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.
Ant-Man and the Wasp
It won’t be long before all of the MCU and Lucas-verse movies board the ship from Netflix and other streaming services for the golden shores of Disney Plus. Until then, watch what you can, including the second film in the series starring Paul Rudd as a size-changing superhero. Rudd’s charisma helps elevate these films into some of the most fun in the MCU.
When this action film 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. Now, they’re household names. Bad Boys, an early movie in their respective canons, is incredibly rewatchable, which is probably the main reason that interest has remained high enough that a third film, Bad Boys for Life, is landing in theaters in 2020.
Take advantage of this opportunity before Disney+ guts all the Marvel and Disney movie options from every streaming service on the planet. The first MCU movie to win an Oscar is one of the best superhero movies of all time, and a movie that holds up incredibly well on repeat viewing. This isn’t just an action movie, it’s a cultural event — something that redefined and reshaped the superhero genre for the rest of time.
The hit TV series from the ’70s is getting a second theatrical treatment in late 2019 with Kristen Stewart (directed by Elizabeth Banks), but fans of a certain age will never forget the first time that Charlie’s Angels tore up the multiplex in 2000 and 2003. Both films are on Netflix, starring Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, and Lucy Liu. Are they “good” movies? Well, they’re incredibly watchable guilty pleasures, and sometimes that’s all you really want.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Ang Lee’s martial arts epic was an absolute phenomenon when it came out, domestically grossing more than any foreign-language film in history on its way to ten Academy Award nominations. It’s held up marvelously, a cinematic explosion of color and passion for filmmaking. If you haven’t seen it since it took the world by storm, it’s time for a rewatch.
A massive bomb when it was released (it didn’t even break $6 million), Kurt Wimmer’s stylish 2002 sci-fi action flick gained a following on DVD. Starring Christian Bale, Emily Watson, and Taye Diggs, it’s one of many films that tried to emulate the stylish, Asian-influenced action of The Matrix, but it’s also one of the most successful in that regard, filled with memorable action sequences that incorporate martial arts and gunplay. Sure, it’s derivative of a lot of better films and pieces of literature, but it’s also a heck of a lot of fun.
Netflix members of a certain age will remember that James Bond was in a bit of a dire place in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. The Roger Moore era went out with a whimper and Timothy Dalton didn’t really work for movie goers. So this first Pierce Brosnan vehicle was a comeback for 007, and what a fun, glorious, underrated comeback it was. This is not only one of the best Bond movies, it’s one of the best action movies of the ‘90s.
It appears the version of Wong Kar-wai’s brilliant action epic that’s on Netflix is the one that was heavily edited in the final days of Harvey Weinstein’s waning power, but it’s still good enough to make this list. The action choreography alone is breathtaking, and maybe watching this cut will encourage you to seek out the 123-minute Berlin cut (this one is 108) or the even longer one known as the “Chinese Cut,” which runs 130 minutes.
No, not the 2019 box-office and critical bomb, the 2004 Guillermo del Toro adaptation that actually understood its source material and its audience. Ron Perlman stars in this one, based on the iconic character created by Mike Mignola. Perlman is a lot of fun, but what works about this is the flair and craftsmanship brought to it by del Toro, a man whose passion for filmmaking is contagious.
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.
There aren’t many writer-directors who can make big-budget, original blockbusters like Christopher Nolan. One of his best remains this 2010 sci-fi thriller about people who can literally implant ideas in someone’s subconscious or steal information held within. Leonardo DiCaprio, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt lead one of Nolan’s best ensembles.
While Disney works to get its upcoming streaming service off the ground, it’s still regularly releasing new hits to Netflix, including the beloved sequel to one of the most popular Pixar films of all time. Brad Bird’s long-awaited sequel is one of the top films of 2018, and arguably its best animated film (at least that’s not about Spider-Man).
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
There’s a lot of Steven Spielberg on Netflix, but this is one of the best choices you could make from the filmography of one of the best American filmmakers. Maybe you’ve heard of it? All four Indy films are actually still on Netflix. Do a marathon while you still can. Yes, you can skip the last one if you want.
Is this Wachowski sci-fi action film traditionally “good”? Not really. Do you need to see it? Yes, you really really do. As out there as any major blockbuster of the ‘10s, Jupiter Ascending is the kind of absolutely bonkers sci-fi flick that doesn’t make it to theaters that often. From Channing Tatum’s dog ears to Eddie Redmayne’s entirely insane performance, this is a slice of movie history unlike any other. Just don’t say we didn’t warn you.
