The 50 Best Action Movies on Netflix

Movies Lists Netflix
Share Tweet Submit Pin
The 50 Best Action Movies on Netflix

The best action movies deliver a gripping plot along with the requisite fight scenes, and Netflix is full of great examples. From martial arts movies to war films to action-comedies, this list of the Best Action Movies on Netflix is sure to get the adrenaline pumping. All these titles are currently available or will be on July 1 where noted.

For a more general list, check out the constantly updated 100 Best Movies on Netflix.

Here are the Best Action Movies on Netflix:

v-for-vendetta.jpg 50. V For Vendetta
Year: 2005
Director: James McTeigue
Written by the Wachowski Brothers and gomorbased on an Alan Moore comic, V for Vendetta has ambitions well beyond the typical action movie, not just to excite but to inspire. In an Orwellian future, a mysteriously vengeful masked man named V speaks about integrity and liberty. His ideas are vague, but his plans are specific, and they involve dynamite. Among rebellious movies that threaten to blow shit up in the end, V for Vendetta is closer to the confused philosophy of Fight Club than the visual poetry of Zabriskie Point. The details of V’s beef with society are hazy, but the film has a certain purity of spirit. V always wears his mask; removing it would cross a line that he—and the filmmakers—won’t cross, but opposite him is the expressive Natalie Portman. She’s critical as a reflection of V’s humanity, which may explain why the movie succeeds even with such muddled ideas. We accept him through her.—Robert Davis

elite-squad-enemy.jpg 49. Elite Squad: The Enemy Within
Year: 2010
Director: José Padilha
As the creator of the original, Golden Bear-winning Elite Squad (2007), Padilha faced countless accusations of fascism for his allegedly glorified depiction of BOPE, the elite police militia tasked with combating Rio de Janeiro’s heavily armed drug cartels. He seems to have taken into account some of the more left-leaning critiques for his follow-up, which expands its focus from the world of the Rio police to their political masters. We follow the original film’s compelling narrator-protagonist, BOPE Captain Nascimento (Narcos’ Wagner Moura), as he is promoted to a government position and gradually realizes the full extent of the country’s institutional corruption—suggesting that a few tough-on-crime, Dirty Harry-style cops are clearly not going to solve problems this systemic and entrenched. Like The Wire TV series, The Enemy Within traces an intricate web of relationships between corrupt cops and self-serving politicians. Padilha should be commended for avoiding easy solutions to complex problems, but the way in which he frames these problems still leaves certain questions, and answers, off the table.—Donal Foreman

inside-man.jpg 48. Inside Man
Year: 2006
Director: Spike Lee
With the exceptions of Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen and Sidney Lumet, no filmmaker has had a more dynamic and fruitful relationship with New York City than Spike Lee. This connection is on full display in his 2006 crime drama, Inside Man. In one of his best performances to date, Clive Owen stars as a brilliant career criminal who takes over a New York bank. What at first appears to be a straightforward hostage situation, however, is soon revealed to be far more complex than anyone could have predicted. Soon, the inevitable media circus arrives, complicating matter for the detective (Denzel Washington) assigned to handle the case. The most financially successful film of Lee’s career, Inside Man is as much a love letter to NYC and its rich diverse melting pot of cultures and backgrounds as it is a genre thriller in the vein of Dog Day Afternoon and Ocean’s Eleven.—Mark Rozeman

heroes-of-the-east.jpg 47. Heroes of the East
Year: 1978
Director: Lau Kar-Leung
Gordon Liu is our hero in the classic Heroes of the East, but it’s not quite the Gordon Liu we’re used to. Quite honestly, the Gordon in this movie is a dick—he marries a Japanese woman and tries to convert her to more “ladylike” martial arts before offending all the prominent martial artists in her country and ending up in a series of duels with them. The film is unconventional in portraying the Japanese not as outright villains but simply aggrieved, honorable fighters. What we get from that set-up is a fascinating contrast in styles, and fights that pit balanced elements of combat against one another—for example, Chinese drunken boxing vs. Sino-Okinawan karate. Or Japanese weapons such as the sai against Chinese butterfly swords. It’s simply fun, classic stuff, and a story that doesn’t feel like it’s been told a million times before. Personal favorite: Gordon takes on a ninja-looking dude wielding “the Japanese crab technique.” It involves a lot of scuttling side-to-side and tiny little shuffle-steps, and it will probably make you chuckle.—Jim Vorel

