Since the dawn of the 21st century, action cinema has undergone a bigger change than perhaps any other genre. As the tools by which filmmakers craft their works have continually advanced, a sort of renaissance has begun wherein action films have stepped firmly into their own. Often put in the same category as horror — not taken seriously as a form of artistic expression outside of its core fanbase — action has had to boldly announce itself as a viable medium by which big set pieces, but also big ideas, can be presented and explored.
With the highly-anticipated John Wick: Chapter 2 arriving in theaters this Friday, we’ve set out to reflect on the millennium’s action films thus far that have most excelled. To pick our top 50, we’ve reached out to all corners of the globe, choosing an array of films ranging from grand to gritty, brutal to beautiful. The result is a showcase of what action cinema can do at its peak presentation: knock you flat on your back while igniting ideas and emotions with explosive, lasting impact.