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15 Legendary Action Movie Characters Who Left a Mark on Cinema

By: Matt

The action genre is one of the most popular in modern cinema, and it’s not hard to see why. Who doesn’t love edge-of-your-seat action? From huge bomb explosions to carefully crafted fight scenes, these films check all the boxes for cinematic excitement. However, one of the most powerful aspects of a great action flick is its characters.

Every action movie needs a hero to root for, a villain to hate and characters who exhibit pure badassery in everything they do! There are plenty of legendary action movie characters who continue to influence the stars of today. Let’s look back at the characters that defined a genre and left a lasting mark on the silver screen.

1. John Rambo -“Rambo” Franchise (1982-2009)

John Rambo

John Rambo first appeared in the 1972 novel “First Blood.” Then, in 1982, he came to life on the big screen! Sylvester Stallone plays him, and the long-running “Rambo” franchise has spawned many movies, TV shows and video games.

Rambo is a controversial character. He’s a Vietnam War veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder. He brings those terrors home, using violence to make it out of some truly brutal events. The character evolves in subsequent films, but there’s no denying that Rambo is an action icon.

2. Beatrix Kiddo – “Kill Bill” (2003, 2004)

Beatrix Kiddo - Kill Bill

Originally known as “The Bride” in “Kill Bill Volume 1,” Beatrix Kiddo is a force to be reckoned with. She was once a member of a deadly assassination squad, killing foes with her lover and leader, Bill. After becoming pregnant, she leaves the squad for a life of normalcy, only for Bill to massacre her entire wedding party.

The “Kill Bill” films show Beatrix Kiddo on her quest for revenge, killing everyone who played a part in the massacre. She’s a brutal character with a massive chip on her shoulder, and Uma Thurman does a fantastic job of playing her.

3. James Dalton – “Roadhouse” (1989)

James Dalton  - Road House

The late Patrick Swayze played James Dalton in the original “Roadhouse” film. In the 2024 remake, Jake Gyllenhaal takes the role. The original movie is an action masterpiece. Dalton is a no-nonsense bouncer with a monk-like demeanor. He’s a fighting machine, but he’s principled and calm.

That is, however, until a ruthless businessman gets in his way. Dalton fights his way through the film with ferocity, and many great scenes cement him as an action icon.

4. James Bond – “James Bond” Franchise (1962-Present)

James Bond played by Roger Moore

Is there any character more iconic than 007 himself? James Bond is an MI6 agent who’s both classy and capable of getting out of any situation. He’s suave and a notorious “lady’s man,” using his allure to further his case.

Many actors have played James Bond since the character’s on-screen debut in 1962. The series has 25 films, and some of the most famous versions of Bond include Sean Connery and the most recent Daniel Craig. While Craig hung his Bond hat in 2021, a new film with a new Bond is reportedly in the works.

5. Indiana Jones – “Indiana Jones” Franchise (1981-2023)

Indiana Jones

Indiana Jones is among the coolest college professors you’ll ever see on screen! This expert in archeology doesn’t spend his days in a classroom. He’s a temple explorer who gets himself into countless dangerous situations.

Harrison Ford brought Indiana Jones to life in five films, the most recent one premiering in 2023. He’s spent decades playing the role. While his time as Jones is likely ending, only time will tell if the franchise continues with a new actor.

6. Luke Skywalker – “Star Wars” Franchise (1977-Present)

Luke Skywalker

Star Wars is one of the most successful film franchises in cinematic history. Everyone fell in love with Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker in the original trilogy. In the first film, he’s a lowly farm boy wanting more. However, he realizes his Jedi heritage and becomes part of a massive galactic conflict.

The Star Wars franchise is a science-fiction masterpiece, and the space opera is a great example of beautiful storytelling. Skywalker is one of the most important characters, and his presence continues in the modern Star Wars era.

7. Ellen Ripley – “Aliens” Franchise (1979-1997)

Ellen Ripley

Who said action stars had to be male? Ellen Ripley is the epitome of a strong, badass woman on film! Sigourney Weaver plays Ripley in the original “Alien” film. She’s a bonafide action star, fighting the terrifying Xenomorphs as a crew member for the Nostromo.

Ellen returned in later “Alien” sequels, cementing her as an action icon. While the “Alien” franchise and its spinoffs continue without her, Ripley’s legacy lives on.

8. Batman – “Batman” Franchise (1966-Present)


Batman is one of DC Comics’s most famous characters. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before we saw him on the big screen. Several iterations of Batman exist. The first was in 1943. However, the most famous is likely Christian Bale’s depiction in the “Dark Knight” trilogy.

