This piece is frequently updated as titles leave and join Netflix.
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.
The Age of Shadows
If you don’t know the name Kim Jee-woon, you should really acquaint yourself with more Korean cinema, as he’s one of the country’s most consistent filmmakers. His A Tale of Two Sisters is a horror-movie classic, and The Good, The Bad, The Weird is the dream Western fu movie you never knew you needed. And anyone who has seen I Saw the Devil will never forget it. None of those are on Netflix, but you can find his incredibly ambitious 2016 period action piece starring the wonderful Song Kang-ho. There’s actually a pretty robust Asian cinema selection on Netflix, and this is one you should seek out.
Two films changed the modern blockbuster forever — Iron Man and Christopher Nolan’s first entry in what would become a trilogy starring Christian Bale as one of the most famous superheroes of all time. Batman Begins reshaped the superhero genre as something that could appeal to adults as much, if not more, than teens, and that’s mostly thanks to the craftsmanship brought to these films by Christopher Nolan. It all started here.
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.
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.
Arguably as much of a horror movie as it is an action movie, one of the reasons this flick was so popular was the way it straddled multiple genres, willing to go dark with the story of a rock musician returned from the dead in search of vengeance. Stylish, dark, and tragic due to the death of its star, this is a movie that everyone had to see when it came out a quarter century ago. You may not have seen it since. You’re due for a revisit.
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. Our job is done here.
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.
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 was 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.
The Fifth Element
There’s not a lot of great sci-fi on Netflix, but you should fire this one up if you’re looking for something set in a different time and place in space. And make sure you fire it up on the biggest TV in your house and with the volume at a level to wake the neighbors. Luc Besson’s vision isn’t exactly a great piece of storytelling, but this Bruce Willis vehicle is a perfect example of the director’s skill with world-building and technical elements.
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.
One of the best comedies of the aughts works so well because it both satirizes and adores action-movie clichés at the same time. Before Edgar Wright made Baby Driver, he directed Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in this perfect comedy about a small British town with a deep secret. And a love for Point Break and Bad Boys.
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.
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. While this movie made a fortune, it’s kind of been forgotten by history, which is a shame. 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.
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.
There isn’t a lot of action on Netflix made before 1999, so take the chance to watch this genre classic from all the way back in 1976. Michael Anderson’s genre hit is a vision of a future in which resources are maintained by killing everyone when they turn 30. As one might imagine, this isn’t that easy to accomplish, and an executor named Logan 5 rebels when his time to be exterminated comes up. Winner of a special Oscar for visual effects, this is a film that feels influential now in terms of sci-fi and action.
It’s hard to overstate the impact that the Wachowskis’ 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.
No, not the wacky Matthew McConaughey movie — the sci-fi one. It’s clear now that we’re never gonna get a return of Fox’s brilliant-but-canceled Firefly, but at least we got this cinematic piece of closure to make the pain hurt a little less. A little.
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.
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.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Before Disney+ runs off with all of the MCU and Lucasfilm movies that it can grab, you should take the chance to watch the few that are just sitting there on Netflix waiting for you to enjoy them. One of the most divisive films of this decade, The Last Jedi spawned an entire industry of online hatred and petitions, but it’s a movie that you should (a) see for yourself, and (b) revisit away from all the hype. You may be surprised.
James Cameron’s 1984 classic is still a pop-culture reference point, and for more than just, “I’ll be back.” If you somehow haven’t seen it, you need to correct this hole in your ’80s canon. If you have seen it, you may be surprised at how well it holds up.
Taika Waititi is one of the few filmmakers to make an MCU entry that still has the personality of its creator. The quirky sense of humor that Waititi brought to projects like What We Do in the Shadows is there in the interplay between Thor and Hulk, as well as the creative production design and quirky performances from people like Cate Blanchett and Jeff Goldblum. For some, this MCU flick is a bit too quirky, but at least it’s got some personality.
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.
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.
V for Vendetta
James McTeigue directs this successful adaptation of the David Lloyd and Alan Moore classic about fascism and resistance. Set in a future in which a regime has taken over the United Kingdom, the great Hugo Weaving plays V, a resistance leader who unites the subjugated against their oppressors. With definite echoes of the Wachowskis’ Matrix movies, V for Vendetta has become an iconic, beloved film for good reason.
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.
It wasn’t that long ago really that Angelina Jolie was an action star, and this Timur Bekmambetov adaptation of the Mark Millar comic is one of her more successful vehicles. Coming near the end of the Matrix wannabes, this gun fu movie adds its own sense of wicked humor and violent energy to the subgenre, elevated by Jolie, James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman, Terence Stamp, and Common.
Disaster movies aren’t just for Americans anymore! The premise of this is the kind of simple wonder that they used to make in Hollywood more in the ’70s and ’80s. An avalanche causes a large enough rockslide into a body of water that it creates a tsunami, and a nervous geologist is one of the few people who knows the carnage that’s about to come. Well-acted and smartly constructed, this is a wonderful slice of disaster escapism.
The Wild Bunch
You may have seen a lot of Westerns, but you haven’t seen anything much like Sam Peckinpah’s ultraviolent tale of a group of over-the-hill outlaws looking for one final score. Peckinpah’s look at a dying West would forever change the genre, impacting everyone from Clint Eastwood to Quentin Tarantino. It’s an essential American film.