This article is part of our 2019 Rewind. Follow along as we explore the best and most interesting movies, shows, performances, and more from 2019.
Action movies are the purest genre in cinema. I have no argument to back that up, but it feels right. The best examples capture movement and impact with attention toward artistry and objective thrills, and while the story tying the sequences together can vary and fluctuate in content and quality when the action is done well that’s all that really matters. That’s a fact most evident in big, dumb action movies so prevalent in the 80s — they’re tons of fun despite frequently being absolutely idiotic. Happily, depending on your perspective, there are still big, dumb movies being made today, and some of them are amazing fun.
Hollywood still makes action movies, albeit usually in the form of giant CG fests, but the best are typically from overseas. So yeah, only three of the nineteen movies below came out of the movie capital of the world with the rest being produced elsewhere for our enjoyment. And enjoy them we will… keep reading for the 19 best action movies of 2019.
19. Missing Link
An animated movie on the best action list? What’s next, a CG-heavy superhero movie?! Let’s not get crazy. The latest Laika film makes the cut, though, because unlike most animation studios they’re masters of stop-motion. That medium removes the flat reality of other animated movies by creating movement and action in a three-dimensional space, and it’s a tangible feeling watching these physical characters maneuver through physical worlds. Chases, tussles, and more unfold with real excitement, and when a beloved character hangs perilously over a deep chasm the threat of that depth feels equally real. All animation takes immense talent, but well-done stop-motion just feels that much more impressive.
18. Buffalo Boys (Indonesia)
Two brothers fighting evil land barons feels like a familiar enough setup for an action movie, but there’s something special about this scrappy little Indonesian western that makes it stand apart on its own. It’s a period piece set in the 1860s and delivers all the thrills and spills you expect in a western, but it captures it through a Southeast Asian lens complete with gunplay, horseplay, and… swordplay? Sure, why not. The landscape is attractive and brought to life through sharp cinematography, and while the tone is wobbly at times this isn’t a list of the year’s best tonal films goddammit — it’s all about the action, and on that front, this unexpected western brings the goods.
17. Mutant Blast (Portugal)
There are more than a few low budget films on this list as great action has never required lots of money, but this Troma Entertainment release — I know, I was shocked too — delivers highly entertaining action beats along with a ton of special effects. Most of it is practical f/x too with the result being that anything is possible in this ridiculous post-apocalyptic world. A beefed-up super-soldier, a bad-ass female fighter, and some guy with a hangover are stuck in a mutated world with monsters, well-dressed lobsters, and killer dolphins, and they’re all fighting to the death. Heads are punched off, bodies are sliced with a katana, guns blast holes in everything, and it’s an absolute delight.
16. Iceman (Germany)
Movies about violent revenge and the loss of loved ones have been fairly ubiquitous across the decades as it’s a simple setup, but this unassuming and gorgeously filmed entry from Germany distinguishes itself almost immediately. It unfolds 5000 years ago as a Neolithic man hunts the three ravagers who killed his family, and in recognition both that their language is a dead one and that the emotional beats of the narrative are universal — there are no subtitles. It’s a thrilling watch with intense fights, stunts set against nature, and even a “sniper” sequence involving bows and arrows. Knowing that it’s inspired by the discovery of a real body, mummified, wounded and armed for war, and found at an altitude not fit for human living only makes it that much more interesting.