Netflix isn’t just a great place to find high-quality TV shows like Mindhunter, Stranger Things, and Jessica 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.
‘The Dark Knight’
A decade after its release, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight — the second in his trilogy of Batman films — remains one of the greatest superhero films ever made, a stellar example of what happens when studios give a talented auteur free reig-to pursue their vision. Set not long after Batman Begins, the film finds Gotham City on the upswing, as Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale), Lieutenant James Gordon (Gary Oldman), and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) work together to take down the remnants of organized crime.
While the crimefighters are focused on the mob, however, a new villain is making a name for himself in Gotham: A wild anarchist known as The Joker, who promises the mob bosses that he can kill Batman. The Joker is no ordinary criminal, however; he has a plan to turn Gotham upside down and show the world that everyone is just a bad day away from going mad. Upon release, The Dark Knight raked in praise for taking the trappinga of superhero films and elevating them with a focus on theme and character. The film’s dramatic approach is still unparalleled in superhero cinema, as are its action scenes; see the opening sequence, a tense, cutthroat bank heist that serves as the Joker’s establishing moment.
‘The Castle of Cagliostro’
Years before founding Studio Ghibli, animation legend Hayao Miyazaki made his feature debut with The Castle of Cagliostro, a film in the Lupin III franchise. For those not familiar with the franchise, The Castle of Cagliostro follows the thief Arsène Lupin III, grandson of Maurice Leblanc’s iconic gentleman thief. The film opens as Lupin and his partner, Jigen, rob a casino, getting away only to discover that the cash they stole is counterfeit. They trace the counterfeit money to the country of Cagliostro, a country whose ruler, Count Cagliostro, is planning to marry Princess Clarisse, giving him total control over the country and its hidden treasure. The Castle of Cagliostro gallops from scene to scene, with daring set pieces and smooth animation. Although hardcore Lupin fans may dislike Miyazaki’s lighter, more heroic interpretation of the character, viewers open to Miyazaki’s vision will find this a fun adventure.
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.
‘Kill Bill: Volume 1’ and ‘Kill Bill: Volume 2’
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, cliché scares, 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 real and 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.