From assassins to adventurers, superheroes, cops, spies and more—here are the 25 best action movies on Prime Video, picked by critic Luke Buckmaster.
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It’s a tad generic—but Luc Besson, a veteran of the killer-for-hire genre, delivers a lean, mean, muscular, female assassin flick with a cracking pace and a magnetic performance from Sasha Luss. Her character, a government-contracted killer, has a modicum of originality in that she is a high-end fashion model working in Paris. So: catwalk by day, bullet in your head by night. A message about the violent opulence of haute couture culture, perhaps?
The heat is on! Eddie Murphy was at his A game in the second—and best—installment in his most famous franchise, playing a motormouth quick-thinking detective who relocates from the back alleys of Detroit to the swimming pools of Beverly Hills. Helmed by action auteur Tony Scott, Murphy gets to the bottom of a series of irresistibly silly “alphabet crimes.”
A frizzy-haired, rosy-cheeked young Nicole Kidman (16 at the time of filming) stars as one of the titular whippersnappers who scoo around Sydney on bicycles, foiling the plot of criminal masterminds. Stuffed full of playful shots, unconventional angles and DayGlo colours, this bona fide 80s classic is kitschy and gaudy, set to the tune of a pumping synth soundtrack.
Tom Cruise plays an ice cool hitman and Jamie Foxx his grudging taxi driver/chauffeur in Michael Mann’s slick single night thriller, which despite a polished look conjures a noirish street-side vibe. Stuart Beattie’s lean script is paced very well, and the action scenes have flashiness totally wedded to characters and situations—including a highly memorable shoot-out in a night club.
Fans of The Shawshank Redemption will get a kick out of spotting the similarities with Don Siegel’s diligently directed bust-out classic from 1979. A characteristically gruff Clint Eastwood plays an inmate who interprets the following line as a challenge: “No-one has ever escaped from Alcatraz and no-one ever will.”
I’m not a big fan of the tired and—despite all those lead feet and screeching tyres—slow soap opera that courses through the veins (engines?) of the Fast and Furious movies. But hot damn, that Dubai double skyscraper stunt scene in the seventh (and best) installment—captured in a glorious extreme long shot—is fantastic. The rest of the film, directed by James Wan, is fine too—and a surprisingly tender goodbye to star Paul Walker, who died during production.
Before the intro credits have even rolled, a distraught Bruce Lee is clutching the dirt above his teacher’s grave and swearing revenge. The martial arts legend’s screen-buckling presence seems to extend past the many baddies he beat up to the structure of the film itself, whipping it into gear. Fist of Fury is one of the more notable (and rewatchable) titles from 70’s chopsocky cinema.
Action movie? Horror movie? Social commentary about the dangers of visiting dive bars? Robert Rodriguez’s Tarantino-penned midnight movie conforms to no single genre, that’s for damn sure. What begins as an on-the-run kidnap drama flicks switches when George Clooney, Tarantino, Juliette Lewis and co. arrive at said dive bar, which attracts the kind of patrons you expect from a place called The Titty Twister. Splatterific mayhem ensues.
Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro face off as an obsessed cop and a big-time thief in Michael Mann’s exalted crime movie, set in the concrete jungle of Los Angeles. The director’s stop-start momentum switches between bursts of action to simple dialogue exchanges, the most famous and memorable transpiring between the two lead actors in a diner, over a cup of coffee.
Guillermo del Toro’s first two Hellboy movies are more distinct, idiosyncratic and thoughtful than the vast majority of superhero movies. A makeup-caked, tomato-red Ron Perlman stars as a human-like half-demon who is actually one of the good guys, working for an elite team to save humankind from various terrible threats. The production and set design is out of this world (and the sequel is even better).
Edgar Wright’s flair for compact and innovative visuals provides thrilling narrative economy. The second instalment in his beloved Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy is a genre-bending buddy cop comedy about a London police officer (Simon Pegg) relocated to a boring, sleepy village. Boring, that is, until all those gruesome killings start happening. Few filmmakers direct comedy as interestingly and as visually as Wright.
No archeologist will even be cooler than Harrison Ford’s fedora-wearing hero, who first cracked the whip in Spielberg’s 1981 high adventure, which arrived choc-full of set pieces and seemingly insurmountable challenges. Chasing the Ark of the Covenant, Ford barely breaks a sweat when dealing with occupational hazards synonymous with his line of work—i.e. pesky Nazis and booby-trapped ancient locations.
