Action movies have always been one of the safest cinematic bets for producers and filmmakers alike, as they tick off virtually every generic pleasure box in the book. Whether it be the larger-than-life heroes, despicably charismatic villains, quick-witted comebacks, stunningly staged stunts and a long list of etceteras, we’ve always been fascinated by them. Being the immensely crowded genre that it is, Netflix‘s action catalogue is as colossal as they come. So, in an attempt to make choosing what to watch that little bit easier, we’ve come up with the following list of the 20 most essential movies currently available on there.
And, as we all know, all great action films come armed to the teeth with weapons-grade one-liners, so of course we had to toss in a few of our favourite zingers…
1. THE TERMINATOR (1984)
What’s it about? A cyborg is sent back in time to terminate the mother of the unborn future leader of the worldwide human Resistance, John Connor. It might have worked had a rebel soldier not followed Arnie back to protect the mother and *massive spoiler alert* end up “sewing the seed” that brought The Terminator back to 1984 in the first place.
Who’s in it? Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn.
Why it’s worth a watch: A remorseless killer, time travel, tense chase scenes, Stan Winston’s spectacular practical effects and even a spot of romance, James Cameron’s genre-blender caters for literally everyone. And, although not a horror movie in the strictest sense, the film also introduced us to one of cinema’s most iconic final girls, Sarah Connor.
For fans of:Blade Runner, 12 Monkeys, Cyborg.
Winning one-liner: Arnold stuck to his promise as the film ended up shaping his career: “I’ll be back.”
2. ROBOCOP (1987)
What’s it about? In the hopes of cutting Detroit’s crime rate, a state-of-the-art lab is contracted to create the ultimate crime fighter: a cyborg law enforcer. The new hi-tech rookie follows his ‘Prime Directives’ at first until his artificially repressed memories start flooding back, urging him to seek vengeance against the gang of cold-blooded cop killers responsible for his death.
Who’s in it? Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Miguel Ferrer, and the ’80s go-to bad boy, Mr. Ronny Cox.
Why it’s worth a watch: The film’s helmer, Paul Verhoeven, was reticent about taking on the job at first as he saw it as just another brainless action flick. Lucky for us, he came around, seeing it as the perfect chance to present a cutting – albeit campy – commentary on the unrestrained consumer culture of the Reagan-era. And the rest is history, with RoboCop becoming an overnight success, spawning a myriad of merchandise, two sequels, various live-action and animated TV shows, video games, comic book adaptations/crossovers and, most recently, a remake that. sadly, most people weren’t willing to “buy for a dollar.”
For fans of: Dredd, Elysium, Upgrade.
Winning one-liner: “Come quietly or there will be… trouble.”
3. ROAD HOUSE (1989)
What’s it about? A celebrated bouncer is called in to “clean up” a small-town nightclub. He fulfils his side of the bargain only to end up ticking off the town’s corrupt entrepreneur and his band of goons, resulting in an all-out war.
Who’s in it? Patrick Swayze, Sam Elliott, Kelly Lynch and Ben Gazzarra
Why it’s worth a watch: Director Rowdy Herrington might have earned himself a Razzie nomination for Worst Director but the film amassed a huge fanbase, not only because anything Swayze touched turned to gold back then, but also thanks to the film’s characteristic ’80s unpretentiousness. And films about bouncers were – and still are – few and far between.
Fun Fact: Every time Bill Murray (or any of his brothers) spot the film on the telly, they give Mitch Glazer (who penned Scrooged and Rock the Kasbah) a call just to remind him that “Swayze’s making love to his wife … AGAIN”.
For fans of: Rumble in the Bronx, Walking Tall (1973, 2004), The Big Boss.
Winning one-liner: If all other excuses fail, this one’ll get you off every time: “A polar bear fell on me.”
4. THE FUGITIVE (1993)
What’s it about? Wrongfully sentenced to death for the murder of his wife, Dr. Richard Kimble escapes a traffic accident to try and find out who really killed his wife … all the while evading the team of U.S. Marshals hot on his tail.
Who’s in it? Harrison Ford, Sela Ward, Tommy Lee Jones, Julianna Moore and Andreas Katsulas as the infamous “the one-armed man.”
Why it’s worth a watch: More of an edge-of-your-seat thriller than a straight-up action movie, the sticky situations Harrison Ford gets himself out of – featuring absolutely insane stunts – make this more than a worthy addition to the list. And with Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones (the latter in an Oscar winning turn) at the helm, what could go wrong?
For fans of: U.S. Marshals, Enemy of the State, Unknown.
Winning one-liner: Repeating something over and over doesn’t mean they’ll end up believing you, Kimble: “I didn’t kill my wife!”
