Top 10 Action-Horror Films

Step right up! Step right up! For thrilling excitement, the most frightening monsters the world has ever seen, and hours of fun…here are the best action-horror films.

As an amalgamation of two genres action-horror unsurprisingly draws inspiration from a variety of avenues – be it comedy (Mr Vampire), fantasy (Big Trouble In Little China), science-fiction (Aliens), the western (Vampires) or even romance. You can make a case for The Terminator being an astute and thoughtfully conceived sci-fi while calling it a straight-forward, raw and violent monster movie. That’s perhaps what makes it so appealing. For me, the film is one of the most terrifying cinematic experiences of my life – both for writer-director James Cameron’s brilliant, unnerving concept and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s killer-without-conscience robot who stalks the innocent.

James Cameron is the master of action-horror in the modern arena. Aliens set the benchmark for countless imitations to copy it with varying results. Some are really good. Predator came out the following year, leading the pretenders by example, as Arnold Schwarzenegger once again delivered the action in a horror-science-fiction setting. Others including Resident Evil, Dog Soldiers, and Deep Rising are also enjoyable entries in the military-against-the-supernatural world of film.

It is a sub-genre I admire for its diversity as well as its inherent excitement built on the qualities of two historically trashy types of cinema. Here are ten examples I feel sell action-horror perfectly.

10. Mr Vampire (Lau, Hong Kong, 1985)

Honk Kong cinema is commonly known in the west for its martial arts movies. It saw a boom period in the 1980s and 1990s when special-effects complemented technically refined action sequences across an array of genres. That Hong Kong cinema of the 1980s often produced films featuring a mixture of high-concept ideas meant action and horror, along with comedy, made for crowd-pleasing entertainment. For Mr Vampire, the premise is in the title, as a priest specialising in the supernatural goes to battle with a rampaging vampire with the help of his Taoist students. Featuring gore, slapstick humour, fast-paced Kung-fu action and even romance, Mr Vampire brings a whole new interpretation to the iconic gothic monster, making for a fascinating watch not suited for the faint-hearted.

9. Duel (Spielberg, USA, 1971)

Steven Spielberg’s ace thriller was originally made-for-TV. It was so good it got a theatrical run. The film features some nail-biting action as a rogue truck begins following a lonely traveller through desolate Californian desert roads. The mysterious truck, operated by an unseen driver, takes on monstrous characteristics through its almost supernatural ability to outsmart lonesome salesman David Mann.

8. Resident Evil (Anderson, Germany/UK/France, 2002)

Like Neil Marshall’s Dog Soldiers, the granddaddies of the genre Predator and Aliens hugely influence Resident Evil in its depiction of well-trained, well-armed soldiers against a monstrous, supernatural foe. Based on the critically-acclaimed and widely adored computer games, the film is one of the better works by director Paul W.S. Anderson whose filmography is plagued by mediocrity.

7. The Host (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea, 2006)

South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho brings his own unique sense of humour to the monster-adventure-horror genre in The Host. Here, quite unsubtly, the American military is blamed for a complete lack of health and safety protocol leading to the birth of a monstrous creature that enjoys feeding on human foe.

6. From Dusk Till Dawn (Rodriguez, USA, 1996)

If we are talking about mixing genres like James Cameron does with his science-fiction-action-horror Aliens then Robert Rodriguez takes the prize for the most memorable concoction. From Dusk Till Dawn begins with the sun-kissed kidnap of a family by two gangsters running from the law. Forcing the family to stop at a Texan strip-club where the gangsters are to meet their associate, all hell breaks loose when they discover the venue – called the Titty Twister – is a haven for a bunch of bloodthirsty vampires. Thus the crime-thriller transforms into an all-out action extravaganza as the bad guys and the good guys have to band together to survive.

5. The Terminator (Cameron, USA, 1981)

If you want a great action-horror film just ask James Cameron to make it. The man is the a master of the genre. In this science-fiction action film Arnie plays the “monster” in the form of a robot sent from the future to murder a woman in the past. Michael Biehn’s Kyle Reese is the human who follows the robot back to the past as a protector for its target Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). The claustrophobic shoot-out in the police station is one of the quintessential sequences of action-horror.

4. Dog Soldiers (Marshall, UK, 2002)

Neil Marshall’s high-energy werewolf movie sees a bunch of British soldiers face-off against a family of man-hungry werewolves in the Scottish Highlands. Dog Soldiers puts its own unique spin on the werewolf genre while celebrating the great exponents of action-horror Aliens and Predator.

3. King Kong (Cooper/Schoedsack, USA, 1933)

An early example of the action-horror as a giant ape terrorises New York City in search of his “love” – Fay Wray’s Ann Darrow. King Kong is also a great example of stop-motion special effects as directors Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack depict the huge ape rampaging through the city streets of New York and, in the iconic finale, climbing to the top of the Empire State Building. The film inspired a number of filmmakers to experiment with stop-motion, an early technique which allowed cinema to depict fantastical elements in-camera, and was especially useful for monster films. Ray Harryhausen and Japanese Kaiju filmmakers such as Ishirō Honda in Godzilla are great exponents of the art.

