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14 ’90s Action Movies Every Guy Should See

The '80s rightfully gets a lot of attention for its action movies, but these action movies from the '90s are equally classic.


The ’80s were a storied decade for action movies, and this was when many of the most well-known franchises in the genre got their start. But you’d be mistaken to think the film industry’s zest for action cinema ended in 1989–some of the most innovative and influential action movies actually came out in the 1990s. Acclaimed sequels, decadent experiments, and the beginnings of franchises that are still around today all have their start in the ’90s, not to mention movies that introduced a number of classic lines.

To wit, a scene from the film The Rock (1996) that’s often quoted in my family. Nicholas Cage’s character asks a guy if he’s ever heard the Elton John song “Rocket Man” before saying, “Well, I only bring it up because, uh, it’s you. You’re the Rocket Man,” as he presses a button that fires a surface-to-air missile into the guy’s chest, sending him flying out over San Francisco Bay. You’re just not going to get something that silly and that spectacular happening in the ‘80s, as good as those action flicks are.

About half the movies below are stone-cold classics that you should revisit if you haven’t seen in a while. The other half are ones you may have, mistakenly, opted to skip. Whether blockbuster or cult classic, all of the action films on this list have the perfect mix of spectacle, explosive action set pieces, and that little touch of goofiness you can only get from action movies of this period as they play with the expectations and tropes of the previous decade.

Total Recall (1990)

Based on a Philip K. Dick short story, Total Recall casts Arnold Schwarzenegger as Douglas Quaid, a mild mannered construction worker in the year 2084. Quaid accidentally uncovers his suppressed past as a Martian secret agent when he, ironically, gets bored and tries to get implanted with false memories as a Martian secret agent. Full of campy one-liners, lots of fake heads, and the perfect use of Sharon Stone, this is a great entry point into both ’90s action cinema and director Paul Verhoeven’s body of work.

The 23 Best ’90s Movies

How could I possibly put together a list like this and leave off Seven? Or Wayne’s World? Or The Fifth Element? Or The Sixth Sense? Or any of the hundred other '90s movies people love so much? There are a few possible answers to those very natural objections. The most…

The 23 Best ’90s Movies
Heat (1995)

While endlessly memed online at this point, Michael Mann’s 1995 crime film deserves all the praise it’s garnered over the years. Starring Robert DeNiro as a professional thief and Al Pacino as the LAPD detective hired to apprehend him, this nearly 3-hour epic encompasses a wide arc that includes one of the best (and apparently most choreographically accurate) daylight shootouts ever committed to film.

Universal Soldier
Universal Soldier (1992)

Jean-Claude Van Damme stars as Pvt. Luc Deveraux, a Vietnam soldier killed in action in 1969 and then genetically engineered to be a part of a cybernetically enhanced supersoldier unit some 20-odd years later. Half the fun of this film is watching Dolph Lundgren chew scenery as Sgt. Andrew Scott, the film’s antagonist, and the other half is watching the film tie itself into knots trying to convince us that JCVD, the most Belgian man of all time, is actually perfectly cast as a corn-fed all-American farm boy from Louisiana.

100 Essential Movies Every Guy Should See

Cinematic history is littered with gems. In the hands of a brilliant director, a skillful cast, or a visionary writer, a masterpiece can be born. There are so many, in fact, that selecting just 100 as essential viewing was extremely challenging. We debated. We consulted reviews. We rewatched forgotten films.…

100 Essential Movies Every Guy Should See
Point Break
Point Break (1991)

Before achieving widespread critical acclaim with Zero Dark 30, director Kathryn Bigelow gave the world the gift of Point Break. Keanu Reeves stars as special agent Johnny Rico, an FBI agent tasked with apprehending a gang of bank robbers/surfers known as “the Ex-Presidents,” and in the process falls under the sway of their enigmatic and charismatic leader Bodhi, played by Patrick Swayze.

Hard Boiled
Hard Boiled (1992)

Chow Yun-fat plays Inspector “Tequila” Yuen Ho-yan, a Hong Kong police officer who gets entangled in a complex undercover police plot in the course of a gun-smuggling investigation in this John Woo-directed film. Hard Boiled is Woo’s final prior to his transition to Western Hollywood action films like Hard Target (1993) and Face/Off (1997). As such, Hard Boiled features much of Woo’s trademark stylishness, from having Tony Leung playing a Triad assassin who makes an origami crane for each of his victims to Chow Yun-fat spending most of the movie’s final shootout holding a baby.

10 Classic Summer Movies Every Guy Should See

Depending on where you live in the Northern Hemisphere, in between the cold and rainy days, you’re probably enjoying a few sunny, unseasonably warm days. That's really all it takes to get the summer vibes started, which means it's time to watch a classic summer movie (or 10). And there’s…

10 Classic Summer Movies Every Guy Should See
Escape From L.A.
Escape From L.A. (1996)

A sequel to John Carpenter’s brilliantly pulpy Escape From New York (1981), Kurt Russell reprises his role as Snake Plissken, a criminal and disaffected former Special Forces soldier perennially press-ganged into doing the United States government’s dirty work for them. This time, he’s tasked with securing the remote control to an EMP superweapon that’s found its way into the hands of revolutionaries from the Shining Path in Los Angeles–and he only has 10 hours to do it.

