Editor’s Note: This post is updated monthly. Bookmark this page and come back every month to see the best action movies on Netflix.
Updated for June 2018
Netflix is fast becoming its own multimedia juggernaut. And no multimedia juggernaut is complete without some good old-fashioned action film.
Sometimes you just want to be thrilled and for years the movie theater has been the quickest, easiest, and safest way to do so. Now thanks to Netflix, you can get your thrills in from the comfort of your own couch.
Here are the best action movies available to stream on Netflix.
Kill Bill Vol. 1
Writer-Direction Quentin Tarantino is a big fan of grindhouse action movies and rarely has that ever been more apparent in Kill Bill Vol. 1. Uma Thurman stars as the unnamed “Bride” – a member of an elite group of assassins, betrayed and left for dead. After she recovers, she embarks on a singular path of vengeance.
Kill Bill Vol. 2 features all the quiet character moments you’d expect from a great film. Vol. 1 features all the blood you’d expect from a great Tarantino film. There are moments in Vol. 1 when blood fires from severed limbs as though they’re fire-alarm sprinklers.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story takes a very simple line in the Star Wars universe “many Bothans died” and spins it out into a thrilling, devastating action movie.
Rogue One is filled with non-Skywalker characters at the edge of the Star Wars universe. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is a young rebellious woman recruited by the Rebellion after experiencing a spot of bother with the Empire. Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) is a Rebel Alliance captain. Together and with a band of rogues, droids, and blind martial arts masters, Jyn and Cassian head up the Rebellion’s efforts to steal crucial Death Star plans.
Rogue One dedicates completely and fully to this one-off action movie premise and starts Disney’s standalone Star Wars movies with a bang.
Director Michael Bay and producer Jerry Bruckheimer are controversial figures in the film industry, with their penchant for explosions in place of believable characters. Bad Boys is their first collaboration and typifies exactly what their careers would become. Bad Boys is a ludicrously over-the-top action cop film.
Miami detectives Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) and Mike Lowery (Will Smith) have five days to recover $100 million in Mafia heroin before the department of Internal Affairs shuts their division down. Their “investigation” mainly consists of insane fire fights and explosions all while sharing funny quips with each other.
Bad Boys is brainless, big, and fun.
The plot of The Hunger Games always felt surprisingly ghoulish and bleak for a big budget action movie aimed at teens. Somehow though The Hunger Games made it work through the charms of Jennifer Lawrence and some necessary sanitization of violence.
Battle Royale, a 2000 film based on a 1999 novel that predates The Hunger Games, presents a similar “kids fight to the death” concept with absolutely no sanitization whatsoever. This is a terrifying thriller in which Japanese junior high schoolers are forced to fight to the death by the government. Why? Because money, of course. Give it a watch and appreciate the action so all those teenage deaths won’t be in vain.
Action movies don’t get more off-the-wall, over-the-top or flat out weird than Face/Off. John Travolta plays FBI Special Agent Sean Archer. His nemesis is domestic terrorists Castor Troy (Nicholas Cage). After Troy accidentally kills Archer’s son in an ill-conceived assassination attempt, Archer vows to do whatever it takes to get revenge. Six years later Archer needs to foil a Troy bomb plot so he…takes Troy’s face? Then Troy forces the FBI doctor to give him Archer’s face.
Couldn’t they have like not done that? Don’t worry about it. It makes for a hilariously fun Nick Cage/John Travolta party. Face/Off is a corny B-movie done well.
Hot Fuzz is technically a comedy. It’s also arguably the most “action movie” action movie ever made. That’s because “Cornetto Trilogy” director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, The World’s End, Baby Driver) specifically went out of his way to incorporate as many action movie cliches as he could into Hot Fuzz.
Simon Pegg stars as Sergeant Nicholas Angel. After his superiors in the London police department decide he is too good at his job and is making them all look bad, they reassign him to the countryside town of Sandford. There he deals with incompetent co-workers, led by new police chief’s son Danny Butterman until he realizes that Sandford may not be such a quiet little town as previously thought.
Hot Fuzz maintains the excellent sense of humor of the other Wright/Pegg/Nick Frost movies and brings the jokes into a legitimately great action film.
Sin City is the end result of one person finally having the novel idea of “what if we didn’t so much adapt a comic book so much as we just literally put it on a movie screen with live-action actors?” That person is director Robert Rodriguez and the end result is the black, white, and red all over noir action thriller Sin City.
Sin City is adapted from the Frank Miller comic of the same name and follows several disparate threads in the vice-filled Basin City. One hulking monster of a man (Mickey Rourke) embarks on a revenge-filled odyssey to find his female friend’s killer. One metaphorical monster of a man (Bruce Willis) embarks on a revenge-filled odyssey to find his female friend’s killer. And one man (Nick Stahl) is yellow.
