The 20 Best Action Movies on Netflix to Watch Right Now – menshealth.com
If you subscribe to Netflix, and you use it with any frequency, then you know that a large chunk of it is so-so, a large(r) chunk of it is bargain-bin crap, and about three percent of it is worth your time. And sometimes, it’s hard to find the real movie gems on there, because they have this annoying tendency not to carry much that isn’t either (a) super-recent or (b) super-terrible.
Nevertheless, we’ve done the work and discovered that there are some amazing action movies on Netflix at the moment, some of them genuine classics. Think of this list as your lifeline, especially if you can’t take one more stand-up special or you’re in the mood for something overtly violent. Here are the 20 best action movies on Netflix right now.
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V for Vendetta
V for Vendetta is the tale of one man sparking a revolution against an oppressive, tyrannical government running a dystopian UK. That’s how you know it’s a fantasy. After all, if it were based on a true story, this movie would just show people hashtagging and tweeting at politicians they didn’t like for a few hours, or until everyone walked out of the theater.
There’s a reason why it’s the first Marvel movie to be nominated for Best Picture. Ryan Coogler’s take on the adventures of T’challa, the super-powered warrior king of the fantastical African kingdom of Wakanda, reimagines the classic superhero conflict—tolerant, cooperative hero vs. absolutist, go-it-alone nemesis—as a debate about the legacy of racism, poverty, and direct action. And in Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger, the film gives us one of the most charismatic superhero movie villains ever—so much so that it’s hard sometimes not to root for the ostensible bad guy.
This is the one in which Nicolas Cage steals the Declaration of Independence. That’s sort of all you need to know, but here’s more: He’s a treasure hunter following a family legend about a series of clues that will unearth a secret ancient treasure the Founding Fathers hid somewhere under Washington. It’s the mashup of The Da Vinci Code and Raiders of the Lost Ark (with a little bit of Enemy of the State thrown in) that you never knew you wanted.
Hellboy comics have had a huge cult following, but you don’t need to know anything about them to embrace this truly perverse, hilarious, and thrilling blend of genres and ideas. This is a movie that combines superheroes, dark religious themes, the paranormal, and humor – and makes it all look so effortless. They’re apparently making more Hellboy movies finally, but it remains to be seen if any of them can recapture the magic of this one, director Guillermo del Toro’s first go at the series.
Ip Man 1, 2, and 3
In case it isn’t clear, Ip Man 1, 2, and 3 isn’t the name of one horribly-titled film, but is rather a trio of biopics based extremely loosely on the life of Ip Man, a famed martial artist who actually happened to train Bruce Lee. The best of the bunch is the first. The second one is about his move to Hong Kong. And the third one has Mike Tyson playing the role of a street fighter. It’s worth watching for that reason alone.
One of the best Marvel entries of recent years succeeds by going in the opposite direction from the likes of Black Panther and Infinity War. (And before the Marvel stans come after us: Both of those are fine movies and in fact one of them is on this very list.) Kiwi director Taika Waititi’s take on the continuing adventures of the God of Thunder has a genuinely comedic spirit: It lays aside the superhero brooding and the soap opera theatrics and instead sends Thor off to a colorfully strange party planet run by Jeff Goldblum, where he is enslaved as a gladiator and condemned to fight The Hulk. Meanwhile, an extremely Goth Cate Blanchett, playing Thor’s long-lost evil sister, takes over his home of Asgard, leading to a truly apocalyptic final battle. It’s all fun and games until someone loses a planet to the flames of eternity.
The killer robot from the future movie that started it all. The film that put James Cameron on the map and proved to the world that Arnold Schwarzenegger could act (so long as he was playing a stoic, expressionless, vaguely Teutonic killer robot from the future) hasn’t really lost any of its bite, in part because it’s still also kind of a scary movie. For all the great action scenes in it, The Terminator also has a slasher streak running through it—thanks in part to Schwarzenegger’s ice-cold relentlessness, and the general bleakness of its world.
After the success of the more expansive sequel, the series would continue down a more epic bath—to diminishing returns. Rewatching the original makes you wonder if they should double down on the horror as much as the action for their next go-round with this franchise.
When it was first released, many people dismissed this adventure as a wannabe-Raiders with sloppy effects and an overly jokey storyline. But it’s a hoot, and its reputation has deservedly grown over the years. Brendan Fraser is delightful as a (yes) vaguely Indiana Jones-like adventurer and Rachel Weisz has perfect comic timing as the librarian with whom he teams up to try and stop the return of Imhotep, an ancient Egyptian priest who will stop at nothing to resurrect his beloved. At a time when action movies were getting a little too serious and grandiose, The Mummy reminded everyone that it was all about having fun. Avoid the sequels, however; the sequels really are sloppy and bad.
From Dusk Till Dawn
A cult hit about a pair of scumbag brothers (George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino) who bump into a pastor and his two kids, and head to a Mexican strip club to meet a criminal contact at dawn. The only problem is that the club is filled with vampires. It’s based on a true story, we think.
Okay, everybody seemed to hate this Han Solo spin-off when it came out, and it was the one Star Wars movie that basically flopped, and they changed the directors halfway through, and no, how dare anyone try to take over the role from Harrison Ford. But Solo is actually kind of a great space heist movie, with a broad palette of different worlds and a surprising sense of sweep. And what a relief it was to be briefly detached from the usual Star Wars soap opera. I went in with a million reservations and it won me over. And I’m downright disappointed that they’ve nixed ideas for a sequel.
