench), Q (Desmond Llewelyn), and Miss Moneypenny (Samantha Bond).

With Brosnan bringing his signature wit and charm, plus director Martin Campbell's golden eye for riveting action, the film became a big hit, and one of the best "Bond" movies in decades. A slam dunk with audiences and critics alike, it proved to be the best of Brosnan's era, with followups unable to match its pitch-perfect tone.

9. True Lies

Director James Cameron reunited with his "Terminator" star Arnold Schwarzenegger for an unexpected action comedy in 1994 — "True Lies," co-starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold, Tia Carrere, Bill Paxton, and Charlton Heston. More light-hearted than Cameron's usual fare, the film continued Schwarzenegger's foray into comedic roles following hits like "Kindergarten Cop" and "Twins." But just because "True Lies" is funny doesn't mean it skimps on the spectacle. Quite the contrary, it quickly became a classic action movie in its own right, and one of Arnie's best.

The film places the muscle-bound actor in the role of Harry Tasker, a man whose family thinks he's an ordinary computer salesman. In reality, though, Tasker is secretly a covert agent for a shadow government intelligence group called Omega Sector. Living a double life, Harry finds trouble in his marriage, suspecting his wife Helen (Curtis) of having an affair. But while he works to rekindle their romance, an international villain kidnaps them both, and Harry's forced to reveal the truth. The super-spy husband and his suburban wife must then team up to save the world.

Arguably the most pure fun action movie on this list, "True Lies" puts Schwarzenegger's endless charm to good use, and the comedy only adds to the film's entertainment value. Praised for its heart and humor as well as its glorious action, "True Lies" is a true classic.

8. Mission: Impossible

Based on the well-known television series from the 1960s, 1996's "Mission: Impossible" brought the franchise into the modern era with a bang. The film stars Tom Cruise, who leads an ensemble cast featuring Ving Rhames, Jean Reno, Emilio Estevez, Kristen Scott Thomas, Vanessa Redgrave, Emmanuelle Béart, and Jon Voight. With Brian De Palma, director of "The Untouchables" and "Scarface" at the helm, the film had prestige talent both in front of and behind the camera, and the results speak for themselves.

Cruise stars as Ethan Hunt, an agent of a secret intelligence agency called the IMF responsible for the government's most critical classified black ops missions around the globe. When a mission to stop a rogue agent from stealing the CIA's NOC list fails, Hunt's entire team is assassinated. The only one left alive, Hunt becomes the IMF's primary suspect in the killings, and he must go on the run to prove his innocence and stop the real killer from selling the NOC list to a diabolical arms dealer. Assembling an elite covert team of his own, Hunt must break into CIA headquarters to clear his name and stop a terrorist plot.

With the TV show's iconic theme behind them, Cruise and De Palma turn a quaint spy story into the slickest spy thriller of the decade. The film jumpstarted one of Hollywood's biggest action franchises to date, and it gave Cruise both his signature blockbuster brand and one of his most iconic roles.

7. Speed

If you think you've ever been on a rough bus ride, think again. After the success of "Point Break," Keanu Reeves became a serious force in the action genre, and he cemented his status with 1994's "Speed," starring opposite rising star Sandra Bullock. Dennis Hopper, Joe Morton, and Jeff Daniels round out the core cast, playing in a story about the wildest commute you've ever seen.

Reeves stars as LAPD SWAT officer Jack Traven, whose partner is killed by a dangerous bomber (Hopper). On the hunt for the killer, Traven learns that another bomb has been planted on a public commuter bus somewhere in downtown Los Angeles, and that it's rigged to explode if the bus goes slower than 50 miles per hour. Tricking the bomber and getting aboard the bus is the easy part, but disarming the explosive without the bus slowing down — while the bomber watches every move on television — proves even harder than it sounds. 

An iconic '90s action thriller, "Speed" was met with great reviews for its clever premise and its ability to deliver big action despite its smaller, laser-focused scope. Roger Ebert awarded the film a perfect four stars, calling it "an ingenious windup machine ... smart [and] inventive," while giving particularly high marks to Reeves and Bullock. 

6. Face/Off

Continuing his career comeback sparked by "Pulp Fiction," John Travolta joined forces with Nicolas Cage for the seminal 1997 John Woo action epic "Face/Off." In addition to its two stars, the film features Dominique Swain ("Lolita"), Gina Gershon ("Bound"), and Joan Allen ("The Ice Storm"). With endless stylized action, Cage and Travolta's terrifically campy performances, and Woo's own flair for the dramatic, the film took the success of "Broken Arrow" and supercharged it with an even more preposterous premise.

An over-the-top, action-heavy thriller, "Face/Off" centers on FBI agent Sean Archer (Travolta), whose son is killed in a deadly showdown with psychopathic murderer Castor Troy (Cage). When Troy plants a bomb in an undisclosed location in Los Angeles, Archer goes to extreme measures to stop him, undergoing an experimental procedure that transplants Troys face onto his own. Now impersonating the ruthless killer, Archer uses his new face to get the information he needs. But things take a twisted turn when Troy resurfaces sporting Archer's face and sets out to take over his rival's life.

Despite the ridiculousness of the story, "Face/Off" became a favorite of audiences and critics alike, renowned for its nonstop action, brilliant absurdism, and razor's-edge tension.

5. Total Recall

Already established as an action superstar thanks to 1980s films like "Conan the Barbarian," "The Terminator," and "Predator," Arnold Schwarzenegger kicked off the 1990s in style with the sci-fi action film "Total Recall." With director Paul Verhoeven — fresh off his seminal '80s action satire "RoboCop" — at the helm, Schwarzenegger's star power and wry sense of humor came on full display, alongside the likes of Ronny Cox, Michael Ironside, and Sharon Stone also star.

