Whether you love them or hate them, action movies are here to stay. A staple part of the annual Hollywood diet, action films guarantee at least one car chase, several explosions and usually a good first weekend at the box office. From then on it’s either sink or swim for an action film based on how it’s initially received, but the one sure fire way to ensure that an action movie has the greatest possible chance of success is to make sure that the leading role is played by one of the heavyweights, those stars that have made their name in cinematic legends, and gone on to star in a succession of hit films. But who are the top ranked action movie stars of all time, throughout the history of Hollywood? Well according to a 2016 poll that was hosted by the online movie site IMDB and was voted on by more than half a million film fans, the first name on the list is perhaps the toughest character of them all in real life.
#10 – Chuck Norris
Carlos Ray ‘Chuck’ Norris should surely need no introduction. The former USAF serviceman is the real genuine article when it comes to being a tough guy. Beginning in 1968 he became the Professional Middleweight Karate champion and held onto the title for the next six years. In 1990 he had the unique honor of being the first Westerner to ever receive the rank of 8th Degree Black Belt Grand Master. Such high level skills won him roles in Bruce Lee’s Return of The Dragon and that propelled him into starring roles back at home with ‘Breaker! Breaker!’ in 1977, and ‘Good Guys Wear Black’ in 1978. Chuck’s career peaked in the eighties with films such as ‘Code of Silence’ and ‘Firewalker’ and he later moved over to television and starred in ‘Walker, Texas Ranger’, which aired from 1993 for eight seasons. The name Chuck Norris has became synonymous with extreme strength in countless internet memes in modern years and he spends much of his time these days supporting Republican causes and pursuing his philanthropic work.
#9 – Jackie Chan
Another real-life superman is next. Jackie Chan today is a cultural icon almost as important as Chuck himself, and he also has the skills to match. Like Chuck he was involved in Bruce Lee’s films, most notably ‘Fist of Fury’ in 1972 and ‘Enter the Dragon’ in 1973. Jackie performed stuntman duties in both productions but his quick strength and agility soon led to him starring in his own movies. Although his early films were produced in his native Hong-Kong, classics such as ‘Drunken Master’ helped re-establish the popularity of the comedy based kung fu movie Worldwide. Jackie made several attempts to break into the US film market, including ‘The Cannonball Run’ in 1981. Without a great deal of initial success he returned to Hong Kong to produce movies until 1986, when ‘Armor of God’ smashed the Asian box-offices. Jackie’s insistence on doing his own, often highly risky stunts loaned him an air of credibility and he returned to the US film market. Success came in the shape of ‘Rumble in the Bronx’ released in 1995, but in 1998 Jackie’s performance alongside Chris Tucker in the cop action film ‘Rush Hour’ led to him becoming a household name in the United States.
#8 – Tom Cruise
Although Tom Cruise has been one of the most popular actors of the last several decades, he’s not particularly noted as an action movie star, instead he’s seen as more of a star of all genres. It’s due to the huge amount of starring roles that the eternally youthful Cruise has had, that makes his action movie roles less significant overall, but they are still stellar performances in some of the classic films of modern times. In the 1980’s he broke every box office record in existence with his starring role in ‘Top Gun’, but it’s perhaps in the ‘Mission Impossible’ series of films that we get to see Tom at his very best. The amazing special effects, complicated story lines and Tom’s presence on the big screen combine to create some classic cinematic moments, and the action is non-stop throughout most of the Mission Impossible series..
#7 – Jean-Claude Van Damme
If you want to know if someone is a real action movie fan, then simply ask them who is the king of the roundhouse kick. Those lacking true knowledge of the genre might suggest Patrick Swayze’s spellbinding portrayal of Dalton in ‘Roadhouse’, but the true fan of the action film will know you mean the ‘Muscles from Brussels’, Belgian Karate prodigy Jean-Claude Van Damme. The high-kicking European had a career that peaked in the early nineties with box-office hits such as ‘Double Impact’, ‘Streetfighter’ and ‘Timecop’, but Van Damme, who is now aged 56 proved he is still up to the action hero role, with an incredible performance in the star-studded ‘The Expendables 2’ in 2012.
#6 – Bruce Lee
Bruce lee is generally considered to have been the most influential martial artist of all time. Although he died suddenly at the age of just 32, in 1973, his influence on the genre of action movies, and martial arts action movies in particular cannot be underestimated. He opened the door for Asians to be presented more positively in American films and the incredible abilities he showcased in legendary films such as ‘Fist of Fury’ and ‘Way of the Dragon’ led to the re-emergence of martial arts into firstly the cinema, and then into mainstream Western culture. Although it has been over 40 years since his untimely death, Bruce Lee films remain hugely popular to this day.