The energy of the first Indy sequel doesn’t let up for more than 20 glorious minutes, marking one of action cinema’s best paced intros—starting with poison drinking at a Chinese restaurant and culminating in navigating rapids in a Hilalyan river. The adventuring archeologist now has a sidekick (Quan Ke Huy) and a love interest, memorably played by Kate Capshaw.
It begins with vintage monologues from Christoph Waltz and culminates with an explode-a-palooza of historical revisionism, the cinema itself the very venue for the demise of Adolf Hitler. Tarantino’s penchant for pop-art cinephilia is on full delirious display, sprucing up a stop-start narrative about—as Brad Pitt so eloquently puts it—”killin’ Nazis.”
The bank heist movie has been cut up and rearranged a thousand times, but Spike Lee makes it feel fresh—morphing the premise with a whodunit, a whydunit, and even a what-did-they-dun. Clive Owen plays the lead robber, opposite Denzil Washington’s police detective and Jodie Foster’s power broker. Russell Gewirtz’s very smart, two-steps-ahead screenplay is cleverly configured.
“Did I need a knife in Siberia?” That is the showstopping line in Jack Reacher, hissed by a very creepy, very shit-eating Werner Herzog, playing a former political prisoner cum villain. Tom Cruise is leading man, in fine form as a quick-thinking tough guy thrust into a tangled plotline involving crimes, conspiracies and creepy old Herzog. Generic but rewarding.
The shark catchers in Steven Spielberg’s iconic creature feature famously needed a bigger boat. The film itself—a thrillingly suspenseful blockbuster—shifted the foundation of multiplex cinema, ushering in a new era of tentpole spectacles. The story unsubtle messages have contemporary relevance, about heeding the advice of public health experts.
Robin Williams plays a character who got lost in an alternate universe as a child and is returned to reality when new players (Kirsten Dunst and Bradley Pierce) of the titular board game roll the dice. Joe Johnston’s 1995 hit is to some extent a coathanger for special effects—but it’s unusual to see a film so alive with paranoia; so dripping with dread. Jumanji was under-appreciated back in the day and time has been kind to it; even the special effects still look pretty good.
Spielberg’s 1993 classic still plays with the same spirit of eye-widening largesse that wowed audiences back in the 90s. Who could forget the velociraptors in the kitchen, or the ripples of water caused by a stomping t-rex? Jurassic Park lingers so vividly in the memory it almost seems experiential in retrospect; as if we’ve actually visited Richard Attenborough’s ill-fated amusement park.
Uma Thurman, such a terrific presence in one of her vintage roles, made good on her pledge: she killed Bill. Tarantino delivers heavy action and violent purges offset by long, rambling, pop culture-referencing monologues. Once again the auteur is clearly high on the genre fumes he’s inhaling—from chopsocky movies to spaghetti westerns. We wouldn’t have it any other way. Volume two is superior to volume one.
Before there was Mad Max, there was Brian Trenchard-Smith’s chopsocky Australian action movie—which contains a tremendous eight-a-half minute car chase that must have inspired George Miller and his road warrior. Jimmy Wang Yu plays a kind of Chinese Dirty Harry, infiltrating a crime network run by George Lazenby. From the opening scene Trenchard-Smith (an ozploitation legend) directs with jaunty, rhythmic gusto.
Who could forget Tom Cruise descending upside-down into a high-tech vault, catching a bead of sweat in the nick of time? The first Mission: Impossible movie has an endearing old school feel to it, as well a fun sense of problem solving: the idea of taking something impossible, then making it improbable, then making it doable. Standout set pieces include an exploderific chase on top of a moving train. Red light, green light!
The words “Benicio del Toro” and “Mexican drug cartel movie” go together like a horse and carriage. The actor’s sleepy menace is on fine display in Denis Villeneuve’s dark story about dodgy cops, moral quandaries and Emily Blunt trying to make sense of it all as an FBI agent. Blunt has a lessy showy role but is a commanding anchor.
Not an origins film, but a film about the myth of origins. This restlessly inventive visual cocktail depicts a multiverse of realities, each harbouring a different version of the titular superhero—and each painted with a distinct aesthetic. The adhesive binding these universes together is the eponymous web-slinger, who saves the world from a super-gangster with a little help from his friends (or as the case may be, from different versions of himself).
Few films encapsulate the sheer excessiveness of high concept 80s Hollywood more than this gargantuan spectacle about a hotshot navy pilot (Tom Cruise) competing with another hotshot pilot (Val Kilmer) for the titular status. It’s a simple, audaciously directed movie with a plotline you could summarise on the back of a matchbox. Birdbrained but impressively big.