HBO Max has one of the deepest movie catalogues in the streaming world, thanks in large part to its extensive classic-film section through TCM. However, sometimes you’re not in the mood for classic cinema. Sometimes you want to see things blow up, the good guys to beat the bad guys, and stunt work to dominate the dialogue. HBO Max can do that too! It’s really the Swiss Army knife of streaming services. So sit down, fire up one of the 40 movies below, and enjoy the ride.
Before he made Halloween and The Thing, John Carpenter directed one of the best action movies of the ‘70s in this wildly influential low-budget thriller. Austin Stoker plays a cop who is stuck in a precinct when it’s attacked by a criminal gang. Redefining the classic action set-up of “good guys inside, bad guys outside,” Carpenter’s film influenced generations of genre filmmakers to come.
James Wan directed one of the most playfully enjoyable movies in the DCEU, giving Jason Momoa’s title character his own adventure under the waves. The plot has something to do with stopping Aquaman’s half-brother from doing some damage to the surface world, but it’s really most enjoyed as a feast for the eyes, a CGI extravaganza by an accomplished filmmaker that smartly doesn’t take itself as seriously as some other DC movies.
The tragic death of Brandon Lee overshadowed the legacy of this 1994 adaptation of the comic book of the same name. While it undeniably adds poignancy to the entire affair, there’s more to this clever, well-made movie than morbid fascination. One wishes that there were still comic book movies out there like this one, flicks willing to go dark to appeal to adults as much as teenagers.
Christopher Nolan’s landmark superhero sequel is over a decade old now and its influence shows no signs of diminishing. If anything, the story of the Batman, the Joker, and Two-Face feels more relevant today than it did when it was released. Most of all, the movie’s breakneck momentum and unforgettable performance from Heath Ledger haven’t aged a day. The entire trilogy, including Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises, are currently on HBO Max.
The great John Carpenter turned from making slasher history with Halloween to delivering a pair of sci-fi masterpieces with his buddy Kurt Russell on The Thing and Escape from New York. Here, Russell gives one of his most iconic performances as Snake Plissken, a cynical anti-hero who is dropped into the maximum-security prison that Manhattan has become after the President is kidnapped and taken there.
Criterion released an amazing boxed set of Toho Godzilla films last year to commemorate spine No. 1,000 in its collection. Several films from that set have made the jump to HBO Max, including the essential original, Godzilla Raids Again, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, Godzilla vs. Megalon, and Godzilla, King of the Monsters. It’s time for a marathon!
The movie that’s being heralded as a return for the American box office is also available on HBO Max for a month — watch it while you can! Adam Wingard (The Guest) directs this ultimate team-up between titans and he brings a playful glee to the entire project. It’s a B-movie on a A-budget, consistently ridiculous but also nonstop fun.
Steven Soderbergh directs this razor-sharp, tight action thriller starring Gina Carano as a black ops agent who is sold out by everyone around her … and so she kicks some ass. Carano may not be Oscar-worthy, but she did most of her own stunts and really sells the physical presence of the role in ways that other actresses would have totally missed. And the supporting cast her is phenomenal, including Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Bill Paxton, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas, and Michael Douglas.
At the peak of the international obsession with wuxia after the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the masterful Zhang Yimou directed this epic about the assassination attempt on the life of the King of Qin in 227 BC. At the time, it became one of the highest-grossing foreign language films ever, thanks in large part to the international love for star Jet Li.
The second part of Edgar Wright’s masterful Cornetto Trilogy is this great 2007 satire of action films that’s also a damn good action in its own right. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost star as a pair of average police officers in a West Country village who stumble onto a legitimate major case. It’s brilliant, funny, and incredibly rewatchable.
Fans of Zack Snyder essentially pressured Warner Bros. into giving their favorite director the freedom and a budget to go back and cut 2017’s Justice League into something closer to the vision he had in his head before Joss Whedon took over the project. The result is an undeniably ambitious effort that plays better than the theatrical version (while not quite fixing all of its problems). If you’ve got four hours on your hands and appetite for deep superhero mythology, you’ve found your project for the day.
HBO Max has the most impressive collection of monster movies anywhere, thanks in large part to owning the Criterion collection’s remasters of the Godzilla flicks, but they also have a bunch of modern giant creature movies too, including this 2017 Jordan Vogt-Roberts action movie with an amazing cast. Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, and John C. Reilly star in the second film in Legendary’s MonsterVerse relaunch (after 2014’s Godzilla), and there will be a new film called Godzilla vs. Kong on HBO Max later in 2021 (unless plans change with HBO Max’s new release strategy).
