The best action movies on Netflix

The best action movies on Netflix

Clockwise from top left: Total Recall (Screenshot), Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade (Screenshot), Kung Fu Hustle (Screenshot), Jupiter Ascending (Screenshot), Triple Threat (Screenshot), The Foreigner (Photo: STX Entertainment), Snowpiercer (Screenshot)
Clockwise from top left: Total Recall (Screenshot), Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade (Screenshot), Kung Fu Hustle (Screenshot), Jupiter Ascending (Screenshot), Triple Threat (Screenshot), The Foreigner (Photo: STX Entertainment), Snowpiercer (Screenshot)

Streaming libraries expand and contract. Algorithms are imperfect. Those damn thumbnail images are always changing. But you know what you can always rely on? The expert opinions and knowledgeable commentary of The A.V. Club. That’s why we’re scouring both the menus of the most popular services and our own archives to bring you these guides to the best viewing options, broken down by streamer, medium, and genre. Want to know why we’re so keen on a particular movie? Click the title at the top of each slide for some in-depth coverage from The A.V. Club’s past. And be sure to check back often, because we’ll be adding more recommendations as films come and go.

Some titles on this list also appear on our best movies on Netflix list, but we decided actions films deserved their own spotlight. The criteria for inclusion here is that (1) the film is classified by Netflix as an action film; (2) The A.V. Club has written critically about the movie; and (3) if it was a graded review, it received at least a “B.” Some newer (and much older) movies will be added over time as Netflix announces new additions to their library.

Looking for other movies to stream? Also check out our list of the best movies on Amazon Prime, best movies on Disney+, and best movies on Hulu.

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2 / 22

Casino Royale

Casino Royale

Daniel Craig
Daniel Craig
Screenshot: Casino Royale

The most significant shot in Casino Royale—the Daniel Craig revamp of the James Bond franchise—comes early, while the new Bond is getting his Parkour on and hopping from beam to beam at a construction site in pursuit of a terrorist bomber. When Craig severs a cable so he can rise up on a pulley, there’s an insignificant insert shot of the pipes Craig cut loose, now tumbling on the ground. But it’s only insignificant from a plot perspective. From a thematic perspective, the falling pipes reflect the mission statement for this new Bond: “Actions have consequences.” This is a messier Bond than we’d seen in a while. He’s impulsive, he miscalculates, and when he kills someone, he gets blood on his hands, his face, and all over his clothes. In Casino Royale, 007 has plenty of chances to get bloody. [Noel Murray]

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3 / 22

The Foreigner

The Foreigner

Jackie Chan
Jackie Chan
Photo: STX Entertainment

The Foreigner is a good, lean cut of meat—in other words, a typical Martin Campbell movie, expeditious and cold-blooded in its cross-cut, cloak-and-dagger plotting and violence. A bomb explodes into a cloud of black smoke and glass, leaving 12 dead bodies in London’s posh Knightsbridge boutique district and scrambling various minor characters (journalists, political bigwigs, Scotland Yard officers) in search of information about an unknown Irish republican splinter group that calls itself “the Authentic IRA.” That’s when Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan, who debuted as James Bond in the Campbell-directed GoldenEye), the deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, enters the picture. He’s a shrewd political operator—the kind of character American audiences are used to seeing in municipal and state-level politics, but not in terrorist-chasing thrillers. The guy is part wheeler-dealer, part guerrilla, and a dead ringer for Gerry Adams, the real-life leader of the Irish nationalist party Sinn Féin. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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4 / 22

Haywire

Haywire

Gina Carano
Gina Carano
Screenshot: Haywire

Like any Steven Soderbergh film, Haywire comes with a level of sophistication—an achronological structure, a multi-toned color palette, a knotty tale of alliances and double-crosses—but in this case, it’s all an elaborate smokescreen. In truth, Haywire is simply a delivery system for ass-kickings, calibrated to the specific talents of Gina Carano, a former mixed-martial-arts star and American Gladiator whose fists (and feet) of fury can rattle skulls and cave in chests. Screenwriter Lem Dobbs, who worked with Soderbergh on Kafka and The Limey, has streamlined the latter into a more basic revenge tale—with elements of an international spy thriller—that’s written within Carano’s range and hits action beats with satisfying regularity. It’s his and Soderbergh’s idea of lizard-brain entertainment, and its pleasures are remarkably distilled. [Scott Tobias]

