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With theatres closed and film release plans uncertain, we pick the 21 best action movies of all time to deliver all those warm, fuzzy, explosion-y summer movie thrills


Where is [insert my favourite action movie] on the list of 21 best action movies of all time???

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Sorry, Oldboy didn't make the list. Please put your hammers away.

I’m sorry, but there were a lot of movies to consider for the arbitrary number of entries to which I limited myself! If you’re wondering where is this movie or that, here are brief answers regarding the most obvious M.I.A. candidates:

  • Heat: More a prestige-minded thriller (with one very big gun battle) than an action movie.
  • Predator, True Lies, Death Proof: These could, and maybe should, be listed above. But I already had one John McTiernan film with Die Hard, another Cameron with T2 (which also partially explains the Aliens exclusion noted above), and Tarantino covered, too.
  • The Bourne Supremacy/The Bourne Ultimatum: I admire what Paul Greengrass did with his shaky-cam action cinema, but it still makes me nauseous.
  • Oldboy: A psychological thriller with one excellent action-movie sequence that makes you think twice about the power of a good hammer.
  • Speed: It was close, but I maxed out my Keanu Reeves quota.
  • Point Break: See above. Also, not so much an action movie as a crime thriller with some gnarly waves, brah.
  • Ronin: Unofficially, it’s pick No. 22.
  • The Lord of the Rings/Star Wars: These are fantasy-slash-sci-fi films, not action movies.
  • Platoon/Saving Private Ryan/Black Hawk Down/Dunkirk/The Outpost/etc.: If we want to talk war movies, then it’s a whole other list, people.
  • Baby Driver: Get the heck outta here, baby.

Meh movies with marvelous action

The Way of the Dragon

This is a controversial opinion, but Bruce Lee’s 1972 film is not that great an action movie. Until, that is, the final stretch, when Lee and future meme Chuck Norris face off in a wordless battle of brawn. Lee, who directed, wrote, and produced The Way of the Dragon, kicks Norris’s butt. But there are moments when it appears that even the Hollywood icon might allow himself to be defeated.


Most of 2020′s Extraction feels self-generated from a whack of Netflix search keywords: “mercenary,” “drug lord,” “Chris Hemsworth,” “Chris Hemsworth shirtless,” etc. But the algorithmic film is worth enduring for its 11-minute “one-shot” action sequence: a magnificent stretch involving a car chase, an apartment building rampage, rooftop jumps, a knife-fight and then another car chase.

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Ooh boy, Matthew Vaughn’s nihilistic adventure is a whole lot of problematic fun. But I can’t call it a particularly good movie. Except for That Scene. You know, the one where Colin Firth’s gentleman spy massacres a church full of maniacs set to the tune of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Marvel Cinematic Universe acolytes have probably stopped reading this list by now, but I will go to bat for the greatest moment in Avengers cinema: Cap’s elevator battle with Hydra henchmen. As Chris Evans goes toe-to-toe-to-toe-to-toe-etc. with way too many muscle-heads, directors Joe and Anthony Russo deviate from the MCU’s by-the-numbers set-piece playbook to tremendous effect.

Canada’s secret action-movie maestro

What’s the best Canadian action movie ever made? Better question: Name a single Canadian action movie. For obvious reasons – budgets, but also sensibility – Canada doesn’t really produce action movies. We might produce action-movie directors (James Cameron, Denis Villeneuve) but no matter how hard we might try to claim their works as our own, Avatar and Dune are not homegrown productions.

But consider this modest theory: Our greatest Canadian action director is actually … David Cronenberg. The man knows how to film knife fights (Eastern Promises), gang warfare (A History of Violence) and gun play, albeit with bones, teeth and gizzards standing in for semi-automatics (eXistenZ). He can destroy the human body alongside the best of ‘em (Scanners, Videodrome) and knows a thing or two about staging vehicular carnage, too (Crash). Think of him as our very own Michael Bay. But, you know, also not at all.

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David Cronenberg: Canada's action man.Tom Hanson/The Canadian Press

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