The Best Action Movies on Netflix Streaming


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If you want to Netflix and whatever the opposite of chill is, good news. The streaming service has slowly but surely built up a solid selection of action movies to get your blood pumping.

The home video market thrived on action movies from stars like Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme, and when you want something that’ll entertain you without too much plot or subtext, they did the job fantastically. As action movies evolved, budgets rose and stunts got more complex, but the basic appeal remained the same.

Here’s our rundown of the best action flicks on Netflix streaming, from classic martial arts to stylish modern thrillers. These movies hail from all over the globe, with just one thing in common: they’re awesome.

City Of God

This 2002 Brazilian crime thriller is one of the most propulsive, tense movies you’ll ever see. Based on real events, it stars primarily Rio residents who had little acting training, following them through the brutal favelas and watching them grow up in the culture of crime, grappling with the morals of drugs and murder. This one is a must-watch and one of my favorite action movies of all time, so seeing it show up on Netflix is awesome. If you like it, try to track down the TV series that followed with many of the same actors.

Gladiator

Gladiator

Ridley Scott’s 2000 historical drama took the “sword and sandal” cliches of classic gladiator films and transformed them into something modern and vital. Russell Crowe won an Oscar for his performance as Maximus, betrayed by his Emperor and forced to fight for his life in front of a bloodthirsty audience. Joaquin Phoenix had a career-making role as the sociopathic Commodus, his evil intentions playing out across twisted grimaces on his expressive face. The action scenes are incredibly kinetic and visceral as well. Gladiator was a huge critical and commercial success and still holds up today.

Ip Man

Ip Man

There’s plenty of kung fu on Netflix Instant, but a quality pick is Ip Man, based on the true story of the man considered the founding father of Wing Chun kung fu. Ip Man’s greatest claim to fame is teaching Bruce Lee, but if the movie is to be believed he got up to a whole lot of other mess as well. Donnie Yen plays the title character, forced to fight for his village after the Japanese invasion of China in 1937. The scraps are inventive and beautiful, the historical setting is spot on, and the performances are all very solid. Two sequels followed, both of which are also available on Netflix streaming.

Battle Royale

Battle Royale

This dark 2000 action film will seem awfully familiar to the millions of people who watched The Hunger Games, as it’s basically the same story. A class of high school students is taken to a remote island, each of them is given a different weapon, and only one can survive. The twist here is that director Kinji Fukasaku plays Battle Royale like the dark comedy it is, digging deep into the twisted psyches of teenagers to deliver squicky gore and remarkable emotional connections. Cult Japanese actor Takeshi Kitano is glorious as the teacher who is all too happy to see his charges murdered one by one.

Kill Bill

Kill Bill

Quentin Tarantino’s revenge epic was too big to fit in just one movie, but thankfully Netflix has both halves of Kill Bill. Uma Thurman stars as the Bride, a member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad who is betrayed by her cohorts and left for dead. She survives and embarks on a bloody journey through them that has some of the coolest action set pieces in Western cinema history, coupled with crackling dialogue and really fun performances. Just a unique accomplishment in a number of ways.

The Good, The Bad And The Weird

The Good, The Bad And The Weird

It’s hard to do justice to The Good, The Bad And The Weird in a paragraph of text. This 2008 South Korean western isn’t really like any other film on this list. The titular characters are a bounty hunter, a bandit and a thief who come together during a train robbery involving a treasure map. Throw in the Japanese army and a group of Manchurian marauders and you have a non-stop chase with tons of energetic action sequences. The three lead performances are a hell of a lot of fun, as alliances shift and change in the middle of combat. You’ll be exhausted by the time it’s all over.

Bad Boys

Bad Boys

Before Michael Bay was a punchline for film fans, he was just a young Hollywood upstart with a passion for explosions. His 1995 breakthrough Bad Boys still holds up as a roller coaster of dumb entertainment, with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence delivering as a pair of Miami cops trying to get to the bottom of a heist of $100 million of heroin from a police evidence vault. The chemistry between the two leads – who improvised many of their lines, as Bay hated the shooting script – makes the whole enterprise work better than it has any right to. It’s idiotic fun but perfect to put on when you’re just trying to turn your brain off and watch cars blow up.

