Keanu Reeves

The 20 Biggest Action Stars of the 21st Century

From Zoe Saldana to Keanu Reeves, these are the biggest action stars of the 21st Century (so far).

Making movies is not as simple as assumed. They require incredible organization and planning. From story boarding to coordinating stunts, those behind the scenes of movies have much to accomplish in a short amount of time. Although the process of making movies is intense, two elements are vital to all movies, but especially to action movies. Writers are responsible to carrying out the collective vision of the director and studio to convey a specific tone of the characters in both verbal and non-verbal communication. Actors also carry out an important function: making the magic of the writers come to life.

While plenty of actors worry about being typecast, some of the most iconic actors lean into their ability to portray an action hero or villain. Actors like Bruce Willis, Keanu Reeves, and Denzel Washington bring a certain gravitas to an action movie. Then, there’s action stars like Chadwick Boseman, and Henry Cavill whose action sequences are so prolific they cause whiplash! Furthermore, some of the best action movie stars are actresses like Milla Jovovich, Michelle Yeoh, and Uma Thurman who are masters in the action and thriller genres. But movies are just one place actresses succeed in the action drama. Lucy Lawless and Lynda Carter ruled action TV, and are some of the women who paved the way for action heroines.

20. Chris Hemsworth

Chris Hemsworth in Extraction 2-1
Netflix

The Marvel god is a dedicated action star. In addition to Chris Hemsworth having some of the best fighting scenes in the MCU, he also has the most epic scenes in his other films. Spiderhead, the Extraction series, and Men In Black: International are some of his best action films.

19. Keanu Reeves

John Wick Chapter 4
Lionsgate

One of the most prolific action stars of the past four decades. From Speed to John WickKeanu Reeves and action are a perfect match. More specifically, his fight scenes in The Matrix and Constantine are literal works of art. If Reeves is in an action film, audiences are surely to be left in awe.

18. Jackie Chan

Jackie Chan as Lee in Rush Hour
New Line Cinema

In addition to being a fantastic comedian, Jackie Chan is also an incredible action star. He is well known for his fight sequences in the Rush Hour films and many others, particularly in Chinese cinema. Chan is also the stunt coordinator for 80 films, both animated and live-action.

17. Bruce Willis

John McClane crawling through an air vent from Die Hard
20th Century Fox

Even though he is retired, Bruce WIllis was one of the most iconic action stars of the 80s. His most well-known action films are the Die Hard saga. Willis also played Harry in the iconic film Armageddon, where he saved the world. He might be retired, but Willis will remain in the hall of fame of the greatest action stars.

16. Ana de Armas

Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas in No Time to Die
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Blade Runner 2049 introduced audiences to powerhouse Ana de Armas. In an interview with Another Mag, Armas recalls her childhood that was full of running barefoot, putting on plays, and climbing anything she could. She has some incredible fight scenes in the Bond film No Time to Die. Additionally, Armas is able to marry humor with action in an incredible way in films like The Grey Man and Ghosted.

15. Henry Cavill

Henry Cavill as Geralt
Netflix

Not many actors can do what Henry Cavill has done with his career. He’s been one of the best Supermen since Christopher Reeves. But even as he is being replaced as Geralt in The Witcher, no one will ever be able to top his fight sequences. Cavill’s role as August in Mission: Impossible – Fall Out puts him far above other action stars. In many of Cavill’s roles, he is committed to learning the action choreography and performs them with such elegance, it’s truly an art form.

14. Dwayne Johnson

Dwayne The Rock Johnson as Black Adam in the 2022 DC film
Warner Bros. Pictures

In the 90s, everyone smelled what The Rock was cooking. His career as a prolific wrestler has made Dwayne Johnson into a bona fide action star. From his first role as The Scorpion King to his most recent role as Black Adam, Johnson was born to be an action star. Johnson’s leading roles in remakes like Jumangi and Journey to the Center of the Earth further prove that his casting in an action film will be epic.

13. Chadwick Boseman

The late actor Chadwick Boseman upped the ante for action films. While his most prolific roles were as T’Challa/The Black Panther in various Marvel Cinematic Universe projects, those were just the tip of the iceberg of his talent as an action star. As Andre in 21 Bridges, Boseman had fight scenes that were almost otherworldly despite the film being set in modern times. He also stared as Stormin’ Norman in Da 5 Bloods. In the film, Stormin’ Norman is part of the unit lost in the Vietnam jungle and Boseman’s action sequences, albeit short are those of a prolific star.