5. KILL BILL: VOL. 2 (2004)
What’s it about? Finishing what she started in Vol. 1, The Bride continues to take down her former Deadly Viper Assassination Squad partners (including former lover, Squad leader Bill), who tried to kill her and her unborn child – on their wedding day, no less.
Who’s in it? Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Michael Madsen, Lucy Liu and Daryl Hannah.
Why it’s worth a watch: Just as much of a love letter to cult classics as every other film under Tarantino’s belt, the Kill Bill saga is by far Tarantino’s most explosively violent output to date. The violent set-pieces and bloodshed take more of a “Mr. Orange” backseat – but equally bloody – ride in The Bride’s second outing as Tarantino doubles down on what he does best: emphasising everything that makes his larger than life characters tick. As a result, the sequel is the more potent package of the two.
For fans of: The Bride Wore Black, Revenge, Oldboy.
Winning one-liner: It’s a Tarantino flick, so the entire film is basically just one witticism after another – but it’s Bill who gets top honours here in a tête à tête with his old flame: “You’re not a bad person. You’re a terrific person. You’re my favourite person, but every once in a while, you can be a real c**t.”
6. THE IP MAN 2 (2010)
What’s it about? Whilst the first film focused on Master Ip’s survival, this sequel sees him adapting after fleeing to British Hong Kong where he opens a school in the hopes of spreading the art of Wing Chun. Attracting clientele is anything but easy but, once potential students eventually start showing up, local practitioners don’t take too kindly to a newcomer profiting on “their turf.”
Who’s in it? Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung
Why it’s worth a watch: The entire trilogy – soon to become a tetralogy with Scott Adkins joining the ranks – makes for essential viewing but Master Ip’s second outing outshines the rest, largely down to Sammo-Hung’s outrageously OTT choreography. One particular duel atop a roundtable surrounded by overturned stools is sure to have you replaying the scene over and over again.
For fans of: Birth of the Dragon, Fist of Fury, Ong Bak.
Winning one-liner: Master Ip’s landlady’s incessant repetition of “Still no students?” is as amusing as it is exasperating.
7. THE RAID (2011)
What’s it about? A special police unit is sent to arrest a drug lord in an apartment building but once they get inside, the whole place is locked down and a healthy reward is offered to every tenant who can take out a police officer.
Who’s in it? Iko Uwais, Joe Taslim and Yayan Ruhian.
Why it’s worth a watch: Gareth Evans’ previous feature, Merantau, was an impressive harbinger of what was to come, but it was The Raid that really put him on the map, giving this writer’s all-time favourite martial arts movie director, Isaac Florentine (High Voltage, Undisputed 2, Ninja), a run for his money.
For fans of: Die Hard, Dredd, Mile 22.
Winning one-liner: Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian) neatly synopsises the movie in eight simple words: “Pulling a trigger is like ordering a takeout.”
8. ACT OF VALOUR (2012)
What’s it about? Loosely based on an actual Joint Task Force 2 mission that went down in South America, when a deadly terrorist plot against the U.S. is uncovered, an elite team of Navy SEALs is dispatched on a worldwide manhunt to recover a kidnapped CIA agent.
Who’s in it? The film stars actual, active-duty US Navy SEALs and Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen.
Why it’s worth a watch: Shadowing real-life SEALs as they re-enact some of the most stunning combat sequences ever put to film, this is the closest a film has ever got to emulating a Call of Duty game. And better yet, you never feel the need to grab a controller and not once does it come across as one of those loathsome YouTube gameplay videos as you really do feel as if you’re in the thick of the field.
For fans of: The Thin Red Line, Zero Dark Thirty, Black Hawk Down.
What’s it about? The film shadows a four-man SEAL reconnaissance and surveillance team tasked to track down a notorious Taliban leader. Once inserted in Afghanistan, they cross paths with a group of mountain herders, leaving them with no choice but to engage if they want to stand any chance of returning home alive.
Who’s in it? Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster and Yousuf Azami
Why it’s worth a watch: Despite the most spoilerific title in cinematic history, knowing that things just aren’t going to end well for most of the team in no way undermines the film’s effectiveness as director, Peter Berg goes beyond the call of duty to forge a bond between the audience and the film’s forlorn, leaving us hoping that the expected doesn’t end up coming true.
For fans of: Behind Enemy Lines, Triple Frontier, Mine.
Winning one-liner: Alexander Ludwig’s character is the ultimate wordsmith ninja: “I’m a lover, I’m a fighter, I’m a UDT Navy SEAL diver. I’ll wine, dine, intertwine, and sneak out the back door when the refuelling is done. So if you’re feeling froggy, then you better jump, because this frogman’s been there, done that and is going back for more.”
