It’s easy to say that every decade has been a great one for action movies, especially if you’re a movie lover who can’t get enough of them. From the gritty action-thrillers of the 1970s, to the over-the-top action movies of the 1980s, and on to the technologically innovative and explosive action movies of the 1990s and 2000s (and beyond), most decades are home to many great action flicks.
As such, the most recent decade to come to a close – the 2010s – shouldn’t be overlooked when it comes to action. Even if these movies aren’t old enough to be nostalgic yet, some are already considered classics, and it’s easy to look back on the 2010s now as a decade with a truly diverse range of action films. To highlight the best of the best from the 2010s, what follows is at least one great, over-the-top action movie from each year of the decade, starting with 2010 and finishing with 2019.
Updated on March 21, 2023, by Jeremy Urquhart:
The John Wick series is stepping into the 2020s with its fourth installment, John Wick: Chapter 4 (premiering on March 24, 2023). The first three movies were all released in the 2010s, and are three of the best films the action genre had to offer between 2010 and 2019. To celebrate the series’ legacy, and to highlight some other great action movies from the past 10 or so years, now’s as good a time as any to look back on the best action movies of the 2010s.
1 ’13 Assassins’ (2010)
When it comes to picking the best film directed by the prolific filmmaker Takashi Miike, there’s a staggeringly huge number to choose from. The seemingly always busy Japanese director has well over 100 directing credits to his name, and, in some of his most prolific years, was able to release six or seven movies within the space of just 12 months.
His best film might well be 13 Assassins, though. At the very least, it would have to qualify as his best action movie, telling an intense and bloody story about a group of samurai hired to ambush and assassinate a ruthless and corrupt lord. It’s a film that builds slowly to an incredible climax, and its reputation as one of the best samurai movies of the 21st century so far qualifies it as a great 2010s action movie.
2 ‘Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol’ (2011)
The Mission: Impossible series is one of the rare ones that’s getting better the further it goes along. After two good films (Mission: Impossible 1 and 3) and an uneven but admirably ambitious one (Mission: Impossible 2), the series really hit its stride in 2011 with its fourth entry, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.
The story once again revolves around Ethan Hunt and his team needing to stop a group of dangerous terrorists, but it’s less the plot and more the action sequences that make Ghost Protocol such a great entry in the series. Brad Bird‘s directing keeps things fast, stylish, and fun, and it’s a movie that goes further when it comes to crazy stunts than any of its predecessors, including the iconic stunt where Hunt scales the Burj Khalifa.
3 ‘Dredd’ (2012)
After the divisive Judge Dredd from 1995 (starring Sylvester Stallone), 2012’s Dredd sought to reboot the iconic crime-fighting character in a brutally efficient fashion. The simplicity of Dredd is what makes it so appealing, as the movie covers Judge Dredd and his team trying to take down a violent drug lord by any means necessary.
And that’s really all there is to it. There’s a cool science-fiction setting, a straightforward premise, and tons of action throughout. Dredd’s a testament to how that’s all you need to make a satisfying action movie, and even if the film wasn’t a big box office success, it’s picked up a deserved cult following in the years since its release.
4 ‘Pacific Rim’ (2013)
Yes, you can argue that Pacific Rim is more of a science-fiction movie, as it depicts a futuristic Earth where giant monsters are threatening the planet’s very existence… so humanity builds equally giant robots to combat them. It’s the fact that the movie provides so much crazy robot vs. monster fighting that makes it qualify as an action movie on top of sci-fi.
It’s the inventive world, great creature/robot design, and fantastic-looking action that makes Pacific Rim such a fun and exciting viewing experience. The dialogue is over-the-top, the characters are mostly stereotypes, and the premise is as simple as it gets… yet all this adds to Pacific Rim’s charm, and it easily delivers some of the best action of the 2010s.
5 ‘Why Don’t You Play in Hell?’ (2013)
To call Why Don’t You Play in Hell? a wild ride would be an understatement. It mixes brutal violence with comedy and a Yakuza storyline, as it follows an amateur film crew who plan to make a successful low-budget action movie by filming genuine conflict between rival gangs in Japan.
It’s the kind of action movie that’s unafraid to get very gory, which might make it inappropriate for those who don’t have the strongest of stomachs. Still, for people who like movies that blend action and comedy – and don’t mind particularly violent violence – Why Don’t You Play In Hell? is something of a modern cult classic, and likely deserves a watch.
6 ‘Snowpiercer’ (2013)
Snowpiercer is one of the best action movies of the last 10 years, but it’s also more than just an action movie. It’s also a satirical takedown of capitalism with a science-fiction narrative and a post-apocalyptic setting, staging a tense and engrossing battle between social classes all set on a large train that houses the world’s population after environmental catastrophes largely destroyed the world.
Those familiar with Bong Joon-Ho will know that such a narrative is one he likes to explore, given Parasite did something similar in 2019 (though that one wasn’t an action movie). Snowpiercer is up there with his best films, and it’s a seamless blend of social commentary, inventive science-fiction, and exciting, wild action.
7 ‘John Wick’ (2014)
The first John Wick movie is probably the most grounded and low-budget in the series, having a more down-to-earth quality than its progressively over-the-top sequels. At the same time, however, it’s still a fun, exciting ride, and certainly doesn’t skimp when it comes to its action, giving iconic star Keanu Reeves plenty to do.
