The element of intense action was never a part of Bollywood in its initial years. The only action that you could see in the classic films starring Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand, or Dilip Kumar was a 1 or 2-minute fight sequences or some breathtaking chasing scenes.
The 50s era was mostly about romance and drama and later Rajesh Khanna changed the face of cinema in the 60s with a series of romantic blockbusters.
Even then, Bollywood was known to follow the trends and the filmmakers were hardly open to experiments. However, in the midst of romantic heroes, there was an action hero in Dharmendra in the industry as well.
Despite his persona and action figure physique, filmmakers hardly cast him for an all-action film. But, the trend changed terrifically when Amitabh Bachchan starred Zanjeer hit the screen in the 70s and a new trend for action films began which has lasted until today.
Today, we decided to pay a tribute to some of the best action-packed films ever produced in Bollywood.
Best Bollywood Action Films of All Time
Although Amitabh Bachchan gets the credit for changing the trend of Bollywood cinema from romantic drama to action drama, Bollywood did produce some actors who got labeled as action stars in the industry as they blend perfectly into this action hero figure with multiple hits.
Some of these actors were Dharmendra, Sunny Deol, Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn, Salman Khan, Sunil Shetty, Anil Kapoor, Jackie Shroff, and few others.
Our list of best Bollywood action films also includes some of the best films involving these action stars.
The Dawn of Action Saga in Bollywood
As mentioned before, there were action films before Zanjeer as well but the real turn of events came after the release of this Amitabh starrer action thriller. Amitabh Bachchan evolved as the new face and the eventual superstar of Bollywood and got the title of Shehenshah of Bollywood.
It wasn’t like there were any action films made prior to Zanjeer, but this 1973 action thriller film set the wheels in motion for a new trend in Bollywood.
The angry young man avatar of Amitabh Bachchan changed his persona in the industry and helped him evolve from a struggling actor to a superstar.
Directed by Prakash Mehra, the film is a typical Bollywood revenge story, but Amitabh Bachchan’s portrayal of his character took the film to a whole new level.
Deewar is a tale of two brothers following different paths of life, who eventually meet at an intersection between Good and Evil. Directed by Yash Chopra, the film revolves around two brothers; Ravi portrayed by Shashi Kapoor and Vijay portrayed by Amitabh Bachchan.
The love and brotherhood is challenged and builds a wall (Deewar) between them when Vijay ventures into the crime world and Ravi becomes a cop tasked to nab Vijay.
The film is known for its terrific screenplay, unforgettable dialogues, and the persona of Amitabh Bachchan further elaborating his angry young man character.
Sholay is the legendary Bollywood film that is talked about even today. With the multi-star cast of the film, Ramesh Sippy’s direction, evergreen dialogues, Jai-Veeru’s chemistry, and the ultimate character of Gabbar Singh, the film was purely a masterpiece.
The film is also known for its dacoit-themed action sequences set in the small village of Ramgarh, which resembles Hollywood styled westerner films.
The legacy of Sholay is so huge that there’s no film that can match to its potential till date in Indian film industry, neither in the past nor in the future.
Well, if Sholay depicted the Bollywood version of Hollywood westerner films, Don is the Bollywood version of Hollywood mafia films with a little bit of drama and moral values.
The film is about a common man Vijay, who unfortunately looks like a most wanted Underworld Don. To help the police, he agrees to replace the real Don after he dies in a police encounter and help the police nab other gang members.
However, things go south for Vijay, when the only Police officer aware of his reality is dead and now Vijay has to prove his innocence while being on the run from both police and Don’s gang members.
Directed by Tinnu Anand, Kaalia is a 1980 Bollywood action film starring Amitabh Bachchan in the titular role.
The film is about a young man who is dragged into the criminal world after being convicted for theft and comes out as a fearless and confident man. Out of jail, he decides to avenge his brother’s death and begins establishing his name in the criminal world as Kaalia.
Ram Lakhan (1989)
Yet another brothers’ tale after Deewar makes it to our list. This time it is Subash Ghai’s 1989 Bollywood action drama Ram Lakhan starring Anil Kapoor and Jackie Shroff in the lead roles.
The film is about the bonding between two brothers and their eventual rivalry when both decide to part ways, one of whom choose moral and ethics, while the other longs for power and money.
Eventually, they unite once again at the end to take down the criminal empire of Bishamber, Kesariya Vilayati, and Sir John.
Before Ghayal, Sunny Deol was just another star kid trying his luck in Bollywood. Being the son of Dharmendra, he had huge shoes to fill in and I believe he did make his father proud with several hits in Bollywood and the success ride begun with Ghayal, one of the three Rajkumar Santoshi films that turned him into one of the best action film stars in Bollywood.
The film is about a brother trying to avenge his brother’s death against the crime lord Balwant Rai. The legacy of Ghayal can be witnessed by the fact that the film was remade in several regional languages.
