Ranking the best action movie directors of all time!

We all love our action heroes, but every action movie is only as good as its director. Passion, imagination and perseverance are the key ingredients to create high-octane action masterpieces. In this top 10, we present the best directors that have shaped the genre, and gave us many ultimate classics!

10) Antoine Fuqua

After earning his first merits as director of music videos, Fuqua went on to make feature films.  Fortunately for us, he quickly rid himself of music clip aesthetics with hectic cuts and other visual fuzz, and took a more grounded approach to action cinema.

His breakthrough was the gritty Oscar-winning cop thriller Training Day. After that, he established himself as specialist for no-nonsense action thrillers of the highest caliber with films like Tears of the Sun, Shooter, and the Equalizer movie series. And Fuqua is far from done, so we’re looking out for more action masterpieces in the future!

9) Chad Stahelski & David Leitch

This explosive duo has not yet not been directing films together, but the two are close collaborators, not least through their joint stunt company 87eleven. Both are esteemed stunt performers and choreographers, and know what it takes for a fight sequence to kick ass.

Stahelski hit bull’s eye with the John Wick saga. Hardly was there ever an action franchise that consistently delivered films of such outstanding quality. Leitch worked as producer alongside Stahelski, and regularly sits in the director’s chair himself, creating ultimate bangers such as Atomic Blonde and Bullet Train. Stahelski and Leitch are at forefront of keeping ultimate action cinema alive, and let’s hope they keep it up in the decades to come!

8) Isaac Florentine

Karate master Florentine left his dojo in Israel and moved to the US where he embarked on a career in the film industry. His talent enabled him to develop a unique style for created some of the most spectacular fight scenes that were ever created in the Western World. 

Florentine managed to turn even the most mundane templates into kick-ass action flicks, by staging each showdown perfectly with an almost uncanny symbiosis between the camera and the actor’s movements. He also brought the best out of many talented martial artists, most prominently Scott Adkins, with whom he created many instant classics, such as the Ninja and Undisputed movie series.

7) Robert Rodriguez

Robert Rodriguez distilled the essence of classic B-movies and waltzed over them with his own vision for adrenaline-charged spectacle. He made some of the most uncompromising action films to ever come out of Hollywood, full of raw energy and impossible action scenes. 

Massive shootouts and explosions, lightly clad women, and cheesy one-liners by the minute have become his trademarks. And I will forever be grateful to him for giving us outrageous spectacles such as Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn and Machete.

6) John Carpenter

One of the greatest horror directors of all time also succeeded in the action arena, and then some! Carpenter’s first take on the genre was Assault on Precinct 13, an insanely claustrophobic action thriller about a besieged police station. After that, he created Snake Plissken, an all-time cinema bad-ass, and Escape from New York became a wild dystopic action masterpiece.

The film is a prime example of Carpenter’s mastery to create a captivating atmosphere, unique visuals and eccentric characters. He would go on to create other masterpieces such as the freaky action comedy Big Trouble in Little China and the cult satire They Live. Imbued with endless creativity, Carpenter gave it all for pretty much every film he made!

5) John McTiernan

Die Hard is considered by many the greatest action movie of all time, and we can thank John McTiernan for it and for modernizing action cinema in the late 1980s. John McClane’s battle against a group of terrorists in a sealed-off skyscraper marked that start of a new generation of action films, with immaculate cinematography, elaborately staged set pieces and a masterful blend of suspense and action to create a deep sense of immersion.

But this was not McTiernan’s only classic, he also started the Predator franchise which is another contender for best action movie of all time. After gracing us with two of the most intense action films of their decade, he would follow up with other masterpieces such as Hunt for Red October and Die Hard with a Vengeance, leaving us a truly ultimate legacy!

4) James Cameron

This entry is for the pre-Titanic James Cameron, who shaped action blockbuster cinema in a way few other did. He established the cyborg as a bad-ass killing machine in Terminator, a visually and atmospherically groundbreaking action spectacle. With the film, Cameron supercharged Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career, and even managed to top the first installment with the legendary Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

He also evolved the Alien franchise with the second entry Aliens, an action horror inferno that became a timeless classic. Always eager to implement the newest technology, Cameron pushed the envelope far for what could be achieved with practical effects, so let’s remember and honor his legacy to action cinema.

3) Walter Hill

Walter Hill entered the action arena in the late 1970s with the masterpieces The Warriors and The Driver, and never let up in the following two decades with classic after classic piling up. His signature style of ultraviolent shootouts and intense car action is embodied by fantastic films such as 48 Hrs. and Extreme Prejudice.

His films are dense with atmosphere, and often feature ambiguous male characters who are triggering a cascade of violence because of their macho attitudes. Hill’s influence in developing the style of classic action cinema cannot be overstated, and his filmography has become an ultimate monument to the genre!

2) George Miller

George Miller only made four actioners in his long career as a director, but the Mad Max films defined the post-apocalyptic action genre as we know it today. Miller created a unique microcosm for his anti-hero Max Rockatansky, who roams the wasteland that is inhabited savage characters and their murderous vehicles. 

Miller’s creative energy knew no boundaries with fantastic world-building, quirky characters, and the best car action sequences ever created. With insane stunts, crazy-looking vehicles, and an unbelievable level of detail, Miller took car action to a completely new level. All four Mad Max films are ultimate masterpieces, and the saga became one of the best action franchises of all time!

1) John Woo

Woo is a poet who writes with thick strokes of blood. Hailed for creating the Heroic Bloodshed genre, he reinvented shootouts in action films. His slow-mo bullet storms, that were often filmed on an astonishing scale and with an incredible level of detail, became the most intense action sequences in the history of cinema.

In ultimate classics like The Killer and Hard Boiled, Woo also cranked the pathos to the absolute maximum with brooding characters, atmospheric images and a pervasive melancholy. His films are a force of nature, and have become the very essence of action cinema.