The 23 best action movies on Netflix, from around the world
July 23, 2022
This week sees the release of The Gray Man, the most expensive movie ever made by Netflix. An action thriller directed by the Russo brothers (of Infinity Saga fame), it boasts Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, and Ana de Armas in its star-studded cast.
Netflix has a pretty vast collection of good action movies (including the Hindi dub of RRR and S. S. Rajamouli’s fantasy epic Baahubali movies), but it can be hard to sort through the deluge of new titles regularly dropped onto the platform. That’s what we’re here for. We’ve collected a list of great action movies that span eras, sub-genres, and nations, all of which you can watch on Netflix in the US. Whether you’re looking for a hard-boiled crime thriller, a period-piece swordplay adventure, a military drama, standout martial arts movies, or any other kind of action vehicle — we’ve got you covered.
In addition to Rajamouli’s movies, there are a few other honorable mentions that didn’t quite make the cut but are still worth a shout out. Boyka: Undisputed, the fourth movie in the excellent Undisputed series, is superb, but it’s worth seeing the previous two entries in the series first (but act fast — Boyka leaves Netflix on July 31). The Fable: The Killer Who Doesn’t Kill is the hard-hitting sequel to 2019’s The Fable (both are available on Netflix), and featured some of the best action sequences of 2021.
If you’re looking for something that spans across genres, be sure to check out our frequently updated list of the best movies on Netflix. Similarly, if you’re in more of a spooky mood than a fighting one, we have a list of the best horror movies on Netflix, too.
Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning
Though it’s the fifth and final installment of this live-action adaptation, you can still safely watch The Beginning first, as it is a prequel to the four movies that precede it (it does clue you into some parts of the story that are left a mystery in the previous movies, though). 50% origin story, 50% love story, and 110% kickass, The Beginning (and the rest of the Kenshin franchise) should be your first destination if you’re looking for terrific swordplay on Netflix. —Pete Volk
Lost Bullet has a simple set-up, right there in the title — a man framed for murder has to find the missing bullet that will prove his innocence. That man is an expert mechanic who has been strong-armed into working for a group of corrupt police officers. With thrilling car chases, great fight scenes (our protagonist is played by former stunt man Alban Lenoir), and a simple premise executed to perfection, Lost Bullet is a 92-minute thrill ride. A sequel is coming to Netflix in November. —PV
The Ip Man franchise
There are five movies in the Ip Man franchise, all of them rule, and the four starring Donnie Yen and directed by Wilson Yip are all on Netflix. If you have not seen them yet, what are you even doing?
The dramatized retelling of the life of the infamous Wing Chun grandmaster who trained Bruce Lee is one of Yen’s most iconic performances, and features some of the most stunning martial arts choreography of the century. With guest stars like Sammo Hung (who also choreographed the first movie), Max Zhang, Mike Tyson, and Scott Adkins, there are plenty of big-name opponents for Yen to fight, but it’s all grounded in a very human story of a man attempting to live peacefully in a chaotic world. —PV
Based on a true story, this tightly-crafted war thriller follows soldiers at an American army outpost in Afghanistan that is essentially a death trap, surrounded on all sides by mountains, with little strategic reason to be there. The movie is just as much about the futility of war and the obliviousness of those who make decisions as it is about camaraderie and tense action. With excellent performances by Scott Eastwood and Caleb Landry Jones (and even Orlando Bloom!), and a moving moral center about people put in an unjustifiable position (like, literally, physically) and faced with impossible odds, The Outpost is one of the best war movies released this decade. —PV
There are a lot of movies about wars in the Middle East from American points of view. Mosul, while written and directed by American Matthew Michael Carnahan (Joe’s brother, by the way), instead follows a group of Iraqi soldiers fighting against ISIS forces in the 2016 Battle of Mosul. In addition to offering a different perspective than the vast majority of American war movies set in Iraq, Mosul has a terrific cast led by Waleed Elgadi, and tense, immersive action sequences that will keep you on the edge of your seat. —PV
Illang: The Wolf Brigade
Kim Jee-woon’s 2018 sci-fi action film brilliantly reworks Hiroyuki Okiura and Mamoru Oshii’s 1999 anime thriller Jin-Roh for live action. Altering the setting from the original’s alternate 1950s Japan to a reunified Korea circa 2024, Illang: The Wolf Brigade follows a disaffected member of an elite squad of paramilitary hitmen on his personal journey for meaning and purpose in a world wracked by domestic terrorism and authoritarian overreach. What Illang: The Wolf Brigade may lack in mood and ennui it makes up for in sheer ballistics, with blisteringly intense firefights and pulse-pounding close-quarters combat scenes. Don’t think of Illang: The Wolf Brigade as a replacement for Jin-Roh, but rather as a companion piece with its own take on the nuances and dehumanizing effects of militarism. —Toussaint Egan
The Debt Collector movies
Regular Polygon readers will know that I love action star and martial artist Scott Adkins and his frequent collaborator, director Jesse V. Johnson. The two have combined to make quite a few quality DTV action flicks, but none captured my heart more than the two Debt Collector movies.
Adkins plays a down-on-his luck martial arts instructor who is deep in debt and about to lose his business. He turns to the murky world of debt collecting, teaming up with a boy named Sue (Louis Mandylor) in a delightful buddy comedy with great fight scenes aided by tangible chemistry between the two leads. —PV
Tran Quoc Bao’s 2020 action comedy Paper Tigers merits inclusion on this list for not only being one of the best action movies on Netflix, but for being one of the best movies on Netflix period. I’ve previously described the film as:
Three former martial arts prodigies, after a lifetime of strenuous training and hard fighting, have grown into beleaguered, middle-aged nobodies. But when their master is murdered, the three swear an oath to avenge his memory and bring his killer to justice. If that sounds serious, please know this falls into the Apatowian camp of Dumb Man comedy.
There’s a lot of laughs, a lot of heart, and a lot of kick-ass kung fu in Paper Tigers, the latter quality a testament to the choreography of Andy Le, Brian Le, and Daniel Mah of the Martial Club. The three self-made YouTube stars not only cameo as a trio of adversaries in the film, but are also notable for having contributed to films like 2021’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and this year’s Everything Everywhere All At Once. —TE
Tiger Shroff is one of the most exciting action stars in the world, with unmatchable charisma and hips that simply won’t quit, in fights and dance sequences alike. Baaghi is a prime example, a Hindi-language martial arts thriller where Shroff plays a cocky young man in love who must be humbled to become the man he needs to be. Shroff’s magnetism on screen is undeniable, and his skills as a martial artist and dancer will thrill you in Baaghi, which was his first global hit. Baaghi leaves Netflix on July 31, so you better act fast. —PV
Blood and Bone
Michael Jai White is a treasure around these parts and of the many excellent DTV action movies he has starred in, Blood and Bone may be the best. White is Isaiah Bone, an ex-marine martial artist recently out of prison, who meets an eccentric local fight promoter named Pinball (Dante Basco) and starts entering underground fights. When he falls deeper into the world of underground fighting, he learns just how far the powerful people who run the circuit will go to maintain their illegal business. With jaw-dropping fights featuring former professional fighters Bob Sapp, Kimbo Slice, and Matt Mullins, Blood and Bone is an appropriately stellar vehicle for White as a movie star and as a screen fighter. —PV
Den of Thieves
“Los Angeles heist movie” is a tried and true genre of action thriller, blessed with titles like Heat, The Italian Job remake, Point Break, and one of the best movies of 2022,Ambulance. 2018’s Den of Thieves fell a little bit under the radar in comparison, but it’s well worth your time as a grimier version of that kind of movie.
To quote myself, from our list of the best movies new to streaming this past May:
Starring a Pepto Bismol-chugging Gerard Butler, Den of Thieves could accurately be described as “dirtbag Heat.” The movie follows a team of former Marines (including Pablo Schreiber, O’Shea Jackson Jr., and 50 Cent) who plan to rob the Federal Reserve in Los Angeles, and the amoral detective (Butler) who hopes to stop them. The debut feature film for director Christian Gudegast, with sharp editing by frequent Clint Eastwood collaborator Joel Cox and an energetic score by former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Cliff Martinez, Den of Thieves is a hard-hitting heist movie that delivers on its scheme.
