The thrill. The excitement. The sheer, unadulterated action. These are the films that have us whooping, ducking, and pumping our fists.
While action flicks may be far from the "sophisticated" end of the cinema spectrum, few other genres are as unabashedly exhilarating and easy to watch as an action blockbuster.
And when our favorite action movie stars are swinging fists or clanging swords with one another, it's that much better.
Of course, the action movies that came out after the turn of the millennium took on a different identity than the nostalgic actioners of previous decades. They broke molds and shaped the action genre in ways unlike ever before.
Here are my picks for the best action movies of the 2000s, that were entertaining but also new, fresh, and inventive.
10. Battle Royale (2000)
Directed by Kinji Fukasaku
Starring Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Tarō Yamamoto
Action, Adventure, Drama (1h 54m)
Koushun Takami's 1999 novel Battle Royale inspired a manga series, which then inspired this movie. Some would even say it pioneered the entire "death game" genre, including the likes of The Hunger Games.
Battle Royale centers on a world-weary teacher who goes off his rocker and takes an entire class of students out onto an island. Once there, he tells them that they all must fight to the death.
Some of the students resist. Others avoid participating by committing suicide. But several of them gleefully engage in lethal combat.
Battle Royale delivers numerous action-packed fight sequences that are both electrifying and disturbing. It's so good that Quentin Tarantino said it's the one movie he wished he had made.
9. Spider-Man (2002)
Directed by Sam Raimi
Starring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Willem Dafoe
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi (2h 1m)
With no disrespect to Tom Holland or Andrew Garfield, Tobey Maguire remains the best Peter Parker in cinema history. He combined nerdy insecurity with charm in a way that deeply resonates.
With Sam Raimi directing the Maguire films, we got a number of outstanding set pieces, including Willem Dafoe's Green Goblin flying after the webslinger through New York City, plus Peter Parker's death-defying stunts to save a plummeting Mary Jane.
Coupled with one of the most satisfying bully beat-downs ever put to film, Spider-Man became one of the best action films of the decade.
8. Ip Man (2008)
Directed by Wilson Yip
Starring Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Siu-Wong Fan
Action, Biography, Drama (1h 46m)
Although he isn't a superhero, Ip Man demonstrates the same kind of superhuman speed and agility that's usually only found within the pages of a comic book. He's that good.
Following the life of the Wing Chun grandmaster who taught Bruce Lee everything he knew, the events of Ip Man focus on the titular man's involvement in the Sino-Japanese War.
With some of the best martial arts choreography ever captured on film, Ip Man is a breathtaking spectacle that makes you wonder how they managed to film any of it—all while being thrilled.
7. Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Starring Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox
Action, Crime, Thriller (1h 51m)
Since Quentin Tarantino originally conceived Kill Bill as a single feature, you really need to watch both volumes to get the complete picture—even if the first one is slightly better.
Perhaps because he was jealous that he hadn't created Battle Royale himself, he set out to make his own manga-inspired film with a blade-wielding badass in Uma Thurman.
The Kill Bill films have some of the best stylized violence of the 2000s, a style that Tarantino leaned into more with subsequent films. They also feature numerous grand set pieces, some so big and bloody that the film nearly received an NC-17 rating!
6. Iron Man (2008)
Directed by Jon Favreau
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi (2h 6m)
When Iron Man first suited up, you could almost hear the collective gasp from around the world. Tony Stark's cyborg suit was some of the coolest action we'd ever seen to that point—and that's not even considering the actual fight sequences.
Iron Man's success is the main reason why we have a Marvel Cinematic Univers today, plus all the other action television shows emerging from Marvel Studios. Of them all, Jon Favreau's directorial effort is still unmatched in terms of style points.
5. Gladiator (2000)
Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen
Action, Adventure, Drama (2h 35m)
"At my signal, unleash hell." This Gladiator quote sums up the majority of Ridley Scott's spectacular epic historical drama.
After General Maximus Decimus Meridius is betrayed and his family murdered, he embarks on a journey of blood and revenge. From general to slave to gladiator, he's a man of gutsy action.
Credited for reviving interest in the swords-and-sandals genre, Gladiator gave us some of the most impressive cinematic set pieces since Ben-Hur (1959).
Gladiator's Battle of Carthage reenactment is one of the most exhilarating action sequences we've ever seen, demonstrating Ridley Scott's prowess for making great movies in any genre.
4. Casino Royale (2006)
Directed by Martin Campbell
Starring Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Judi Dench
Action, Adventure, Thriller (2h 24m)
With Casino Royale, it's clear that director Martin Campbell knew how to reinvigorate the James Bond franchise, starting with its immensely thrilling opening scenes.
As Bond chases down a terrorist through the streets of Madagascar, parkour ensues. The result is a tremendous chase sequence between two equally skilled combatants.
The rest of the film is no different. With fights on stairwells, boats, and collapsing buildings, Campbell brings out all of the stops for Casino Royale—and I still consider this one as the best of his tenure.
3. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Directed by Ang Lee
Starring Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Ziyi Zhang
Action, Adventure, Drama (2h)
Ang Lee is a visionary director who played a large role in the international success of the Taiwanese Second Wave. Despite multiple successful dramas, it was his venture into the wuxia action genre that garnered him notoriety.
In Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a thief attempts to steal a magical sword called "Green Destiny," which leads to a mystical fist-fight of sorts. The walking-on-walls and flying-through-air sets the tone for the rest of this film that brought wuxia to the masses.
While it doesn't feature the same kind of action as the rest of the movies on this list, it inspired a whole class of imitators, with films like Ip Man clearly taking stylistic cues.
2. The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
Directed by Paul Greengrass
Starring Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, Joan Allen
Action, Mystery, Thriller (1h 55m)
The Bourne Ultimatum was the peak of the espionage franchise. It featured all of Paul Greengrass's signature techniques—including his iconic shaky-cam—and offered plenty of enthralling fight scenes.
The technicality of Bourne's martial arts in his fight with Desh represents one of the most realistic and grittiest fight scenes between contract killers in cinema.
On top of that, The Bourne Ultimatum gave us car chases, shootouts, and punch-ups that ensured this film would be forever remembered as one of the best action movies of the decade.
1. The Dark Knight (2008)
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart
Action, Crime, Drama (2h 32m)
It shouldn't be a surprise to see The Dark Knight on this list. Not only one of the best action movies of the decade, The Dark Knight is still hailed as one of the best films of the 2000s, period.
Continuing on from Batman Begins, The Dark Knight shows us Batman as a successful scourge upon the villainous scum of Gotham City—but in light of that success, the Joker has other plans.
Drawing on great action movies of the past, such as Heat (1995), Christopher Nolan crafted one of the most taut action thrillers of all time. From the opening bank heist to Batman's many physical altercations, The Dark Knight is a masterclass in dark action.