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This piece is frequently updated as titles leave and join Netflix. *New additions are indicated with an asterisk.
Sometimes you just need to escape. You just want to watch things blow up or crash into each other, but it seems like Netflix is always trying to push a serious drama or docuseries on you. Just give me something that goes boom!
Well, we can help you with that. Here are the best choices you could make with a working Netflix subscription if you’re jonesing to see a great action movie.
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What happens when you give an action-crazed lunatic like Michael Bay the freedom of budget and running time of Netflix? This chaos, a movie that no one would call great — not even the people who made it — but that does certainly scratch an itch for B-movie insanity with an A-movie budget. The opening car chase alone almost plays like a parody of Bay’s past movies, and the film’s tongue-in-cheek nature is the best thing about it.
Ridley Scott directed this epic gangster pic that saw two of the most charismatic actors of their generation work together on their first major project (no offense, Virtuosity fans). Denzel Washington plays this loose variation on the life of Frank Lucas, a legendary criminal who revolutionized the drug trade; Russell Crowe plays the detective who brought him down. Both men are great, but this is an awesome ensemble piece with great supporting work from a dozen or so character actors.
Army of the Dead
The divisive Zack Snyder returns to the world of zombie action years after his breakthrough with a remake of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, and the result is a bit of mindless undead fun. Dave Bautista stars as the leader of a ragtag group of former soldiers who are tasked with breaking into the zombie-overrun city of Las Vegas to retrieve millions in a safe under the city.
Baahubali(The Beginning and The Conclusion)
This two-part epic Indian period piece will give you nearly six hours of huge action set-pieces, hand-to-hand combat, gravity defying feats of daring-do, and vibrant musical numbers as it follows the saga of two mighty men at war for a kingdom. One is the humble but revered Shiv, and the other is the power-mad king, Bhallaladeva. As Shiv comes into powers he never knew he had, he will challenge the ruler and try to restore just balance to the kingdom, but along the way you’ll learn about the origins of each man and how they’re connected by destiny. The Fast Saga wishes it was this extravagantly thrilling.
2010’s Skyline wasn’t exactly a film that anyone expected to get a sequel, let alone a good one. And yet this 2017 piece of lunacy is kind of an amazing B-movie, especially the final act that includes a couple of the guys from The Raid movies fighting aliens and other dudes. It’s an insane movie that mixes martial arts and an alien attack, and you kind of need to see it to believe it.
This submarine thriller made hardly a ripple (sorry) when it was released in 2014, but it’s a solid, old-fashioned action flick, featuring tense direction by Kevin Macdonald and a reliably strong lead performance from Jude Law. It’s the story of a submarine captain who is hired to search for a vessel that’s rumored to be loaded with gold. What could go wrong?
Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi masterpiece was notoriously derided when it was released but would go on to change the cinematic landscape. Harrison Ford stars as Rick Deckard in the beloved sci-fi noir, a film that changed the visual language of the genre and launched dozens of copycats. The original is still perfect, and this is the final cut edition of the film, the 2007 version that removes the voice-over, re-inserts the unicorn, and takes out the original happy ending.
If you want some non-stop, claustrophobic action stretched over two hours, BuyBust is a must watch. This Filipino film takes place almost entirely over the course of a single night in a labyrinthine neighborhood in Manila, where a team of cops have set up to ambush a drug lord — or so they think. There’s a mole in the unit, so the bad guys know they’re coming, and when the two sides collide the fed-up residents revolt against everyone bringing violence to their community. It’s paired down close quarters combat in an inescapable slum, and the hits feel so real your own body will start to hurt.
Cut Throat City
The great artist RZA (Wu-Tang forever!) directed this 2020 action heist film that’s already starting to build something of a cult following, which should grow now that it’s on Netflix. It’s an old-fashioned action flick, embedding its well-directed thrills and characters with a nice dose of social commentary too. And it’s got a hell of a cast, including Shameik Moore, T.I., Wesley Snipes, Terrence Howard, and Ethan Hawke.
Da 5 Bloods
It’s not a traditional action film, but there are enough shoot-outs to qualify for this section. What began life as an old-fashioned treasure hunt movie became something very different when Spike Lee came on board to direct, but the essence of the original riff on The Treasure of the Sierra Madre holds it all together.
Ed Zwick (Glory) co-wrote and directed this true story starring Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, and Jamie Bell. Set during the Nazi occupation of Belarus, this is the tale of the Bielski partisans, a group that saved Jews in that part of the world during WWII. Intense and unforgettable, this is a chapter of world history that’s not often taught in class.
Hot on the heels of the DIY movie that made him a star, El Mariachi, Robert Rodriguez basically remade that indie hit with a bigger budget in this 1995 action flick that stars Antonio Banderas in the title role. He’s a musician who sets out to get vengeance against the drug lord who killed his lover. It also features a breakthrough performance by Salma Hayek.
