Liam Neeson stands as one of our acting legends. A thespian since the '70s, Neeson didn't gain real fame until 1993 and Schindler's List. He was nominated for an Oscar for his performance and more impressive ones followed. Born in Northern Ireland, Neeson has been a mainstay in the U.K. and U.S. film industries ever since. He was a top dramatic actor who could lead period films like Michael Collins and Les Misérables.
However, somewhere along the line, Neeson realized he could master another genre: action. Blessed with a scratchy baritone that's instantly recognizable and a stare that could stop a bull in its tracks, Neeson took his dramatic talents to action movies in the late '00s. Why not? Action films were usually populated by professional wrestlers. A real actor could really stand-out, if he or she could handle the work.
In 2008, Neeson was 55-years-old. That was the year Taken debuted (in Europe first) and that's where our rankings begin. Since 2008, Neeson has been one of the biggest action stars in the world. Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson rake in the most cash, but Neeson is no slouch. (He's been in six $100 million+ grossing movies over the last decade.) People love seeing him beat people and spit nasty one-liners in his Irish brogue.
So what are the best Neeson action movies? By our count, he's been the leading man in eight of them in the past 10 years. He's done plenty of other films also, but we won't count those. For a movie to make our list it must be an action movie or contain a healthy amount of ass-kicking. Plus, Neeson must be the lead character.
Here are the Neeson flicks from the last decade that didn't make the cut:
Excluded because they're not action movies: The Other Man, Unknown, Five Minutes of Heaven, Third Person, Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House
Excluded because Neeson appears in a supporting role: After.Life, Chloe, The Next Three Days, Clash of the Titans, Wrath of the Titans, The A-Team, Battleship, The Dark Knight Rises, Anchorman 2, A Million Ways to Die in the West, Ted 2
Excluded because they include Neeson voice roles only: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Ponyo, The Lego Movie, A Monster Calls, The Huntsman: Winter's War, The Nut Job, Khumba, The Prophet
On to the rankings! You may think all Liam Neeson's action movies are the same. Well, you'd be sorely mistaken. Sort of.
8. Taken 3 (2014)
This one's about as bad it gets for Neeson's action flicks. It's the (likely) last story of Bryan Mills saving his family, something that became an annual occurrence to ensure this franchise kept going. At the end, Mills fights a bad guy who's in his tighty wighties. It's not pretty.
Rotten Tomatoes score: 12 percent
7. Taken 2 (2012)
How do you make a sequel to the daughter-stealing Taken? Kidnap the wife! That's what happens to Mills in the second Taken movie, the unluckiest former covert operative in movies. Sure, the plot may seem hard to believe, but Mills killed some bad guy's son in the first film so this one's a revenge tale. It doesn't stack up to Taken, but it's much better than Taken 3.
Rotten Tomatoes score: 21
6. The Commuter (2018)
The latest entry to the Neeson action canon hits theaters today. Blessed with a hilariously pedestrian title, The Commuter stars Neeson as an ex-cop (he's always an ex-something badass) who's just lost his insurance sales job. On the commute home, a mysterious lady (Vera Farmiga) offers him $100K to find a person and put a tracking device on their bag. He has to do it or his family dies. The Commuter hits all the familiar Neeson action movie checkboxes: a down on his luck guy rising to the occasion, a ticking time bomb plot, and lots of snapped arms and broken faces.
Rotten Tomatoes score: 53
5. A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014)
I almost didn't include this one because it's more a mystery than action movie, but there's enough Neeson head-smashing to allow it. Neeson plays Matt Scudder in A Walk Among the Tombstones, an ex-detective who's recruited by a neighborhood man to help find the kid's brother. What ensues is a gnarly uncovering of dismembered bodies and a kidnapping plot. The end saves the bleak story as Neeson gets to unleash on some very bad dudes.
Rotten Tomatoes score: 66
4. Run All Night (2015)
Neeson makes his action movies work because of his staunch dedication to the material. The Oscar-nominated actor can make any silly line sound believable. That makes a movie like Run All Night a hell of a lot better than it deserves to be. Neeson also received help from the likes of Ed Harris, Joel Kinnaman, Nick Nolte, Vincent D’Onofrio, Common, and Boyd Holbrook. This is the best Neeson action movie cast. The star plays Jimmy Conlon, an aging mob hitman who kills the boss' son and goes on the run.
Rotten Tomatoes score: 60
3. Non-Stop (2014)
Jaume Collet-Serra has directed Neeson in four movies, three included on this list (Non-Stop, Run All Night, The Commuter), and this one's the best. He plays alcoholic air marshal Bill Marks, who receives a mysterious text message during a flight. The anonymous sender says someone on the plane will die every 20 minutes unless he receives $150 million. Marks, pissed off, spends the rest of the flight looking for the guy and harassing everyone. It's fantastic. Neeson isn't a traditional good guy here. He's a drunken jerk who's tired of being messed with, and that anger makes the action even more intense.
Rotten Tomatoes score: 59
2. Taken (2008)
Taken took the film industry by storm in 2009 when it was released in the United States. Made for $25 million, the film grossed over $225 million and started the Liam Neeson action movie express. We should thank it. Why does it work? One word: Neeson. The plot is redundant: Daughter goes away to Europe against her father's wishes and gets kidnapped at the airport. Kidnapping is a glorious action movie motivation trope (Commando is my favorite) and Neeson uses it to turn in his most violent and explosive action movie. It also set the template for his future films.
Rotten Tomatoes score: 58
1. The Grey (2012)
While The Grey may not contain as many fight scenes as Taken or some of the others on this list, it does contain a palpable sense of dread that's unique to Neeson action movies. Neeson stars as John Ottway, a Alaskan wolf hunter who lends his talents to big oil companies. He's also suicidal. Maybe that's why he gets on a rickety plane that subsequently crashes in the Kodiak. Alone in wolf territory, Ottway and the other survivors try to band together to stay alive, but the wolves hunt them mercilessly. At the end, only Ottway is left and he charges a wolf armed only with a knife and broken liquor bottles taped to his fist as the screen fades to black. It's the single-most renegade Neeson moment in all his action films.
Rotten Tomatoes score: 79