Crocodile_dundee_poster.jpg 46. Crocodile Dundee
Year: 1986
Director: Peter Faiman
If you’re going to travel to America for the first time, it helps to be a charming badass from the Australian Outback. For all of the societal cues that Mick Dundee misses (that those fine women are hookers, that a bidet squirts water up your butt), he makes progress with his easy smile and his huge knife. Obviously, it also helps that he speaks English, albeit a version of the language filled with slang unfamiliar to his new friends. Yet for his ability to carry himself well in New York City, it’s clear that his heart remains in Australia—even though his proposed “walkabout” will take him through America, it’s more like he’s transplanting his home country here rather than assimilating. Fortunately, we don’t have to find out what would’ve happened on that journey, since Sue wises up and picks him over Richard.—Zach Blumenfeld

newton-boys.jpg 45. The Newton Boys
Year: 1998
Director: Richard Linklater
Between 1919 and 1924, the Newton Gang—a family owned and run operation based in Uvalde, Texas—robbed over 80 banks and six trains, sparing bloodshed in their outlaw ventures. The sibling quartet—Willis, Wylie, Jess and Joe—cut their legend from the same cloth as Jesse James and Butch Cassidy, sharing more in common with the latter by virtue of their humanitarian ideals; theft is one thing, but killing people is another entirely. Maybe that’s what drew Richard Linklater to the four brothers and their exploits when he cobbled together his 1998 heist flick, The Newton Boys. Today the film feels like an anomaly in his body of work, a straight-up genre exercise that sticks out like a sore thumb against the vast majority of his catalog. But sixteen years have passed since the film’s release, and a steady glance into the rearview reveals a movie that only Linklater could have made. The Newton Boys is a portrait of youthful angst and unrest, couching Willis’ motivations to live a life of crime in his own societal frustrations. If it’s an overlooked, lesser entry in his filmography, it’s also just as important to defining him as a narrator as his best received and most widely hailed offerings.—Andy Crump

Batman.jpeg 44. Batman
Year: 1989
Director: Tim Burton
Christopher Nolan might have perfected Batman on-screen with his Dark Knight Trilogy, but Burton first introduced a darker side of Bruce Wayne in 1989 with Batman. The film sees an over-the-top Joker in Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton doing justice to the role of Dark Knight. It’s got action, a compelling story and plenty of comic relief with Nicholson—not bad for a first swing at the darker side of Batman.—Tyler Kane

tai-chi-master.jpg 43. Tai Chi Master
Year: 1993
Director: Yuen Woo-ping
Leave it to Jet Li to invent Tai Chi. Another potboiler plot filmed with epic scale and impeccable grace, Yuen Woo-ping’s Tai Chi Master pits the mild-mannered Junbao (Li) against childhood friend and wildcard Tienbo (Chin Siu Ho) in a rapidly escalating yarn about what happens when great power is grabbed without responsibility. See also: Michelle Yeoh transubstantiating table legs into stilts, upon which she balances while attempting to brain an opponent with a lute; an extended high-wire act dappling the side of an executioner’s tower, alternately kept up and torn apart mid-brawl by Junbao and a furious Tienbo, respectively; and a final battle atop precariously bouncy netting, Tienbo literally getting his come-uppance. Also? Junbao handles a ball of wind-bonded leaves as a raver would a pair of glowsticks. Every set-piece Yuen sets his eye to is a dead-serious lark, halfway between hilarity and awe, so that by the time Junbao’s kung fu is an equal match to Tienbo’s, their showdown is settling nothing less than an ultimate power struggle between good and evil.—Dom Sinacola

gladiator.jpg 42. Gladiator
Year: 2000
Director: Ridley Scott
Available on Netflix: July 1
In Gladiator, Sir Ridley Scott shamelessly leans on the glitz of Hollyrome; it’s a shallow, overused trope, but if you can stomach the utter film’s veneer of historical fakery, you’ll be rewarded with some absolutely spectacular bloodshed. Here, too, Gladiator wrestles with issues of accuracy – particularly in its opening fracas – but when swordplay and siege is this well staged, you’re on the wrong side of cinema if you dare reach for your Latin textbooks. Whether on the battlefield or in the arena, Gladiator’s magnificently orchestrated violence will keep you held firmly in its crimson-streaked thrall; you will be entertained.—Andy Crump

