Of all the genres of movies, it is action movies that often provide the most excitement for moviegoers. In action films, there is usually lots of suspense, exciting fights or battles, gruesome injuries, and fantastic physical maneuvers, Of course, it is the action movie hero who is central to all the action in the film and it is this character who the audience will connect with and support throughout the film. The storyline usually revolves around the hero and what they are trying to achieve. Throughout the history of film, there are many fantastic action heroes who have stuck in the memories of moviegoers and have been talked about long after the release of the movie. Here are 20 of the top male action heroes of all time.
20. William Wallace
William Wallace was a real Scottish knight who led the Scots in the First War of Scottish Independence and died in 1305. The 1995 film ‘Braveheart’ is a famous account of his life. Mel Gibson plays the role of William Wallace in this epic war film which was inspired by the poem ‘The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir William Wallace’ by Blind Harry. Mel Gibson directed the movie and the screenplay was written by Randall Wallace. The movie also starred Sophie Marceau, Patrick McGoohan, and Catherine McCormack. This movie had a budget of between $65 and $70 million and took $210.4 million at the worldwide box office. This movie won multiple awards, including five Academy Awards, a Golden Globe Award, and three British Academy Film Awards.
19. Rocky Balboa
Everyone’s favorite movie boxer, Rocky Balboa is a character that was both created and portrayed by Sylvester Stallone who also wrote the films. He is the main character of all seven films in the ‘Rocky’ series of films. Stallone also directed some of these movies. The first film in the series, simply titled ‘Rocky’, was released in 1976. It was directed by John G. Avildsen and also starred Talia Shire, Burt Young, and Carl Weathers. This was a low-budget movie made on just $1.1 million. However, it was a surprise hit as it grossed $225 million at the box office and has now become a cult classic. ‘Rocky II’ was released in 1979 followed by ‘Rocky III’ in 1982. ‘Rocky IV’ and ‘Rocky V’ followed in 1985 and 1990, respectively. ‘Rocky Balboa’ was released in 2006 and grossed $155 million at the box office. ‘Creed’ is the final instalment in the series and this was released in 2015.
18. Snake Plissken
Snake Plissken is a character created by director John Carpenter. This anti-hero is the main protagonist in two films; ‘Escape from New York’ and ‘Escape from L.A.’. In both these films, the character is played by Kurt Russell. S.D. Bob ‘Snake’ Plissken is a former Special Forces operator and war hero who has now become a criminal. The films are set in a dystopian setting where the main cities in the films have been converted into maximum-security prisons. ‘Escape from New York’ is a 1981 science-fiction action thriller that was co-written and directed by John Carpenter. Alongside Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken, others starring in this movie included Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasance, and Isaac Hayes. The second film featuring this action hero is ‘Escape from L.A.’ and this was released in 1996. Again,t his was co-written and directed by John Carpenter.
17. Ethan Hunt
Ethan Hunt is the protagonist in the ‘Mission: Impossible’ series of films which consists of five movies, all of which Feature Tom Cruise in the role of Ethan Hunt. The character is an IMF point man who is working for an experienced field team in the original film. The first film was released in 1996 and was directed by Brian De Palma. It also starred Jon Voight, Henry Czerny, Emmanuelle Beart, and Jean Reno. It was produced on a budget of $80 million and grossed $457.7 million at the worldwide box office. Due to the success of the first film, a second movie, ‘Mission: Impossible 2’ was released in 2000. This was directed by Jon Woo and also starred Dougray Scott, Thandie Newton, Richard Roxburgh, and John Polson. In 2006, ‘Mission: Impossible III’ was released; a movie directed by J.J. Abrams. ‘Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol followed in 2011 and this was directed by Brad Bird. The final film in the series was ‘Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation’. This was released in 2015 and was directed by Christopher McQuarrie. Alongside Tom Cruise portraying Ethan Hunt, the film also starred Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, and Ving Rhames.
16. The Transporter
Frank Martin is a character who is also known as ‘The Transporter’ due to his work as a man who will transport anything to anywhere, no questions asked, for the right price. The role is portrayed by British actor Jason Statham. The first film in the action thriller series, ‘The Transporter’, was released in 2002 and was co-directed by Louis Leterrier and Corey Yuen. ‘Transporter 2’ was released in 2005 and was also directed by Louis Leterrier. ‘Transporter 3’ was directed by Olivier Megaton and was released in 2008. There was also a reboot of the first three films called ‘The Transporter Refuelled’ which was released in 2015.
Neo is the lead character in the ‘Matrix’ series of films. The character was born as Thomas A. Anderson and is also called ‘The One’, which is an anagram of Neo. Keanu Reeves portrays Neo in this science fiction action trilogy of Matrix films. The first film, ‘The Matrix’ was released in 1999. It was critically acclaimed and won four Academy Awards. The second film, ‘The Matrix Reloaded’, was released in 2003. In the same year, the final film ‘The Matrix Revolutions’ was released. All three films were directed by the Wachowski Brothers. The last film in the trilogy grossed $427.3 million at the worldwide box office.
