There’s no formula for making a great action movie. Yes, every action movie needs action, of course. That action can take the shape of shootouts, hand-to-hand combat, car chases, or some combination of those things, but simply stringing together action sequences isn’t good enough.
The best films in this genre do something more, whether that’s giving you great characters to root for like in Die Hard, building an immersive world like the one in Mad Max: Fury Road, or having a terrifying and memorable villain like in Aliens. Or, you can just make Keanu Reeves the lead (okay, maybe there is a formula). In any case, just because it’s a genre film, it shouldn’t feel generic. These three films get it right.
1. Deepwater Horizon
While a lot of action films build immersive imaginary worlds, director Peter Berg set his sights on the real-life BP oil spill for the film Deepwater Horizon. The all-star cast led by Mark Wahlberg includes Gina Rodriguez, Kurt Russell, Kate Hudson, and John Malkovich, and the movie follows the crew aboard the oil rig dealing with an explosive situation.
Good if you like: Explosions, against-the-clock action.
Run time: 97 minutes
2. John Wick
John Wick earned critical accolades and a cult following off the back of an unusual but compelling premise; one man’s quest for revenge after the death of his dog. In addition to the always electric Keanu Reeves, John Wick also features John Leguizamo and Willem Dafoe.
Good if you like: Gritty shootouts, fight scenes.
Run time: 101 minutes
3. Die Hard
If it isn’t enough that Die Hard is widely considered one of the best action movies of all time, its name is also thrown around as being one of the best Christmas movies, too. Die Hard follows Bruce Willis’ world-weary John McClane as he fights a terrorist group led by Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber. Of course, the events unfold on Christmas.
Good if you like: Witty one-liners, over the top villains
Run time: 131 minutes