The 50 Best Action Movies on Netflix

Movies Lists Netflix
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a-hijacking.jpg 25. A Hijacking
Year: 2012
Director: Tobias Lindholm
A Hijacking delivers all the thrills the title suggests, but in none of the places you’d expect them. Even the hijacking—the most obvious candidate for a set piece—happens off camera. The movie depicts a volatile situation that could go wrong at any moment. A single misstep could cost people their lives. This creates a psychological strain not only on the prisoners, but on the people trying to free them. Danish writer/director Tobias Lindholm has crafted the movie in a straight-forward manner that lays out the scenario and lets the emotions come forth on their own. Shot with handheld cameras, the movie cross-cuts between two perspectives. On the ship, Somali pirates hold hostage the crew of a freight ship bound for India. Back in Denmark, the corporate office attempts to get everyone home safely. There would have been several easy, predictable ways to make a film about A Hijacking’s subject matter. Lindholm pressed toward unexpected territory and found the real drama.—Jeremy Mathews


crippled-avengers.jpg 24. Crippled Avengers
Year: 1978
Director: Chang Cheh
In a time when exploitation cinema seemed the standard for cheap movie houses the world over, no martial arts flick got much better than this Shaw Brothers staple, which eventually adopted the much more PC title, Return of the 5 Deadly Venoms. The blind one, the deaf mute, the one without legs, and the brain-damaged “idiot”: together, they make an unstoppable force of vengeance against the local martial arts master who crippled them, and his son, who ironically lost his arms at a young age, and so sports dart-shooting cast-iron facsimiles. In other words, Crippled Avengers plays it cool, allowing our disfigured heroes few but important victories for most of the film, building up to its final 25-minute series of fight scenes, in which a blind man, a deaf mute, a man with iron prosthetic legs, and an acrobatic “idiot” combine their individual strengths to defeat a kung fu master with, basically, robot arms. Movies like this are the reasons we get up in the morning.—Dominic Sinacola


drug-war.jpg 23. Drug War
Year: 2012
Director: Johnnie To
When Hong Kong director Johnnie To finally released Drug War, his first film completely shot in mainland China, it felt like a culmination—of his unfussy knack for style; of his gracefully plotted potboiling; and, most of all, of the one thing he was probably put on this planet to realize: his effortless ability to direct elaborate action setpieces. Which isn’t to say that Drug War is built like Peter Jackson’s wet dream; instead, it just demonstrates that some of the best action films resist drumming up intensity through unhinged camera movement or breathless editing. Drug War is clean, it’s clear, it breathes with room despite its suffocating tension—it’s able to feel like some epic battle between good and evil borne of a bunch of simple pulp elements. And in its final 20 minutes it comes together as a beautiful, meticulously shoot-out that both decimates all life we’ve come to know and love in the slick 90 minutes before it, and does something even better: shows what purity looks like in an action movie. Nothing wasted, nothing unearned, and every moment completely realized. It’s brutal.—Dom Sinacola


aint-them-bodies-saints-poster.jpg 22. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
Year: 2013
Director: David Lowery
At the risk of sounding a bit melodramatic, it must be said that Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is not a movie; it’s a feeling. Director David Lowery took the rugged, Americana feel of a great western, the overwhelming sentimentality of a tragic romance, the thrill of a crime drama, and the sound and tempo of some kind of epic Southern odyssey, and he created a new feeling…Casey Affleck is the standout actor, and this is his saga. Down to his very jawline, Affleck captures the physicality and feeling of a sincerely romantic outlaw.—Shannon M. Houston


gomorrah.jpg 21. Gomorrah
Year: 2008
Director: Matteo Garrone
Gritty like The Godfather or the work of Martin Scorsese, Gomorrah depicts five microcosmic stories of the brutal underground mafia scene in Naples. The cast of largely untrained actors only enhances the film’s grim authenticity, and that authenticity is bolstered by the fact that the film’s source material, the bestselling book of same name, required author Roberto Saviano to get a permanent police escort. Harrowing in its matter-of-factness, the Academy criminally overlooked one of 2008’s best by not nominating it for Best Foreign Film.—Jeremy Medina


hot-fuzz.jpg 20. Hot Fuzz
Year: 2007
Director: Edgar Wright
The second chapter in the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy (before there was ever such a thing), Hot Fuzz is clear evidence that Edgar Wright is capable of anything. A blockbuster action flick, a thriller, a pulp plot, a winking noir, a commentary on classism in an increasingly urbanized society—the movie is all of these things, down to the marrow of its very existence. Moreso than Shaun of the Dead or The World’s End, Hot Fuzz inhabits its influences with the kind of aplomb to which any cinephile can relate: Somewhere between fascination, revulsion and pure visceral joy there walks the Michael Bays, the Don Simpsons, the John Woos, the Jerry Bruckheimers, and Wright gives each stalwart his due. Plus, he does so with total respect, showing that he understands their films inside and out. And in that intimate knowledge he knows even better that filmmaking is a conflagration: Best to burn it all down and see what remains than build it from the ground up.—Dom Sinacola


