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.
What happens when you give an action-crazed lunatic like Michael Bay the freedom of budget and running time of Netflix? This chaos, a movie that no one would call great — not even the people who made it — but that does certainly scratch an itch for B-movie insanity with an A-movie budget. The opening car chase alone almost plays like a parody of Bay’s past movies, and the film’s tongue-in-cheek nature is the best thing about it.
Remember when Roland Emmerich, king of the modern disaster movie, thought the world was going to end in 2012? How quaint. The man behind The Day After Tomorrow returned to apocalyptic action with an unapologetically cheesy story of the end of the world, starring John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt, Thandie Newton, Danny Glover, and Woody Harrelson. It’s undeniably silly, but also great B-movie fun in places.
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.
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.
*Back to the Future
The entire beloved trilogy is on Netflix, but the first film remains the undisputed best of the bunch, a perfect blend of science fiction, action, and clever comedy. Michael J. Fox became an international star as Marty McFly, the kid who went back in time and nearly erased his existence. Unlike a lot of films from its era, Robert Zemeckis’s masterpiece has held up perfectly. Each new generation falls in love with it all over again.
Mel Gibson may be one of the most disliked movie stars in the world, but he’s actually given some intense, interesting performances since his fall from celebrity stardom, particularly in this Cannes-premiered 2016 thriller about a father whose estranged daughter gets caught up in a very dangerous situation. Gibson’s world weariness suits him well for this part, and he does his best late-career work as an actor, showing he can still deliver when he wants to.
Remember when action stars would come out of nowhere and become household names overnight? That happened with Jean-Claude Van Damme, who tried to follow the footsteps of other ‘80s international action stars, and found box office success in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. One of his most career-defining films was this 1988 martial arts flick that made $50 million worldwide on a budget around 2-4% of that. It was all about the kickboxing.
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.
As No Time to Die has been delayed multiple times due to COVID, Netflix is here to satisfy your 007 needs with the first outing for Daniel Craig as the most famous movie spy of all time. This is easily one of the best Bond movies, a flick that redefined the character with more intense stakes and realistic action sequences. It’s a legitimately great movie, not just for what it did for its genre and the future of its legendary super spy.
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.
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.
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.
Have you ever wanted to see a movie that replicated the feel of playing a first-person shooter video game? Then Hardcore Henry is the one for you. The plot doesn’t really matter — there’s something about experiments and lost memories and whatever — as this is all an exercise in style. Writer/director Ilya Naishuller straps viewers into the perspective of his increasingly powerful hero and then unleashes him on enemies who want to stop him. At its peak, it’s got some adrenaline-pumping lunacy that’s admirable.
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.
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!
If you’ve fallen in love with Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, take the time to check out when the master director put his spin on the heist film with this great 2006 Denzel Washington vehicle. The regular collaborator plays an NYPD hostage negotiator, called in when a bank heist goes down on Wall Street. Tight and effective, this is just further evidence that Spike Lee can nail any kind of movie he chooses to make.
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’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.
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. Netflix is going to debut an animated Jurassic World series shortly, and so they have added the original three films in the Park trilogy, including the first-and-still-best and its two sequels. No sign of either Jurassic World film, but those could still be coming.
Don’t we all miss Heath Ledger? While everyone is going to point to his Oscar-winning work in The Dark Knight (as well as Brokeback Mountain) as the peak of his acting prowess, there are other films in his IMDb profile worth a look too, including this action-comedy about an average peasant who pretend to be a knight. It’s a spirited period piece that might not be remembered much if not for holding one of the too-few Ledger performances we’re ever going to get.
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’s something about George Miller’s breakthrough 1979 action flick that feels even more current today than it did four decades ago. Maybe it’s because of how many movies have copied its look and feel in the years since. No one expected this low-budget flick to become an international sensation and spawn three sequels, but people always underestimated Max Rockatansky.
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.
Charlize Theron’s Andy initially seems like another in her long line of sleek action heroes: Steely, determined and not to be trifled with. But while Andy bears surface similarities to those past roles, in Gina Prince-Bythewood’s adaptation of the Greg Rucka comic book Theron gets to be something much more fascination: A tormented god-like creature, an immortal who has spent centuries trying to save humanity but is beginning to wonder whether it was worth all the trouble. Theron draws you in, and keeps you hooked.
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!
*Quantum of Solace
After the massive success of Casino Royale both critically and commercially, a sophomore slump for Daniel Craig’s take on 007 was kind of inevitable. Marc Forster’s 2008 movie about the man with the license to kill may not live up to its predecessor but it has some solid action sequences and could make for a good second half of a double feature if you can’t stop at only one of the Craig Bonds.
Listen, this movie has nothing on Michael Mann’s Manhunter, the first adaptation of the Thomas Harris novel called Red Dragon, but there are still things that make it worth a look when you’re flipping through your Netflix queue. Most of all, those things are in Sir Anthony Hopkins’s typically solid performance as Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the last time he would play this role in what is technically a prequel to the superior The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal.
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.
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.
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.
Paul Verhoeven directed this 1990 blockbuster that unleashed Arnold Schwarzenegger on a short story by Philip K. Dick called “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.” Ah-nuld plays a construction worker who becomes involved in a crazy power struggle on Mars…or does he? Verhoeven’s blend of social commentary and undeniable craft with action have allowed this to hold up better than most thirty-year-old action movies.
Ben Affleck directed this excellent adaptation of a Chuck Hogan novel about a group of Boston bank robbers who plan to rob Fenway Park. The public persona of the man who played Batman has overshadowed his undeniable filmmaking talent, evident in how tight and entertaining this movie is from beginning to end, as well as his great work with ensemble. This one includes some of the best screen work by Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, and Pete Postlethwaite.
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.
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 Wachowskis wrote this beloved adaptation of the graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, a film that seems to have gained a new appreciation in light of the social upheaval taking place in 2020. Hugo Weaving plays an anarchist named V, who collaborates with a young woman named Evey (Natalie Portman) to overthrow a corrupt U.K. government.
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.