The Best Action Movies on Netflix

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The Best Action Movies on Netflix

The best action movies on Netflix reflect an unheralded Golden Age of ultra-stylized, bone-snapping violence: hand-to-hand combat, car chases, gun fights, sword clashes, futuristic lasers and lightsabers, spaceship battles, derring-do and great escapes, jungle adventures and animated spectacle. Bring the excitement into your home care of the following, which range from martial arts classics and war movies to sci-fi superhero blockbusters, spy flicks and—maybe, just maybe—the first R-rated movie you ever snuck into before you turned 17.

Here are the best action movies streaming on Netflix right now:

death-race-2050.jpg 35. Death Race 2050
Year: 2016
Director: G.J. Echternkamp
The first official sequel to Paul Bertel’s Death Race 2000—43 years later—the almost mathematically sound Death Race 2050 is almost worthy of inheriting its predecessor’s cult lineage, but can’t quite get an insightful enough bead on the many issues it attempts to skewer. It’s dumb, and it knows it’s dumb—knows that it should be dumb—but it doesn’t actually want to be dumb, which is probably where it goes from sci-fi action romp to dour thriller and pushes to a climax that literally burns everything to the ground. Just as our country deserves. Still, director G.J. Echternkamp—who’s on Netflix five times, twice as the director of the documentary and the film based on the documentary about his dysfunctional parents—knows how to squeeze every drop of insanity from an already-strangled budget, which makes the scope of Death Race 2050 even more impressive. It’s a big dumb movie about a future cross-country race in which killing innocent people is rewarded and mass destruction a given, but it’s also a Marxist screed against a dystopic future in which the means of labor are taken from us and society is subdued by virtual reality fantasy, as well as the best representation in over a decade of Malcolm McDowell at his purest: puerile, pompous and entirely game for whatever. —Dom Sinacola


wheelman.jpg 34. Wheelman
Year: 2017
Director: Jeremy Rush
Netflix exclusive Wheelman is a brilliant case-study in cinematic minimalism. The barely-80-minutes-long action/thriller hybrid stars Frank Grillo, one of our most underrated genre actors, as Wheelman—your everyday getaway driver with a heart of gold. Expectedly, the plot is nothing more than a mere vessel to usher Grillo’s Wheelman from stunt to stunt. Someone is double-crossed, someone is blamed and Wheelman’s family gets mixed up in some shady business. In turn, he sets off in his car to get to the bottom of it and save the ones he loves. From then on out, the film is in near constant motion as the camera almost never leaves the confines of Wheelman’s BMW. It’s almost a one-man show for Grillo—think Locke but with a higher body count—so writer-director Jeremy Rush fills every scene with an underlying tension built from Grillo’s quiet, but strained performance paired with the genuine claustrophobic nature of remaining in the car’s interior. The car chase and action scenes are breathlessly intense due to the camerawork and practicality of the stunts themselves. The viewer sees, quite literally, what driver input goes into making a car drift and every impact on the car feels chunky and tangible as the camera bobs and shakes with every clash. Yet, Rush’s camera remains beautifully steady until it can’t be steady anymore. For example, in one scene, Wheelman idles in his BMW, revving the engine every now and then to keep it warm, and in a matter of seconds a gunfight erupts, blood sprays, bodies crash and fall and Wheelman puts his gun away as he catches his breath. Blunt and abrupt, the scene has no lead-up, the film employing a naturalistic soundscape. Though Wheelman nearly falls apart in the end once plot reasons force Grillo out of his car and into a seemingly different, more generic film, overall it’s worth the ride. —Cole Henry


blood-bone-movie-poster.jpg 33. Blood and Bone
Year: 2009
Director: Ben Ramsey
We begin with the silhouette of Michael Jai White, an impressive specimen of man, and we end on the same silhouette, though this time festooned with a quote from Genghis Khan: “I am the punishment of God…If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.” In between, White defines that silhouette, hardly going a scene without absolutely pummeling one brute after another, rarely if ever showing any sign that he possesses such human attributes as weakness or doubt or moral compromise or even the urge to dull his martial prowess with vice (sex, drugs, technology, food, water). It’s as if director Ben Ramsey wants only to portray White (the titular Bone, no last name, no discernible backstory) as a quasi-spiritual Hand of God, commissioned by untold powers to strike down all who do us dirty with magnificent fury and efficiency. What initially seems like a total lack of stakes gradually emerges as an impressively lean attitude towards an otherwise standard action flick, Ramsey’s fight scenes abundant and brief, the plot’s big baddie (an intimidating Eamonn Walker) exactly the kind of ruthless we love to see brought to his knees, even if the movie shies away from some thorny racial politics in its last minutes. Kimbo Slice is here. Rufio (Dante Basco as the perfectly named Pinball) can’t go half a line without screaming an obscenity. To expect anything more than a sleek, satisfying spectacle of unmitigated, marrow-splitting violence would be no less than a waste of Michael Jai White’s time. —Dom Sinacola


