The 35 Best Action Movies on Netflix

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troll-hunter.jpg 20. 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


red-cliff.jpg 19. 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


the-hunter.jpg 18. 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


kung-fu-killer-poster.jpg 17. Kung Fu Killer
Year: 2014
Director: Teddy Chan
Despite the messy neck-slittings, face-knucklings and bone-splinterings, Kung Fu Killer (née Kung Fu Jungle) shows a lot of respect. Not for body parts or for the basic laws of physics, but for the cinematic bloodline it so gleefully splits open and spills all over the hyper-neon streets of present-day Hong Kong. Director Teddy Chan knows his way around a brutal fight scene for sure, and he makes it clear from even the film’s first moments—when action legend Donnie Yen confesses a murder to two duty cops, played by Hong Kong film stalwarts Steve Chan (sound) and stuntman Wong Wai-fai—that his return to directing after five years will be totally in thrall to the filmmaking dynasties that raised him. —Dom Sinacola


7-The-way-back-best-war-movies-netflix.jpg 16. The Way Back
Year: 2010
Director: Peter Weir
Peter Weir’s WWII-era survival movie may be based on a disputed “true story,” but it holds indisputable truths about man’s perseverance in impossible odds. A prison break movie that soon morphs into an epic travelogue, The Way Back displays a bountiful variety of scenery, as a disparate group of POWs and political undesirables escapes from a Soviet gulag to trek 4,000 miles across Asia, from ice-blanketed Siberia through dusty Mongolia and on to lush India, the final destination getting always further away as the group discover how far the tyrannical communism they flee has spread. It’s one of Weir’s less remarkable films, but even Weir in a minor key is still compelling entertainment, and as usual he casts to a T: the top-drawer ensemble includes Ed Harris as a grizzly American engineer, Saoirse Ronan as a Polish stray who joins the escapees on their pilgrimage and, best of all, a wonderfully scuzzy Colin Farrell as a feral Russian gangster who’s spent so long imprisoned he hasn’t a clue what to do with freedom. —Brogan Morris


doctor-strange.jpg 15. Doctor Strange
Year: 2016
Director: Scott Derrickson
When the folks at Marvel Studios truly realized, likely via The Avengers in 2012, that these films were comedies just as much as they were action-adventure stories, it crystallized the format in ways both positive and somewhat limiting. The result is that one can never quite take seriously claims that a new film is going to “break the mold” of the MCU, but at the same time it’s hardly something to complain about, when that mold is fundamentally solid and entertaining. To that end, Doctor Strange is crowd-pleasing and exciting—funny when it should be, sober when it has to be and crackling with a magical mystique that adds a veiled layer of depth to the inner workings of the Marvel universe. Even without too many overt references to the rest of the MCU, everything in Doctor Strange makes one wonder how the revelation of the Marvel Multiverse will affect the likes of Iron Man, Captain America and others. —Jim Vorel


kill-zone-2-poster.jpg 14. Kill Zone 2
Year: 2014
Director: Cheang Pou Sou
The first thing to note about Kill Zone 2 is that Kill Zone 2 isn’t its actual title. Its actual title is SPL II: A Time for Consequences, in which “SPL” spells out to “Sha Po Lang,” a collective Chinese phrase that refers to a trio of stars used in methods of fortune telling. “Sha” signifies power, “Po” destruction, “Lang” lust—but you’d think that at least one of them would translate roughly to something along the lines of “Tony Jaa and Wu Jing kick your ass.” Kill Zone 2 isn’t about astrology, it’s about two in-shape, highly skilled martial artists teaming up to crack skulls, snap limbs and pummel leukemia. The second thing to note about Kill Zone 2 is that it’s a sequel in name only to 2005’s Kill Zone—Cheang Pou Soi’s follow up to Wilson Yip’s original is its own picture, a sprawling action thriller split into three separate but interconnected plotlines. As such, its very foundation is built on coincidences, which add excess density to an already dense narrative. But Cheang keeps the threads straight, which is as impressive a feat as any of his film’s stunts. In fact, Kill Zone 2 impresses all around. —Andy Crump


kung-fu-panda.jpg 13. Kung Fu Panda
Year: 2008
Directors: Mark Osborne, John Stevenson
Like Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle, DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda punctuates its light-hearted, comedic tone with surprisingly poignant moments along with nonstop homages to a giant list of truly classic Kung Fu films, often scene by scene. In the end, I had to give it to Kung Fu Panda as the more tightly constructed film, though really, they both might as well share this spot with the sheer amount of love for the genre that comes through when watching either film. Jack Black voices Po’s (totally awesome) journey from bumbling martial arts fanboy to unlikely hero with such sincerity that it’s hard not to get swept along, especially given the equally strong performances by Dustin Hoffman as the perpetually exasperated Master Shifu and Ian McShane as the menacing Tai Lung. —K. Alexander Smith