In this zany sci-fi adventure, Schwarzenegger plays Douglas Quaid, a weary construction worker looking for a respite from his hum-drum life. Against his wife's wishes, Quaid goes to a virtual vacation provider to be given false memories of an exciting adventure as a secret agent. But when the procedure is apparently botched, Quaid realizes that he may be an actual spy, and his former identity an implanted cover. With the help of a mysterious freedom fighter (Rachel Ticotin), Quaid must seek out Kuato, the enigmatic leader of the resistance on Mars, to get to the truth — all while being hunted by dangerous enemy agents who want him dead.

Creatively violent and brutally strange, "Total Recall" shoudl satisfy any Schwarzenegger fan's thirst for action. And while not explicitly a comedy, the film is punctuated by Verhoeven's patented sly wit and social commentary, which positively augments the film's raucous chaos.  

4. Men in Black

A sci-fi twist on the buddy cop action comedy, 1997's "Men in Black" changed the game and continued Will Smith's meteoric career as one of Hollywood's biggest stars. Paired with veteran actor Tommy Lee Jones ("The Fugitive"), Smith brought new levels of snark and charm to the genre, with an action-packed script brought to life through cutting-edge special effects. 

Based on a little-known comic book, "Men in Black" sees Smith playing New York City cop Jay Edwards, who's recruited into a shadowy government organization called the Men in Black that oversees alien visitors who live secretly on Earth. Partnered with stern, straight-laced Agent Kay, Jay is thrust into his first case — hunting down an alien bug who's set out to steal a powerful relic that threatens the safety of Earth. 

An innovative reinvention of the sci-fi action film, "Men in Black" was something audiences hadn't seen before — a bizarre mix of alien weirdness and futurist cop comedy. Punctuated by hilariously fun action, the film thrives off of its two stars, with Smith and Jones bringing some of the best chemistry ever seen in the genre. A blockbuster hit, "Men in Black" earned high praise and spawned a pair of sequels, an animated series of its own, and a soft reboot in 2019.

3. Jurassic Park

A landmark film that pushed special effects to new heights, Steven Spielberg's "Jurassic Park is more than just an ordinary adventure movie, delivering a cinematic experience unlike anything audiences had ever seen before. Based on the acclaimed Michael Crichton novel, Spielberg's film strips out much of the detailed science in exchange for adventure and spectacle, featuring the most realistic and exciting dinosaur action ever put to screen at the time.

The film stars Sam Neill and Laura Dern as Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler, a pair of paleontologists. Alongside Jeff Goldblum as mathematician Ian Malcolm, they're brought to a remote island by eccentric tycoon John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), who wants their impressions of his latest endeavor: Jurassic Park, a tourist retreat filled with genetically engineered dinosaurs. But while they're on their tour of the park, chaos erupts when the security system is sabotaged and the deadly dinos get loose, forcing everyone to fight for their lives.

An unprecedented film and a game-changer for the industry, "Jurassic Park" raised the bar for both VFX and big-screen thrills, blending philosophy and strong character writing with nail-biting action sequences to exceptional results.

2. The Matrix

After "Point Break" and "Speed," Keanu Reeves had become a major action star, but it was 1999's "The Matrix" that cemented his legacy as one of the era's biggest names. The brainchild of visionary filmmakers Lana and Lilly Wachowski, the film was a landmark cultural phenomenon that established a number of new Hollywood trends, from the innovative "bullet time" effect to the early-2000s' black leather look seen in franchises like "X-Men" and the "Underworld" movies. "The Matrix" also popularized a number of sci-fi concepts that are still common today.

The film follows Thomas Anderson, AKA Neo — a computer hacker who's thrust into a new world of rebellion when he meets the mysterious Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss). With the help of rebel leader Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), Neo learns that the reality he knows is simply a computer program enslaving the human race in a post-apocalyptic future. According to Morpheus, Neo is the prophesied "One," destined to free humanity by fighting back against the oppressive machine regime.

"The Matrix" is wall-to-wall action that borrows heavily from Hong Kong action movies while still bringing plenty of its own unique ideas. From stunning martial arts fights to unbelievable gun battles, the Wachowskis' career-defining achievement changed action movies forever, earning high praise and a huge take at the box office.

1. Terminator 2

The greatest action movie of the 1990s is "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," and there are few who would dispute that. Impeccably directed by James Cameron, the film boasted the highest budget of any movie ever made at the time (per Yahoo). Combined with a near-perfect script and some of the best character work ever in an action flick, it's easy to see why "Terminator 2" has transcended the sci-fi action genre.

In "Terminator 2," Arnold Schwarzenegger returns as the T-800 Terminator, but this time he's on the side of good, thrust back in time to protect future resistance leader John Connor (Edward Furlong). Sent to kill John is Robert Patrick as the T-1000 liquid metal Terminator, an advanced model that's more dangerous than anything seen before. But before they can defeat the T-1000, John and his new robot buddy have to rescue his mother Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), leading to a number of tense showdowns that decide the fate of the future.

Clever plot twists, memorable one-liners, and action sequences that defy imagination are just the tip of the iceberg here. Leaping from one explosive scene to the next, "Terminator 2" is one of the most adrenaline-pumping action movies ever made. Ultimately, though, it's the film's surprisingly emotional story of a mother and son searching for peace that makes the movie so timeless.