Gladiator. Photo: Paramount Movies/YouTube
This list is frequently updated as titles leave and join Netflix. *New additions are indicated with an asterisk.
Netflix has made headlines by investing in highbrow dramas that win Oscars. But sometimes you don’t want that! Sometimes you just want to escape the increasingly insane world out there into an action movie. Netflix has made a few of their own, but the bulk of the best action films on their service are still Hollywood blockbusters from ‘90s modern classics to more exact box office hits to films that may have slipped under your radar. From Ridley Scott to Michael Mann, here are the best action movies currently on Netflix.
Runtime: 1 hour 39 minutes
Director: Brian Kirk
Chadwick Boseman left the world way too soon, but he made such an impact in his too-brief time on planet Earth. So much so that he’s even got a few films that could be called underrated, a category into which this clever little action flick definitely falls. The Oscar nominee plays a detective who makes a bold move to capture two cop killers — he shuts down all the bridges out of the city of Manhattan. Tautly made and well-acted, one only wishes Boseman was still around to make more movies like this one.
Apocalypse Now Redux
Runtime: 3h 22m
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Interestingly, the only version of one of the most acclaimed war films of all time that’s currently on Netflix is the “Redux” edition, the longer cut that was released in 2001. At that time, Coppola collaborated with his editor Walter Murch to reincorporate 49 minutes of footage that were cut from the initial release. It’s not the generally preferred version, but it’s still a gut punch of a war movie, a real look at the heart of darkness that beats in the American military experience.
Runtime: 2h 24m
Director: Martin Campbell
It’s hard to believe the most famous movie spy in history ever needed a comeback, but that’s really what happened when Daniel Craig stepped into 007’s shoes and it turned out to be one of the most acclaimed James Bond movies of all time. An origin story for the suave superspy, Casino Royale introduced new layers to the classic character, resulting in an action film that felt like it had real stakes. This is one of the best modern action movies, period, not just in the Bond franchise.
Director: Michael Mann
Tom Cruise gives one of his most fascinating performances as Vincent, the passenger to Jamie Foxx’s L.A. cab driver on a very fateful night. It turns out that Vincent is hitman and he needs Foxx’s character to drive him on a killing spree in this tense, gorgeously-shot thriller from the masterful craftsman Michael Mann.
Den of Thieves
Runtime: 2h 20m
Director: Christian Gudegast
As alpha male as movies get, this 2018 ensemble action orgy has already grown a pretty loyal cult following — so much so that a sequel is currently in development. Gerard Butler gives one of his best performances in the story of an L.A. Sheriff’s department that’s trying to stop a group of thieves planning to rob the Federal Reserve. With tense style and fun performances from O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Pablo Schreiber too, this is a movie that feels like it’s growing in popularity every year. See why for yourself.
The Dirty Dozen
Runtime: 2h 30m
Director: Robert Aldrich
Classic action! There aren’t a lot of action movies on Netflix made before 1990, so take this chance to watch one that might have been your father’s (or even grandfather’s) favorite. The real draw here is the cast, which includes icons like Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, George Kennedy, Telly Savalas, and Donald Sutherland in a film set in 1944. Watching American movie icons mow down Nazis will never get old.
Runtime: 2h 35m
Director: Ridley Scott
One of the most popular films of its era, this action epic stars Russell Crowe as the legendary Maximus, a warrior whose family is murdered by the vicious Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix). Forced into slavery, Maximus has to rise the gladiator arenas to get his vengeance. The film made a fortune on its way to winning the Oscar for Best Picture.
The Hurt Locker
Runtime: 2h 11m
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
The director of Near Dark and Point Break became the first female Oscar winner for Best Director for a film that also won Best Picture and stands now as one of the best movies made to date about the American soldier experience in Iraq. Jeremy Renner stars as an explosives expert, the kind of guy who goes in the room that everyone else runs from, and someone brings home the trauma of what he sees overseas. As precise as the profession it captures, this movie has not one bit of fat on it, and it’s just as thrilling now as when it was released.
The Italian Job
Runtime: 1h 51m
Director: F. Gary Gray
There seemed little reason to remake the 1969 car chase classic but this version gets the job done through the sheer star power of its cast and the excellent direction of its action scenes. How can you go wrong when you put stars as bright as Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Ed Norton, and Jason Statham behind the wheel of a blockbuster? A massive hit when it was released, this might be one of the biggest modern blockbusters to fail to produce a sequel…yet.
