20 of the Best Action Movies of the '90s We Love to Binge-Watch

Bethany Quinn | Apr 26, 2019 Movies
20 of the Best Action Movies of the '90s We Love to Binge-Watch
Image: Warner Bros.

Sandra Bullock and Sylvester Stallone in Demolition Man (1993)
Warner Bros.

There's not many things more satisfying than going to the movies to watch an over-the-top action flick. Special effects are best seen on the big screen, and moviegoers live for the thrill of a car chase, a martial arts fight, or an explosion shown dozens of feet wide with surround sound to boot. Before the days CGI and insane graphics, there was the quintessential special effects of '90s films that, while looking back, may seem outdated and cheesy, but for some of us, was a time of true filmmaking -- where directors had to rely on trained stunt doubles, trick drivers, and incredible shots that they just had once chance to get right.

The '90s also brought us some of the most iconic action stars. What would the action genre be without Arnold Scwarzenegger's Terminator, or Keanu Reeves's Neo (the first Matrix came out in 1999, so it still counts), or even Tom Cruise in the Mission Impossible movies, which are still being made today?

(Classic!)

Since moviemaking has come so far in the last two decades, it's easy to knock these films. But they're truly great, sometimes underrated pieces of action movie history. (Don't fight us on this.) While some of these stars have left their action star persona in the past (some haven't), we can still look back fondly on many of these amazing films. They started the over-the-top, scene stealing effect we have come to know and love.

Here are 20 of the most overlooked '90s action movies that don't get the attention they deserve.

  • 'Mortal Kombat'

    1

    Rated: PG-13

    Fans will say that this film stays true to the video game, and that is enough to make it an underrated '90s action classic. The one-liners may be corny in Mortal Kombat, but they're so on-brand for the decade we forgive them. Plus, the fight scenes are some of the best ever!

  • 'The Last Action Hero'

    2

    Rated: PG-13

    While this film bombed at the box office, looking back, The Last Action Hero really was a fantastic story with great characters. The plot bends reality as a young boy gets transported into his favorite fictional action star's world. It was self-aware and funny while at the same time being totally packed with action, explosions, and fights.

    Ya know, the good stuff.

  • 'Mission: Impossible'

    3

    Rated: PG-13

    Before this film became a massive hit with eight sequels under its belt, Mission: Impossible was simply a regular old action flick, starring the most popular actor of the time. But we have to say, it gave way to one of the most famous scenes ever: Tom Cruise hanging from a rope while trying not to touch the ground. While the plot was a bit confusing at times, it had a stellar cast and a totally awesome theme song.

  • 'Speed'

    4
    Rated: R

    While the plot is highly unbelievable, we just love watching Keanu Reeves as a lovable action hero opposite an equally lovable Sandra Bullock. The stunts are pretty impressive, considering they were likely done by real humans. Plus, Dennis Hopper and Jeff Daniels make for a talented supporting cast. 

  • 'Toy Soldiers'

    5

    Rated: R

    Sean Astin stars in this action-packed film about a group of privileged private school kids who get taken hostage by Colombian terrorists. They must fight to take back their school, and the battle between them and the terrorists gets especially brutal in parts.

  • 'Bad Boys'

    6
    Rated: R

    It's so hard to believe Bad Boys was director Michael Bay's first film. (He did a ton of video shorts prior to the 1995 flick.) The now-iconic director would go on to direct many more action films (some of which are even on this list), though his feature film directorial debut is arguably his best. Bad Boys had over-the-top effects, wild chase scenes, and comedy, thanks to stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. The film also helped catapult Smith to action fame as he went on to become one the most prolific action stars ever!

  • 'Judgment Night'

    7

    Rated: R

    This film features some '90s heavy-hitters including -- Emilio Estevez, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Dennis Leary. It's about four friends who get caught in a dangerous part of Chicago only to witness a murder. They're soon on the run for their lives from a gang led by Leary. This film is worth viewing for the performances alone.

  • 'Blade'

    8
    Rated: R

    This vampire superhero film stars '90s icon Wesley Snipes as he tries to protect the human race. The film spawned a sequel and a third installment and opened the doors for other vampire-action films to come.

