Every great film has a defining moment. It’s the part of the movie that will make you cheer, cry, jump out of your seat, and maybe even let out a Keanu Reeves-esque, “Whoa!”
For the action genre, that moment is particularly unique. That key segment is usually a remarkable fight, car chase, or a jaw-dropping scene that makes the movie truly memorable. Not surprisingly, the decade with some of the most amazing and high-octane action scenes was the 1990s. Action films released between 1990-1999 were truly spectacular.
Here are our picks for the 20 scenes that made some great films unforgettable and the time stamp to find their best moments. Did your favorite miss the cut or not rank as high as you’d like? Let us know in the comments below.
And after you’re finished here, make sure to check out our other movie rankings, including the best and worst Predator movies, the best zombie movies ever, and the best action movies of the ’80s, ’90s, ’00s, and 2010s.
20. Passenger 57 (1992) – Always Bet on Black
Starring: Wesley Snipes, Tom Sizemore, Bruce Payne, Elizabeth Hurley
Time stamp: 1 hour, 14 minutes
Airline security expert John Cutter (Wesley Snipes) is forced to take action when the plane he’s a passenger on is taken over by terrorist Charles Rane (Bruce Payne). At the 1 hour, 14 minute mark, Cutter knocks out Elizabeth Hurley in one of her first onscreen roles then proceeds to have an epic cross-aisle fight with Rane, which ends with him falling out of the plane to his death.
19. Under Siege (1992) – Ryback vs Strannix
Starring: Steven Seagal, Gary Busey, Tommy Lee Jones
: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Ex-Navy SEAL turned cook Casey Ryback (Steven Seagal) is only concerned about the 50 gallons of bouillabaisse he has to prepare for the crew of the USS Missouri when a group of terrorists take over the famous battleship. Ryback gradually takes back the ship, leading to a thrilling knife fight with former CIA operative turned terrorist William Strannix (Tommy Lee Jones) that costs him an eye and then his life.
18. Deep Blue Sea (1999) – Soliloquy Shark Bite
Starring: Thomas Jane, Saffron Burrows, Samuel L. Jackson
Time Stamp: 58 minutes
Dr. Susan McCallister (Saffron Burrows) leads a remote research station conducting experiments on the brains of sharks. When the sharks, who have heightened intelligence and size due to the experiments, start to kill the crew Russell Franklin (Samuel L. Jackson) begins an inspirational speech to motivate the petrified staff. Franklin doesn’t get to complete his soliloquy however as midway through he’s shockingly eaten by a shark.
17. Demolition Man (1993) – Spartan vs Phoenix
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Sandra Bullock
Time Stamp: 43 minutes
Former police officer John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone) is released from a cryogenic prison after 36 years to catch killer Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes), who was let loose by the leader of the futuristic, passive society of San Angeles. While the duos final battle is explosive, the best fight scene between Phoenix and Spartan takes place in the only location you can find a gun in 2032–a museum.
16. Ronin (1998) – The Paris Car Chase
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone
Time Stamp: 1 hour, 26 minutes
Sam (Robert DeNiro), a former US intelligence officer, is part of a team put together by Deirdre (Natascha McElhone) who is trying to steal a valuable package. When Sam and his friend Vincent (Jean Reno) get left behind by Deirdre and her behind-the-scenes boss (Jonathan Pryce) it leads to one of the longest and most visually stunning car chases in movie history.
15. Con Air (1997) – Firetruck Fight
Starring: Nicolas Cage, John Malkovich, John Cusack
Time Stamp: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Unfortunately for recently paroled former Army Ranger Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage), his ride home is a prison transport plane nicknamed, Con Air. During the film’s climactic ending, the plane crash lands on the Las Vegas Strip and Poe goes mano-a-mano with villainous Cyrus the Virus (John Malkovich) on top of a speeding fire truck.
14. Independence Day (1996) – White House Kaboom
Starring: Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman
Time Stamp: 40 minutes
The Earth appears doomed to succumb to alien invaders that have superior weaponry and technology. Luckily, technologist David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) manages to convince President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) that a satellite disruption caused by the aliens contains a hidden signal counting down to an attack. This leads to a hasty escape and one of the most iconic scenes of the 90’s–the destruction of The White House.
13. Desperado (1995) – The Mariachis Unite
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Joaquim de Almeida
Time Stamp: 1 hour, 29 minutes
A mysterious man in black (Antonio Banderas) arrives at a small Mexican border town looking for a drug kingpin named Bucho (Joaquim de Almeida) who ordered the death of the woman he loved. In an enormous gunfight finale with two allies–including a friend who shoots rockets from a guitar case–the man in black mows down dozens of henchmen before taking Bucho down.
12. Blade (1998) – Blade vs Deacon
Starring: Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff, Kris Kristofferson
Time Stamp: 1 hour, 47 minutes
A human-vampire hybrid, Blade (Wesley Snipes) and his human partner Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) are on a mission to kill all vampires. Meanwhile, an evil vampire named Deacon (Stephen Dorff) has a mission of his own–destroy humanity. After recovering from being drained as part of an ancient vampire ritual, Blade wades through hired goons before a stellar sword fighting showdown with Deacon.
