Action movies continue to light up big and small screens alike with every new year, and every year there are some that feel special. That’s as true as ever in 2022, a year that has delivered a slew of very different, fantastic action movies. The field ranges from kid-friendly adventures to stunningly violent rampages, from superhero movies to period pieces, from franchise updates to mind-blowingly original stories. Whatever kind of action you’ve been looking for, the year’s new releases have got you covered.
It’s been an exciting time for movies between the return of big-screen spectacle and the experimental landscape of streaming, and these action movies make the most of that, offering audiences awe-inspiring sequences and white-knuckle thrill rides. We’ve got a roundup of the new action movies that have most made us gasp, grip our seats, or simply stare at the screen in disbelief — luckily, there wasn’t a shortage of any of that. These are the best action movies of 2022.
Michael Bay’s first theatrical feature since the end of the "Transformers" series, "Ambulance" is a roaring return to the big screen for the action auteur. The movie follows brothers Danny and Will Sharp (Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) as they rob a bank and hijack an ambulance to escape. The movie is a remake of the 2005 Danish film of the same name, but nothing can compare to the pure spectacle of "Bayhem" on display in Bay’s remake. The movie spends its first 15 or so minutes introducing us to the key characters, which apart from the brothers includes EMT Cam (Eiza González) and police officer Zach (Jackson White), who find themselves trapped in the runaway ambulance with the Sharps. But after that brief introduction period, it’s all action.
The brothers’ oft-repeated mantra is "We do not stop," and the movie seems to have the same philosophy. Whether it’s the car chases through downtown Los Angeles and onto highways or the helicopter-ambulance race on the river, "Ambulance" delivers non-stop adrenaline in Bay’s distinct hyperactive style.
What makes "Ambulance" such a great action movie — one of Bay’s best, in fact — is its emphatic focus on action. It allows us to get to know its characters not through backstory, but through the decisions they make in their dire situation. The movie doesn’t stop to deliver plot exposition, because the only plot we need is the action, and all we need to know to enjoy the movie is that an ambulance is being chased by police. Bay is such a uniquely talented action filmmaker that, honestly, that’s enough.
"RRR" is the rare Indian epic to make a huge splash in the U.S., and it’s easy to see why. The film tells the fictionalized story of two real-life revolutionaries, Alluri Sitarama Raju (played by Ram Charan) and Komaram Bheem (N. T. Rama Rao Jr.), who become friends and join forces to take down the British Raj. At more than three hours, the movie’s runtime is undeniably intimidating, but it’s so good that it flies by.
Like many Indian blockbusters, "RRR" includes several musical numbers, some of which are celebratory and fun, while others are used to give more impact to desperate moments for the heroes. But these songs, along with the breathtaking action scenes, keep "RRR" incredibly entertaining from start to finish.
Those action scenes vary greatly, offering us new and exciting kinds of thrill every few minutes. In one, Raju, serving the British as a police officer, single-handedly takes on a horde of protestors. In another, Bheem unleashes a small zoo of animals on a British party to create chaos. But nothing compares to the scene in which the two men work together, with Raju on Bheem’s shoulders, to escape a colonial prison; it’s one of the most joyously ridiculous action scenes ever to hit the screen, and therefore one of the best.
Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero
"Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero" marks the first time any movie or TV project in the storied "Dragon Ball" franchise has relied significantly on CG. It’s a major shift that represented a pretty big gamble, one that certainly didn’t make all the fans of the series happy (via ComicBook.com). But it ultimately paid off, and we don’t mean that figuratively. The movie was a major hit, not only in Japan, but also in the U.S., where "Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero" dominated the box office, taking the number one spot on its opening weekend.
We think that success is entirely deserved, as the movie finally offers fan-favorite character Piccolo (Toshio Furukawa in the Japanese presentation, Christopher Sabat in the English dub) a chance to take center stage. The movie follows Piccolo as he discovers that the newly revived Red Ribbon Army seeks to use androids and an even stronger version of the heroes’ enemy Cell to take over the world.
Like most "Dragon Ball" movies, you’ll see characters powering up to new levels for Earth-shattering fights before the end. But this time, instead of focusing on Goku (Masako Nozawa, Sean Schemmel), we get to see Piccolo take on the threat, and put together a plan and a team to do so. The final fight here is one of the most thrilling the series has offered, and it’s all because there’s a different character at its center.
Robert Eggers directed two small-scale cult horror classics (the A24 period pieces "The Witch" and "The Lighthouse") before turning his attention to something much, much grander with "The Northman." The movie, based on the Danish legend of Prince Amleth by medieval Danish historian and author Saxo Grammaticus (which also inspired Shakespeare’s "Hamlet"), follows Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) on a quest for revenge after the murder of his father by his uncle.
