14 Underrated Action Movies About Characters Pulled Out Of Retirement

List Rules
Vote up the action movies that deserve more credit.

In The Godfather: Part III, Michael Corleone famously says, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!” While Al Pacino isn’t exactly an action hero, that quote does evoke one of cinema’s greatest cliches: retired action hero movies. Years after rejecting their calling, then getting really good at it, and supplying audiences with some of the best action in history, the cop, soldier, mercenary, or superhero is begrudgingly drawn back into the life because they’re simply too cool. That, or the new generation finds themselves in a desperate situation and requires assistance. 

The ritual of coming out of retirement for “one last job” is as old as the action hero itself. This list will compile action movies that follow the trope of reactivating a bad*ss character while avoiding obvious, super popular examples like John Wick and focusing on those movies that deserve more attention. Here are heroes (or anti-heroes) who did not go gently into that good night. 


  • 1
    187 VOTES

    Who Gets Pulled Out Of Retirement? Vietnam War veteran and former special forces soldier Ngoc Minh Quan runs a humble Chinese restaurant in London with his business partner, Lam, and teenage daughter, Fan. A widower, Fan is Quan’s world. That said, when she is killed in a terrorist bombing by the “Authentic IRA,” Quan uses his particular set of skills to seek revenge.

    What's The Job? In his attempts to go after the IRA, Quan’s focus shifts to the Northern Ireland deputy First Minister and Sinn Féin politician Liam Hennessy, a former IRA leader turned British politician. This leads to a cat-and-mouse game with the government official who’s secretly connected to his daughter’s killers.

    Does He Retire Again? Yes. Quan gets his revenge on the bombers, exposes Hennessy’s association with the Authentic IRA, and destroys his political career. Quan then returns to his restaurant in London. Realizing his role in recent events, Scotland Yard puts him under surveillance indefinitely. 

    187 votes
  • 2
    156 VOTES

    Who Gets Pulled Out Of Retirement? The very helpful Robert McCall works at Home Mart (essentially Home Depot) in Boston, MA. Unbeknownst to his coworkers, McCall is a former Marine and DIA operative who left his violent life behind after making a promise to his late wife. However, he did not leave behind his propensity for justice. 

    What's The Job? While remaining inconspicuous (in the eyes of the audience and everyone else), McCall befriends a young girl named Alina/Teri - a prostitute working for the Russian Mafia - who attends the same diner as him. When Teri shows up beaten and bloodied, McCall visits those responsible. Subsequently, the leader of said Mafia, Vladimir Pushkin, sends Nicolai Itchenko AKA “Teddy” to investigate the homicide of his minions. 

    Does He Retire Again? No. Thanks to some great monologues from Denzel Washington and a showdown in Home Mart, McCall defeats Pushkin’s forces before traveling to Moscow and taking out the man himself. When McCall returns to Boston, he meets Alina, who has started a new life. Inspired, McCall decides to become “The Equalizer” and use his skills to help those in need.

    156 votes

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  • 3
    143 VOTES

    Who Gets Pulled Out Of Retirement? Nobody. Or rather, Hutch Mansell, a seemingly normal family man. When thieves break into his home, he refuses to 
    defend himself or his family. This incident causes his family and friends to label him a “nobody." However, Hutch used to be an auditor: “the last guy you [want] to see at your door because it [means] you [don’t] have long to live.” After letting one of his targets go free, Hutch checked in on him a year later only to find him reformed and living the good life with a new family - which inspired Hutch to do the same. 

    What's The Job? When a woman is harassed on the bus he takes home, Hutch takes out his frustration on a group of thugs, which puts him in the crosshairs of a Russian crime lord, Yulian Kuznetsov. This ultimately results in a showdown at Hutch’s father-in-law’s metal fabrication factory, where he, his brother Harry, and his father David eliminate the gangsters R-rated John Wick/Home Alone style, using an array of weapons and traps. 

    Does He Retire Again? At the end of the film, Hutch receives a phone call from his former employer. Then, in the mid-credits scene, Harry and David are shown driving in an RV full of guns. Nobody 2 is merely waiting for the green light from Universal Pictures. 

    143 votes

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  • 4
    155 VOTES

    Who Gets Pulled Out Of Retirement? RED stands for "Retired and Extremely Dangerous," and that’s exactly what former CIA agent Frank Moses is. While “enjoying” retirement in Cleveland, and flirting with the pension lady, Frank is assaulted in his home by a squad of hitmen. Therefore, he reassembles his old team, including Joe Matheson, Marvin Boggs, and Victoria Winslow. 

    What's The Job? The RED team uncover a massive conspiracy regarding a list of names connected to a secret 1981 mission in Guatemala, which involved the extraction of Robert Stanton, who is now Vice President, from a Guatemalan village. 

    Do They Retire Again? Morgan Freeman's character perishes, and Red 2 pales in comparison to the original film. 

    155 votes

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  • Who Gets Pulled Out Of Retirement? Small-town family man Tom Stall is championed as a hero after stopping the robbery of a local diner. When the incident makes national news, Stall is soon visited by scarred gangster Carl Fogarty, who claims Stall is actually a gangster named Joey Cusack, who used to work with the Irish Mob in Philadelphia (spoiler alert: he is).

    What's The Job? It’s revealed that Stall’s past actions delayed the rise of his brother, crime boss Richie Cusack, who wants Stall/Cusack to return to Philadelphia. When Stall denies his past and refuses, Fogarty takes his son Jack hostage, which ultimately results in Stall killing Carl’s henchmen before Jack shoots Fogarty. Amid increasing turmoil in his family and pressure from his brother, Stall returns to Philly as Cusack to settle the score. 

    Does He Retire Again? Yes. After eliminating everyone, including his brother, Cusack returns home with his marriage and future as Stall hanging in the balance. A History of Violence ends with Stall’s children setting him a plate at the dinner table, indicating they’ve accepted their father for who he is: a man with a violent past and, hopefully, a peaceful future. 

    110 votes

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  • 6
    105 VOTES
    Harry Brown
    Photo: Lionsgate

    Who Gets Pulled Out Of Retirement? Harry Brown is a former Royal Marine who lives in a run-down apartment complex in a neighborhood run by gangsters and dealers - who more than impede his day-to-day life. Early on in the film, Harry is unable to make it to the hospital before his wife passes due to a delay courtesy of said violent gangsters. On top of that, Harry’s war buddy, Leonard, is murdered by said gangsters.

    What's The Job? Detectives inform Harry that Len was likely murdered by Noel Winters, the leader of the drug-dealing gang. Unfortunately, Noel and his crew aren’t charged due to insufficient evidence. Worse, the killing is deemed self-defense. While walking home drunk from Len’s funeral, Harry is confronted by Dean, who tries to rob him. Instead, Harry uses his training to kill Dean. Harry then becomes a vigilante, disposes of the criminals in his neighborhood, and burns down their drug den (among other things). 

    Does He Retire Again? Despite being shot by a sniper near the end of the film, it’s revealed that Harry survived his wounds and is shown happily walking through his now-safe neighborhood. A job well done. 

    105 votes

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