Batman is the alter ego of Bruce Wayne, a rich vigilante who uses his wealth to create amazing equipment for fighting crime. He defends his city of Gotham, acting as a shadow in the night to fight foes like The Joker, Penguin and Mr. Freeze.

9. John Wick – “John Wick” Franchise (2014-Present)

john wick keanu reeves

John Wick is one of the newest action movie characters to leave a lasting impression on cinema. The first “John Wick” film debuted in 2014, and several sequels follow the character on his rampage. Wick is a former assassin who left his life of violence. However, a careless mobster kills his beloved dog, pushing him back into the world he left behind.

The amazing Keanu Reeves plays John Wick. The story is ongoing, and several new projects are in the works to further the narrative.

10. The Man with No Name – “Dollars Trilogy” (1964-1966)

The Man With No Name is the antihero of the “Dollars Trilogy,” a set of Spaghetti Western films starring Clint Eastwood. This character is a man of few words. He has a foreboding presence, and Eastwood plays him to perfection. The man is most known for his iconic poncho and brown cowboy hat.

He’s also a sharpshooter, using his gun to accomplish his goals. The character is unique in that his morals are ambiguous. He’s not a downright “good guy.” Instead, he’s an antihero.

11. Sarah Connor – “Terminator” Franchise (1984-2019)

Sarah Connor

Here’s another amazing female action character that challenges gender stereotypes. Sarah Connor starts her story in “The Terminator” series as a college student and waitress. However, she evolves into a gun-wielding hero and a savior of humankind. 

Originally, she was the target of the T-800 cybernetic organism. However, Connor continually evolves with every subsequent appearance. With each new film, she becomes even more hardened and prepared to fight whatever threat comes her way. 

She has had several portrayals throughout “The Terminator” series and even had her own show, proving just how much of an action icon she is. 

12. John McClane – “Die Hard” Franchise (1988-2013)

john mcclane die hard

Whether you’re in the “Die Hard is a Christmas movie” camp or not, there’s no denying that John McClane is an action character that cinema buffs will always love. The “Die Hard” films are fun action flicks with great fight scenes, amazing one-liner comedic bits and plenty of great drama. McClane is at the center of it all.

He’s an NYPD officer who thwarts a hostage situation. The character returns in many other “Die Hard” films, and Bruce Willis plays the man perfectly. John McClane is perfectly imperfect. He’s not a superhero or an unstoppable force. McClane makes mistakes, but he always comes out on top.

13. Jason Bourne – “Bourne” Franchise (2002-Present)

Jason Bourne

Jason Bourne is the protagonist of the “Bourne” film series and books. When we first meet Bourne, he’s a man with retrograde amnesia. Despite not knowing his identity, he has impressive survival skills. Many people want him dead, but Bourne manages to use his skills to evade capture, fight back and discover his identity.

In the film series, Matt Damon brings Jason Bourne to life. There are several movies in the franchise, and reportedly more are in the works. Action buffs have enjoyed seeing Bourne on screen over the last two decades, and many can’t wait to see what’s next!

14. Neo – “The Matrix” Franchise (1999-Present)

neo matrix

“The Matrix” was a show-stopping science fiction film that made everyone question their own existence. The concept was fascinating, even breeding new philosophical quandaries! Neo starts his journey as Thomas Anderson, a computer programmer living a boring life. However, in private, he’s a hacker who discovers the truth about The Matrix.

After unplugging from The Matrix, Anderson becomes Neo. He’s “The One” who would save humanity and bring peace. The original trilogy is a masterpiece, and the latest film in the series brought Neo to the big screen once more. The actor who portrays Neo is none other than Keanu Reeves, who also plays John Wick!

15. Captain America – Marvel Films (1966-Present)

Captain America

Finally, we have Captain America. This Marvel superhero debuted in a comic series. He appeared in an animated show and several other projects. However, the most famous version of the superhero is the one from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Captain America, also known as Steve Rodgers, is a time-displaced soldier who struggles with life in the modern world. However, he shows that being an outsider doesn’t mean sacrificing his principles. The character plays a huge role in the MCU. While Steve Rodgers’ time in the shared universe is over, Captain America lives on through Sam Wilson.

Superstars of the Action Genre

New action flicks come out every year. While studios try their hardest to create the next action icon, these characters have all stood the test of time. While many different actors might depict them throughout cinematic history, the characters continue to do amazing things that leave audiences blown away!