Sustaining Amidst the Romance Wagon of the 90s
The action films trend was at its peak during the 80s but eventually started losing its grip on the romance genre that was ultimately found its place amidst the action hero figures in Bollywood.
This was the era when the 3 Khans dominated the Hindi film industry and almost broke the trend of action films. However, the romance bandwagon didn’t last forever and even though there weren’t so many action films made during the 90s, the ones that were produced in this genre set new benchmarks for the upcoming generation.
Another Sunny Deol starred film that makes it to our list is Narasimha. Well, there will be a lot of his films on the list of top Bollywood action films.
Besides Sunny Deol, the film also includes Dimple Kapadia, Om Puri, Urmila Matondkar, and Ravi Behl in important roles. The film is about the plight of a young man Narsimha played by Sunny Deol, who takes a stand against the ruthless Bapji, portrayed by Om Puri, and his goons.
The film’s title comes from the Hindu god Narasimha and includes a scene similar to the mythological Narsimha where Sunny Deol is buried inside a pillar and he bursts out of it and beats the hell out of Bapji and his goons.
Phool Aur Kaante (1991)
Ajay Devgn is a renowned actor and one of the only main league stars in Bollywood who has also performed well critically claiming National Film Award for Best Actor couple of times. However, you will be surprised to know that he was launched as an action star through the 1991 action romance Phool Aur Kaante.
The film introduces Ajay Devgn in a bike stunt where he appears standing on two bikes simultaneously resembling the well-known Van Damme’s epic leg split.
This action sequence was a huge hit among the younger generation that it was used later in several films featuring other action stars such as Akshay Kumar as well.
Tirangaa is one of those films in the Bollywood fraternity that’s considered as one of the best patriotic films of all time.
You can watch the movie running on at least one TV channel on 15th August or 26th January. Starring Nana Patekar and the veteran actor Raaj Kumar in the lead role, the film is about a mission led by the two main leads to foil the plot of Pralayanath Gendaswami, who is planning to attack several parts of India using nuclear missiles. The way they tackle and beat Gendaswami forms the rest of the story.
Although an action-packed film, the 1992 Rajiv Rai film Vishwatma is known more for its famous music than the action sequences.
The film starred a multi-star cast of Sunny Deol, Naseeruddin Shah, Chunky Pandey, Divya Bharti, Sonam, Amrish Puri, and many others. The film is about a failed police officer, Sunny Deol, who is re-assigned the task of capturing Ajgar Jurrat, played by Amrish Puri, and send to Kenya with Akash Bhardwaj, played by Chunky Pandey.
The duo faces an obstacle in Kenyan Police officer Surya Pratap, who later becomes their ally and the trio nab the whole gang of Ajgar Jurrat and brings him back to India successfully.
One of the marvels of Subhash Ghai, Khalnayak is one of those films that worked merely on the script and its screenplay.
Despite having stars like Jackie Shroff, Sanjay Dutt, and Madhuri Dixit in the film, Khalnayak worked because of Subhash Ghai’s amazing storytelling of a man, who takes the wrong path owing to greed and hunger for power and later gets nabbed by an honest police officer.
The portrayal of Ballu by Sanjay Dutt is considered as one of his best performances in Bollywood alongside Raghu in Vaastav and Munna Bhai in Munna Bhai film series.
Mohra is a fully packed Bollywood masala flick starring Akshay Kumar, Sunil Shetty, Naseeruddin Shah, Raveena Tandon, and Paresh Rawal in important roles. The film was a pure blend of action, drama, romance, comedy, and suspense.
This was the first time that the trio of Akshay Kumar, Sunil Shetty, and Paresh Rawal came together in a film. The trio would later work in several films including the most popular Hera Pheri series.
Besides the fantastic screenplay and action sequences, the film is also known for its music including the popular chart number “Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast Mast” portrayed on Raveena Tandon and earned her the nickname as The Mast Mast Girl.
Main Khiladi Tu Anari (1994)
Main Khiladi Tu Anari is the 2nd Khiladi film starring Akshay Kumar. Directed by Sameer Malkan, the film is a Bollywood remake of 1991 English film The Hard Way.
The film also stars Saif Ali Khan and Shilpa Shetty in the lead roles alongside Akshay Kumar and is also credited as one of those Bollywood action films featuring Chinese martial arts in Hindi film industry, thanks to Akshay Kumar.
The popularity of the action sequences in the film can be anticipated by the fact that Main Khiladi Tu Anari was reviewed by martial arts critic Albert Valentin on KungFu Cinemas.
If Akshay was establishing himself as the best martial artist of Bollywood, Ajay Devgn was also giving the Khiladi Kumar tough fight with films like Vijaypath.
Directed by Farouq Siddique, the film also starred Tabu, Suresh Oberoi, and Danny Denzongpa in pivotal roles. It was one of those films that cast Divya Bharti as the lead pair against Ajay Devgn, but the role eventually went to Tabu after the Divya Bharti’s unfortunate demise.