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The best 2000s action movies, ranked

If we know one thing, it's that Tom Cruise is an action king.

The action movies that have defined the 2000s and 2010s also track the evolution of blockbusters over the past 20 years. Some of these movies are parts of a long-running franchise, and while there are a couple of superhero movies, that genre doesn’t necessarily represent the best of what action filmmaking can be.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t some major franchises on this list, but it does mean that original action filmmaking still has some room to exist even in a Hollywood landscape that is dominated by intellectual property.

10. Kill Bill: Volume 2

Both volumes of Quentin Tarantino’s action epic are worthy of a place on this list, but Vol. 2 gets the edge because it’s just a hair more satisfying. The biggest setpiece in either movie comes at the climax of the first volume, but Kill Bill has plenty of ideas worth watching over and over again.

The emotional core of the two-part series doesn’t really reveal itself until this second installment, and Uma Thurman gets to prove that she is both a great action star and an actor more than capable of carrying off the movie’s emotional plotting.

9. The Dark Knight

It’s hard to imagine a list like this without The Dark Knight, and Nolan’s crime epic still largely holds up more than a decade after it became a phenomenon. The movie may have more than a little bit of nonsense plotting, but it totally works from moment to moment, and thanks in part to a truly stunning performance from Heath Ledger as the Joker, any minor flaws are easy to ignore.

Plenty of movies have tried to ape the serious tone of The Dark Knight, but this movie works because it comes by its tone honestly. The Dark Knight only works because it takes itself seriously, and we do as well.

8. Minority Report

Tom Cruise’s action movies were dominant in the 2000s, and Minority Report is maybe the highest concept one he’s made. Following a group of crime fighters who prevent crimes before they take place, Minority Report is a thriller that’s also about whether we have any say over the actions we take.

As a man trying to prove his own innocence, Cruise is completely frenzied and frantic, and director Steven Spielberg creates a future that’s both vivid and detailed. Minority Report is 20 years old, but its vision of where we’ll wind up still feels remarkably prescient.

7. John Wick

Keanu Reeves stopped being a movie star for roughly a decade, and John Wick was the movie that brought him back to the movie-going public. Playing a retired assassin who goes on a rampage after some gangsters kill his dog, the first Wick is largely an excuse to see Reeves battle and shoot people in wildly inventive ways.

There’s plenty of gunplay, but John Wick also smartly builds an entire world for its hypercompetent assassin to exist within. That world gets expanded on in the sequels, but the first John Wick succeeds most because it reminded all of us how much we love Keanu.

6. Fast Five

The Fast & Furious saga didn’t really become what it is today until Fast Five. Introducing Dwayne Johnson as a hypercompetent agent who has been tasked with hunting down Dominic Torretto and his team, the stakes are truly raised, and the action is clearer than it would ever be in any subsequent installment.

On top of all of that, Fast Five serves as a kind of team-up movie for characters from previous installments, and one that uses each of them expertly. The film’s final heist is immensely satisfying, and the happy ending every character gets is still fulfilling even after the next movie undoes it.

5. Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow is not based on a video game, but it nevertheless feels like one. Following a cowardly army officer who finds himself thrust into the front lines of a war against an alien invasion, and then finds himself dying in a beachfront battle over and over again.

The movie’s Groundhog Day premise is exciting enough, but what they choose to do with it is even better. Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt are wonderful in the film’s central roles, and the movie is genuinely unpredictable in a way few modern blockbusters are.

4. Spider-Man 2

Sam Raimi’s second effort as a Spider-Man director has yet to be topped inside of the superhero genre. The movie’s earnest, winsome spirit is the kind of thing that few movies even attempt today, and its setpieces have stood the test of time in a way that nothing in the Marvel universe seems likely to.

The most legendary sequence, a subway battle fought both on top of and eventually in front of the train, is clear, compelling, and thrilling. Equally important, though are the movie’s quietest moments, including the final, melancholy line-reading from Mary Jane: “go get him, tiger”.

3. Casino Royale

Daniel Craig’s casting as James Bond was controversial, but Craig managed to silence the doubters before the credits had even rolled on Casino Royale. The movie follows 007 in his earliest days as an agent as he falls in love and is eventually betrayed. The movie is thrilling in even its quietest moments, but it also has a number of setpieces that stand up with the best of the entire Bond franchise. The opening chase sequence is one for the ages, and the climactic battle is no less thrilling. Casino Royale is a rollicking, rocking movie from beginning to end.

2. Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Thanks to Tom Cruise’s total willingness to endanger himself for our entertainment, Mission: Impossible – Fallout is one of the most thrilling action movies of the century. The plot involves a terrorist who wants to bring about an anarchic future, but the plot is almost totally irrelevant. Mission: Impossible movies are really about what we expect to see from our action movies.

It’s a movie that demands us to want more than CGI backdrops and giant pieces of rendered goop punching each other. Fallout is a different breed of action movie, and it’s all the better for it.

1. Mad Max: Fury Road

Perhaps the greatest action movie ever made, Fury Road is the kind of movie that shouldn’t work at all. Telling the story of a group of enslaved women who escape their master with help from the titular hero, Fury Road looks incredible and is basically one extended action setpiece that holds your attention for two hours.

Director George Miller had already made three pretty excellent Mad Max films, but this installment seems like the full fruition of his vision for the bleak dystopia he started creating in the first film.

About the author

Joe Allen

Joe Allen is a freelance writer based out of upstate New York who has been covering movies and TV for more than five years. Joe has been featured in The Washington Post, Paste Magazine, and The Charleston Post Courier, and has a Master's in journalism from Syracuse University