Blade was originally a character in the Marvel Comics and the character was adapted for film. He is a vampire superhero who was the lead character in the 1998 superhero film ‘Blade’. He became a vampire after his mother was bitten by a vampire while she was pregnant with him and this makes him different from many other vampires. Unlike other vampires, he can go out in the day and is referred to as a ‘Day Walker’. In the movie, the character is portrayed by Wesley Snipes and the film also starred Stephen Dorff, Kris Kristofferson, N’Bushe Wright, and Donal Logue. ‘Blade’ was written by David S. Goyer and directed by Stephen Norrington.
13. Max Rockatansky
Max Rockatansky is the main character in the ‘Mad Max’ post-apocalyptic series of films. He is a Main Force Patrol officer who is trying to maintain law and order on the roads of Australia. There are a total of four films in the series. The first film, ‘Mad Max’, was released in 1979 and was directed by George Miller who also co-wrote the film. The second film, ‘Mad Max 2’ was released in 1981 and is also known by the name ‘Mad Max: The Road Warrior’. Again, this was directed and co-written by George Miller. The third movie in the series was ‘Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome’. It was released in 1985 and directed by George Miller and George Ogilvie. The final movie in the series is ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’. George Miller returned to his role as the sole director for this final movie which was released in 2015. In the first three films in the series, Mel Gibson plays the role of Max Rockatansky. In the final film, the character is portrayed by Tom Hardy.
12. Man with No Name
The ‘Man with No Name’ is a character that appears in Sergio Leone’s ‘Dollars Trilogy’ of films’ This consists of three Spaghetti Westerns; the 1964 film ‘A Fistful of Dollars’, ‘For a Few Dollars More’ which was released in 1965, and the 1966 movie ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’. As the character is not given a name in any of the films, he became known simply as the ‘Man with No Name’. The character is portrayed in all three movies by Clint Eastwood and has become an iconic symbol in Westerns for wearing a poncho, a brown hat, and tan cowboy boots. The character is also recognized for his fondness for cigarillos and for the fact that he rarely speaks.
11. Maximus Decimus Meridius
Maximus Decimus Meridius is the main character in the 2000 epic historical drama film ‘Gladiator’. The character is portrayed in the movie by Russel Crowe. He is a man who was forced to become a slave and he is then seeking revenge against Commodus for the murder of his wife and child. Russel Crowe was not the first choice to play the role as it was originally offered to Mel Gibson. However, Gibson felt that he was too old to portray the character. Others who were also considered were Hugh Jackman and Antonio Banderas. ‘Gladiator’ was directed by Ridley Scott and had a screenplay written by David Franzoni, John Logan, and William Nicholson. It also starred Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielson, Oliver Reed, and Derek Jacobi. It was made on a budget of $103 million and grossed $457.6 million at the worldwide box office.
10. The Terminator
The Terminator is a cyborg assassin. He is the main character in the ‘Terminator’ series of films. He is sent back in time from 2029 to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor. The original film ‘The Terminator’ was released in 1984 and starred Arnold Schwarzenegger in the title role. It grossed $78.3 million at the worldwide box office from a budget of just $6.4 million. Following the success of this film, ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day’ was released in 1991 followed by ‘Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines’ in 2003. ‘Terminator Salvation’ was released in 2009 followed by the final film in the series ‘Terminator Genisys’ in 2015. Arnold Schwarzenegger reprised his role in all the sequels to the original movie.
9. Martin Riggs
Martin Riggs is a character who appears in the ‘Lethal Weapon’ series of films. He is a cop who is transferred from the narcotics division and transferred to the homicide division where he is partnered with Detective Sergeant Roger Murtagh. Although the two have very different approaches to policing, they come together when they save each other’s lives. ‘Lethal Weapon’ was released in 1987 followed by ‘Lethal Weapon 2’ in 1989. The third installment of the series was ‘Lethal Weapon 3’ which was released in 1992. In 1994, the final movie of the series ‘Lethal Weapon 4’ was released in 1998. In all four movies, Mel Gibson plays the role of Martin Riggs.
8. Harry Callahan
Harry Callahan, also known as ‘Dirty Harry’, is a character created by R.M. Fink and Harry Julian Fink. This fictional character is portrayed by Clint Eastwood in the Dirty Harry film series and this role is one that people most often associate with Eastwood. This character is often credited with creating a new variety of movie character as he is an antihero cop. The first film in the series was ‘Dirty Harry’ which was released in 1971. The second movie in the series is the 1973 film ‘Magnum Force’. This was followed by ‘The Enforcer’ in 1976 and ‘Sudden Impact in 1983. The final movie in the series was the 1988 film ‘The Dead Pool’.