the final master poster (Custom).jpg 32. The Final Master
Year: 2016
Director: Haofeng Xu
Haofeng Xu’s The Final Master is a methodically paced, contemplative martial arts period piece that, while it can’t match Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster (which Xu co-wrote) in sheer visual splendor, at least still looks pretty darn great. It’s the tale of a Wing Chun master (Liao Fun), not unlike the the seemingly cinematically obligatory Ip Man, who travels to a new city to establish a school of his own to keep the art form alive, but must first train a student to take on a series of challenges from rival schools. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the same basic structure forms the crux of the first half of Ip Man 2. The Final Master, however, aspires to something deeper (even if it never quite gets there), counterpointing the sorrow and emotional scars of the protagonist’s long-suffering wife with the hero’s all-consuming passion to keep his martial art alive. Still, the film’s chock full of scintillating knives and edged weapon combat; it’s almost as if we’re supposed to consider the art form more important than any of the characters who practice it. —Jim Vorel


rogue-one-210.jpg 31. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Year: 2016
Director: Gareth Edwards
Gareth Edwards’ venture into a galaxy far, far away is the Star Wars film we never knew we needed. It’s a triumphantly thrilling, serious-minded war movie that is incalculably stronger for the fact that it’s NOT the first chapter in a new franchise. Rogue One is a complete film in a way that no other Star Wars movie other than A New Hope is capable of being. It doesn’t “set the stage” for an inevitable next installment, and its characters are all the realer for the fact that they’re not perpetually sheathed in blasterproof Franchise Armor. It is, so help me, a satisfyingly complete story, and I had no idea until I watched the film how refreshing that concept would be. Our protagonist is Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a plucky young woman whose brilliant scientist father (Mads Mikkelsen) has been controlled throughout her life by the Empire and coerced into designing superweapons of the moon-sized, planet-killing variety. Forced into a young adulthood on the fringes of the Rebel Alliance, she’s assembled a Jack Sparrow-esque rap sheet and, as the film begins, finds herself in Imperial prison on various petty charges. What Rogue One is, most accurately, is what it was sold as all along: a legitimate war movie/commando story, albeit with some familial entanglements. —Jim Vorel


hellboy-2-movie-poster.jpg 30. Hellboy 2: The Golden Army
Year: 2008
Director: Guillermo del Toro 
The Golden Army is a somewhat divisive sequel to Hellboy, with some proponents possibly praising del Toro’s vivid imagination in crafting an even better film than the first, while others could consider its an example of Lucas-ian drift from character and story into a world-building wonderland. Regardless of the comparison, though, it’s a sequel that gives us more of the first film’s better elements—the genius of Ron Perlman, Doug Jones as Abe Sapien, a bit of John Hurt—and the addition of the eccentric Johann Krauss, the disembodied, ectoplasmic professor contained in a diving suit. The elven antagonist, Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), can’t quite measure up to the first film’s villains in terms of how they fit into the mythology of Hellboy’s creation and destiny, but the MacGuffin of the titular Golden Army makes for a spectacular final fight sequence. Also neat: Seeing an expansion of the fantasy/fairy world that coexists next to the human one in the Hellboy universe, including their memorable trip to the Troll Market existing in a parallel dimension under the Brooklyn Bridge. The story is ultimately slightly less focused on Red himself, but The Golden Army is never anything short of entertaining. —Jim Vorel


turbo kid poster (Custom).jpg 29. Turbo Kid
Year: 2015
Directors: François Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell
Turbo Kid is a joyous experience, the kind of insane indie wish-fulfillment that I can only imagine inspires other indie filmmakers to say “Well if that guy can pull off this movie, then I need to make a movie of my own.” It’s a gloriously absurd ode to ’80s era kids movies, apocalypse fiction and gore-centric horror, full of neon colors and exploding heads. The hyper-bloody ultraviolence in particular is insanely impressive, on a level rarely seen outside the likes of Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive. Add Michael Ironside playing a ham-fisted parody of his villain roles in movies like Scanners (talk about exploding heads…) and Total Recall, and you have a serious cult classic in the making. Turbo Kid sells itself on its premise and iconography, but it’s far better than it truly has to be. —Jim Vorel


