Action movies serve a very specific purpose. If you're looking for emotive acting, profound dialogue, and thought-provoking themes that challenge your perspective, you've come to the wrong article!
But if you're in the mood for big explosions, lots of gunfire, reckless car chases, and badass protagonists who spend most of their time crawling through vents, jumping off roofs, and crashing cars?
Oh, you've come to the right place!
Here are some of the best and most iconic action movie franchises of all time, each one delivering its own flavor of blockbusting action that'll satisfy your thirst for high-octane drama.
5. Die Hard
The Die Hard franchise includes:
- Die Hard (1988)
- Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990)
- Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995)
- Live Free or Die Hard (2007)
- A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)
1998's Die Hard revolutionized the action genre and pioneered the action movie formula that we see in many movies to this day. If only the franchise had stuck to its own winning recipe!
The Die Hard formula consists of two ingredients: (a) a contained environment under siege by an enemy, and (b) a flawed, reluctant, in-over-their-head underdog everyman hero who overcomes impossible odds with grit, perseverance, and smarts.
That's it! Any movie that pulls this off is basically a good Die Hard movie by another name.
The first two movies in the franchise stick to this formula fairly well, even if the airport in Die Hard 2 is significantly larger as a setting than Die Hard's Nakatomi Tower. The third film, Die Hard with a Vengeance, grows the setting even further to the entirety of New York City, but the fundamentals of John McClane's character are still there.
After that, the franchise goes bonkers. Not only does McClane inexplicably become nearly invincible with superhuman-like abilities, but the scope and setting both go international. To say that the series loses its sense of grounding would be an understatement.
Maybe we can still hope that the franchise will rediscover its strengths and go back to its roots if there's another sequel, but I'm not holding my breath. Live Free or Die Hard and A Good Day to Die Hard made an absurd amount of money, and I keep paying to see them anyway.
4. Jason Bourne
The Jason Bourne franchise includes:
- The Bourne Identity (2002)
- The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
- The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
- The Bourne Legacy (2012)
- Jason Bourne (2016)
The Bourne franchise follows the action-packed saga of Jason Bourne, a CIA-developed spy and super soldier.
The franchise begins with Bourne being pulled out of the ocean by a fishing boat, and we find him shot full of bullets with no recollection of who he is or what happened. The rest of the initial trilogy involves him uncovering the conspiracy around his identity.
The Bourne franchise would have been legendary if it was left alone as a trilogy. The first three movies are excellent, with The Bourne Identity being one of the best movies in its genre.
But you can always count on a successful franchise being wrung for all it's worth, tarnishing its reputation in the process. The Bourne Legacy and Jason Bourne aren't necessarily bad, but they're absolutely unneeded, mediocre, and forced.
3. James Bond
The James Bond franchise includes dozens of films. We'll split them up by the actor who portrayed James Bond in each film.
James Bond movies featuring Sean Connery:
- Dr. No (1962)
- From Russia with Love (1963)
- Goldfinger (1964)
- Thunderball (1965)
- You Only Live Twice (1967)
- Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
- Never Say Never Again (1983)
James Bond movies featuring David Niven:
- Casino Royale (1967)
James Bond movies featuring George Lazenby:
James Bond movies featuring Roger Moore:
- Live and Let Die (1973)
- The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
- The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
- Moonraker (1979)
- For Your Eyes Only (1981)
- Octopussy (1983)
- A View to a Kill (1985)
James Bond movies featuring Timothy Dalton:
James Bond movies featuring Pierce Brosnan:
James Bond movies featuring Daniel Craig:
The James Bond franchise has had its ups and downs. The quality of the series ranges from the embarrassing slapstick buffoonery of Live and Let Die in 1973 to the pitch-perfect excellence of Casino Royale in 2006. With this many films, that's bound to happen.
Even the bad James Bond movies are still really fun to watch, of course, and there are enough good movies in the franchise to earn its spot this high up on our list.
Not to mention the franchise's impossibly enduring relevance in the social fabric of modern culture. James Bond has been around for almost 60 years, and that's an impressively long run to ignore.
2. John Wick
The John Wick franchise includes:
The John Wick franchise follows the life of a retired assassin as he endures what has to be one of the worst weeks of his life.
The series begins with the murder of his puppy—which was gifted to him by his recently deceased wife—and the theft of his cool classic muscle car, a 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1. A pissed-off Wick proceeds to single-handedly wipe out a good chunk of the Russian mob.
In the third movie, Parabellum, Wick offends the secret society of assassins to which he once belonged. Now he has a price on his head and every assassin in the world is trying to kill him—so he takes all of them on, and stylish violence ensues.
If you like one John Wick movie, you'll like them all. The franchise knows exactly what it is, how to lean into it, and ways to shake things up without losing sight of its main formula.
The plot is solely there to serve the action, and it shouldn't be any other way. The Wick films spare us unnecessary filler and emphasize what we're there to watch: exquisitely choreographed, wildly inventive, and savagely brutal action.
1. Mad Max
The Mad Max franchise includes:
- Mad Max (1979)
- Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)
- Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
- Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
The movies in the Mad Max franchise all share the common theme of Australians getting into spectacular car crashes, in a setting of increasing societal degradation, all due to the world's depleting oil supplies and nuclear fallout from an unspecified incident.
The first installment, Mad Max, is a revenge thriller B-movie that takes place in a world that hasn't completely fallen apart yet, but is getting there. Wild biker gangs terrorize the innocent in the badlands between towns, with a police force that's trying to keep things under control.
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior is a straight-up action flick that takes place in a setting that has devolved into a complete post-apocalyptic wasteland, where violent tribal biker gangs battle small desert settlements for scarce "guzzolene."
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is an action/adventure that's cheesy in all the right ways. The movie is as ridiculous as it is entertaining, so don't go into it expecting profound cinema. It doesn't take itself as seriously as the previous films, but I love it all the same.
It features a somewhat large town called Barter Town that's run by a saxophone enthusiast warrior queen played by Tina Turner. The Thunderdome is the name of the town's giant arena where "two men enter, one man leaves."
Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the greatest action movies ever made. In the spirit of the movie's own laconic approach, all I have to say is that talk is cheap and words are wasted on this masterpiece. It's not something to be described; it has to be experienced!