Action movies come in all shapes, sizes, and languages, and the action beats themselves are equally varied. Fight scenes can be graceful or messy, stunts can be restrained or epic, and the overall execution can forgettable or best of the year material. You get one guess as to which kind we’re here to discuss.
Keep reading for a look at the 18 best action movies of 2018.
18. Illang: The Wolf Brigade
This is as ideal a time as any to remind you that this is a list of the best action movies — not the best movies. It’s hard not to have expected more from Kim Jee-woon (I Saw the Devil, The Good the Bad the Weird), but as misfires go at least this one delivers with some big action set-pieces — two, in particular, stand out in their awesomeness — plenty of gunplay, and some highly appealing visuals. Sure it’s convoluted and overly long, but Kim is still a filmmaker I hope to be watching for decades to come.
Jason Momoa plays a character named Joe Braven, and that’s more than enough to land it on our action list. The action itself delivers too, happily, including well-choreographed brawls in the snow, gunfights, wicked archery skills, and a viscerally gorgeous sequence involving a man doused in flammable liquid set ablaze by a flaming hatchet throw. It’s old-school action done well with characters who endear rather than annoy and an attractive winter landscape as a backdrop to the fun.
This is a big, deliriously fun B-movie that far too many of you slept on in theaters. You’re going to regret that when you finally catch it at home early next year as its blend of Re-Animator‘s zombie horrors and Saving Private Ryan‘s intense battles force a smile onto your goofy faces. Of course, this film’s budget sits somewhere between those two, but it delivers all the same starting with one hell of an opening sequence. We open in a plane that’s shot down with us inside, and once on the ground the brutal energy continues. It’s a blast.
15. Pork Pie
Matt Murphy’s New Zealand-set action/comedy is actually a remake of his father’s 1980 film, Goodbye Pork Pie, and while I imagine that’s possibly even nuttier with the car stunts (due to the time period and the region’s notable lack of safety concerns) Murphy the younger does him proud with this joyous blast of a road trip/chase movie that also speaks to love, past regrets, and the mistakes we continually make in our lives. It’s funny, exciting, and filled with the kind of rousing heart we don’t often see in action/comedies. [Available on VOD]
14. Sicario: Day of the Soldado
This follow-up to Denis Villeneuve’s modern classic from 2015 trades big, contemporary themes and fist-clenching dread for a more familiar narrative, but the action remains excitingly crafted with style, impact, and intensity. The military hardware and violence feel authentic in their appearance and use, and the screen crackles equally with gunfire and energy as Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin go head to head through an unsuspecting Mexico.
13. Final Score
Dave Bautista is good people, and he has an incredibly appealing on-screen persona that contrasts with his appearance. The Guardians of the Galaxy films have capitalized on it well, but Final Score is the first to manage it without having to bury him beneath alien makeup. He’s a damn delight, but once the action kicks in here he delivers a ton of ass-kicking fun. It’s the best sports-themed Die Hard riff ever made — sorry Jean-Claude Van Damme — and it’s an action-packed, unassuming good time at the movies.
12. We Will Not Die Tonight
There’s nothing pretty about this Philippines-made action/thriller, and it’s worlds away from the likes of John Wick or South Korea’s The Villainess with violence that’s ugly and raw rather than hyper-stylized and elaborately choreographed. (The entire film was shot in eight days which is roughly the time given to rehearsing a big fight sequence on Atomic Blonde.) It means there’s no real jaw-dropping action set-piece guaranteed to leave audiences talking, but what it lacks in graceful and gorgeous violence it more than makes up for with brutally energetic intensity. It also features more machete slices and slashes than you’ll find in any half-dozen Korean films, and that’s no small feat.
11. Accident Man
Scott Adkins feels like a constant face on our year’s best action lists as the guy is a stupidly talented fighter who takes to acrobatics as easily and frequently as I take to my couch. Accident Man shows off his more humorous side too as he plays a hit man whose shtick is offing his targets in ways that don’t quite look like murder. He narrates — usually, a bad thing but Adkins is a fun listen — and introduces viewers to the various personalities in his assassin club with some funny gags along the way. The focus, though, is action, and Adkins shows yet again that crossing him means he’ll most likely be kicking you to death before the credits roll.
10. The Scythian
We don’t get a lot of period action movies these days outside of the martial arts and wuxia sub-genres, and that’s part of what lends this Russian film its strength. A man’s fighting for his family and the results are immensely earthy as he brawls, rides, and kills his way through mud, dirt, and blood to achieve his goal. Individual fights and larger scale battle scenes infuse an otherwise beautifully designed film with gritty violence, and the two pair well. Heads up for US action fans looking for the film — it was blandly re-titled The Last Warrior here in the States.