1. Liam Neeson - born June 1952
It’s hard to think of anyone else whose career has taken such a remarkable swerve as Neeson. Long regarded as a first-rate, serious film actor – he was Oscar-nominated for Schindler’s List, and received rave reviews for films like Michael Collins and Kinsey - he first dipped his toe into action movies in 2008 with Taken.
It was a huge international success, and he has returned twice to the Taken franchise; this trilogy has made him an action superstar at box offices worldwide. It’s fair to say no-one saw this late career shift coming.
2. Tom Cruise - born July 1962
Don’t let his perennially youthful looks fool you: Cruise would easily qualify for a Saga subscription. Age cannot wither him, though – he still likes films that require him to drive fast, get chased and hare around on set. He’s finished his sixth Mission:Impossible movie with at least two more on their way, and 2020 will see the long awaited follow-up to what remains arguably his best-known film - Top Gun, from 1986. Cruise can make a fortune in whatever roles he chose: intriguingly, it’s action movies he seems to prefer.
3. Robert Downey Jr - born April 1965
Arguably the least likely action movie hero of all, he’s astonishingly joined the world’s most successful in recent years. After a career of varied, sometimes quirky roles, he signed up in 2008 to play Tony Stark in Iron Man, returning to him in two sequels, as well as in several other films set in the Avengers universe. All have been phenomenal global successes. Downey’s career as an action movie powerhouse almost puts his two popular performances as Sherlock Holmes in the shade.
4. Bruce Willis - born March 1955
After finding fame as a suave, witty private eye on TV’sMoonlighting, Willis’s looks suggested he might be an ideal big-screen hard man. And so it has proved. His four Die Hard films, in which he starred as law enforcer John McClane, have proved absurdly profitable worldwide. That franchise seems to be finished for good, but Willis has since found refuge in two others that reunite groups of oldies to conquer evil, acting in two Expendables and two REDs. He’s a versatile actor, but action movies are the bedrock of his career.
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5. Sylvester Stallone - born July 1946
The world of action movies would feel utterly different today without the influence of Sylvester Stallone, who carved his name in screen history in the course of six Rocky films and four Rambos – every single one of them huge hits worldwide. Easy to dismiss Sly for his muffled diction and limited acting ability – but he makes a plausible American hero, in the boxing ring and in armed combat. He has recently extended his action movies credentials - as have so many stars of his age group - by appearing in three Expendables movies.
6. Denzel Washington - born December 1954
In his remarkable career, Washington has won two Oscars, been nominated for four others and played Malcolm X and South African freedom fighter Steve Biko on film. But he’s a dab hand at action, as evidenced in Man on Fire, 2 Guns – and 2014’s The Equalizer, a big enough hit to warrant a 2018 sequel. Washington was also one of the Magnificent Seven in a 2017 remake of that classic western. Washington can do charm, wit and intelligence on screen, but his formidable presence also makes him an action star.
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7. Arnold Schwarzenegger - born July 1947
His best-known catchphrase is “I’ll be back,” and you’d have to say Arnie has been as good as his word. He’s had digressions in his career: light comedies, kid-friendly romps, and let’s not forget that spell as governor of California. But he’s a man who knows his strengths, and he keeps returning to action movies: he has three Expendables already under his belt, a fifth Terminator movie (Terminator: Dark Fate) out in 2019. Basically, Arnie’s all action.
8. Harrison Ford - born July 1942
Han Solo. Indiana Jones. Two of the most iconic action movie characters in cinema history, and over the years Ford – rather shy and diffident in real life - has made them his own. 2015 saw him return to a galaxy far, far away to play Solo for the seventh time, and in 2017 he stepped back into the Bladerunner universe - and a fifth Indiana Jones movie is in the works for 2021. A master of action, whether inter-planetary, swashbuckling or futuristic, Ford is quite simply a legend.
9. Samuel L. Jackson - born December 1948
Often referred to as the world’s hardest-working actor, Jackson returns repeatedly to action movies. They litter his long CV. His most recent roles include Nick Fury, the senior character in Marvel’s Avengers series, but his action credentials stretch way back. The Shaft remake, S.W.A.T, Die Hard with a Vengeance – Jackson has taken them all in his stride, more often than not stealing the movie as a tough-talking character with a steely gaze. In the action movie world, he’s unique – and irreplaceable.
10. Keanu Reeves - born September 1964
Can Keanu Reeves really be an over-50 action hero? He not only looks a sensitive type, but his ethereal features don’t appear to have changed much since his youthful days on screen. Yet Keanu certainly has turned the Big Five-Oh, and lately has turned his attention to the action genre – first in the samurai epic 47 Ronin, and then in John Wick, playing an ex-hitman who quits the mob, then gets dragged back in by circumstance. John Wick was a big enough hit globally for two sequels. Who’d have thought it?