If you’re digging into HBO Max’s back catalogue, you’ve probably seen Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. Ever wondered what inspired some of that film’s more notable set pieces, especially the snowy battle with Lucy Liu? Look no further than 1973’s Lady Snowblood and 1974’s Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance, both available on HBO Max. It’s kind of amazing that films like this, which used to be the exclusive property of midnight shows at small art theaters, will now play in houses and on tablets around the world.
In a better timeline, this 1996 action flick from Renny Harlin started a franchise. Geena Davis plays a woman with amnesia who has started a new life when her old one descends upon her, including Samuel L. Jackson, and she learns she has a very special set of skills. It’s a fun, smart, engaging action-thriller that works from beginning to end.
The Lord of the Rings Franchise
Peter Jackson shook the movie world with his trilogy based on the beloved fantasy novels by J.R.R. Tolkien, and all three of the original films (plus the lesser Hobbit ones) are on HBO Max for your marathoning needs. HBO Max is reportedly waiting to add 4K streaming until later this year. These will look incredible then. Let’s hope they’re still on the service.
One of the best action films of all time has rarely been on streaming services but it currently sits right there on HBO Max. No one knew what would result in George Miller returning to the world of Max Rockatansky in 2015, but the master filmmaker delivered one of the most acclaimed movies of the decade. It’s a flat-out masterpiece.
Mad Max was fun, and it helped put both Mel Gibson and George Miller on the map, but it was the 1981 sequel, often just called The Road Warrior that blew the roof off. With some of the best car sequences of all time, this was a game-changer, a film that felt completely fresh and new, while also paying homage to classic tropes of the Western.
One of the biggest movie stories of the pandemic was the announcement that Matrix: Resurrections, the reboot of the action franchise starring Keanu Reeves, would premiere on HBO Max the same day it launched in theaters. As if to prepare people for that exciting day, the company has returned the original trilogy to their streaming service. Do your research and count the days till Neo’s return.
Martin Brest directed one of the best ’80s buddy comedies in this gem of a movie that paired Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin. The Oscar winner plays a bounty hunter assigned to bring back Grodin’s embezzling accountant, who stole money from the Chicago mob. Easier said than done. Grodin and De Niro have perfect comic chemistry.
Whether one considers it a guilty pleasure or a legitimately great action movie, everyone kind of likes Point Break. It’s a really hard movie to dislike, in no small part due to the charisma of stars Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves, who plays an undercover FBI agent trying to break up a ring of surfing bank robbers. Kathryn Bigelow is one of our best action directors even if this one is a bit cheesier than her best work.
The film that made Jackie Chan into an international star, this 1985 action flick still slays 35 years later. It’s most memorable for its stunt work, and its fearless lead who pulls it all off without wires or stand-ins. Police Story contains some of the best action sequences of Chan’s career. If you only know him from his later hits, go back to where it all began.
Ridley Scott returned to the world of Alien with this divisive prequel to the saga of Ripley and the iconic H.R. Giger creatures from his landmark original. It’s about a crew on a spaceship who find artifacts of Earth cultures on another planet and ultimately leads to a connection with the Alien mythology, although it also stands as its own gorgeous film. Say what you will about the storytelling, Scott is one of our best craftsmen ever.
Movies based on video games are generally awful, but there’s something undeniably fun about this ridiculous Dwayne Johnson flick from 2018, one that would fit perfectly with all the Godzilla and Kong movies also on HBO Max. Johnson plays a primatologist who has to face three giant mutated animals who are attacking Chicago, including one that he trained named George. Turn you brain off and enjoy the massive fun.
Steven Spielberg adapted Ernest Cline’s hit book in this 2018 blockbuster that divided audiences. Set in 2045 (which feels pretty soon, tbh), this is a vision of the future in which people use virtual reality to escape the real world. Tye Sheridan plays Wade Watts, one of the best players in a massive game that could give him control of the company that runs the world. Filled with pop culture and nostalgia, it’s a fun ride.
The Seven Samurai
They don’t get more classic than the Akira Kurosawa classic that inspired generations of action filmmakers. Co-written, directed, and edited by one of the best filmmakers of all time, it’s the story of seven ronin who are hired by farmers to fight the bandits ruining their village. It’s a formative text for the action genre, and quite simply one of the best movies ever made.
The typically dour DC Cinematic Universe got a much-needed injection of levity in this 2019 superhero movie that kind of plays like “Big meets Superman.” A kid named Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is chosen by an ancient wizard to become an adult superhero (Zachary Levi) in a film that keeps topping itself with spectacle until a fantastic final sequence that really ties it all together. It’s one of the fun HBO Max action movies that can be watched with the kids too.
