10 Best Action Heroes Of The 1950s


  • Action stars of the 1950s juggled heroism with romantic expectations, delivering thrilling performances in versatile genres.
  • Robert Taylor, Stewart Granger, and Errol Flynn were iconic 1950s action stars with distinct contributions to the Hollywood landscape.
  • From swashbucklers to war dramas, these action heroes charmed audiences with their talents, leaving lasting legacies in film history.



The action movie landscape of the 1950s was much different from what has dominated the industry in recent years, but that did not stop this era from producing some of the greatest action stars ever. Action movies of this era consisted of genres like adventure films, epic swashbucklers, and, of course, Western movies. Out of this came many fantastic stars who dominated the box office, delivered several feature films a year, and have often remained household names among film enthusiasts to this very day.

The biggest action movie stars of the 1950s had to juggle incredible feats of heroism with the romantic expectations of a leading man as the narratives delivered high-stakes thrills, romantic subplots, and different genre tropes and cliches. This was the era of the star-driven Hollywood system, and becoming an action hero meant being versatile and able to deliver consistently great performances on cue. The 1950s was a time in film history before franchises and sequels dominated the industry, and star recognition was one of the primary ways audiences were drawn to checking out a new release.

10 Robert Taylor

August 5, 1911 – June 8, 1969

Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor smiling together in Waterloo Bridge.

The American actor Robert Taylor was among the most popular film stars of the 1950s, and his action-hero status was elevated by his experiences in the United States Naval Air Forces during World War II. Taylor built up his reputation as a film star throughout the 1930s and 1940s in dramas, such as his breakout role in Magnificent Obsession, and war movies like Baatan. With an already impressive filmography behind him, Taylor spent much of the 1950s focused on adventure and Western movies.

With an ability to excel in comedies like the Western Many Rivers to Cross, where he co-starred with Eleonor Parker, to more subversive works like The Law and Jake Wade, Taylor had a powerful presence as an action star. A consistent hard worker, Taylor starred in several movies per year throughout much of the 1950s in works like The Adventures of Quentin Durward and D-Day the Sixth of June. Taylor continued working prolifically into the 1960s before he sadly died of lung cancer in 1969.

9 Stewart Granger

6 May 1913 – 16 August 1993

Stewart Granger in Green Fire (1954)

Stewart Granger was a popular British leading man primarily associated with heroic and romantic roles that set him apart as one of the biggest action heroes of the 1950s. After building up a name for himself in Gainsborough melodramas throughout the 1940s, Granger transitioned into Hollywood movies in the 1950s, beginning with the action comedy Solider Three in 1951. Granger quickly started to gain parts that other heroes like Cary Grant and Errol Flynn were in the running for and soon became a major name in the American film landscape.

With a vast and varied filmography that included swashbuckler adventures like Scaramouche or biblical epics such as Salome, Granger was not afraid of tackling epic and difficult roles. A major success came in 1953 with the adventure film All the Brothers Were Valiant, in which Granger starred opposite fellow action hero Robert Taylor. While Granger’s career tapered off throughout the 1960s and he had retired by the 1970s, he still left his mark on action movie history.

8 Errol Flynn

20 June 1909 – 14 October 1959

Errol Flynn in Objective Burma

As one of the most significant names of the Golden Age of Hollywood, Errol Flynn was an Australian star whose movies were beloved by audiences worldwide. Often associated with swashbuckler roles and his frequent co-star Olivia de Havilland, Flynn’s womanizing lifestyle and hedonist personal life meant his behind-the-scenes controversies were often as notable as his acting. Flynn first started to achieve recognition in the 1930s and was a notable name right up until his death in 1959.

Flynn’s reputation as a romantic leading man was tarnished during the 1940s when he was charged with two counts of statutory rape (via HR), although the trial was acquitted, this led to him relocating to Europe, where he continued to star in swashbuckler and adventure films throughout the 1950s. Flynn returned to Hollywood movies in 1957 and soon gained a major role in the Hemingway adaptation The Sun Also Rises. With a career beset by controversy, Flynn would not be the last action star whose personal life cast a dark shadow over his acting achievements.

7 Robert Mitchum

August 6, 1917 – July 1, 1997

Robert Mitchum driving a car in Cape Fear

Unlike most action heroes of the 1950s, Robert Mitchum has been mostly associated with antihero roles with much darker undertones, which he has portrayed in several acclaimed film noirs. While Mitchum effectively played an outright villain as a serial killer in the undisputed classic The Night of the Hunter, this was far from his only achievement, as he worked consistently throughout the 1950s. With a versatility that set him apart from many other actors of this era, Mitchum always brought something unique to every role he pursued.

The Western adventure musical River of No Return, where Mitchum co-starred with none other than Marilyn Monroe, was a prime example of his 1950s action-hero credentials. This, along with other Westerns like Bandido, the John Huston war drama Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, and the crime film he co-wrote, Thunder Road, showcased Mitchum as a significant talent. With a reputation as one of the great actors of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Mitchum effectively lost himself in his roles and captured countless moods and feelings.

robert mitchum as powell looking at camera in Night of the Hunter
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6 Charlton Heston

October 4, 1923 – April 5, 2008

Charlton Heston as Ben Hur in Ben Hur 1959

Although Charlton Heston remained a significant figure right into the 21st century, it was during the 1950s that he first made a name for himself as a true action hero. From getting his start in crime noirs like Dark City or notable Westerns such as The Savage, Heston had serious star power that saw him gain increasingly large roles throughout the 1950s. Heston’s biggest break came with his role as Moses in The Ten Commandments, a vast biblical epic that took home the Best Picture Oscar and signaled Heston as a true star.

