If you’re in the mood for some spine-tingling suspense, heart-stopping excitement, and lots of punching, look no further: These are the best action movies available on Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, Amazon Prime, and other streaming services.
From directors who have built their careers on action (James Cameron, Michael Bay, the Wachowski sisters) and blockbuster action stars (Arnold Schwarzenegger, Charlize Theron, Tom Cruise) to more eclectic voices like Edgar Wright, Gina Price-Bythewood, Spike Lee, and Guillermo del Toro, there’s something for everyone on this list. We’ve got family friendly options (Spy Kids, Jurassic Park), movies that are not for the squeamish (Mandy, Oldboy), and of course, plenty of franchise favorites (Avengers: Endgame, Fast Five, Mission Impossible: Fallout). If you’re in the mood for some pulse-pounding action, read on.
(Like all genre, “action” is difficult to define. Fight scenes, special-effect-heavy set pieces, and/or good old fashioned explosions can tip the scales, but when all else fails we’re deferring to the categories that streaming services use. In other words, if you disagree with our categorization, take it up with Netflix.)
While Ridley Scott’s Alien is more of a slow-burn haunted house movie (in space), the James Cameron-directed sequel turns Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley into a full-fledged action hero as she returns to the site of her extraterrestrial encounter to exterminate the Xenomorphs for good.
We’d be remiss in putting together any kind of action movie list together without highlighting the force that is Scott Adkins. Arguably the Robert de Niro of martial arts screen craft, Adkins has never broken through to the Hollywood mainstream, mostly because the Hollywood mainstream doesn’t make Scott Adkins vehicles anymore. Emphasizing the physicality of the stunts and lean action sequences, his films put all the weight on his shoulders — and he’s more than happy to do the lifting. In Avengement (above), a furloughed prisoner uses his time on the outside to take revenge on the people who deserve to get punched in the face. In The Debt Collector, Adkins his a mob heavy who’s reconsidering the job (but also cracking skulls). Over the course of his career, he’s taken over franchises from Jean-Claude Van Damme, redefined gun-fu on his own terms, and carved out his own franchise with the Boyka boxing films. He’s an icon, and worth discovering. —Matt Patches
Avengement and many other Scott Adkins movies are streaming on Netflix
Marvel has churned out action-packed superhero movies at a mind-numbing pace since 2008’s Iron Man, to mixed results. Last year’s conclusion of the Infinity Saga, however, epitomized what Marvel does best. From our MCU movie ranking:
For all the action, the callbacks, and the conclusions, Endgame soars because there are reasons to love and care about the characters of the MCU once again. Endgame rewards fans for sticking with the franchise for 10 years, even while reinventing them with new dramatic pulse. In the final scenes, longtime saga screenwriters Chris Markus and Stephen McFeely satisfyingly wrapping up its core characters’ arcs and make room for the next chapter. The MCU in a nutshell.
There are plenty of entries in Michael Bay and Will Smith’s respective filmographies that belong on this list, but Bay’s feature film debut starring Smith and Martin Lawrence as Miami narcotics detectives is our pick, as a quintessential ’90s action-comedy. Bay’s fondness for set pieces and explosions is on full display, and Smith and Lawrence have a comedic chemistry that’s just electric. The 2003 sequel, Bad Boys 2, quadruples down on the mayhem, and Bad Boys For Life, the “highly watchable” trilogy capper, was released earlier this year.
In Western terms, this Tollywood production, the most expensive Indian film at the time of its release, is like a biblical epic by way of Marvel Studios, with a little Hamlet and Step Up thrown in for good measure. The Beginning chronicles the life of Shivudu, an adventurer with superhuman strength who escapes his provincial life by scaling a skyscraper-sized waterfall, aides and romances a rebel warrior named Avanthika, then teams up with her to rescue a kidnapped queen from an evil emperor. Exploding with hyper-choreographed fight sequences and CG spectacle (not to mention a handful of musical numbers with equal bravura), The Beginning is 159 minutes of mythical excess, going big like only Indian film can, and resting on the muscular shoulders of its hero, the single-name actor Prabhas. If you fall hard for it, get pumped — this is only part one. The twist leads into Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, another two-and-a-half-hour epic currently streaming on Netflix. —MP
Spike Lee’s Netflix joint, starring Delroy Lindo as a Vietnam vet returning to the country in search of a treasure cache, isn’t a traditional action movie. But Lee borrows enough from the genre that we’re inclined to count it. From Karen Han’s review:
The plot of the film is a typical adventure tale — a hunt for lost treasure that sees the former soldiers going up against Vietnamese mercenaries, and a tentative romance for David (Jonathan Majors), Paul’s son who tags along out of worry. But Lee uses it as groundwork for telling a much more complex story.
