Action movies are inherent crowd pleasers. When a film can entertain audiences and prove profitable, sequels are a sure thing. Therein lies how a franchise comes about. Too often, the product suffers, though in some cases, the momentum manages to be maintained and they develop an especially strong following.
Below are ten of the best action movie franchises to date. The list includes all sorts of action, from comic book/superhero to grittier fare, all the way to old fashioned throwbacks. All bases are largely covered. Runner ups include, but are not limited to, franchises like “The Fast and the Furious” and “Jurassic Park,” along with the Jason Bourne films, helping to show how strong the list below is, given how even iconic series like those aforementioned missed the cut. One constant though, we tried to lean into whatever franchise largely kept its quality. Or, at least the attempt was made.
10The “John Wick” Trilogy
Keanu Reeves found a new franchise after “The Matrix” trilogy established his bonafide, blockbuster status, making him a bit of an action movie icon. Here, he takes a simple hitman premise/revenge story and elevates it to pop art. “John Wick” is a gritty and effective film, while “John Wick: Chapter 2” raises the stakes. Earlier this year, “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” managed to up the ante even further. With inventive fights, a gritty Reeves performance, and style to spare, this is a really fun group of flicks. Plus, who can’t relate to a plot kicked off by the need to avenge the death of a beloved canine companion?
9“The Raid” Franchise
Though only consisting of two films, both feature some of the most intense fight sequences in recent memory. “The Raid: Redemption” made close quarters and claustrophobic combat a thing of violent beauty. Then, “The Raid 2” upped the ante. Filmmaker Gareth Evans and his star Iko Uwais focus on the choreography of the action, allowing audiences to feel how every blow lands. They are intense and an absolute blast to watch.
8The “Die Hard” Franchise
Yes, the action movie franchise took a huge downturn the last time around, but the original “Die Hard” is a unique classic. Before Bruce Willis got bored with the character, John McClane was an iconic reluctant hero, only saving the day because he was the only one around to do so. “Die Hard,” “Die Hard 2,” and “Die Hard With a Vengeance” found creative ways to find John in the wrong place at the wrong time. The series has since gotten too grand for its own good. But with that first installment, it’s so perfectly realized and has continued to fuel the franchise for decades.
7The “Mad Max” Franchise
It’s rare for a series to get better as it ages. Then again, few action movies are as special as “Mad Max: Fury Road.” The three Mel Gibson led pictures are solid outings for their era, though it was George Miller revisiting his series in 2015 that really brought this franchise to the upper echelon. So much of the insanity on screen was practical effects, giving everything the sheen of realism. It’s hard not to worry that Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron were about to die during any of the many action beats. That helps to set “Mad Max: Fury Road” apart in a big way, buoying the whole quartet of films in the process.
6The “Indiana Jones” Franchise
A throwback action movie franchise, this series harkens back to the days of serialized adventure tales. In particular, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” is a brilliant homage to those days, while still being a superior action/adventure story. Director Steven Spielberg and star Harrison Ford crafted a globe-hopping journey that became its own serial, of sorts. Three more installments, two of which are pretty strong in their own right, established Indiana Jones as one of the more fun action heroes to date.
5The “Mission: Impossible” Franchise
Another example of a series of films getting better as they continue, the “Mission: Impossible” brand has never been stronger than it is now, six entries in. The first three outings are fine, to varying degrees, doing nothing to suggest what was to come. The most recent trio are fun, huge, and feature Tom Cruise doing some amazing stunt work. The sequences of Cruise literally defying death, especially atop the Burj Khalifa in “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” is awe inspiring. Coming off of the best installment yet with “Mission: Impossible – Fallout,” the franchise not only has a huge A-list star in his element, but are raising the stakes with each passing installment.
4The “James Bond” Franchise
The longest running franchise on the list, James Bond is an iconic cinematic mainstay. From the initial forays by Sean Connery and Roger Moore, who set the standard, to the most recent outings by Daniel Craig, 007 has infiltrated the culture in a big way. While Pierce Brosnan‘s quartet of Bond movies are the most action-centric, Craig’s four (soon to be five) have mixed the action movie vibe with something classier and grittier. In particular, “Casino Royale” and “Skyfall” have been not just great, intense, action movie outings for the spy, but superior films with a moving narrative structure.
3The “Marvel Cinematic Universe”
Action movies don’t get bigger than this year’s “Avengers: Endgame,” the culmination of a decade of building up the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The vision of Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige fueled over 20 films, building a ubiquitous brand that’s beloved the world over. Part of what makes this so special is that the various MCU offerings have so many different variations. Not just the epic scope of “Avengers: Endgame,” but there’s the heart of “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” the humor of “Thor: Ragnarok,” and the zeitgeist-grabbing nature of “Black Panther.” There’s truly something for everyone, no matter what kind of hero you look up to.
2The “Star Wars” Saga
Consisting of three separate trilogies, “Star Wars” stands alone in terms of fandom and the fervor that it generated. The initial three films, now situated in the middle of the canonical chronology, represent the most consistent of the bunch, but all eight (soon to be nine) feature standout action sequences. Additionally, the franchise would stand tall in the pantheon of action movie cinema if it only had brought lightsaber duels to the table. Luckily, there’s plenty more to offer here than that.
1The Dark Knight Trilogy
Christopher Nolan managed to do something special with his three Batman films. “Batman Begins, “The Dark Knight,” and “The Dark Knight Rises” resembled crime epics more so than simple superhero tales. Nolan’s interpretation of the Caped Crusader was operatic and heavily thematic, elevating the material. In his hands, morality and values reigned supreme, as opposed to just leaning into the action. Of course, the action is still impressive, especially with “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises” utilizing the IMAX format. The scale and scope on display sets it apart and makes this not just the best action movie franchise to date, but one of the best film series overall.