Action movie franchises are big money films, they have big budgets and they do well in the box office. Over years, there have several action films whose success kick-started a slew of sequels that ultimately resulted in franchises. While some of them truly deserved multiple sequels, most didn’t. Yes, we have tried to objective and tried to list down top action movie franchises ever, ranked from good to best.
Note: The Avengers and The Dark Knight Trilogy have not been considered for this list.
17. The Expendables
This franchise was created to pay homage to the existing action movies, the legendary stars and the current action stars in the industry. A three-part film series with a fourth scheduled to release, this franchise introduces an ensemble cast that includes notable names like Sylvester Stallone, Jet Li, Jason Statham, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris, Mel Gibson and even Jean Claude Van Damme. As is this franchise’s style, they are neither big on plot, nor on dialogue. They survive on stunts and skills alone. Everything including mega gunfights to shootouts to hand to hand combats to brute displays of strength- anything that constitutes action in an action movie, and this franchise has got it. Perhaps for the uninitiated this franchise might seem a bit bland and perhaps not the best example of filmmaking if one is to understate facts, but for action movie lovers this franchise is a real visual treat.
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16. Jack Ryan
Based on a character created by Tom Clancy, this franchise is on the list by sheer merit of the first film – The Hunt for Red October starring Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin is one of the finest spy action movies to come out of Hollywood. This does not intend to take anything away from the other four films, two of which star Harrison Ford and the other two star Ben Affleck and Chris Pyne as Jack Ryan. They are all good films but the strongest film in the franchise is easily Baldwin’s role as Jack Ryan. Ryan is a cerebral hero too, a CIA analyst who specializes in naval affairs, he mostly deals with reports and fights his battles at an intellectual level. However, a trained marine, he often finds himself going above and beyond the call of duty and flinging himself in highly volatile situations in an attempt to protect the USA against foreign enemies.
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15. The Fast and the Furious
The sixth highest grossing movie franchise in the world. It is a respectable title to hold and this action franchise lives up to it. Spanning eight films, this franchise suffered a major setback with the death of Paul Walker who played Brian O’ Connor one of the major characters of the film series. However they have risen above it and continue delivering commercial successes one after another. They have the best cars, they have the best stunts, the best explosions, catchy music and infuses just the right amount of virtuous dialogues to draw the crowds to the halls every time a new installment comes out. For the viewers who like car stunts and a lifestyle of living on the edge of the law, a group that lives by a code and has Robin Hood like inclinations, this is the franchise for them and I promise it does not disappoint.
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14. The Transporter
This franchise spans across four films and a television series. The first three films star Jason Statham as the Transporter. The franchise can be categorized as action thriller. Frank Martin a retired military man does the job of a professional delivery service. His clientele are high-profile and confidential and he lives his life by strict rules. Always in a suit, always in fast cars – the transporter exudes class even when he is taking on twenty goons single handedly. Jason Statham, an experienced martial artist himself has acted in the fight scenes instead of using a body double. The fight scenes and the fast getaways in this franchise are brilliantly choreographed and viewers will find themselves intrigued by Frank Martin as they follow his exploits across the franchise.
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13. The Mummy
This franchise was originally a three film series which led to a set of spin offs, video game adaptations, comic books and television film series. It just goes to show how much appreciation the concept garnered among fans as it snowballed out of control. The premise of the film is rather straightforward – an ancient Egyptian priest is resurrected and brings with him the powerful curse that can end the whole world. It falls to a family of adventurers to foil this supernatural plot. Categorized as a horror action adventure, the films are shot in exotic locations and the action sequences are of epic proportions. Despite the slight hiccup in the latest film, The Mummy is definitely a franchise that viewers will enjoy, if they have a penchant for myths and jaw dropping action sequences.
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12. Resident Evil
Based on the video games developed by Capcom, this film franchise is the highest grossing franchise based off a video game series. The franchise can be categorized as a science fiction horror action starring Milla Jovovich. The premise of the film pits Alice played by Milla against Umbrella Corporation a villainous company that makes bio weapons and is responsible for unleashing a zombie apocalypse on Earth. Fans of this franchise are always eagerly waiting for a new film to release, and for the uninitiated – Resident Evil has some of the finest action sequences and Milla Jovovich manages to look stunning and intimidating at the same time as she fights off all evil better than most superheroes can.
11. The Predator
There’s no going about it – two of the biggest action franchises of Hollywood and they both star Arnold Schwarzenegger. This three film franchise was created by Jim and John Thomas. The Predator films can be categorized as science fiction horror action films as they follow the story of an army unit that is sent to hunt and kill an extraterrestrial predator in Central America that seems to hunt for sport. This was the premise of the first Predator film (1987) and it left the audiences captivated. The franchise then moved onto portray an entire species of extraterrestrial hunters and their encounters with humans. The gripping nature of the films, the anticipation of the hunt makes this one of the most popular franchises in the world.
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10. The Matrix
If only the makers had maintained the quality of first film into the second and third, there is no denying that The Matrix franchise would have deserved to top the list. But that’s not how it turned out. The second and third were disappointments. Despite that, ‘The Matrix’ franchise revolutionized the concept of action in films. With slow motion effects, combined with martial arts finesse, we got see action sequences that have never been seen in movies. And that’s why this franchise deserves to be on the list despite its inconsistencies.