10. SPECTRAL (2016)
What’s it about? When the military start picking up otherworldly forces on their state-of-the-art “spectral goggles” during a mission, the engineer who designed the headgear is called in to team up with an elite Special Ops unit to try and figure out, and maybe even catch, whatever has been putting a wrench in their operations.
Who’s in it? James Badge Dale, Emily Mortimer and Bruce Greenwood
Why it’s worth a watch: It’s a cracking sci-fi military mystery that apes from various genres whilst yet never feels overly familiar. The ensemble cast works wonders and the special effects are in the same class as most big blockbuster flicks. Particular kudos to the cloaking tech the effects team came up with as I’m sure it had Yautja’s all over the universe green with envy.
For fans of: Predator, Independence Day, Beyond Skyline.
Winning one-liner: “Matter of fact, Dr. Clyne himself developed the thin weight Kevlar body stocking that literally protects your balls.”
11. BLOOD FATHER (2016)
What’s it about? An ex-con tattoo artist (Mel Gibson) who spends his days living in a run-down trailer (I’m getting Martin Riggs vibes already) hasn’t seen his 16-year-old daughter in years, until she comes knocking on his door in need of protection against a gang of ruthless drug dealers out for revenge.
Who’s in it? Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, Diago Lune and William H. Macy
Why it’s worth a watch: The film marked Gibson’s real return to Hollywood marking a welcome return to the actor’s earlier charisma – especially that of Lethal Weapon‘s Martin Riggs. Bruce Willis, John Travolta, et al. – or their agents – could definitely take a leaf out of this film’s book when it comes to choosing their next projects.
For fans of:Leon, Inhale, Sleepless, Erased.
Winning one-liner: “You know the difference between fitting and proper? I could shove my thumb up your ass right now and it would probably fit…but it wouldn’t be proper!”
12. HEADSHOT (2016)
What’s it about? A young man suffering from amnesia as a result of a serious head injury washes ashore and befriends a young doctor who nurses him back to health… until his bloodstained memories and violent past return to mercilessly haunt him.
Who’s in it? Iko Uwais
Why it’s worth a watch: Coming from Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto, the tormented minds behind the horror films Macabre and Killers, long-time fans expected a gleefully violent ride – which they got – but what no one was expecting was for them to take to the frenetic action genre like ducks to water, producing one of the decade’s most brutal action movies.
For fans of: The Big Boss, The Raid, Wu Assassins.
Winning one-liner: – “Do you know how close we were? Why does it have to change, Abdi?”
– “Probably because you put a bullet in my head.”
13. SECURITY (2017)
What’s it about? A former Marine who’s been unable to find a decent job since retiring from the corps finally finds work as a mall security guard. On his first night, he gets caught up in the middle of unexpected crossfire when a group of professional mercenaries come after a young girl to prevent her from participating as a trial witness.
Who’s in it? Antonio Banderas and Ben Kingsley.
Why it’s worth a watch: It might not reach the same heights as Die Hard (pun intended) but the set action pieces are brilliantly choreographed and Antonio Banderas is a far cry from the larger-than-life character’s he played in the ‘90s, putting in a wholly credible turn as the taciturn vet with nothing left to lose. And how could anyone pass up the chance to see Ben Kingsley play the ultimate movie hood? Alright, so it’s fair to say he put in a less-than-stellar villainous turn in that live-action Thunderbirds mess, but he really is F.A.B. here.
For fans of:Sudden Death, Assault on Precinct 13, Die Hard.
Winning one-liner: “Where you at, bro? Over!” “In the … balls.” Don’t even ask! It’s an in-joke between the shopping mall detail that only those who’ve seen the film will get.
14. BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 (2017)
What’s it about? A former boxer-turned-drug dealer is sent down after a botched deal. Once inside, the system is so corrupt that he’s forced to take the most brutal of measures to protect his wife and unborn child on the outside.
Who’s in it? Vince Vaughn in the role of a lifetime, Jennifer Carpenter and Don Johnson.
Why it’s worth a watch: Forget the likes of Tango and Cash or Death Warrant. This is unlike any corrupt penal system movie you’ve seen before. S. Craig Zahler takes a simple, timeworn premise but really zeroes in on the characters, particularly the antagonist’s devotion to his family, making sure each and every punch lands where it hurts. And when Vaughn hurts, the audience hurts with him.
For fans of: Felon, Scum, A Prayer Before Dawn.
Winning one-liner: S. Craig Zahler’s films are some of the most quotable movies going and Vaughn spoils us for choice here, but we’re going to go with: “I’d rather knit baby booties with pink yarn than hit people for no reason.”
15. BUSHWICK (2017)
What’s it about? When martial law is declared in a Brooklyn neighbourhood, a former US Navy Hospital Corpsmen and a young civil engineering graduate student form an unlikely alliance, using their particular skills to help each other and find a safe passage to the US army’s extraction point.