Sin City is a fun, hyper stylized ode to violence and action in all their glorious forms.
Spike Lee is best known for low budget indie classics like Do the Right Thing and She’s Gotta Have It but when he puts his mind to a good old-fashioned action thriller he can knock it out of the park.
Inside Man covers an elaborate Wall Street bank heist over a 24-hour period. Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) is a sophisticated bank robber plotting the perfect crime and Detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) is the man tasked with stopping him. It’s a simple enough set up that is immediately complicated by the “real” reason Dalton needs to commit the perfect crime.
Inside Man is an exciting throwback of an action heist film.
1987 buddy cop action film Lethal Weapon is not only the gold standard for the buddy cop genre: it created it.
Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) is an LAPD detective and former Green Beret who has become a suicidal loose cannon after the death of his wife. Naturally he is teamed up with Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover), a grizzled police veteran. Murtaugh is tasked with keeping Riggs in line as they track down a powerful drug syndicate known as “Shadow Company.”
But you already know all of that as the plot, tone, and characterizations of Lethal Weapon have been copied over and over again. This is one of those great movies that is almost equally art and science. It shows that there is a simple formula to be had (loose cannon cop + cop who is getting too old for this shit) just waiting for the right, thoughtful movie able pull it off.
Lethal Weapon 2
Lethal Weapon was at the forefront of another important change in the film industry: sequel mania. Lethal Weapon was originally intended to be a standalone from writer and director Shane Black but the original film’s success had Warner Bros. craving more. Black wrote a script for a sequel but it was rejected for being seen as “too dark,” so the studio brought in a crew willing to invest more in the comedic side of the Lethal Weapon formula.
The end result, the Richard Donner-directed Lethal Weapon 2, is undoubtedly not as good as a Black sequel would have been but it is still a tremendously fun action movie. This time around, partners Riggs and Murtaugh are tasked with investigated an illegal shipment of gold krugerrands from South Africa. Not the sexiest mission but it sets the now friendly detective duo down a fun path of beating up racists South African dignitaries.
Samurai and shogun movies are the Eastern equivalent of the Western world’s…well, Westerns. They feature rural, weapon-wielding heroes trying to live an ascetic life and fighting those who would do them harm. 2010’s 13 Assassins is a perfect example of the similarities.
13 Assassins is a remake of a 1963 film of the same name. It takes place in 1844 and follows…well, 13 assassins (12 samurai and one hunter) as they secretly plot to assassinate Lord Matsudaira Naritsugu before he can be appointed to the Shogunate Council and become politically untouchable.
Action movies with one lone wolf John Wick-esque character are fantastic. But sometimes you need an action story with a large, sprawling cast to feel truly epic.
Donnie Yen is quickly becoming a familiar face to Western audiences through performances in movies like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. In his native Hong Kong, however, he is already an established martial arts star. The Ip Man series, three of which are already on Netflix with a fourth on the way, Yen stars as the titual martial art grandmaster Ip Man.
Ip Man was a real life master of the Wing Chun and teacher to Bruce Lee. Ip Man, the film, follows the master’s life story through the early 1900s and in the process tracks the huge geopolitical changes in Southern China at the time. Ip Man takes enough liberties with is subject’s life story to barely be a biography. It is, however, an entertaining action franchise.
Thor: Ragnarok is a gleefully insane, heavy metal album cover of a movie. It’s easily the best Thor offering yet and one of the overall best movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Chris Hemsworth returns as Thor Odinson. Thor is struggling to live up to the mantle of his father’s leadership and keep Asgard safe from those who would destroy it like fire demon Surtur or dominate it like the evil goddess Hela (Cate Blanchette). Things are even more complicated when Thor is cast out to the garbage planet Sakaar. There he will encounter the gleefully strange Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), an old Asgardian warrior (Tessa Thompson), and even an old friend or two.
Thor: Ragnarok has it all. It’s a sci-fi action superhero movie that also just happens to be deliriously funny.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Despite overwhelming great reviews and an obscene global box office figure, Star Wars: The Last Jedi has proven to be a divisive film amongst Star Wars fans. And director Rian Johnson probably wants it that way.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi really puts the “War” in “Star Wars.” The Resistance takes a big hit after the destruction of Starkiller Base in The Force Awakens and the remnants are being pursued across the galaxy by General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). Under the leadership of Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaacs), General Leia Organ (Carrie Fisher), and Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), the Resistance struggles to stay alive. Meanwhile Finn (John Boyega) sets off in search of an important person and Rey (Daisy Ridley) begins her training with a much-changed Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) takes his shirt off a lot.
This is exhilarating, risky filmmaking that all pays off in a thrilling final act. Let the past die. Kill it if you have to indeed.