10 Best Intelligent Action Movies, According To Ranker

An action movie that doesn’t deliver on spectacle and high-stakes thrills would be disappointing, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be thought-provoking as well. Action movies have the opportunity to explore some of the deeper themes involved with violence and conflict, and many grab that opportunity and run with it.

From classic Westerns such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly to modern thrillers such as the Mission: Impossible franchise, there are plenty of intelligent action movies out there for movie buffs to sink their teeth into. Film fans on Ranker decided on which of these titles are the best of the bunch.


10 Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

MCU movies have a reputation for action on the largest scale, but intelligence isn’t the trait that’s most associated with the franchise. Taika Waititi brings his own flair to whatever he makes, however, and it makes Thor: Ragnarok stand out even in the huge MCU movie catalog.

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Instead of classic superhero action, the third Thor film takes the viewer on a hilarious adventure through the cosmos. The intelligence of Thor: Ragnarok shows in its self-awareness and its ability to pull off perhaps the most absurd storyline of any MCU movie so far. What sets Thor: Ragnarok apart is also what makes it great.

9 Snatch (2000)

Fresh from the success of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking BarrelsGuy Ritchie was ready to commit to another comedic crime movie in his distinctive British style. With an ensemble cast that includes Brad Pitt and Jason Statham, snatch weaves a twisted story of London’s seedy criminal underworld.

With a complex plot of agreements, betrayals, kidnappings, murders, and plenty of mishaps, snatch is a fast-paced thrill ride that remains consistently engaging throughout. The movie is full of memorable characters, and Turkish is one of Jason Statham’s best movie roles of the actor’s career.

8 True Lies (1994)

James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger had already proved to be a lethal combination when it came to smart action with The Terminator in 1984 so there was some understandable anticipation surrounding True Lies. Supported by a cast of stars including Jamie Lee Curtis, the pair were again successful in an even smarter thriller.

Centered around protagonist Harry Tasker, played by Schwarzenegger, and his double life as a normal husband and a secret agent for a US intelligence agency, the movie intelligently blends comedy and action. Tasker’s two contrasting lives begin to overlap as his wife yearns for some danger in her life and he is unintentionally a little too successful at fulfilling her wish.

7 The Mission: Impossible Franchise (1996-Present)

Though it’s a little unfair to compare an entire franchise to individual movies, the Mission: Impossible franchise has been so consistent that, even as a whole, it can rank amongst the best intelligent action movies. The first Mission: Impossible serves up a complicated plot carried by an endless amount of energy that is exemplified by Tom Cruise’s performance in the central role.

As the franchise has continued, it has had high and low moments but a commitment to tight narratives, great action set-pieces, and a dry wit mean almost every movie is worth a watch. the best Mission: Impossible movie is 2018’s fallout which served up more heart along with the well-crafted thrills that have made the franchise so great.

6 Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels (1998)

In his breakout film, director Guy Ritchie told everyone exactly what they could expect from a man who is now synonymous with fast-paced action thrillers. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels leaned more towards comedy, however, with a farcical plot that becomes increasingly convoluted due to the incompetence of the main characters.

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Of course, since it’s a Guy Ritchie movie, there is no compromising when it comes to all-out violence and it delivers in bucketloads. Whilst it received moderate praise from critics, some viewers felt that the plot was overly complicated. Ultimately, Ritchie sticks the landing though, tying the plotlines together in a satisfying way.

5 Pulp Fiction (1994)

Quentin Tarantino has made plenty of iconic movies but Pulp Fiction still stands out as the director at his absolute best. Starring John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, and Uma Thurman, the movie uses its unconventional structure to put even more focus on character and dialogue, two of the things Tarantino is best at.

Pulp Fiction may make liberal use of brutal violence and humor, as the film references its pulp magazine inspirations, but that doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly sharply written. All delivered in an incredibly stylish package, Pulp Fiction is a movie that all movie lovers have to see at least once.

4 Black Hawk Down (2001)

An intelligent and engaging movie based on a book about a real operation by the US military, Black Hawk Down has a level of grit and realism that most other war movies can only dream of. For the same reason, it is a recreation that pulls no punches in showing the true impact of military conflict.

With a huge ensemble cast that includes Tom Hardy in his first movie role, Ridley Scott managed to create an engrossing spectacle. Some unrealistic aspects of the war movie may be distracting to observant viewers but Scott’s vision is a must-watch, with its unrelenting portrayal of war still strikingly relevant.

3 Three Days Of The Condor (1975)

Whilst political movies can end up aging fast, Three Days of the Condor has a sense of urgency and suspense that make it a timeless classic of the political thriller genre. Based on a novel, the movie tells the story of a bookish CIA researcher who can no longer trust his own organization after his coworkers are murdered in cold blood.

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The movie was nominated for an Academy Award for its editing and it’s easy to see why. From the first moment, the movie is paced for maximum tension. Starring roles for Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway help sell an absorbing story that will leave even the most trusting viewer paranoid.

2 A Fistful Of Dollars (1964)

The first film in the “Dollars Trilogy” that transformed Clint Eastwood into one of the most iconic actors in cinema history, A Fistful of Dollars came out in 1964 as a gritty reinvention of the western genre. An unofficial remake of the 1961 samurai movie Yojimbothe movie is now considered amongst the very greatest Westerns.

In the movie, Clint Eastwood’s untalkative cowboy stokes tensions between two rival families and aims to profit from their deadly conflict. Whilst the plot isn’t anything too special, the genius of A Fistful of Dollars shines through in the direction and acting, which manages to make every moment of the film ooze charisma.

1 The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

If the first two Dollars movies are director Sergio Leone showing off his potential, then The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is his masterpiece. With Clint Eastwood reprising his central role and Ennio Morricone composing the score, the movie was already guaranteed to be a classic. It turned out to be one of the greatest movies ever made.

In the cartoonish title, Leone stated his intent to parody morally simplistic Westerns and, with unforgettable scenes of characters desperately trying to make a fortune in Confederate gold to the backdrop of a bloody war, it hits the mark perfectly. Viewers worried that some of the intelligence of the movie will have been lost due to its age should be reassured at how well The Good, the Bad and the Ugly still holds up today.

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