Before 2008, Liam Neeson was a well-respected Northern Irish actor best known for his dramatic work. Neeson received an Oscar nomination for his role in 1993’s Schindler’s List and garnered critical acclaim for his work in Michael Collins. Neeson moved into higher-profile parts, including Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Batman Begins, and The Chronicles of Narnia.
2008 changed Neeson’s career trajectory with the release of Taken. At 57 years old, Neeson became an unlikely action star, setting off a 15-year run that includes hits like The Grey, A Walk Among the Tombstones, and four action films with Jaume Collet-Serra. Neeson stars in a new action thriller, Retribution, which opens on August 25. In honor of Retribution, we ranked Neeson’s seven best action movies.
Neeson is a snowplow driver out for vengeance. Need I say more? In Cold Pursuit, Nels Coxman (Neeson) lives a quiet, peaceful life as a (you guessed it) snowplow driver in Colorado. Nels was recently awarded “Citizen of the Year” for his role in the community. That all changes after the death of his son from a forced heroin overdose at the hands of the local cartel.
Nels transforms from a model citizen to a ruthless vigilante as he seeks justice for his son’s death. Nels unintentionally starts a war between the cartel and the indigenous people of the area. Like most Neeson thrillers, expect a lot of death, but Cold Pursuit has a sense of humor, making for a fun action thriller.
Stream Cold Pursuit on Prime Video.
With a character nickname like “The Gravedigger,” Neeson was born to star in Run All Night. In his third collaboration with Collet-Serra, Neeson plays Jimmy “The Gravedigger” Conlon, a weathered Irish hitman full of regret who turns to whiskey to numb the pain. Jimmy is best friends with his former boss, Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris).
When Jimmy’s estranged son Mike (Joel Kinnaman) witnesses a crime committed by Shawn’s son, Jimmy does whatever it takes to protect his son, even if that means going to war with Shawn. Though formulaic, the pairing of Neeson and Harris are great as friends-turned-foes in this violent and gripping mob movie.
Stream Run All Night on Max.
Former NYPD officer and current insurance officer Michael MacCauley (Neeson) is commuting home on a Hudson Line train from Grand Central Terminal when he is approached by the mysterious Joanna (Vera Farmiga) to locate a missing item. For his efforts, he will be paid $100,000. The offer is too good to be true, as Michael gets caught up in a criminal conspiracy that threatens the livelihood of the passengers on the train.
The lasting legacy of The Commuter is its cast. A B-movie of this caliber somehow lucked into a better cast than most big-budget films by acclaimed directors. Besides Neeson and Farmiga, the cast includes Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks, Sam Neill, Florence Pugh, Dean-Charles Chapman, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Damson Idris, and Letitia Wright. How this happened I’m not sure, but the over-qualified cast elevates “Die Hard on a Train.”
Stream The Commuter on Prime Video.
On the surface, The Grey is an action film about a group of oilmen who survive a plane crash in the Alaskan wilderness. As the film progresses, The Grey becomes a philosophical mediation on grief and death. At the center of the film is John Ottway (Neeson), a sharpshooter struggling to cope with the death of his wife. John and seven other men survive the deadly crash in the desolate wilderness.
On the first night, one of the survivors is killed by wolves. Ottway concludes the plane crashed by the wolves’ den, causing the animals to feel threatened. As the men search for help, the wolves are not far behind, as they stalk their every move in each anxiety-inducing scene.
Stream The Grey on Hulu.
A Walk Among the Tombstones features author Lawrence Block’s famous character from his crime novels, Matthew Scudder, the alcoholic ex-NYPD cop who becomes an unlicensed private investigator. The film adaptation, which features Neeson as Scudder, begins in 1991 in New York City. While working for the NYPD, Scudder is involved in a deadly bar shooting, setting the tone for the gritty thriller.
Eight years later, Scudder, now off the force, is recruited to help a drug trafficker named Kenny Cristo (Dan Stevens) find the killers who brutally murdered his wife. Thanks to the beloved source material, A Walk Among the Tombstones is an intelligent thriller and one of Neeson’s more fascinating roles.
Stream A Walk Among the Tombstones on Netflix.
The aptly titled Non-Stop is Neeson’s “Die Hard on a plane.” Neeson stars as Bill Marks, an aging U.S. Air Marshal on a flight from New York City to London. Moments after takeoff, Marks receives a mysterious text message stating that a passenger will die every 20 minutes unless $150 million is transferred to a secure bank account. After the first death, Marks takes the threat more seriously as he tries to force the killer out of hiding.
This is the type of movie where it’s better to watch and enjoy the action instead of thinking about the plot holes. Despite the non-realistic components, Non-Stop is a worthy addition to Neeson’s B-movie resume thanks to an intriguing premise and compelling action sequences.
Stream Non-Stop on Netflix.
In Neeson’s filmography, there is life before Taken and life after Taken. Neeson had starred in action franchises before Taken, notably Star Wars and Batman. However, Neeson went from a guy in an action movie to The Guy in an action movie with the success of Taken. Neeson stars as Bryan Mills, a retired CIA officer. Mills confronts every father’s worst nightmare: his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), is taken by European sex traffickers in Paris.
Because of his knowledge of abductions, Mills determines he has 96 hours to find and rescue Kim, or she will be lost forever. With a particular set of skills, Mills heads to Europe and punches, shoots, and destroys every enemy in his path, transforming into the most powerful one-man the world has ever seen. Without the success of Taken, Neeson never becomes the iconic action star that still headlines movies in 2023.
Stream Taken on Starz.