ip man 2 poster (Custom).jpg 28. Ip Man 2
Year: 2010
Director: Wilson Yip
The unexpected pathos of 2008’s original Ip Man isn’t so easy to replicate, but this sequel does what good sequels must: ups the ante in the action department and more than justifies its own existence. Fleeing the Japanese control of his home city, this film sees Ip Man (Donnie Yen) and his family immigrate to Hong Kong, where he attempts to set up a school to pass on his deadly Wing Chun techniques. However, his right to do so is challenged by a rival teacher, played delightfully by a late-career Sammo Hung in one of his better semi-serious roles. The film then sort of veers into Rocky IV territory by introducing a ruthless foreign boxer who Ip must defeat to avenge his newfound friend, and it all leads to exactly the “If I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!” finale you’d expect. Still, the balletic action sequences are even crazier than in the first film, as Ip’s signature pitter-patter of lightning fast strikes are a joy to watch as he wrecks entire squads of goons in a crowded marketplace. Suffice it to say, this is one you’re watching for the choreography and natural talents of Donnie Yen, rather than its story. —Jim Vorel


serenity.jpg 27. Serenity
Year: 2005
Director: Joss Whedon 
We may have never gotten a Season 2 of Firefly, the much beloved alien-free space-travel show from Joss Whedon, but at least we got a movie. Part futuristic Western, part political satire, Whedon’s vision of the future is full of wit, great storytelling and frenetic action. The Serenity crew of Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), Zoe (Gina Torres), Wash (Alan Tudyk), Jayne (Adam Baldwin) and Kaylee (Jewel Staite) may have gotten one last adventure together, but it’s River Tam (Summer Glau) who really stretches her legs on the big screen, kicking the asses of all kinds of Alliance baddies. Browncoats everywhere rejoiced. —Josh Jackson


call of heroes poster (Custom).jpg 26. Call of Heroes
Year: 2016
Director: Benny Chan
Call of Heroes, despite sounding suspiciously like the name of a mobile game you’d be pumping endless cash into for no good reason, is actually one of the better historical martial arts throwbacks in recent memory. Structuring itself for all intents and purposes like a classic Shaw Brothers chop-socky, it pits valorous rural townspeople against the big, bad, corrupt government officials who kill because their ranks are 100% comprised of psychopaths. Hints of Sergio Leone and Akira Kurosawa are on display here, as could be expected, as well as some truly off-the-wall practical effects. Call of Heroes is a potent fusion of modern Hong Kong-Chinese blockbuster filmmaking with the kind of old-school stuntwork that students of the genre crave. —Jim Vorel


psychokinesis-movie-poster.jpg 25. Psychokinesis
Year: 2018
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Following up Train to Busan, his adroit add-on to the endlessly alive zombie genre, Yeon Sang-ho offers another interpretation of the zeitgeist with Psychokinesis, building a deft, vaguely political room of South Korea’s own in the cinematic superhero universe. Ryu Seung-ryong plays everyman nobody Shin Seok-heon, a dopey security guard estranged from his family, brought back into daughter Roo-mi’s (Shim Eun-kyung) life after a gang of unionized construction workers accidentally kill her mother while attempting to evict the young fried chicken entrepreneur from their small storefront. Also: Seok-heon has burgeoning superpowers of the titular variety, contracted when he drinks from a public spring polluted with an alien substance recently released into the earth via crashed space rock. Though Yeon (who also wrote the film) typically confuses comic book sensibility with a total lack of deeply written characters struggling under actually interesting motivations and backstories, Yeon isn’t particularly driven by the same forces as the MCU or the DCEU: Psychokinesis has an unfettered heart, an unfussy melodrama, in ways films of those brands don’t, not burdened by the same economic pressure—while also declaring very clearly that the police are bad. It’s all pretty refreshing in the wake of an Infinity War. —Dom Sinacola