Full Metal Jacket

Full Metal Jacket

It’s a bit reductive to call Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam war masterpiece an “action movie,” but it succeeds on those fronts as well as a bunch of others. The film follows a group of Marines through basic training and into combat in South Vietnam. It’s a harrowing war movie that makes no compromises as to its morals, and performances from Vincent D’Onofrio and R. Lee Ermey have become cinema legend. The Vietnam portion is confusing, disjointed and terrifying, reflecting how the recruits had their individuality erased so they’d dehumanize the soldiers they were fighting as well. Hell of a movie.

Bloodsport

Bloodsport

Let’s close this list with a Jean-Claude Van Damme classic that’s fun as hell. Based on the extremely questionable memoirs of MMA fighter Frank Dux, Bloodsport tells the tale of the Kumite, an underground martial arts tournament in Hong Kong that beats down the best of the best. Bolo Yeung is one of the most iconic villains in action history as Chong Li, a vicious brute who goes to insane ends to get his victories. The acting is wooden but the scenes in Kowloon Walled City are cool and the fights, of course, are worth the price of admission. We’ll see how the proposed remake shakes out.

Removed From Neftlix

Sadly, movies don’t stay streaming forever, and every month the selection on Netflix changes. When a movie gets taken off of the service, we’ll put it down here and let you know where else you can get it.

Drunken Master II

Drunken Master II

Jackie Chan is at the peak of his powers in this period film as Wong Fei-Hung, a legendary Chinese martial artist who unlocks his inner potential by getting insanely drunk. The movie is full of great scenes, but what puts it into the hall of fame is the final fight inside a fiery factory, which involves some of the most insane kung fu choreography ever filmed. Roger Ebert famously claimed that it might not be possible to film a better one.

Buy on DVD or Blu-Ray

Stream on Amazon Video

Dredd

Dredd

Karl Urban is incredible as stone-faced Judge Dredd, star of one of Britain’s longest-running comic series. Unlike the Sylvester Stallone movie, this one hews close to the source material as the Judge and his partner need to make their way to the top of a tower block to arrest a vicious female crime kingpin played by Lena Headey (Cersei from Game of Thrones). It’s a brutal, non-stop fragfest with incredible set design and cinematography and it’s a crying shame that we’re not getting a sequel.

Buy on DVD or Blu-Ray

Stream on Amazon Video

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

One of the most beautiful martial arts movies ever lensed, Ang Lee’s 2000 film helped kung fu break through to an audience beyond the grindhouse. When a legendary sword is stolen, it kicks off a sprawling adventure through expertly-shot landscapes. With career-defining performances from Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh, this is an action flick with strong crossover appeal. Netflix removed the original film from streaming right as they premiered a follow-up film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, which is inferior in every way.

Buy on DVD or Blu-Ray

Stream on Amazon Video

Blade II

Blade II

Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe was even a twinkle in Disney’s eye, Wesley Snipes was holding it down on the big screen as vampire hunter Blade in a trio of flicks. The second one, directed by Guillermo del Toro, is widely regarded as the best of the lot. In it, Blade has to contend with the Reapers, mutated vampires stripped of every weakness but sunlight. It’s fun as hell, careening forward at breakneck speeds through inventive set pieces. Snipes is pretty much a cipher as Blade, but the supporting cast is solid, especially the Bloodpack, a group of vampires trained to take him down.

Buy on DVD or Blu-Ray

Stream on Amazon Video

Big Trouble In Little China

Big Trouble In Little China

John Carpenter went PG-13 for this 1986 cult classic, starring frequent collaborator Kurt Russell as truck driver Jack Burton winding up in the middle of a Chinatown conflict involving supernatural powers and immortal crime lords looking to get married. The flick’s a non-stop roller coaster of fun fights, great sets and hilarious performances, and Burton is an all-time great action star. He’s not a miracle man – instead, he gets through on bluff and bluster most of the time, while his Asian compatriots do most of the intense fighting. As with most of his films, Carpenter also produced a sizzling synthesizer score to accompany the action.

Buy on DVD or Blu-Ray

Stream on Amazon Video

Lethal Weapon

Lethal Weapon

Mel Gibson and Danny Glover were one of action cinema’s perfect pairings as Riggs and Murtaugh across the Lethal Weapon movies. If you wondered where the “I’m getting too old for this shit” cliche comes from, look no further, as Murtaugh barely survives being partnered with the loose cannon Riggs as they hunt down a heroin operation run by former Special Forces soldiers. The screenplay by Shane Black is perfectly pitched, the action sequences are delightful, and it spawned multiple sequels as well as a 2016 TV series. We’ll see how that one turns out.

Buy on DVD or Blu-Ray

Stream on Amazon Video

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