Top 10 Action Films of 2019

The State Of The Union remains strong… just not as strong as 2018

When it comes to action, my unabashed favorite genre in all of cinema, I must admit that 2019 didn’t feel as mind blowing or groundbreaking as the past couple of years did. I don’t mean that to be a shot across the bow at any of the worthy films in this list, but rather an admission that with the unimaginable highs of last year, with a one-two punch of The Night Comes For Us and Mission: Impossible — Fallout, something’s just got to give.

But the Mission: Impossible and John Wick series’ have been duking it out as the premier action franchises coming out of Hollywood over the last few years and 2019 did indeed bring us the next chapter in Mr. Wick’s misadventures! This list isn’t always about Hollywood, however. Frequently the best action cinema in the world is coming from all across the globe. Routinely it’s the international market that convinces me that while the pure, unadulterated action film is somewhat dormant or infrequently being produced in Hollywood, it’s alive and well and accessible to those voracious fans who will seek it out from all corners of the globe.

Best Action Cinema of 2016

Best Action Cinema of 2017

Best Action Cinema of 2018

Solid Middle Tier Picks

Revenger, Triple Frontier, Alita: Battle Angel, Stuber, Abduction, Point Blank, The Wedding Guest, Hellboy, The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil, The Hard Way, The King, Terminator: Dark Fate, Gemini Man

Honorable Mentions

The Wandering Earth: China’s mega-budget space disaster epic yields some absolutely enormous action set pieces in a love letter to Hollywood excess.

Triple Threat: This is a very solid Expendables-style men-on-mission film with a huge international cast that just couldn’t entirely live up to the enormous expectations I placed on it.

Rambo V: Last Blood: While not a great Rambo movie, the final act of Last Blood takes on a splattery level of exploitative violence that would’ve felt at home with an old school X rating.

Iron Fists & Kung Fu Kicks: A must-see documentary about martial arts cinema that isn’t itself an action film, but is essential viewing for action lovers.

Close: Noomi Rapace is the queen of Netflix films, and this is perhaps her most successful star vehicle on the streaming platform in which she’s a highly competent bodyguard for hire thrust into a dire situation filled with strong action and sparse, effective character work.

Shadow: A stunning Zhang Yimou wuxia spectacle that’s pretty great and shows you things you’ve never seen before… but makes you wade through a lot of castle intrigue that you very definitely HAVE seen before first.

Ad Astra: Not really an action movie, but Ad Astra features a few sci-fi space travel sequences that are some of the most thrilling big screen moments of 2019 and have to be acknowledged by this action junkie.


Undoubtedly the best Has Fallen film in terms of overall quality, Angel Has Fallen was quite the 2019 anomaly. In many ways the REASON to enjoy the Has Fallen series is the salacious, borderline amoral R-rated shenanigans of Gerard Butler’s secret service Die Hard knock off hero Mike Bannon. But Angel Has Fallen inserted some genuine pathos, exploring broken intergenerational relationships, PTSD, and the consequences of violence. The film did huge box office, took the series in a more somber and potent direction, and filmmaker Ric Roman Waugh breathed some legitimacy into what was previously a vacuous, if satisfying, gloriously hard-R action bloodbath.

9: WAR

If you’re a western action movie fan that has yet to open up your heart and mind to Indian action cinema, I encourage you to do so at your earliest convenience. I’ll admit that my interest in exploring international cinema is largely through the lens of action cinema, but I’m THRILLED about the dozen or so Indian action films I’ve watched in the past several years. War is simultaneously a legitimately great action epic on par with anything American action cinema has to offer, and a fine example of some of the more ridiculous, colorful, musical flourishes present in virtually all Indian cinema. Come for the martial arts and giant explosions, stay for the vaguely homoerotic dance numbers shared between the on-again, off-again friends and enemies played by chiseled gods Tiger Shroff and Hrithik Roshan.


One of our greatest modern kung fu franchises spawned not just one, but two entries in this year’s best action cinema list. Ip Man 4 continues the grand tradition of this series: mixing genuine drama and heroism of character with impeccable martial arts set pieces. Under the capable eye of director Wilson Yip and featuring the fourth round of the fantastic actor/subject pairing of Donnie Yen as historical figure Ip Man, The Finale tackles issues of racism and adds action superstar Scott Adkins to the mix for a grand showdown. It’s a highly satisfying piece of action cinema to conclude a wonderful series.