7-The-way-back-best-war-movies-netflix.jpg 24. 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


train-to-busan.jpg 23. Train to Busan
Year: 2016
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Love them or hate them, zombies are still a constant of the horror genre in 2016, dependable enough to set your conductor’s watch by. And although I’ve probably seen enough indie zombie films at this point to eschew them from my viewing habits for the rest of my life, there is still usually at least one great zombie movie every other year. In 2016, that was Train to Busan, the South Korean story of a career-minded father attempting to protect his young daughter on a train full of rampaging zombies is equal parts suspenseful popcorn entertainment and genuinely affecting family drama. It concludes with several action elements that I’ve never seen before, or even considered for a zombie film, and any time you can add something truly novel to the genre of the walking dead, then you’re definitely doing something right. With a few memorable, empathetic supporting characters and some top-notch makeup FX, you’ve got one of the best zombie movies of the past half-decade. —Jim Vorel


kill zone 2 poster (Custom).jpg 22. Kill Zone 2, aka SPL II: A Time for Consequences
Year: 2016
Director: Cheang Pou-soi
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


batman-begins.jpg 21. Batman Begins
Year: 2005
Director: Christopher Nolan 
Batman Begins is a classic case of a superhero movie arriving at exactly the right time and place. It had been eight years since Batman & Robin, almost an unfathomable stretch of time by today’s franchise standards, but you can consider that to be a mourning and healing period. Rejecting the gaudy, cartoonish excesses of the ’90s Schumacher movies in a time before audiences had come to reflexively roll their eyes at the idea of a “dark and gritty” reboot, Begins was simply, exactly what the character of Batman needed in that moment. Hewing more closely to its comic source material, it gave us what will likely be the definitive portrait of Bruce Wayne’s training to become the Batman, a la the influential comic Year One, wisely making the film’s true villain one of Batman’s greatest but least-utilized rogues, Ra’s al Ghul. It’s a film that codifies what makes Batman “The Dark Knight”—a psychological warrior unafraid of brutality but unwilling to go all the way to judgment and execution (see also: Dredd). It helps that it launched an impeccably cast trilogy of Nolan films as well, featuring iconic turns by Gary Oldman, Liam Neeson and, of course, Christian Bale as probably the best take on “millionaire playboy asshole” Bruce Wayne. With all that, you can overlook a little Katie Holmes in this one. —Jim Vorel


bourne-ultimatum.jpg 20. The Bourne Ultimatum
Year: 2008
Director: Paul Greengrass
Matt Damon returns as the recovering amnesiac and ex-CIA agent Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum, the third film based on Robert Ludlum’s best-selling series following the spy who won’?t die (much to the disappointment of U.S. Intelligence). Although he comes across as an average Joe (albeit a Joe who can easily disable and disarm half a dozen of the agency’s best), Bourne?s ability to out-think, out-maneuver, and just plain out-smart the security of several countries is what makes this series so popular. He is the bizarro James Bond, in that where Bond’s style demands attention, Bourne’s actively avoids it. And where Bond would easily risk his life for his country, Bourne merely wants the nation to leave him be. Damon stays authentic to character, struggling to find his true self while defending his life at the same time. As spy flicks go, The Bourne Ultimatum is the perfect chaser to this successful series. —Tim Basham


april-extraordinary-world-poster.jpg 19. April and the Extraordinary World
Year: 2015
Director: Christian Desmares, Franck Ekinci
Keeping real life global history straight in narratives that leapfrog across decades and centuries is tough enough—making sense of alternate history when it’s articulated at breakneck speed throughout multiple eras of European cultural advancement is just downright strenuous. Think of April and the Extraordinary World as an intense workout for your brain, during which the film shapes a surrogate Earth in the span of mere minutes and fires off salvos of detail, visual and aural alike, in the pursuit of recalibrating the past. The inattentive and unimaginative need not apply. Good news for diligent viewing types, though: April and the Extraordinary World is pretty great, a compact exercise in world building without handholding that rewards a patient, observant audience. If you can keep pace with the film’s plot deployment, you’ll be in for a wonderful ride littered with talking cats, fabulous steampunk backdrops, rollercoaster excitement and terrific characters, all drawn through the fundamental beauty of cel animation. April and the Extraordinary World reminds us of the aesthetic value of traditional animation and the necessity of human ingenuity, all without treating its audience like idiots. —Andy Crump


