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Best Black-led action movies

Let's give it up for these incredible action movies with Black leads

Promotional image of Wesley Snipes as Blade
Image credit: New Line

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Sometimes, nothing is better than curling up with a great action flick. The landscape of films has evolved from the heyday of 80s action films like Predator or Terminator. Where there were once burly, high-fiving, mini-gun-wielding action heroes, now agile, super-human comic book characters exist. The ethos, however, remains the same. Big set-pieces, something blowing the hell up, and quips. Oh, the quips. Action movies remain one of the best forms of entertainment out there.

Tis the season for the celebration of positive representation. With that in mind, let's look at some of the best Black-led action films you can enjoy today. Movies that will get your blood pumping, adrenaline-spiking, and heart racing. Not to mention, if you are a person of color, an avatar you can identify with. However, I don't recommend aspiring to be any one of these characters. Their lives seem less than safe.

Blade

Promotional image of Wesley Snipes as Blade
Image credit: New Line

It would be a total disservice to not list Blade at the top of this list. Wesley Snipes and the Blade franchise had the honor of unofficially kicking off the action-packed Marvel Cinematic Universe. Before Blade, we had some bizarre Marvel-based films to contend with (I'm looking at you, Howard the Duck and Captain America).

Once Blade hit the scene, with its adult themes, gore, and stone-faced Snipes, people started taking comic book movies a bit more seriously. 26 years later, and we are drowning in Marvel films. You can thank, and blame Blade for that. The film spawned two sequels, a short-lived TV show starring rapper Sticky Fingaz, a decent Playstation video game, and a supposed reboot on its way starring Mahershala Ali.

Man On Fire

Still image featuring Denzel Washington in Man on Fire
Image credit: 20th Century Studios

I have yet to see Denzel Washington make a bad action film. Man On Fire remains one of the best entries in the pantheon of Denzel films. Hell, it's just one of the best action movies, period. In it, Denzel plays John Creasy, an alcoholic former CIA agent hired as the bodyguard of young Lupita "Pita" Ramos. When Pita is kidnapped, Creasy decides it's appropriate to creatively kill every single person in his path in his mission to rescue her.

I can't tell you how amazing this movie is, from the cinematography to the absolutely bonkers' actions Creasy takes on his crusade to resume his Pita. If you haven't watched this movie, do yourself a favor and watch it now. Take off work if you have to. And bring tissues.

The Woman King

Still image featuring Viola Davis in The Woman King
Image credit: Sony

Viola Davis can't be stopped. When that woman commits to a role, dammit, she commits. The Woman King follows General Nanisca, the leader of the Agojie. They are an all-female tribe of warriors protecting the West African kingdom of Dahomey in the 1800s. The Agojie take on the Oyo Empire, who look to sell captive Dahomey villagers into slavery. With Viola at the helm as General Nanisca, you know you are in for it. We all knew Viola could cry better than anyone in Hollywood, but did you know she could kick everyone's ass as well? That woman can carry a film.

The Woman King is a revenge tale wrapped in a family drama and an action movie. Viola is as captivating as she is fierce, per usual, and the all-female warrior tribe does absolute work on their enemies. A fantastic action drama to check out with one of the best actors around.

Men In Black

Cropped poster of Men in Black
Image credit: Sony

Men In Black remains an action, sci-fi, and comedy staple in film history. That's a triple threat, folks. When Officer James Edwards is recruited into the secret alien policing agency known as the Men In Black, he must stop a giant alien bug and an alien armageddon threat. All in his first week.

Will Smith absolutely nails his leading man presence in this film with his trademark charisma and comedic timing. It also happens to be his follow-up alien action film after the also incredible Independence Day a year before. THe late 90s were Big Willie's ( I don't appologize for calling him that). The follow-up films can't hold a candle to our first introduction to Agents J and K.

The Last Dragon

Still image from The Last Dragon
Image credit: TriStar Pictures

The legend of Leroy Green is known far and wide. His epic battle for The Glow against the fiendish Shogun of Harlem, Sho'Nuff, echos in the halls of history. The Last Dragon is an incredible example of earnest 1980s martial arts action. It exemplifies the effect of martial arts films on the Black community in the 80s, leading to cult legends like Leroy and Sho'Nuff.

The action is cheesy, the acting is laughable, and the premise is straight out of a comic book. But everyone takes it seriously, and no one is phoning anything in, making it a fun, light-hearted, culturally inappropriate 80s action movie. If you haven't seen it, you are going to love it. Sho'Nuff!

Beverly Hills Cop

Still image from Beverly Hills Cop
Image credit: Paramount+

Eddie Murphy has made countless classics. If you are looking for one of his classics, look no further than the action comedy Beverly Hills Cop. Set in Los Angeles in the 80s, Detroit cop Axel Foley goes on a revenge mission to find his friend's killer and uncover a black-market drug operation.

The action comedy genre was built on films like this, as Murphy expertly blends his style of comedy with fast-paced action. The supporting cast of Judge Reinhold and John Ashton as Detective Rosewood and Seargent Taggart, respectively, make for an action Odd Thruple. The trio was so strong, they trotted them out for an upcoming fourth installment of the series. Time will tell if the new film will illicit the same magic they created 40 years ago (lord, I am old), but the classic Beverly Hills Cop is not to be missed.

Black Panther Franchise

Still image from Black Panther
Image credit: Marvel

The entire Black Panther franchise is beset by incredible leading actors, from the late Chadwick Boseman to the incomparable Angela Basset to the scene-stealing Winston Duke and Danai Gurira. I could list all the incredible actors, but that would be cheating.

The first Black Panther film was a triumph of cultural representation that moved many fans to adopt the "Wakanda Forever" salute daily. It built a gorgeous, immersive African world filled to the brim with strong, fleshed out characters. It gave fans the representation they'd been craving since Blade sauntered on the scene. The second installment continued the tradition, handing the spotlight to Auntie Angela to remind you who she is.

The action and new Marvel villain Namor offset the somber tone of Wakanda Forever. It serves as a tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman, and a fitting entry in the MCU. The Black Panther films remain highlights in the Marvel catalog and deserve repeat watches.


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About the Author
Carl Waldron avatar

Carl Waldron

Contributing writer

Carl studies the stats of old Marvel trading cards, collects dope domain names, and has a growing backlog of video games and comics he'll never get to play. He spends his time getting beat up by his kids, playing Destiny 2 (Titan Main), and designing things for money. Carl has written for DCComics.com, IGN.com, Multiversity Comics, and Newsarama, all while disguised as a mild-mannered Creative Director.
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