Most Popular Action Stars: And action! Spectacularly staged entertainment in film and television usually lives from explosions, effects and elaborate choreographies – but in the end it is the characters involved that enable us to establish a connection to the action in the first place. Of course, we owe that to their actors: We therefore dedicate ourselves to 20 hand-picked people, without whom our current cinema landscape seems difficult to imagine.
Most Popular Action Stars of All Time
Some of them have helped shape the genre in various roles over the decades, while others were able to immortalize themselves in the Olympus of entertainment with a single character. All of them are among the best and most popular action stars we’ve had to date!
1. Arnold Schwarzenegger
- Most Famous Role: T-800
What would this list be without the most cited action star by far? The “Terminator” series (from 1984) alone is deeply anchored in popular culture through “I’ll be back” and “Hasta la vista, baby”.
At the same time, the Austrian oak spends a considerable part of the eighties and nineties putting down unpleasant adversaries with a dry oneliner – be it in tears like “Das Phantom-Kommando” (1985) and “Predator” (1987) or action comedies like “Last Action Hero” (1993) and “True Lies” (1994). Aside from Skynet, Arnold apparently takes a liking to futuristic material, such as “Running Man” (1987), “Total Recall” (1990) or “The 6th Day” (2000). After an eight-year hiatus, during which the bodybuilding legend moves to the political stage as the 38th governor of California,
2. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
- Most Famous Role: Luke Hobbs
Anyone who was allowed to experience The Rock in the wrestling ring around the turn of the millennium probably already suspected it: Even with tens of thousands of fans cheered, the impression arose that this superhumanly charismatic guy was destined for even greater things.
The rest is history, as the saying goes! After taking on a leading role for the first time as “Scorpion King” (2002), Johnson first made a name for himself through humorous action films such as “Welcome to the Jungle” (2003) or “Walking Tall” (2004). With the revenge thriller “Faster” (2010) he shows his tough side and is recommended for the fifth part of the “Fast and Furious” series (2011). There he slips into the role of Luke Hobbs several times, which even brought him his own spin-off in 2019. Also as “Hercules” (2014),
3. Jackie Chan
- Most Famous Role: Kevin Chan Ka Kui
Tom Cruise can do what he wants: No other action star is as synonymous with the “all my own stunts” attitude as Jackie Chan. The devil, born in Hong Kong in 1954, can present a staggering list of injuries, some of which are life-threatening, that he suffered while filming genre classics such as “Police Story” (1985), “The Right Arm of the Gods” (1986), “Drunkens Masters” or “Rumble in the Bronx” (both 1994).
Chan’s style is characterized by a mix of acrobatics, martial arts and humor, which he has retained in a somewhat less daring form even after his US breakthrough with the “Rush Hour” series (from 1998). The popular tradition of many of his films are the outtakes in the credits, which clearly show the long road to the perfect stunt!
4. Keanu Reeves
- Best-Known Roles: Neo, John Wick
In view of his two by far most popular roles, it is easy to forget that Keanu Reeves has long been a seasoned action star on his first day of shooting as Neo: as early as 1991, he dared to join Patrick Swayze in the “Dangerous Surf” (1991), marriage “Speed” (1994) gave him the final breakthrough.
Especially the first part (1999) of the “Matrix” trilogy then sets new standards in action cinema and for a long time seems to be Reeves’ absolute parade role … until he first appeared as “John Wick” in 2014 and provided the genre with another blueprint: The brutal ballet of fluently choreographed exchanges of fire and close combat sequences is made possible not least by the rigorous training that Reeves undergoes in preparation for his impersonation of the retirement-shy contract killer.
5. Jean-Claude Van Damme
- Most Famous Roles: Kurt Sloane, Luc Deveraux
With the help of his “Muscels from Brussels”, a young Jean-Claude Van Damme was initially a successful competitive athlete before he presented the skills he had learned to a cinema audience for the first time in “Karate Tiger” (1986).