35.13assassins.NetflixList.jpg 41. 13 Assassins
Year: 2011
Director: Miike
I hesitate to make any grand statements about Miike growing as an artist because he’s always shifting and most of his pictures don’t find distribution here—case in point one of his 2011 productions is the certain-to-be-ridiculous Ninja Kids!!!. But 13 Assasssins feels like the work of a more mature filmmaker and perhaps the beginning of a new road for Miike, still unrestrained in its content but more considered with what that content is saying. It’s a Miike film that for once can be recommended without caveats, boldly treading new ground but also taking stock of what’s come before and not rejecting it outright.—Sean Gandert

braveheart-netflix.jpg 40. Braveheart
Year: 1995
Director: Mel Gibson
Like any number of other artists, we should be able to separate the creator from the creation. Sure, what we might now know or think about Mel Gibson as a person might not be very nice but, wow, do few films say “epic” quite like this one? Sprawling, bloody, beautifully realized and rich with meaning, this film is everything we hope for from this type of film.—David J. Greenberg

longest-day.jpg 39. The Longest Day
Year: 1962
Directors: Bernhard Wicki, Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton
Forget about the gore-soaked backdrops of Saving Private Ryan; more than five decades after its premiere, The Longest Day remains the D-Day film to end all D-Day films. There’s an easy joke in the title – just call it The Longest Movie – but the immense running time covers a lot of ground, from paratrooper counterattacks, to infiltration and sabotage, to British glider missions; it’s also stacked in the casting department, boasting the likes of John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Henry Ford, Sean Connery, Richard Burton, Rod Steiger, and countless others. You’ll need to block off three hours of your day to get through the whole shebang, but it’s more than worth the time investment.—Andy Crump

come-drink-with-me.jpg 38. Come Drink With Me
Year: 1966
Director: King Hu (with Sammo Hung)
With a female protagonist (Cheng Pei-pei) at the head of an army of warrior women and the Shaw Brothers’ stamp early on in the production company’s run, Come Drink With Me not only broke the wuxia mold, it practically created it. Without the film, there would have been no Kill Bill (Quentin Tarantino has even been rumored for years to have a remake in his docket); in fact, without this film’s meager success in the U.S., later bolstered by the Weinstein Brothers commitment to bringing martial arts classics to cult-inclined Western audiences, there are few other films of its ilk that would have ever been embraced outside of China and Hong Kong. Achingly tender in moments, with fight scenes that more resemble sophisticated, choreographed dance than realistic brawls, the influence of Come Drink With Me can’t be overstated. Even if you’ve never seen it, when you think of martial arts film, you think of something akin to this.—Dominic Sinacola

flash-point.jpg 37. Flash Point
Year: 2007
Director: Wilson Yip
Flash Point could probably have gotten away with spending its whole running time slow burning through its central cat and mouse crime yarn, so long as it still ended with Donnie Yen and Collin Chou beating the tar out of each other. Theirs is a brawl for the ages, a knock-down, drag-out scrap between two titans of the martial arts genre that holds back nothing in the brutality department. Luckily for us, Wilson Yip makes the rest of Flash Point just as propulsive and exciting as its climax, but the film’s real draw lies in seeing its two biggest stars lock horns.—Andy Crump

five-elements-ninjas.jpg 36. Five Elements Ninjas
Year: 1982
Director: Chang Cheh
This was Cheh’s swan song with the Shaw Brothers, as tastes were changing and leaving the costumed period pieces behind—but man, it’s a doozy. Responding to the out-there stylistic choices of the town, the director apparently said “I’ll just outdo everyone,” and he produced one of the most ludicrous (but awesome) kung fu films ever made. This is the essence of Saturday morning kung fu theater in America, but if you only saw it that way, it’s doing the film a disservice, because you’re likely to miss out on the surprising and sometimes comical gore of the fight scenes. The story revolves around a few young fighters seeking vengeance against a ninja clan that massacred their classmates, but it’s the villains that really stand out. Each group of ninjas has their own absurd costumes and ridiculous quirks. Gold ninjas use their shields to blind enemies. Water ninjas use snorkels and pull opponents down underwater to drown them. Fire ninjas use smoke shields to hide and move. Wood ninjas pose as trees and use claws to slash and tear. And finally, the supremely goofy Earth ninjas are somehow able to tunnel through solid soil like freaking earthworms and explode out of the ground with an almighty bang. Five Element Ninjas is as crazy as kung fu gets, but you’ve got to love it for its entertaining excesses.—Jim Vorel

