16 Best Action Stars of All Time

They were part of our childhood and we still like them today. Yes, we are talking about action movie stars, in fact, we are talking about the best action stars of all time.

Who doesn’t like a good action movie, right? There are many reasons why this movie genre is the most popular among others and these action stars are the main one.

The shorter these lists are, the harder it is to make them. This is the list of 16 best action stars of all time, so you can imagine that it wasn’t easy to make the pick. Many good ones needed to be left out, but that doesn’t mean that they are not great action movie stars. It just means that this list is short and that the competition is insane.

When you think of the best Hollywood action movies ever, these guys are in it. They are action legends for the fans all around the world. All of them are heroes kicking bad guys’ asses.

Here is our pick for the 16 best action stars of all time (in alphabetical order):

1. Arnold Schwarzenegger

best Arnold Schwarzenegger movies

Born: 1947 (73) in Austria
Breakthrough Movie: Conan the Barbarian (1982)
Best Movies: Commando (1985), Predator (1987), Total Recall (1990), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), True Lies (1994)
Latest Good Movie: Terminator Genisys (2015)
Highest Grossing Movie: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) – $520 million
Highest Rated Movie (IMDb): Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) – 8.5

Arnold Schwarzenegger has appeared in over 35 films, the majority of those being action movies. The glory decade for Schwarzenegger was the 80s when he made most of his popular movies. He reached the peak of his career in the early 90s with Terminator 2 in 1991 and True Lies in 1994. If he hadn’t had that big pause in his movie career (2003-2012) we might have seen at least a few more top Hollywood action movies. Still, for many, Schwarzenegger is the greatest action star of all time.

RELATED: Best Arnold Schwarzenegger Movies of All Time

2. Bruce Lee

best Bruce Lee movies

Born: 1940 in USA Died: 1973 (32) in Hong Kong
Breakthrough Movie: The Big Boss (1971)
Best Movies: The Big Boss (1971), The Way of the Dragon (1972), Enter the Dragon (1973)
Latest Good Movie: Enter the Dragon (1973)
Highest Grossing Movie: Enter the Dragon (1973) – $90 million
Highest Rated Movie (IMDb): Enter the Dragon (1973) – 7.7

With only four movies, Bruce Lee became the greatest icon of martial arts cinema. Those movies are: The Big Boss (1971), Fist of Fury (1972), The Way of the Dragon (1972) and Enter the Dragon (1973). If he hadn’t made these movies in the early 70s, the martial arts movie genre probably would not have come to North American cinema and influenced the audience the way it did in the last fifty years. Imagine if he had been there during the 80’s, how much more would he contribute to the action movie genre.

3. Bruce Willis

best Bruce Willis movies

Born: 1955 (65) in Germany
Breakthrough Movie: Die Hard (1988)
Best Movies: Die Hard (1988), Pulp Fiction (1994), Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995), The Fifth Element (1997)
Latest Good Movie: Looper (2012)
Highest Grossing Movie: The Sixth Sense (1999) – $670 million
Highest Rated Movie (IMDb): Pulp Fiction (1994) – 8.9

Bruce Willis has made, believe it or not, over 70 movies. He appeared in 30 movies only in the last decade (2010-2019), which is more than he made in any other decade before. Sure, it’s more quantity over quality, but still. Majority of his popular movies are from the 90s, but he had several good ones in later decades too. Just to mention a few: The Whole Nine Yards (2000), Unbreakable (2000), Sin City (2005), RED (2010), Looper (2012). Willis is definitely one of the biggest action stars ever.

RELATED: Best Bruce Willis Movies of All Time

4. Clint Eastwood

best Clint Eastwood movies

Born: 1930 (90) in United States
Breakthrough Movie: A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
Best Movies: A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), Dirty Harry (1971)
Latest Good Movie: The Mule (2018)
Highest Grossing Movie: Gran Torino (2008) – $270 million
Highest Rated Movie (IMDb): The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) – 8.8

Clint Eastwood has made around 50 movies in his lifetime, but when it comes to Clint, it’s quality over quantity. It’s hard to find a movie of his that sucks. He started big, with the The Dollar Trilogy in the 60s. In the 70s he continued with the Dirty Harry movie series. There is literally no decade where he didn’t have at least one or two excellent movies. He made Gran Torino at the age of 76 and it’s one of his best movies. Most recently, he starred in The Mule in which he is almost 90 years old. The man is a legend.