The lovably simple plot is well-known at this point: the title character’s a man who loses everything – including his dog – and goes on a rampage of revenge against those who wronged him. It’s an excuse to have plenty of great shootouts and hand-to-hand fights, and as the first film in the series, it also begins to build the strange, mysterious underworld of the John Wick universe that gets explored in more depth in subsequent sequels.
8 ‘The Raid 2’ (2014)
While The Raid (2011) is a stunning and wonderfully straightforward low-budget action movie, its sequel takes things to a whole other level. Instead of being set inside one building over a single day, The Raid 2 spans far more locations and a longer period of time, with a more complex story about criminal gangs at war to add to the film’s complexity.
The action scenes get bigger and more ambitious too. Like the first, there’s plenty of hand-to-hand action, but with far more weapons and various fighters being involved in the film’s brutal skirmishes. The Raid 2 also manages to throw in a car chase, for good measure, and delivers some of the best action scenes of all time (not just the 2010s).
9 ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ (2015)
What more can be said about Mad Max: Fury Road? This long-delayed fourth Mad Max film was well worth the wait, as it delivers more thrills, action, and spectacle than any of its predecessors… and none of them were slouches when it came to action and excitement, either.
Like many other action movies, the plot is simple. A group of women in a post-apocalyptic landscape goes on the run from their tyrannical ruler, with the titular character getting mixed up in the large-scale ensuing chase that follows. It’s a film as beautiful to look at as it is fast-paced and brutal, and deservedly stands as one of its decade’s most iconic action films.
10 ‘The Nice Guys’ (2016)
The Nice Guys is a homage of sorts to an older era of action movies. It’s a buddy comedy through and through, focusing on two mismatched individuals who unravel a criminal conspiracy. This buddy comedy has got plenty of action to keep things explosive, and the throwback to a popular genre from decades past is also emphasized through the film’s 1970s setting.
It’s not surprising to learn that The Nice Guys was written and directed by Shane Black, who made a name for himself by writing the first two Lethal Weapon movies in the late 1980s. The Nice Guys is the rare homage that might end up being better than most of the films it harkens back to, with hilarious comedy and great action scenes going hand in hand.
11 ‘John Wick: Chapter 2’ (2017)
John Wick: Chapter 2 more or less does what you’d expect a good action movie sequel to do. It extends the scope of the first film, delivers some slightly beefier and more expensive-looking action, and once again gives Reeves a great deal to do in the role he was arguably born to play.
The stakes might feel less personal this time around, and the storyline inevitably a little more bloated, but at least it delivers non-stop, fun action. Its expansiveness means more locales, more villains to take down, and just more John Wick, which is all fans of modern-day action movies need, really.
12 ‘Revenge’ (2017)
Revenge movies often get pretty dark and violent, to say the least, and this 2017 film – appropriately titled Revenge – might be one of the most brutal. It’s a movie about a young woman who gets brutally attacked and left for dead in the desert, only to somehow survive and seek retribution for the terrible men who wronged her.
This kind of revenge movie has an infamous history, dating back to controversial movies like I Spit on Your Grave and The Last House on the Left, but Coralie Fargeat‘s take on a tired sub-genre does it right. It’s a savage, brutal, and ultimately satisfying revenge film, with a near-constant sense of tension throughout most of the film’s runtime.
13 ‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout’ (2018)
The sixth entry in the Mission: Impossible franchise quite literally did the impossible and exceeded films 4 and 5, in terms of quality. Mission: Impossible Fallout is the best Mission: Impossible movie yet, with a more high-stakes plot than ever before, and plenty of tension resulting from Ethan Hunt not knowing who he can trust.
Tom Cruise escalates his daredevil stunts even further, with several sequences being awe-inspiring to watch play out, especially on a big screen. It’s also the smaller-scale action scenes that end up being just as impressive, too, with the bathroom fight early on being particularly great (especially the iconic moment where Henry Cavill appears to reload his arms).
14 ‘The Night Comes For Us’ (2018)
With it looking unlikely that action fans will ever see a third movie in The Raid series, something like The Night Comes For Us is at least a good alternative. It’s also an Indonesian action movie, contains particularly brutal fight sequences, and features numerous actors who will look familiar to anyone who’s a fan of The Raid (2011) and The Raid 2 (2014).
The plot doesn’t feel too important, as it’s all an excuse to show great action. There’s an assassin who gets on the wrong side of some very nasty people, and he finds himself fighting for his life when those people send numerous killers and gangsters after him. The combat is savage and frequent, making it not the most accessible of action movies, but hardcore fans of the genre will inevitably find a good deal to be impressed by within it.
15 ‘John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum’ (2019)
It may lack the wonderful simplicity of the first movie, but there’s an argument to be made that John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is the best in the series so far because of the quality of its action. It gets significantly crazier than the first two movies, as you might expect from a film where the most dangerous man in the world is on the run from countless bounty hunters after the $14 million price tag on his head.
From its relentless opening scenes, to the action sequence around the middle featuring some very well-trained combat dogs, to its massive climactic shootout, the third John Wick is like heaven for action movie fans. It ended the decade on a high note, and gave action fanatics high expectations for where the genre would go in the 2020s.
NEXT: The Best Action Movies of All Time, Ranked According to IMDb