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James Gunn’s 15 Favorite Action Movies, Ranked (According To IMDb)

Most directors rarely talk about their favorite movies, and even fewer have any interest in creating long lists of them, but James Gunn isn’t like most directors. The visionary behind the Guardians of the Galaxy series, and the DCEU movie The Suicide Squad, regularly posts lists of movies of particular genres or of his favorite directors on Facebook or Twitter.

RELATED: 9 Movies You Didn’t Know Were Written By James Gunn, Ranked By IMDb

In one of his most infamous tweets, he posted his 54 favorite action movies. While many of them are violent and silly, some are classics that can be found on everyone’s shelves, and there are a few others that some may find surprising.

Updated on January 24th, 2022 by Mark Birrell: To be successful on social media, filmmakers have to strike up a dialogue with fans and there’s no better way to bond than to talk about creative influences. James Gunn’s favorite action movies provide an interesting insight into the mind of the popular writer and director, with parallels in his own work standing out. Gunn is also proven to have good taste by the very high rankings that his favorite movies have been given on IMDb. 

15 Hero (2002) – 7.9


Jet Li with Sword in Battle During Hero Film

• Available to purchase on Prime Video 

Sumptuous and beautifully choreographed, Zhang Yimou’s Hero is widely recognized as a significant milestone in the development of the West’s appreciation of Chinese cinema.

The epic story tells the legend of a nameless assassin as they recount how and why they came to be in the presence of a great emperor, with twists and turns in the story recontextualizing characters and events throughout. Each segment of the evolving tale bursts with its own distinct color scheme, their tranquility off-setting the jaw-dropping fight sequences between stars like Jet Li, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, Donnie Yen, and Zhang Ziyi.

14 The Wild Bunch (1969) – 7.9


• Available to purchase on Prime Video 

It’s safe to say that movies like The Suicide Squad would not exist–or, at the very least, would not exist as they are–without the legacy of Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch.

For the last several decades at least, Peckinpah’s image has cemented him as one of the great rebel filmmakers of the American film industry, with this remarkably violent Western being still his most well-known and well-respected film. The flagrant immorality of its outlaw main characters was groundbreaking in the late 1960s and the harshness of the movie still has the power to make audiences wince even now.


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13 Edge of Tomorrow (2014) – 7.9


Tom Cruise on the battlefield in Edge of Tomorrow

• Available to purchase on Prime Video 

This high-concept sci-fi action movie sees Tom Cruise’s meek military publicist go from a terrified rookie to a seasoned killing machine in a war against invading extra-terrestrials by seizing an alien power to reset time to the beginning of the day every time that he dies.

Aside from the blistering chemistry between Cruise and co-star Emily Blunt, Edge of Tomorrow is most remembered for its huge beach landing sequence, which most iterations of the re-lived day heavily revolve around. It’s one of the great beach battles of movie history, and Gunn no doubt will have kept it in mind when orchestrating his own beach-set opening action scene in The Suicide Squad.


12 Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (2010) – 8.0


Two police officers pointing rifles in Elite Squad The Enemy Within

• Available on Vudu

The sequel to the 2007 film Elite SquadThe Enemy Within once again follows its fictionalized version of the infamous Rio de Janeiro police squad known as BOPE.

RELATED: Every Movie & TV Show Directed By James Gunn, Ranked By IMDb

Dealing with an expanded scope of political corruption as well as intense violence on the streets of the city, the movie is an exemplary sequel that handles complex social issues in a grounded and exhilarating way. It’s a thriller that pulls no punches and is more than willing to deliver several gut-wrenching moments for the audience, so it should come as no surprise that it’s in Gunn’s wheelhouse.


11 The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) – 8.0


• Available on Prime Video

At the time of its, The Bourne Ultimatum was seen as the final chapter in the Jason Bourne cinematic journey, closing out a widely-beloved trilogy about Matt Damon’s titular amnesiac superspy.

With white-knuckle chase sequences and a realistic style, this hugely influential threequel became the defining chapter of the franchise, spawning a spin-off movie and a further sequel from Damon and Ultimatum director Paul Greengrass. James Bond himself would even be accused of copying Bourne’s signature style in their next movie, Quantum of Solace.


10 Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) – 8.1


The opening shot of Mad Max Fury Road

• Available on HBO Max, fuboTV, and AMC+

Whether it was on-set tensions between cast members or accusations of the crew damaging the Namibian desert, there were so many things that went wrong during the production of Mad Max: Fury Road. But people can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.

Mad Max: Fury Road is simply so exciting and fueled with adrenaline that it’s impossible to not be entertained. From the movie’s start to its ferocious finale, the action doesn’t stop for more than two minutes. The film sees dozens of absurdly designed characters drive through sandstorms while trying to brutally murder each other, and it’s just a joy from start to finish.


9 Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003) – 8.1


Beatrix swings sword in Kill Bill

• Available on Pluto TV

It’s hard to figure out which is less surprising, the fact that Quentin Tarantino is one of Gunn’s favorite directors or that Kill Bill is one of his favorite Tarantino movies. Kill Bill: Volume 1 is the most action-packed Tarantino film, and it’s full of creative fights, vulgar beheadings, and people getting sliced and diced in so many unique ways.