african-queen.jpg 12. The African Queen
Year: 1951
Director: John Huston
The madcap, screwball comedies of the ‘30s and ‘40s helped set the template for the battle-of-the-sexes comedies that would populate American cinemas for years to come (and still do, to some extent). Writer/director John Huston’s genius in making The African Queen was taking the feuding couple out of the metropolitan areas for which they’d often been associated with and instead placing them square in the middle of an inhospitable jungle. With the added element of survival driving their journey, the flirtatious banter between classy widow Rose Sayer (Katherine Hepburn) and crass boatman Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) crackles all the more, making for a rom-com as vicious as it is sweet. —Mark Rozeman


captain-america-cw.jpg 11. Captain America: Civil War
Year: 2016
Directors: Joe and Anthony Russo
As the MCU enters if not maturity, at least its late adolescence, its greatest achievement as embodied in Captain America: Civil War may lie in a continued absence rather than in the presence of something. Watching an MCU film is an act that’s free from unnecessary distractions related to characters and source material. Captain America looks and acts like Captain America. And that’s been true in all five films in which he’s appeared. The same is true for Ant-Man (Paul Rudd)—Scott Lang version—who has appeared now in two films, and even for Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) with just a mid-sized, if important, role in one. Meanwhile, at other studios, the failure to seemingly even understand the core nature and appeal of their characters means every one of their films has moments that cause both fans and new viewers alike to scratch their heads. For many, the distractions build and clutter and puncture both the anticipation for and enjoyment of these films. In addition to everything else it’s done right, Marvel Studios continues to get out of the way of its own characters. If one thinks of the each MCU film as a juggling act—and each hero’s origin, “flavor” and power set as its own subset of items that must be kept in motion and in proper relation with each other—then as a series both Avengers films and Captain America: Civil War can be seen as an escalation of the routine that’s as impressive as it is necessary. After all, with each additional hero added, with each additional demand placed on the script in both action and dialogue, Kevin Feige and company are building toward Infinity. —Michael Burgin


hot-fuzz.jpg 10. 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


Beasts-of-No-Nation-Poster-1.jpg 9. 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


big-trouble-little-china.jpg 8. Big Trouble In Little China
Year: 1986
Director: John Carpenter 
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


ip-man.jpg 7. 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


kagemusha.jpg 6. 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


36th-chamber.jpg 5. 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


inglourious_basterds_ver14.jpg 4. Inglourious Basterds
Year: 2009
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino’s dual loves of vengeance and cinema have never had a purer expression than the face of a Jewish cinematheque owner projected Oz-like onto the smoke of Nazis aflame…To an almost touching degree, Inglourious Basterds recognizes that the vengeance driving so many films—and certainly Tarantino’s own—is a cinematic impulse, a fantasy of light and sound, a bonfire of highly combustible nitrate film stock, cleanly separated from common sense and actual history. For once, Tarantino doesn’t allude left and right to other movies, but instead makes celluloid itself a literal part of the story. Put another way, he draws his story into the celluloid. —Robert Davis


pirates.jpg 3. 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


ElDorado210x310.jpg 2. El Dorado
Year: 1966
Director: Howard Hawks
Easily one of the best Westerns ever made, and perhaps one of the best movies ever made period, El Dorado is Howard Hawks at his best and most self-referential. In case the obvious question need be asked: Might this be Hawks’ re-do of his own 1959 masterwork, Rio Bravo? In many ways, yes, absolutely, 100%, hands-down. Both are about ragtag teams of heroes joining in defiance against arrogant ranchers, greedy men with varying nefarious aims, and both star John Wayne. When you strike gold, you strike gold, and Rio Bravo being a hit, maybe we can understand why Hawks decided to rehash it twice over the next 10 years and change. (Note: Avoid the second of these, 1970’s Rio Lobo. It’s sort of a dud.) If El Dorado is the lesser version of Rio Bravo, though, it’s still excellent, seasoned with a nimble sense of humor, superb action, and strong performances bolstered by the chemistry of Hawks’ cast, expanding beyond Wayne to include Robert Mitchum, Arthur Hunnicutt and James Caan. (The perspective shift helps, too.) El Dorado willingly engages with perfectly Western concepts of death and mortality, perhaps reflecting the span of time separating it from Rio Bravo. —Andy Crump


full-metal-jacket.jpg 1. 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

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