headshot poster (Custom).jpg 18. Headshot
Year: 2017
Director: Timo Tjahjanto, Kimo Stamboel
Anyone familiar with the tropes of this kind of flick can pretty easily guess that Ishmael (Iko Uwais) is a veritable killing machine, a man bred to wreck any poor bastard fool enough to tangle with him. The film takes his backstory beyond the edges of obviousness, though, eventually landing somewhere in the same neighborhood as movies like Louis Leterier’s Unleashed (a.k.a. Danny the Dog), where childhood innocence is tied to adult barbarity. Headshot is surprisingly melancholic, an actioner built to break hearts as easily as Uwais breaks bones, characters paying for the crimes of their past with their lives in the present. In several instances, innocent people end up paying, too: Lee’s thugs hijack a bus on its way to Jakarta, intending on finding Ishmael. When they realize he isn’t aboard, they murder the other passengers and burn the evidence, which just adds to Ishmael’s moral onus. Odds are that you’re not tuning into Headshot for the story, of course. The good news is that the film delivers in the ass-kicking department. The better news, perhaps, is that Tjahjanto and Stamboel have outdone Gareth Evans’ The Raid 2’s bloated fusion of story and action. Headshot clocks in at only 118 minutes and spaces out narrative beats and beatings beautifully, developing the harrowing truth of Ishmael’s upbringing without either belaboring the point or denying the audience the thrill of unhinged but precisely choreographed martial arts violence. Broad swaths of the action movie canon are fist-pumping shindigs that celebrate good guys serving bad guys their just desserts. In Headshot, as in the films of Evans, the action snatches the breath out of our lungs. The end of each fight relieves us of our ratcheting anxiety. Coupling that dynamic with the emotional substance of Ishmael’s existential woe makes the film a soul-rattling, hand-wringing affair made with Tjahjanto and Stamboel’s daringly aggressive sense of craft. You’ll nearly wish that more filmmakers shot action movies the way this duo does—but your nerves probably couldn’t take it if they did.—Andy Crump


ip-man.jpg 17. 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 Chun 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 master tries to weather the 1937 Japanese invasion and occupation of China peacefully, but is eventually forced into action—limb-shattering, face-pulverizing action. This semi-historical film succeeds gloriously: both as cinematic triumph and as martial arts fan-bait. —K. Alexander Smith


guardians-galaxy-vol2-movie-poster.jpg 16. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Year: 2017
Director: James Gunn
In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, James Gunn shows that “second verse, mostly same as the first” can serve the viewer (and, inevitably, the box office) well, especially when one has most of the Marvel universe to pull from. To a large extent, GotG Vol. 2 follows the playbook from its predecessor, though now, with the entire cast familiar faces to the audience, Gunn skips introductions and goes right to the funny. In this case, that means an opening credits sequence featuring the entire team and what amounts to a highlight reel of character traits meant to amuse: rapid banter from Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), humorous ’roid-rage from Drax (Dave Bautista), quiet bad-assitude from Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and an extended cute-Groot frolic. During this sequence and throughout the movie, the comic elements of this particular space opera feel as if they have been ratcheted up, but, though he doesn’t seem to want the audience to have too much time between laughs, Gunn also seems determined to match the increased comic volume with more heart. The audience is unlikely to feel they’ve seen anything that different from Vol. 1, but it’s clear that Gunn and company knew exactly what qualities made the first film so enjoyable, and what they needed to do to make sure this particular sequel was worth the wait. —Michael Burgin


man-of-tai-chi-poster.jpg 15. Man of Tai Chi
Director:   Keanu Reeves  
Year: 2013
Even today, our doubts fully behind us that the man is an all-time, absolutely singular movie star, it’s still a phrase that lodges in the throat: “Director: Keanu Reeves.” But for anyone who left the John Wick flicks loose-limbed and exhausted due to the sheer grace of Reeves’ action chops, it should come as absolutely no surprise that the man—the one and only Neo—can direct the fuck out of a martial arts movie. With little frills, barely a plot, a Tai Chi phenom in Tiger Chen (who also served as Reeves’ teacher and, for Kill Bill, Uma Thurman’s stunt double), a woman who seems smarter and serves more of a purpose in the plot than all the dudes beating each other senseless surrounding her, and Reeves’ ever-present sonic mangling of the English language, Man of Tai Chi delivers pretty much what the title suggests: an exhilarating, inertial obsession both with movement as art as power and with those who wield it so well. Testament to Reeves’s intelligence as a self-didact who just wants to do right by those folks who put their trust in him over the course of his many-decade career, Man of Tai Chi represents all that anyone should rightly hope for when seeing who directed it. —Dom Sinacola


