29 Best Action Movies of the '90s You Have to Watch
The '90s were a great time for the action movie genre. This was the decade when stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger peaked and a whole new wave of directors like John Woo and Luc Besson made their reputations.
'Total Recall' (1990)
Schwarzenegger churned out hit after hit in the early '90s, beginning with this explosive adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story. As with most Dick adaptations, it's a pretty loose take on the source material. But when you combine mind-bending sci-fi goodness with all the classic Schwarzenegger tropes and director Paul Verhoeven's sly, hyper-violent stylings, good things follow.
'La Femme Nikita' (1990)
Director Luc Besson helped define the look and feel of a whole new wave of stylish French thrillers with this movie. It doesn't hurt that star Anne Parillaud gave us the femme fatale heroine the movie world needed. It's usually a good sign when an action movie inspires multiple foreign language remakes.
'Point Break' (1991)
If '90s kids had a bad case of deja vu watching "The Fast and the Furious," it's only because they had already fallen in love with "Point Break." The two movies share the exact same plot, but "Point Break" has the benefit of some incredible surfing scenes and the late, great Patrick Swayze in the role he was born to play.
13. 'Terminator 2: Judgment Day' (1991)
The first two "Terminator" movies are critical pillars of the sci-fi genre, but it's really "Terminator 2" that stand as the high-water mark for this franchise. Great action, compelling characters and a heartfelt story about humanity struggling to change its fate make for an incredible sci-fi experience.
'Batman Returns' (1992)
The '90s weren't a great time for supoerhero movies in general and Batman movies in particular, but at least we got one more great movie out of Tim Burton and Michael Keaton. Even though Keaton's Batman is about as agile as a tortoise, "Batman Returns" features some great fight scenes and a generally more exciting, action-packed alternative to its predecessor. And Catwoman is the sh**.
'Hard Boiled' (1992)
Director John Woo cultivated his own unique brand of action movie in the '90s, one that combines classics "cops and robbers" storytelling with stylish gunplay and liberal use of slow motion and flying doves. "Hard Boiled" is where Woo really perfected that formula, and also where American audiences began to sit up and take notice of star Chow Yun-fat.
I mean, how can you NOT love this movie?! That's Stallone, stabbing a bad guy, on a stalagmite (or is it tite?) Whatever, the point is: This guilty pleasure gave Stallone a much-needed action movie career boost in the '90s. And it's one of the most beautifully shot action movies ever.
'Demolition Man' (1993)
Sylvester Stallone didn't fare so well in the '90s, between "Rocky V" and some generally poor choices of roles. But at least he had "Demolition Man," a futuristic movie that blends satisfying action with a healthy dose of satire. As guilty pleasures go, you could have worse. #ThreeSeashells.
'The Fugitive' (1993)
By the time the '90s rolled around, Harrison Ford was getting a bit long in the tooth to keep playing Han Solo and Indiana Jones. Instead, he transitioned into more an everyman action hero who kicked ass despite his age. And nowhere does that formula work better than in "The Fugitive."
'Hard Target' (1993)
We're down for any movie in which Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a Cajun butt-kicker with a mullet. The fact that "Hard Target" also marked John Woo's first American film just made it that much more of an attractive proposition. Sure, it's dumb, but the kind of dumb that keeps you enthralled from start to finish.
'Clear and Present Danger' (1994)
Few action stars have aged as gracefully as Harrison Ford. The star continued to carve out a new place for himself as a likable middle-aged action hero in this third installment of the Jack Ryan franchise. We're not sure why Paramount has tried so hard to reinvent the character as a younger, sexier hero when this formula worked so well.
'Die Hard With a Vengenace' (1994)
The Die Hard franchise has a pretty spotty track record when it comes to sequels. Luckily, At least we got one great follow-up to the original during the '90s. "Die Hard With a Vengeance" is the only sequel to retain the blue collar everyman appeal of the original without also simply recycling the same plot.
'The Legend of Drunken Master' (1994)
While it wouldn't see official release in the US until 2000, hardcore martial arts lovers swooned over Jackie Chan's second "Drunken Master" movie. Never has the actor's incredible blend of athleticism and physical comedy been more impressive.
'Léon: The Professional' (1994)
Director Luc Besson became one of the dominant forces in the action movie world in the '90s, and this film was a major reason why. It features one of the all-time coolest action heroes in the form of Jean Reno's Léon, and the fact that a young Natalie Portman played his precocious sidekick/trainee just makes the whole ting that much more fun. We're still holding out for a Portman-driven sequel.