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5 / 22

Raiders Of The Lost Ark

Raiders Of The Lost Ark

Harrison Ford
Harrison Ford
Screenshot: Raiders Of The Last Ark

Released in 1981, Raiders Of The Lost Ark puts Harrison Ford in search of the Ark of the Covenant, racing against Nazis who would use it for their own purposes, and bulldozing through one action-packed episode after another. Much of the blame for the all-action-all-the-time approach of current summer blockbusters can be placed on Raiders, but if any of the copycats had Steven Spielberg’s command of storytelling and visual gags, it wouldn’t matter. Raiders finds the right balance between reverence and wit, and the sight of Ford outrunning that giant boulder thrills as much on the 14th viewing as the first. [Keith Phipps]

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6 / 22

Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade

Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade

Sean Connery and Harrison Ford
Sean Connery and Harrison Ford
Screenshot: Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade

This 1989 sequel captures Raiders’ spirit and nutadds a layer of human warmth. Trotting from Utah to Venice to Berlin to the Middle East in search of the Holy Grail, Ford is forced to team up with estranged father Sean Connery. The two stars have a natural chemistry, and even though some of the big setpieces seem like rehashes of the first film, Crusade possesses a sweetness that no other Indiana Jones movie can claim. Even when Harrison Ford and Connery are pursuing game as big as the Grail, their personal quests keep bringing them back to each other. It’s a small world after all. [Keith Phipps]

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7 / 22

Jupiter Ascending

Jupiter Ascending

Mila Kunis
Mila Kunis
Screenshot: Jupiter Ascending

In Jupiter Ascending—an imaginatively goofy, Rococo space opera written and directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski, the sibling duo behind The Matrix, the live-action Speed Racer, and most of Cloud Atlas—an Anglo-Russian housecleaner is whisked away from Chicago by a pointy-eared, half-albino dog-man, and finds herself embroiled in a convoluted conspiracy that involves intergalactic tax codes, inheritance law, pseudo-incestuous marriage, an economy that takes human capital literally, and characters with names like Titus Abrasax and Chicanery Night. It is, in other words, just a few musical numbers and a whiff of marijuana smoke short of being the Thomas Pynchon book of big-budget, effects-driven movie sci-fi. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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8 / 22

Kung Fu Hustle

Kung Fu Hustle

Illustration for article titled The best action movies on Netflix
Screenshot: Kung Fu Hustle

Kung Fu Hustle could be compared to The Matrix in its seamless integration of new-school CGI and old-school wire-fu, and it’s no coincidence that legendary fight choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping had a hand in both movies. Yuen’s high-flying balletics are unmistakable and still beautiful in any context, but Chow uses computer effects to extend them into something new and distinctive, a live-action cartoon that’s firmly rooted in cinematic traditions ranging from Buster Keaton to Tex Avery to the Shaw brothers. It’s a manic, exhilarating—and okay, somewhat enervating—assault on the senses. [Scott Tobias]

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9 / 22

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

Illustration for article titled The best action movies on Netflix
Screenshot: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

Based on a series of graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is a manga-doodle that draws from the wellspring of popular culture, viewing youthful infatuation through a filter of indie rock, action comics, and a selection of classic arcade and Nintendo games. It’s a series steeped in irony, bestowing magnificent powers on an ineffectual Canadian who can barely muster the courage to talk to a girl, yet reluctantly does battle with her ex-boyfriends. There’s perhaps no better director to bring it to the screen than Edgar Wright, whose Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz are similarly informed by a culture-addled mind, and he brings a great elasticity to Scott Pilgrim, which stretches the medium to accommodate O’Malley’s comic-book universe. [Scott Tobias]

