Weird History

Here's What "Action Heroes" Looked Like In Every Decade Of The 20th Century 

Brenden Donnelly
Updated July 19, 2019 10.2k views 10 items

Since the beginning of cinema, action movies have entertained audiences with adventure, excitement, and sword fights. But what really makes a good action movie? According to action star Danny Trejo, every good action film needs "bullets, blood, blades, and babes," but those preferences are relatively modern. Film technology has improved throughout the 20th century, and allowed action movies to attempt ever greater feats. Action in The Great Train Robbery may have enthralled viewers in 1903 because of its realism, but today, it definitely doesn't hold up as one of the greatest action movies.

Regardless of time period, a good action movie will always need a hero who can fight their way out of any tough situation. Whether they're a swashbuckling pirate, an international super spy, or an off-duty cop, they need to be ready to take on any threat. Though their occupations and styles have changed over the years, action heroes of the 20th century faced any danger that opposed them and were the figures who audiences strived to emulate.

1900s: Georges Méliès ('A Trip To The Moon,' 1902) And Gilbert W. "Billy Bronco" Anderson ('The Great Train Robbery,' 1903)
1900s: Georges Mé... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Here's What
Photo:  Wikimedia Commons/Wikimedia Commons
1910s: Helen Gibson ('The Hazards Of Helen,' 1914-1917) And Mary Fuller ('Dolly Of The Dailies,' 1914)
1910s: Helen Gibson ('Th... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Here's What
Photo:  Wikimedia Commons/Wikimedia Commons
1920s: Douglas Fairbanks ('Robin Hood,' 1922) And Léon Bary & George Stiegmann ('The Three Musketeers,' 1921)
1920s: Douglas Fairbanks... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Here's What
Photo:  Wikimedia Commons/Wikimedia Commons
1930s: Johnny Weissmuller ('Tarzan The Ape Man,' 1932) And Errol Flynn ('Captain Blood,' 1935)
1930s: Johnny Weissmulle... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Here's What
Photo:  RKO Pictures/Warner Bros.