The movie is full of martial arts, which Gunn has been vocal and excited about in the past, and it’s so stylish too, which is why Volume 1 has a leg up over Volume 2.




8 V For Vendetta (2005) – 8.1


V for Vendetta

• Available on HBO Max

For a movie adaptation of a comic book whose creator said was unfilmable, it’s remarkable that V for Vendetta is loved by almost everyone who has seen it, and that list includes James Gunn.

RELATED: James Gunn & 9 More A-List Directors Who Started In Horror Movies

Though it’s one of the more forgotten blockbusters from the 2000s, director James McTeigue adapted Alan Moore’s treasured source material brilliantly, as the masked anarchist and freedom fighter known only as V is depicted so well on screen. And, ever since V’s mask was popularized with the movie, Guy Fawkes has become the symbol for Anonymous and other anti-establishment groups.


7 Die Hard (1988) – 8.2


Bruce Willis in Die Hard

• Available on Peacock

It’s hard to find not only a director but any cinephile in the world that doesn’t worship the ground that Die Hard walks on. It’s the ultimate 1980s action movie in almost every way.

As the film follows the average NY cop John McClane – who is completely out of his depth as he tries to take on a terrorist organization – there are actually a surprising amount of parallels between the movie and Guardians Vol. 1. Not only is Peter Quill out of his depth, just like McClane, but they are both well-oiled one-liner spitting machines.


6 North By Northwest (1959) – 8.3


• Available on HBO Max

When it comes to North by Northwest, James Gunn might have been taking some liberties with the term ‘action,’ as the Alfred Hitchcock classic is more of a spy thriller than anything.

However, it may have arguably the best action sequence of all time, as an airplane chases down Roger Thornhill, creating one of the most iconic shots in cinema history. The film is one of the best cat and mouse chase movies ever made, and it’s such a unique outlier in Hitchcock’s filmography.


5 Oldboy (2003) – 8.4


Dae-su wields a hammer in Oldboy

Though there was an American remake released in the 2010s that people would rather not talk about, another of Gunn’s favorite action movies is the original South Korean Oldboy.

Oldboy wouldn’t actually be considered by many to be an outright action movie, as it’s more of a neo-noir thriller than anything. But when the action does arise, it’s brutal, and the audience feels every moment when a character’s bone cracks. One of the best scenes of the movie is the single-shot fight sequence, which doesn’t use any camera trickery to hide any cuts.


4 Leon: The Professional (1994) – 8.4


Leon The Professional

• Available on Netflix and HBO Max

To say that Leon: The Professional is one of Gunn’s favorite action movies isn’t exactly surprising, but it is fairly subdued compared to the high-octane action and grotesque violence that the director is often inspired by. Leon follows a hitman who takes a young girl under his wing after her parents are murdered, and it makes for one of the unlikeliest team-ups in cinema history.

It’s arguably the greatest movie about an assassin of all time, and it was the breakout movie for both Jean Reno and Natalia Portman, who was just 11 years old at the time of filming.


3 Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981) – 8.4


Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark

• Available to purchase on Prime Video 

As the beginning of what has become one of the most beloved movie franchises of all time, Raiders of the Lost Ark is beloved by many, and it can count James Gunn as one of its most fervent fans. He also isn’t alone in being a movie director massively inspired by the film.

As Raiders follows a handsome and charismatic lead character who trots around the world taking on armies of evil forces, that became the go-to adventure movie format ever since. In short, Raiders is basically the blueprint for all action-adventure movies that have been released after the 80s, and its influence can even be seen in the Guardians movies.


2 Seven Samurai (1954) – 8.6


Samurai shot looking up from ground level in Seven Samurai.

• Available on HBO Max

The three-and-a-half-hour epic Seven Samurai was directed by Akira Kurosawa, a filmmaker who has been cited by almost every director in the world as an influence, and James Gunn is no different. The story is set in Japan in the 1500s, and it’s about a group of farmers who hire seven assassins to protect their crops from bandits.

With Gunn being such a samurai fanatic – as other movies like Hero and Kill Bill are included on his 54 film list – it only makes sense that the best of them all is up there too.


1 The Matrix (1999) – 8.7


An image of Neo and Trinity walking down a hallway together in The Matrix

• Available on HBO Max

Though the sequels have softened many of the fans’ strong feelings toward the original movie, The Matrix is undeniably one of the most influential action movies of all time, if not the most influential.

It combined a thought-provoking and dense narrative with never seen before special effects, and though there were tons of clever sci-fi movies in the 90s, none had been as exciting or as impactful as The Matrix. The incredible action scenes seen in the Guardians series and in Gunn’s The Suicide Squad arguably wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the foundation that was set by the 1999 classic.

NEXT: The Matrix & 9 Other Movies That Take Place Within A Virtual Reality

Split image of Sam, Merry, and Pippin in Lord of the Rings


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10 Lord Of The Rings Quotes That Are Hilarious Out-Of-Context


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