'Under Siege' (1992)
For all of you who wanted "Die Hard" on a battleship, Steven Seagal made your dream come true. He plays, naturally, the ship's cook (with some SEAL training) and, yup, gets into a vicious knife fight with baddie Tommy Lee Jones. This movie is dated, sure, but director Andrew Davis' tension and TLJ's scene-stealing performance still hold up.
A lot of the best action movies are the ones with the simplest premises. "Speed" makes the most of a simple idea and its two leads, Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. Unfortunately, that simplicity is one reason it was so hard to cook up a worthwhile sequel.
'True Lies' (1994)
As the decade wore on, Schwarzenegger started losing steam as a traditional Hollywood action hero. But at least we got one more great collaboration between Schwarzenegger and director James Cameron first. "True Lies" is a real crowd-pleaser and remains one of the best movies in both their careers.
'Bad Boys' (1995)
Michael Bay was undeniably at his best in the '90s, back before his career became dominated by "Transformers" sequels. "Bad Boys" offered an explosive new take on the buddy cop genre, one anchored by the terrific chemistry between Martin Lawrence and superstar-in-the-making Will Smith.
While 1992's "El Mariachi" is a great showcase for what a skilled director can do on a minuscule budget, this 1995 sequel allows Robert Rodriguez to operate on a much bigger stage. You haven't lived until you've seen a mariachi singer wield a rocket-launching guitar case.
The James Bond franchise was badly in need of a new direction and a new leading man in the '90s, and it got both thanks to "GoldenEye." The only Bond film with a story to live up to Pierce Brosnan's thoroughly satisfying take on the character, "GoldenEye" remains one of the high points in this incredibly long-running series.
'Sudden Death' (1995)
"Sudden Daeth" is basically a "Die Hard" sequel set inside a hockey arena. How could you not love that. While not one of Jean-Claude Van Damme's bigger hits of the '90s, it's gained a healthy following thanks to its simple premise and strong execution.
'Mission: Impossible' (1996)
If there's one thing '90s action movies were good at, it was updating classic '60s TV series into sexy modern blockbusters. "Mission: Impossible" delivered a satisfying bled of stunts and intrigue. In the process, it established a formula so strong that the series is still alive and thriving even two decades later.
'The Rock' (1996)
How good is this Michael Bay movie? Good enough to be selected for the Criterion Collection. "The Rock" is a high point in Bay's career. It's an expertly crafted action thriller that makes the most of the unusual but satisfying pairing of Nic Cage and Sean Connery.
'Air Force One' (1997)
Harrison Ford had one of his biggest hits ever in this 1997 "Die-Hard-on-a-plane" thriller. In a time of ongoing political scandal, it was refreshing to see a President getting down to business and punching a bunch of terrorists off of his plane. This film served as another reminder that Gary Oldman is the all-time champ when it comes to over-the-top villains.
The premise of "Face/Off" skirts the line between brilliant and ridiculousness, which is only fitting for a movie featuring John Travolta and Nic Cage impersonating one another. It's a wild, stylish ride, as all John Woo films should be.
In a decade marked by one lousy comic book movie after another, "Blade" finally came along to show what was possible when studios treat the source material with the respect it deserves. "Blade" also doesn't get enough credit for its influence on the action movie genre. It was basically doing "The Matrix" a year before "The Matrix" hit theaters.
When your crime thriller is crammed with one plot twist after another, it helps to have some satisfying, next-level car chases to keep things humming along. That's no problem for "Ronin," which features a nonstop stream of car chases, shootouts and betrayals to keep viewers hooked.
'Enemy of the State' (1998)
Arguably Will Smith's most underrated '90s effort, this paranoid thriller casts him as a likable DC attorney caught up in a conspiracy involving the murder of a politician. Soon, Smith finds himself on the run with surveillance expert Gene Hackman and a lot of fun twists ensue, thanks to Tony Scott's deft direction.
'The Matrix' (1999)
The two "Matrix" sequels don't exactly hold up, with dated CG effects and lousy storytelling choices reminding us why this franchise had such a meteoric rise and fall. But that doesn't mean the original film should be forgotten. "The Matrix" delivered a unique mash-up of philosophy, martial arts and science fiction. It was a revelation at the time, and it's still a darned good watch nowadays.