Action movies have changed a lot over the years. The cameras have gotten closer, the fight choreography more elaborate, the explosions bigger, the missions more impossible, etc. but our demand hasn’t changed. People like watching people kick the hell out of people. And now it’s become easier than ever.
Vin Diesel looks just as convincingly huge while driving a car into a helicopter on the small screen as on the large. But if you’re looking for something new and different, something you might have missed on the big screen, Netflix has you covered.
Here are 10 Underrated Action Movies Streaming on Netflix.
11 Centurion (2010)
Director Neil Marshall paid rapturous homage to his favorite action movies in 2008’s Doomsday, but a few years later he proved better and more watchable when listening to his own voice rather than John Carpenter’s or Walter Hill’s. Centurion, his follow-up, is much more enjoyably business-like.
Michael Fassbender leads a small contingent of soldiers lost in enemy territory in 2010’s Centurion, a film that plays like Lord of the Rings with all the talking trees, elves and monsters cut out of it. Olga Kurylenko plays a mute warrior tasked with tracking the extant Romans down, one of the most memorable villains in recent history. Centurion is all momentum, running and fighting and glowering and Marshall is so good at filming all three things that you never pine for more.
10 Headhunters (2011)
Jo Nesbø, touted by some as the heir to Girl With the Dragon Tattoo-scribe Stieg Larsson on the throne of internationally popular Scandinavian mystery, threw down a calling card in the form of Headhunters, a wild book about cut-throat corporatism. Norwegian Morten Tyldum, later the director of the highly-touted but inferior The Imitation Game, tried his hand at turning Nesbø’s twisty thriller into cinema and succeeded inasmuch as his film of Headhunters takes a hard left turn into crazy and never veers back onto the road.
Aksel Hennie plays a recruiter who likes to steal art from potential candidates. He picks the wrong guy in Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s Clas Greve, a former special forces operative. When Hennie goes through with his robbery, he initiates a deadly game of cat-and-mouse that involves outhouses, dead animals, tractors, adultery and lots of collateral damage. Headhunters may not have won the awards that The Imitation Game did, but it’s crazy fun and remains the highest grossing Norwegian film of all time.
9 The Guest (2014)
Dan Stevens decided to shed his Downton Abbey do-gooder sheen in style when he agreed to star in Adam Wingard’s The Guest. A semi-remake of the cult film Deathdream, Stevens stops at the house of a midwestern family, claiming to be a friend of their deceased Iraq War veteran son.
The family is charmed by Stevens (who wouldn’t be) and let him stay, but something is ever so slightly off about him. It’s in the way he stares into space like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange, the way he starts murdering whoever he disagrees with, the way he has some kind of perverse design on the family’s teenaged daughter (Maika Monroe). When some government agents show up looking to take him in, that just makes him mad.
The Guest has atmosphere to burn but it never forgets that it’s here to shock, thrill, scare and entertain the hell out of you. Come for Dan Steven’s brilliant performance, stay for the fireworks.
8 Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974)
In Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, several car chase films are name-dropped, but none more importantly than Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, the ne plus ultra of the genre. Larry and Deke (Peter Fonda and Adam Roarke) rob a supermarket and have their getaway plan cinched. What they don’t count on is Mary (Susan George) stowing away in their backseat. Now they have a third party to split the loot with and worry about as the police hone in on them.
Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry is basically 90 minutes of car chase, with a few scenes in between where the characters fix the car or wait to drive it some more. It’s an ode to the beautiful machines that take us to the speed of immortality, a film that never wants to stop driving.
7 13 Assassins (2010)
Takashi Miike is a filmmaker like no other, part cinephile philosopher, part sadistic scientist running experiments on his audience. When he wants you to be sickened and confused (as in Gozu and Ichi The Killer), he makes sure you feel the need to shower and call someone immediately to tell them of the blighted actions you saw performed by human beings. When he wants you to grip your chair, jump up and down and scream at the screen because you’re having a good time, that’s exactly what you’re going to do.
