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.
This 1978 film is one of the most influential kung fu movies ever made. Not nearly as violent as most other films on this list, this one focuses on the supremely endearing Gordon Liu as he painstakingly trains in the titular chambers, all 36 of which are interesting and unique. But seeing all of that training put to use in the fight scenes is where this becomes particularly joyful.
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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.
Dave Bautista and Brittany Snow battle through civil war-ravaged New York in a nicely done faux feature length oner that maximises immersion and intensity. Empire described it as “Escape From New York meets The Purge but with a stylistic motor that is very clearly Children Of Men“.
Rambo imitating Dirty Harry and driving a modified 1950 Mercury Monterey? Yes please! God I wish this type of actioner was still constantly churned out by Hollywood, the sort where a renegade maverick cop does whatever it takes to waste all the bad guys even after the grumpy police captain has taken their badge and their gun. The obligatory over-the-top killing of the final bad guy is particularly good in this one, right up there with Bennett letting off steam in Commando.
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.
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.
The apex of the beloved drag races and crazy heists franchise, number five is where it was firing on all cylinders and got the balance just right. It’s just so much fun, with a varied bunch of great set pieces that are generally exhilarating. This is also probably Dwayne Johnson’s best action role to date—a shame as his potential is so often squandered, but so glorious to see in this when it’s properly realised.
The 2013 sequel was miles better than the preceding 2009 film Rise of Cobra thanks to Jon M Chu’s stylish direction and Dwayne Johnson’s awesomeness. Of course it’s ridiculously cheesy, of course it has sanitised and bloodless violence, but it’s still a hell of a lot of fun if you’re in the mood for big, dumb Hollywood bullshit.
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.
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.
Schwarzenegger flicks on Netflix are few and far between but do include this meta action comedy that’s an underrated gem. Schwarzenegger always plays Schwarzenegger in his films, despite each character having a different name, but this movie is the only one that’s truly honest in actually being about Schwarzenegger, the man. All hail.
The Wachowskis’ modern classic is one of the most truly iconic sci-fi/action films ever made. It combined spectacular action with a mind-bending plot, a super kick-arse soundtrack and ground-breaking special effects, all adding up to a giddy result. Little wonder it’s still many people’s favourite movie ever.
For the most thrilling big budget stunt work and epic set pieces on Netflix, look no further than Tom Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie bringing their A-game with this. It’s so rare for a franchise to continuously improve upon itself, but this sixth Mission: Impossible is arguably the closest it’s come yet to perfecting the awesome formula.
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.
Of all the Scott Adkins movies out there, this one feels the most like a down and dirty Cannon Films release from the ’80s—even more so than his awesome Ninja movies and mediocre Hard Target sequel. This is a really nice hyper-violent flick featuring Adkins as an Irishman imprisoned in 1959 Indochina and forced into savage fights. Of course, he eventually breaks free, takes some guns and blows the baddies to smithereens.
Denis Villeneuve’s 2015 thriller is a gritty, stylish and hugely impactful exercise in suspense that often explodes into violent fury with stars Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin all at the top of their game. There’s so many fantastic thrilling sequences, with the lead-up to a shootout at the Mexico/US border in particular probably being the very best example of building tension you’ll find on Netflix.
This 2010 Derek Yee film follows a pair of expert sharp shooters unexpectedly pitted against one another in a game of cat and mouse. It’s a very slickly made Hong Kong police thriller with a few solid shootouts. The best action is in the first few scenes, so if you check them out and don’t dig it you won’t have wasted much time should you then want to bail.
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.
Yup, a triple feature of movies with ‘Triple’ in the title! 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.