kill-bill.jpg 14. Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2
Year: 2003, 2004
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino Kill Bill Vol. 1 was both a great movie and a great martial-arts movie that paid homage to a ton of classic martial-arts flicks (both Chinese and Japanese) to make a really visceral, offbeat cinema experience unlike any other (well, at least until Vol. 2 came out). Scenes like the incredibly gory but artistic tea house battle with the Crazy 88 or the intensely claustrophobic kitchen showdown are excellent examples of everything that makes a martial-arts movie great and when combined with Tarantino’s usual hallmarks, the results are truly transcendent. —K. Alexander Smith


tintin-movie-poster.jpg 13. The Adventures of Tintin
Year: 2011
Director: Steven Spielberg 
It’s actually amazing that The Adventures of Tintin marks the first big screen treatment of the immensely popular comic book character in nearly 40 years (and, really, the first one of note originating from Hollywood, ever). After all, the intrepid carrot-topped reporter/sleuth stands with fellow Franco-Belgian characters Asterix and Obelix as a titan of European comics. Created by Belgian artist Georges Remi (under the pen name Hergé), Tintin’s adventures have been translated into more than 50 languages and inspired a decently rabid following of “Tintinologists” who have discussed, debated, critiqued and theorized on virtually every imaginable aspect of Tintin and his friends. (For proof, check out www.tintinologist.org.) Part of that can be attributed to careful guardianship of the property, first by Hergé himself and then by his estate. How else can one explain how a series started in 1929 and involving a resourceful boy and his resourceful and cuddly dog has escaped the clutches of the Disney merchandising behemoth? But then there’s also the fact that the new film’s director, some guy named Steven Spielberg, has held the film rights for nearly 30 years, waiting for the right moment to give Tintin his cinematic due. The Adventures of Tintin does just that. Not since Rob Reiner’s pop culture quote font, The Princess Bride, or perhaps Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, has a film worked so hard—and so successfully—to capture the spirit of the source material. —Michael Burgin


hot-fuzz.jpg 12. 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


african-queen.jpg 11. The African Queen
Year: 1951
Director: John Huston
Samuel Sayer (Robert Morley) and his sister Rose (Katharine Hepburn) are missionaries in German East Africa around during WWI. Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart, in what would be his only Best Actor Oscar win), the captain of tramp steamer The African Queen, delivers their provisions—and, one day, the news that war has broken out between Germany and Britain. Germans burn down the village, a soldier beats Samuel and he soon dies from complications of the incident. Charlie comes to get Rose out of the area; Rose comes up with a plan to torpedo a German gunboat. The initial plan fails but the surprisingly scrappy and enterprising Rose is undeterred. The pair encounter a series of rapids and perils that are, of course, not at all metaphorical, and over time, strike up an unlikely but also inevitable relationship. Love triumphs. So do the torpedoes. John Huston’s oddball, odd-couple romantic comedy adventure is a gripping story with a great pair of lead actors (though Bogart arguably had more Ocscar-worthy performances earlier in his career) and combines savagery and sweetness in an eccentric and very satisfying way. —Amy Glynn


thor-ragnarok-movie-poster.jpg 10. Thor: Ragnarok
Year: 2017
Director: Taika Waititi
Sixteen films and nearly a decade into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)—and in the midst of renaissance/deluge of superhero movies in general—it’s not unusual to encounter some grumbling about both the genre and the MCU. You’ll find plenty of folks who bemoan its formulaic approach to plotlines, the overall weakness of its villains and lack of female heroes getting their due. Starting with Edgar Wright’s departure from Ant-Man, there was also the rapidly accepted conventional wisdom that Marvel Studios was not the place for any director wishing to put his or her stamp on a franchise. Then along comes Thor: Ragnarok. The third film in the arguably least-loved franchise of Kevin Feige and company’s box office-melting enterprise, it’s also the liveliest, funniest and “loosest” film of the bunch (and that includes Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2). Much, if not all of this can be credited to director Taika Waititi, who seems determined to mine every ounce of comedy—be it physical, situational or conversational—from a tale that’s both rollicking buddy movie and retelling of the least uplifting tale in all of Norse mythos. Given the source material and the director’s track record, I’m not surprised there was plenty of ammo for Waititi or how well he used it—I’m just shocked and delighted he was allowed to use it in the first place. —Michael Burgin