Christopher Nolan’s take on the caped crusader led to a decade of dark and gritty superhero origin stories, making The Dark Knight one of the most iconic action movie of the 2000s. It doesn’t hurt that Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker is nothing short of mesmerizing, winning him a posthumous Oscar.
All of the debates about whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie (I don’t care) tend to forget that it was a sleeper summer hit. Die Hard cemented Bruce Willis, who was just known as the cheesy guy from Moonlighting, as an action hero, and established an enduring action movie formula. (And if you’ve seen the classic one too many times, then check out one of its best copycats: Jean Claude Van Damme’s Sudden Death. It’s Die Hard in a hockey rink!)
Easily the best film in the Fast & Furious franchise, Justin Lin’s Fast Five introduced Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s character, DSS Agent Luke Hobbs (and his unfortunate goatee). Though he’s trying to bring down Dom (Vin Diesel) and Brian (Paul Walker) in Fast Five, Hobbs became such an audience favorite that he teams up with them in the following movies, even getting his own spinoff, Hobbs and Shaw. But every installment in the mega-franchise continues to try and one-up the bank vault sequence in Fast Five, and only ever comes close.
Based on the life of Bruce Lee’s martial arts teacher, the titular Ip Man, director Wilson Yip expertly balances (highly fictionalized) biographical narrative with breathtaking Kung Fu action. Donnie Yen portrays Ip-Man-as-folk-hero in the 2008 film as well as its three sequels, and Michelle Yeoh and Dave Bautista star in a 2018 spinoff, Master Z: Ip Man Legacy.
Fact, for people who may only know him from supporting roles in Christopher Nolan movies: Michael Caine used to be an action star! The ‘60s and ‘70s were littered with beat-em-up roles for the British actor that were always a little grungier than the Bond movies of the time. The most blockbustery of them all might be The Italian Job, a crime picture that matches Caine’s debonair style with fast cars and a swinging soundtrack. Mark Wahlberg would attempt to remake this gem in the 2000s, and while they had the technology to make it zoom like a Hollywood action movie, the original has style. —MP
In the original 2014 John Wick film, Reeves stars as a retired assassin hellbent on revenge against the gangsters who killed his puppy. By 2019’s John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum, he’s got a $14 million bounty on his head. Directed by Keanu Reeves’ The Matrix stunt double, Chad Stahelski, the John Wick series is a setpiece wonk’s delight, chock full of gorgeously choreographed fight scenes. Parabellum dials that action up to 11, with some gleefully over-the-top set pieces.
John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum is streaming on HBO Max.
The dinosaurs, the chase sequences, raptors in the kitchen, that animated DNA guy … Steven Spielberg’s creature feature is still a classic. Last month, it even returned as the highest grossing film in America. And if you wind up on a Spielberg high after returning to his Michael Crichton adaptation, consider jumping directly to his Indiana Jones movies, which are also on Netflix.
The first half of Mandy feels like an entirely different film from the second half, so you’ll be forgiven if midway through the dreamy, quiet introduction you’re wondering why it’s on this list of action movies. Suffice it to say when things pop off, they really pop off. (Just a hint: Nicolas Cage fights demon bikers with chainsaws.)
More than 20 years later, Tom Cruise’s TV-rebooted spy franchise is still alive, kicking, and perhaps most surprising, besting itself. The movie stacks up to the masterpieces on this list, and this snippet from our 2018 review sums it up:
Mission: Impossible – Fallout shatters every bone in the body, crashes aircraft in blazes of glory, smashes pristine porcelain sinks to jagged bits, singes Henry Cavill’s mustache hairs, rips French infrastructure in two and defies the laws of physics with the glee of the Jackass crew.
