Most Popular Action Stars of All Time

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The checklist for a summer blockbuster today usually involves the following: iconic hero, little dialogue, over-the-top plot, characters at risk most of the time, fight scenes, plenty of explosions, and costly computer-generated images.

Those tend to be the contours of an action movie, and for Hollywood, action films mean money. Of the 15 most successful movie franchises ever, 10 of them are action-themed. Hollywood has gravitated toward these films in part because of the globalization of movies: Action on the big screen doesn’t need to be dubbed or subtitled. (These are the 50 best action movies of all time.)

Their success has meant massive riches for the stars appearing in them. To determine the 25 most popular action stars of all time, 24/7 Tempo developed an index using average action-movie ratings on IMDb, an online movie database owned by Amazon; a combination of audience scores and Tomatometer scores on Rotten Tomatoes, an online movie and TV review aggregator; and total worldwide box office for all action movies from The Numbers, an online movie database owned by Nash Information Services – weighting all numbers equally. Data on worldwide box office for all action movies was adjusted for inflation using historical ticket price data from the National Association of Theatre Owners. Only stars with at least 10 lead roles in action movies were considered. 

In the course of their careers, many actors have become associated with more than one action character. 

Harrison Ford played two swashbuckling heroes of the 1970s and 1980s – first as Han Solo in “Stars Wars,” then as the title character in the Indiana Jones films. Additionally, he was the Cold War protagonist Jack Ryan in two films based on Tom Clancy novels. 

Tom Cruise has starred as Ethan Hunt in the “Mission: Impossible” series and Jack Reacher in the series of the same name, and after a 36-year hiatus, he returned this year as the once-cocky fighter pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in “Top Gun: Maverick.” 

Another actor closely associated with iconic action characters is Clint Eastwood. He played the laconic loner in spaghetti Westerns in the 1960s, and the no-holds-barred cop Harry Callahan in the “Dirty Harry” movies.

Eastwood is not the only Oscar winner on our list of action stars associated with an action franchise. Others include Denzel Washington (“The Equalizer”), Christian Bale (“Batman”), Sean Connery (James Bond movies), Mel Gibson (“Lethal Weapon”), and Will Smith (“Men in Black”). (You might want to avoid the worst movie from every major franchise.)

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