In a year when there were too many Netflix original movies every week to watch them all, one of the few true surprises was this wonderful family action film that further proves that Millie Bobby Brown is going to be a massive star. She plays the title character, the teenage sister of the famous Sherlock Holmes, who gets involved in a mystery of her own.
The plot may be overheated macho garbage, but there’s an 11-minute centerpiece sequence in this Chris Hemsworth vehicle involving a higher body count than most entire franchises that action fans simply need to see to believe. And then see it again.
Arguably Jet Li’s last great film, this 2006 Ronny Yu joint is one of the last gasps of a series of international martial arts hits that came in the wake of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. There was a time when audiences were so open to this kind of filmmaking that Fearless actually one of the ten highest grossing foreign language films of all time in the U.S. It’s a great example of Li at his most charismatic, while also understanding the transcendent beauty of a great piece of martial arts choreography.
Sure, Ridley Scott’s Best Picture winner is probably playing on cable somewhere right this minute, but now Amazon subscribers can watch one of their favorite movies whenever they want. People who love the story of Maximus really love this film. It’s an old-fashioned action drama, anchored by one of Russell Crowe’s best performances and Scott’s unimpeachable craftsmanship.
There’s a general rule about action movies that’s easy to follow. If something stars actor/stuntman/fight choreographer Iko Uwais, you should probably watch it. Co-directed by Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto, Headshot is every bit as good as the more widely famous Indonesian fight films, The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2, which are actually directed by Gareth Evans, a Welshman. Uwais stars in each of those movies, and in Headshot he plays a man suffering from amnesia whose past comes violently chasing after him. The doctor who saved him becomes a target by association, leaving Uwais’s character no choice but to take down an entire criminal syndicate to protect them both.
Critically derided when it was released with intense vitriol, Hudson Hawk has developed a very loyal cult following over the years. A live-action cartoon in a lot of ways, Michael Lehmann’s film stars Bruce Willis in the title role, ably supported by Danny Aiello, Andie MacDowell, James Coburn, and Richard E. Grant. It’s a truly quirky movie, the kind of flick that felt like a cult classic in the making from the minute it came out.
In a Valley of Violence
Ti West (The House of the Devil) wrote and directed this tight little Western that barely got released in theaters, so most Netflix subscribers probably haven’t seen it. Ethan Hawke stars in this wicked Western as a man who crosses paths with a sociopathic Marshal, played by John Travolta, and the great supporting cast includes Taissa Farmiga, Karen Gillan, James Ransone, and Toby Huss.
In the Line of Fire
The great Wolfgang Petersen directed one of Clint Eastwood’s best films of the ‘90s in this blockbuster hit about a Secret Service agent who matches wits with a former CIA agent (played by John Malkovich) who is trying to assassinate the President of the United States. The tight thriller also stars Dylan McDermott, Gary Cole, and John Mahoney. It was such a hit that it landed three Oscar nominations, including the last one for Malkovich.
Ip Man Trilogy
Donnie Yen is a sacred name in the martial arts branch of cinema appreciation, and you can see why with three Ip Man films now available on Netflix. They tell the semi-true story of Ip Man, a legendary leader in the world of martial arts, who trained Bruce Lee. These are not traditional biopics or martial arts movies, working as a hybrid of period piece and action. 2018’s Master Z: Ip Man Legacy isn’t there yet, but hopefully soon.
Listen, any crazy B-movie with Nicolas Cage in the cast is probably going to make this list just as a guilty pleasure. And this one has Frank Grillo, Juju Chan, and Tony Jaa too. It’s not what most critics would call “good,” but it’s got just enough of that Cage energy to give his fans what they need.
Last Action Hero
John McTiernan directed this controversial 1993 blockbuster that was largely panned at the time but has become something of a cult hit in the three decades since its release. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a famous action film star in a series of films within the films who magically gets transported to the real world. The satire stuff doesn’t always work, but it’s a nice time capsule for when Ah-nuld was the King of the action universe.
The Last Boy Scout
Any Tony Scott movie is going to make this list. The late director made this 1991 action flick with the unforgettable opening scene in which a running back shoots players on the field at a football game. Trying to figure out exactly what happened brings in a P.I. played by Bruce Willis and a disgraced quarterback played by Damon Wayans. It’s goofy and a bit dated, but also a lot of fun at times.
Matthew Vaughn’s directorial debut is the film that really proved to people that Daniel Craig was smooth enough to be James Bond. Before he was 007, he was a character known only as XXXX in Layer Cake, the story of a London criminal who is trying to get out of the drug business and having great difficulty doing so. The low-budget flick was a massive hit on the arthouse circuit because it’s clever and oh-so-stylish.