RELATED: Best Clint Eastwood Movies of All Time

5. Chuck Norris

best Chuck Norris movies

Born: 1940 (80) in United States
Breakthrough Movie: Breaker! Breaker! (1977)
Best Movies: Lone Wolf McQuade (1983), Missing in Action (1984), Code of Silence (1985), Invasion U.S.A. (1985), The Delta Force (1986)
Latest Good Movie: The Expendables 2 (2012)
Highest Grossing Movie: A Force of One (1979) – $23 million
Highest Rated Movie (IMDb): Lone Wolf McQuade (1983) – 6.4

Before his movie career, Chuck Norris was a well known karate champion. His first big movie appearance was in Brus Lee’s famous movie The Way of the Dragon. Afterwards it was suggested to him to continue with the movie path and he did. He made a few movies during the 70s, but the 80s is the decade in which most of his popular movies were made. During the 90s he made several movies too, but it was Walker, Texas Ranger action series that was the most popular during this decade. In The Expendables 2 he appeared as a military operative and he was 72 at the time. Only Chuck Norris can do that.

RELATED: Best Chuck Norris Movies of All Time

6. Jackie Chan

best jackie chan movies

Born: 1954 (66) in Hong Kong
Breakthrough Movie: Drunken Master (1978)
Best Movies: Police Story (1985), Armour of God (1986), The Legend of Drunken Master (1994), Rush Hour (1998)
Latest Good Movie: The Foreigner (2017)
Highest Grossing Movie: The Karate Kid (2010) – $359 million
Highest Rated Movie (IMDb): Police Story (1985) – 7.6

Jackie Chan has made tons of action films during his career. He is probably the only one on the list who makes you want to watch all the credits after the movie ends, just to see his crazy stunts. It doesn’t matter if it’s the 80s, 90s, 2000s or 2010s, he doesn’t stop with the action. He has been kicking ass for 40 years straight. There cannot be a list of the best action stars of all time without Jackie Chan in it. It’s just not possible. He doesn’t even bother with another genre, it’s all about the action with Jackie.

RELATED: Best Jackie Chan Movies of All Time

7. Jason Statham

best Jason Statham movies

Born: 1967 (53) in United Kingdom
Breakthrough Movie: Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
Best Movies: Snatch (2000), The Transporter (2002), Crank (2006), The Bank Job (2008)
Latest Good Movie: Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019)
Highest Grossing Movie: Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019) – $760 million
Highest Rated Movie (IMDb): Snatch (2000) – 8.3

Jason Statham is the newest action star of the group, but his place is well deserved. Between 2000 and 2020 he made almost 40 movies. Among those you may or may not find a few bad apples. It’s as if this guy doesn’t make a bad action movie. He is a pure non stop action. Not only is he one of the best action stars of all time, he is also the number one action star of the 21st Century. During the 80s and 90s, we had several top action stars. After 2000 they are all succeeded by this guy.

RELATED: Best Jason Statham Movies of All Time

8. Jean-Claude Van Damme

best Jean Claude Van Damme movies

Born: 1960 (60) in Belgium
Breakthrough Movie: Bloodsport (1988)
Best Movies: Bloodsport (1988), Kickboxer (1989), Universal Soldier (1992), Maximum Risk (1996), Legionnaire (1998), In Hell (2003)
Latest Good Movie: The Bouncer (2018)
Highest Grossing Movie: Timecop (1994) – $102 million
Highest Rated Movie (IMDb): JCVD (2008) – 7.1

You cannot be an action movie fan and not like Jean-Claude Van Damme. Bloodsport and Kickboxer are a part of childhood for many of us. After making those in the late 80s, he continued to make many awesome action movies throughout the 90s. You can say that the 90s were his best decade. If you want to check out his recent work, watch these: JCVD, Full Love or his latest The Bouncer. Jean-Claude Van Damme is really one of a kind action star. If this was the list of 5 best action stars of all time, he would still be on it.

