Exploding fists, screeching tires, bullets and bruises – these are the elements that have forged the heart of action cinema. From adrenaline-pumping action to pulse-punding shootouts and balletic martial art sequences, action films have enthralled and excited cinemagoers for several decades, giving us classics that can be enjoyed decade after decade.

We have curated a list of the best action movies where jaw-dropping stunts collide with masterfully crafted stories, where iconic characters leap from the screen and every frame pulsates with raw excitement. If you are looking for something to ignite your inner thrill-seeker, here are some timeless flicks that have defined the very essence of action cinema.

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Best Action Movies to Watch in the UAE and Saudi Arabia

Every single movie from our picks of the best action movies is worth watching. They’re sorted by the year in which they were released.

Top Gun (1986)

Tony Scott and Tom Cruise’s 1986 banger takes us on a thrilling ride through the world of elite Navy Fighter Pilots and follows the story of Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell, a talented but reckless aviator who has a penchant for competition and pushes the envelope in everything he does.

Released in 1986, Top Gun was a smashing success, spawning an entire generation of fans, many of whom were inspired to pursue careers in aviation. Its iconic soundtrack, including Kenny Loggin’s ‘Danger Zone’, is still recognizable today.

Top Gun: Maverick, the sequel to the film, was released in 2022 and was also a smashing success and worthy of this list.

Die Hard (1988)

John McTiernan and Bruce Willis’ 1988 action movie is one of the most popular action movies of all time, and it only makes sense that it is included in this list.

A holiday tradition for many, Die Hard has all the ingredients of a fun night in – a lone hero defying the odds, explosive action sequences, and witty one-liners that never get old.

NYPD cop John McClane finds himself in the middle of a terrorist takeover when he decides to visit his estranged wife at her office Christmas party. Trapped within the skyscraper with a group of unsuspecting hostages, John becomes the unlikely hero who must use his sharp wit and resourcefulness to outsmart the criminals, which are led by the cunning Hans Gruber (played by the legendary late Alan Rickman).

Die Hard spawned four sequels, but the only one that was worth watching was Die Hard 2 in 1990.

Gladiator (2000)

In the movie, Russell Crowe’s Maximus asks an entire colosseum of blood-thirsty onlookers, “Are you not entertained?”. The answer to that was a resounding, ‘Yes!’.

Director Ridley Scott weaves an epic tale of Rome and revenge, taking us back to 180 AD, where General Maximus Decimus Meridius is destined for greatness and glory and is beloved by the people of the Kingdom as well as the ageing Emperor Marcus Aurelius. However, things do not turn out to be as expected.

Aurelius’ jealous son, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), decides to seize the throne, murders his father and orders the execution of Maximus and his family. Ousted from the kingdom, Maximus survives only to be sold into slavery and trained to become a gladiator.

Terminator 2 (1991)

True to his promise of coming back, Arnold Schwarzenegger once again dons the robotic boots of T-800 in Terminator 2, this time with the sole mission of protecting a child, on whom lays the entire faith of humanity.

It’s the year 2029 (only five years from now…), and humanity hangs by the thread of the survival of one boy – John Connor, who eventually grows up to be the leader of the resistance against the rogue AI, Skynet. To protect him, the resistance sends a reprogrammed T-800 back in time to keep him safe. However, Skynet also has similar plans. It sends a terrifying and shape-shifting robot, the T-1000, in a relentless pursuit to eliminate John Connor.

James Cameron’s masterful direction, innovative special effects, and action spectacle made Terminator 2 a bona fide classic in cinema history.

Bad Boys (1995)

Bad Boys is one of the most popular action comedy series that helped propel the careers of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. With its high-octane car chases, jaw-dropping explosions, thrilling gunfights, and the witty banter shared by the two leads, the series quickly gained favour with the audience and continues to do so till today.

The movie follows two detectives, Marcus Burnett, a straight-laced family man, and Mike Lowrey, who is famous for being a loose canon with a penchant for flashy cars and fast women. While their antics are almost always out of the syllabus, they have garnered a reputation for getting results in the narcotics department.