The movie includes some absolutely astounding action scenes that prove Eggers’ talent for filmmaking isn’t limited to small-scale dread. A sequence that follows Amleth and a group of fellow Northern berserkers as they raid a village in "the land of the Rus" is incredibly conceived and unflinchingly tracks Amleth’s movements. The tension mounts steadily as we watch Amleth climb over a defensive wall, leap to attack a guard on horseback, and take down several combatants on the ground. But that’s just one of the many breathtaking — and downright brutal — sequences in a movie that delivers a final fight that literally takes place inside of a volcano.
2022 delivered yet another entry in the long-running "Predator" franchise, but unlike the other films in the series (which have either taken place in the present or the near future), 2022’s "Prey" takes us all the way back to 1719. The movie centers on young Comanche woman Naru (Amber Midthunder), who wants to join her brother and the other young men of her community in hunting. Naru is a skilled hunter, but in her inexperience she struggles with taking the final shot or landing the final blow on her prey.
When a Predator arrives on the plains and begins to slaughter wildlife, French colonizers, and the hunters from Naru’s tribe, she has to step up and plan an attack to bring down the alien hunter. "Prey" tells a simple but moving story, and fills it out with fantastic sci-fi action sequences that mix the iconic sci-fi technology of the Predator with the weaponry and skillset of a tenacious Indigenous hero. It’s an amazing action movie that we were thrilled to call "the best ‘Predator’ film since the original."
"Black Adam" made Rotten Tomatoes history with one of the largest disparities between audience and critics ratings ever on the site (the gap has since closed a bit), but it also broke Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson’s previous box office record, so whether or not critics cared for the movie didn’t really end up making a difference. And while critics had their, well, criticisms of the story and the action, as a superhero movie, "Black Adam" delivers.
The movie has to introduce not just the title character (Johnson), but the members of the Justice Society who are sent to contain the threat Adam presents. Fortunately, it’s surprisingly smooth (especially when compared to the awkward introductions of other metahumans in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"), and the fights between them are some of the most exciting in the DC Extended Universe.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra brings his great sense of action (first proven with the mid-budget films he made with Liam Neeson) to this big budget superhero spectacle. Collet-Serra uses slow motion throughout the movie to make the most of the exciting uses of powers, especially the magic of Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan) and the brightly colored storms whipped up by Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell). There’s also no shortage of classic punch-ups and explosions. That attention to making the action in "Black Adam" visually unique makes it not just one of the best action movies of 2022, but also one of the best movies in the DCEU.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
"Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" makes its hefty runtime of 161 minutes count, grappling with the real-life death of Chadwick Boseman while telling the story of Wakanda coming into conflict with King Namor (Tenoch Huerta) and his subaquatic people even as the nation grieves the loss of King T’Challa.
The movie’s introduction of Namor and Talokan (a reinvention of Atlantis from the comics) creates an international political thriller that feels almost more epic than anything that’s come before in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (including Thanos). And "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" makes the most of its new villains in its action scenes, as Namor and his people use unique water weapons to attack Wakanda and defend their people against invasion from other surface nations.
The best sequences in the movie come from the combination of Namor’s ability to fly (he has wings on his ankles) and the super strength that allows him to single-handedly take on planes and helicopters. In the movie’s numerous battle scenes, we see Namor slice, smash, and even toss huge machines with speed and surprising grace that’s a delight to watch.
Top Gun: Maverick
"Top Gun: Maverick" has done something nearly impossible, and we don’t mean destroying several box office records. The follow-up to 1986’s "Top Gun" is the extremely rare legacy sequel to be better than its predecessor. In fact, it might just be only the second such movie ever, after "Mad Max: Fury Road."
The movie follows Maverick (Tom Cruise), now a test pilot for the Navy. Despite his great skill as a pilot, he hasn’t risen through the ranks due to repeated insubordination. But it’s exactly because of that outside-the-box history that he’s called to train a group of new Top Gun graduates for an incredibly important and difficult mission. "Maverick" mixes melodrama and action in a story that delivers big feelings and big action scenes. The time that’s passed since the original only adds further weight, as the narrative highlights the increasing use of drones instead of piloted aircraft and makes a case for the human factor in dogfights.