RELATED: Best Jean Claude Van Damme Movies of All Time

9. Jet Li

best Jet Li movies

Born: 1963 (57) in China
Breakthrough Movie: Lethal Weapon 4 (1998)
Best Movies: Romeo Must Die (2000), Kiss of the Dragon (2001), The One (2001), Cradle 2 the Grave (2003), Unleashed (2005)
Latest Good Movie: Flying Swords of Dragon Gate (2011)
Highest Grossing Movie: The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008) – $403 million
Highest Rated Movie (IMDb): Hero (2002) – 7.9

Before he made his American film debut in Lethal Weapon 4 (1998), and blew us all away with his supporting role of a villain, Jet Li had already been famous in China and made some great movies like Once Upon a Time in China and Fist of Legend. In the early 2000s he made some of his best movies. If you were to pick just the movies made between 2000 and 2006 from his all career, it would be enough for him to be on this list, but there is much more than that.

RELATED: Best Jet Li Movies of All Time

10. Kurt Russell

best Kurt Russell movies

Born: 1951 (69) in United States
Breakthrough Movie: Escape from New York (1981)
Best Movies: Escape from New York (1981), Big Trouble in Little China (1986), Tango & Cash (1989), Tombstone (1993), Escape from L.A. (1996)
Latest Good Movie: The Hateful Eight (2015)
Highest Grossing Movie: Stargate (1994) – $403 million
Highest Rated Movie (IMDb): The Thing (1982) – 8.1

Kurt Russell appeared in several movies in the 70s, but it was the 80s and 90s that marked him as an action star. In later decades, as he was older, he turned more to thrillers and other genres, but his place as an action star was already cemented. No list of top action stars is complete without Russell on it. His action movies from the 80s and 90s are just too awesome. If you want to check some of his most recent roles (with the beard and mustaches), check Bone Tomahawk (2015), The Hateful Eight (2015) and The Christmas Chronicles (2018).

RELATED: Best Kurt Russell Movies of All Time

11. Mel Gibson

best Mel Gibson movies

Born: 1956 (64) in United States
Breakthrough Movie: Mad Max (1979)
Best Movies: The Road Warrior (1981), Lethal Weapon (1987), Maverick (1994), Braveheart (1995), Payback (1999)
Latest Good Movie: Blood Father (2016)
Highest Grossing Movie: Signs (2002) – $408 million
Highest Rated Movie (IMDb): Braveheart (1995) – 8.3

Nobody plays a tough guy with a temper as good as Mel Gibson. If he had made only the Mad Max series and Lethal Weapon series, it would have been good enough, but he made much more awesome movies during his career. He is one of those few actors who can play a tough guy no matter his age, and he proved that in Blood Father from 2016. Certainly, one of the best action stars of all time. If you want to check his latest action movie then watch Dragged Across Concrete from 2018.

RELATED: Best Mel Gibson Movies of All Time

12. Nicolas Cage

best-nicolas-cage-movies

Born: 1964 (56) in United States
Breakthrough Movie: Raising Arizona (1987)
Best Movies: Red Rock West (1993), Leaving Las Vegas (1995), The Rock (1996), Con Air (1997), Lord of War (2005)
Latest Good Movie: Running with the Devil (2019)
Highest Grossing Movie: National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007) – $457 million
Highest Rated Movie (IMDb): Lord of War (2005) – 7.6 (next to Adaptation.)

It’s hard to find an actor who has made a number of movies like Nicolas Cage has. He starred in over 80 movies, and all that in the last 30 years. Yes, it’s hard to believe. And yes, some of them are not great, but the ones that are made him one of the biggest action stars of all time. The good ones are so good that it simply doesn’t matter. An interesting fact is that Nicolas Cage is the only one on this list who won an Oscar for Best Actor. If you want to check his latest good movie, then watch Running with the Devil (2019).

RELATED: Best Nicolas Cage Movies of All Time

13. Steven Seagal

best Steven Seagal movies

Born: 1952 (68) in United States
Breakthrough Movie: Above the Law (1988)
Best Movies: Above the Law (1988), Hard to Kill (1990), Marked for Death (1990), Out for Justice (1991), Under Siege (1992)
Latest Good Movie: Driven to Kill (2009)
Highest Grossing Movie: Under Siege (1992) – $157 million
Highest Rated Movie (IMDb): Under Siege (1992) – 6.5

Like some of the other action movie stars, Steven Seagal made his best movies early in his career. The early 90s were his golden years. He made some great action films in this period. There were some good ones later on too, but with the action movies from the 90s Seagal made a real impact and he definitely deserves to be on this list. If you want to watch some of his more recent movies, then check the following: Into the Sun (2005), The Keeper (2009), A Dangerous Man (2009) and Driven to Kill (2009).

