Trying to define “action movie” can yield several different answers, but we like to think of the genre as run-and-gun, fist-to-fist escapism that stands the test of time and occasionally comes with tinges of comedy or sci-fi. Think more Predator than Small Soldiers (sorry, Small Soldiers). The very best of the best rank as some of the greatest movies of all time, but there’s plenty of reliably diverting high-octane fare available on Netflix at any given time. Here’s our favorites on Netflix right now.
The main character in this movie is named “Joe Braven” and he’s played by Jason Momoa. That simple fact alone should convince you to watch this scrappy, low-budget action movie about a logger tasked with fighting off a heavily armed gang of drug dealers who stash some primo shit in his log cabin. If the protagonist had a less goofy name, the movie would still be effective-the director is a former stunt coordinator and he knows how to properly stage all the gunfights, bow-and-arrow deaths, and snowmobile chases-but the stupid grin that you get on your face every time someone says “Joe Braven” really elevates this throwback outdoors thriller. Momoa has the sturdy, low-key charisma of the best ’80s action heroes, and it’s a shame that the the laws of modern blockbuster-dom mean he’ll likely spend more time starring in CG monster throw-downs like Justice League when he could be snapping necks in gruff B-movies like Braven. In a just world, the Braven-verse would be rapidly expanding every year.
Casino Royale (2006)
Dozens of James Bond movies later, and Casino Royale still stands the test of time as the best of the franchise. Filling the shoes of the classic MI6 agent for the first time, Daniel Craig pulled off the impossible by defining the role for a new generation and giving us the 007 from Ian Fleming’s early novels, a blunt instrument filled with morose purpose and self-doubt. Still, director Martin Campbell managers to offer a blockbuster that’s a masterclass in geometric, dramatic, constructive action filmmaking in 007’s journey down to Madagascar to face off with a favorite Bond villain, Mads Mikkelson’s Le Chiffre, in a high-stakes poker game. This is a debut Bond actors will be trying to measure up to for decades.
If you’re in for even more Bond, you’re in luck because Casino Royale isn’t the only feature available on Netflix. Quantum of Solace is available, too.
Den of Thieves (2018)
If there’s one thing you’ve probably heard about this often ridiculous bank robbery epic, it’s that it steals shamelessly from Michael Mann’s crime saga Heat. The broad plot elements are similar: There’s a team of highly-efficient criminals led by a former Marine (Pabro Schreiber) and they must contend with a obsessive, possibly unhinged cop (Gerard Butler) over the movie’s lengthy 140 minute runtime. What makes Den of Thieves oddly fascinating is that it feels like a bootleg T-shirt you’d buy for a band outside the venue, all garish and unconcerned with matters of good taste. A screenwriter helming a feature for the first time, Christian Gudegast is not in the same league as Mann as a filmmaker and Butler, sporting unflattering tattoos and a barrel-like gut, is hardly Al Pacino. But everyone is really going for it here, attempting to squeeze every ounce of Muscle Milk from the bottle. You might respect the hustle.
Django Unchained (2012)
Quentin Tarantino loves a satirical revisionist history. Django Unchained turns to slavery in the Antebellum South (without side-stepping controversy) to reimagine what some bloody good justice might’ve looked like and rewrite the western. Anchored by the brilliant performances of Jamie Foxx as a freed slave and Christoph Waltz as the bounty hunter who seeks help in carrying out his services, the period piece becomes an all-out gunslinging romp as they set out to free Django’s wife (Kerry Washington). It’s an award-winning epic that refuses to ever hold back.
Enter the Dragon (1973)
1972’s Fist of Fury may have given Bruce Lee’s groundbreaking fighting skills a better opportunity to flourish, but they’re more fun in Enter the Dragon. A James Bond mission masquerading as a tournament slugfest, Dragon is best known for being Hollywood’s foray into kung fu, but not known enough for how Robert Clouse (and Lee himself) choreograph fight scenes around the martial artist’s indelible charisma. Lee’s one-on-one matches are brutal. The addition of John Saxon and Jim Kelly make Dragon a patchwork of ’70s vibes and global fighting styles. The grand finale is a glimmer of pure blockbuster heroism. Lee would pass away before the release of the film, only adding to this action classic’s mystique.
Netflix has an affinity for pumping out high-octane action movies. Some are senseless, some are fun, and some can muster enough of an A-list team behind it that even the most brutal or asinine plots are extremely watchable. Extraction sees the reunion of the Russo Brothers of Marvel fame and Thor himself Chris Hemsworth, with Joe Russo behind the screenplay of this shoot-em-up mercenary mission. As Hemsworth’s Tyler Rake is hired to save the kidnapped son of a crime boss in Bangladesh, what should’ve been a quick-and-easy mission turns into an uncompromising, grueling fight for their survival. Extraction delivers on being the no-nonsense rescue movie it promises to be, but with each shot, Hemsworth shows no one will be spared at his franchised-action-star-in-the-making hands.
Free Fire (2017)
Cast from the molten barrels of Charles Bronson’s many Smith & Wessons, this frenetic ’70s throwback plays out as one prolonged shootout. What should be just-another-illegal-gun-deal-by-the-docks between a group of IRA fighters (led by Cillian Murphy), a skeezy arms dealer (Sharlto Copley), and two American representatives for the respective parties (Brie Larson and Armie Hammer) explodes into a firefight when one lower-rung goon accuses another of assaulting his sister at a bar the night prior. Each insult exacerbates the standoff, which director Ben Wheatley orchestrates with wailing bullets, chaotic camerawork, and salvos of clever banter, blurted out as the actors squirm across dirt floors to safety. By the end of Free Fire, limbs are torn through, blood is spilled, and your jaw is on the floor.
The Hateful Eight (2015)
Quentin Tarantino has something to say about race, violence, and American life, and it’s going to ruffle feathers. Like Django Unchained, the writer-director reflects modern times on the Old West, but with more scalpel-sliced dialogue, profane poetry, and gore. Stewed from bits of Agatha Christie, David Mamet, and Sam Peckinpah, The Hateful Eight traps a cast of blowhards (including Samuel L. Jackson as a Civil War veteran, Kurt Russell as a bounty hunter known as “The Hangman,” and Jennifer Jason Leigh as a psychopathic gang member) in a blizzard-enveloped supply station. Tarantino ups the tension by shooting his suffocating space in “glorious 70mm.” Treachery and moral compromise never looked so good.
Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi masterpiece thrusts you into the world of dreams, and leaves you so bewildered that it’s difficult to wake up. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a corporate spy who steals secrets by inserting himself in others’ subconscious dream states, the film not only imagines this complex universe, it flips its structure, as DiCaprio’s man on the run is made to plan the perfect heist in order to leave behind his criminal life. Rather than stealing ideas, he’s got to implant one-that’s inception, baby!-with his team of specialists, resulting in a surrealist, multilayered film.
The Ip Man movies
There aren’t many biopics that also pass for decent action movies. Somehow, Hong Kong action star Donnie Yen and director Wilson Yip have made three separate movies based on the life of Chinese martial arts master Yip Kai-man, who famously trained Bruce Lee-all three of the flicks are on Netflix, plus an unrelated Herman Yau entry (Ip Man: The Final Fight). What’s their trick to keeping this series fresh? Play fast and loose with the facts, up the melodrama with each film, and, when in doubt, cast Mike Tyson as an evil property developer. The third movie in the series isn’t necessarily the best-that’s probably still the first film-but the fights are incredible, and Yen’s portrayal of the aging master still has the power to draw a few tears from even the most grizzled tough guy.
Jupiter Ascending (2015)
Jupiter Ascending is one of those “bad” movies that might genuinely be quite good. Yes, Channing Tatum is a man-wolf and Mila Kunis is the princess of space and bees don’t sting space royalty and Eddie Redmayne hollers his little head off about “harvesting” people-but what makes this movie great is how all of those things make total, absolute sense in the context of the story. The world the Wachowskis (yes, the Wachowskis!) created is so vibrant and strange and exciting, you almost can’t help but get drawn in, even when Redmayne vamps so hard you’re afraid he’s about to pull a muscle. (And if you’re a ballet fan, we have some good news for you.)
Mad Max (1979)
Before Tom Hardy was grunting his way through the desert and crushing tiny two-headed reptiles as Max Rockatansky, there was Mel Gibson. George Miller’s 1979 original introduces the iconic character and paints the maximum force of his dystopian mythology in a somewhat more grounded light-Australian police factions, communities, and glimmers of hope still in existence. Badass homemade vehicles and chase scenes abound in this taut, 88-minute romp. It’s aged just fine.
Ocean’s 11 (2001)
George Clooney and Brad Pitt’s remake of the Rat Pack caper never gets old. The genius of Steven Soderbergh’s slick direction is drawing us in with the execution, not just the how’d-they-pull-it-off reveal at the end. Members of the 11-person motley crew are quirky and not to be trusted; the prep work is as lavish as the targeted Vegas casinos; and a funky soundtrack is like the musical manifestation of Danny Ocean: smooth, old school, and light on its feet.
If you’re so inclined, you can make a marathon of it: Netflix has Ocean’s 12 and 13, too.
The Netflix original Okja from Bong Joon Ho poses an interesting ethical question: If your beloved super pig gets kidnapped by a corporate food giant, would you join a group of rouge animal rights activists to see that your pet gets home safe? It’s certainly not the most conventional plot, but because of that, the film about one girl’s journey to save her affectionate hippo-looking pig from mass consumption is a truly insane, high-stakes rescue mission. At times it may feel like propaganda for veganism, but the film, featuring a star-studded cast of Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, and others, is absolutely ridiculous and over the top, leaving your heart pounding as you sit at the edge of your seat, dying to see this pig flee to safety.
The Old Guard (2020)
Gina Prince-Bythewood‘s adaptation of Greg Rucka’s comic series is a superhero movie with a soul. It stars Charlize Theron as Andy, aka Andromache, a warrior who has lived for six millennia and doesn’t really see the point anymore. But she and her team of fellow immortals are drawn back into conflict when they start being hunted by a pharmaceutical brat who wants to use them as test subjects. At the same time, a new member joins their ranks, Nile (KiKi Layne), who survives a throat slitting and is inducted into this strange club. Prince-Bythewood melds immensely fun fight sequences-it’s a joy to watch Theron throw a punch-with groundbreaking moments of quietude, including a gay romance that’s like nothing you’ve seen before in an action movie.
Olympus Has Fallen (2013)
The White House siege movie Olympus Has Fallen is not a great movie. It’s not even the best action movie about machine-gun-wielding bad guys taking over the White House released in 2013. (That honor goes to the Jamie Fox and Channing Tatum Die Hard ripoff White House Down.) So, what makes Olympus Has Fallen worth watching? It’s an essential introduction to Mike Banning, a ferocious Secret Service Agent played by Gerard Butler who appears in the sequels London Has Fallen and Angel Has Fallen, and the movie is key, in all its goofy brutality, to understanding Butler’s mid-career resurgence as an action star. The Banning-verse starts here.
Oliver Stone’s Platoon is not the kind of patriotic film that romanticizes war. Based on his own experiencing in Vietnam, the controversial filmmaker documents the brutality of fighting an aimless fight in the rogue jungle by following the relentless tour of rookie volunteer soldier Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen). Through combat and a moral dilemma that occurs within their platoon, Stone examines the duality of man amidst violent trauma. A cannon Vietnam War film, yes, but also one of cinema’s best human stories, as Taylor’s greatest conflict is a fear of becoming numb when so much loss is happening around him.
Polar is a very fun, very ridiculous, and very violent movie starring Mads Mikkelsen as a hitman nicknamed the Black Kaiser. In the film directed by Swedish filmmaker Jonas Akerlund (based on Victor Santos’ graphic novel series of the same name), the Black Kaiser thinks he’s just about ready to retire from his high-intensity assassination lifestyle-until he learns there’s a group hunting down his associates, and he’s next on their hit list. Polar doesn’t fancy itself particularly highbrow entertainment; instead, it’s a comically bloody hitman movie where every action set piece is more over-the-top than the last, but that’s what makes it so watchable.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a romantic comedy, but it’s by no means your average romantic comedy-with its comics-inspired ass kicking, super villainous ex-boyfriends, and not-so-great original garage band songs. While ridiculous, these oddities in a movie about a bass player (Michael Cera) on a quest to win the heart of a special Ramona Flowers by defeating her seven evil exes give the genre some much needed action. From director Edgar Wright (Baby Driver, Shaun of the Dead), the film is uniquely stylized and has the right amount of teenage flair to make it a cult classic. What’s dreamier than a boy fighting evil exes from hell for the sake of love?
Sherlock Holmes (2009)
This interpretation of the Victorian-era favorites Holmes and Watson is led by Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, and enhanced by director Guy Ritchie’s excesses. The combination works, because it turns the period piece into a bona fide Hollywood action hit. The lavish production and big-budget action sequences may not have been what Arthur Conan Doyle had in mind when he created the characters, but as the detective duo embarks on an occult-ish investigation of a missing serial killer, the film imbues the sleuthing story with adrenaline-pumping energy. There are clues and intrigue, and thrilling scenes that play like Mission: Impossible set in the 1800s.
Michael Bay’s Netflix-funded action extravaganza opens with a 20-minute car chase through the streets (and museums) of Florence that includes an annoyed nun giving our heroes the finger, a group of cute puppies running in slow-motion, and Dave Franco yelling “Fuck!” at the top of his lungs while repeatedly almost crashing into pedestrians. Before that, Ryan Reynolds, playing a tech billionaire who made his money with “magnets,” fakes his death in a plane while wearing a helmet with a Red Bull logo on in it. That should give you a sense of what you’re dealing with here. Every aspect of this globe-trotting adventure team-up, from its gleefully silly libertarian politics to its sadistically gross splatter effects, feels designed as an affront to collective notions of “good” taste. Bay leans into his most obnoxious tendencies here, giving 6 Underground a crude type of artistic integrity that’s become all too rare in blockbuster filmmaking.
Did people go overboard in praising Snowpiercer when it came out? Maybe. But it’s important to remember that the movie arrived in the sweaty dog days of summer, hitting critics and sci-fi lovers like a welcome blast of icy water from a hose. The film’s simple, almost video game-like plot-get to the front of the train, or die trying-allowed visionary South Korean director Bong Joon Ho to fill the screen with excitement, absurdity, and radical politics. Chris Evans never looked more alive, Tilda Swinton never stole more scenes, and mainstream blockbuster filmmaking never felt so tepid in comparison. Come on, ride the train!
Total Recall (1990)
Skip the completely forgettable Colin Farrell remake from 2012. This Arnold Schwarzenegger-powered, action-filled sci-fi movie is the one to go with. Working from a short story by writer Philip K. Dick, director Paul Verhoeven (Robocop) uses a brain-teasing premise-you can buy “fake” vacation memories from a mysterious company called Rekall-to stage one of his hyper-violent, winkingly absurd cartoons. The bizarre images of life on Mars and silly one-liners from Arnold fly so fast that you’ll begin to think the whole movie was designed to be implanted in your mind.
Time to Hunt (2020)
Unrelenting in its pursuit of scenarios where guys point big guns at each other in sparsely lit empty hallways, Time to Hunt is a South Korean thriller that knows exactly what stylistic register it’s playing in. A group of four friends, including Parasite and Train to Busan breakout Choi Woo-shik, knock over a gambling house, stealing a hefty bag of money and a set of even more valuable hard-drives, and then find themselves targeted by a ruthless contract killer (Park Hae-soo) who moves like the T-1000 and shoots like a henchmen in a Michael Mann movie. There are dystopian elements to the world-protests play out in the streets, the police wage a tech-savvy war on citizens, automatic rifles are readily available to all potential buyers-but they all serve the simmering tension and elevate the pounding set-pieces instead of feeling like unnecessary allegorical padding. Time to Hunt uses its elongated runtime to build sequences in a meticulous, considerate way that should appeal to viewers who have seen Heat, Collateral, and Miami Vice too many times to count.