33.Oldboy.NetflixList.jpg 35. Oldboy
Year: 2005
Director: Park Chan-wook
Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy is a mind-trip like no other, not to mention so violent it puts Quentin Tarantino’s flicks to shame. The film’s setup: a man thirsts for revenge and answers after he is held prisoner in a hotel room for 15 years, without ever knowing why. As the story movies from one bloody rampage to another, the film’s daring audacity gives away to a beating heart behind the madness. Packing a potent psychological punch, Oldboy is in a category all its own.—Jeremy Medina

tora-tora-tora.jpg 34. Tora! Tora! Tora!
Year: 1970
Directors: Richard Fleischer, Joseph Cotten, Kinji Fukasaku, Toshio Masuda
A surprisingly balanced dramatization of the attack on Pearl Harbor and its makings, this $25 million production at one point attracted Kurosawa to helm the Japanese sections of the drama, to its fair-minded credit set on both sides of the Pacific. When that didn’t pan out, 20th Century Fox execs Darryl F. Zanuck and his son Richard assigned the Japanese sequences to Kinji Fukasaku and Toshio Masuda, and the English portions to Richard Fleischer. The result is a dialogue-heavy chronology of one tactical error, miscommunication, accident, coincidence, blunder and bummer after another, each side of the story told in its respective native tongue (with subtitles). But one man’s exposition is another’s mansplaining, to which Tora! Tora! Tora! comes pretty ploddingly close. The “payoff” here is a riveting 45-minute finale whose mix of live action and scale model work—its historical accuracy overseen by technical advisors—adds to the documentary-like approach. Premiering three decades after that infamous December 1941 day—and as the Vietnam War raged on—Tora!’s even-handed treatment must’ve made for a curious moviegoing experience (it’s no wonder the film tanked stateside). Seen now, it’s even more of a contextual oddity.—Amanda Schurr

equilibrium.jpg 33. Equilibrium
Year: 2002
Director: Kurt Wimmer
In Equilibrium, Taye Diggs plays a future fascist law enforcement officer named Brandt, and near the climax of the film, Brandt gets his face cut off. That’s his whole face, impeccably separated from his head, hair- to jawline. This follows a kind of lightning-quick, future samurai sword fight in which Christian Bale’s character, the heroically named John Preston, has singlehandedly massacred his way, gun in one hand and sword in the other, through one law enforcement officer after another, determined to wrench humanity from the binds of a totalitarian state that has outlawed—you guessed it—feelings. Much like Taye Diggs’ face, Equilibrium is quite pretty in its action, very symmetrical. But also like his face, the fact that I just gave away a meaty part of the climax should be easily disconnected from whether or not you should still watch Equilibrium. You should: it’s all as simultaneously bonkers and well-mannered as the moment in which Taye Digg’s face slides off the front of his head like salami from a meat slicer.—Dom Sinacola

troll-hunter.jpg 32. Troll Hunter
Year: 2010
Director: André Øvredal
There’s no denying that at its beginning, Troll Hunter seems like another Blair Witch Project knock-off. The first 20 minutes show us a young camera crew investigating some unexplained bear deaths and a suspicious man who may be poaching them. But rather than drawing out the mystery, it takes a sharp turn and tells us matter-of-factly that of course it was trolls killing the bears, and not only that, here’s one of them ready to bonk you on the head. The titular Troll Hunter extraordinaire is played by the affable comedian Otto Jespersen, who brings the entire monster premise to an entirely different level through his nonchalant attitude. In every sense, Troll Hunter lives up to its ridiculous name and premise. —Sean Gandert

italian-job.jpg 31. The Italian Job
Year: 2003
Director: F. Gary Gray
Available on Netflix: July 1
The Italian Job is different from other heist movies in that it’s not all about the money or even the challenge of just trying to steal something without getting caught. Thought it still has the requisite wise-cracking and motley- yet-somehow close-knit-crew of thieves like countless other heist movies, The Italian Job is refreshingly different because it’s primarily about betrayal and revenge, rather than just money. Plus, Mini Coopers have never looked so cool.—Anita George