in-bruges.jpg 19. In Bruges
Year: 2008
Director: Martin McDonagh
You know you’ve tripped into the ambiguous realm of Postmodernism when medieval Europe, midget jokes and ultraviolence converge into a seamless whole. Theater auteur Martin McDonagh’s debut feature, In Bruges, thrives on these stylistic clashes with its narrative of two sympathetic hitmen who seek refuge in a European wonderland full of tourists and irony. The ?lm excels, painting its story through the extreme juxtaposition of its subjects, with each contrasting plot element not only understood but felt visually. This technique pits staccato violence against the surreal camera pans of Bruges’ fairy-tale cityscape, projecting the internal con?ict of hired killers Ken and Ray against their new, pacifying environment. The ?lm’s visual appeal complements irreverent and hilarious dialogue—timed brilliantly with the Anglo-Saxon bravado of Fiennes, Farrell and Gleeson—to produce one of this holiday season’s most pleasant dark-horse dramadies.—Sean Edgar


mi3.jpg 18. Mission: Impossible III
Year: 2006
Director: J.J. Abrams
Mission: Impossible is that rare (some would say, one-of-a-kind) film franchise where the latter installments improve upon the ones that came before. All the more fascinating is how each film so thoroughly reflects the sensibilities of the filmmaker behind the camera. J.J. AbramsMission: Impossible III stands as perhaps the most action-packed and intensely emotional of the series. Most noted at the time for his television work, including directing and co-writing the groundbreaking pilots for Alias and Lost, Mission: Impossible III would act as Abrams’ feature film directorial debut. Here, audiences witnessed the birth of one of my America’s finest filmmakers—a man for whom hitting good character beats and constructing elaborate action set pieces brought about an equal level of fervor. If you need proof, one need only watch the film’s opening scene, which still stands as one of the most gripping in Abrams’ extensive career.—Mark Rozeman


django-unchained.jpg 17. Django Unchained
Year: 2013
Director: Quentin Tarantino
The best thing about Quentin Tarantino is also the worst thing about Quentin Tarantino—he believes, wholeheartedly, in whatever he’s doing. Most of the time, what he’s doing consists of overly referential homage mashups with dialogue that would give most screenwriters carpal tunnel. The old video store clerk is sublime at saying important things through mediums that don’t usually convey them—Kung Fu films, revenge fantasies and spaghetti Westerns, for starters. He is an artist dressed as a Philistine, splattering the screen with cartoonish violence when what he’s really blowing is our minds. Although Tarantino’s latest effort isn’t his best, it is his most ambitious, and for someone capable of so much, that means quite a lot.—Tyler Chase


Beasts-of-No-Nation-Poster-1.jpg 16. Beasts of No Nation
Year: 2015
Director: Cary Fukunaga
Netflix’s debut venture into filmmaking tackles the dark reality of child soldiers. Beasts of No Nation stars Idris Elba as a nameless Commandant recruiting children for war in an unnamed country in Africa. A civil war has left many children without a family, and the Commandant takes full advantage of the young boys’ vulnerabilities, particularly one boy called Agu (Abraham Attah). By the end, the children form a full-fledged army under the Commandant, mercilessly killing and conquering as a group. Cary Fukunaga (True Detective) directs.—Alice Barsky


the-killer.jpg 15. The Killer
Year: 1989
Director: John Woo
The Killer is one of a few reasons that Chow Yun-fat will maintain unquestionable badass status until the day he dies. A perfect fusion of magnetic star and hyperkinetic director, it may be the most essential film in John Woo’s impressive, sprawling filmography. Chow plays a hitman who, in the way of these films, is trying to leave the business. Of course he gets roped back in for the old “one last job” spiel, in this case to help a young, blinded woman from his past. The plot is simply a web of cliches; the film is a classic for the glorious, crazy, over-the-top gun battles and fight scenes. With akimbo pistols never seemingly needing reloading, Woo’s style of “gun fu” was extremely influential on directors such as Quentin Tarantino. John Wick is basically, in its aesthetics, a love letter to The Killer.—Jim Vorel


