Top 10 Action Movie Stars of All Time

The action film has become a staple of Hollywood with the idea of the modern action movie coming to fruition in the 1970s and 1980s. But, throughout the years we have come to define the action movie star as an actor who can carry a film based on name recognition alone and deliver blockbuster entertainment at a caliber above everyone else. After consulting with experts in the field and drinking lots and lots of beer, I am confident that our ranking of the greatest action movie stars of all time is a fair and accurate representation of the best the genre has to offer. If you disagree or feel someone got missed, let us know in the talk backs below.

#1 - Sylvester Stallone

From ROCKY to RAMBO through THE EXPENDABLES, Sylvester Stallone has been the template for the modern action star. He has done buddy films (TANGO & CASH), science fiction (DEMOLITION MAN), cop thriller (COBRA), arm-wrestling epic (OVER THE TOP), outdoor blockbuster (CLIFFHANGER), and gritty assassin flicks (ASSASSINS, GET CARTER). Through it all, he has managed to continue three franchises while taking a supporting role in his latest, CREED, while also getting back to the core of what made his movies so great to begin with. Stallone is the man and deserves the top spot on this list.

#2 - Clint Eastwood

He may have been The Man With No Name on screen, but off we all know who Clint Eastwood is. Long before his career behind the camera, Eastwood was Josey Wales and Dirty Harry. From his prime starring in films like ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ and THE GAUNTLET through his older years in movies like ABSOLUTE POWER and TRUE CRIME, Eastwood and his trademark squint and voice have bridged the classic action era with the modern.

#3 - Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold has really not done many sequels in his career outside of THE TERMINATOR franchise, but his output makes it seem like he has appeared in many more franchises than he actually has. From PREDATOR to RED HEAT, COMMANDO to TRUE LIES, Schwarzenegger epitomized the 80s action star. Even his comedy films like KINDERGARTEN COP and LAST ACTION HERO have more explosions and gunfights than most movies. You cannot see Arnold Schwarzenegger without assuming the film will have at least one great quote and set-piece.

#4 - Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee died much too young but has left us with a body of work that rivals many Hollywood stars. Lee's martial arts prowess and rise to fame in his native China is the stuff of legend and has warranted biopics of his life, but looking at his brief body of work we have some truly classic films. From the fight with Chuck Norris in RETURN OF THE DRAGON to the mirror fight in ENTER THE DRAGON and the jumpsuit that inspired KILL BILL in GAME OF DEATH you have the bar for what big screen martial arts should look like.

#5 - Harrison Ford

We could list movies like THE FUGITIVE, BLADE RUNNER, AIR FORCE ONE, or PATRIOT GAMES to help justify Harrison Ford's placement on this list, but I only need to list two names: Han Solo and Indiana Jones. Both of the George Lucas-created characters have become some of the most iconic movie creations of all time. Ford may not have worked as steadily in recent years as he has enjoyed his golden years, but his return to STAR WARS this December means we will get to see an all-time favorite back on the big screen.

#6 - Steve McQueen

Starting with THE BLOB and then skyrocketing with THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, THE GREAT ESCAPE, BULLIT and more, Steve McQueen is one of the archetypes of the cinematic action hero. Whether it be war films, westerns, or cop thrillers, McQueen embodied the everyman as well as the matinee idol men wanted to be and women wanted to be with. A car lover, McQueen also starred in movies with iconic race scenes like LE MANS and THE GETAWAY. A jack of all trades, McQueen is the template for many on this list.

#7 - Mel Gibson

Ah, Mel Gibson. The guy who embodied action through the MAD MAX and LETHAL WEAPON franchises is also the Academy Award-winning filmmaker who brought us BRAVEHEART, the rare Best Picture that also serves as an epic action film. Gibson has also made numerous standalone action classics like MAVERICK, PAYBACK, RANSOM, and THE PATRIOT. Hopefully he gets a bigger role than his recent cameos in MACHETE KILLS and THE EXPENDABLES 3 to keep his status on this list alive.

#8 - Bruce Willis

Bruce Willis has entered the phase of his career where his colleagues John Travolta and Nicolas Cage find themselves. Willis has started to release mediocre movies that are barely worth renting at your local Redbox. But, Willis' iconic turn as John McClane in the DIE HARD franchise is more than enough to earn him a spot on this list. He has also helped elevate films like ARMAGEDDON, TEARS OF THE SUN, and THE LAST BOY SCOUT alongside his more dramatic and comedic films.

#9 - Jackie Chan

Chan's career has spanned four decades with the majority of his success coming in his native China. His films like DRUNKEN MASTER and RUMBLE IN THE BRONX became crossover hits in the United States which helped fans go back and discover his massive body of action movies. Jackie Chan has also put his body on the line to deliver stunning action sequences. As he approaches an age where most actors retire, Chan is showing no signs of slowing down.

#10 - Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise's career has changed dramatically over the years. Starting as a heartthrob and then going for dramatic and Oscar caliber roles, Cruise found a niche much later in his career than most actors and has turned into a very reliable action star. Whether it be films like EDGE OF TOMORROW, OBLIVION, JACK REACHER, or COLLATERAL, Cruise is not afraid to play hero, villain, or anywhere in between. But, it is the fact that he does his own stunts in the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE franchise and is not scared to literally put his life on the line that has earned Cruise a spot on this list.

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