“Action movie” is a genre that means something a little different to everyone, but I’ve tried to stick here mostly to movies driven by crime, action, and explosions rather than say, dark dramas or historical epics. Here are some of the best action movies on Netflix right now.
1. No Country for Old Men
Both a parable of evil and redemption and a ferociously good, gripping action with plenty of gun battles and violence, No Country for Old Men draws on classic Western archetypes for this adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel. Josh Brolin stars as Llewelyn Moss, a man who sparks a powderkeg of trouble when he steals the loot of a drug deal gone wrong. On the run, he’s pursued by no-nonsense sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones), a mysterious killer (Javier Bardem in a chilling, memorable performance), a less mysterious killer (Woody Harrelson), and other criminals. It won Best Picture and Best Director Oscars in 2008.
2. Hot Fuzz
The second of Edgar Wright’s “Cornetto Trilogy,” this is not for the weak of stomach, but it’s wryly fantastic and hands down one of the best black comedies out there. Skewering the action film genre with send-ups of Bad Boys II to Point Break, it’s a no-holds-barred satirical action flick that manages to drop plenty of bodies along the way. Simon Pegg is a not-too-bright, by-the-books cop named Nicholas Angel, who gets reassigned to a quiet town and paired with new partner Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), who makes up for in enthusiasm what he lacks in brains. Pretty soon, people start dying, and things get weird. Are Angel and Butterman up for the task? Absolutely not, but Pegg and Frost’s easy chemistry and Pegg’s endless, everyman charm, ensure that it doesn’t matter.
3. Lethal Weapon
Back to the basics: Lethal Weapon changed the action film genre and nearly single-handedly set the standard for all the buddy cop movies that would follow. Wild-card Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and straightman Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) are reluctant L.A.P.D. detectives who uncover a drug-smuggling operation. With tight, impressive action sequences and a story buoyed by the wit and spectacular chemistry of Gibson and Glover, this is classic, and it’s available on Netflix along with all three sequels.
4. Ip Man
Inspired by the life of the grand master who trained Bruce Lee, this inventive, character-driven martial arts movie is a must-see. Ip Man is living quietly with his family in the midst of the Japanese occupation of China – until his peaceful life is shattered. The Japanese force the townfolk into hard labor and brutal sparring matches. His fight inspires many in the war-torn country. Asian megastar Donnie Yen (most recently appearing as Chirrut in Rogue One) headlines. An enduring classic and one of the best action movies on Netflix.
5. 13 Assassins
No list of Netflix action films is complete without this. A group of assassins are hired to bring down a sadistic lord before he can take the throne and plunge the country into war. This is set at the end of Japan’s feudal era in 1844. Visually stunning, occasionally mournful, this is a masterpiece of action epics.
6.V for Vendetta
A trademark of classic films is that they become, or at any rate, stay, relevant, and that’s the case with this Wachowski sisters’ adaptation of an Alan Moore/David Lloyd comic series. Masked vigilante/freedom fighter V (a compelling Hugo Weaving), attempts to overturn the neo-fascist government ruling the United Kingdom. The film burst onto the film scene in 2006, becoming an instant cult classic, and its impact was wide enough that (in)famous hacker group anonymous has adopted the Guy Fawkes mask as its symbol. The relationship between V and Evie (Natalie Portman) is profoundly unnerving to modern-day sensibilities as soon as you look beneath the surface (it can be all too easily read as a tale of abuse and Stockholm Syndrome), but the film’s visually gripping confrontation of an oppressive society remains one of the few successful examples of a political film.
7. Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
This one’s never going out of style: your children will be watching it. That’s mostly because of Johnny Depp’s inspired, slightly deranged portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow, but also because this movie is just bloody good fun. It’s high-budget and fast-paced with startlingly good special effects (for its time), and is a bold, sometimes gritty adventure on the high seas that never makes the mistake of taking itself too seriously. Gore Verbinski hits all the right notes and despite the dreadful performances from a miscast Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom, Depp and the delightfully villaneous Barbossa played by Geoffrey Rush buoy this. America didn’t know it wanted a pirate’s tale until it got one, and this is still arguably the best of all the Pirates’ films.
Director Park Chan-wook’s name has become synonymous with brutal, brilliant films (known in the U.S. for the Chris Evans-starring Snowpiercer), and Oldboy is the second feature in his Vengeance trilogy (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance). It’s an unflinching revenge thriller told in noir style (based on a manga of the same name), and definitely not for everyone. Oh Dae-su is an average man who is kidnapped one day and locked up for 15 years. When he’s unexpectedly released, he goes on a quest for answers, and revenge. Blackly comedic moments cross with tense action scenes in a movie that’s ultimately interested in a psychological exploration of revenge.
