Hands down, the best place to watch an action film is the movie theater. With bass pounding against your chest and your eyes wide as you watch the physical athleticism of amazing actors at work, they captivate you with death-defying stunts and extreme pyrotechnics, creating a spectacle that begins an adrenaline rush close to that of the actual experience. It’s these kind of movies that may not win awards, but they’re constantly making money. That’s because fans love them and they love the actors in them, which is what makes them such big stars.
When filing through names and assessing the rankings for this list, I focused on four key qualities: quality of films, icon factor, acting ability, and screen presence. I want you to know how great the action films they made were and how well-known they are around the world, as well as their actual acting ability and if they captivate audiences just by their demeanor. Action stars don’t have to be the best actors of their generation, but they have to be able to send chills up our spine when they step onto the camera and provide feelings of envy that we can’t be as cool as their characters.
I won't shy away from the fact that -- in most onscreen appearances -- Diesel's acting ability can at best be described as wooden. He even plays a walking piece of wood in Guardians of the Galaxy. Yet, he's still one of the most iconic action stars of all time and easily this generation's most recognizable face for the genre with franchises like The Fast and the Furious, XXX and Pitch Black. I could've replaced him with a few of the honorable mentions, but at the end of the day, I think Diesel will be remembered more through film history for his contributions to the action genre.
Qui-Gon Jinn! I had to put this man on the list because of his diverse and legendary resume; from Darkman to Taken, Neeson has been one of the most consistent action entertainers in the last decade. There aren't many actors with such a diverse filmography, but Neeson always comes back to his bread and butter with action roles. A part of me feels like it's criminal to have him so far down on this list, but the eight in front of him are far more iconic to the action genre. While Neeson is light-years away in acting talent compared to most, he just hasn't had that classic hit that solidifies him. Some might say Taken fits that mold, but it just wasn't enough.
I have a bit of bias here; when I was younger, I would always go over to my grandmother's house, eat Eggo waffles and watch Walker, Texas Ranger every morning. I became a huge fan of Chuck Norris. That makes it impossible for me not to have him on this list. He's such an iconic actor that he has had a meme running for about 12 years now, and it doesn't look to be dying anytime soon with "Chuck Norris Facts." His film and television credits may not be up to par with other actors on this lis,t but you won't find many as instantly recognizable.
Clint Eastwood is an OG -- or at least an OO (Original Outlaw) -- with an amazing career in the Western genre, which was what the action genre evolved from. His name is synonymous with badass, and he continues to be one of the most rugged men in Hollywood. Although he's doing most of his brooding in a director's chair from behind the camera now, Eastwood is one of those classic actors who found a niche and stuck with it. When you're that good at simply being a prime agitator, you don't need to make a change. His ability to command the screen and send chills up your spine with a devil-shaking glare makes him one of the most iconic faces in cinema history.
I'll go ahead and get this out of the way: I am not a Tom Cruise fan. It's not because of the Scientology stuff -- though it doesn't help -- but rather, I find him to be extremely overrated. Cruise is one of the most recognizable names in film history and has many credits in the action genre, which is why I couldn't leave him off this list. To be honest, the Jack Reacher films are the only ones that kept me entertained throughout, but as far as Top Gun, Mission Impossible and Edge of Tomorrow are concerned, I could live without sitting through them. I enjoy his classics like Jerry Maguire and Days of Thunder, but those aren't action films, so they really don't count.
However, just because I don't like his films does not mean other film goers don't. There is no denying that Tom Cruise is an icon and will go down as one of the greatest action stars of all time, and he deserves it; his screen presence and ability to portray menacing characters with such a nonthreatening demeanor and standing at only 5' 7" is impressive. He deserves the recognition as one of the greatest action stars of all time, but he's only going to be sixth on this list.
I had no intention of putting Chan on this list until I watched his latest film The Foreigner. This seems like a role that we're not used to seeing him in -- with an R rating and a much more serious tone -- but Chan blew audiences away with just how capable he was at playing such a non-typecast role, with critics calling for more performances like this one. Looking back on it now, it would've been foolish of me not to have him on here; he's appeared in so many films and become such a well-known name and face. It's hard not to fall in love with Chan's charisma. Even if the movie's story is sub-par, he always finds a way to entertain you.
Maybe it's premature to have The Rock this high, but I think his film credits and acting ability make him a worthy top-five candidate. In the future, I expect he'd catapult into my number one spot. For now, I'll be conservative and place him at number four. Johnson has had a a prominent film career since putting his WWE career in the past, and starred in many action films like The Fast and the Furious, Hercules, The Rundown, San Andreas and G.I. Joe Retaliation. With so many credits to his name, and many more to come, he's easily became an icon for the action genre.
What really puts him so high on the list is his actual acting ability, charisma and range. It's possibly the greatest on this entire list, rivaling even Tom Cruise. He plays drama, comedy, action, and even has musicals on his resume like Moana. The only thing currently keeping him out of the top spot is a signature action film that will go down as a classic.
I've brought up the word "icon" so much in this list that I'm sure everyone is getting tired of reading it, but trust me when I tell you Stallone is one of the greats in the action genre and continues to be one of the spearheaders for these films to date. His presence on the screen is enough to keep you watching, as Stallone's charm is impossible to ignore. You know what you're going to get with any Stallone performance, and it always delivers despite the movie.
With classics like Rambo and The Expendables franchises on his resume, he has some of the best action credits on this list. Some of you may be wondering, "What about Rocky?" Well, Rocky was not an action film. It had plenty of hard-hitting drama (hah), but it is not classified as an action film (regardless of how much I wanted to consider it one).
Conan the Barbarian, Terminator, Predator, Total Recall and Commando are just a few of the seemingly endless credits attached to this Austrian powerhouse; the only thing bigger than Schwarzenegger's pecs is his film career. It would've been impossible not to have him and Stallone in the top three. What puts Arnold above Stallone is hands down the quality of his action film credits. Stallone has a classic in Rambo, but Schwarzenegger has the five listed above that are considered classics by many.
I won't pretend that Arnold is an all-star actor (he's not). But he's a dominant force when he's on the screen, and draws a crowd to nearly every movie. His performance in the drama Maggie did give a decent look at his acting range, though, and it was enough to say he can be an above-average actor when he puts in a real effort.
Here we are at the number one spot, and I'm sure this doesn't come as a surprise to many of you. Out of everyone on this list, he has the most quality action films and performances to his name. What sets him above Schwarzenegger and Stallone is his diverse acting abilities. His action classic Die Hard is one of my favorite movies of all time, and his performance as John McClane can only be classified as legendary. Along with Die Hard we have Red, G.I. Joe Retaliation, Unbreakable and another one of my favorites Looper.
In contrast to Tom Cruise, I believe Willis is one of the most underrated actors of all time, and I think that's what draws us to him so much. He may not be the biggest name in Hollywood, but he consistently delivers with an amazing performance in great films. His action flicks are always nonstop fun, and the characters he plays can go from serious to comical in a split-second. It's truly amazing to watch Bruce Willis at work, and I'm hoping he's far from done.
It was hard coming up with the list and I had to leave a lot of names off that deserved to be on here. Some honorable mentions would be Jason Statham, Steven Seagal, Jet Li and Harrison Ford. In the end I feel that I was able to find the right spot for the right names and I hope you all agree, but if you don’t, feel free to let me know down in the comments!