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10 / 22

Shadow

Shadow

Shadow
Shadow
Photo: Well Go USA

Politically, there are no shades of gray in Shadow, the latest from Hero and House Of Flying Daggers director Zhang Yimou. You’re either on the side of the patriotic freedom fighters who dream of liberating the walled city of Jingzhou from its occupiers, or you’re on the side of the spoiled, cowardly king of Pei (Zheng Kai), who glorifies his own selfish inaction in the form of an epic poem called “Ode To Peace” painted on screens placed around his throne room. Morally, things are a bit murkier. “Some things don’t have a right and wrong,” says the wife of the king’s right-hand man Commander Yu (Chao Deng, in a dual role), who has been secretly training a body double to take his place in court and on the battlefield ever since a festering combat wound forced him onto the sidelines of both. Visually, the film is nothing but shades of gray—so much so that the tones of the actors’ skin, and the blood pouring from their wounds, are the only other colors in Yimou’s palette. [Katie Rife]

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11 / 22

Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer

Chris Evans
Chris Evans
Screenshot: Snowpiercer

The near future: A cooling agent called CW7 is introduced into the atmosphere to combat global warming. It backfires, rendering the planet uninhabitable. Most of the Earth’s population freezes to death. The survivors live aboard a high-speed train—built by an eccentric billionaire before the ice age—where all necessities flow front to back. Wastewater from the first-class cars close to the engine is filtered to make drinking water for the third-class passengers living in squalor in the back of the train. Industrial waste is refined into a huffable drug called Kronol. Occasionally, bloody uprisings sweep the rear cars, but never cross the midsection, because the train’s design ensures that any position overtaken by the revolters will only affect their own people. This is the premise of Bong Joon-ho’s grim, grimy Snowpiercer, and if it sounds more like a political metaphor than a functional society, it’s because it is. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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12 / 22

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

Miles Morales in action
Miles Morales in action
Image: Sony Pictures

If you had told me at the beginning of 2018 that a new superhero movie, let alone one featuring multiple Spider-Men, would be one of the best films of the year, I wouldn’t have believed it. All it took was a confident, funny script and comic-book-style animation to prove me wrong. If we’re going to keep churning these things out until the end of time, please keep them animated and make them as powerful as this one. [Vikram Murthi]

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13 / 22

Starsky & Hutch

Starsky & Hutch

Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson
Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson
Screenshot: Starsky & Hutch

Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson take their well-worn personas back to the groovy days of afros, butterfly collars, disco, and long sideburns in Starsky & Hutch, a delightfully silly resurrection of the ‘70s cop show/camp touchstone, helmed by Old School director Todd Phillips. Typecast to perfection, Stiller plays a more macho version of his usual diminutive bundle of seething neuroses. Desperate to live up to his mother’s legendary reputation in law enforcement, Stiller’s by-the-books control freak is saddled with a new partner in Wilson, a sweet-natured space cowboy complete with a likable kid sidekick (who’s straight out of Wilson’s films with Wes Anderson) and a laissez-faire attitude toward crime prevention. Together, Wilson and Stiller inch their way toward the crime ring of Vince Vaughn, a drug lord who, in the time-honored tradition of villains everywhere, hides his nefarious evil under an immaculate façade of upper-class philanthropy. Beyond merely upgrading his Wilsons, from mopey Luke to loopy-genius Owen, Phillips has improved considerably as a co-writer and director since Old School. His new film looks better, is brisker and breezier, and doesn’t telegraph and belabor gags as clumsily. It would be hard to find a better cast, too. [Nathan Rabin]

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14 / 22

Superman Returns

Superman Returns

Brandon Routh
Brandon Routh
Screenshot: Superman Returns

The voice of Marlon Brando, lifted from his performance as Superman’s father Jor-El in 1978's Superman, opens the immense revival Superman Returns, echoing through the heavens with a godlike authority. What he says isn’t that important—in fact, his mush-mouthed musings sound a little like Apocalypse Now outtakes—but this nod to the original film sets a tone of pop classicism that’s rare in modern superhero movies. Director Bryan Singer isn’t interested in adding dark inflections to the legend, like Batman Begins, or even harnessing the whiz-bang energy of the Spider-Man movies or his X-Men entries. Instead, he intends to restore this mightiest of heroes to his full iconic glory, with one majestic image after another of the Man Of Steel literally carrying the world on his shoulders. Singer’s reverence for the 1978 version edges perilously close to mimicry, as if he has no new ideas to bring to the table, but he succeeds in drawing out the Superman myth with simple power and a refreshing absence of irony. [Scott Tobias]