9. Reservoir Dogs
Tarantino’s first live-action film made a huge splash. Addicting, ultra-violent, and short at only 100 minutes, it’s required viewing. Stars Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and Steve Buscemi in a story of six criminals who attempt a diamond robbery. Pop culture references and clever dialogue abound, and it’s one of the classic heist films.
10. Once Upon a Time in the West
If you’re a fan of Westerns, and even if you’re not, there’s so much to enjoy in this classic spaghetti Western. Standoffs, gun battles, a mysterious stranger coming into town, morally complicated heroes: Once Upon a Time in the West has it all (fun fact: Clint Eastwood turned down a role in this movie). ‘Harmonica’ (Charles Bronson) and Cheyenne (Jason Robards) team up to stop ruthless killer Frank (Henry Fonda) and his boss from taking a widow’s land.
11. Captain America: Civil War
While it’s debatable whether superhero flicks fall under action films or are their own genre, this is a strong, explosive ride from directors Anthony and Joe Russo (though it can’t top the near-spectacular Winter Soldier). Ideological disagreements fracture the Avengers, particularly Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, as they face mounting pressure from the U.S. government and the world. Drawing on character arcs and storylines from the comics, and mixed with espionage, romance, and a brotherhood tale, it has everything you want.
12. From Dusk till Dawn
The brilliant and also oddball thing about Tarantino’s film is that careens from action to horror and back again over the course of its three actions. Two criminal brothers played by George Clooney and Tarantino are on the run after kidnapping a family, and while the film shifts into a vampire slasher film for a while, it returns to an action movie toward the end. Intentionally over-the-top, this energetic, stylized film delivers in classic Tarantino style.
13. Inside Man
A minor modern classic from Spike Lee, this is both worth a watch if you haven’t seen it, and worth the rewatch if you have. Spike Lee directed this heist film that’s frontloaded with stars, including Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, and Christopher Plummer. Dalton Russell (Owen) conceives of the perfect bank heist, and engages in a cat and mouse game with law enforcement fronted by Keith Frazier (Washington). Twisty and satisfying with strong cast chemistry.
14. Mission: Impossible III
In the Transformers and Fast and Furious Era, Mission Impossible is still one of the only action franchises you can count on to be thrilling and competently delivered. IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), overcomes impossible odds and improbable physical obstacles in this 2006 edition directed by JJ Abrams. Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a nice edge the villain, and it’s a quick-paced, explosive watch that’s still better than most action films out there.
In this offbeat 2004 superhero film, a demon baby emerges from a portal and grows up to be an unkillable monster hunter. Ron Perlman stars as the gun-toting demon who squares off against Nazis and paranormal threats as part of a team called the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. Directed with flair by Guillermo del Toro, it’s a mashup of magic, mysticism, action, dark fantasy, and romance.
16. Deja Vu
There are never enough Denzel Washington action movies, but this Tony-Scott directed thriller is a compelling mix of science fiction and terrorism. Washington eats up the screen as ATF agent Douglas Carlin, who is invited to join a mysterious detective unit that he discovers can bend time to look into the task. Using time travel as a method to fight crime, Carlin seeks to uncover the cause of a terrorist attack, while also protected the woman he’s fallen in love with, Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton). The film takes a tricky subject and navigates it with ease.
17. Big Trouble in Little China
Wacky, wonderful ’80’s movie Big Trouble in Little China stars Kurt Russell as a wisecracking truck driver who gets caught up in an epic supernatural battle when his truck and his friend’s fiance are stolen. Russell brings his trademark no-nonsense approach to this funny, unique cult favorite that’s endlessly quotable.
18. Fist of Legend
This has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which is all you need to know, but I’ll go ahead and give you more details. Jet Li stars in a 1994 film set during Japan’s occupation of China. Chen Zhen (Li) returns to Shanghai after his master is killed, and fights to save his school from Japanese forces. With incredible fight scenes that hold up to this day (in the opening scene Zhen breaks bones and school desks with visceral intensity), it’s a must watch.
19. Black Hawk Down
Critically-acclaimed and gripping war film from Ridley Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer. The all-star cast includes Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, and Eric Bana, and is based on a true story. In 1993, an elite group of American Rangers and Delta Force soldiers are sent to Somalia on a critical mission to capture a violent warlord whose corrupt regime has lead to the starvation of hundreds of thousands of Somalis.
20. The Hunter
This underseen Australian thriller is one of Netflix’s hidden gems. It stars William Dafoe as a hitman tasked with hunting down the last remaining Tasmanian tiger, on behalf of a biotech company. Mesmerizing and beautifully shot, it’s well worth the watch, and completes our roundup of good action movies on Netflix.
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