Best Action Movies on HBO Max Right Now (February 2021)


Sometimes the house is just too quiet. What it needs is a good shootout, or maybe an explosion. I cool quip can’t hurt either. There are days where – for whatever reason – you just need a great action film before you hit the sack. Luckily HBO Max has a ton of great action movies to offer. In fact, the titles below really just represent the tip of the action iceberg (particularly when it comes to fans of Samurai films or animated Batman movies). But if you are jonesing for a night of loud rock ‘em sock ‘em cinema, this is a great place to start your search.

Die Hard

Bruce Willis as John McClane in Die Hard

Image via 20th Century Fox

Director: John McTiernan

Writers: Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza

Cast: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, Alexander Godunov, Reginald VelJohnson, Paul Gleason, De’voreaux White

Who cares if it’s truly a Christmas movie or not (it is, by the way), what’s important is that Die Hard remains one of the greatest action films ever made. And it’s not because the action itself is so great, though it still holds up very well. It’s not because of the quips either, though those, too, still have a great ring to them. Instead, Die Hard works because the characters are spectacular and it’s easy to relate to poor, barefoot John McClane, a streetwise cop just trying to get right with his estranged wife, stuck taking out a skyscraper filled with terrorists all by himself. If you want to make a night of it, you’re in luck. HBO Max also has Die Hard’s good part two and very good part three as well.

Mad Max: Fury Road


Image via Warner Bros.

Director: George Miller

Writers: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nico Lathouris

Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Zoë Kravitz, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton

How is it possible George Miller was able to top The Road Warrior decades later, with a Mad Max who isn’t even played by Mel Gibson? Only an insane genius could pull something like that off, but luckily that’s exactly what George Miller is. This late sequel is an all-out unyielding spectacle of wild vehicular mayhem filled with visually amazing villains and truly noble heroes. Somehow with all the flames and flipping cars, he manages to tell a worthy story as well. This film is a miracle in the truest sense of the word, since it’s hard to imagine how such a thing was allowed out of Hollywood. Even if you’ve already seen it a hundred times, Fury Road’s always worth putting on for another round. And if you find yourself itching for the older Mad Max films, The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome are available as well.

The Dark Knight Rises


Image via Warner Bros.

Director: Christopher Nolan

Writers: Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan

Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Morgan Freeman

Batman Begins told the best story. The Dark Knight has the best characters and exploration of Batman. But The Dark Knight Rises has the best action. Starting with a plane heist that doesn’t even involve Batman, Nolan is doing his best James Bond impression in this wild conclusion to his Dark Knight trilogy. Just think of Bane, a burly villain who might as well be an MMA fighter and has no trouble cracking the Caped Crusader’s back like nothing. The film’s Siege of Gotham story gets a little out of hand, but that’s also what makes this one so fun. Of the trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises feels the most like a comic book come to life.


Image via Warner Bros.-Seven Arts

Director: Peter Yates

Writers: Alan R. Trustman and Harry Kleiner

Cast: Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn, Jacqueline Bisset, Don Gordon, Simon Oakland

We all know Bullitt from its incredible car chase. And it truly deserves those accolades. In any conversation about cinema’s best car chases, this one will be mentioned for good reason. But there is so much more to Bullitt than that. Steve McQueen has always been cool, but this might be him at his coolest, playing a cop who plays by his own rules in a way that would inspire a whole decade of tough-guy movie cops. If you love action cinema, a whole lot of it begins here.

Escape From New York

Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken in Escape from New York

Image via MGM

Director: John Carpenter

Writers: John Carpenter and Nick Castle

Cast: Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Isaac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau

Snake Plissken. You really can’t beat an eyepatch-wearing Kurt Russell in camo-pants with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. On top of that, you also can’t do much better than set a film in a futuristic New York that has become a free-for-all walled-off prison. Add John Carpenter’s steady direction and B-movie sensibilities, and you have a perfect action film, one with a supporting cast that can’t be beaten: Isaac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton, Ernest Borgnine, Adrienne Barbeau and Lee Van Cleef? Pretty much every other movie out there wishes it could be this cool.

Death Sentence


Image via 20th Century Fox

Director: James Wan

Writer: Ian Mackenzie Jeffers

Cast: Kevin Bacon, Garrett Hedlund, Kelly Preston, Aisha Tyler, John Goodman

We primarily associate James Wan with horror thanks to his work on the Saw, Insidious and The Conjuring movies. Now with Aquaman and Furious 7, we are more accustomed to his action skills, but none of that was apparent when Death Sentence came out way back in 2007. This riff on Charles Bronson’s Death Wish template stars Kevin Bacon as a mild-mannered guy who starts taking the law into his own hands when his son is murdered by thugs. Death Sentence is a no-frills gritty ride, filled with a lot of genuine menace. It’s also somewhat underrated, so if you missed it in theaters, now is your chance.

Hot Fuzz


Image via Rogue Pictures

Director: Edgar Wright

Writers: Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg

Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent, Timothy Dalton, Paddy Considine, Bill Nighy, Billie Whitelaw, Edward Woodward, Bill Bailey, Olivia Colman

How ironic that this send-up of action cinema is actually a great action film on its own? That’s just the magic of Edgar Wright. The second of his Cornetto Trilogy starring Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, Hot Fuzz tells the story of a strict, by-the-books cop who discovers a conspiracy in a quaint English village that requires full-on movie cop action to rectify. Pegg’s Nicholas Angel isn’t the kind of cop who stacks up a high body count (though there is some spectacular gore in the film), but the climactic shootout will have you firing guns into the air and saying “Aaaargh” nevertheless.