Who’s in it? Brittany Snow and Dave Bautista
Why it’s worth a watch: Worlds apart from their feature debut, Cooties, directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion use an immersive fly on the wall direction style to really heighten the audience’s sensation of the anxiety, tension and ferocity of the home front war zone they created.
For fans of: Red Dawn (1984, 2012), Tomorrow When the War Began, Kill Switch.
Winning one-liner: “Some people know better than to stick around in a war zone … Welcome to New York, stupid mother fucker.”
16. THE FOREIGNER (2017)
What’s it about? When a Vietnam-vet-cum-Chinese-restaurant-owner’s teenage daughter Fan is killed in a London bombing, he seeks revenge by setting his sights on the Northern Ireland deputy First Minister as he believes his past holds clues to those responsible.
Who’s in it? Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan
Why it’s worth a watch: Jackie Chan puts in his finest performance to date in this bracing political thriller that gave him the chance to prove both his acting and karate chops.
For fans of: Death Sentence, Taken, Blood Father.
Winning one-liner: An unforgettable telephone conversation that harks back to John Rambo’s “I’m your worst nightmare” moment:
Pierce Brosnan: “You have no idea who you’re dealing with.”
Jackie Chan: “Yes, I do. Do you?”
17. AVENGEMENT (2018)
What’s it about? Inspired by the 1962 samurai film, Harakiri, Scott Adkins plays a convict who takes the fall to keep his family out of prison. With a hit put out on him on the inside, beating after beating turns him into a psychopathic killer, giving him the skills he needs to exact revenge on those who betrayed him.
Who’s in it? Scott Adkins and Craig Fairbrass as battling brothers and “some might say” that their sibling rivalry makes the Gallagher brother’s problems pale by comparison.
Why it’s worth a watch: Jesse V. Johnson’s latest team up with Adkins is a pure, unadulterated tribute to classic Borstal-set Brit flicks. As is to be expected with anything Adkins touches, it’s packed to the rafters with bone-crushing, adrenaline-rushing violence. But it’s not all about stunningly choreographed prison brawls and bar fights this time with Atkins putting in a career-best performance.
For fansof: An Innocent Man, Brawl in Cell Block 99, Faster, Get the Gringo.
Winning one-liner: “You’ve really fucked the duck now, this time. There’s no coming back from that!”
18. THE NIGHT COMES FOR US (2018)
What’s it about? A top organised crime enforcer has a sudden change of heart, turning his back on his former life of crime to rescue a young girl. Of course, early retirement is not an option in his line of work.
Who’s in it? Iko Uwais, Joe Taslim, Julie Estelle and Zack Lee.
Why it’s worth a watch: Timo Tjahajanto upped his game with this, his second banzai action movie, and although the choreography still didn’t quite rival the mastery of Gareth Evans or Isaac Florentine, one thing’s for certain: he set the visceral brutality bar at an all new high that even the most recent John Wick entry failed to surpass.
For fans of: John Wick, The Raid, Leon.
Winning one-liner: The most self-aware zingers on the list: “You know, this sounds like a fucking gangster movie.”
19. TRIPLE FRONTIER (2019)
What’s it about? Five former special forces operatives reluctantly reunite to use their skills to their own benefit by taking down and robbing one of South America’s most ruthless drug lords, leaving an unwonted path of destruction in their wake.
Who’s in it? Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund and Pedro Pascal
Why it’s worth a watch: It might be a premise that’s been done to death, but with a fantastic ensemble cast and a series of unexpected twists and turns – with one in particular sure to leave you shell-shocked – this one’s well worth its “weight in gold.”
For fans of: Kelly’s Heroes, Three Kings, Elite Squad.
Winning one-liner: “You’ve been shot five times for your country and you can’t even afford anew truck. That’s the real crime.”
20. POINT BLANK (2019)
What’s it about? A remake of the French film, À bout portant, an ER nurse and a criminal are forced to form an unlikely alliance to escape rival gangs and corrupt cops when the lives of both their families are put under threat.
Who’s in it? Frank Grillo and Anthony Mackie
Why it’s worth a watch: Whilst it follows the original film’s narrative fairly closely, Joe Lynch (Mayhem) really makes Fred Cavayé’s source material his own thanks to his frenetic directing style and some really savvy script changes that give this adaptation so much more of a feel-good buddy movie vibe – something that both Frank Grillo and Anthony Mackie lean into in a big way – clearly loving every minute of the time they spent together on set.
For fans of: Die Hard with a Vengeance, Shattered (AKA Butterfly on a Wheel), Don’t Say a Word.
Winning one-liner: “This some real Grand Theft Auto shit.”