When his engagement in the costume of the “Predator” fails shortly before, he creates the final breakthrough with “Bloodsport” (1988)! Commercially, Van Damme’s films from the early nineties do best, where he performed with “Concentrated Load” (1991), “Universal Soldier” (1992), John Woo’s Hollywood debut “Harte Tore” (1993), “Street Fighter” or “ Timecop ”(both 1994) delighted fans and box offices alike. At the side of Dolph Lundgren, the Belgian can be seen not only in several “Universal Soldier” sequels, but also in the second part of the “Expendables” star meeting (2012).
6. Sylvester Stallone
- Best-Known Roles: John Rambo, Rocky Balboa
That man is John J. Rambo and Rocky Balboa. Do you need more words? With the poignant story of the courageous boxer (“Rocky”, 1976), Stallone wrote the role of his life to himself before he rose to become one of the greatest action stars of all time: His portrayal of the muscle-bound Vietnam veteran (especially from “Rambo II “, 1985) shaped the rabid cinema of the eighties like no other figure and cemented Stallone’s casting as an almost indestructible lone fighter – see” Die City-Cobra “(1986),” Demolition Man “(1993) or” Judge Dredd “(1995).
Even in old age he remains loyal to his two star roles and also excels as the conductor of the “Expendables” series (from 2010), which unites him with numerous well-deserved genre greats.
7. Bruce Willis
- Best-Known Role: John McClane
At the end of the day, participating in the Planet Hollywood restaurant chain is certainly not one of the most successful endeavors in Bruce Willis’ career. However, it can only be seen from his two business partners at the time – Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone – at what level he was in the nineties! It starts with “Die Hard” (1988), in which Willis mimes the grumpy daredevil John McClane for the first time. He plays his star role in several sequels.
In addition to similar casts, action films with a science fiction influence run through his filmography; for example in the form of “12 Monkeys” (1995), “The Fifth Element” (1997) or “Armageddon” (1998). He later underpins its decades of relevance with “Sin City” (2005),
8. Jason Statham
- Best-Known Roles: Lee Christmas, Deckard Shaw
The beginnings of Jason Statham’s cinema career are closely interwoven with the films of Guy Ritchie – after all, the British director casts him in “Bube Dame König grass” (1998) or “Snatch” (2000), where Statham and his cool charisma have numerous scenes seizes.
An ideal application for Luc Besson’s “The Transporter” series (from 2002), in which the former water diver fights his way through a total of three adventures as a principled driver! In at least two parts of the ludicrous “Crank” series (from 2006), Statham chases after the next impulse as Chev Chelios, before he particularly triumphs in the ensemble at the box office: Both as Lee Christmas in the “Expendables” series (from 2010) as well as Deckard Shaw in the “Fast and Furious” franchise (from 2013) he shows himself from his most energetic side.
9. Tom Cruise
- Best-Known Role: Ethan Hunt
In the course of his cinema career, which began in 1981, Tom Cruise has proven his breadth in a wide variety of genres. However, it speaks for itself that countless compilations of his dynamic sprints can be found on the Internet: Not only his parade role as IMF agent Ethan Hunt, which he held for the first time in 1996 in “Mission:
Impossible”, regularly demands from Cruise his pin-straight running style and good lungs! Years before that, he established himself as an extremely successful action star, be it in the air (“Top Gun”, 1986) or on the ground (“Days of Thunder”, 1990). Aside from his main franchise, for which Cruise prefers to do his own stunts, he is also in “Minority Report” (2002), “War of the Worlds” (2005), “Jack Reacher” (2012) or “Edge of Tomorrow” (2014 ) to see from its daring side.
10. Harrison Ford
- Best-Known Role: Dr. Henry jones jr.
Even if we completely exclude “Star Wars”, Harrison Ford easily qualifies twice or three times for this list: His portrayal of Henry “Indiana” Jones (from 1981) is almost as legendary as his role as a smuggling space rascal, which is definitely something want to be called! Between spectacular set pieces and sword fights that ended with no humor, the quick-witted archaeologist with charm, fedora and whip reliably casts his spell to this day.
In addition, Ford embodies the Tom Clancy agent Jack Ryan in “The Hour of the Patriots” (1992) and “The Cartel” (1994) Force One “(1997) from the hands of terrorists and finally even joins the notorious” Expendables “(2014).