For those hardcore action fans who look to get their blood pumping with a big shot of adrenaline and explosions, I stand beside you and salute.
Over the years, Netflix has tried in many different ways to satiate our need for shootouts and revenge plots; ranging from big-budget bangers with massive movie stars, to overseas sensations influenced by the best martial arts and crime thrillers that came before them.
While you may not see the names of some of the biggest actors and actresses that Netflix has enticed to star in their latest action ventures, the following films will give all discerning fans of the genre something to love. Here are my Top 5 Netflix Original Action Films to date.
Please Note: This reviewer did not consider RRR a Netflix Original and did not consider war films like All Quiet on the Western Front & The Siege of Jadotville as contenders for this list
5. Gunpowder Milkshake
Co-Written & Directed by Navot Papushado
Cast: Karen Gillan, Lena Headey, Carla Gugino, Michelle Yeoh, Angela Bassett, Paul Giamatti, Chloe Coleman
Acquired during the pandemic period by Netflix, Gunpowder Milkshake was a Top 5 film of 2021 for me at the time of its summer release. Bringing tons of style, gorgeous set designs, a quality score, and potent needle drops, the film wears its influences on its sleeve to deliver some of the best shoot-out set pieces that rival its franchise competitors.
Bolstered by its deep and impressive cast, Gunpowder Milkshake tells the story of Sam, a gun-for-hire raised in the gang lifestyle following a family tragedy, who defies her orders, saves the life of a captured young girl, and sets out on the run. When she has nowhere else to turn, Sam goes back to her childhood allies and secret, female-led assassin organization to help survive her attackers.
The film stars Guardians of the Galaxy actress Karen Gillan as Sam, Game of Thrones legend Lena Headey, Oscar Winner Michelle Yeoh, Gerald’s Game’s Carla Gugino, Black Panther’s Angela Bassett, and Billions star Paul Giamatti as the villain puppet master Nathan.
Gunpowder Milkshake is the brainchild of writer/director Navot Papushado who put together his first higher-budget studio film following the critical success of his small-budget efforts, the horror slasher Rabies and the Quentin Tarantino-approved thriller Big Bad Wolves. Citing influences of Hitchcock, Sergio Leone, and Kurosawa, Papushado blends an assassin movie with a kidnapping thriller with dashes of film noir, classic westerns, and martial arts films.
Though some have criticisms that the film is too close to modern classics like John Wick, Atomic Blonde, amd Kill Bill, I argue that those films are all putting their own spin on the same Hong Kong, Korean, and Indonesian gun-fu influences this film nods to as well and should just sit back and enjoy the ride.
4. Blood & Gold
Director: Peter Thorwarth
Cast: Robert Maaser, Marie Hacke, Alexander Scheer, Jordis Triebel
Directed by Peter Thorwarth (Netflix’s Blood Red Sky), Blood & Gold continues the success of Netflix modern Western takes while clearly wearing its influences from the more pulpy versions of the 21st-century films in the genre.
Set during the Spring of 1945, the story centers around German deserter Heinrich (Robert Maaser), a young and courageous farmer Elsa (Marie Hacke) – and a whole host of Nazis. On his way home from the front to his daughter, Heinrich stumbles into the clutches of a marauding SS troop. Their leader (Alexander Scheer) leaves him hanging in a tree for his desertion only to be discovered and saved at the last minute by Elsa, who hides him on her farm. Meanwhile, the SS is searching for a Jewish treasure hidden in a nearby village, meeting bitter resistance from the fed-up villagers who want to keep the treasure for themselves. Soon, Heinrich and Elsa are unwillingly dragged into an action-packed hunt for the gold, culminating in a bloody showdown at the village church.
The film maintains the quintessential elements of the classic Western style – White Hat/Black Hat dynamics, small-town standoffs, buried gold, methodical pacing, signature scores – and presents them with a modern ultra-violent flair typically reserved for Tarantino and his growing list of disciples. If you love killing Nazis in the bold and pulpy action style of Inglorious Basterds and Overlord, then this is your type of film. Spoiler Alert – it is mine as well.
While the film hinges on the story arc of Heinrich (executed in a remarkably steady way by Robert Maaser), its rich blend of supporting characters makes the film a deeper and more satisfying watch. Marie Hacke’s Elsa, Jordis Triebel’s Sonja, and Alexander Scheer’s Lt. Colonel von Starnfeld elevate the less demanding revenge plot and engage us with the charm and fortitude it’s audience deserves without leaning into cartoonish absurdity. Alexander Scheer knows all about that absurdity with his performance as Eight Ball in Blood Red Sky.
One of the best Netflix films of 2023 so far, Blood & Gold is an impressive & enjoyable addition to the growing list of variations on the classic Western. Bloody, but not grotesque. Methodical, but never boring.
3. The Night Comes For Us
Written and Directed by Timo Tjahjanto
Cast: Joe Taslim, Iko Uwais, Julie Estelle, Hannah Al Rashid, Sunny Pang
Following in the footsteps of arguably the most influential action film of the 21st Century, Gareth Evans’ Indonesian crime thriller masterpiece The Raid: Redemption, The Night Comes For Us brings the same style of gun-fu violence, close-quartered fight choreography, and lead casting as it’s predecessor, but with a focus on a single-minded “one man army” character on his road out of his former gang life.