Rian Johnson’s stellar 2012 sci-fi/action film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, and Bruce Willis. JGL plays a contract killer who is also a looper, someone who goes back in time to complete his hits. When he a victim, played by Willis, is sent back in time to be killed by Gordon-Levitt, he discovers that he’s been asked to close the loop on himself. Daring and thrilling, it’s the kind of adult action film one wishes was made more often.
One of Steven Spielberg’s best modern movies is his adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story about a future in which crime can be predicted before it happens. Tom Cruise stars as a man who is convicted of a crime he has no intent of committing in a fantastic vision of a future in which the systems designed to stop crime have been corrupted.
The Night Comes For Us
Oh, look! It’s Iko Uwais again! But if for some reason you’re only going to watch one of his movies — instead of all of them, like we told you — let it be The Night Comes For Us. This time, though, Uwais is playing the heel to Joe Taslim’s hero. To be clear, both of them are professional killers. Taslim’s Ito is just the one who has a crisis of conscience, and when Ito tries to leave his life of crime behind he draws the fury of the entire criminal organization he betrayed. Headshot director Timo Tjahanto helms this one on his own, and it is one of the best fighting movies ever made. Relentless and brutal and at times even tender, The Night Comes For Us is virtuoso violence that makes even the most intense Chad Stahelski-action sequence feel tame. Maybe it’s because safety regulations are just different in Indonesia, but America could literally never.
The Old Guard
Charlize Theron’s Andy initially seems like another in her long line of sleek action heroes: Steely, determined and not to be trifled with. But while Andy bears surface similarities to those past roles, in Gina Prince-Bythewood’s adaptation of the Greg Rucka comic book Theron gets to be something much more fascination: A tormented god-like creature, an immortal who has spent centuries trying to save humanity but is beginning to wonder whether it was worth all the trouble. Theron draws you in, and keeps you hooked.
Olympus Has Fallen
Sadly, Netflix does not have Gerard Butler’s entire Mike Banning trilogy available, but it does have the first of his Fallen series. Butler plays a former top secret service agent who used to lead the President’s protection detail, but has since been reassigned to a post at the Treasury. (Downgrade!) But Banning is called to the highest level of service once again after terrorists overtake the White House with President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) inside. At first there are multiple American agents on hand to fight back, but soon it’s up to Banning alone to protect the Commander in Chief — as only Gerard Butler can!
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Once Upon a Time in Mexico
The final part of what is sometimes referred to as Robert Rodriguez’s “Mexico Trilogy,” this action blockbuster landed in theaters in 2003, taking everything from Desperado and turning it up to 11. Banderas returns as El Mariachi, recruited by a CIA agent (Johnny Depp) to kill a corrupt general. Rodriguez has said he wanted this to be The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of his trilogy, and fans responded, allowing it to make almost $100 million.
Rod Lurie’s latest turned around quickly from a limited theatrical and PVOD run in July to hitting Netflix in October, where it should do very, very well. It’s the story of the Battle of Kamdesh, one of the most brutal in the Afghanistan War, as the Taliban assaulted a poorly-placed base in the middle of a valley. Scott Eastwood, Orlando Bloom, and particularly Caleb Landry Jones are all good, but this is one of those technically impressive war films most of all, putting people in the middle of the nightmare of battle.
This felt like an attempt to pull Jason Statham from pure action like the Transporter films into something more dramatic, and it’s interesting on that level — even if it’s not a great movie. Adapted from the series by Donald Westlake, Statham plays a thief who is double-crossed by his crew, and he sets out for revenge. Jennifer Lopez co-stars.
This South Korean film centers on a man whose entirely family was murdered, and who sets out for vengeance by getting himself sent to the prison island where their killers — and a whole lot of other killers — are being kept in isolation.
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Based on Don Winslow’s novel of the same name, Savages is a 2012 Oliver Stone film that features the director’s trademark excess, but it fits the story here better than some of his other modern efforts. This tale of low-level weed dealers who get caught up in something much bigger and more dangerous than they’re prepared for stars Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Aaron Johnson, Benicio del Toro, Salma Hayek, and John Travolta.
While their overall catalog has been diminishing, it’s certainly true that Netflix has been adding more projects from around the world, often quietly. Take this French thriller that landed on the service in March with almost no fanfare, brought to people’s attention through critics (like our own Bilge Ebiri). Olga Kurylenko stars in a film that Ebiri calls “John Wick on the Riviera.” Who doesn’t want to see that?
This stunning Chinese period drama comes from House of Flying Daggers director Zhang Yimou, and it concerns two kingdoms on the brink of conflict. When the petty ruler of Pei agrees to ship his sister off as a concubine to the mighty king of Yang, Pei’s commander, Ziyu, descents, but Ziyu has a secret (we won’t tell you!), and when it comes down to him battling Yang’s warrior ruler to protect Qingping from becoming a concubine and to take back control of the prized city Jingzhou, the fate of both kingdoms is thrown into upheaval. Shadow is a wuxia work of art.
