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The 40 Best Action Movies on HBO Max

Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock in <em>Speed</em>
Speed. Photo: 20th Century Fox
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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.

Assault on Precinct 13

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.

Aquaman

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.

*Bad Boys

When Bad Boys was released in 1995, no one involved was anywhere near as big as they would become, including stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, and director Michael Bay. The movie is incredibly rewatchable, and the love for this series is still strong, as proven by the massive success of Bad Boys for Life, released just before the pandemic in 2020.

*Black Hawk Down

Ridley Scott directed the 2001 Hollywood version of Mark Bowden’s nonfiction book of the same name, which tells the story of a 1993 incident in Mogadishu that became known around the world. Members of the U.S. Military (including Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Eric Bana, and Tom Hardy) are pinned down in the city as they try to capture a faction leader. Black Hawk Down is a technical marvel, winning Oscars for Best Editing and Sound Mixing.

Black Rain

The great Ridley Scott directed Michael Douglas in a story of two NYPD officers who end up getting sucked into the Japanese criminal underworld after they arrest a prominent member of the Yakuza. Despite mixed reviews at the time, Scott’s craftsmanship has allowed for a reappraisal of this gorgeously filmed movie, shot by the great Jan de Bont. It also has an excellent Hans Zimmer score.

Collateral

Michael Mann directed Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx to two of the best performances of their career in this 2004 thriller that has only gotten more impressive since it was released. Cruise plays against type as a hitman who contracts Foxx’s cab driver as he goes on a killing spree. Smart and beautifully shot, this is a great movie.

The Dark Knight trilogy

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 Day After Tomorrow

Roland Emmerich’s 2004 disaster film gets a little more terrifyingly realistic with each climate change revelation, but it’s still just ridiculous enough to be called escapism. Cheesy as hell, it’s really Emmerich’s nod to ‘70s disaster flicks like The Towering Inferno or The Poseidon Adventure, films that gather gigantic casts together to face the unimaginable. It may not be great, but it sure is fun.

*A Fistful of Dollars

A Western that helped to redefine what that genre was capable of, 1964’s A Fistful of Dollars is the first in a trilogy of films starring Clint Eastwood and directed by Sergio Leone (it’s followed by For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly). Shot in Spain, this is a formative Spaghetti Western, a genre that would influence everyone from Sam Raimi to Martin Scorsese to Quentin Tarantino. All three films are on HBO Max, so consider this a recommendation for the whole trilogy.

The Fugitive

One of Harrison Ford’s most beloved films remains this 1990 Best Picture nominee which transcended its blockbuster success to become a true phenomenon, even going as far as winning an Oscar for Tommy Lee Jones. A remake of the hit TV series about a man wrongly accused of the murder of his wife, The Fugitive simply moves, a perfect example of how to pace a movie like this for maximum effect.

Godzilla

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!

Godzilla vs. Kong

Adam Wingard (The Guest) directs the ultimate team-up between titans and brings a playful glee to the entire project. It’s a B-movie on a A-budget — consistently ridiculous but also nonstop fun — and it really delivers in terms of “understanding the assignment.”

Greenland

One of the best modern disaster movies, this unexpectedly strong release landed quietly at the end of 2020, when most people were focusing on more pertinent things. That means a lot of people probably haven’t caught up to this rock-solid action flick that stars Gerard Butler and Morena Baccarin as two people just trying to get their family to safety as a comet hurtles toward Earth.

Hero

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.

Inception

Last year marked the tenth anniversary of one of Christopher Nolan’s best films, the story of a team of agents who can infiltrate dreams, led by Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s part heist movie, part Bond movie, and mostly something that only the director of The Prestige and Tenet could possibly make.

Jurassic Park trilogy

An instant classic when it was released in 1993, Steven Spielberg’s dinosaur blockbuster spawned a franchise that’s still humming almost three decades later. The first three films in the series, including Spielberg’s sequel, are on HBO Max. No sign of either Jurassic World film on HBO Max yet, but those could still be coming before the next film finally comes out in 2022.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

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.

*Kill Bill

We will still have to wait for the long-promised full cut of the two Kill Bill films into one epic movie (and the long-rumored third volume of this tale), but that shouldn’t stop you from revisiting two of Quentin Tarantino’s best films — both volumes are on HBO Max. In a catalog that includes a lot of great performances (and a few Oscar winners), one of QT’s best is Uma Thurman as the Bride, a legendary action character seeking vengeance on the man who betrayed her.

King Kong

Peter Jackson used the incredible power given to him by the commercial and artistic success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy to remake one of his favorite films of all time, the 1933 monster movie classic King Kong. It’s a rock-solid action-adventure movie made by someone who clearly loves the genre. Most of all, it’s just fun, which is something more modern monster movies could stand to remember to be.

Kong: Skull Island

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).

Lady Snowblood

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.

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.

Mad Max: Fury Road

One of the best action films in recent memory 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 films of the decade. It’s a flat-out masterpiece.

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

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.

The Mummy

The recent wave of love for Brendan Fraser has been really fun to watch, and it’s led more people to revisit this 1999 action blockbuster, which has already become a nostalgic favorite. Fraser does his best Indiana Jones as an adventurer who stumbles onto the legendary Imhotep in Stephen Sommers’ truly flick. 2001’s The Mummy Returns is also on HBO Max. Double Fraser Feature?

Police Story

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.

Rampage

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.

Ready Player One

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.

Shazam!

The typically dour DC Cinematic Universe got a much-needed injection of levity in a 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.

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 HBO Max on a weeknight when you can’t leave the house? You bet.

Speed

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.)

Speed Racer

The Wachowskis’ most divisive film premiered in 2008 to almost universally negative reviews, but the tide started to turn almost immediately, making this into a film with a loyal cult following. Emile Hirsch stars in this adaptation of the classic 1960s manga, but the film belongs to the Wachowskis, whose pop confection color explosion really makes the film memorable.

The Taking of Pelham 123

One of the most New York movies ever made, the 1974 thriller from Joseph Sargent doesn’t just capture that Big Apple spirit but centers one of Walter Matthau’s best performances. The legend stars in the story of a group of bad guys who take an NYC subway train hostage, and co-stars Robert Shaw and Martin Balsam. Ignore the John Travolta remake — stick with the original.

Tenet

After so much hubbub about being the only blockbuster released during a pandemic last summer, Christopher Nolan’s latest is now on HBO Max for people to watch in the safety of their own homes. It’s lesser Nolan, but it does feature some ambitious filmmaking, and Oscar-winning special effects.

Training Day

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.

*Troy

Wolfgang Petersen rode his fame as an action director to make a massive, big-budget version of Homer’s Iliad, and it ended up being one of the highest grossing films of 2004. Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, and Orlando Bloom lead a massively talented ensemble in an old-fashioned epic film that recalls the era of Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments. It’s better than you remember, a great example of action/adventure filmmaking.

Twister

June 2020 brought the news that Jan de Bont’s 1996 blockbuster is going to be remade for a new generation, leading fans of the original to reminisce about a simpler time, a time when a cow flying through the air seemed like the peak of special effects. Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Jami Gertz, and Cary Elwes star as a group of storm chasers who get more than they can handle as a series of tornadoes unleash their fury on Oklahoma.

Underwater

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.

Wonder Woman

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 40 Best Action Movies on HBO Max