7. Jason Bourne
Jason Bourne is an antihero who first appeared in the series of 14 novels by Robert Ludlum. Jason Bourne is one of the aliases used by a career Force Renaissance Marine Captain Foreign Service Officer called David Webb. His wife and children were killed in the Vietnam War. The 1980 novel ‘The Bourne Identity’ was adapted into a film of the same name which was released in 2002. Matt Damon played the lead role in this movie. This was followed by the 2004 film ‘The Bourne Supremacy’ and ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’ which was released in 2007. Matt Damon reprised his role in both these films. In the fourth installment of the series, the 2012 film ‘The Bourne Legacy’, Matt Damon chose not to accept a part in the movie. For this reason, Jeremy Renner played the new character, Aaron Cross. The final installment of the series is the 2016 movie ‘Jason Bourne’. Damon returned to play the titular role.
Wolverine is a superhero character from Marvel Comics who is the alter ego of James Howlett. He is also known as Logan and Weapon X. The character usually appears in the comic books with the X Men. This character is a mutant that has the senses of an animal, a powerful regenerative ability, retractable bone claws, and enhanced physical capabilities. Wolverine appears in ten films in the ‘X-Men’ series of films. The first of these is the 2000 film ‘X-Men’ and the most recent was the 2017 movie ‘Logan’. There are four further films in the pipeline. Hugh Jackman portrays Wolverine in nine out of the ten films.
The first appearance of this character was in David Morrell’s 1972 novel ‘First Blood’. This was the inspiration for the Rambo series of films where John Rambo is the main character. He is a former soldier who has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and is prone to violence due to his experiences of torture at the hands of Vietnamese soldiers during the Vietnamese war. The first film in the series is ‘First Blood’ which was released in 1982. In 1985, ‘Rambo: First Blood Part II’ was released. This was followed by ‘Rambo III’ in 1988 and ‘Rambo’ in 2008. This final film was made on a budget of $50 million and took $113.2 million at the box office. Sylvester Stallone plays John Rambo in all four movies.
Batman is a character from DC Comics who was created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. He is a superhero character that is the alter ego of Bruce Wayne. The character first appeared in film in 1943 in the simply titled ‘Batman’. This was followed by a sequel in 1949 called ‘Batman and Robin’. This character then made a return to the big screen in the 1966 movie also called ‘Batman’. In modern cinema, people generally associate this character with Tim Burton’s 1989 movie ‘Batman’, which starred Michael Keaton. This was followed in 1992 by ‘Batman Returns’ which also starred Keaton and was directed by Burton. In 1995, Joel Schumacher directed ‘Batman Forever’ and Val Kilmer replaced Michael Keaton in the title role.
3. John McClane
The main protagonist of the ‘Die Hard’ series of films is John McClane who is portrayed by Bruce Willis. This character is based on Detective Joe Leland from a novel called ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’ and was created by Roderick Thorp. This series of films began with the 1988 movie ‘Die Hard’ and was followed by ‘Die Hard 2’, ‘Loaded Weapon’, ‘Die Hard with a Vengeance’ and ‘Live Free or Die Hard’. The final film in the series was ‘A Good Day to Die Hard’ which was released in 2013. John McClane is a chain-smoking New York cop who repeatedly defies plans for his killing from various enemies throughout the series.
2. Indiana Jones
Dr. Henry Walton ‘Indiana Jones Jr. is the main character of the Indiana Jones series of films. This character was created by George Lucas as a tribute to action heroes form the 1930s movies. He is an archaeologist, historian, and college professor. The first film in the series, ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, was released in 1981 followed by a prequel in 1984 titled ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’. The third film, released in 1989, was ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and the final film in the series was ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’. Harrison Ford plays the titular character in all the films and River Phoenix portrays a young Indiana Jones in ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ and in a television series based on the films called ‘The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles’. A fifth film is in development and is scheduled for release in 2020.
1. James Bond
Of all the heroes in action movies, James Bond is probably the best-known and most iconic. Even people who are not fans of action movies know who this character is and can name some of the movies in which he features. The James Bond series of films are based on the series of novels written by Ian Fleming that focus on the activities of a British Secret Service agent. After Fleming died in 1964, eight other authorized authors have written James Bond novels which have been adapted into films. In total, there are 25 James Bond films produced by Eon Productions. There are also two James Bond films that were not produced by this company; ‘Casino Royale’ and ‘Never Say Never Again’. The first James Bond movie was the 1962 film ‘Dr. No’ which was directed by Terence Young. The most recent Bond film is ‘Bond 25’, which is scheduled for release in 2019. Seven actors have taken on the role of James Bond; Sean Connery, George Lazenby, David Niven, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig.