Admit it: As much as you love Academy Award-winning dramas or classic foreign films, you’ve got a secret thing for the best action movies. Huge explosions. Ahnold. Martial-arts mayhem. Van Damme! Netflix knows your inner violence. They’ve chosen some truly terrific examples of action to showcase on the streaming service. From Hollywood blockbuster summer movies to ’60s-era Asian landmarks, it’s time to get cracking with the the best action movies on Netflix.
RECOMMENDED: See all of the best movies on Netflix
Best action movies on Netflix
Director: Sergio Leone
Cast: Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda, Claudia Cardinale
It’s funny how the Western’s greatest summation work—a triumph of buried political commentary and purest epic cinema—happened to be made by Italians. Don’t let that hold you back. Henry Fonda’s icy stare, composer Ennio Morricone’s twangy guitars of doom and the monumental Charles Bronson as the last gunfighter (“an ancient race…”) are three reasons of a million to saddle up.
Watch if you liked: Hell or High Water
Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Isaac Hayes
In the not-too-distant future (of 1997), the isle of Manhattan has become a maximum-security prison, home to mohawked killers, gun-toting femmes fatales and other assorted crazies. John Carpenter’s gorgeously grimy thriller—starring a sneering Kurt Russell—creates a memorably dystopian Big Apple.
Watch if you liked: Fort Apache the Bronx
Director: Takashi Miike
Cast: Kôji Yakusho, Takayuki Yamada, Yûsuke Iseya
A samurai movie, yes—which you could probably tell from the title alone. But there are throwbacks and then there are glorious ones. Of the movie’s final 45 minutes of mayhem (never confusing or difficult to follow), little should be said, other than "Wow, wow, wow." Also, "Wow."
Watch if you liked: Kill Bill
Director: John Ford
John Ford’s you-are-there look at the legendary WWII showdown in the Pacific was filmed while it was happening (!). The risks taken to personal safety are palpable. If you’ve become addicted to Netflix’s original Five Came Back, it’s worth diving deeper into Hollywood’s homegrown propaganda.
Watch if you liked: Five Came Back
Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Ben Affleck
Perhaps Bay's most notorious bit of demolition, this wipeout of the entire city of Paris—sorry, France!—elicits whoops in jingoistic audiences. Undeniably, the destruction is breathtaking, a landmark Hollywood achievement if a decidedly crude dramatic device. Arriving in the pre-9/11 wave of disaster flicks, this scene pretty much rewrote the rules. Gotta love the gargoyle.
Watch if you liked: Independence Day
Director: Olivier Assayas
Cast: Edgar Ramírez, Alexander Scheer, Fadi Abi Samra
Though it runs an epic five-and-a-half hours (it was made for French TV), Carlos books like no film since Goodfellas. It's about one of the most globally feared terrorists of all time, Venezuelan-born but countryless Ilich Ramrez Sánchez (Ramírez, in a staggeringly complex turn), who, as "Carlos the Jackal," slayed his way into popular consciousness in a post-Munich Olympics Europe.
Watch if you liked: Che
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin
The Coen brothers’ adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s crime novel processes every genre convention through a funereal filter and says a eulogy for a dying frontier. Good guy Josh Brolin and badass Javier Bardem both turn in career bests, while the filmmakers leave the snark at home and deliver a masterpiece.
Watch if you liked: The Getaway
Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman
The inspired team of silly Brits behind Shaun of the Dead created this delirious confection of cop clichés, intentionally deployed at breakneck pace.
Watch if you liked: The World’s End
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Byeon Hie-bong, Park Hae-il
A huge tadpole terrorizes Seoul in Bong’s ode to mutant-creatures-run-amok films—complete with the usual dollop of political paranoia. The director would go on to make the expressly class-conscious Snowpiercer, but this one is just as effective.
Watch if you liked: Mad Max: Fury Road
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Maarten Stevenson, Alexander Morton
Imagine a bloody, bugged-out Viking B movie directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, and that should give you an idea of what to expect in this existential Norse saga from Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive). It’s pretentious and far from perfect, but don’t discount the pleasure of a one-eyed Mads Mikkelsen kicking ass.
Watch if you liked: Game of Thrones