11. The Fifth Element (1997) – Diva Dance Battle
Starring: Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Gary Oldman, Maiwenn
Time Stamp: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) is a former special forces commando turned cab driver who just wants to be left alone, particularly by his constantly calling mother. However, a perfect fare literally falls into his lap. That fare, a woman named Leeloo, is humanity’s only hope against an unstoppable evil. Leeloo displays her skills on the floating luxury ship Fhloston Paradise, putting on a balletic martial arts show while a song by the Diva (Maiwenn) plays.
10. Jurassic Park (1993) – T-Rex on the Loose
Starring: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Wayne Knight
Time Stamp: 1 hour, 2 minutes
Wealthy entrepreneur John Hammond’s (Richard Attenborough) dreams of a dinosaur theme park come undone when a disgruntled employee named Nedry (Wayne Knight) turns off the park’s security system, allowing a T-Rex loose near a tour group including Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) and two children. From this point on, there’s a lot of running and screaming.
9. Starship Troopers (1997) – We Can Ill Afford Another Klendathu
Starring: Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards, Neil Patrick Harris
Time Stamp: 58 minutes
The city of Buenos Aires is destroyed by a hostile alien species called Arachnids. In retaliation, the Federation attacks the Arachnid home planet, Klendathu, believing it will lead to a swift victory. The invasion turns out to be a spectacular failure, with the Mobilenfantry decimated by the enemy and heroic Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) left for dead. It’s a massive spectacle filled with thousands of extras and stunning special effects.
8. Cliffhanger (1993) – Gabe Can’t Hold On
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Michael Rooker, Janine Turner, Michelle Joyner
Time Stamp: 4 minutes
Search and rescue ranger Hal Tucker (Michael Rooker) injures his knee while climbing a steep mountain with his girlfriend, Sarah (Michelle Joyner). While traversing a 4,000-foot gap to an awaiting rescue helicopter, Sarah’s harness begins to break. Fellow ranger Gabe (Sylvester Stallone) attempts to save her, but Sarah slips through his fingers. It’s a jaw-dropping event that starts only four minutes in and sets the tone for the rest of the film.
7. The Last of the Mohicans (1992) – Magua Falls
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Madeleine Stowe, Russell Means, Wes Studi
Time Stamp: 1 hour, 38 minutes
Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis) is certainly the hero of this film about three trappers protecting the daughters of a British officer during the French and Indian War, but it’s his adopted father that has the best scene. In the climactic battle, Chingachgook (Russell Means) defeats a Mohawk named Magua (Wes Studi) in a thrilling chase and brutal fight that allows the true last of the Mohicans to avenge the death of his son just moments after he was killed.
6. Point Break (1991) – Keanu Chases Swayze
Starring: Patrick Swayze, Keanu Reeves, Gary Busey, Lori Petty
Time Stamp: 1 hour, 3 minutes
FBI agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) goes undercover to catch a gang of surfers he and his partner Pappas (Gary Busey) believe may be bank robbers known as the Ex-Presidents. After realizing his new surfer buddy Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) is the ringleader of the thieves, Utah figures out what bank they’re going to rob. This leads to an epic 7-minute chase that takes place in cars and on foot that concludes with Utah shooting his gun in the air in frustration after Bodhi slips away.
5. Tombstone (1993) – I’m Your Huckleberry
Starring: Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, Michael Biehn
Time Stamp: 1 hour, 49 minutes
While the fight at the OK Corral is certainly entertaining, it’s the showdown between the film’s two best gunfighters that provides the most memorable scene in Tombstone. Unbeknownst to his friend Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell), Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer) has taken his place in a showdown with the deadly Johnny Ringo (Michael Biehn). Only one shot is fired but that’s all Doc needs.
4. Speed (1994) – Bus Jump
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper, Sandra Bullock
Time Stamp: 1 hour, 2 minutes
Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves) is an LA police officer trying to prevent a bomb from exploding on a city bus driven by passenger Annie Porter (Sandra Bullock). The pair have to keep its speed above 50 mph. The biggest obstacle in doing that happens to be a 50-foot gap in the 105 Freeway. Time for bus 2525 to fly.
3. Heat (1995) – Bank Heist
Starring: Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Val Kilmer
Time Stamp: 1 hour, 42 minutes
Master thief Neil McCauley (Robert DeNiro) is trying to pull off one last heist before retiring but Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) is hot on his trail. While the Pacino/DeNiro restaurant sit-down is legendary, McCauley’s brazen downtown Los Angeles robbery is daring, action-packed, and one of the most memorable bank heists in movie history.
2. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) – Cyberdyne Break-in
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick, Edward Furlong, Joe Morton
Time Stamp: 1 hour, 31 minutes
The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), John Connor (Edward Furlong) and scientist Miles Dyson (Joe Morton) break into Cyberdyne Systems to destroy any research or technology that will lead to a future apocalypse. Once a silent alarm is tripped, The Terminator lays waste to police cars with a minigun, Cyberdyne explodes, and the T-1000 (Robert Patrick) takes over a helicopter by jumping to it from a motorcycle.
1. The Matrix (1999) – Neo Saves Morpheus
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss
Time Stamp: 1 hour, 1 minute
Neo (Keanu Reeves) is willing to risk his own life to save Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), one of the leaders of the rebellion against the machines, even if it means walking into a building full of armed police and dangerous Agents. Over the course of an 11-minute action sequence, Morpheus is saved, thousands of rounds of ammunition are shot, bullet time becomes burned into moviegoers’ brains, and Neo comes to realize he’s The One.