2. Predator (McTiernan, USA, 1987)

John McTiernan loves a good action film, his name is synonymous with them. From Die Hard and The Hunt for the Red October to later films The Last Action Hero and Die Hard with a Vengeance, McTiernan knows how to make the genre tick. In Predator, he lets battle commence when an alien monster armed to the teeth faces off against the Austrian muscle of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Set in a Central American jungle, Arnie and his elite team of commandos get more than they bargained for when the alien creature, which has the ability to make itself appear invisible, begins stalking them.

1. Aliens (Cameron, USA, 1986)

James Cameron made this cooking pot of genres – science-fiction, action, and horror – his own and Aliens is the best exponent of it. A lone survivor from a space-expedition-gone-wrong is sent back to the planet (and the monster) she escaped from with a bunch of well-armed marines. A battle of life and death ensues when the group find not one alien creature but hundreds.

Written and compiled by Daniel Stephens.

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    Very nice list Dan. I have to take exception with The Host. I didn’t get the hoopla with that film. It really seemed silly to me. I understand that it’s one of SK’s highest grossing film of all time (or was) but I just didn’t get it. Other obvious choices like Aliens, Predator and Terminator are great calls and I still have to see Dog Soldiers Mr. Vampire.

  2. Avatar
    Jack Deth Reply

    Hi, Dan and company:

    Excellent topic and choices!

    Great catch with ‘Duel’! One of ABC’s ‘Movies of the Week’. A made for TV venture that deservedly got the full theatrical treatment in the UK, Australia and elsewhere.

    Schwarzenegger should never have strayed from films like ‘Predator’ and his bigger than life, Dutch.

    Kudos to Mc Tirenan for re-thinking the look of the Predator. And replacing Jean~Claude Van Damme with Kevin Peter Hall. Besides, who doesn’t love the idea of ‘Painless’. A man portable Vulcan .556 machine gun for de-forestation?

    Nicely done!

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    Evan Crean Reply

    I expected Aliens and Terminator to make the list, but I was most surprised and happy that you included From Dusk Til Dawn. I think it’s a fantastic genre mashup that doesn’t get nearly enough attention. It’s basically a crime thriller for the first hour and then vampires show up and all hell breaks lose. With Tarantino’s dialogue and Rodriguez’s directing I could watch that movie anytime. Rodriguez doesn’t get nearly enough credit for being such an awesome director. Also glad that you have Predator on the list. Not only a great Arnie flick, but it also has a pretty spectacular cast as well.

  4. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    I too am a big From Dusk till Dawn fan. Clooney oozed charisma in that film….a bad guy you could actually like.

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    mark Reply

    Possible additions:

    Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (SWAT vs zombies)

    La Horde (cops/crims vs zombies)

    28 Weeks Later (zombies, army etc)

    Starship Troopers (army vs spacelings)

    The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (Cushing et al vs Dracula)

  6. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Mark: “The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires” – what a great title!

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    Jaina Reply

    I think action horror is one of my favourite genres. There’s so much fun in them. Especially From Dusk Till Dawn. Love that film. So not what it looks like from the outset!

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    filmdrivel Reply

    You definitely got the right one at No.1! Aliens is incredible.

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    Pete Reply

    I agree with Jaina! Looking at your top 5 (except the original King Kong which I haven’t seen) I LOVE all these films! Great list!

  10. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    Thanks for the comments guys…this is a genre very close to my heart as Aliens has been a long-standing favourite of mine for years. Seeing that as a seven-year-old gave me a taste for action-horror which has seen the likes of Predator and From Dusk Till Dawn become instant hits for me. I’ve since gone back and seen the likes of King Kong (which I prefer over the 1970s version and Peter Jackson’s epic) while enjoying Dog Soldiers and The Host in recent years.

    @Dan Grant: The Host had Boon Joon-Ho’s singular sense of absurd humour which sets it apart from many of the run-of-the-mill pretenders.

    @Jack: I suppose Duel gets lumped in with the great, lesser seen “thrillers” but the fact the truck takes on a supernatural characteristic in its unseen driver and abilities to always stay one step ahead makes it a great horror movie too.

    @Evan: Yep – when you say action-horror there’s the obvious ones like Aliens. But From Dusk Till Dawn is great…how many other films change genres so abruptly? I can’t think of any…

    @Mark: Good suggestions Mark…I had 28 Weeks Later on my shortlist.

    @Jaina: That’s why I love them too…so much fun and the combination of action and horror works so well.

    @filmdrivel: You can’t really go wrong with Aliens I don’t think.

    @Pete: I actually prefer the original King Kong to any of the other versions. The effects are incredible when you think it was made in 1933. The crude nature of the FX is strangely more exciting than polished CGI. I think that’s because a team of artists spent hours and hours making every movement of the puppet as realistic as possible in-camera. I’m not belittling the hours of work CGI professionals put into their craft, and there’s no denying Pixar consistently blow me away, but can I never totally switch off the notion that there’s a green screen or the actors are looking at a ball on a stick. So the mixture of live action and CGI loses an element of credibility.

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