Predator 2 (1990)

“Predator vs. the cops during a heatwave” may seem like a downgrade from the Special Forces action of the original, but Predator 2 does not disappoint. Danny Glover stars as “sweatiest man in the world” Lt. Michael R. Harrigan, who finds his one-man war against rival drug cartels becomes more complicated when another Predator (or “Yautja,” if accuracy matters to you) decides to start hunting him for sport. Bill Paxton appears in a supporting role as well, making him one of only a few actors to be killed by a Terminator, a Predator, and an Alien across all three franchises.

The Rock (1996)

When disgruntled general Francis Hummel (Ed Harris) defects from the United States with a battalion of his most fanatical soldiers and uses Alcatraz as the staging ground to threaten San Francisco with an experimental chemical weapons attack, only two men can stop him: neurotic FBI chemical weapons specialist Dr. Stanley Goodspeed (Nicholas Cage) and retired MI6/SAS captain-turned-criminal John Mason (Sean Connery), the only man to ever escape Alcatraz. Cage and Connery are perfectly paired in this Michael Bay-directed film, which contains no shortage of cool one-liners and show-stopping action sequences.

Demolition Man
Demolition Man (1993)

Career criminal Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) and LAPD officer Sgt. John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone) are cryogenically frozen in 1996 as punishment for how much destruction they cause in the course of, respectively, committing and stopping crimes. They awake 36 years later in the utopian city of San Angeles, ready to raise hell. When Phoenix unsurprisingly returns to his violent ways after being thawed out, the touchy-feely police of 2032 have no choice but to enlist Spartan, a cop so renowned for collateral damage they call him “The Demolition Man,” to put a stop to Phoenix’s crimes once and for all.

The 80s Buddy Comedies Every Guy Should See

While you can find great buddy comedies in most decades, there are few ten-year periods in film better than the 1980s. Duos like Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito, Alex Winter, and Keanu Reeves, and Tom Hanks and French Mastiff named Hooch made the 80s an…

The 80s Buddy Comedies Every Guy Should See
Ghost In The Shell
Ghost in the Shell (1995)

Adapted from Masamune Shirow manga of the same name by celebrated anime director Mamoru Oshii, Ghost in the Shell follows cyborg security officer Motoko Kusanagi as she seeks to unravel a mysterious series of cyber attacks connected to an elusive hacker known only as “The Puppet Master.” This film is a cyberpunk classic and contains some of the best fight choreography on this list, animated or otherwise. Good for those that like their action with a side helping of questioning what the nature of the self is.

Terminator 2
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

You didn’t really think I’d leave T2 off this list, did you? Linda Hamilton reprises her role as Sarah Connor from the original film, hell-bent on stopping a malevolent artificial intelligence from initiating a nuclear apocalypse. She’s assisted by her now-teenage son John (Edward Furlong) and a reprogrammed T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) as they try to avoid the T-1000 (Robert Patrick), a shapeshifting and relentless new model of Terminator. Co-written and directed by James Cameron, Terminator 2: Judgment Day is one of the genre-defining action movies of the 1990s–a pure thrill ride from start to finish.

The Matrix
The Matrix (1999)

Directed by Lana and Lily Wachowski, The Matrix casts a long shadow in action movies to this day. Keanu Reeves stars as Neo, a computer hacker and salaryman who finds that he and the rest of humanity are actually living in a vast simulation designed to keep them docile while robots harvest their bodies for energy. Fusing the Wachowskis’ interests in raver subcultures, cyberpunk, and anime, The Matrix is an incredibly slick action film that’s been endlessly parodied, referenced, and ripped off since it was released two and half decades ago.

Mission: Impossible
Mission: Impossible (1996)

Given that it’s become a film series mainly known for the number of death defying stunts Tom Cruise does throughout, it’s slightly shocking that the Mission: Impossible franchise started in the 1990s with this Brian De Palma-directed feature. Cruise stars as Ethan Hunt, a spy for the Impossible Mission Force–increasingly abbreviated “IMF” throughout the film series–who seeks to find those responsible for framing him for the murder of his team during a mission. Although it lacks some of the spectacle of the later films, it’s arguably required watching for any M:I completists.

Blade (1997)

Before the totality of the MCU, comic book adaptations used to be something of a curiosity. Based on a character created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan for the Marvel comic The Tomb of Dracula, Blade stars Wesley Snipes as, well, Blade: a half-vampire vampire hunter. After rescuing hematologist Karen Jenson (N’Bushe Wright) from a vampire attack, Blade uncovers a vast conspiracy that could bring about the end of humanity as we know it. There’s a lot of old Marvel charm to this one, and Snipes delivers one of the most inexplicable one liners of all time during its climax. What’s not to love?

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