The Best 90s Action Movies

We countdown the best action movies of the 90s, with entries from Arnold, Sly, Keanu and so many more legends.

Last Updated on March 4, 2024

Usually, when people think of the greatest decade for action movies, the 80s are what they think of. After all, this is the era that gave us Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, the Rambo movies, and so many more. But, the 90s was just as important a decade, giving birth to just as many legends of the genre, and it was the last significant era for R-rated action flicks. But what are the best action films of the decade? It’s tough to say, but here are 10, plus an honourable mention, that we think we deserve a place in the pantheon.

demolition man, best action movies of the 90s

Honourable Mention: Demolition Man:

When this came out in the fall of 1993, it wasn’t considered all that special. It apparently lost money at the box office, but within a few years, this Sylvester Stallone/ Wesley Snipes mashup became a major cult classic, and now it’s one of the most beloved films of the era. Stallone stars as a cryogenically frozen cop who wakes up in an extremely PC utopia that seems more relevant every year. The script, which Heathers scribe Daniel Waters overhauled, has teeth, and it also gave Sandra Bullock her first significant role in a Hollywood film, paving the way for her to become one of the biggest stars of her era. I feel like we’re not far from the movie’s “verbal morality statute,” but let’s skip the three seashells, ok?

True Lies

10. True Lies:

This was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s last megahit and his last teaming, to date, with James Cameron. This domestic comedy mashup with tentpole action is a little un-PC these days (good!). The action sequences are masterful, and Schwarzenegger has never been so loose or comfortable playing a part. Jamie Lee Curtis is excellent as his wife, and the two should have been able to parlay this into a franchise, but Cameron was too busy ever to take the notion of a True Lies 2 seriously. 

best action movies of the 90s

9. The Matrix:

While this may seem a little low on this list, the reason I maybe don’t consider it up there with a lot of the big 90s action movies is because it feels more like a product of the 2000s, as it was so influential it dominated the genre for years. This was a massive comeback for Keanu Reeves, made the Wachowskis iconic and had some of the greatest VFX and action ever put to screen, effortlessly meshing Hong Kong-style action with American tentpole movie making.

total recall

8. Total Recall:

Do yourself a favour. Skip the 4K re-release of this movie, as the old-school effects don’t hold up well in high def. Yet, this Paul Verhoeven-directed epic is a masterpiece of action movie-making, and it’s so layered that you can watch it repeatedly. It has it all. Pulse-pounding action, gore, Schwarzenegger at his best, a kick-ass heroine, Michael Ironside getting his arms ripped off, a Jerry Goldsmith score, and an impossibly sexy Sharon Stone.

best action of the 90s

7. The Rock:

For James Bond fans, this movie is extra special as it’s Sean Connery’s swan song to the spy genre, with him playing a very Bond-like hero. It’s cool to see this sixties legend get plopped down into a modern techno-thriller, and Connery rises to the occasion. It’s Michael Bay’s best film, with a solid musical score, Ed Harris as a sympathetic bad guy and the birth of another action icon, Nicolas Cage, to whom Connery symbolically passes the torch as the movie continues.

fist of legend

6. Fist of Legend:

Lest you think this list will be all American movies, one must acknowledge that some incredible action flicks were being made in Hong Kong. Jet Li teamed with Yuen Woo Ping for this remake of Bruce Lee’s Fist Of Fury, aka The Chinese Connection. The fights in this movie were a massive influence on The Matrix.

drunken master 2

5. Drunken Master 2:

Jackie Chan always said he never understood why fans loved his sequel to Drunken Master so much, with his perception of the film marred by his rumoured creative conflicts with director Lar Kar Leung. Artistically and physically, this is Chan at his prime. However, it’s maybe the one movie of his where I’d say the North American re-edit is a bit better, with it changing the schlocky score and eliminating the dumb ending. 

Speed, Joss Whedon, Keanu Reeves

4. Speed:

No one thought this movie would amount to much in 1994. People laughed at Keanu Reeves starring in a Die Hard knockoff action thriller, with many saying it seemed like he was taking on a role meant for a guy like Steven Seagal (it was actually written for The Perfect Weapon star Jeff Speakman). Opening weekend changed everyone’s minds, and I remember convincing my dad to take me to see this instead of Beverly Hills Cop 3. We were both on the edge of our seats, and Reeves and co-star Sandra Bullock emerged from this as legends.

John Woo hard boiled 1992 Chow Yun fat

3. Hard Boiled:

John Woo left Hong Kong following the release of this action masterpiece, which teamed two of his favourite leading men, Chow Yun Fat and Tony Leung. This has some of the greatest shootouts ever committed to film, and sadly, would mark the end of Woo’s collaborations with Chow Yun-Fat, although never say never.

point break

2. Point Break:

Kathryn Bigelow brought a female perspective to this ultra-male bromance, which starred Keanu Reeves as an FBI agent trying to nail a team of surfing backrobbers, who turn out to be led by Patrick Swayze’s Bodhi, the zen surfer guru he’s become friends with. This legit masterpiece holds up brilliantly years later – ignore the remake they should have called Point Fake.

1. Terminator 2: Judgement Day:

Is this the greatest sequel ever made? It must be. It’s no coincidence that Schwarzenegger/ Cameron collaborations bookend this list. This movie elevated the genre, with it an emotional rollercoaster that made many of us cry in the 90s. It’s Arnie at his best, with Linda Hamilton also emerging as one of the most incredible action movie heroines ever. Hasta La Vista Baby. 

What do you think of this list of some of the best 90s action movies? Would you have included the John McClane adventure Die Hard with a Vengeance or the “Steven Seagal vs. Tommy Lee Jones” classic Under Siege? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.