Total Nerd

17 Action Movie Stars Who Can Actually Do The Stuff They Do On Screen

List Rules
Vote up your favorite actors who are basically world-class athletes.

There's a very special kind of excitement that arises when action movies feature celebrities who can actually fight. For starters, it eliminates the need for rapid-fire editing designed to conceal the use of a stunt double. More importantly, though, it allows viewers to get more engrossed in the characters and what happens to them. The story begins to feel more real.

It's not all about stars fighting or doing their own stunts, though. Some actors certainly go that route. Others have taken roles that befit their real-life talents or trained in specific skills so that they could show them off in movies. That, of course, is a special kind of commitment, and no one currently exemplifies it better than Tom Cruise, who adds to his skill set on a regular basis.

The following celebrities who can fight or exhibit genuine mastery in other physically daunting areas include some of the biggest names in cinema history. They've achieved popularity for many reasons, but their physical prowess undeniably played a part. Remember to vote up your favorites.

  • 1
    2,219 VOTES
    Bruce Lee
    Photo: Enter the Dragon / Warner Bros. Pictures

    Bruce Lee was the king of martial arts movies. It's unlikely that anyone will ever top him. His 1973 film Enter the Dragon is considered the ultimate classic in the genre. Some other popular pictures in which he starred are The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, and The Way of the Dragon

    Watching Lee do martial arts is like watching Fred Astaire dance. You're seeing someone with real grace, who has mastered the form as well as it can be mastered. His excellence was born of anguish. As a teenager, he joined a street gang and got into some trouble. He decided to channel his energies into studying kung fu, learning how to fight from the legendary Master Yip Man. 

    The student ultimately became the teacher. Lee taught Wing Chun and Jeet Kune Do, the latter of which is a form he personally developed. That led him to him being cast in the TV show The Green Hornet and, later, in films, where he demonstrated Jeet Kune Do to appreciative audiences worldwide.

  • 2
    1,739 VOTES
    Jet Li
    Photo: The Legend II / Golden Harvest

    Jet Li has been making movies since the early 1980s, most of them martial arts flicks. In his native China, he became a star via high-octane brawlers like Fist of Legend and The Master. During the 2000s, he went Hollywood, appearing in big studio fare, including Romeo Must Die, Kiss of the Dragon, and The One. He even joined forces with a bunch of other big-name action stars for The Expendables and its sequels. 

    Li is one of those actors who has been able to very effectively utilize his skills in a cinematic format. He started studying Wushu as a child. Later, he competed in tournaments, winning five men's national championships. His debut film, 1982's Shaolin Temple, was crafted around his abilities. When it became a gigantic hit in China, other offers came to bring Wushu to the screen. 

    To Li, it's more than just doing his thing in front of a camera. He attempts to let the style of the moves help define the character. He explained to Kung Fu Magazine, "With an action movie, the most important thing is how you describe the character. And use martial arts to make this more clear. What are they thinking, what are they fighting?"

  • 3
    2,304 VOTES
    Keanu Reeves
    Photo: John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum / Lionsgate

    Keanu Reeves has appeared in all kinds of movies. but when he works in action, it seems to yield the most popular results. Speed and the John Wick franchise are among his best-loved works. But it was, of course, The Matrix that really paved the way for him to become an A-list action hero. For that movie's complex fight sequences, Reeves studied Jiu-Jitsu, Wushi, boxing, and Krav Maga.

    He later went on to train in Judo and karate. These skills, along with weapons training he underwent, allowed the actor to do the vast majority of his own stunts in John Wick and its two sequels. Because Reeves could really perform the moves, director Chad Stahelski was able to use longer, unbroken shots in the fight scenes. There was little need to conceal a stunt double in the editing, as some stars require. 

    Even as he gets older, Reeves insists on doing as much as he can. "I feel fit and healthy but it’s a lot harder for me to execute some of the moves the way I would have 20 years ago or when I was doing the Matrix films," he told the South China Morning Post. "You also get very sore and stiff and you’re not anxious to keep doing take after take. But I would never let a stunt man do the work for me. I have to do it myself even if it's painful sometimes."

  • 4
    1,734 VOTES
    Chuck Norris
    Photo: Invasion U.S.A. / Cannon Films

    Chuck Norris is somewhat unique among action heroes. Aside from successfully working on both the big screen (Missing in Action, Code of Silence) and the small (Walker, Texas Ranger), he has also inspired his own line of jokes that trade on his tough-guy persona. Among them: The flu gets a Chuck Norris shot every year.

    Those jokes can be made because Norris honestly is tough. He began studying judo while serving in the military back in 1960. From there, he learned the karate form known as tang soo do, eventually earning a black belt. Norris went on to become the World Professional Middleweight Karate Champion a staggering six years in a row. His expertise in the area served him well when pursuing acting work, as he was able to draw upon it to establish himself as a macho man who could do his own fighting in front of the camera. 

    Norris knew what his capabilities were and attempted to transfer them to film as meaningfully as he could. For one of his early films, Good Guys Wear Black, the actor came up with the story himself. "This was a screenplay that I helped develop and write," he said. "I peddled it around Hollywood for four years before I was able to finally make it a reality."