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This franchise that comprises of four films stars Sylvester Stallone in the titular character. The franchise follows the exploits of this US Special Forces soldier as he deals with past trauma and is deployed in various dangerous areas on earth to carry out missions for the US army. Vietnamese, the Soviet, the Burmese, Rambo has single-handedly fought them all. The films are characterized by a lot of gun fire, explosions, anticipation as Rambo uses guerilla tactics. Not known for its dialogues, nonetheless the films show a troubled, vulnerable side to this seeming invulnerable killing machine – John Rambo. All in all, the franchise is a fantastic watch not only for the action sequences but for Stallone’s acting prowess as well.
8. Lethal Weapon
Starring Danny Glover and Mel Gibson this franchise probably rests on the success of the first film. Lethal Weapon (1987) grossed around 120 million dollars in the box office against a budget of 15 million dollars. The financial success and the on-screen chemistry between Gibson and Glover sparked off three more sequels. The film is a cop action movie, made in a light vein with interspersed moments of humor. One of Hollywood’s most popular franchises when it comes to action movies, Lethal Weapon is for all ages. Contrary to what Detective Murtaugh (Danny Glover) says no viewer is ever “…too old for this…”.
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7. Indiana Jones
Created by George Lucas and directed by Steven Spielberg, this franchise belies our popular belief of action heroes. They don’t have to be all brawn and no brain – Doctor Henry Walton Jr. better known as Indiana Jones proves us wrong. A professor of archeology, he embarks on the most dangerous of adventures across a span of four films. Understandably there is a historical context to his adventures and they are seeped with religious and mythical connotations. Dr Jones played by Harrison Ford survives on his wits for the most part but is in no way afraid of bringing out his whip and gun when the situation demands. A man who is both at home in a classroom and a fist fight in some desert is truly an action hero that inspires respect. This franchise is one of the most successful in Hollywood and globally.
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6. James Bond
His name is Bond – James Bond, cue music and enter the best loved spy of the big screen. James Bond, a character created by Ian Fleming is an MI6 agent codenamed 007. The franchise is perhaps the biggest of action movie franchises in sheer size as it spans twenty six films and seven different actors over time in the titular role. Fast cars, fast shooting, smooth talking, pretty girls, evil villains and the dry British humor – this franchise has all the ingredients to make it a successful action franchise. The role of Bond is one of the most coveted roles in the world and viewers would find themselves immersed in the global escapades of 007 if they decided to enjoy this franchise.
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5. Mission Impossible
If there’s one spy who can match Bond in the level of suaveness, well it’s Ethan Hunt. Played by Tom Cruise for all the five films in the franchise, it makes the titular role an even more impressive one. The most smooth spy on the West side of the Atlantic, Hunt works for an American spy agency called the IMF. It’s got the same ingredients as a Bond film- girls, guns, goons and cars except perhaps Tom Cruise does stunts better. Some of the most memorable stunts in action movie history appears in this franchise and the theme music is a catchy one that viewers will find stuck in their head for some time.
4. Die Hard
This series is pure action. And by that I mean buildings blowing up, helicopters coming down, bridges collapsing and in the middle of it all John McClane played by Bruce Willis. John is a New York and Los Angeles detective who finds himself in the middle of crises all the time. He survives on his sheer determination, strength and one might even say adamant refusal to die. If the hero walking out of an explosion unscathed is your thing, as it must be for any good action film, then this five film franchise is definitely for you, because no one walks out of an explosion better than John McClane.
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3. The Terminator
Created by James Cameron and Gale Hurd this science fiction action franchise is probably the most followed in the world. Comprising of five films, starting with the iconic 1984 film this franchise explores the ongoing war through a series of skirmishes between the synthetic intelligence of Skynet and the resistance forces of the remaining humans. The genocidal vision of Skynet and the models they create to achieve the same leads to the rise of the Terminators. However the resilience of the humans led by John Connor ensure that the human race is saved from extinction at the hands of these machines. Gripping action sequences, a lot of explosions and gun fights ensure that viewers stay true to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s iconic line in the 1984 film – “I’ll be back”.
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Hollywood does truly make the best spy action films – and put it all on the CIA. Bourne franchise – a film series consisting of five films is a different kind of spy action series. It does not have the suaveness and confidence of other spy movies, it doesn’t have those moments of interspersed one liners, it doesn’t have a spy who is control of the situation. Jason Bourne is a very different kind of spy – a skilled operative who does wet work for the CIA, finds himself on a boat with no memory of what happened. Battling amnesia and the CIA at the same time, this film bases itself across Europe and America for the most part. Viewers who enjoy spy movies should definitely give this a watch as not only is the action gripping but the thriller is sure to leave viewers on the edge of their seats.
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1. Mad Max
Raw, visceral and gritty, action in Mad Max films are beyond what most of other movie franchises on this list dared to achieve. Most of the action films are full of computer-generated special effects (and for some films they work very well, like ‘The Matrix’), but the special quality about ‘Mad Max’ films is that they do “real” action, not relying on CGI. That’s why ‘Mad Max’ franchise deserves to top this list, especially since ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ has raised the bar for all action films.
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