big-trouble-little-china.jpg 14. Big Trouble In Little China
Year: 1986
Director: John Carpenter
Available on Netflix: July 1
Next to The Thing or Halloween, Big Trouble In Little China feels like little more than a lark, one more toss-off showcase for John Carpenter’s genre-bending curatorial spirit. Part goopy menagerie of grotesque special effects, part super-cool fantasy adventure, Big Trouble follows an all-American truck driver as he falls ass-backwards into a plot involving an ancient Chinese sorcerer seeking to fulfill a prophecy that will restore him to human form. The flick eschews all senses of horror or tension to focus on carefree action bro Jack Burton, the aforementioned trucker played to the hilt by Kurt Russell, who was pretty much at the height of his laid-back dude-ical powers back in the ‘80s. In fact, Carpenter may be that decade’s best unheralded action director, and Russell his charming muse, way more fun to watch than a Schwarzenegger or a Stallone or a VanDamme—Adonises barely able to grimace out full sentences, let alone crack a smile—because there wasn’t much more to what he was doing, or what Carpenter was filming, than going mullet-first into whatever madcap caper struck his fancy. All one-liners, shameless machismo, shiny biceps, and a gnarly pair of mom jeans, Jack Burton is comparable perhaps only to John McClane in his unflagging ability to take absolutely nothing seriously about the serious situation around him.—Dom Sinacola


kagemusha.jpg 13. Kagemusha
Year: 1980
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Like Rashomon before it, Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha proves the director is as much a master of story plotting as he is perfectionist over the smallest technical nuances in his films—though here, he’s painting on a far grander canvas. Not long after the peak of their relevance, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola helped secure financing for Kurosawa to finally film this extraordinary, sweeping epic, with both admitting to owing the filmmaker a huge debt as an influence. That alone is excuses an Ewok (and Jack) or two.—Scott Wold


ip-man.jpg 12. Ip Man
Year: 2008
Director: Wilson Yip
2008’s Ip Man was finally the moment when the truly excellent but never fairly regarded Donnie Yen came into his own, playing a loosely biographical version of the legendary grandmaster of Wing Chung and teacher of a number of future martial arts masters, one of whom was Bruce Lee. The film takes place in 1930s Foshan (a city famous for martial arts in southern/central China), where the unassuming wing chung master tries to weather the 1937 Japanese invasion and occupation of China peacefully, but is eventually forced into action. Crazy, limb-breaking, face-pulverizing action. This semi-historical film succeeds gloriously both as cinema and as martial arts fan-bait.—K. Alexander Smith


fist-of-legend-netflix.jpg 11. Fist of Legend
Year: 1994
Director: Gordon Chan
Jet Li is one of the few kung fu practitioners who can make the claim that he’s played his own teacher and student—his character Chen Zhen is the student of Huo Yuanjia, who he then played 12 years later in Fearless. Fist of Legend, on the other hand, is essentially a remake of Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury, another tale pitting Chinese nationalist against the oppression of Japanese invaders in the Second Sino-Japanese War. There’s nothing too fancy about the story: “You killed my master, and I’m going to get to the bottom of it.” What’s fancy is the fighting, because oh man, can Jet Li kick some serious ass in this one. Through most of the film, he’s seriously on another level, until he meets the seemingly superpowered Japanese guy who is the final villain. I actually prefer one of the earlier fights, though, when Jet takes on an entire school of Japanese karate students—and then punches their master right on the bottom of the foot in a particularly goofy bit of violence.—Jim Vorel


man-who-shot-liberty.jpg 10. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
No longer streaming on Netflix
Year: 1962
Director: John Ford
When it comes to the movies’ finest moments of cynical/wise dialogue, Chinatown’s “Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown” may be the only equal to “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” the epitaph for John Ford’s superb Western. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is about how Americans tend to romanticize the past, in the process losing a grasp on the facts, and so it’s appropriate that some viewers may have forgotten that neither of the film’s stars (James Stewart and John Wayne) actually plays Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin), the feared gunman who threatens Stewart’s mild-manned lawyer. A story about living with secrets and questioning history, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance presages stellar revisionist Westerns like McCabe & Mrs. Miller and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.—Tim Grierson


jurassic-park.jpg 9. Jurassic Park
Genre: The “summer blockbuster”
Year: 1993
Director: Steven Spielberg
 Jurassic Park, in 1993, was an achievement in major league filmmaking. Like Star Wars before it, it was a quantum leap in visual effects—both physical and CGI, in this case. Most important, however, were those CGI advancements. Jurassic Park, for better or worse, probably represents the first moment in AAA Hollywood filmmaking where an audience could look at CGI-driven creatures, nod their heads, and simply accept them as part of the story—call it the moment where CGI graduated to the modern era. Married with one of the greatest pure adventure movies in Spielberg’s celebrated canon, Jurassic Park was representative of the spectacle we’ve come to expect in the traditional “blockbuster.” That loose term, since the days of Jaws, has always referred to a breed of films that are supposed to succeed by wowing us and making jaws drop. Jurassic Park did that in a way that infinitely raised expectations for every effects-driven blockbuster thereafter.—Jim Vorel


lethal-weapon.jpg 8. Lethal Weapon
Year: 1987
Director: Richard Donner
Available on Netflix: July 1
In Lethal Weapon—and particularly in Murtaugh and Riggs—we have the mother of all buddy-cop pairings. Through the years, this Mel Gibson/Danny Glover partnership went on to become a four-movie franchise, but it’s the first one that sets the stage for the entire genre. Both men hate working in pairs (a typical tropes in this type of movie), but set aside their differences to stop a gang of drug smugglers. Even though there were buddy-cop pairings before this 1987 film, Lethal Weapon became both the prototype and the standard by which all others are judged.—Christian Becker


