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.
This snappy British crime movie feels like if year-2000 Guy Ritchie directed the movie Bronson. A man named Cain has just busted out of jail with one single motivation: Kill the people who set him up to be imprisoned. Cain was a trained boxer but a nice guy when he got put away, and he has spent his years locked up trying to survive all the people aiming to kill him. That means he’s hardened himself into a living weapon, and once he gets all his adversaries in one pub together, we learn about Cain’s brutal life behind bars mostly by watching him kick the shit out of people over and over again in flashbacks — when he isn’t kicking the shit out of people in the current timeline, that is. Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels fans, rejoice.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cloverfield is a found footage horror movie, but it’s also a relentless doomsday thrill ride. The story opens on a group of friends throwing a farewell party for their buddy about to depart New York City, but it becomes a marathon run for survival when a humongous monster emerges and starts laying waste to everything. Directed by Matt Reeves, who helmed the entire Planet of The Apes rebooted franchise, produced by J.J. Abrams, and written by Drew Goddard, Cloverfield is a modern creature feature classic that will leave you winded.
*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.
*The Dark Knight
Maybe you’ve heard of this one? Christian Bale? Heath Ledger? Arguably the most influential movie of the current millennium. So much of pop culture cinema of the last decade wears the influence of Christopher Nolan’s best film like a badge of honor. You’ve probably seen this, but we thought you should know that you can see it again right now (and you can watch Batman Begins as a warm-up on Netflix too). Our job is done here.
*Den of Thieves
Is this Gerard Butler’s best movie? It’s right up there. Yes, we’ve all seen the story of corrupt L.A. cops a few too many times, but this underrated heist thriller pulses with dark energy thanks to its great cast that includes Butler, 50 Cent, Pablo Schreiber, and a star-making performance from O’Shea Jackson Jr. They’re even making a sequel.
*Escape From New York
John Carpenter’s 1981 action classic feels as timely as ever as the world falls apart in 2020. Before Manhattan actually becomes a maximum-security prison, check out this great Kurt Russell film about a rescue mission after the President gets stuck in the city that never sleeps.
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.
Free Fire can be described very simply. It’s a gunfight movie. The setup is a black market arms deal that goes almost immediately awry, and no one has any choice but to try and kill their way out of the warehouse they’re stuck in. Co-written and directed by Ben Wheately, this British black comedy has a great ensemble cast that includes Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Sharlto Copely, and more. And remember, everyone was together so they could buy and sell weapons, which means no one is really running out of ways to kill people.
This Vietnamese movie focuses on a gangster turned debt collector named Hai Phuong who has to embark on a quest for vengeance when her young daughter is kidnapped. But these crooks messed with the wrong mom! Hai Phuong still earns her living beating the hell out of people for money in their village, and she goes to Ho Chi Minh City to either kill everyone who stands in between her and her child, or to die trying.
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.
Will Smith plays John Hancock in one of those odd massively huge blockbuster hits that surprisingly never became a franchise (despite making over $600 million worldwide). Smith’s Hancock is a superhero who just doesn’t care about the damage he costs the city of Los Angeles as he enacts his brand of justice. Is it a great movie? No, not really, but it’s totally watchable, in part because of Smith’s sizable screen presence and a fun supporting turn by Charlize Theron, who is literally always good.
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 here is phenomenal, including Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Bill Paxton, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas, and Michael Douglas.
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.
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.
The Hurricane Heist
Hurricane Heist is not some codename. It is a literal description of what happens in this movie about a group of criminals trying to rob a branch of the U.S. Treasury during a category five hurricane. Is that the perfect premise for a crime movie? Yes it is. Maggie Grace plays a Federal agent trying to stop them, and Toby Kebbell is a meteorologist who teams up with her to help. Cinema!
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.
People have fallen in love with Sam Mendes again after his success with 1917, which may lead a few people to his adaptation of Anthony Swofford’s book about life in the Marines during the Gulf War. Mendes’ does great work here, particularly in his direction of Jake Gyllenhaal, who gives one of his career-best performances.
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.
Man of Tai Chi
This is the one and only directorial effort from Keanu Reeves, and it stars Tiger Chen as a gifted young martial artist whose Tai Chi abilities bring him to a very profitable underground fight club. So, of course, he has to fight to survive.
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.
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.
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!
Michael Mann directed Johnny Depp as John Dillinger and Christian Bale as the FBI Agent who pursued him, Melvin Purvis. Shot in Chicago on digital film, it’s a riveting piece of work visually and contains an incredible supporting cast that includes Marion Cotillard, Stephen Dorff, Stephen Graham, Billy Crudup, Jason Clarke, Bill Camp, and many more. It’s an epic portrait of the end of a gangster era.
The Resident Evil Movies
The franchise in which Milla Jovovich destroys armies of undead and genetically enhanced creatures based on the hit Capcom video games has three entries now available on Netflix: Afterlife, Apocalypse, and Extinction. Are these films modern classics? Hell no. Are they sometimes what you’re looking for after a long day at work or a few too many drinks on a Friday night? You know damn well that they are.
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.
Romeo Must Die
There was a fun little window when Jet Li was one of the biggest stars in the world. This 2000 action flick with choreography by Corey Yuen made almost $100 million. Everyone loved Li’s martial arts skills and this particular film has added poignancy given he co-stars with Aaliyah. It’s not Li’s best, but it’s a reminder of why he was such a draw.
How did this movie not start a franchise? Phillip Noyce directs Angelina Jolie in one of her best action flicks as a woman accused of being a Russian sleeper agent. This was originally written for Tom Cruise, but Jolie came in and killed it, delivering one of her best physical performances. Now where’s Salt 2?!?!
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Somehow, people slept on Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, despite it being one of the most clever comics adaptations around. Michael Cera stars as the titular Scott Pilgrim, who has fallen for the beguiling Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), but must defeat every single one of her evil exes in battle before they can be together. The former flames have come together in a League, and Scott has to face them down like a series of videogame bosses before he can take on the final challenger. Raise your game, Pilgrim!
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.
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.
This movie is a fascinating litmus test as to how people read cinema. Invite some friends over, put it on, and then discuss what Paul Verhoeven is going for with his story of interstellar killer aliens and, more importantly, the space force of beautiful people put together to stop them. Suggest that maybe there’s more going on than just sci-fi/action. Or just sit back and enjoy the ride provided by one of the most purely entertaining genre pics of its era.
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.
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.
The first three films in Len Wiseman and Kate Beckinsale’s goofy action series about vampires and werewolves are on Netflix, including the 2003 original, 2006 Evolution, and 2009 Rise of the Lycans. If you watch them enough maybe they’ll add part four and five next month. Do your part for the cause.
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.