five-venoms-movie-poster.jpg 9. The Five Venoms
Year: 1978
Director: Chang Cheh
This is what vintage kung fu—and martial arts cinema—is all about. The mythology alone is exquisite: The Five Venoms (aka Five Deadly Venoms) is the first Venom Mob film, and gave each of them a name for the rest of their careers. There’s the blinding speed of the Centipede (Lu Feng), the trickery and guile of the Snake (Wei Pei), the stinging kicks of the Scorpion (Sun Chien), the wall-climbing and gravity-defying acrobatics of the Lizard Kuo Chui), and the nigh-invincibility of the Toad (Lo Mang), along with the so-called “hybrid venom” protagonist, Yang Tieh (Chiang Sheng), who is a novice in all of the styles. It’s a film typical of both Chang Cheh and the Shaw Brothers: high budget, great costumes, beautiful sets and stylish action. Is it on the cheesy side? Sure, but how many great martial arts films are completely dour? It’s emblematic of an entire era of Hong Kong cinema and the joy taken in delivering beautiful choreography and timeless stories of good vs. evil. —Jim Vorel


last-jedi-movie-poster.jpg 8. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Year: 2017
Director: Rian Johnson
The Last Jedi, unlike its predecessor, has the freedom to be daring, and perhaps the most thrilling thing about it—and there are many, many thrilling things—is how abundantly it takes advantage of that freedom. If The Force Awakens was basically just Star Wars told again in a new, but familiar way, The Last Jedi challenges the audience, challenges the Star Wars mythos, even challenges the whole damned series itself. It blows the universe up to rebuild it; it is a continuation and a new beginning. And more than anything else, it goes places no Star Wars film has ever dreamed of going. In a way, the success J.J. Abrams had with The Force Awakens, particularly how decidedly fan-servicey it was, laid the groundwork for what The Last Jedi is able to pull off. That movie reminded you how much power and primal force this series still had. This movie is an even more impressive magic trick: It uses that power and force to connect you to something larger. Not everything in The Last Jedi works perfectly, but even its few missteps are all founded in the desire for something new, to take risks, to push an American myth into uncomfortable new directions. —Will Leitch


okja-movie-poster.jpg 7. Okja
Year: 2017
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Okja takes more creative risks in its first five minutes than most films take over their entire span, and it doesn’t let up from there. What appears to be a sticking point for some critics and audiences, particularly Western ones, is the seemingly erratic tone, from sentiment to suspense to giddy action to whimsy to horror to whatever it is Jake Gyllenhaal is doing. But this is part and parcel with what makes Bong Joon-ho movies, well, Bong Joon-ho movies: They’re nuanced and complex, but they aren’t exactly subtle or restrained. They have attention to detail, but they are not delicate in their handling. They have multiple intentions, and they bring those intentions together to jam. They are imaginative works that craft momentum through part-counterpart alternations, and Okja is perhaps the finest example yet of the wild pendulum swing of a Bong film’s rhythmic tonality. Okja is also not a film about veganism, but it is a film that asks how we can find integrity and, above all, how we can act humanely towards other creatures, humans included. The answers Okja reaches are simple and vital, and without really speaking them it helps you hear those answers for yourself because it has asked all the right questions, and it has asked them in a way that is intensely engaging. —Chad Betz


battle-royale.jpg 6. 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


heat-movie-poster.jpg 5. Heat
Year: 1995
Director: Michael Mann
Those first watching Michael Mann’s L.A. crime masterpiece should view it with a clean slate—and from then on dissect it in great detail, with all of its separate elements pulled apart to determine how they eventually came together to complete such an intricately constructed work of storytelling. Anything in between would seldom do this sprawling (yet taut) epic justice. Exploring the concept of the cop and the robber on opposite sides of the same coin is a premise that pretty much every crime drama has delved into in one way or another, yet Mann manages to create the dichotomy’s epitome. By implementing, with surgical precision, an impressively pure vision of a grand, boastful and larger-than-life crime story, Mann delivers a culmination of his previously tight, deliberately stylized work (namely, Thief and Manhunter). With its hauntingly cold cinematography, moody score, terrific performances by a slew of legendary stars and character actors (Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Val Kilmer) and—let’s not forget—the mother of all cinematic shoot-outs in its center, it more than likely represents the peak of Mann’s ever-shifting career. —Oktay Ege Kozak


