There are so many action movies out there that the original version of this list contained 43 titles. That’s when I realized: You’ve seen every Batman movie including Batman and Robin. You've slashed your way through both Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. You've blasted your way through all four Lethal Weapons. And you know every superhero from Captain America to Rocket Raccoon. (If you don’t, you have no business reading this list.)
In the past, we've written lists of the best Netflix movies and shows to watch when you're stoned, the best comedies and best documentaries on Netflix, movies to watch when you're tripping, the best movies to watch when you're heartbroken, the finest Oscar-nominated movies new to Netflix, and movies on Netflix that pass the Bechdel test. For this rundown of the most underrated action movies on Netflix (US), you should pay special attention to how I skillfully avoid using the cliched terms “taut” and “pulse-pounding." Ranked from oldest to newest, here’s what I found:
The Daughter of Dawn (1920)
I’m not even sure Netflix knows they have this one: As the story goes, an original copy of this silent film from 1920, once thought lost, miraculously reappeared in 2004. After its restoration in 2007 by the Oklahoma Historical Society, Comanche composer David Yeagley was enlisted to score Norbert A. Myles’s thrilling take on an American legend, starring over 300 Native Americans amid the breathtaking Wichita Mountains. While a silent film isn’t what you’d expect from a list of action movie recommendations, check your heart rate while seeing the bison-hunt scene and get back to me.
The African Queen (1951)
Right up until Raiders of the Lost Ark, John Huston’s tale of a missionary (Katharine Hepburn) and a hardboiled steamboat captain (Humphrey Bogart) braving the East African wild was arguably the greatest action-adventure film the Western world had ever produced. Obviously you should watch Casablanca first if you’re a Bogart initiate, but then watch this one. It's the film that earned him his Oscar.
In Like Flint (1967)
A feminist plot to overthrow the patriarchy and take over the world amidst the swinging 60s? Not on international super-spy Derek Flint’s watch. “Hey! In Like Flint, that’s my favorite movie!” said Austin Powers. Now you can know what he meant.
Young Tiger, a.k.a., Police Woman, a.k.a., Rumble in Hong Kong (1973)
There are at least five different titles that you can find this Hong Kong crime film under, but that’s not what matters. This is one of the few films in which Jackie Chan plays a villain.
Khoon Khoon (1973)
Dirty Harry’s not on Netflix? That’s cool, just watch the Bollywood remake.
Battle Royale (2000)
This cult favorite didn’t receive a full theatrical run in the United States until 2011, but since then it’s been a mainstay for fans of hyperviolent Japanese cinema. Before Saw, The Hunger Games, and The Belko Experiment, 42 students wearing explosive collars had three days to fight each other to the death. It’s no wonder Quentin Tarantino called this one his “favorite movie of the last 17 years.”
Way of the Gun (2000)
After The Usual Suspects writer Christopher McQuarrie won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1996, he made his directorial debut with this smokin’ badass tale of two drifters, played by Ryan Phillippe and Benicio del Toro. The duo decide to kidnap a surrogate mother from under the nose of a wealthy money launderer. There are unforgettable threats, hailstorms of bullets, and even Sarah Silverman.
This understated Bruce Willis film was a box-office blip, mostly for featuring an understated Bruce Willis as a hostage negotiator. But what Florent Emilio Siri’s action-thriller lacks in praise, it makes up for in just being really fucking cool.
Inside Man (2006)
Some people are surprised to learn that Spike Lee directed this elaborate heist movie starring Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Christopher Plummer, Willem Dafoe, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and a stellar Denzel Washington. The box office hit really shows off the wide breadth of talents wielded by the director of Do the Right Thing.
Imagine Nicolas Cage taking on Julianne Moore in a sci-fi nuclear disaster movie version of That’s So Raven, written by Philip K. Dick, and you’d still need to watch Next to believe it.
Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell, and George MacKay star in The Siege director Edward Zwick’s brutal dramatization of the Bielski brothers’ valiant efforts to save thousands of Jews from execution in 1940s Belarus. Don’t watch this one for historical accuracy, watch it for James Bond, Sabretooth, and Billy Elliot killin’ Nazis.
Ip Man (2008)
The incredible tale of the Wing Chun master who taught Bruce Lee spawned a pretty successful international franchise not only for its compelling true story, but for swift fight scenes choreographed the legendary Sammo Hung. The entire quadrilogy is on Netflix, so after you enjoy Ip Man, binge-watch the other excellent films in this series.
Channing Tatum and Terrence Howard star in A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints director Dito Montiel’s surprisingly passionate street-fight film about a down-on-his-luck hustler who pulls himself out of the New York City gutter by beating the shit out of people with his bare hands. It’s worth remembering that Tatum wasn’t always as buff as he was in Magic Mike, but he was still every bit as charming.
13 Assassins (2010)
Audition and Ichi the Killer superstar director Takashi Miike attacked Eiichi Kudo’s revered 1963 black-and-white film head-on and the result is a blood-dripping samurai revenge story about legendary swordsmen who decides to take the law into his own hands. Seriously, what more do you want?
Wind River (2017)
Sicario writer Taylor Sheridan trekked deep into the wilderness of Wyoming to direct this slow-burn murder mystery wherein, as Peter Travers wrote, “action is character.” What this film lacks in explosions, though, it makes up for in suspense. With a creeping vibe akin to Seven and Insomnia, this is one killer-on-the-loose film you won’t soon forget.
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Correction: A previous version of this article erroneously stated Taylor Sheridan directed Sicario. Sheridan wrote the film, which Denis Villeneuve directed. We regret the error.