Heston would use this acclaimed role as a jumping-off point to even bigger and better things when he gained the title role in the 1957 classic religious epic Ben-Her. More so than almost any other actor, Heston’s star continued to rise throughout the 1950s, culminating in him being one of Hollywood’s biggest names. This led to later roles in the 1960s, such as in The Planet of the Apes, and Heston continued to maintain his notoriety throughout the decades as he worked with everyone from Michael Bay to James Cameron.

5 Burt Lancaster

November 2, 1913 – October 20, 1994

Burt Lancaster

As a four-time Academy Award nominee, Burt Lancaster first gained recognition playing touch guys with tender hearts and consistently ranked among the greatest of Hollywood’s leading men. Having served in World War II, Lancaster truly lived his action-hero reputation and achieved mega-success with the 1953 smash hit From Here to Eternity, which won eight out of its 11 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. An important figure throughout the 1950s, Lancaster’s filmography was vast and varied.

Notable Lancaster roles included turns opposite some of the biggest names of that era, such as in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral with Kirk Douglas and in the WWII submarine drama Run Silent, Run Deep opposite Clark Gable. Lancaster was a star who did not wait around for success to find him; he actively pursued his own roles with the production company Hecht-Hill-Lancaster, which he co-founded with his agent, Harold Hecht, and producer James Hill. Lancaster continued his string of success into the 1960s with many more acclaimed roles.

4 Steve Reeves

January 21, 1926 – May 1, 2000

Steve Reeves as Hercules bending a metal bar as woman watches

Most of the action heroes of the 1950s did not have the professional skills to back up their bombastic and strongman roles, although this definitely cannot be said about bodybuilder-turned-actor Steve Reeves. As Mr. American of 1947, Mr. World of 1948, and Mr. Universe of 1950, Reeves was primed for Hollywood success in the 1950s. With the physique to play truly heroic roles, Reeves portrayed characters such as Hercules, Goliath, and Sandokan throughout the 1950s.

As a sword-and-sandals film star, Reeves was primarily known for starring in Hercules, Pietro Francisci’s Italian low-budget film, and its sequel, Hercules Unchained. This opened the door for Reeves to subsequently star in other swords-and-sandal features like Goliath and the Barbarians and Sign of the Gladiator. A true strongman star, Reeves’s acting career was relatively short-lived but highly influential, as he acted as a precursor to later bodybuilders turned action stars such as Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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3 Randolph Scott

January 23, 1898 – March 2, 1987

Still form The Walking Hills with Randolph Scott 1949

Randolph Scott was known as one of Hollywood’s most popular Western stars and among the biggest box office draws of the 1950s. With a tall and muscular appearance, a signature Southern drawl, and versatility that he utilized in action, comedy, drama, fantasy, musicals, and war movies, just to name a few, Randolph was truly a jack of all trades in Hollywood. As a First World War veteran who entertained the troops in the Second World War, Scott had more than earned his action hero credentials by the time the 1950s rolled around.

From acclaimed Westerns like Seven Men from Now opposite Lee Marvin to epic movies set around the Battle of Big Little Horn like 7th Cavalry, Scott always gave his all to his performances. With several releases per year, including five films in 1951 alone, Scott was a prolific actor who audiences consistently turned out to see. A movie star through and through, Scott was a significant action hero for the 1950s.

2 Kirk Douglas

December 9, 1916 – February 5, 2020

A closeup of a shirtless Kirk Douglas with one chainmail covered arm preparing to fight in Spartacus

After making his film debut in 1946 with the fascinating feature The Stranger Love of Martha Ivers, Kirk Dougal quickly became one of the biggest stars of the 1950s as he appeared in action, adventure, war, and Westerns. Douglas was among the greatest stars of classic Hollywood cinema, whose name was readily associated with iconic films throughout his entire life before his death at the grand old age of 103 in 2020. While Douglas maintained his success throughout the decades, the 1950s were truly when his star shone the brightest.

This decade included the Disney adventure 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Stanley Kubrick’s war classic Paths of Glory, and Westerns such as The Gunfight at the OK Corral. The best Kirk Douglas movies of the 1950s offered a unique insight into why he remained such an eternal figure in Hollywood throughout his lifetime. With a reputation that has truly stood the test of time, it’s clear that Douglas’ talent was hereditary, and his legacy has been continued by his son, Michael Douglas, who has had an equally impressive career.

1 John Wayne

May 26, 1907 – June 11, 1979

John Wayne close-up from a poster for The Searchers

When it came to action stars in the 1950s, one man stood above the rest in terms of his reputation as a true icon of popular culture, and that was John Wayne. With a reputation as one of the greatest war and Western actors who ever lived, Wayne made a name for himself in the silent era of the 1920s and, by the 1950s, was already an elder statesman and an inspiration for up-and-coming action heroes. However, this did not mean he slowed down, as some of Wayne’s best roles came during the 1950s.

Although Wayne had already starred in several John Ford movies in previous decades, their greatest collaboration came with The Searchers in 1957, which has consistently ranked among the greatest films of all time. With acclaimed war movies like The Wings of Eagles, the adventure Legend of the Lost, and the Howard Hawks classic Rio Bravo, Wayne packed a lot of action into the 1950s. There’s a reason that John Wayne’s name immediately comes to mind when thinking of action heroes, and that’s because he was truly one of the greatest of them all.

Source: HR

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