Charlize Theron has starred in several successful action movies throughout her impressive acting career, but how do the F9 star’s action movies rank? Since her career began in the mid-‘90s, Charlize Theron has always been a reliably versatile actor. Beginning her screen CV with a role in a sequel to one of Stephen King’s worst adaptations, Children of the Corn III, Theron has since gone on to star in everything from animated comedies to period dramas to sci-fi horror movies.
However, it is the action genre that truly allows Theron to shine. Beginning with the thriller Reindeer Games in 2000, Theron has starred in numerous action movies since the start of her screen career. These have received mixed reviews, with some being all-time classics of the genre and others being regrettable flops.
Throughout the ‘00s, Theron cropped up in mostly critically disliked action outings. Aeon Flux, 15 Minutes, and Hancock all earned mostly negative write-ups, although her later action efforts proved the actress had a future in the genre, despite her early duds. The ‘10s saw a shift in Theron’s critical fortunes, with Atomic Blonde, The Fate of the Furious, and particularly the long-awaited Mad Max sequel, Fury Road, earning critical acclaim for the actress. Now, Theron is firmly established as an action star—but which of her efforts in the genre are the best, and which are her weakest action movies?
12. Reindeer Games
Despite being the final film from legendary director John Frankenheimer (of Seconds and The Manchurian Candidate fame), Reindeer Games is unfortunately among Theron’s weakest action movies. The convoluted plot sees Ben Affleck break out of prison and assume his former cellmate’s identity, but by the time he’s wrangled into a heist, few viewers will be able to care about him or his love interest, Theron. Released around the same time as Affleck’s underrated Tom Clancy movie adaptation, The Sum of All Fears, this one is sadly not worth seeking out for anyone other than Theron career completists.
11. 15 Minutes
Theron has a minor role in 2001’s 15 Minutes and should consider herself lucky that the movie came early in her career. This action thriller wastes an impressive cast that includes Robert DeNiro in a flat police procedural, wherein a pair of killers tape their crimes to gain their titular few moments of fleeting fame. The satire is hopelessly dated and the action is too predictable to thrill, meaning even the most forgiving Theron fans are unlikely to seek out this stale, uninspired, 2000s rendition of the serial killer thrillers of the ’90s.
10. Aeon Flux
One of the strangest misfires in Theron’s career, the flat and humorless Aeon Flux strips all the winking meta-laughs from the source series and leaves viewers with a listless sci-fi action effort. Despite having director Karyn Kusama, who helmed Megan Fox’s best movie Jennifer’s Body, Aeon Flux takes an inexplicably straight-faced approach to the campy MTV show of the same name. There’s little to recommend in this early action movie, and even Theron’s spirited attempts to liven up the over-familiar sci-fi action story can’t save Aeon Flux.
A middling action-comedy from 2018, Gringo sees David Oyelowo star as a businessman who fakes his own abduction to make a quick buck, only to become embroiled in the Mexican criminal underworld as the scheme spirals out of control. Theron co-stars alongside Amanda Seyfried and Joel Edgerton in an unmemorable, but passable thriller that will appeal to forgiving fans of Pineapple Express and American Made. The tone bounces between action-movie parody and straight-faced, violent thrills, but Gringo is still a watchable genre hybrid.
8. The Huntsman: Winter’s War
Essentially a more grown-up (and less fun) spin on Frozen’s “magical royalty, sibling rivalry” story, The Huntsman: Winter’s War is a thoroughly unnecessary sequel that massively over-relies on the charms of Theron and co-star Emily Blunt. The plot is predictable, the action uninventive, and the leads are slumming it, but Theron’s campy turn as the movie’s villainess single-handedly elevates The Huntsman: Winter’s War from ignominy. Just about worth watching, The Huntsman: Winter’s War is still far from the actress’ best action movie.
7. Snow White & The Huntsman
After the success of the Twilight saga, star Kristen Stewart briefly reinvented herself as an action heroine, before finding her niche in indie drama. The result was 2012’s Snow White & The Huntsman, a movie that, while significantly superior to its sequel, was a relatively forgettable action-heavy retelling of the titular fairy tale. Arriving in an era when every fairy tale was receiving a big-budget action-movie adaptation, Snow White & The Huntsman does little to set itself apart from its many competitors, but it is still fun to see Theron’s icy evil queen chewing the scenery.
2008’s Hancock has the potential to be a superb satirical subversion of the superhero genre, if the creators had the nerve to stick with Hancock’s original, far darker script. Instead, this playful, but overlong effort relies on Will Smith’s alcoholic antihero for all of its few laughs, as it can’t give viewers a reason to care about its late-in-the-day third act twist. Theron is solid here, but Hancock is still a middle-of-the-road effort for two blockbuster stars who deserved better.
5. The Old Guard
2020’s The Old Guard is a solid action-thriller with a killer premise, namely that Theron’s character leads a legion of secret immortal warriors who have protected humanity for centuries. Bleak and fast-paced, The Old Guard’s cast is solid but the movie is let down by an entirely predictable plot that doesn’t make use of its clever premise. Still, the action is undeniably effective and there’s not a weak link in the cast list, making this one of the actor’s stronger action movies.
The Fast & Furious movie franchise has grown gradually more absurd and over-the-top with each new installment, and 2021’s long-awaited F9 did not disappoint when it came to adding more silliness to the already-ludicrous series. However, F9 could not recapture the intensity of its best predecessors, as its plot lapsed into increasingly goofy terrain, despite the best efforts of its great cast. That said, even a lesser Fast & Furious outing has more to offer than many more self-serious action movies, and Theron, John Cena, Vin Diesel, and company are clearly having a blast in this solid sequel.
3. The Fate of the Furious
The Fate of the Furious was one of the Fast & Furious franchise’s best, with a focused plot and sharper script than its follow-up. The sequel owes a lot of its success to Theron’s Fast & Furious villain Cipher, one of the most brutal antagonists of the series. Whether she can sustain a spinoff remains to be seen, but the villain was undeniably effective in her screen debut.
2. Atomic Blonde
2017’s Atomic Blonde is one of a slew of female-centric assassin thrillers released in recent years, but it is the strongest of the lot by a stretch thanks to its lively, inventive direction and Theron’s stellar performance. The plot is pure spy-movie silliness, but the action set-pieces land like a heel to the throat, and the playful tone ensures this hit never takes itself too seriously. A brutal, bruising action effort, Atomic Blonde successfully solidified Theron’s status as a serious action star.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
By far the best action movie Theron has appeared in so far, Mad Max: Fury Road is also one of the genre’s best offerings in decades. A stripped-back thrill ride that never lets up for a minute, this barnstorming reinvention of creator George Miller’s Mad Max franchise lets the title character take a backseat in a chase movie mostly centered around series newcomer Furiosa. Theron is incredible as the wounded, taciturn anti-heroine, and her performance elevates the already-great Mad Max: Fury Road to instant classic status, making the movie easily Charlize Theron’s best action outing to date.
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