Men in Black
Runtime: 1h 38m
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Forget the obnoxious reboot, this will always be remembered as the trilogy of original films that starred Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. These movies were massive and all three of them are now on Netflix. It’s marathon time!
* Mr. and Mrs. Smith
Director: Doug Liman
The movie that gave the world Brangelina. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt star as a seemingly ordinary suburban couple who discover that they both have secret identities as competing assassins. When they get assignments to kill each other, all Hell breaks loose.
Natural Born Killers
Runtime: 1h 59m
Director: Oliver Stone
What do you get when you combine the writer of Pulp Fiction and the director of JFK? Movie history. Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis star as Mickey and Mallory Knox, a pair of drifters who embark on a killing spree that ends up making them tabloid superstars. A fearless castigation of celebrity culture, some of NBK looks a bit dated now, but more of it feels ahead of its time, capturing the true crime cult of personality that would develop over the decades to come.
* Point Break
Runtime: 2h 1m
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Keanu Reeves stars as an FBI agent who goes undercover with some surfing bank robbers in this beloved early ‘90s action classic. Patrick Swayze is the head of the criminal organization, and he proves to be a perfect acting partner for the young Reeves, who really started his action career here. The real star is Kathryn Bigelow’s brilliant pacing—she gives the film so much momentum that no one ever pauses to think it’s all kind of silly.
Runtime: 1h 54m
Director: Rowdy Herrington
As production on a remake of this cult classic (with Jake Gyllenhaal!) gets underway, why not go back and check out the original again? Patrick Swayze plays the bouncer at a totally average Missouri bar who ends up getting sucked into a violent world when he crosses paths with the wrong bad guy. Sam Elliott and Kelly Lynch star in a movie that feels like a perfect distillation of the many charms of Mr. Swayze.
Runtime: 1h 40m
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
It’s hard to believe that it’s been two decades since people started adapting the Capcom video games into feature films. Hot on the heels of the cancellation of the Netflix series of the same name, the streaming giant has re-added the first (and still best) film along with the first sequel (2004’s Apocalypse) and the second-to-last (2012’s Retribution). Yes, it’s random, but that’s how Netflix has always been with this franchise.
Runtime: 2h 49m
Director: Brian De Palma
The fearless director Brian De Palma updated the 1929 novel and beloved 1932 film in a way that could only be made in the early ‘80s. Al Pacino gives one of his most iconic performances as Tony Montana, a Cuban immigrant who becomes the kingpin of the Miami drug scene. Some of Scarface is a little dated and problematic four decades later, but one can’t deny the sheer power of the filmmaking and performances here. It’s still riveting stuff.
Runtime: 2h 23m
Director: Sam Mendes
The Daniel Craig era of James Bond has come to a close and so now history can look back and appreciate his entire run. Is the best film of his five the centerpiece? Arguably. This epic unpacking of the history of 007 is gorgeously shot by Roger Deakins and perfectly directed by Sam Mendes. It features a strong villain performance from Javier Bardem and great supporting work from Albert Finney and Judi Dench. Heck, it even has a killer theme song.
* Star Trek
Runtime: 2h 7m
Director: J.J. Abrams
When fans learned that the creator of LOST was going to reboot the adventures of the Starship Enterprise, there was some, well, concern. Would audiences accept another Captain Kirk? It turns out they would as this smart Hollywood blockbuster launched its own new franchise (for at least two movies) and earned universally strong reviews. It’s held up well thanks to Abrams’ confident direction and a perfectly-cast new ensemble.
Runtime: 2h 5m
Director: J.C. Chandor
One of the most underrated Netflix originals, this early 2019 film was written by Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker) and directed by the man who helmed Margin Call. The great ensemble here includes Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, and Pedro Pascal in the story of a group of former U.S. soldiers who plan and (poorly) execute a heist in South America. This is an old-fashioned action movie with a great modern cast.
Runtime: 1h 50m
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
It’s not perfect but few films have felt more like a moving comic book than this 2008 blockbuster based on the graphic novels by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones. James McAvoy stars as an ordinary guy who learns that he’s actually in the lineage of professional assassins as he gets sucked into a world that includes characters played by Morgan Freeman, Angelina Jolie, Terence Stamp, Common, and more.
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