The 10 Best Hollywood Action Movies of the Decade

Best action movies of the decade

(This article is part of our Best of the Decade series.)

The 2010s were a spectacular decade for action cinema – so much so, in fact, that we’re actually publishing two separate lists of the best action films of the past ten years here on /Film. We’ll have a list of the best international action movies arriving on the site soon, but in the meantime, join me as I run down the ten best domestically-released Hollywood action movies of the 2010s below, featuring a selection of films with astonishing stunts, thrilling chases, and fight scenes galore.

Atomic Blonde

I could not recount the intricacies of Atomic Blonde’s plot to you if Charlize Theron’s spy character was holding me at gunpoint and my life depended on it. She’s at least a double agent and maybe a triple agent or something? I don’t really know – frankly, the narrative kind of fell apart by the end. But for me, action movies operate in a world all their own and aren’t always held to the same standards as other types of entertainment. I’m sometimes looking for a whole different set of requirements, and Atomic Blonde hits them. I personally place tremendous value on inventive choreography within this genre, and the way Theron’s long-limbed assassin moves resulted in a handful of moments I hadn’t quite seen before. This movie has a real swagger to it with its ‘80s setting, blaring soundtrack, and Theron’s intensely physical performance. She’s not imitating another type of action hero, and in the film’s centerpiece oner in which she’s smashing through an apartment building and fighting for her life, she entered the action movie pantheon. This is the type of rewatchable action film where the plot barely matters – it’s all about the simply pleasures of watching Charlize do one badass thing after another.

Baby Driver

Edgar Wright is one of the most exciting filmmakers of the past decade, and Baby Driver is his most creatively ambitious movie yet. Not quite a musical, the film nonetheless incorporates music in a way I’ve never seen any other film do before, making it an integral part of the main character’s life and totally enveloping us in his world as a getaway driver. The design and precise editing of the movie make it stand out among its contemporaries, and there are chase scenes (both in vehicles and foot chases) that are good enough to stand with some of the best in the whole genre, regardless of decade. You’ll find several original films on this list, but Baby Driver is the most original of them all. It’s a thrilling, innovative piece of action cinema.

Edge of Tomorrow

Tom Cruise has spent much of his career playing guys who are hyper competent and operating at the absolute top of their game, crafting his image by playing heroes who are easy to root for. But his character in 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow is miles away from that: he’s a coward who’s terrible at his job, and it marks one of the only times Cruise seemed willing to comment on his own star persona within one of his movies. A little self-awareness goes a long way, and of course it helps that the rest of the movie is also fantastic: Emily Blunt absolutely rules, the late Bill Paxton is always a blast to watch, and it’s one of the best time travel movies of the past ten years. I remember this movie not performing as well as it could have at the box office, and while you can’t go back in time to make it right if you skipped it back then, you can rectify the problem quite easily over this holiday break as a nice end-of-the-year present to yourself. It’s definitely worth your time. (Your time! Get it?!)

Fast Five/Furious 7

I couldn’t choose between Fast Five and Furious 7 for this list, because their respective highs are both so damn high. Fast Five has that outlandish opening bus crash, the desert train robbery, the incredible slow motion cliff jump, and of course, the climactic bank heist ending in a chase through Rio with a huge safe smashing everything in sight as it’s being dragged behind a vehicle. But Furious 7 has cars parachuting out of a mother effing airplane! And cars bursting through glass buildings a billion stories up in Abu Dhabi! Can you really blame me for not being able to choose just one?Anyway, when we look back on this film series when it’s all over, these two films may very well stand as bookends for the most fun, heightened, amped up period in the franchise which also feels like it actually retains some sense of grounded connection – not in the action, but in the character dynamics. (Paul Walker didn’t get enough credit when he was alive for the very specific function he served in these movies, but the Fast franchise lost one of its biggest assets when he died.) While we wait to see if the final two films in the main saga can somehow recapture this earlier glory, we’ll be over here smiling and fist-pumping every time Fast Five and Furious 7 come on cable.

Hanna

There’s so much to love about this teenage assassin film: Joe Wright’s direction, the Chemical Brothers score, and the fact that it introduced the world to the wonderful Saoirse Ronan, and the bone-crunching action scenes (including a memorable oner in a subway). But it’s the movie’s unique overall vibe that I’m still thinking about all these years later. Hanna’s basic set-up – a young girl raised alone and trained to be a killer by her rogue CIA-agent father – is a familiar one, but Cate Blanchett’s Southern accented villain and the movie’s memorable locations (including an abandoned theme park where Blanchett walks out of a big bad wolf’s mouth) lend to an eerie, off-kilter fairytale vibe that’s unlike anything else I’ve seen since. We see Ronan’s character utilize her skills to do some pretty brutal things, but there’s also a tenderness to her, a human side which longs for connections she’s never had. Don’t sleep on this one.