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15 / 22

The Night Comes For Us

The Night Comes For Us

Illustration for article titled The best action movies on Netflix
Screenshot: The Night Comes For Us

Nothing about Timo Tjahjanto’s career has been measured. The writer-director’s full-length debut, Macabre (co-directed with Kimo Stamboel and based on their award-winning short, “Dara”), is a grisly slasher, the first Indonesian film ever to be banned in Malaysia for “excessive violence.” It seemed a new master of horror was on the rise. After teaming twice more with Stamboel, Tjahjanto struck out on his own with The Night Comes For Us, an organized-crime yarn that proves the director to be among the finest purveyors of can-you-top-this mayhem working today. What first comes across like it’s going to be Tjahjanto’s homage to Asian gangster movie royalty like John Woo and Johnnie To quickly reveals itself to be a madcap bloodbath, more in line with the wilder tendencies of Takashi Miike. While cut from the same stylistic cloth, Evans has slowly gravitated toward more operatic bombast (The Raid 2, The Apostle), whereas Tjahjanto’s proclivities have remained laser-focused: The messier, more gruesome, and more uproariously chaotic, the better. [Alex McLevy]

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16 / 22

The Old Guard

The Old Guard

Illustration for article titled The best action movies on Netflix
Photo: Aimee Spinks/Netflix

With The Old Guard, Love & Basketball and Beyond The Lights director Gina Prince-Bythewood helms an action-fantasy hybrid that takes the beauty marks—and warts—of each genre and creates a sequel-starter for Netflix. The film follows an idealistic cadre of heroes who all share a common thread: They can live for centuries. The titular group is led by Andy (Charlize Theron), with Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari), and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) making up the rest of the crew. When a new immortal warrior, Nile (Kiki Layne), joins them, she sparks a reckoning with the Guard’s ideals—and the rosy picture they try to uphold. Early in the film, Andy gifts Booker with a copy of Cervantes’ Don Quixote, which makes sense: A novel whose central ethic is individual goodness amid an errant society fits right in among this league of extraordinary Samaritans. The Guard has been around for ages, fighting (and dying) for humankind. At some point, they each found others like them, and banded together to secretly rescue humanity from itself ad nauseam. From stopping nuclear bombs to rescuing child hostages, Andy and company are guardians of the same mortals who would detest them if their powers were found out. The rub is that there’s a cap on their so-called immortality—one day, wounds just stop healing. It’s at this point that this superhero movie becomes a changing-of-the-guard Western, ruminating on what we leave to the next generation and what ideals it prioritizes. [Anya Stanley]

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17 / 22

The Other Guys

The Other Guys

Illustration for article titled The best action movies on Netflix
Screenshot: The Other Guys

It’s a testament to Will Ferrell’s comic genius that his movies are any good at all. Ferrell isn’t a satirist or an observational humorist, and he isn’t comfortably confined within the guardrails of a script, even a well-written one. His natural outlet is the sketch comedy of Saturday Night Live, where his gift for digressive silliness could be packaged into five- or 10-minute bits. So a good Will Ferrell movie, like the inspired buddy-cop comedy The Other Guys, gloms together enough clever riffs and random funny business to overcome the inevitable lumpiness and dead ends. It helps that Ferrell’s regular collaborator, director Adam McKay (Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers), has a visual panache that’s rare in Hollywood comedies, and especially useful when shoot-outs and car chases come into play. Cop Out this ain’t. [Scott Tobias]