Filmmaker Christopher McQuarrie, the Oscar-winning writer behindThe Usual Suspectsand the two most recent gravity-defying entries in the Mission: Impossible series, directs an outstanding ensemble cast in this action-thriller. The burly squad of ex-military commandos pulled together by Oscar Isaac’s Santiago Garcia, a private contractor overseeing deadly drug enforcement operations in Colombia, is a ragtag team of action movie archetypes: There’s the sad, real-estate-selling divorced dad who looks like he’d rather be vaping (Ben Affleck); the noble, buff warrior stuck giving rote speeches about his past glories (Charlie Hunnam); the taciturn, hat-wearing helicopter pilot the filmmakers didn’t bother outfitting with a backstory (Pedro Pascal); and the other dude (Garrett Hedlund) who does amateur MMA fights. Together, they decide to rob a drug kingpin hiding out in the South American jungle, but obviously things don’t always go according to plan.
It’s best to go into Unknown, well, unknown. All you really need to know is that Liam Neeson delivers an absurd man-in-peril performance, which means it’s as entertaining as action-thrillers come. Adapted from a novel by Didier Van Cauwelaert, the movie follows Neeson as professor Dr. Harris, a man en route to a high-profile biotech conference who wakes up after a four-day-long coma with his identity stolen. His wife (January Jones) doesn’t recognize him, but she and everybody he knows seems to know a different Dr. Harris-oh, and all of a sudden he’s at the center of some sort of assassin conspiracy plot. It’s a premise you’ve likely seen many times before, but this one’s slick, fast-paced, and of course Neeson holds it together to keep you glued to the screen as he tries to piece together his identity and stave off terrorists. Need help finding something to watch? Sign up here for our weekly Streamail newsletter to get streaming recommendations delivered straight to your inbox.
Follow the Thrillist Entertainment Editors on Twitter: @ThrillistEnt.
Starting with the new moon on Sunday, January 22, this Lunar New Year ushers in the year of the Rabbit. We’ve put together a guide on celebrating the Lunar New Year in Australia.
What is special about the year of the Rabbit?
As you might know, each year has an animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac, which is based on the moon and has a 12-year cycle. This year, we celebrate the year of the rabbit, known to be the luckiest out of all twelve animals. It symbolises mercy, elegance, and beauty.
What celebrations are taking place and how can I get involved?
There are plenty of festivals happening all around the country which you can get involved with. Here they are per state.
New South Wales
Darling Harbour Fireworks When: Every year, Sydney puts on a fireworks show, and this year, you can catch it on January 28 and February 4 at 9 pm in Darling Harbour.
Dragon Boat Races When: Witness three days of dragon boat races and entertainment on Cockle Bay to usher in the Lunar New Year. The races will commence on January 27 and finish on January 29.
Lion Dances When: Catch a traditional Lion Dance moving to the beat of a vigorous drum bringing good luck and fortune for the Lunar New Year. The dance performances will happen across Darling Harbour on Saturday, January 21, Sunday, January 22, and Sunday, February 4 and 5, around 6 pm and 9 pm.
Lunar New Year at Cirrus Dining When: Barangaroo’s waterfront seafood restaurant, Cirrus, is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with a special feast menu. Cirrus’ LNY menu is $128pp with optional wine pairing and is available from Saturday, January 21, to Sunday, February 5.
Auntie Philter When: Hello Auntie’s owner and executive chef, Cuong Nguyen will be dishing out some of the most classic Vietnamese street foods with his mum, Linda. All of Philter’s favourites will be on offer, as well as Raspberry Pash Beer Slushies and other cocktails being served at the Philter Brewing rooftop bar on Sunday, January 22 and Sunday, January 29.
Lunar New Year Festival When: Ring in the Lunar New Year with food, music, arts, and more on Sunday, January 22, from 10 am to 9 pm.
BriAsia Festival When: From February 1-19, Brisbane will come alive with performances, including lion dances and martial arts displays. There will be street food, workshops, comedy and more.
Chinatown Adelaide Street Party When: Adelaide is set to hose a fun-filled day celebrating the Chinese New Year on Saturday, January 28, from 12 pm to 9 pm.
Crown Perth When: Across January and February, Crown Perth hosts free live entertainment, including colourful lion dances, roving mascots, and drumming performances. The restaurants will also throw banquets and menus dedicated to the Lunar New Year.