Who doesn’t love a good action movie? We all do, right? A well-done action sequence can make a good movie great, and a mediocre movie at least worth watching. Action movies are one of the major reasons that we like to go to the theater in the first place. Sometimes, to fully appreciate great action, it need to be experienced on the big screen.
The year 2019 was a pretty good one for action movies, although not all the best examples came from the big screen. Nonetheless, Hollywood brought us some fantastic action movies this year, and here are the favorites.
One important note on this list, the definition of “action movie” is far from settled. Lots of movies have action sequences in them, but not every movie with action is an action movie. I’ve done my best to stick to films where the action is more than simply there, but where the action sequences themselves are largely meant to be “the point,” though, of course, that’s a moving target as well. As such, you won’t find your favorite comic book movie or space battle movie on this list. While some of them have great action, they’re not quite the same thing as “action movies.” When you look at this list, you’ll see what I mean.
1. Angel Has Fallen
The Has Fallen series feels like it’s getting a little long in the tooth. I’m not sure anybody was expecting we’d get a second one of these, much less a third. And yet, here we are in 2019, with Angel Has Fallen. The movie brings back Gerard Butler as the Secret Service agent who’s got John McClane’s luck of always being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This time, he’s suspected of attempting to kill the President of the Unites Stares, so instead of going after the bad guy, he’s on the run himself. Angel Has Fallen is clearly the third go-round here, and so while we’ve seen a lot of this before, it doesn’t mean that the action we get here isn’t worthy of note. The plot is pretty run of the mill, so the action is basically the only reason to bother if we’re being honest. And there are some great sequences here worth enjoying and it’s mostly, if not entirely, done with practical effects, which is nice to see in this day and age.
2. Cold Pursuit
Ever since Liam Neeson brought his “particular set of skills” to the big screen in Taken he launched a second career for himself, and several other older actors, as the elder statesmen of the action movie. Cold Pursuit sees Neeson as a mild mannered man who gets pushed over the edge when his son dies under mysterious circumstances. Determined to punish those responsible, he takes the fight to them himself. Cold Pursuit isn’t Taken, to be sure. Hell, none of Liam Neeson’s excursions into action have reached that plateau, including the sequels to Taken themselves. Having said that, Cold Pursuit is one of the better examples of why this sort of movie works at all. Neeson is clearly enjoying making these movies and that goes a long way to letting the audience go along for the ride.
3. Triple Frontier
Triple Frontier is one of the better action movies we saw in 2019 that nobody ever had the chance to enjoy on the big screen outside of limited engagements. It was a film released exclusively on Netflix, but even on the smaller screen, it’s worth checking out. It has an amazing cast that includes Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac and Pedro Pascal, and while the film may not break much new ground, it succeeds at everything it tries to do, including putting forth some solid action sequences. It’s unlikely that anybody who queued up Triple Frontier on Netflix was looking for solid action sequences. The film billed itself much more dramatically, but the movie’s action succeeds as well, if not better, than everything else it’s trying to do. The fact that it’s a solid movie, in addition to being a great action film, certainly helps as well.
4. 6 Underground
Like Roland Emmerich, if Michael Bay has a new movie out, then it’s something that you need to see, and one should not let the fact that all the action takes place on a small screen detract from that fact. The newest movie on the list, 6 Underground, just came out on Netflix this month, and it sees Ryan Reynolds as a billionaire determined to make the world a better place by putting together an elite team of mercenaries and killing a whole bunch of (very bad) dudes. The first 20 minutes of 6 Underground consists of a single car chase. 20 minutes. One car chase. The scene lasts so long it needs like four separate needle drops in the soundtrack just to get through. That really should be enough to tell you that, as an action movie, it is worth your time. 6 Underground feels like a Michael Bay movie, and honestly, since it doesn’t include giant robots, it feels more like a Michael Bay movie than much of the director’s recent output. Is it over the top and a bit ridiculous at times? Sure, but what exactly were you expecting?
5. Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw
If the day ever comes when a Fast & Furious movie comes out and doesn’t make a list like this, something has gone terribly wrong. While the first franchise spinoff, Hobbs and Shaw, is a significantly different movie than the main franchise’s installments, it still brings top notch action, and has the incomparable action director David Leitch making sure that that action works. Not all of Hobbs and Shaw’s action is automotively based as it is in the main series, but there are plenty of cool car chases. There’s also great physical action sequences for everybody in the main cast. Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham and Idris Elba all get to shine. Also, somebody needs to give Vanessa Kirby her own action franchise like now. The Fast & Furious franchise as a whole has been reaching cartoonish levels of action in recent years, and this movie is no different. Yeah, The Rock totally tries to pull down a helicopter with his bare hands. Of course he does.
6. Godzilla: King Of The Monsters
And then, sometimes, you want your action in the form of giant monsters beating the crap out of each other. 2014’s Godzilla was a generally well received movie, but if the film had any faults, it’s that the giant monster action was a bit lacking. Godzilla: King of the Monsters clearly heard that critique, because a lack of action is not a problem here. In addition to Godzilla we got a bunch of new Titans in the sequel, and they all get to beat the hell out of each other. Godzilla: King of the Monsters didn’t do nearly as well at the box office as the last movie, and that’s truly unfortunate because it feels like this was the movie people really wanted to see last time around. Perhaps everybody will come around next year when Godzilla Vs. Kong finally arrives.
7. Terminator: Dark Fate
How in the hell did 2019 become the year we got a good Godzilla movie and a good Terminator movie, and nobody cared about either one? Although, to be fair, it’s not like the Terminator franchise didn’t have several bites at that apple in the past and basically failed every single time. However, Terminator: Dark Fate was the Terminator movie everybody had been waiting for. Arnold was back. Linda Hamilton was back. They both got to kick ass. And Mackenzie Davis is welcome to join Vanessa Kirby in the female action movie I’ve started to create in my head. This was the first Terminator movie in a long time to feel like a worthy part of the franchise. If you missed it, go fix that.
8. Alita: Battle Angel
Man, somehow, this list has become really depressing all of a sudden. Alita: Battle Angel wasn’t a sequel nobody cared about, but it was a long gestating dream project for James Cameron that finally became a real thing thanks to Robert Rodriguez… that also not enough people saw. I was utterly shocked at how much I enjoyed Alita: Battle Angel. It’s too bad the chances of an Alita sequel being made seem slim. Based on a Japanese manga series, Alita: Battle Angel looks like what would happen if you could fed a manga into a machine and have it come out at a movie on the other end. The futuristic and fantastical world is realized perfectly. It looks amazing, especially during the action beats. Unlike something like Gemini Man, which falls apart visually when the action gets going, Alita holds up and actually looks that much more stunning when the action gets going, whether we’re watching a bar fight or an extremely violent game of roller derby.
No offense to Roland Emmerich’s Midway, but if you are going to see a war movie this year, 1917 is the one you shouldn’t miss. The upcoming WWI adventure from director Sam Mendes is chock full of action. It’s also been shot in one long take, which makes the grueling action sequences even more astounding. War movies are not traditional action movies in the usual sense. However, 1917 certainly warrants being on this list. It starts off at a quick clip and moves at a breakneck pace through all kinds of hazards and scenery. It’s an unrelenting movie and one of the best 2019 has to offer, period. On the action front, it’s a great example for how directors can experiment in the genre as well. Catch it in theaters starting on Christmas Day.
10. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
Was… was there really any chance in hell it was anything else? If a John Wick movie ever comes out and it’s not at the top of a list like this, it’s either a really good sign for action cinema, or a really bad sign for John Wick. Keanu Reeves returned for a third installment of the killer franchise with John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, and he hasn’t lost a step yet. At some point, the John Wick series might start to falter, but if it keeps finding new ways to expand the universe and make action sequences feel fresh, like the addition of Halle Berry and her trained attack dogs, then this franchise will continue to be the top of the action genre for a long time to come. We can’t wait until John Wick: Chapter 4.
What was your favorite action movie of the year? Was it one of these, or something else we didn’t cover? Let us know in the poll and comments below.