There are a lot of James Bond flicks on Netflix right now, so this one will have to do double duty, as both representative and pinnacle. Daniel Craig’s first outing as 007 redefined the character for a new era and also made for a genuinely gritty, dangerous film – which is not a thing anybody had ever said about a Bond flick before he came on board. With Casino, Bond stopped being a dinosaur and a joke — which meant that we could finally say goodbye to all those requisite, tired gags about him being a dinosaur and a joke. But if you’re in the mood for the goofier Bond of yore, we can recommend For Your Eyes Only (perhaps the best of the Roger Moore era) or Thunderball (a Sean Connery highpoint).
This movie is the story of a hotshot London cop who gets reassigned to what he initially thinks is a boring beat in an idyllic village. Obviously, if it ended there, it would be kind of dull. But instead he stumbles upon a number of suspicious murders that have been written off as accidents. It then becomes a buddy action comedy about cops unraveling a massive conspiracy. The more you like British people, the higher this will be on your personal list.
Underdog sports movie meets kickass action flick meets surreal comedy in Stephen Chow’s hit about a group of former Shaolin monks who form a soccer team and do battle with their brutal, cynical opponents. The kung-fu is thrilling and hilarious, but what makes this one so special is the absurdist degree to which director-star Chow is willing to take every visual gag.
Director Michael Mann’s big-screen reinvention of his iconic 1980s TV series wasn’t quite the hit everyone had hope for when it came out, but it’s still a wonderful movie with a growing cult following. Mann went for gritty and dreamlike instead of cool and pristine, shooting with digital video cameras (back when digital video was decidedly un-hip) to place us in the middle of the action. With its unabashed romanticism, its whipsawing narrative, and its surprising authenticity with regards to police work, this is a crime flick like no other.
The Raid: Redemption
It’s a wonder that the whole country didn’t go nuts trying to learn the homegrown Indonesian martial art of silat after this movie was released. Starring the great Iko Uwais, Gareth Huw Evans’s action masterpiece follows a rookie police commando attempting to make his way through a massive apartment complex run by ruthless druglords, with seemingly every strung-out junkie tenant and deadly henchman out to kill him. When you’re not marveling at the deadly, dancerly grace of the stunt work, you’ll cringe at all the stabbings, slashings, and head-hammerings.
In Zhang Yimou’s medieval Chinese action epic, mysterious warrior Jet Li joins a group of assassins determined to exact vengeance on a newly expansionist Emperor of China. The film is told in a complex flashback structure, framed by a conversation between Jet Li and the Emperor himself. Is it a weird apologia for absolutism? Or a subtly realistic dig at the only ways to enact meaningful change in an authoritarian state? Either way, it’s full of some of the most spectacular (and gorgeous) action sequences you’ll ever see.
Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2
When Quentin Tarantino first announced that he’d be making a big action opus, about a brutalized and left-for-dead former female assassin (Uma Thurman) taking bloody revenge on her former comrades, many of us were skeptical: Could the guy whose main forte was funny tough guy talk and coolly esoteric pop culture references actually mount an honest to god action sequence? Well, the bastard showed us. Whether it’s dazzling martial arts beat-downs, 89-person swordfight melees, eye-gouging physical combat, or even sequences of animated slaughter, this two-part masterpiece has it all. And it’ll make you cry at the end, to boot.
The Wild Bunch
Every action director who overdoes slow-motion nowadays (*cough*ZackSnyder*cough*) owes a huge debt to the great Sam Peckinpah, who turned this stylistic technique into sheer visual poetry in a series of action classics in the 1960s and 70s. To this day, nobody has quite managed to use it like him. Just watch this legendary Western’s opening shootout: Intercutting between different actions filmed at different speeds, Peckinpah creates little narrative curlicues within the broader sequence; we watch characters do inadvertent dances as they get mowed down. It’s terrifying, and beautiful, and sickening. No wonder audiences at the time revolted. And no wonder it’s gone down in history as one of the greatest Westerns ever made.
It’s a stone-cold classic, but does Heat really count as an action film? It’s certainly a fantastic heist movie, and one of the all-time great crime dramas. And it’s an unparalleled showcase for stars Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, as the veteran thief planning a big new job and the obsessive LAPD detective trying to catch him, respectively. But think of it this way: If you’re looking for an action movie, and you watch Heat, you will not be in any way disappointed.
We’re pretty sure that the deafening, harrowing central bank robbery and shootout gave us PTSD when we first saw it in a theater on opening night. And the climactic pursuit between De Niro and Pacino is one of the most moving foot chases ever committed to the film, with an unforgettable final shot.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
(Yes, they’re calling it Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, but that’s an absurd title change and is not to be taken seriously.) There is still, to this day, nothing quite like this one – despite the sequels and the imitators. Harrison Ford’s first outing as daring archeologist Indiana Jones, in which he races against the Nazis in an effort to unearth the Ark of the Covenant, is still one of the all-time greatest action movies, a relentless chase flick that offers up one eye-popping sequence after another, each more heart-stoppingly entertaining than the last.
Bilge Ebiri is an American journalist and filmmaker who writes frequently for The Village Voice and other outlets.
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