RELATED: Best Steven Seagal Movies of All Time

14. Sylvester Stallone

best Sylvester Stallone movies

Born: 1946 (74) in United States
Breakthrough Movie: Rocky (1976)
Best Movies: Rocky (1976), First Blood (1982), Tango & Cash (1989), Demolition Man (1993), The Specialist (1994)
Latest Good Movie: Rambo: Last Blood (2019)
Highest Grossing Movie: The Expendables 2 (2012) – $315 million
Highest Rated Movie (IMDb): Rocky (1976) – 8.1

For many, Sylvester Stallone is the best action star of all time. For others he is just below or next to Arnold. Throughout the 80s and 90s he made some of the best action movies ever. In the last decade he started the Expendables series gathering many of the action stars above, and the franchise has become a huge commercial success. Nobody has ever gathered this many action stars in a movie and that is one more thing to thank him for. In Rambo: Last Blood (2019) he was 71 and he still got it.

RELATED: Best Sylvester Stallone Movies of All Time

15. Tom Cruise

best Tom Cruise movies

Born: 1962 (58) in United States
Breakthrough Movie: Top Gun (1986)
Best Movies: Mission: Impossible (1996), The Last Samurai (2003), Collateral (2004), Jack Reacher (2012), Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Latest Good Movie: Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)
Highest Grossing Movie: Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018) – $791 million
Highest Rated Movie (IMDb): Edge of Tomorrow (2014) – 7.9

The older Tom Cruise gets, the better action films he makes. It’s crazy. He didn’t make much of them during the 80s and 90s, but when he started to make them you realize that he is a natural. You would think that his best days were when he was young, when in fact he made some of his best action movies in the last decade: two parts of Mission Impossible, two parts of Jack Reacher, Oblivion, Knight and Day and the super-awesome Edge of Tomorrow. In the latest Mission Impossible movie from 2018, he is 56, and he runs and jumps like he is 36.

RELATED: Best Tom Cruise Movies of All Time

16. Wesley Snipes

best Wesley Snipes movies

Born: 1962 (58) in United States
Breakthrough Movie: Passenger 57 (1992)
Best Movies: Mission: Passenger 57 (1992), Rising Sun (1993), Drop Zone (1994), Money Train (1995), Blade (1998), Blade II (2002), Blade: Trinity (2004) Blade trilogy
Latest Good Movie: The Expendables 3 (2014)
Highest Grossing Movie: Blade II (2002) – $155 million
Highest Rated Movie (IMDb): Blade (1998) – 7.1

Wesley Snipes is another action hero that without a doubt must be on this list. He starred in some awesome action movies throughout his career. It was the Passenger 57 from 1992 that made him an action hero icon. Of course, his biggest success was Blade trilogy. His other prominent roles include Demolition Man (1993), Rising Sun (1993), Drop Zone (1994), Money Train (1995) and Undisputed (2002).

RELATED: Best Wesley Snipes Movies of All Time

Summary

There you go. That was our list of top Hollywood action heroes. It’s interesting how most of these action stars have a popular movie series/franchise in their filmography:

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger – Terminator
  • Bruce Willis – Die Hard
  • Clint Eastwood – Dollar Trilogy
  • Chuck Norris – Missing in Action
  • Jackie Chan – Police Story, Rush Hour
  • Jason Statham – Transporter
  • Jean Claude Van Damme – Universal Soldier
  • Jet Li – Once Upon a Time in China
  • Kurt Russell – Snake Plissken Duology
  • Mel Gibson – Lethal Weapon, Mad Max
  • Nicolas Cage – National Treasure (part 3 announced)
  • Steven Seagal – Under Siege Duology
  • Sylvester Stallone – Rocky, Rambo, The Expendables
  • Tom Cruise – Mission: Impossible
  • Wesley Snipes – Blade

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