The one thing I’ll add since I wrote that — the score is so good it’s become my go-to music to write and edit to. —PV
I absolutely love it when big movie stars decide to make some direct-to-video action movies. Antonio Banderas has done a few of them over the years, and Security is my favorite. Banderas plays an overqualified mall cop who used to be a marine and has to protect a young girl who takes shelter in the mall. The girl is being chased by a group of heavily armed mercenaries (led by Ben Kingsley), and it’s a tight 92-minute thrill ride led by Banderas’ incredible screen presence in a very different kind of role. —PV
This Cambodian action movie is about a group of police officers (including the excellent martial artist and actor Jean-Paul Ly) escorting a high-value prisoner. When a bounty is put on the prisoner’s head, the group must work together to protect themselves and make it out alive. With kinetic, brutal action sequences, a terrific leading man, and a tight narrative set-up, Jailbreak was a huge success in Cambodia and is well worth your time. —PV
It’s Jet Li in a multiverse of madness, what’s not to like? —PV
Christopher Nolan’s unique take on the heist film genre isn’t just a savvy deconstruction of movies as a collaborative act of “dream making,” but a satisfying action movie spectacle. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Dom Cobb, a skilled thief who excels in an elaborate form of psychological corporate espionage known as extraction, the film follows Cobb and his team as they embark on their most perilous mission yet: surreptitiously incepting (i.e. implanting) an idea into the mind of the heir of a multinational conglomerate.
That’s easier said than done, as Cobb and co. must contend with a cadre of deadly adversaries, including an invasive subconscious projection of Cobb’s wife Mal (Marion Cotillard), as they navigate the multiple layers of an intricately detailed dreamscape. From Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s gravity-defying fight scene in a rotating hallway (with shades of Fred Astaire in Royal Wedding) and elaborate chase sequences to a Bond-esque firefight in an extravagant Japanese palace, Inception is a terrific, mind-twisting action thriller. —TE
The Night Comes For Us
The only two ways The Night Comes For Us could be better are if a) it were available on home video, and b) it had a sequel. Even so, Timo Tjahjanto’s bloody 2018 Indonesian action thriller inarguably stands as one of the best action films Netflix has to offer.
The Night Comes For Us is an unrelentingly brutal martial arts thriller packed with scenes of breaking bones, gushing geysers of blood, and no less than three impalements. Joe Taslim (Mortal Kombat) and Iko Uwais (The Raid) star as Ito and Arian, two childhood friends and Triad enforcers who find themselves at odds when the former turns his back on his life as a killer to save a child. That’s not even mentioning Julie Estelle’s scene-stealing turn as The Operator, a mysterious covert agent who faces off against two assassins in one of the most spectacular fight scenes in a film with no shortage of them. It’s a thrilling five-minute set piece packed with brutal choreography, beautiful strobing light effects, a grisly garrote wire execution, and a tense one-on-one knife-fight finale. —TE
This dark French revenge thriller follows a traumatized solider (Olga Kurylenko) who returns home and seeks revenge on the men who assaulted her sister. It’s a pretty standard (and dark) narrative structure, but it works because of the people behind it. Directed by Julien Leclerq, known for the excellent crime thriller The Crew and the outstanding series Ganglands (on Netflix!), Sentinelle thrives through Kurylenko’s commanding lead performance, a lean 80-minute running time, and Leclerq’s skill at filming action sequences — especially close-quarters action, with a terrific bathroom fight and an unforgettable final kill. —PV
Though derided when first released, Paul Verhoeven’s 1997 biting sci-fi film Starship Troopers has undergone a critical reappraisal as one of the most prescient and incisive satires of the late ’90s, depicting the story of a group of soldiers in a fascistic far-future military who are forced to wage a war against a race of giant alien insects. Starship Troopers elevates a B-movie premise and dreadful source material into a tongue-in-cheek dissection of militarism, “forever war” politics, and the death of individuality in the service of nationalistic warmongering. —TE
The Quick and the Dead
Sam Raimi’s stylized 1995 neo-Western is a gloriously silly, melodramatic tale of a knockout gunslinging competition in a corrupt frontier town. A flinty, impeccably costumed Sharon Stone ably embodies the Woman With No Name who enters the contest with a secret agenda alongside a rogue’s gallery of show-offs and outlaws. The fantastic cast also includes Russell Crowe, Lance Henriksen, a baby-faced Leonardo DiCaprio as “The Kid”, and the peerless Gene Hackman as the contest’s evil ringmaster.
DiCaprio and Hackman, two screen titans facing off from opposite ends of their careers, give their scenes together an electric charge. The action scenes are necessarily brief — this is a quickdraw competition, after all — but the mischievous Raimi dramatizes them unforgettably using some of the most outrageous trickshots of his career, including one POV shot that still has the power to make you gasp in disbelief. —Oli Welsh