And what dogfights they are. "Top Gun: Maverick" has some of the most awe-inspiring and nerve-shattering action scenes of the year. From the training duels between Maverick and his new students, to the film’s thrilling finale, there hasn’t been on-screen jet fighting action like this before.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Doctor Strange has always been different from the other heroes in the MCU. After all, he doesn’t use brute strength or high tech weaponry to fight his enemies, he uses magic. And in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness," he goes head to head with another incredibly powerful magic user: former Avenger Wanda Maximoff, aka The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). The result is some of the most creative action sequences we’ve ever seen in the MCU.
From the universe-hopping chases early on in the film, to its equally hilarious and exciting final fight, "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" delivers action scenes that simply couldn’t exist elsewhere in the MCU. There’s the horror-tinged sequence in which Wanda attacks Kamar-Taj and is able to force her way into the minds of its defenders while transporting through reflective surfaces. There’s the scene in which two different versions of Strange use literal music as a weapon. And of course, there’s a fight with characters who simply couldn’t exist in the mainline MCU universe.
"Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" is a movie that allows its creators (including famed director Sam Raimi) to show off their creativity through the magic in the movie, making for one of the most fun (and also macabre) movies in the MCU.
Everything Everywhere All At Once
"Everything Everywhere All At Once" may well be the breakout hit of 2022. The film, starring the legendary Michelle Yeoh with a memorable supporting turn from Jamie Lee Curtis, was distributed by independent studio A24 but produced by the Russo brothers of MCU fame. It’s a bit of a strange movie that combines an interest in multiverses that’s so hot in current blockbusters (or at least in the MCU) with a more grounded story about a family.
Yeoh stars as the overwhelmed and unhappy laundromat owner Evelyn, who finds herself called to be a soldier in a multiversal battle against a villain set on destroying existence. What makes "Everything Everywhere All At Once" so special is that it balances its stories about Evelyn’s relationships with her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan, making his return to acting after a two-decade absence) and daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) with the overarching fight to save the multiverse.
Along the way there are some hilarious jokes and unforgettable fight scenes. Its best sequences work as both jokes and fight scenes, like when an alternate-timeline Waymond beats up a bunch of security guards using nothing but a fanny pack. "Everything Everywhere All At Once" is a unique movie that shows we don’t have to lose our hold on real human relationships, even in mind-bending sci-fi stories about multiversal destruction.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Based, of course, on the video game franchise of the same name, 2020’s "Sonic the Hedgehog" was even more successful than anyone could’ve anticipated, leading to a sequel getting fast tracked. 2022 brought us "Sonic the Hedgehog 2," and rather than feeling rushed, it might be even better than its predecessor.
"Sonic the Hedgehog 2" follows Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) as he is once again attacked by the villainous Doctor Robotnik (Jim Carrey), who is on a quest to find the "Master Emerald" that would allow him to bend reality to his will. This time, Sonic is accompanied by the fox Tails (Colleen O’Shaughnessey), who was inspired by Sonic’s bravery when saving the world from Robotnik in the first film. But Sonic isn’t the only character with a new ally; Dr. Robotnik introduces his own animal friend, the echidna Knuckles (Idris Elba).
The movie follows both pairs as they race to find the Master Emerald, repeatedly coming into conflict on their journeys. Those conflicts are brightly colored, fast-paced thrill rides that are sure to please viewers of all ages, particularly fans of the classic games. "Sonic the Hedgehog 2" doesn’t just retread the beats of the first film — instead, through its introduction of new characters and worldbuilding, it creates a much larger feeling world that has us looking forward to future "Sonic" projects, including "Sonic the Hedgehog 3."
The Woman King
Inspired by the historical Agojie, an all women military class in the West African kingdom of Dahomey, "The Woman King" takes liberties with its source material to deliver a movie that’s more narratively satisfying than it is historically accurate. But it is extremely satisfying. Set in the early 19th century, the film follows the strong willed young Nawi (Thuso Mbedu) as her father offers her up to the Agojie because he cannot find anyone willing to marry her. She trains and meets other women who have been members of the Agojie for years, including the kind but fierce Izogie (Lashana Lynch) and the group’s leader General Nanisca (Viola Davis).
But "The Woman King" isn’t only a coming-of-age tale — the film also tracks the conflict between Dahomey and the larger neighboring kingdom of Oyo, which has for years subjugated Dahomey. That conflict leads to the movie’s numerous thrilling action scenes. The Agojie, unlike many of their enemies, fight with swords, knives, and spears, leading to visceral action sequences that are just as likely to make you wince as cheer. Over the course of the film, the women develop new and unexpected weapons and strategies that they then use to overcome their enemies.
"The Woman King" is equally packed with emotion and action, making it a crowd-pleaser that hearkens back to the cinematic epics of the 20th century.