#5 – Clint Eastwood
He’s by far the oldest action hero on the list but no parade of action heroes could ever be complete without the towering figure of Dirty Harry himself, the iconic father of the Spaghetti Western Clint Eastwood. Now aged 86 Clint’s best performances are probably behind him, although you can never be too sure with Clint. He earned success in the vintage Western TV show ‘Rawhide’ before receiving critical acclaim for his role in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Westerns as the man with no name. Clint has maintained a prolific work rate throughout much of his career and supplied many iconic performances, although perhaps none of his characters will be remembered as much as Dirty Harry, the rule-breaking cop with no time for punks. Clint these days has no time for putting his feet up, spending much of his time directing other projects, most notably the box-office success ‘American Sniper’ in 2014.
#4 – Christian Bale
Christian Bale began his acting career in dramas and film adaptations of Shakespeare plays such as ‘The Life of Henry the Fifth’, but it was his chilling portrayal of Patrick Bateman in ‘American Psycho’ in 2000 that propelled him to A-list celebrity status. With a reputation for other films with a dark twist, such as the disturbingly surreal ‘The Machinist’ in 2003, a role which required Christian to lose 63 pounds in weight and becoming virtually anorexic, he moved on to the role of Batman, in Christopher Nolan’s 2005 ‘Batman Begins’. His performance as the dark brooding superhero led to great critical acclaim, and the role was reprised in 2008 for ‘The Dark Knight’, which is generally considered one of the best films of that decade, and one of the greatest Batman films ever made. ‘The Dark Knight’ grossed over $1 billion at the box office and today is the 13th highest grossing film of all time, but even that wasn’t the high point of Christian Bale’s Batman performances. ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, released in 2012, surpassed even that landmark, and today is the seventh highest grossing film in history.
#3 – Bruce Willis
As a man with an ever receding hairline, it’s nice to hear that bald men are considered sexy, it gives me something to look forward to, but somehow I don’t think I’m ever going to quite equal the smouldering attraction that women have for Bruce Willis, even if I do have more hair than him at the moment. His rise to fame came from the romantic drama series ‘Moonlighting’ alongside Cybil Shepherd in the mid nineteen eighties, but since then he’s shown a far tougher side to audiences. The phenomenally successful 1988 movie ‘Die Hard’, in which he played tough New York cop John McClane was considered to be unbeatable, until the incredible and fast moving sequel was released in 1990. The Die Hard series cemented Willis as the go to guy for a leading role that required plenty of machismo, but also plenty of feeling too. Bruce’s success in action movies has been repeated countless times, but he is probably best remembered for his roles in ‘Pulp Fiction’, ‘12 Monkeys’, and ‘The Sixth Sense’, although based on his flawless performances in the past, Bruce never fails to impress in an action hero role.
#2 – Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold Schwarzenegger first began body-building as a teenager, but quickly became incredibly successful at the highest levels of the sport. He was crowned Mr Universe by the age of twenty and subsequently appeared in a low-budget film ‘Hercules in New York’, released in 1970, under the name Arnold Strong. Arnold’s physique was almost superhuman back then, but his English was not so strong, and it took a few years of practice before he was ready to take his natural place as an action movie star. His big break came in 1984, with the release of ‘The Terminator’, and Arnold’s role as a death-dealing robot from the future was a great vehicle to show off his immense physical presence without taxing his newly learned English language skills too much. The body-builder from Austria has come a long way since those early days, with a string of cinema classics throughout the eighties, of which ‘Predator’, from 1987 and ‘Total Recall’, released in 1990 are perhaps the best remembered. His power is more than physical too. Arnold, a staunch Republican, became the 38th Governor of California in 2003, and served in the office until 2011, during which time he was known by fans and the media alike as ‘The Governator’.
#1 – Sylvester Stallone
Sylvester Stallone has never been without his critics. His 1976 portrayal of heavyweight boxing contender Rocky Bilboa not only shot him to international fame, it also won him extensive critical acclaim. His performance earned him the distinction of being only the third man in history to receive Academy Awards for Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor for the same film, and the cultural influence of ‘Rocky’ has grown over the years to iconic proportions. The sequel to Rocky arrived in 1978 and was another runaway success. Stallone played several leading roles in action films in the next few years, but it was his depiction of the disturbed and hunted Green Beret John Rambo in 1982 that sealed his place as the ultimate action hero. Sylvester was lauded for his performance and critics enthused that he had developed the character of Rambo further than the original book had managed to do. Throughout the nineteen eighties Stallone produced sequels for both the Rocky and Rambo series of films, all of which were eagerly anticipated by fans. His versatility has allowed him to give much praised performances in a variety of other films since then, particularly in his 1993 pairing with Wesley Snipes in ‘Demolition Man’, and his 1995 titular role in ‘Judge Dredd’. A fifth, and possibly ill-advised instalment of the ‘Rocky’ series sunk like a bomb, but in 2006 he produced a final chapter in the Bilbao story, and amazed the critics and fans alike, by producing another smash hit, and that wasn’t all. In the same year he also released a fourth instalment of ‘Rambo’, which was equally successful.