Their rambunctious escapades take us through a whirlwind tour of Miami’s vibrant nightlife, sun-drenched beaches, and gritty underbelly.

Mission: Impossible (1996)

The Mission Impossible franchise established Tom Cruise as a bona fide action star, and that was before he started to risk his life for our entertainment.

The story follows Ethan Hunt, a skilled IMF agent, leading a mission in Prague to steal the CIA’s NOC list, which contained the identities of undercover agents. Expectedly, things go south really quickly when Ethan’s mentor, Jim Phelps, is brutally murdered, and the entire team is compromised. Ethan is branded as a traitor and framed for the entire operation.

The franchise has spawned six movies so far and has become popular for its kinetic action, complex spy stories, and Cruise’s penchant for death-defying stunts.

Kill Bill: (2003)

Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill series is one of his most popular movies, with its fast-paced and stylish action and sharp dialogues immediately making it a pop culture icon.

The story follows Beatrix Kiddo, or The Bride, who is attacked by her former lover, Bill, leaving her comatose and her unborn child dead. Years later, she awakens with a singular purpose: to exact revenge on Bill and the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad that were responsible for her life-altering condition.

Kill Bill is a revenge tale about the cost of violence, the complexities of morality and whether a path towards forgiveness can ever be taken.

300 (2006)

THIS IS…SPARTAAAAA!

Zack Snyder’s 300 is a visually stunning and action-packed adaptation of the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley, depicting the legendary last stand of Spartan warriors against the invading Persian army of Xerxes I.

The film opens with King Leonidas rejecting the Persian army’s demand for submission, setting the stage for a clash of civilizations. Leonidas, a bastion of unwavering courage and a thirst for glory gathers 300 of his finest warriors and marches to the narrow pass of Thermopylae, knowing very well that Xerxes’ forces vastly outnumber them.

300 masterfully blends elements of Greek mythology, slow-motion filmmaking, and hyper-realistic CGI to depict the brutal close-quarters combat of the Spartans, presenting a visually unforgettable spectacle for cinemagoers.

Fast and Furious (2009)

It’s not about cars…it’s about family.

The first Fast and Furious movie was released in 2009 and was much more focused on street cars and illegal racing, which helped the franchise propel to its immense popularity.

Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) is a charming LAPD officer who is tasked with infiltrating the crew of Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), the leader of a group of street racers suspected of high-profile electronic truck hijackings. As Brian immerses himself in the world of souped-up imports and thrilling street races, he quickly gains Dominic’s trust and also falls in love with his sister, Mia.

The Fast and Furious franchise has spawned nearly a dozen movies, and while it has largely moved away from the illegal street racing angle, its characters and explosive action have endured the test of times, with the series amassing billions of dollars at the box office.

John Wick (2014)

“He was an associate of ours, we call him Baba Yaga…the boogeyman. Well, John wasn’t exactly the boogeyman. He was the one you sent to kill the f*****g boogeyman.”

In more ways than one, that piece of dialogue perfectly encapsulates what Chad Stahelski and Keanu Reeves’ iconic action series is all about.

John Wick is a former hitman living a life in peace and quiet as he mourns the loss of his wife. But his past suddenly resurfaces when Iosef Tarasov, the son of a former associate, steals his vintage Mustang and kills his dog. And that is reason enough for Wick to smash open his sealed cache of weapons and once again set on the path of absolute vengeance.

The series has spawned four movies so far and one TV spin-off series, with more to come, and has gained immense popularity for its stylistically choreographed gunfights and bone-crunching hand-to-hand combat, presenting a refreshing approach to cinema action that is far away from the speeding cars and explosions that have become a staple of the genre.

Mufaddal Fakhruddin
Mufaddal Fakhruddin

Mufaddal Fakhruddin has been writing about games and technology for the past 15 years. He has lost count as to how many reviews he has written over the years, but he is sure headphone reviews make up at least 70% of that.

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