dark-knight-movie-poster.jpg 4. The Dark Knight
Year: 2008
Director: Christopher Nolan 
Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005) deserves the collective sigh of relief it received in resuscitating the Caped Crusader’s cinematic reputation following Joel Schumacher’s 1997 neon-disco nightmare on ice that was Batman & Robin. And if Batman Begins represents the character’s tonal course correction, The Dark Knight provided an equally important act of rehabilitation—that of Batman’s arch-nemesis, the Joker. (Let’s face it, though not a crime of Schumacherian dimensions, Jack Nicholson’s Joker fell short of setting a standard for the character.) Though ostensibly part of the superhero stable, The Dark Knight is, at its center, a proper crime saga—just as was its source, spawning from the pages of Detective Comics, less Spider-Man than it is Heat, in rather dramatic costume. Significantly trading up in the villain department this round, Heath Ledger’s performance as the Clown Prince of Crime is a force of nature—brilliantly written as a crime boss who wants no less than Gotham’s very soul. Ledger’s Joker is as chilling as he is darkly funny, and the most bracing reminder to date of why he’s the most renowned foe of the World’s Greatest Detective. —Scott Wold


face-off-movie-poster.jpg 3. Face/Off
Year: 1997
Director: John Woo
One of the best action bonanzas of the ’90s begins with the murder of a small boy, and the following 130 brilliant, dove-dunked, borderline lysergic minutes do nothing to denounce the glorious shamelessness of those very first moments. Contrary to contemporary narratives, Nicolas Cage has always been a bit much, but as swaggering sociopath Castor Troy (and then as traumatized lawman Sean Archer), the Oscar-winning actor seems to realize that everything has been building to this Face/Off, that perhaps he had been put on this earth for the sake of this film, and that director John Woo—already an action maestro by this point with The Killer, Hardboiled and Hard Target—should be his Metatron, recording and overseeing this important time in the Realm of Humans. Similarly, John Travolta leans just as hard into his half of the two-hander, saddled with the added pressure of playing a bad guy who’s playing a dad who lasciviously stares at “his” own teenage daughter, encouraging her to smoke by basically flirting with her, and like most Travolta performances from the past 20 years, fails spectacularly to not make it weird. With a plot (FBI agent undergoes experimental face surgery to pretend to be super criminal in order to trick super criminal’s less-super criminal brother into revealing the location of a bomb) that makes way less sense as a Wikipedia synopsis than it does on-screen, Face/Off should be a disaster. And hoo boy is it ever—plus a landmark in action filmmaking. —Dom Sinacola


full-metal-jacket-poster.jpg 2. Full Metal Jacket
Year: 1987
Director: Stanley Kubrick 
It’s a non-controversial opinion that Full Metal Jacket’s worth extends as far as its first half and declines from there as the film nosedives into conventionality. But the second chapter of Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam horror story is responsible for creating the conventions by which we’re able to judge the picture in retrospect, and even conventional material as delivered by an artist like Kubrick is worth watching: Full Metal Jacket’s back half is, all told, pleasingly gripping and dark, a naked portrait of how war changes people in contrast to how the military culture depicted in the front half changes people. Being subject to debasement on a routine basis will break a person’s mind in twain. Being forced to kill another human will collapse their soul. Really, there’s nothing about Full Metal Jacket that doesn’t work or get Kubrick’s point across, but there’s also no denying just how indelible its pre-war sequence is, in particular due to R. Lee Ermey’s immortal performance as the world’s most terrifying Gunnery Sergeant. —Andy Crump


jurassic-park-movie-poster.jpg 1. Jurassic Park
Year: 1994
Director: Steven Spielberg 
 Jurassic Park’s standing as a technical milestone in cinematic storytelling isn’t only dependent on its then-revolutionary use of computer generated imagery: The special effects look as groundbreaking and seamless today as they did 25 years ago. The magic behind the film’s ability to bring dinosaurs to life could be in Spielberg’s expertise in approaching special effects on a shot-by-shot basis, merging each sequence with reliable miniature and animatronic work, making the connective tissue between these tricks as unnoticeable as possible. More than an achievement, Jurassic Park is an infinitely fun action adventure that also manages to insert some prescient themes into the mix—like whether or not humanity should interfere, on a deeply intimate level, with Nature—affording a moral angle that the sequels have pretty much abandoned or just plain bungled so far. —Oktay Ege Kozak

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