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 gritty films 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 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.
Watch now (Volume 1) Watch now (Volume 2)
The first thing viewers may notice about John Maclean’s Slow West is just how bright it is. The greens of the trees, the vast blue of the Western sky, everything pops with such striking color. Maclean has captured the raw beauty of the Old West, but the bright palette doesn’t mean this is a happy film. As Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) leads his horse through a burned-down village, the movie reminds viewers that this was a land where death was never far from your trail. Jay is searching for a young woman he loved back in Scotland, who fled with her father to America after an unfortunate incident. Following a run-in with some soldiers, Jay finds help in the form of a bounty hunter, Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender), who offers to be his bodyguard. Silas isn’t being honest with the naive Jay, however, and as they venture west, their interests, and those of a rival gang of bounty hunters, are at odds.
‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’
When Scott (Michael Cera) falls for the new girl in town, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), he realizes that she has a bit of baggage. That baggage being seven ex-boyfriends, whom he must literally battle to the death in order to win her heart. Much like the graphic novel series on which it is based, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is part video game, part love story — an inventive pairing that should sit well with anyone who grew up amid the SNES craze of the early-’90s. The splashy visuals, deadpan dialogue, and numerous speech bubbles just add to the film’s comedic charm.
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.
Nicolas Cage has been languishing so long in the dungeons of bad B-movies that it’s easy to forget he was once one of Hollywood’s most dynamic leading men, headlining a variety of wild, big-budget action films like 2004’s National Treasure. The film stars Cage as Benjamin Franklin Gates, a historian who, hailing from the Indiana Jones school of academia, moonlights as a treasure hunter. Ever since he was a kid, Gates has sought one treasure above all others: A mythical object found by the Knights Templar and passed down through the ages to America’s Founding Fathers, who, it turns out, hid clues to its location in the Declaration of Independence. When Gates’ former comrade, the nefarious, British treasure hunter Ian Howe (Sean Bean), attempts to steal the Declaration, Ben decides to steal it first. National Treasure is a delightful romp, as Gates and his companions traverse the world in search of more clues and hidden secrets. If you’re seeking an adventure film about secret societies and historical conspiracies, this will do nicely.
Starring Jet Li, Fearless is a biopic of Chinese Martial Arts Master Huo Yuanjia, who is the founder and spiritual guru of the Jin Wu Sports Federation. Yuanjia was the son of a fighter who did not want his child to follow in his footsteps, but he decided to teach himself anyway. After a fight leads to another master’s death, Yuanjia’s family are killed in revenge and a grief-stricken Yuanjia wanders the country. Near death, he is rescued by a woman who nurses him back to health. It is then that Yuanjia realizes that martial arts should be about sportsmanship and not violence. With this goal, Yuanjia forms the Jingwu Sports Federation. Members of the Foreign Chamber of Commerce catch wind of Yuanjia’s intentions and devise a tournament where he has to fight four of the greatest fighters in the world. Fearless is an action-packed martial arts film about one man’s journey to self-realization.