top of page

The Next Generation of Action Stars!

new class of action stars

While A-listers will continue to be used in top action franchises, it’s been exciting to witness a new generation of action stars emerging in the last few years. Several of these rising stars have practiced martial arts since childhood, others have honed their skills on set, and some even come from martial arts legacies. Here is our list of Action Stars: The Next Generation.

Black Belt Mag Articles


Mackenyu in 'One Piece' via Netflix

Mackenyu might be the international go-to action star of the era. Which is fitting for the son of icon Sonny Chiba. Last year alone he played three major characters in live-action anime movies and series. He played Scar in “Fullmetal Alchemist: The Revenge of Scar,” Pegasus Seiya in “Knights of the Zodiac,” and Roronoa Zoro in “One Piece.”

Mackenyu, born in 1996, in Los Angeles, is the son of the versatile actor, producer, director, and martial artist Shin'ichi (Sonny) Chiba. Mackenyu gained prominence in the entertainment industry with his portrayal of Wataya Arata in the “Chihayafuru” trilogy (2016), earning him the 40th Annual Japan Academy Newcomer of the Year Award in 2017. His career soared further with notable roles like Cadet Ryoichi in the feature “Pacific Rim: Uprising” (2018) and his lead performance in the racing action film “Over Drive” (2018).

Black Belt Magazine Shop

Xolo Maridueña

Xolo Maridueña
Xolo Maridueña in 'Blue Beetle' via WARNER BROS

From “Cobrai Kai” to a DC Comic book hero, Xolo is well on his way to become this generation’s action star. After sharpening his martial arts abilities on Cobra Kai, where he debuted at the age of 16 as a promising karate champion, Maridueña (now 22) ventured into the superhero realm earlier this year with “Blue Beetle.” It showcased its youthful lead as a burgeoning action hero fully equipped to headline major films.

Mason Lee

mason lee

Mason Lee has two legacies to impress next: His father’s and Bruce Lee’s! Ang Lee found the ideal candidate for the pivotal role in his forthcoming Bruce Lee biopic close to home, selecting his own son, Mason Lee, aged 33, for what promises to be a defining portrayal of the martial arts icon. While the official announcement came only in late 2022, it appears that Mason, known for his roles in films such as “The Hangover Part II,” “Lucy, “ his father's “Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk,” and the Chinese mystery fantasy “Legend of Demon Cat,” had been aware of the opportunity for some time. Reports indicate that he dedicated the past five years to rigorous training to master Bruce Lee's distinctive martial arts style. While some may raise concerns of nepotism, producer Steven Weintraub described Mason as "the spitting image" of Bruce Lee in a recent interview.

Maxwell Jacob Friedman

Maxwell Jacob Friedman COOPER NEILL/ZUFFA LLC
Maxwell Jacob Friedman COOPER NEILL/ZUFFA LLC

It appears as if wrestling star Maxwell Jacob Friedman is hoping to follow in the footsteps of icons like Dwayne Johnson, John Cena, and Dave Bautista as he branches out into cinema. At 27, Friedman, better known as MJF, the reigning All Elite Wrestling champion renowned for his naturally villainous yet consistently captivating persona, has garnered a strong fan following as the self-proclaimed "People's Scumbag." He appears poised to follow in their footsteps, with his upcoming role opposite Zac Efron in A24's wrestling drama “The Iron Claw” suggesting a potential transition into the realm of Hollywood stardom.

Black Belt Plus

Jessica Henwick

jessica henwick
Jessica Henwick courtesy of Netflix/Marvel Studios

Jessica Henwick is popping up everywhere. While Marvel series "Iron Fist" and "The Defenders" may not have left a significant imprint on the superhero genre, they did shine a spotlight on newcomer Henwick as a formidable and impressive fighter. At 31, the British actress, who had previously appeared in "Game of Thrones" and "Star Wars" (originally auditioning for Rey), garnered praise for her role in "The Matrix Resurrections," with many considering her the standout performance. Last year, she featured in both "The Grey Man" (albeit confined to a control room) and "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery" (portraying Kate Hudson's assistant). It seems inevitable that her talent will soon lead to a breakout role that propels her into household name status.

Martial Art Drills

Andrew Koji

Andrew Koji

A true action-based actor! The sweeping martial arts saga "Warrior," originally airing on Cinemax before transitioning to Max for its third season, propelled British actor Andrew Koji, aged 35, from the realm of film stunt doubling to becoming a prominent figure in television action. Possessing both the charisma and skill to complement his exceptional fighting abilities, Koji has secured notable roles in films such as "Snake Eyes" and "Bullet Train," with an appearance slated in the upcoming action comedy "Boy Kills World." "However, it's evident that he deserves to be the focal point of his own action-packed blockbuster," remarks Singh. "One can only hope that Chad Stahelski is taking note for his forthcoming adaptation of 'Ghost of Tsushima.'"

Jun Jong-seo

Jun Jong-seo
Jun Jong-seo in 'Money Heist' via Netflix

Lee Chang-dong's Korean mystery film "Burning," which premiered at Cannes in 2018, catapulted Jong-seo into the spotlight, showcasing her immense talent from her very first audition. Recognized by The Hollywood Reporter as one of its international breakout stars of the year, Jong-seo proved the forecasts right by quickly adding notable projects to her repertoire. At 29, she expanded her portfolio with roles in the psychological thriller "The Call," the Korean adaptation of "Money Heist," and her debut English-language film, "Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon." However, it was her titular role in Netflix's 2023 action-thriller "Ballerina" that truly highlighted her prowess in action genres. Playing a revenge-driven former VIP bodyguard on a mission to eliminate a notorious sex trafficker, her portrayal as a "cold-as-ice angel of vengeance" earned widespread acclaim, with critics drawing comparisons to a "female version of John Wick." Interestingly, "Ballerina" shares its name with the Ana de Armas-led spin-off from the "John Wick" franchise.

Amber Midthunder

Amber Midthunder
Amber Midthunder in 'Prey' via Hulu/20th Century Studios

She tore it up in the “Predator” prequel, “Prey,” which was released on Hulu in late 2022. At the heart of the critically acclaimed film (which revived the dying brand) is Midthunder, aged 26, portraying a young Native American woman who not only navigates encounters with bears and outwits trappers but also demonstrates that one doesn't need to be a towering Austrian figure (or wield a machine gun) to confront the deadliest hunter in the galaxy. Since then, Midthunder has secured roles in Nicolas Cage's highly anticipated “Dream Scenario” and the forthcoming live-action TV adaptation of “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” 

bottom of page