J.D. Dillard co-wrote and directed this very unusual superhero movie about an average kid in Los Angeles who learns he may not be all that average. Jacob Latimore plays a street magician who gets caught up in a bad situation with a drug lord played by Dule Hill. It subverts expectations of the hero genre in clever ways.
Snakes on a Plane
Way back in 2006 before Twitter and TikTok were daily influences, this movie became one of the first honest viral sensations, getting people excited for a silly movie that no one had even seen. Samuel L. Jackson stars in the story of a passenger plane that becomes a flying nightmare after snakes are released on it to kill a witness. Is it good? Nah. Is it dumb fun on Netflix on a weeknight when you need a break from reality? You bet.
Bong Joon-ho may have won the Oscar for Parasite, but he had a hit before that in his 2013 sci-fi action flick starring Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, and John Hurt. It’s a brilliant allegory for society as a train has been divided into classes per car, and the peasants form a revolt. Visually striking and narratively ambitious, Snowpiercer is a film that only seems to grow in esteem with each passing year, especially now that Bong is a household name.
After making his name on adult-driven action films, Robert Rodriguez turned his skill set to something for the whole family with this 2001 hit about a family of super spies that was so popular that it led to three sequels and even an animated reboot series in 2018. Funny and clever, Spy Kids doesn’t talk down to its audience, providing just enough PG-rated thrills for everyone.
Roland Emmerich’s 1994 sci-fi action film with Kurt Russell and James Spader doesn’t get enough credit for launching a massive franchise that led to multiple TV series, a web series, books, video games, comic books, and even direct-to-DVD movies. It may not be as popular as it once was, but it’s worth revisiting the original movie that started such a worldwide phenomenon.
Consider this the guiltiest of the guilty pleasures on this list, although Sucker Punch is starting to be reclaimed by an audience who admire its visual ambition. Even they would probably admit it’s not a traditionally “good” movie, but just turn your brain off and experience this goofy action flick on its own terms and you might be surprised.
Paul Verhoeven directed this 1990 blockbuster that unleashed Arnold Schwarzenegger on a short story by Philip K. Dick called “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.” Ah-nuld plays a construction worker who becomes involved in a crazy power struggle on Mars…or does he? Verhoeven’s blend of social commentary and undeniable craft with action have allowed this to hold up better than most thirty-year-old action movies.
J.C. Chandor’s latest is a solid thriller with a phenomenal ensemble. Oscar Isaac leads a group of soldiers into an illegal job to rip off a notorious drug lord and, well, things don’t go as planned. Not only is everyone here excellent — especially, Ben Affleck, doing his best work since Gone Girl — but it’s the kind of tight action movie that Hollywood doesn’t really make that often anymore. It’s a lean, mean fighting machine.
This is kind of like a southeast Asian action all star team up. Thai martial arts icon Tony Jaa, Man of Tai Chi star Tiger Chen, and… wait for it… Indonesian phenom Iko Uwais team up to take down a group of mercenaries hired to kill a do-gooder billionaire heiress. Jaa, Chen, and Uwais each have their reasons for wanting to mess up the business of these bastard hitmen, and they’re all personal.
Universal Soldier: The Return
Remember when Jean-Claude Van Damme was on the top of the action world? Well, to be fair, this 1999 film came out long after JCVD’s peak, but it does feature an old-fashioned style of sci-fi/action that hints at why he used to be such a star. Technically, this is the fourth film in the Universal Soldier series after two made-for-TV movies, and it’s the last one released in theaters.
After the surprising turn that Liam Neeson took to become one of the world’s biggest action stars, he produced a great number of silly movies, including this guilty pleasure from his regular collaborator Jaume Collet-Serra (who also worked with Neeson on Non-Stop, Run All Night, and The Commuter). In a classic Hitchcockian set-up, Neeson plays a professor who wakes up after a four-day coma and sets out to reclaim what appears to be his stolen identity.
The Wandering Earth
One of the biggest movies of the decade is a Chinese film that most people in the United States haven’t even seen. Making almost $700 million worldwide, this is the kind of blockbuster that the MCU sort of pushed out — a crazy, end-of-the-world disaster movie with a Roland Emmerich aesthetic and ridiculous special effects. It’s almost overwhelming in its onslaught of crazy, but sometimes you just want to see things go boom on a massive scale.
A more turned down affair than some of the bone shattering Indonesian films on this list and much more stark than the spectacle of an Indian musical action epic, Wheelman stars American knockaround workhorse Frank Grillo as a getaway driver who is double crossed during a robbery gone awry. With his daughter being threatened, Grillo’s character has to find out as fast as possible who betrayed him while staying in constant motion and getting in scrapes around the city of L.A.
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