10 best action movies of 2021, ranked
While 2021 was not quite “business as usual” in cinema, it was a step in that direction. The best part about it was whether you watched movies in the theater or not, the studios were actually releasing the movies that they had been sitting on for a year. Blockbuster action movies were exactly the kind of movie offerings studios wanted to release in theaters, so we’ve had a lot of them this year.
Action is what a lot of us are looking for when watching movies on these giant screens, and we got a lot of what we were looking for. It wasn’t a disappointing year for action fans, so here are the best action movies of 2021.
10. Raya and the last dragon
Action-oriented animation is generally the domain of Japanese anime and is rarely the subject of feature films in the West, but Disney upped its game in 2021 with Raya and the last dragon. While the movie had all of the elements we’ve come to expect from “Disney movies,” like princesses on a journey of self-discovery and fun, comedic sidekicks, this one also brought in some of the best action scenes Disney has ever created. Special care has been taken to make martial arts work on screen, and the result is a film that is both a great animated movie and a great action movie.
9. Space sweepers
One of the great things about streaming services and expanding the availability of movies is that we now have access to movies that we might have otherwise missed. Most people probably wouldn’t give up the Korean sci-fi adventure Space sweepers a lot of thought in most situations, but if you see this one in your Netflix recommendations, give it a try. It’s as thrilling a space adventure as any home sci-fi blockbuster.
8. Spider-Man: No Path Home
Spider-Man: No Path Home is one of the best movies of 2021 overall. If there’s a reason it’s not higher on this list, it’s just that the action of the movie isn’t the main reason the movie is so good. That said, the action is not to be sneezed at. Watching Tom Holland take on some of the best villains in comic book movies was awesome. And that finale, when it all really comes together and we see something we never even dreamed of seeing on the big screen, is just awesome.
7. Boss level
Boss level borrowed its title from video games, and while its plot doesn’t use games in the same way as something like free guy, the film in time loop consists in memorizing diagrams in order to progress, just like playing a video game. In fact, games play a role. Frank Grillo and Joe Carnahan are joining forces once again for a fun action-adventure story where many people die at different times in different and creative ways. Even Mel Gibson is killed more than once, so that’s something.
Once upon a time we were going to have a John wick movie in 2021, and while that didn’t happen, we did have a few action movies that owed more than a little bit to the Keanu Reeves-led franchise. The best of them, unsurprisingly, came from Derek Kolstad, the creator of the John wick franchise. Bob Odenkirk doesn’t look exactly like Keanu, but he was nonetheless perfect in Anybody. The action was just as swift and brutal.
We have the distinct impression that with each new Fast Furious movie, the first question asked is, “How are we going to outdo the action in the last movie?” In this case, the answers were, in no particular order: cars swinging on ropes like Tarzan, sending Pontiacs into space and playing with electromagnets. Was it all remotely sane? No, but it was a lot of fun. How will be Fast & Furious 10 top all that? No idea, but we can’t wait to find out.
4. The suicide squad
that of James Gunn The suicide squad opens with an absolutely massive action streak that ends with a big pile of dead bodies, and from there things get really crazy. From massive comic book action plays to close quarters, visceral, and bloody brawls, whatever your particular taste in action is, this movie has it. The suicide squad is perhaps the best pure action movie of all modern DC versions.
3. Shang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings
2021 has been a massive comeback for the Marvel Cinematic Universe with four new big-screen-only entries. They covered a wide variety of genres and styles, but without a doubt, the best action movie of all was Shang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings. Marvel is no stranger to great action, but we’ve never seen a martial arts movie in the franchise, making Shang-Chiis something fresh and new to the MCU. It’s beautifully choreographed in a way that makes the fight scenes not only exciting, but also fun to watch.
2. No time to die
Daniel Craig’s final adventure as James Bond was a long time coming, but it was worth the wait. Whether it’s a shootout or a car chase, No time to die brought some of the best action in the history of the James Bond franchise. To be fair, James Bond had some help this time around, Ana de Armas and Lashana Lynch did their part to improve the action as well. When it’s time for James Bond to return, the new guy will have a tough act to follow.
1. Raging fire
The world lost one of the great action filmmakers in 2020 when Benny Chan died suddenly from cancer. We still have his great work in Hong Kong action cinema to remember him, and this year we had one final entry: a collaboration between him and the great Donnie Yen in Raging fire. While the plot and characters in the film are less original, which the film lacks in depth, it more than makes up for in action. Donnie Yen and Nicholas Tse are in great shape in a movie that any martial arts movie fan, or just action in general, must see.
2021 has been a solid year for action cinema. If you missed any of these, I highly recommend that you check them out at your next opportunity. You might not have a lot of time because 2022 is shaping up to be another big year, and you will also need time to watch all of those great action movies.