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. 

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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.  

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    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. 

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    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.