12. Denzel Washington

Denzel Washington in Training Day
Warner Bros. Pictures

Actor-producer-director Denzel Washington is another action star that deserves every ounce of praise. Washington goes fully into his roles and action sequences. Training Day is one of his top films because he brought the action of a fight sequence to line delivery. He’s even prolific in the science fiction genre with the action-sci-fi film The Book of Eli. Washington in a fight sequence is reason enough for him to be considered a classic action star on par with other greats like Bruce Lee.

11. Brendan Fraser

Brendan Fraser in George of the Jungle
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

Known for his role as the adventurer Rick in The Mummy saga, Brendan Fraser should have been on his way to being the next action superhero star. He was dedicated to doing his own stunts as well. According to People, one of his most iconic roles as George in George of the Jungle is the one for which he is most grateful. Though he recently stared in a more dramatic role in The Whale, Fraser’s presence in action films like The Mummy and Crash reinvented the action genre in the 21st century.

10. Milla Jovovic

 

Known for her leading role in the Resident Evil saga, Milla Jovovich is one actress who can kick some serious ass. She’s stared in many action thrillers that allowed her to transform her look and elevate her stunts. Jovovich’s best action sequences are in Resident Evil and The Fifth Element. These action sequences were done by her and not a stunt double, which is why she is one of the greatest action stars of this century.

9. Sigourney Weaver

Action stars tend to be cops, military people, or other man-centric characters. But in the Alien saga, Ellen (Sigourney Weaver) is the warrant officer charged with saving those on her ship. Weaver went on to star in other science-fiction action films like AvatarGhostbusters, and Galaxy Quest.

8. Charlize Theron

Charlize Theron in Mad Max Fury Road
Warner Bros.

Another action star who packs a punch is Charlize Theron. She’s known for her roles in Mad Max: Fury RoadAtomic Blonde, and The Italian Job. Even her role as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster set her apart as an action star. Theron has even brought her action star prowess to the Snow White saga as Ravenna. In the films, Ravenna relies on magic and manipulation to maintain power. But Theron’s fight sequences are so powerful that it’s easily forgotten that her character is using CGI.

7. Uma Thurman

Uma Thurman in Kill Bill Volume 2
Miramax Films

The impeccable Uma Thurman was one of the most prominent action stars of the late-90s and early-2000s. She made a mark as an action star as Poison Ivy in Batman and Robin. Thurman’s most prolific action role is as The Bride in the Kill Bill trilogy.

6. Angelina Jolie

Actress-activist-director-producer Angelina Jolie is known for her incredible acting skills. Whatever role she takes on, Jolie brings her all. She even told Screen Rant that joining the MCU felt good to have fight scenes again, especially following Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Salt.

5. Lucy Liu

Lucy Liu in Charlie's Angels
Columbia Pictures

One of the most prolific Asian-American film actresses of the early-2000s was Lucy Liu. She made her mark alongside Thurman in Kill Bill. However, it was her stunning scenes in Charlie’s Angels and her recent role in Shazam 2 that place her among the best action stars. Liu is regarded as one of the greatest martial artists in film because of her dedication to fight sequence choreography.

4. Danai Gurira

Danai Gurira in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Danai Gurira is a force to be reckoned with in film and TV. While she has been an important character on The Walking Dead, her performances in Marvel projects are what place her on this list. Gurira has been in Hollywood for quite some time, but the roles she has had are more dramatic than Okoye. Though even as Okoye, she is dedicated to the stunts she performs.

3. Michelle Yeoh

Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All at Once.
A24

Some actresses like Michelle Yeoh have been the ultimate action star for decades. She portrayed a spy in Tomorrow Never Dies, which set her on a path of being an epic action hero. Yeoh’s most prolific fight scenes are in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Everything Everwhere All At Once.

2. Margot Robbie

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in The Suicide Squad
Warner Bros.

The Wolf of Wall Street is a drama, but it swung the doors of their hinges for actress Margot Robbie. She starred in some dramatic roles, but it was her role as Jane in The Legend of Tarzan that cemented her as an action star. As Harley Quinn in the DCEU, she performed her own stunts, wowing the directors of the films. Even as Queen Elizabeth I in Mary Queen of Scots was full of action sequences that make Robbie’s casting in any action film a must-see.

1. Zoe Saldana

Zoe Saldana in Star Trek
Paramount Pictures

If any actress gets to have it all, it’s Zoe Saldana. Not only is she the franchise queen of Hollywood, she just happens to be a perfect casting in any action role. Whether she is the villain, like in The Losers, or a villain turned hero, like Gamora, Saldana often steals the show from her co-stars. Regardless of her engaging in sword fighting or hand-to-hand combat, Saldana is deserving of being one of the greatest action stars of the 21st Century.

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