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.
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.
Roger Donaldson directed Jason Statham to one of the best performances of his career in this heist movie based on the true story of the 1971 Baker Street robbery. Saffron Burrows plays a woman who is blackmailed into leading an operation to retrieve a safety deposit box that contains compromising photos of Princess Margaret, and she calls in Statham to lead the team to pull it off. Clever and character-driven in ways that Statham films aren’t often allowed to be, this is a unique movie in his filmography.
2010’s Skyline wasn’t exactly a film that anyone expected to get a sequel, let alone a good one. And yet this 2017 piece of lunacy is kind of an amazing B-movie, especially the final act that includes a couple of the guys from The Raid movies fighting aliens and other dudes. It’s an insane movie that mixes martial arts and an alien attack, and you kind of need to see it to believe it.
This submarine thriller made hardly a ripple (sorry) when it was released in 2014, but it’s a solid, old-fashioned action flick, featuring tense direction by Kevin Macdonald and a reliably strong lead performance from Jude Law. It’s the story of a submarine captain who is hired to search for a vessel that’s rumored to be loaded with gold. What could go wrong?
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.
Bonnie and Clyde
Screen violence changed forever with Arthur Penn’s 1967 telling of the story of the famous lovers turned criminals starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty. Often considered one of the films that ushered in the creative era of filmmaking that would follow in the late ‘60s and through the ‘70s, what really shocked audiences was the film’s ending, something more violent than mainstream film had ever really delivered.
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.
The great artist RZA (Wu-Tang forever!) directed this 2020 action heist film that’s already starting to build something of a cult following, which should grow now that it’s on Netflix. It’s an old-fashioned action flick, embedding its well-directed thrills and characters with a nice dose of social commentary too. And it’s got a hell of a cast, including Shameik Moore, T.I., Wesley Snipes, Terrence Howard, and Ethan Hawke.
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.
Netflix has a habit of cycling Martin Scorsese in and out of their streaming service. Right now, his Best Picture winner is on the service. Many seem to have written this off as lesser Scorsese, but they’re wrong. It’s a film that holds up incredibly well on repeated viewing.
In a year when there were too many Netflix original movies every week to watch them all, one of the few true surprises was this wonderful family action film that further proves that Millie Bobby Brown is going to be a massive star. She plays the title character, the teenage sister of the famous Sherlock Holmes, who gets involved in a mystery of her own.
Kung Fu flicks don’t get better than the amazing Enter the Dragon — Bruce Lee’s best movie, which sadly came out after his passing in 1973. Lee is magnetic as a participant in a martial arts competition that also includes the great John Saxon and Jim Kelly. This is an epic martial arts masterpiece that works for every generation of action lover.
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.
When Netflix backs a filmmaker like they did with David Fincher’s Mank, they often cycle through that filmmaker’s older films too. And so Fincher films have been rotating in and out. Right now, you can watch his underrated adaptation of the Stieg Larsson thriller that became a worldwide phenomenon. Rooney Mara is fearless and fantastic in this movie.
One of the best films of the 1990s, Martin Scorsese’s telling of the story of Henry Hill changed the language of how we tell stories about mobsters. The Sopranos simply isn’t the same without it.
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!
In a Valley of Violence
Ti West (The House of the Devil) wrote and directed this tight little Western that barely got released in theaters, so most Netflix subscribers probably haven’t seen it. Ethan Hawke stars in this wicked Western as a man who crosses paths with a sociopathic Marshal, played by John Travolta, and the great supporting cast includes Taissa Farmiga, Karen Gillan, James Ransone, and Toby Huss.
Christopher Nolan’s Tenet became one of the most controversial movies of 2020 just by existing, but last year also marked the tenth anniversary of one of the filmmaker’s best works, now on Netflix after just leaving Amazon Prime. It’s the story of a team of agents who can infiltrate dreams, led by Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s part heist movie, part Bond movie, and mostly something that only Christopher Nolan could possibly 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.
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.
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.
Martin Brest directed one of the best ‘80s buddy comedies in this gem of a movie that paired Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin. The Oscar winner plays a bounty hunter assigned to bring back Grodin’s embezzling accountant, who stole money from the Chicago mob. Easier said than done.
Paul Haggis (Crash) wrote and directed this 2010 remake of the 2008 French thriller Anything for Her, about a normal man (Russell Crowe) who will do whatever it takes to get his wrongly convicted wife (Elizabeth Banks) out of prison. It’s far from perfect but it’s got a great cast that also includes Brian Dennehy, Olivia Wilde, Lennie James, Daniel Stern, Kevin Corrigan, and Liam Neeson.
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!
Rod Lurie’s latest turned around quickly from a limited theatrical and PVOD run in July to hitting Netflix in October, where it should do very, very well. It’s the story of the Battle of Kamdesh, one of the most brutal in the Afghanistan War, as the Taliban assaulted a poorly-placed base in the middle of a valley. Scott Eastwood, Orlando Bloom, and particularly Caleb Landry Jones are all good, but this is one of those technically impressive war films most of all, putting people in the middle of the nightmare of battle.
Pedro Pascal is everywhere in early 2021, appearing in The Mandalorian on Disney+, Wonder Woman 1984 on HBO Max, and We Can Be Heroes on Netflix. Revisit one of his better indie films with this SXSW critical darling from 2018. Jay Duplass plays a father in this sci-fi film who lands on a planet to mine for gems with his daughter and encounter some dangerous strangers, including one played memorably by Pascal.
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.
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.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle could have never envisioned his intellectual crime solver turning into one of the biggest action stars of 2009, but that’s what happened with the biggest movie of Guy Ritchie’s career. The filmmaker directed Downey and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson in a massive blockbuster that produced one sequel, with work on another underway for a late 2021 release.
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.
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.
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.
After the surprising turn that Liam Neeson took to become one of the world’s biggest action stars, he produced a great number of silly movies, including this guilty pleasure from his regular collaborator Jaume Collet-Serra (who also worked with Neeson on Non-Stop, Run All Night, and The Commuter). In a classic Hitchcockian set-up, Neeson plays a professor who wakes up after a four-day coma and sets out to reclaim what appears to be his stolen identity.
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.