We will still have to wait for the long-promised full cut of the two Kill Bill films into one epic (and the long-rumored third volume of this tale), but that shouldn’t stop you from revisiting two of Quentin Tarantino’s best films. 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.
Kung Fu Hustle
You have likely never seen a movie quite like this 2004 martial arts action-comedy, Stephen Chow’s masterpiece. Set in 1940s China, this worldwide hit features some of the best stunt work you can find on Netflix, all in service of a movie that often plays like a live-action cartoon. It’s ridiculous and unforgettable.
*The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers & Return of the King
It’s kind of amazing that what was once one of the biggest theatrical events of all time can now be watched on your phone – well, two-thirds of it. In a truly bizarre bit of programming, the first film in the LOTR saga isn’t on Netflix, but it’s two excellent sequels are. These films have held up beautifully, still a great example of how movie magic can transport to fantasy worlds. If you haven’t seen them since they ruled the cinematic ring, it’s time to rejoin the fellowship.
*The Mask of Zorro
Every now and then, an actor and a blockbuster role just make a perfect fit. That was certainly the case when Antonio Bandera’s was cast in Martin Campbell’s reboot of the legendary character of Zorro. Banderas is so charming here that the movie made enough money to produce a sequel in 2005.
It’s hard to overstate the impact that the Wachowski’s masterpiece made when it was released in 1999. Certain movies feel like seismic shifts in the culture, and the journey of Neo was absolutely that, influencing filmmaking for the next two decades. You’ve certainly seen it, but maybe not in a long time. You’ll be amazed at how well it’s held up. The fact that it looks like it could be released today without much changed is indicative of how many films have copied it since it came out.
When Alec Baldwin dropped out of the Jack Ryan series after the success of The Hunt for Red October, he was replaced with Harrison Ford for this second Tom Clancy film (and its follow-up, Clear and Present Danger). This is a solid action flick about Irish terrorism featuring a square-jawed, American hero performance from Ford and solid supporting work from Anne Archer, Sean Bean, and Richard Harris.
Near the height of the Cold War and still deep in tense times with the U.S.S.R., Hollywood released a film about a Russian invasion of the United States. It’s almost impossible to think about a big budget take on an imaginary World War III now, but this movie really tapped into a patriotic era in American filmmaking, and became a cult hit for a generation in the process. It was so popular over the years that it even produced a remake (that really isn’t worth seeing).
Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, and Quentin Tarantino adapted this stylish version of Miller’s beloved graphic novel about violent men and femme fatales. The star power here is one draw (including Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Mickey Rourke, Benicio del Toro, and Elijah Wood), but the best reason to watch this is that there’s never been anything else quite like it.
Bong Joon-ho may have just won the Palme d’Or for Parasite but his most popular film so far remains this 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, this is a film that only seems to grow in esteem with each passing year.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
The Best Animated Film Oscar for 2018 went to this unexpected treat, one of the best superhero movies of the modern era. It’s got a little bit of everything. First, it replicates the comic-book aesthetic in ways we’ve never seen before. Second, it is a leap forward in terms of representation in animated superhero movies. Third, it is just an unbelievable amount of fun, the kind of movie that you can watch again and again. It will hold up for generations to come.
Yes, a kids’ movie can be an action one, too! Robert Rodriguez turned his eye for adult-driven action in films like Desperado to something for the younger set in this clever 2001 box-office smash that started an entire franchise. The kids (Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara) are great, but it’s how much fun the adults are having, including Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, and Cheech Marin, that really makes the joy of this film infectious.
Train to Busan
This South Korean zombie story is truly one of the best movies available to watch on Netflix, regardless of genre. It’s thrilling from start to finish, and the excellent, efficient character development means you feel like you have a stake in everyone involved. Imagine the self-contained maelstrom of Snowpiercer, but with raging undead.
Kevin Bacon stars in this 1990 low-budget action B-movie that became such a cult hit that it spawned an entire franchise (the seventh film in the series is currently in production). There’s something so wonderfully simple about Tremors – average people trying to survive an attack by creatures under the sand. It’s funny, quickly paced, and easy to revisit if you haven’t seen it in thirty years or rewatch even if you have.
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.
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.