Written and directed by Timo Tjahjanto (Headshot, May the Devil Take You), The Night Comes For Us tells the story of Ito, a gangland enforcer, who sees his path to redemption in saving a small child from certain death after her village is destroyed. With the child in his care and a bullseye on his back, Ito has to take on his former gang and their rising enforcer prospect Arian in order to survive.
Led by The Raid: Redemption stars Joe Taslim (Ito) and Iko Uwais (Arian), the film dons the kinetic violent action of its obvious influences and cranks it up to 11. Focusing its simple plot line into a “take on the world” mission, The Night Comes For Us strips away any distractions and allows itself to become an unflinching, inventive piece of fight choreography art complete with the all-star showdown we’ve all been begging to see.
If you’re looking for a maximalist action film that never stops fighting, this is the best Netflix has to offer in that regard. Fans of the John Wick franchise would be doing themselves a disservice if they didn’t add this one to their watchlist.
2. Extraction 2
Directed by Sam Hargrave
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Golshifteh Farahani, Adam Bessa, Tornike Gogrichiani
For better or for worse, the Extraction film series is the best movie franchise Netflix has produced to date (slight apologies to the To All The Boys & Kissing Booth series). The original film burst onto the scene during the height of the pandemic in 2020 by combining multiple key players from the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Extraction leveraged the names of Chris Hemsworth and the Russo Brothers (Avengers: Infinity War/Endgame) along with the impressive stunt work resume of director Sam Hargrave (Captain America: Civil War, Infinity War/Endgame) to entice 99 million Netflix viewers to watch it in the first four weeks of release.
Hargrave and Russo could have done what many filmmakers do with their sequels and rolled out the same blueprint with increased budgets, more lavish stunts, and an even more diminished plotline as if to say “we know why you’re here and here it is”.
While it does have more money and more firepower, Extraction 2 also has more heart and deeper connections that serve to increase the stakes of its ultra-violent buffet. To put it plainly like a 1990s movie trailer voiceover, Tyler Rake is back … and this time, it’s personal.
The man with the death wish from the first film has survived the unthinkable and finds purpose in the form of a new mission requested by the only person left in his life in which he has something to prove: his ex-wife Mia (played by Olga Kurylenko) whom he left behind to take care of their son in the final days of his battle with Lymphoma. In the name of honor and redemption, we follow Rake and his team as they take on the head of a vicious crime family in order to save Mia’s sister and her children from his control.
Blending action movie staples like father/son relationships, revenge narratives, and ending cycles of violence with the aforementioned motives of Rake lends to a far more compelling tale than that of its predecessor. It’s also really, really useful if you blow up several helicopters or stab a bad guy with a pitchfork while doing it.
Extraction 2 does a great job of knowing what its audience wants while serving them a story that its central character and its burgeoning franchise hopes desperately needed. Hemsworth has found a suitable path forward as his role in the MCU may be diminishing and Hargrave looks more and more like a success as a director, taking his place among his former stunt crew turned director peers like Chad Stahelski (John Wick) and David Leitch (Deadpool 2, Bullet Train).
1. Time to Hunt
Directed by Yoon Sung-hyun
Cast: Lee Je-hoon, Ahn Jae-hong, Choi Woo-shik, Park Jeong-min
South Korean action cinema has been one of the most reliable genres in the past 20 years. Films like Train to Busan, The Man From Nowhere, I Saw The Devil, and The Villainess have caught the attention of action fans all over the world and have inspired major Hollywood franchises like John Wick to reach new heights in ultra-violent fight choreography.
Netflix has done a great job bolstering it’s roster of South Korean films and among the best of them is my #1 Netflix Original Action Film: Time To Hunt.
Set in an alternate dystopian future of South Korea where a financial crisis has given way to rising crime and poverty, the film centers around four friends who look to take on one last heist to escape their miserable situations. Recently released from prison, Jun Seok convinces Jang Ho and Ki Hoon to target an illegal gambling house, an establishment in which their associate Sang Soo happens to work. The foursome proceed with the heist where they successfully steal a large sum of cash and the gambling house’s surveillance hard drives. Furious at the theft, the owners of the gambling house recruit killer Han to track down those responsible and retrieve the hard drives full of incriminating evidence in dealings with the city’s criminal underworld.
Directed by Yoon Sung-hyun, Time to Hunt is multiple genre films in one impressive package. It’s a slow-burn heist film complete with training and planning montages to add to the execution of the crime itself. It’s also an ultra-violent, cat-and-mouse action thriller once the robbery has been discovered.
While I truly enjoy a good heist film, the best part of Time to Hunt is clearly the moment the contract killer Han (played remarkably by Park Hae-soo) enters the picture. With shades of Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men and nods to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, Han’s presence and tenacity ratchets up the tension to a sweat-inducing boil. From gun warehouses to parking garage chases and abandoned hospitals, the film takes you on a thrill ride that never lets up until its final moments.
With convincing chemistry between the protagonists, an elite villain with amazing presence, well-choreographed set pieces, Time to Hunt deserves its place at the top of this impressive list of action films.
- The Old Guard
- Lost Bullet
What are your favorite action movies on Netflix? Let us know down below.