The Most Underrated Action Movies Of The 1990s

List Rules
Vote up the movies that prove the '90s were a glorious time for action.

The 1990s were a pretty great decade for action movies. From Terminator 2: Judgment Day to Speed to The Matrix, that 10-year stretch gave us a bunch of certified classics in the genre. But what if you've seen those and other favorites a million times, and still want to flash back to the decade? You can start by checking out the titles on this list. 

Below are underrated action movies from the 1990s. What makes them underrated? The circumstances are varied. Admittedly, a couple of them were hits at the time, yet failed to sustain their reputations. Others flopped because one thing or another made audiences reluctant to take a chance on them. One or two simply play a lot better now than they did upon initial release, thanks to the perspective that the passage of time brings. Are these masterpieces? Honestly, in most cases, no. They are, however, pretty good movies that deserve another look. 

Which of the following '90s action movies is most underrated? Vote for your favorites. 


  • The Long Kiss Goodnight has amassed a cult audience over the years, although it never caught on with the general public. This 1996 action fest, written by Shane Black and directed by Renny Harlin, has Geena Davis as its hero. At the time, audiences primarily knew her from more dramatic fare, such as The Accidental Tourist, Thelma & Louise, and A League of Their Own, so putting her into the kind of hardcore violent mayhem typically reserved for the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jean-Claude Van Damme may have raised a certain amount of skepticism from moviegoers.

    She's terrific, though, playing Samantha Caine, a suburban single mother whose bout of amnesia made her forget that she's a highly trained government assassin. After experiencing weird memories, she hires a private detective (Samuel L. Jackson) to help her uncover the mystery of her past. Danger awaits them both. What follows is a series of creatively staged (and brutal) action scenes, including one in a kitchen, where the tools of Samantha's domestic life suddenly become weapons of death. Snappy dialogue adds to the fun. The Long Kiss Goodnight is about as hard-hitting as action pictures come, and Davis proves to have the right stuff. 

    911 votes

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  • The Last Boy Scout has just a 46% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes. At the same time, there are people who will defend the movie vigorously. Bruce Willis plays a former Secret Service agent who now works as a private investigator. When an exotic dancer he's hired to protect is slain, he teams up with her ex-football player boyfriend (Damon Wayans) to find the person responsible. The search leads them to stumble across a conspiracy involving government bribes and legalized sports betting.

    Yeah, okay, that's a pretty cuckoo plot. Then again, lots of movies have plots that are far-fetched. The Last Boy Scout still offers an abundance of violent fun and delightfully over-the-top action sequences. There are laughs, too, courtesy of the wisecracking lead actors. Aside from an ill-advised mid-December release date, the Willis/Wayans combo may have confused audiences, who didn't know whether the movie was supposed to be a comedy or an action flick. Categorizing it is difficult anyway, given that it mixes those two genres together in an unexpected manner. Then again, a willingness to go against the tide is a major part of the appeal.  

    951 votes

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  • 3
    1,003 VOTES

    Robert Rodriguez made a name for himself with his 1992 action film El Mariachi, which he shot for just $7,000. The result was so impressive that Columbia Pictures gave him several million to essentially remake it with Antonio Banderas. The result was Desperado. Banderas plays a musician who arrives in a Mexican border town, only to cross paths with the area's sinister drug lord. That marks the start of what will be an action-packed battle between the two.

    Desperado is filled with the kind of inventively staged action sequences Rodriguez has become known for. Shootouts and chases are common on-screen, but he gives them real personality, setting them apart from the garden-variety stuff Hollywood usually offers. As an added bonus, the film has smokin' hot chemistry between Banderas and co-star Salma Hayek, in what proved to be her breakout role. They were definitely one of the sultriest on-screen couples of the '90s. 

    1,003 votes

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  • 4
    775 VOTES

    Payback is a remake of the 1967 Lee Marvin thriller Point Blank. Mel Gibson stars as Porter, a criminal who takes part in a major heist. He's betrayed by his cohorts, who leave him for dead and abscond with all the money. Porter survives, then goes on a mission of bloody revenge. This puts him squarely up against a criminal organization known as the Outfit.

    Released in February 1999, Payback was a modest hit, grossing $81 million domestically. That was below the kind of grosses Mel Gibson movies usually took in. Without a doubt, there's a nasty streak in the story, which may have turned off viewers looking for Lethal Weapon-like action fun. That mean streak is what sets Payback apart, though. It's a pull-no-punches tale of bad people doing bad things to each other. This old-school, hard-boiled quality distinguishes it from other revenge movies. 

    775 votes
  • 5
    1,004 VOTES

    Zorro is more or less a household name, but there's no doubt that he's a hero from another era. Young people aren't necessarily as excited about a guy in a cape brandishing a sword as they are about heroes with more high-tech weaponry. The Mask of Zorro was a mid-sized hit in 1998, thanks to the casting of Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Modern audiences, who are more accustomed to the heroics of Marvel superheroes, haven't really warmed to it, which is a shame given the amount of fun it offers.

    Hopkins is the original Zorro who trains Banderas to be his successor. Elena is his daughter, who falls for her dad's protege. Together, they take on a nefarious villain with a plot to steal a large amount of gold. Swashbuckling adventures are definitely a relic of the cinematic past, but The Mask of Zorro executes the premise with a more modern sensibility. The movie is thrilling and funny, with fantastic performances from its three stars. It feels contemporary, despite strong ties to the past. 

    1,004 votes

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  • Jackie Chan found great success in America with the Rush Hour pictures, but his best work was done in his native Hong Kong. Perhaps because of the need for subtitles - or the fact that only a few of his Chinese films got significant American theatrical releases - a fair number of people still haven't been exposed to Chan in his purest form. The Legend of Drunken Master is a good place to start. He plays Wong Fei-Hung, a young man learning martial arts from a teacher known for being perpetually intoxicated. The considerably askew form of fighting he learns comes in handy when he has to protect his father from an assassin.

    The Legend of Drunken Master has all the elements that make Jackie Chan's Hong Kong films so notable. The elaborate martial arts scenes are stunningly choreographed. There's a hint of physical comedy in the fighting. The star does his own stunts. That combination is what set Chan apart from other Chinese action stars, and it's on full display here. Even if you think you don't like martial arts flicks, you'll probably find yourself won over by its high energy. 

    To avoid confusion, be aware that The Legend of Drunken Master is the North American release version of Drunken Master II, a sequel to Chan's 1978 film Drunken Master. That said, you don't necessarily need to have seen the original to appreciate it. 

    695 votes