Unlike anything else on this list, and frankly unlike little else, Il Primo Re aka The First King offers a pre-civilization, primordial tale of brutal violence in service of the creation of society as we know it today. A gritty, muddy, earthy take on the Romulus and Remus myth and the founding of Rome, Italian filmmaker Matteo Rovere delivers up some spectacular battles and action sequences that serve a unique drama of deference to the gods versus striving to godhood ourselves. This shouldn’t be missed by anyone seeking an entirely non-traditional action film that is equal parts art house and skull-splitter.


An official spin off of the Ip Man franchise, Master Z ends up slightly higher on this list than Ip Man 4 simply because of how unassailably FUN it is. Directed by martial arts choreographer and absolute living legend Yuen Woo-Ping, this all-star international cast feels fresh and puts rising star Max Zhang in the spotlight and squaring off against Dave Bautista, Michelle Yeoh, and Tony Jaa. There are some dramatic elements and it takes advantage of being a historical period piece, but ultimately it all serves the purpose of being a swashbuckling martial arts adventure and it works like gangbusters.


Another very unique title on the list, Nightshooters has a meta structure going on, and is equal parts comedy and gangster film mixed with mind-blowing action and martial arts sequences from rising star Jean-Paul Ly (Jailbreak). When a film crew shooting all night in a questionably legal condemned high rise, they witness something they shouldn’t have, and soon it’s a fight to the death between a ragtag film crew and bloodthirsty gangsters… and only their filmmaking skills can save them. Writer/Director Marc Price is not only one to watch, but managed to make one of the year’s very best action films (and love letters to filmmaking) on what was likely a shoestring budget. Hilarious, inventive, and badass, Nightshooters comes out of nowhere to become can’t miss action cinema.


It’s absolutely no secret that action superstar Scott Adkins is my very favorite action leading man working today. He consistently brings us the kind of “one man army” action cinema us ’80s kids grew up on, only he does almost all of his own fight work and does it on half the budget and half the production schedule that our ’80s heroes did it. Adkins brings his A game to every project, and his recent collaboration with director Jesse V. Johnson is just stellar. Avengement is down and dirty, and provides Adkins with his most ferocious leading role to date (which is saying something since a previous character from this filmmaking duo once ate a man’s liver). Avengement is grimy, street level, British gangster revenge… and it’s glorious.


One of the very best films of 2019 period, Dragged Across Concrete is another work of staggering genius from provocative writer/director S. Craig Zahler. Likely the best overall film on this list, it’s probably not (strictly speaking) an action film, so it doesn’t take the top spot on this list. But this sprawling cops and robbers epic is controversial (what with Mel Gibson being involved at all, much less playing a dirty cop with outdated views and dubious racial motivations), smart, and tugs at the very darkest potential for human depravity. What action is there is masterfully staged, always advancing its characters, and the almost three hour film will undoubtedly leave you thinking, with jaw-agape, if you’ll give it a shot.


The breakout action banger of 2019 has to be this Vietnamese instant action classic. Veronica Ngo proves in a single movie that she should be headlining action films the world over, and sent me tracking down some of her stellar previous work, which includes stuff you’ve probably seen (Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Bright, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword Of Destiny) and stuff you probably haven’t (Vietnamese action films Clash and The Rebel… both of which absolutely rule). Is Furie simply a gender swapped Taken with Ngo’s tiger mom stopping at nothing to rescue her kidnapped child? Yep. That’s literally all it is. But its breakneck pace, dazzlingly unstoppable lead actress, potent drama, and the way in which it puts Vietnam on the map as a destination for great action cinema make this the second best action film of 2019.


It’s like this: the John Wick franchise leads the pack in terms of American, A-list, blockbuster action in the tradition of classic action cinema at its zenith. You’ve got a cast stacked with legends (and even Oscar winners), the 87eleven action design team bringing game changing choreography and boundary pushing set pieces, and an engrossing, hard-R story that sends our hero, The Baba Yaga himself, through deeper and deeper levels of hell on each outing. There are heights of mind melting action in Parabellum that go beyond anything this series has offered before (dogs, horses, Mark Dacascos, and motorcycles come to mind). That said, as a total package it doesn’t blow Chapter 2 out of the water in terms of the perfect mix of expanded world building and face-melting action. Nevertheless, the box office was obliterated by Chapter 3, and this franchise is doing more to bring classical, hard-R action cinema back into American multiplexes than anything else in the world. Keanu Reeves and Chad Stahelski appear have no limits in how hard they’re willing to go to entertain us, and the entire nation is ready and willing for Chapter 4.

And I’m Out.

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