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Hidden Action Gems On Netflix You Need To Watch

This content was paid for by Netflix and created by Looper.

Pop quiz, hotshot: What's better than watching a good action movie for the first time? Nothing, that's what. There's just something special about that first viewing, when everything is still new and your adrenaline is flowing. You know the feeling. The death-defying stunts are more impressive. Shootouts and fistfights are full of unexpected surprises. The cheesy one-liners are funnier, the villains more sinister, and the tension is higher than it'll ever be again.

It's not an experience you'll ever be able to recapture. If you want to get your pulse rate up, you'll need to find something new to watch. That's easier said than done. The big names might be comforting, but they're no longer surprising. Don't deny it. The thrill is gone.

But do you really think you've seen every action movie that's worth watching? If so, think again. On Netflix, you'll find all kinds of small indie thrillers, semi-obscure foreign flicks, direct-to-video treasures, and low-budget gorefests. Many of them you haven't seen. Some, you've never even heard of. It doesn't matter. The following may not be household names, but they're bound to get the blood pumping just the same. Sit back, tune in, and enjoy.


Brick and mortar video stores might be a thing of the past, but low-budget, direct-to-video action flicks are far from a dying art. Just ask Scott Adkins and Jesse V. Johnson. Over the past 15 years, the martial artist and stuntman-turned-director have turned out nearly a dozen savagely violent action movies that would've been right at home on the shelves of your local Blockbuster — if, y'know, that still existed.

Naturally, Adkins and Johnson's latest collaboration, Avengement, is their best yet. In the film, Adkins stars as Cain, a former martial artist who teamed up with his criminal brother, only to promptly get stabbed in the back. A seven-year stint at England's most dangerous prison pushed Cain to his limits, and now that he's out, he'll do whatever it takes to track his brother down and get revenge. God help anyone who gets in his way.

In a different era, Adkins would've joined the likes of Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, and Dolph Lundgren in the pantheon of B-movie royalty. He's not the type of star who'll be winning Oscars, but if fast-paced violence is what you crave, he's your man. Even better? If Avengement turns out to be your kind of thing, Netflix has a whole bunch of other Adkins and Johnson joints too, meaning titles like Savage Dog, The Debt Collector, and Triple Threat are just a few clicks away.

Beyond Skyline

Beyond Skyline starts like your typical alien invasion flick: A major metropolitan city — in this case, Los Angeles — brought to its knees by an extraterrestrial attack. A group of survivors who are forced to flee underground, where they're slowly picked off one by one. An estranged father-son team (Frank Grillo and Jonny Weston) who must learn to put aside their differences and work together if they want to have any chance of getting through the crisis alive.

You've seen this one before, right? Wrong. So, so wrong. Despite its conventional setup, it doesn't take long for Beyond Skyline to go completely bonkers. By the time the movie lands in Laos, where The Raid star Iko Uwais uses martial arts to fight off aliens as a member of an underground resistance movement, you won't even bat an eye.

Beyond Skyline has a little bit of everything — mutant babies, human brains getting sucked out of their skulls, and some seriously impressive special effects given Beyond Skyline's shoestring budget — and it doesn't pull any punches. If you're squeamish, stay away. On the other hand, if you love campy sci-fi madness, or if you just want to watch aliens die in all sorts of creative ways, buckle up. You're in for one hell of a ride.

The Flying Guillotine

First things first: This isn't Master of the Flying Guillotine, the 1976 movie that's been called "the Holy Grail of the Hong Kong martial arts movies of the '70s." There's nothing hidden about that gem. It's a stone cold classic, and it's influenced everyone from Quentin Tarantino to the Wu-Tang Clan.

But The Flying Guillotine came first, introducing the world to one of the most endearingly strange weapons in cinema history. The flying guillotine is basically a metal disk on a rope, which its wielder flings over an opponent's head and around their neck. Once the guillotine is in place, spikes protrude, cutting off the victim's head. It's bizarre and spectacularly deadly, which is why there's such a fuss when the evil Emperor gets his hands on one and orders a squad of soldiers to become his own head-chopping hit squad.

Unlike Master of the Flying Guillotine, The Flying Guillotine is focused just as much on palace intrigue as it is on fighting. That makes sense. See, Master of the Flying Guillotine is actually a sequel to a completely different movie. Other than the titular weapon, they have nothing in common. Still, don't count The Flying Guillotine out. It's basically kung-fu Game of Thrones with a few decapitations thrown in. Are you really going to say no to that?