red-cliff.jpg 30. Red Cliff
Year: 2008
Director: John Woo
When we think of John Woo, we tend to think of gun ballads and Chow Yun-Fat. We’re not wired to think of large-scale portrayals of warfare, much less period dramas set during the end of the Han Dynasty. Magnolia split the film more or less in twain for its US release; you won’t find the full 288 version on Netflix Instant, but Red Cliff feels complete even with roughly half its content rotting on the cutting floor. This is a towering film, one that’s filled with allusion and metaphor, stratagem and scheming, sentimentality and philosophy, and eye-popping battle sequences that afford Woo plenty of room to harmonize historical accuracy with the signature flourishes that make him an action maestro.—Andy Crump

scarface.jpg 29. Scarface
Year: 1983
Director: Brian De Palma
Brian Depalma’s Scarface may be overrated, but it’s a cult classic with, perhaps, the most famous quote from any gangster film: “Say hello to my little friend.” In other words, the film—particularly Al Pacino—is completely over the top, which is both awful and awesome.—David Roark

the-hunter.jpg 28. The Hunter
Year: 2011
Director: Daniel Nettheim
Pensive and patiently paced, The Hunter is the story of an outsider in a perilous world where, amid a mission of crime, he entangles himself in the lives of a woman and her children, experiencing love and compassion for perhaps the first time. By film’s end, the tale has become a grand and gripping moral dilemma that plays out not as poetic justice but, instead, as divine grace. A grave and grizzly Willem Dafoe plays the outsider—the Hunter—a loner named Martin hired by a pharmaceutical corporation to track down the last Tasmanian tiger. Martin, a skilled and ruthless marksman, takes the job like any other, but upon arriving on the Australian island of Tasmania, he realizes that something isn’t right: The family with whom he stays suffers in the aftermath of their father going missing. The island stands divided between greenies and loggers. The locals threaten his life. Given the premise and setting of The Hunter, Nettheim has every opportunity to turn his film into a political lecture about the preservation of nature; instead, he keeps the environmental issues secondary and focuses on the story at hand. The Hunter showcases Nettheim’s ability to tell a story effectively, grounding it in humanity, while also exhibiting the director’s real sense of scale visually, as he brings his tale to the screen with magnificence and grandeur. Excitingly, the young director also emerges as an optimist, giving us a buoyant and riveting finale.—David Roark

battle-royale.jpg 27. Battle Royale
Directors: Kinji Fukasaku
Year: 2000
It’s OK to compare Battle Royale to The Hunger Games movies—or, rather, to find how the lasting accomplishments of the latter franchise were essentially done better and with so much more efficiency by the former—because you probably will anyway. Battle Royale, like the immensely successful four-film crash course in crafting an action star who is really only a symbol of an action star, chronicles a government-sanctioned battle to the death between a group of teens on a weird, weapon-strewn island. (There are even regular island-wide announcements of the day’s dead as the sun sets on the remaining children.) Yet, Battle Royale is so lean in its exposition, so uninterested in dragging out its symbolism or metaphor, that one can’t help but marvel at how cleanly Fukasaku (who had a full career behind him when he made this, only three years before he died) can lend depth to these children, building stakes around them to the point that their deaths matter and their doomed plights sting. What the director can do with such a tenuous premise (which The Hunger Games takes multiple films to do, and without a single ounce of levity) is astounding—plus, he wrangled Beat Takeshi Kitano to play the President Snow-type character, which Kitano does to near-perfection. That Battle Royale II sets out to up the stakes of the first film, especially given the first film’s crazy success in Japan, is to be expected, but stick to the first: Battle Royale will make you care about kids murdering each other more than you (probably) would anyway.—Dom Sinacola

bridge-river-kwai.jpg 26. The Bridge on the River Kwai
Year: 1957
Director: David Lean
Before he was beach-bumming on Tatooine, Alec Guiness was known by many as Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson in David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai. The film follows a group of Allied comandos in the Burmese jungle as they attempt to destroy a bridge built by British POWs. Many times, explosions are exactly what they seem: dazzling and destructive. But in Kwai, the bridge’s destruction is a symbol for the film’s thematic message on war as a whole, as Major Clipton aptly describes in the closing scene as “madness.”—Darren Orf