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.
Is this Gerard Butler’s best film? What if it’s Zack Snyder’s too? We won’t get into what’s happened to their careers over the years but it’s certainly a movie that made them stars. In Snyder’s adaptation of the Frank Miller comic series, Butler is a charismatic action hero, playing King Leonidas, the man who led 300 Spartans into battle against the Persians. The plot doesn’t really matter as much as the alpha-male energy of it all, and the style that has influenced dozens of movies since.
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.
*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.
The Bank Job
Long before Hobbs & Shaw, Jason Statham’s career was greatly elevated by this 2008 Roger Donaldson movie, which proved the actor had much more range and charisma than even what he’d shown in The Transporter flicks and the films he made with buddy Guy Ritchie. Statham’s work in this tight, smart thriller for adults — a genre that doesn’t really exist anymore — remains one of his best performances.
*Black Hawk Down
Ridley Scott directed this 2001 Hollywood version of Mark Bowden’s nonfiction book of the same name, which told 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. This is a technical marvel, winning Oscars for Best Editing and Sound Mixing.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Trilogy
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. The original Oscar-winning trilogy — The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, Return of the King — has dropped on Netflix, and it’s time for you revisit the Shire. These films have held up beautifully, still a great example of how movie magic can transport viewers to fantasy worlds. If you haven’t seen them since they ruled the cinematic ring, it’s time to rejoin the fellowship.
Who’s ready for Sherlock Holmes to return? People were surprised when it was announced that Guy Ritchie was getting the gang back together for a third film to be released in 2021, a decade after A Game of Shadows. Netflix recently added the movie that started it all, this 2009 smash hit starring Robert Downey Jr. as the classic crime-solver. Reimagining the deeply intellectual Doyle creation as an action star was a clever move, launching a franchise that’s still humming.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.