Miss the buddy cop movies of the '80s and '90s? Then Gridlocked is for you. In the movie, Prison Break and Legends of Tomorrow star Dominic Purcell plays David Hendrix, a grizzled, no-nonsense SWAT team leader who is paired with washed-up former child actor Brody Walker (Cody Hackman) after the latter is arrested for assault. The idea is that Brody will ride around with David as a form of community service, but plans quickly change after the training facility where Hendrix works is attacked by mercenaries who are after some money locked inside.

Naturally, there's a lot of Assault on Precinct 13 in Gridlocked's DNA, but you'll recognize pieces of 48 Hrs and Midnight Run in the mix, too. That's not an accident. Gridlocked knows exactly what kind of movie it is — you don't cast Lethal Weapon co-star Danny Glover in a movie and have him utter his signature line (you know, the one about how he's "getting too old") unless you want to remind people of the past.

Gridlocked never gets too cute with its references, though, and when it's time for the well-choreographed action to take center stage, the nostalgia takes a back seat. Like all of these types of movies, the humor is hit or miss, but that's part of the genre's charm. Gridlocked is a throwback in the best way. It's not doing anything new, but what it does, it does very, very well.


Before she was The Mandalorian's ex-Rebel shock trooper Cara Dune, Gina Carano was a former MMA star looking to make a name for herself in Hollywood. With Haywire, Carano found her big break. As secret operative Mallory Kane, Carano proved that she was just as charismatic on the big screen as she was in the ring, and that her real-life ass-kicking abilities translated pretty well to believable stunt work.

It helped, of course, that Carano was working with one of the most accomplished and innovative filmmakers of the modern era. Steven Soderbergh might be best known for indie dramas like Sex, Lies, and Videotape, big-budget spectaculars like Ocean's Eleven, and provocative dramas like Traffic and Erin Brockovich, but over the course of his career he's made all kinds of movies. Of course he can make a tight, action-packed espionage adventure. He can make anything.

Carano, of course, followed up Haywire with Fast & Furious 6 and Deadpool, while Soderbergh moved on to hits like Magic Mike and the critically acclaimed Logan Lucky. Ultimately, Haywire is just a footnote in their careers. Still, that's more of a testament to Carano and Soderbergh than a knock on Haywire. If you're in the mood for a fun, twisty spy flick, check out Haywire.

Ip Man

Really, Ip Man is only a hidden gem if you live in America. Overseas, it was a massive hit, winning Best Film at the 2009 Hong Kong Film awards — Hong Kong's equivalent of the Oscars — and earning star Donnie Yen heaps of praise. However, despite being popular enough to spawn three sequels, the original Ip Man wasn't released in theaters in North America or the bulk of Europe. Unless you're a real film aficionado, you've probably never heard of it.

Fire up Netflix and change that, pronto. In Ip Man, Yen plays a fictionalized version of the real Ip Man, the Chinese martial artist who trained Bruce Lee. Not that the movie actually gets that far, of course. Ip Man takes place entirely in the '30s, when Japan invaded China during the Sino-Japanese War. In the film, Ip is forced to work in a coal mine, where a Japanese general makes laborers fight for rice. At first, Ip is reluctant to engage. Once he decides to fight, though? All bets are off.

Ip Man isn't really historically accurate (and its sequels are even less so), but it is an exciting and fun movie with some spectacular martial arts, and if you like it you'll have plenty to watch: Thankfully, Ip Man 2 and Ip Man 3 are both available on Netflix as well.


If you haven't noticed, prisons — and prison escapes — seem to be action movie staples. Well, get ready to add another one to the list. In Jailbreak, a Cambodian movie from director Jimmy Henderson, a team of four police officers must protect a high-profile witness during a jailbreak, a task made all the more difficult when a crime lord named Madame Butterfly puts a price on his head. Yes, Jailbreak treads familiar ground, but it's got panache to spare. A little bit of style goes a long, long way.

Naturally, Jailbreak made a huge impact when it was released domestically. For one, it's an action movie in a country that normally makes low-budget horror movies and romantic comedies. In Cambodia, a big action extravaganza like Jailbreak is rare, especially ones that look as slick as this. Jailbreak also boasts a cast full of international stars, broke box office records, and delighted viewers with its unique blend of action and comedy.

The international reception was just as good. Jailbreak made its way to numerous other countries — again, a rarity for a Cambodian feature — and impressed the judges at the Fantasia Fest so much that they gave it a special prize for its action sequences. It's a defining moment for Cambodian cinema, and it's well worth your time. Watch it as soon as you can.

