With so much to choose from on streaming services, Daniel Rutledge cuts to the chase with the top 20 action movies available to watch on Netflix.
LAST UPDATED: OCTOBER 26
The best movie in years from the undisputed king of modern B-grade action, Scott Adkins. In this he plays a bulky, ugly Cockney thug who beats the shit out of couple hundred guys in prison in the lead-up to one of the all-time greatest British pub fight scenes. Thankfully Netflix has a bunch of Adkins movies on it, but this is the one you should start with.
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This 2017 Edgar Wright flick has about as much infectious, gleeful fun as a modern action possibly can without getting too silly. It encapsulates that feeling of grooving along to music by yourself better perfectly while also delivering mint car chase action, super cool shootouts, a stellar foot chase, a supremely kick arse soundtrack and loads of hilarious, quotable dialogue.
Wildly over the top, stylised as if by a videogame addict with ADHD and dumb to the point of being braindead, this frenetic 2006 Jason Statham vehicle is super gratuitous B-movie goodness. Thanks to a cartoonish villain’s dastardly ways, the beefy Brit has to keep his adrenaline cranking to stay alive—sort of like Speed but with his body instead of a bus. Cue sex, drugs and lots and lots of violence. Crank‘s absurdity and crassness were both surpassed with the even stupider sequel, but there’s still a shitload of fun to be had with this original.
Quentin Tarantino’s first western is an amazing slavery revenge pic that’s wildly entertaining. Being a Tarantino flick it of course offers brilliant actors giving superb performances and is about as richly cinematic as movies get. It might not be as clever as most of Tarantino’s films, but damn it delivers cathartic, bloody as hell action thrills oh so sublimely.
One of Jackie Chan’s all-time greats, this kung fu classic by the master Yuen Woo-ping just seems to get better with age. Super influential and groundbreaking, Drunken Master is the quintessential 70s Hong Kong action comedy with a stripped-back plot that’s mostly an excuse for fight after fight after fight. The super style and comedic delight in those fights have been imitated countless times in the decades since, but rarely if ever matched.
This Netflix original film boldly tries to emulate the John Wick method of turning a stunt pro into a director, with the Russo brothers producing. Sam Hargrave’s impressive, hard R-rated violence is clearly influenced by The Raid movies as well as the John Wick ones and it’s a terrific debut, with a spectacular oner as a centrepiece that absolutely rules. I had more to say about how Extraction rules in my review.
One of the greatest war movies of all time, Stanley Kubrick’s classic is split into two halves as it follows American marines preparing for Vietnam and then being deployed there. It’s an incredible portrait of what that senseless conflict did to the humanity of those involved. This hasn’t aged as badly as most war movies seem to and while it’s not action-packed, the impact it delivers is unquestionably immense.
Sword and sandal movies don’t come better than Ridley Scott’s 2000 multi Oscar-winner. It’s a classical tale of redemption and revenge with Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix both knocking it out of the park. The gladiatorial battle sequences are my favourite aspect, however—they’re just masterfully done and I love them.
Another post-The Raid Indonesian flick that shares some of the same talent, this is a near non-stop assault of brutality that features stunning choreography and special effects together with some highly impressive camerawork. Its story is cartoonish and silly, its characters one-dimensional, but it delivers the goods action-wise with aplomb. Again, there’s more said about the film in my review.
Michael Mann’s 1995 cult classic is remembered by many as the first film to feature Al Pacino and Robert De Niro on-screen together, but by many more for evolving the action genre with its legendary bank heist scene. This changed the game with as an incredibly well-staged shootout put together with sound military supervision and a supreme attention to detail, down to how many bullets each magazine takes before needing to be reloaded to accurate discharge sounds for each of the firearms used. The whole film is great, but that scene in particular is absolutely jaw-dropping.
Quite possibly the very best kung fu film of the 2000s, this original went on to spawn a vast number of sequels and spin-offs and rip-offs. The exhilarating central fight is Ip Man taking on a whole dojo of Japanese martial artists and brutally smashing them all, echoing the iconic scene in Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury and later Jet Li’s Fist of Legend. It’s amazing.
Two franchises ruled the action genre in the 2010s—The Raid and John Wick. They combine virtuoso stunt work and choreography with subtle visual effects in sequences featuring nice wide shows and long takes, making every impact as explicit and visceral as possible. The first John Wick set the initial bar really high and is the best in terms of plot, stripped of the bloaty lore that bogs down the sequels. It has a wonderfully gratifying amount of headshots, some of the best of which I catalogued in this feature on the franchise’s most brutal moments.
Cobra Kai is one of the best TV shows on Netflix and this 1984 classic is where the ‘Miagi-verse’ all started, so what better time to revisit it? It’s a beautifully quaint American take on a Japanese martial art as part of a quintessential ’80s coming-of-age high school tale. Unlike most of the films in this list, this one is refreshingly PG family entertainment, but it still kicks arse.
A wildly over-the-top splatter action flick, this offers some wonderfully cringe-inducing uses of weapons like broken glass, craft knives and even cattle bones. Hailing from Indonesia in the wake of The Raid it boasts a bunch of stunning choreography and joyfully inventive ultraviolence. Narrative-wise there’s not a great deal to remember but if you want loads of thrilling combat served up with buckets of blood, this is the one. Let’s put it this way, in my review I said it made 2008 bloodbath Rambo seem restrained.
This comic book adaptation features a bunch of immortal mercenaries who can’t be killed doing a bunch of killing with swords, fantasy art axes and a truckload of different firearms. Like I said in my review, this might have been a lot better if it let itself have a bit more fun and it’s a bummer a lot of the actual action is hidden behind editing and digital effects, but it’s the sort of cool, easy watch that’s perfect for when you’re in a silly action mood.
Sometimes you just need to see a dumb movie with a hundred or so terrorists getting shot to smithereens and another hundred or so getting their skulls impaled with knives. In this jingoistic American tale, the terrorists are North Korean and they’re attacking the White House. Despite starring Gerard Butler in the lead, its hard R rating and very respectable on-screen kill count of 213 make it well worth a watch.
The fourth Dirty Harry movie is arguably the most interesting, with definitely the most interesting villain. But don’t worry, it’s also a quintessential showcase of old school action flicks from a much simpler, much more casually bigoted time. Y’know, good cops just want to slay thugs and hoods—the last thing they need is some bleeding-heart liberals whining about civil rights or a pesky police chief taking away their badge before they can blow more crim brains out.
A B-grade reply to The Expendables starring Scott Adkins, Iko Uwais, Tony Jaa, Tiger Chen and Michael Jai White, amongst others. Like its Stallone-produced big budget cousin, this one also fails to deliver on the promise of its line-up, with generally underwhelming face-offs. But the gun battles are sweet and it’s still an exciting watch, just don’t get too excited by the potential of that amazing cast.
This one is an interesting B-grade grunter with a stellar A-grade cast. It’s worth watching for its thematic oomph and unpredictable narrative rather than straight-up action thrills, but they’re not too bad in it either. There’s also mint old school Metallica used on the opening and end credits. “Two of the very best tracks recorded by any band ever,” I correctly noted in my review.
A rather weird, very dark, super-duper violent modern cult classic, this film has an army of passionate fans for a very good reason. There are several incredible fight scenes, including a oner in which Scott Adkins wastes a dozen or so bad guys that is just exhilarating. The whole thing is held together with a really sinister, trippy feel that’s clearly influenced by Gaspar Noé and the story makes for a great conclusion to the Universal Soldier franchise.