36th-chamber.jpg 7. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin
Year: 1978
Director: Lau Kar-leung
And this is why any kung fu fan will always love Gordon Liu. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is as classic as it gets—the definitive Shaolin movie, without a doubt, and the source of Liu’s nickname, “Master Killer.” He plays a young student who is wounded when his school is culled by the Manchu government, so he flees to the refuge of the Shaolin temple. After toiling as a laborer, he is finally granted the right to learn kung fu, which begins the film’s famous training sequences. It’s the rare film where those training sequences actually outshine the traditional fights, because they’re just so beautiful, fluid and inventive. In each of the 36 chambers, San Te must toil to discipline his body, mind, reflexes and will. They make up the whole center of the film, and are unforgettable. The film just has a gravitas—it imbues kung fu with a great dignity, because true kung fu can only be attained through the greatest of sacrifice.—Jim Vorel


pirates.jpg 6. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Year: 2003
Director: Gore Verbinski
Daring to base the central character of a Disney franchise on a notorious junkie-alcoholic walking-corpse rock star like Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards was a coup, but even more mind-blowing was how well Depp’s crazy idea worked. Guzzling rum as he bobs and weaves—stumbles, really—through this film delivering hilariously slurred one-liners, he is the consummate goodhearted scoundrel, easily stealing every frame he flamboyantly swaggers across.—Steve LaBate


et.jpg 5. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Year: 1982
Director: Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg’s classic is many things: an ode to friendship that resonates with child and adult alike, one of the top-grossing films of all time, and the moment his career, on a scale of 1-10, reached 11. Though the Academy would not award Spielberg the Best Director trophy until there were more Nazis involved, E.T. remains perhaps the most deft expression of his directorial hand.—Michael Burgin


full-metal-jacket.jpg 4. Full Metal Jacket
Year: 1987
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Before filling out, rather unfortunately, before our eyes on Law & Order: Criminal Minds, Vincent D’Onofrio piled on 70 lbs. for his role as Pvt. “Gomer Pyle” Lawrence before demonstrating exactly what was his Major Malfunction was to R. Lee Ermey’s Gunnery Sgt. Hartman. Stanley Kubrick’s film is a meat grinder of a reflection on the myriad horrible choices confronted in war. Along with providing an apex for Matthew Modine’s career, it also makes its case for being one of the best war movies ever made.—Scott Wold


princess-bride.jpg 3. The Princess Bride
Year: 1987
Director: Rob Reiner
Quite possibly the most perfectly executed transformation of a beloved book to a beloved film in the history of the sport. A family-friendly “kissing movie” with pitch-perfect performances by the entire cast—from main character to bit player—The Princess Bride is the most relentlessly quotable film anywhere this side of Monty Python and their Holy Grail. Though regarded warmly enough by critics, its status as comedic fable ensures it is criminally underrated on most lists. Inconceivable? Alas, no. But unfair, nonetheless.—Michael Burgin


Reservoir-Dogs.jpg 2. Reservoir Dogs
Year: 1992
Director: Quentin Tarantino
 Reservoir Dogs’ debut at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival launched not only the career of one Quentin Tarantino but an American indie genre unto itself characterized by extreme violence, profane dialogue, nonlinear storytelling and a curated soundtrack. Many have tried, but none of his imitators has achieved the visual and aural poetry at work in Tarantino’s oeuvre, particularly his magnum opus Pulp Fiction, upon whose release in 1994 newly minted fans went back to discover the aftermath of Mr. Blonde, Mr. Blue, Mr. Brown, Mr. Orange, Mr. Pink and Mr. White’s botched diamond heist (but not the heist itself). This is where it all began.—Annlee Ellingson


pulp-fiction.jpg 1. Pulp Fiction
Year: 1994
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Still Quentin Tarantino’s greatest accomplishment, Pulp Fiction rehashes a handful of other great gangster movies to form a modern masterpiece. In a full-circle plot of crossings and complications, the smart aleck of a movie takes us on an ultra-violent and ultra-funny ride with John Travolta at his best and Samuel L. Jackson dropping F-bombs like no one else.—David Roark

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