Netflix isn’t just a great place to find high-quality TV shows likeMindhunter,Stranger Things,andJessica Jones. The popular streaming service also has a treasure trove of excellent and underrated films, some of which have flown under the radar in recent years. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the action-adventure category, a genre built on hair-raising explosions and the harrowing exploits of a select few.
Whether you prefer the gritty films of the ‘80s or the charm of modern superhero films, the premium streaming service has it all. Unfortunately, there are also plenty of action films on Netflix you may want to avoid — including a shocking number of late-period Steven Seagal films — so we’ve curated a list of the best action movies currently on Netflix, in addition to those outlined in our guide to the best movies on Netflix. Battle RoyaleandQuentin Tarantino’s two-part epic are only the beginning.
Michael Mann’s 1995 heist film Heat was billed as a showdown between two legendary actors — Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, who both appeared in The Godfather II, though never on screen together — and while the novelty of that may no longer hold up today, Heat remains a superb action movie. The film follows two men playing a game of cat-and-mouse: Neil McCauley (De Niro) is a professional thief who tries never to get attached to anyone or anything, and Lt. Vincent Hanna is a detective who chases criminals with a zealous obsession, to the point that it strains his marriage. As McCauley and his crew gear up for one last job, Hanna will stop at nothing to bring them down. Heat is a superb action film, with dazzling heists and gunfights, but the real meat of the film is in the quieter moments, where two men who live only for the thrill of their jobs wonder where it all ends.
Long before The Hunger Games, the Japanese film Battle Royale followed a group of teens forced to kill each other to satisfy the whims of the government. The movie takes place in a dystopian Japan; in order to crack down on the youth, the government rounds up a class of high schoolers each year, taking them to a remote island and giving them supplies and weapons. Their former teacher informs them that only the last student alive will leave the island. While some students band together for support, others revel in the carnage. Battle Royale is a skillfully made action film, and even if some of the movie’s cultural commentary is lost in translation, viewers of any nation should be able to appreciate the tension and mayhem.
Quentin Tarantino has always been a master of pastiche and his fourth film, Kill Bill (broken up into two parts), shows off the director’s passion for old-school grindhouse cinema. The film follows a woman known as The Bride (Uma Thurman), a former assassin who awakens from a coma. Years earlier, her former comrades, the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, and her boss, Bill (David Carradine), shot her in the head at her wedding rehearsal. Now she’s out for revenge, traveling the world to hunt her former comrades in what she describes as a “roaring rampage of revenge,” a name the film lives up to. These are violent films, with slick fight choreography and barrels of gore, as Tarantino draws on martial arts films, Westerns, and more.
Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins begins in the later years of the Tokugawa shogunate, where a lord named Matsudaira Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki) rules over his domain with cruel abandon. Naritsugu is immune to prosecution because he is the Shogun’s half-brother, so a righteous official brings in a veteran samurai, Shimada Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho), to assassinate Naritsugu. Shinzaemon recruits 11 samurai and one cunning hunter, and the 13 assassins lay a trap for Naritsugu in an isolated town. Their plan doesn’t go off without a few hitches, however. 13 Assassins is a thrilling period piece, one that eschews the trappings of big-budget action films in favor of character development, which makes the climactic bloodbath all the more tense.
After his spectacular work on the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson took on another adaptation, marshaling the special effects prowess of Weta Workshop for a remake of the iconic monster movie King Kong. The film begins in the ‘30s, as director Carl Denham (Jack Black) recruits actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) to join him on an expedition to the uncharted Skull Island, where Denham intends to film his next feature. Also onboard is the screenwriter, Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), the film crew, and the sailors escorting them. When they reach Skull Island, they find it to be a land of mythic beasts and frightening horrors, and the grandest of all is the massive gorilla, Kong. Jackson’s King Kong is a much sharper-looking film than the original, with incredible creature designs and animations, but it plays out as a faithful homage to the adventure films of the past.
A found-footage movie that doesn’t rely on the same old, clichscares, Trollhunter follows a trio of young filmmakers as they seek out an alleged poacher. When they meet their subject, Hans (Otto Jespersen), he claims that he is not hunting bears as they thought, but trolls. The three accompany Hans on one of his hunts, and learn, to their fascination and horror, that trolls are realand very dangerous. Trollhunter is a brisk film, with striking creature designs that draw on Scandinavian folklore.
A polarizing film in our office, as well as among many film buffs, John Woo’s 1997 sci-fi thriller Face/Off is definitely worth watching if you haven’t seen it before. FBI Agent Sean Archer (John Travolta) must assume the physical appearance of terrorist Caster Troy (Nicholas Cage) to gather information needed to disarm a bomb hidden somewhere in Los Angeles. When Troy awakens from a coma and realizes Archer has literally taken his face, he forces the doctor who performed the original surgery to transplant Archer’s face onto his own. Full of gravity-defying action sequences and ridiculous plot twists, Face/Off is an entertaining film if you can look past the often over-the-top acting.
The last film in the Captain America trilogy and 13th in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain America: Civil War breaks the mold of the “traditional” superhero movie by investing in deeper character development that is often lost in films of this type. Borrowing concepts from the 2006 comic book story line “Civil War,” Captain America: Civil War is chock-full of recognizable characters and high-action scenes that are sure to entertain even newcomers to the MCU. It tells the story of the conflict between Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), which causes the Avengers to split into two opposing factions. Appearances by Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) also make this a relevant iteration to watch considering the recent releases of Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War.