    We love it for Snipes's martial arts moves and super cool haircut.
  • 'Hard Target'

    9
    Rated: R

    This '90s gem features a mullet-wearing Jean-Claude Van Damme as a drifter who's hired by a woman to help find her father. As the pair go on their search, they discover that they're the ones being hunted. The film has its cheesy moments, but it is truly definitive of the decade. 

  • 'Timecop'

    10
    Rated: R

    Jean-Claude's second appearance on this list -- this time as a cop who's all about time travel and must protect this ability from a politician using it for evil. The plot is corny at times, but Van Damme does a masterful job playing a cop hell-bent on revenge and uncovering the truth.

  • 'Con Air'

    11

    Rated: R

    Nicholas Cage stars as a convict who gets caught up in some serious trouble when fellow prisoners take control of a transport plane (hence Con Air). The film is wildly over-the-top and has everything we've come to expect and love from '90s action films -- including one of the best supporting casts ever. (John Malkovich, Ving Rhames, Danny Trejo, Dave Chappelle, Steve Buscemi, and John Cusack just to name a few.)

  • 'Total Recall'

    12

    Rated: R

    This movie does an amazing job of blending sci-fi and action and of course, since Arnold Schwarzenegger is in it, it really should be classified as a '90s classic. The story is based on the novel by Philip K Dick and features Schwarzenegger as a man who is struggling with long forgotten memories and who must travel to Mars to discover the truth. Sharon Stone also stars.

  • 'True Lies'

    13
    Rated: R

    It's hard to think of this film as underrated. After all, between that Jamie Lee Curtis striptease, the helicopter rescue and the ballroom scene, this film is truly awesome. but it gets lost in the sauce as Schwarzenegger is playing a secret agent who thinks his wife is having an affair because she feels her life is boring. They both end up getting kidnapped and the excitement of discovering her husband's true identity reignites their love as well as a new-found passion for tango!

  • 'Demolition Man'

    14

    Rated: R

    Sylvester Stallone plays cop John Spartan who is tasked with finding criminal, Simon Phoenix, played by Wesley Snipes. These character names alone belong in a '90s action film hall of fame. Both characters are frozen then un-frozen decades later. We watch as they adapt to a new world under familiar circumstances.

  • 'Face/Off'

    15

    Rated: R

    This plot would never (ever) work in real life, but that doesn't mean we don't absolutely love this film. Face/Off features Nicolas Cage as a sociopath who has a personal vendetta against a cop, played by John Travolta. (Spoiler: He even killed his young son!) The film displays the actors' incredible performances and some gut-wrenching scenes, too. Just try to not get too hung up on the face switch thing!

  • 'The Rock'

    16

    Rated: R

    A group of military men take Alcatraz Island hostage and threaten chemical warfare against San Fransisco. Nicholas Cage plays as a biochemist who also happens to be the only one who can disarm the weapons. This Michael Bay film has over-the-top action sequences and a stellar cast that includes Sean Connery and Ed Harris.

  • 'Die Hard With a Vengeance'

    17

    Rated: R

    This is the third installment in the Die Hard series, and it's rare to find a sequel that's just as entertaining as the first two. Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson are at the top of their games in this film, and viewers will be more than satisfied with the action sequences and no-nonsense dialogue that first made this series famous.

  • 'Rapid Fire'

    18

    Rated: R

    Before The Crow, there was this film, which starred an up-and-coming Brandon Lee as Jake Lo. He witnesses a murder and gets betrayed by the federal agents that were supposed to protect him. Lo tries to bring down the drug lords that are after him, and audiences get to see Brandon's insane martial arts skills shine.

    (He father is Bruce Lee.)

  • 'Universal Soldier'

    19

    Rated: R

    Jean-Claude Van Damme stars as a soldier who died in the Vietnam War but was cryogenically frozen by the United States government and brought back to life as a cyborg.

    Absurd? Yes.

    Totally fun and cool to watch? Also yes!

    Dolph Lundgren also stars!

  • 'The Last Boy Scout'

    20

    Rated: R

    Bruce Willis is one of the consummate action stars of the '80s and '90s. (Damon Wayans has been in more than a few hits, too!) This film stars Willis as a detective who tracks down the boyfriend of a murdered witness to help him solve a crime. While the movie has its dark moments, the antiheroes come out on top with a bit of humor.

movies nostalgia

More Slideshows