Action Movies – List of Action Movies

Friday, April 2, 2010 at 10:01 am

I’m a sucker for action movies. In fact, anytime I come across a list of action movies with a title I haven’t seen, it immediately goes into my Netflix queue. Maybe it’s all the testosterone floating in my system, but nothing gets me going like shootouts, hand-to-hand combat, and a massive explosion or two thrown in for good measure. If there’s a pretty lady involved…all the better.

In this post, I’ll be providing a decade-by-decade breakdown of the Hollywood action genre. As we close things out, you’ll also find a list of action movies considered essential. While far from comprehensive, I’m hoping this will serve as an excellent jumping-on point for would-be fans.

And did I mention that Netflix carries thousands of action films? I’ve rented everything from Kung Fu Hustle to Face/Off from Netflix, and I’ve never been anything but pleased with their low monthly subscription rates and their fast delivery time. In fact, they even offer a free trial membership.

What Defines an Action Movie?

The best definition for an action movie is one in which the story is told primarily through physical action as opposed to dialogue. While this usually takes the form of a lone hero struggling against difficult odds, some action movies (especially martial arts films) may include a team of heroes. This also applies to the popular buddy cop action sub-genre.

Speaking of sub-genres, let’s take a brief look at some of the specific types of action film. Keep in mind that there are no hard and fast rules for defining the action genre, and films may often be categorized according to individual opinion.

The 1920s and 1930s

The action films of this period were dominated by Douglas Fairbanks, and his swashbuckling role in The Adventures of Robin Hood overshadowed all others. Adventure films featuring swordfights were crowd favorites, but Westerns also had a sizable following.

The 1940s and 1950s

Westerns and war films provided the bulk of action during this period. The use of elaborate set pieces was innovated by Alfred Hitchcock in films such as North by Northwest.

The 1960s

James Bond came to the forefront in the 1960s, and the notion of the unstoppable lone hero began to take form. Other action tropes such as car chases, fistfights, deadly women, and high-tech gadgets also got their start in this popular franchise. In fact, James Bond may have single-handedly been responsible for modern action films as we know them.

The 1970s

The cop who plays by his own rules became popular in the 1970s with films such as Dirty Harry, The French Connection, and Bullitt. Westerns began to wane in popularity during this time, instead being replaced by the urban action genre. Martial arts films also enjoyed an explosion in popularity, largely due to the impressive physical capabilities of Bruce Lee. And, of course, the James Bond franchise continued to flourish.

The 1980s

Action films exploded in popularity during the ‘80s, and it was truly the golden era of the genre. Men like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Mel Gibson, and Bruce Willis dominated the box office, and influential films such as The Terminator, Die Hard, and Lethal Weapon would be released. Hybrid films became popular, mixing action elements with those of horror, sci-fi, or war. Heroes who employed martial arts also became common, with actors such as Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme gaining a sizable following.

The 1990s

CGI effects began to grow in both popularity and technical proficiency, and films like Terminator 2: Judgment Day were monster hits at the box office. Superhero action films slowly began to amass an audience, and sequels became quite common in Hollywood. By the end of the decade, some of the established action stars found their popularity in decline, and traditional action films began to falter in favor of hybrids like The Matrix.

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The 2000s

Special effects became all the rage in the new millennium, and hybrid action films like the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and The Lord of the Rings trilogy ruled at the box office. The influence of the martial arts films continued to grow, and the release of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon caused a surge in popularity for this sub-genre. The comic-book movie also proved itself a marketable commodity, and each summer saw films such as Iron Man, Spider-Man, and the X-Men rake in the cash. Older action stars such as Sylvester Stallone enjoyed a resurgence in popularity thanks to their revisiting characters such as Rocky Balboa and John Rambo.

List of Action Movies

While I realize the above information seems sparse, covering the action genre in a comprehensive fashion would require more time than I currently have. For those of you who are truly interested, however, I’ve included this list of action movies to get you started.

And if you’d like to know more about the action movie genre, be sure to read the following posts:

This entry was posted on Friday, April 2nd, 2010 at 10:01 am and is filed under Good Movies, Thoughts on Film. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 Responses to “Action Movies – List of Action Movies”

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April 13, 2010


Gone in 60 Seconds
Saving Private Ryan
Usual Suspects

…some of my favourite.


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