John Wick(s)

Keanu Reeves is practically everywhere now, but he was basically a non-entity for the early part of this decade. His directorial debut, Man of Tai Chi, got some attention from martial arts movie fans but failed to become a huge hit. The less said about 47 Ronin, the better. But things turned around in a big way with John Wick, a little movie which capitalized on Reeves’ physicality and his willingness to go the extra mile to make the work better. Reeves took a chance by working with two stunt guys who wanted to prove themselves as directors, and Chad Stahelski and David Leitch took a simple story about a heartbroken hitman pushed over the line and imbued it with hard-hitting, visceral action choreography that had been severely lacking in American action cinema. And because Reeves was up to the challenge, the results were magic. I could limit it to just the first film if I wanted, but screw it – I’ve already broken the rules once, so let’s do it again and include all three on the list. (I’m still thinking about that amazing knife fight in the third one.)

For much more on the majesty of this unlikely franchise, I point you to /Film managing editor Jacob Hall’s four-page analysis of the first two films.

Kingsman: The Secret Service

More purely entertaining than any of the James Bond films, Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service comments on the spy movie genre with a shit-eating grin on its face. It never dips into spoof territory, and takes its story just seriously enough to become a legitimate entry into the genre at which it so loving pokes. Colin Firth is top notch as a veteran spy who serves as a mentor to Taron Egerton’s Eggsy, a brash but affable young street tough with an abundance of confidence. Kingsman pushes all of the expected genre tropes as far as it can – remember Sofia Boutella’s henchwoman with swords for legs? – but still delivers a balls-out, impeccably stylish spy romp with one of the most extreme fight scenes of the entire decade (the church brawl). My advice? Forget the sequel even exists, and get caught up in the original Kingsman’s pub fights, cool gadgets, and slick suits.

Mad Max: Fury Road

One of my biggest pop culture-related shames is that I don’t flat-out love Mad Max: Fury Road as much as seemingly everyone else on Earth, but I still recognize that George Miller’s long-delayed movie is a miraculous piece of filmmaking. From a practical production standpoint, it might be the most jaw-dropping movie I’ve ever seen – you can tell that making this was a hellish experience for just about everyone involved, but their work pays off in such a tremendous way in how the reality of the heat, the explosions, and the mind-blowing stunts comes across in the final product. It’s a progressive movie that’s openly feminist, with its protagonists attempting to reclaim some semblance of control in a world dominated by a crazed dictator. (Relatable much?) I also love how Max takes a backseat to Charlize Theron’s iconic Imperator Furiosa, doing whatever it takes to help her achieve her goals; that scene where he offers his literal shoulder as support so she can take a long-range shot instead of him is just about perfect. And I mean, just look at the stuff that happens in that trailer. Can you believe that anyone, let alone a 70-year-old man, had the insane vision, the studio backing, and the sheer talent to pull this thing together? I’m still in awe of it four years after its release.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout/Ghost Protocol

Chris McQuarrie’s Fallout is the best Mission: Impossible movie so far, both in terms of story and in the variation of its impressive stunts, but I also have to give a shout-out to Brad Bird’s Ghost Protocol, a film that contains the one of the most tactile, vertigo-inducing stunts of the entire franchise with star Tom Cruise climbing around on the side of the Burj Khalifa. Seeing that in IMAX was an unforgettable experience – I can still remember the sweat forming on my palms as I leaned forward in my seat. But at the end of the day, Fallout has a better villain, better overall action, more stunts, and a more emotional catharsis. (Side note: the fact that this franchise delivered an entry this decade in which one of the world’s biggest superstars hung off the outside of a plane as it actually took off from a runway, and that movie did not make this list, hopefully shows the overall strength of the action genre in the past ten years.)

Skyfall

James Bond movies are rarely “about” anything deeper than immaculate suits, cool action, hot women, and exotic foreign locales, but 2012’s Skyfall, which fell on the 50th anniversary of the franchise, had an extra weight of expectation on its shoulders. Lucky for us, it rose to the task and became one of the best Bond films ever: it’s a movie about the consequences of imperialism, about the sins of the past coming home to roost, and also about looking boss as hell while riding a motorbike through the streets of Istanbul. It has all of the hallmarks I hope for in a Bond movie, and it’s shot by Roger Deakins, whose work is some of the most beautiful in the entire franchise – shout-out to the Shanghai shootout and the climactic showdown at Bond’s Scottish family homestead. Yes, this movie is basically the Bond version of The Dark Knight. But Daniel Craig’s first outing, Casino Royale (the best Bond movie, IMO), was basically the Bond version of Batman Begins, and EON has a long legacy of chasing and mimicking what’s hot in the popular zeitgeist, so the mimicry makes a lot of sense. Skyfall’s sharp script, memorable theme song, excellent villain (played deliciously by Javier Bardem), franchise-best work from Dame Judi Dench as M, and, naturally, its sensational set pieces all add up to easy inclusion on this list.

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