What the sixth installment of Tom Cruise’s stunt-heavy spy franchise doesn’t break are the rules: Executed by Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation writer-director Christopher McQuarrie, Fallout uses film conventions, page-turner dialogue and precision action to write an IMAX-sized textbook on how to have a hell of a good time at the movies. Past Mission: Impossiblesequels have looked to aspects of the TV show and modern spy thrillers to find ways to subvert expectations. McQuarrie adapts the series’ lit-fuse title treatment into a two-hour movie, and every second thrills.
If you’ve seen Kill Bill (streaming on HBO Max)expand your scope of modern martial arts films with this hyper-charged, bloody spectacle from Indonesian director Timo Tjahjanto. What if the most brutal rounds of Mortal Kombat were brought to life? The movie answers that question and then some. As we put it back in 2018:
I can’t emphasize this enough: At least 85% of The Night Comes For Us is just people punching, stabbing, shooting, maiming, and otherwise killing each other. Tjahjanto, cinematographer Gunnar Nimpuno, action coordinator Iko Uwais, and visual effects artist Greg Dora deliver some of the most jaw-dropping action scenes since John Wick: Chapter 2. “Bodies aren’t supposed to do that!” is the message of most of the set-pieces, as so many broken bones burst through the skin, chest get chopped, limbs get snapped, heads get smashed, sharp weapons slash through all kinds of body parts, and thousands of bullets go in and out of bodies in such astonishing violent and creative ways that the mind drifts to hours spent in biology class.
The Night Comes For Us is streaming on Netflix.
Director Park Chan-wook’s action thriller is one of the most iconic films of Korean New Wave cinema. Based on a Japanese manga, it stars Choi Min-sik as a man kidnapped and isolated in a hotel room, where he learns his wife has been murdered. 15 years later, he wakes up outside and embarks on an intensely violent revenge journey that ends in a truly devastating twist. Oldboy is not for the squeamish, but Park brings such visceral and raw emotion to the table that it’s hard to look away.
Charlize Theron stars as the leader of a band of centuries-old mercenaries in Netflix’s new action movie based on Greg Rucka’s comic book of the same name. Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, The Old Guard feels like a breath of fresh air in a genre crowded by franchises. Theron has long-since proven herself to be an electric, physical performer, but relative newcomer Kili Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk) more than holds her own as the group’s new recruit. (The Old Guard is also unapologetically queer, stars a diverse cast, and goes far beyond Avengers: Endgame’s cringey “empowerment” moment to put women in charge without it being a gimmick.)
Adam McKay’s buddy-cop parody starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg as NYPD pencil-pushers is certainly hilarious, but it’s also got explosions, car chases, and a bad guy assassin with a British accent. Therefore it is an action movie.
The actor never lies to his audience, in part because he’s more than just the films’ star. Chan is the heart and brain of the Police Story films, and the lengths he goes to in order to impress and entertain extend beyond what we see on screen;that he’s also charismatic, can flip between comedy and drama, and can pull off every stunt demanded of him, even if it may take a few tries, makes him a rarity, and the Police Story films the pinnacle of his career.
Edgar Wright channels both comic book and video game aesthetics in his adaptation of the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series, with a dynamic, tongue-in-cheek style that reads as both recognizable and original. Michael Cera stars as Scott, who must defeat his dream girl Ramona Flowers’ (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) seven evil exes if he wants to date her. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World also stars many familiar faces in smaller roles, like Chris Evans, Brie Larson, and Succession’s very own slime puppy, Kieran Culkin.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is streaming on Netflix.
The Matrix is certainly the Wachowski’s most iconic action movie, but their Speed Racer adaptation is so wholly original and just so dang fun that we’d be remiss not to recommend it here.
Robert Rodriguez has directed plenty of excellent action films (El Mariachi, Machete, From Dusk Till Dawn) but his family-friendly Spy Kids is still my favorite. It’s shockingly good, starring Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara as siblings whose secret-agent parents are kidnapped by a sadistic kids’ TV host (Alan Cumming). If the last time you saw Spy Kids was in 2001, it’s worth throwing on this weekend — it completely holds up.
James Cameron’s The Terminator may have introduced Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cyborg assassin, but I prefer the 1991 sequel that sees a more cuddly T-800 trying to protect rather than destroy. Also he drives a semi through an L.A. drainage canal so.