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 HBO Max on a weeknight when you can’t leave the house? You bet.
Jan de Bont directed one of the best movies of the ‘90s and gave dozens of imitators a template when he released this simple-but-fantastic flick. In fact, its simplicity is one of its charms. A bus is equipped with a bomb that will explode if it drops below 50 miles per hour, and Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock are the only people that can stop it. (The sequel is also on HBO Max if you believe in torturing yourself.)
More Tony Scott! One of the action director’s best films is this 2001 thriller that matched handsome movie-star icons of different generations in Robert Redford and Brad Pitt. The younger actor plays an asset arrested by the People’s Liberation Army and set for execution unless Redford’s case officer can save the day. Of course, there’s more going on than meets the eye in this clever espionage flick that seems overdue for a re-appreciation.
Michael Mann’s 1981 crime flick is one of the best directorial debuts of the era, a pronouncement of a major talent and a film that still feels fresh and new. James Caan is fantastic as a safecracker who is trying to leave his life behind. Mann’s refined visual style was there from the very beginning and the score by Tangerine Dream is unforgettable.
Arguably the best film about the Gulf War was written and directed by David O. Russell long before he became an Oscar darling. This is the story of four American soldiers — George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, and Spike Jonze — who attempt to steal some gold during the chaotic period after the end of the Gulf War in 1991. Darkly humorous and insightful, it’s a daring, riveting piece of work.
Disaster movies rule! Back in the ‘70s, a producer named Irwin Allen had a wonderful habit of shelling out suitcases of cash to get together as many stars as possible and then make their lives hell. One of his best star-studded disaster flicks is this 1974 flick starring Paul Newman and Steve McQueen. It’s kind of the ultimate disaster movie and a wonderful B-movie with an A-cast.
Denzel Washington won his second Oscar for a role that would help define his onscreen persona in an Antoine Fuqua flick that is somehow already two decades old. Washington plays Alonzo Harris, a corrupt LAPD cop who is accompanied by a new partner, played by Ethan Hawke. More thriller than traditional action, it’s still an intense, unforgettable experience and a reminder of how much Washington can be a force of nature when he’s allowed to be.
At first, the Coen brothers didn’t seem a logical fit for a remake of a beloved John Wayne Western, but they really made this multiple Oscar nominee their own. One of the ways they did that was through directing a fantastic ensemble, led by Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, and Matt Damon. And, of course, their undeniable craftsmanship.
Steven Seagal’s biggest film was this massive 1992 blockbuster, a flick so big that it produced a sequel that’s also on HBO Max. The stoic martial arts star plays an ex-Navy SEAL who has become a chef on U.S. Navy battleship when it’s taken over by terrorists. Such a critical and financial hit, this remains (and likely will remain) Seagal’s most definitive action flick. (And the sequel ain’t half-bad either.)
The 2020 movie was kind of dumped in theaters, but it’s already developing something of a following on VOD and now HBO Max. Kristen Stewart stars as a worker on an underwater drilling facility who discovers something ancient under the water. Half disaster movie and half monster movie, it’s a lot of fun.
V For Vendetta
The 2005 action thriller took on new life in 2020 when people started referencing its issues of social unrest during a pandemic. In this vision of the future from the Alan Moore and David Lloyd graphic novel, an anarchist named V (Hugo Weaving) teams with a woman named Evey (Natalie Portman) to inspire the world to rise up. It was underrated when it came out and plays with even more urgency 16 years later.
There may be a few too many Westerns on this list, but Warner Brothers produced some of the best the genre ever saw, including the 1969 Sam Peckinpah entry that redefined movie violence. The ensemble epic was controversial because of a level of carnage that audiences hadn’t really seen at the time. Peckinpah pulled back the curtain on the artifice of the Western, revealing it for the blood-soaked truth.
The news that Wonder Woman 1984 will drop on HBO Max on Christmas Day means it’s time for a revisit! Go back and check out the phenomenal 2017 Patty Jenkins original, the best non-Nolan film in the modern DC Universe. Gal Gadot stars in the title role and really anchors it as an old-fashioned adventure film, one that owes as much to serial action flicks of the ’40s and ’50s as it does to movies with Batman and Superman.
The entire X-Universe was essentially rebooted in this great 2011 superhero film, one that turned the series from the somber tone of the ’00s flicks to something more playful and fun. James McAvoy took on Professor X and Michael Fassbender stepped into the metal boots of Magneto for this smart prequel with style to spare. It’s held up well as one of the better superhero movies of the 2010s.