Miike’s 2010 remake of Eichi Kuudo’s 13 Assassins is, quite simply, the greatest action film of the modern era, and the greatest samurai film in over 40 years. When a retired warrior is asked by a committee of concerned citizens to kill a deranged lord, he recruits the most skilled fighters he knows and sets him a deadly trap. To say more would be to spoil the fun.
6 The Hunter (2011)
Willem Dafoe goes on a trip inside the heart of darkness in The Hunter. Hired to find a miraculously not-extinct Tazmanian Tiger, Dafoe’s illegal big game poacher takes off for a remote jungle town hostile to outsiders. He lies to a family he squats with and becomes friendly with them, threatening to distract him from his lucrative but deadly mission.
Dafoe, whose face has haunted some of the best genre films of all time, is the perfect match for the desolate landscape he scours, looking for both the tiger and his own limits. The Hunter has the bleakness one expects from Australian cinema but the lean and virile pacing of an American thriller. You will learn not to trust anything in the vastness of The Hunter’s treacherous world.
5 The Hunted (2003)
From The Hunter to The Hunted as L.T. Bonham (a grizzled Tommy Lee Jones) is called out of retirement (a popular theme in American action films) to track AWOL US Army Sergeant First Class Aaron Hallam (Benicio Del Toro). Bonham used to train special forces to be invisible, unstoppable killing machines, and Hallam, his protege, has gone rogue after being forced to kill one too many innocent people.
Jones and Del Toro, both men of few words and weathered, forceful charisma, are mesmerizing as friends who don’t want to be adversaries but have no choice. William Friedkin, director of The French Connection, has a perfect idea of how to frame, cut and stage action sequences that remained intact from his '70s heyday, making The Hunted a tense stand-off told in knife fights, car chases and shootouts. One of Friedkin’s best, but least seen.
4 Drug War (2013)
Director Johnny To has been making excellent work for years without mainstream acceptance, cranking out one unloved quirky genre film after another. Drug War looked like it might have been his US breakthrough (his latest, Office, had a small multiplex run in the states) but even if To never becomes the household name like, say, fellow countryman John Woo, he’ll never stop blazing a trail of his own making.
Drug War is one of his best and most exciting films, though it’s also one of the most exciting films of the last ten years, full stop. Showing the inner workings of a Chinese drug task force using a captured informant as their way into a cartel, To’s edit is sleaker and faster than a jungle cat. Ending with the best gunfight in a dog’s age, Drug War is dark, tight and flat out amazing.
3 The Seven-Ups (1973)
Producer Phil D’Antoni was responsible for Bullitt and The French Connection, but only ever directed one movie, The Seven-Ups, a semi-sequel to the latter film, written by former cop Sonny Grosso.
Roy Scheider plays the head of a team of misfit cops who play as dirty as their quarry. When one of the crew is gunned down, Scheider and co. get serious. The film is best remembered for its jaw-dropping centerpiece, a car chase across New York. D’Antoni designed one of the greatest high speed chases in history, making sure he’d never have to direct anything ever again. Scheider, white knuckling a Pontiac across grimy '70s New York, is the stuff of action movie legend while Grosso's history keeps its theatrics grounded.
2 The Man From Nowhere (2010)
Lee Jung-beom’s The Man From Nowhere was relatively unheralded when it was released in 2010, but it’s made massive ripples. Look for it’s influence in both The Raid 2 and John Wick, both about men (in dark clothes) with shadowy pasts cutting their way through a criminal army. Neither has The Man From Nowhere’s focus or purity of vision.
The Man From Nowhere concerns a man with no name who springs into action to protect a child being held by ruthless, eccentric gangsters for crimes her mother committed. The fight choreography is flawless, the filmmaking intense and the script just funny enough to make you forget how unremittingly joyless the material is.
The Man From Nowhere is more proof that no one is making more joyfully deranged action, crime, horror and everything in between than the South Koreans.
What did we miss? What are the best classic action films on Netflix? What countries are producing your favorite action films? What action films do you watch on repeat?