Kickboxer: Retaliation

If you're an action movie junkie, you've almost certainly seen Kickboxer, the cheesy 1989 Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle that went on to become a cult classic. You've probably seen one or two of the Van Damme-less sequels, too — after all, there were four of them. You may have even watched Kickboxer: Vengeance, the franchise revival that sees Van Damme's triumphant return to the franchise (and adds Guardians of the Galaxy's Dave Bautista for good measure).

But chances are you haven't seen Kickboxer: Retaliation, Vengeance's 2018 sequel that is, against all odds, actually really good. Don't just take our word for it, though. Over on Rotten Tomatoes, Kickboxer: Retaliation has a whopping 92% rating. One critic calls it a "a very dumb, and very satisfying throwback to a simpler time." Another promises "a pulpy and fun fight flick... [that] won't send fans home disappointed."

The story is nonsense, of course — the main villain is bioengineered for maximum violence, Christopher Lambert runs a Thai prison, and Mike Tyson shows up for some reason — but in this case, that's a plus. You watch Kickboxer: Retaliation for the climactic 30-minute fight scene, not for deep characters or a plot that makes sense. C'mon. This is Kickboxer. You should know what you're getting into.

The Night Comes for Us

The Night Comes for Us is often compared to Gareth Evans' The Raid: Redemption and its sequels, and for good reason. The Raid's breakout star and fight choreographer, Iko Uwais, offers the same services on director Timo Tjahjanto's blood-soaked thriller. The Night Comes for Us' cast list is full of Raid alumni, including Joe Taslim and Julie Estelle. Like The Raid, The Night Comes for Us boasts action scenes filmed in long continuous takes, showing off the stunts and ramping up the tension. Also like The Raid, it's violent. So, so violent.

The Night Comes for Us is essentially two hours of dismemberments, decapitations, broken bones, bullet wounds, stabbings, slashings, and every other violent act you can imagine. It has so much blood that multiple critics have compared it to a horror movie. It's a movie that's shocking and ridiculous — one character is impaled on a cow's femur, while another uses a weapon that's basically a deadly yo-yo — and yet somehow utterly humorless. It's loud and messy and disgusting, and it's never boring.

While the bloodshed should get repetitive, Tjahjanto knows what he's doing, and constantly deploys new and sickly creative surprises to keep you on your toes. The Night Comes for Us isn't a particularly deep movie, but it's an exhilarating one. If you want to get your adrenaline pumping, there's no better choice.


In the world of Revenger, criminals aren't just sent to prison. They're sent to AP 101, an impenetrable island where the worst people on the planet are left to fight for themselves. It's a dangerous, deadly place that nobody should want to visit — but then again, Kim Yul (Bruce Khan) isn't exactly nobody. As a former Interpol officer who was arrested after waging a one-man war against the crime family that killed his wife and daughter, Yul has come to AP 101 to get revenge — but that doesn't mean that he won't fight to improve the lives of the few honorable people who live there.

Revenger isn't as flashy as many of the most popular action films. You won't find any long, one-shot scenes or other camera tricks here. What you will find, however, is an able and impressive lead in Khan, who proves he's a force to be reckoned with in his first leading role, and some dazzling stunts and fight choreography.

Revenger is also a surprisingly funny movie, especially given the subject matter. AP 101 may be filled with serial killers and psychopaths, but many of them act more like live-action cartoons than real people. They're quirky and weird and offer a welcome respite from all of the killing. Make sure you stick around for Revenger's post-credits sequence, too. If Revenger ever receives a sequel, things are going to get wild.


Frank Grillo's unnamed ex-con — we'll call him Wheelman — has problems. His 13-year-old daughter is home alone with her sketchy older boyfriend. His ex-wife is suing for sole custody. He's being followed by a mysterious man on a motorcycle, and oh yeah, he's also in debt to the Boston mob, which means he must serve as a getaway driver whenever he gets a call from his mysterious handler, no questions asked.

It's a rough situation to be in, and it gets even worse when an unknown caller unexpectedly instructs Wheelman to leave two bank robbers at the scene of the crime and take off with their haul, which adds up to about $230,000 in cash. Complicating things even further is the fact that Wheelman only communicates with his bosses via cellphone, making it impossible for him to know who's really in charge — or who he can trust.

Wheelman has an intriguing premise and manages to wring a surprising amount of tension out of a guy who's mostly sitting behind the steering wheel and talking on his phone, but the real draw here is the actors. Grillo has been a reliable supporting actor for years, as have his castmates Garret Dillahunt and Shea Whigham. In Wheelman, all three performers get the opportunity to step up and shine, and all of them — especially Grillo — deliver. Come for the action, stay for the performances. You won't be disappointed.