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18 / 22

Tomorrow Never Dies

Tomorrow Never Dies

Pierce Brosnan
Pierce Brosnan
Screenshot: Tomorrow Never Dies

Popular consensus holds that Pierce Brosnan’s best outing as James Bond is his first, 1995’s GoldenEye. It’s hard not to wonder if there’s a halo effect from the beloved video game adaptation affecting its reputation when 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies is sitting right there. More than two decades later, Brosnan’s second appearance in the role stands out as both the most ’90s Bond movie and the rare entry that has elements of prescience, rather than pure trend-chasing. Actually, prescience versus trend-chasing neatly encompasses the motives of the best villain of the Brosnan run: media baron Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce), a somewhat more megalomaniacal version of Rupert Murdoch, intent on starting World War III for the benefit of his broadcasting empire. Satirical skepticism of the media (and its fixations on ratings, sensationalism, etc.) is a fashionable remnant of the Natural Born Killers era, while the threats of conglomerates and consolidation have only gotten scarier and more vivid in the years since. Tomorrow Never Dies isn’t exactly incisive in its treatment of Carver; he is a Bond villain, after all. But Pryce gnashes his teeth with style, and it’s satisfying to see 007 take on a Murdoch stand-in without completely demonizing real journalism. [Jesse Hassenger]

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19 / 22

Total Recall

Total Recall

Arnold Scharzenegger
Arnold Scharzenegger
Screenshot: Total Recall

Time does not always move forward in a linear way. History comes in fits and starts—sometimes jumping forward, sometimes easing back. Die Hard and its descendants eventually killed off the ultraviolent, megabudget, burnished-steel style of ’80s mainstream action movies—or, at the very least, it forced them to adapt and evolve. But this didn’t happen all at once. It wasn’t like Arnold Schwarzenegger sat down to watch Die Hard and then started looking into employment options in California state politics. And one of the finest, most excessive examples of ’80s action-movie excess didn’t come out until 1990. Looking back, it’s a terrible shame that Schwarzenegger only made one movie with the mad Dutch director Paul Verhoeven. The actor and director were made for each other. They were both amazing at a certain form of gory, tactile stylized violence, and they were both bone-deep cynics. There’s never been any sentimentality in a Verhoeven movie, and the sentimentality that’s appeared in Schwarzenegger movies has been so nakedly manipulative that it almost seems more cynical. Verhoeven’s Hollywood movies were both violent spectacles and commentaries on the idea of violent spectacle, and Schwarzenegger was always fine with the idea of being a commentary on himself. We’re lucky we got to see Verhoeven film Schwarzenegger holding Michael Ironside’s severed arms aloft while smirking and delivering a one-liner, but we should’ve seen that exact same thing happen at least three more times. [Tom Briehan]

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20 / 22

Triple Threat

Triple Threat

Iko Uwais
Iko Uwais
Screenshot: Triple Threat

A stunt coordinator turned prolific director of DTV action, Jesse V. Johnson wastes no time setting Triple Threat in motion, with less than five minutes passing between studio logos and the first shot fired in a jungle-raid opening set piece. The title promises, and delivers, a showcase for three performers: Indonesian Silat fighter Iko Uwais (The Raid), Muay Thai master Tony Jaa (Ong-bak), and Chinese martial artist Tiger Chen, a choreographer who’s only recently made the leap to performing onscreen himself. The plot doesn’t bear much consideration, with those three versus evil Western forces (led by Johnson’s regular collaborator Scott Adkins) trying to kill a humanitarian-minded princess (Celina Jade). “Maha Jaya,” i.e. Thailand, is the setting, where plentiful bursts of gunfire are deployed with musical and soothing regularity. In between all the shooting, Johnson captures a number of martial arts face-offs with increasingly rare and graceful coherence. In a time-honored B-movie paradox, Triple Threat’s comparative modesty of resources increases its tangible satisfactions: Everything you see has been generated through grunt work rather than outsourced for computer rendering. [Vadim Rizov]

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21 / 22

What Happened To Monday

What Happened To Monday

Noomi Rapace
Noomi Rapace
Photo: Netflix

Don’t let the “Orphan Black knockoff” vibes sway you from checking out this baldly silly yarn, set in a a future where environmental devastation has led to a strict global “one child per family” law. Noomi Rapace stars as seven identical septuplets named Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.; each leaves the house one day a week, all under the same shared identify, which of course has disastrous consequences. The main draw is seeing Rapace pull off the delightful juggling act of seven different personalities, but director Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow) also orchestrates gleefully over-the-top action and chase sequences. He’s staged a crowd-pleasing game of cat-and-mouse, jazzed up by sci-fi flourishes and a high concept. [Alex McLevy]

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