Police Story

Image via Golden Harvest

Director: Jackie Chan

Writers: Jackie Chan and Edward Tang

Cast: Jackie Chan, Brigitte Lin, Maggie Cheung, Chor Yuen, Charlie Cho

Yes, HBO Max has Jackie Chan movies. And with Police Story, it might even have the best Jackie Chan movie. Drunken Master fans can disagree, but even they have to admit Police Story is way up there when it comes to Chan’s work. The film has everything you want from the guy – cartoonish comedy gags, kung-fu sequences where anything and everything becomes an action prop, and of course, amazing stunts that nearly kill poor Chan onscreen. The final mall set-piece is truly one for the ages, and right after it ends, you get a wonderful credit sequence showing you how all the stunts were pulled off. The short answer: painfully.

Kill Bill


Image via Miramax

Director/Writer: Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, Sonny Chiba, Julie Dreyfus, Chiaki Kuriyama, Gordon Liu, Michael Parks

Which of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies is better? It doesn’t matter because HBO Max has them both, so you might as well settle in for the full five-hour masterpiece of action cinema. It’s hard to remember now, but when Kill Bill Vol 1 came out in 2003, Tarantino had only done crime dramas, and we didn’t know if he had action chops in him. Those doubts got good and buried by his amazing House of Blue Leaves sequence. And that’s just one of many incredible fight scenes spread across these two remarkable films. Do not mess with Uma Thurman. Or anyone else in this film, really.

Kong: Skull Island


Image via Warner Bros.

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Writers: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly

Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, Terry Notary, John C. Reilly

After so many versions, we are all familiar with the King Kong story. A bunch of sailors go to a mysterious island where they get eaten by bugs and discover Kong, a huge-ass ape. The ones who survive drug Kong and take him to New York where he gets free and wreaks havoc until he falls off the Empire State Building. So maybe it’s time to try something different? That’s exactly what Kong: Skull Island does by bringing a bunch of Vietnam-era soldiers to Skull Island where most of them get killed in spectacular fashion by Kong or the various weird animals smart enough to be afraid of Kong. It’s a great looking monster movie that thankfully does not take itself too seriously and has amazing action.

Seven Samurai

Cast of Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai

Image via Toho

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Writers: Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni

Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Tsushima, Isao Kimura, Daisuke Katō, Seiji Miyaguchi, Yoshio Inaba, Minoru Chiaki, Kamatari Fujiwara, Kokuten Kōdō, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Eijirō Tōno, Jun Tatara, Atsushi Watanabe, Yoshio Kosugi, Bokuzen Hidari, Yukiko Shimazaki

A classic for good reason. Akira Kurosawa’s action masterpiece is as long as you’ve heard, so make extra popcorn and get ready to settle into an epic you won’t forget. There is so much to enjoy here. You basically get an entire movie where the main tough guy (Takashi Shimura) assembles his team of starving – but still very wily and dangerous – samurai for a suicide mission. Keep in mind one of these guys is a delightfully feral Toshiro Mifune. That in itself is worth the price of admission. But then you naturally get to watch this crude ensemble see their task to fruition in a long-form battle for the ages. It’s a perfect movie.

Point Break


Image via 20th Century Fox

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Writer: W. Peter Iliff

Cast: Patrick Swayze, Keanu Reeves, Gary Busey, Lori Petty

Look, some action movies are just silly. But not this one. Nope, this film about an FBI agent who learns to surf in order to get closer to a gang of bank robbers, but then kind of-sort of falls into macho bro-love with the main surfer is not at all ridiculous. Kidding aside, even with the goofiness of a barking mad Gary Busey and the unrealistic idiocy of a young Keanu Reeves as a surfing FBI agent, everybody hushes up when Patrick Swayze is onscreen. He’s just that good. And director Kathryn Bigelow knows how to shoot action worthy of these performers. Also, Anthony Keidis has a cameo so…

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King


Image via New Line

Director: Peter Jackson

Writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson

Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Bernard Hill, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Karl Urban, John Noble, Andy Serkis, Ian Holm, Sean Bean

If you find yourself with a hankering for Hobbits, HBO Max is the place to go. They not only have Peter Jackson’s entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, they have his Hobbit movies as well. That should keep you busy for a week at least. Of the six films, Return of the King might have the best action, though it is in close competition with The Two Towers. It’s just that the Battle of Pelennor Fields has so many amazing stages to it, bouncing advantages back and forth between good and evil until you just can’t take it anymore. And the Olyphants! This is what cinema is all about.

Under Siege


Image via Warner Bros.

Director: Andrew Davis

Writer: J.F. Lawton

Cast: Steven Seagal, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Busey, Erika Eleniak, Colm Meaney

You can watch both Under Siege films on HBO Max, and both are worth your time. But the first one is especially good. In fact, this is about the best Steven Seagal ever got. Yes, it’s basically Die Hard on a boat, but Die Hard kicks ass, so why not? Gary Busey is back but this time he’s joined by a slumming Tommy Lee Jones, who lends the film some much-appreciated gravitas. In the end, however, it’s all about Seagal, here playing a chef who is secretly a walking army. The fights are good, the performances are fun, and there are plenty of explosions. What’s not to like?

Running Scared


Image via New Line Cinema

Director/Writer: Wayne Kramer

Cast: Paul Walker, Cameron Bright, Vera Farmiga, Chazz Palminteri, Ivana Miličević

If you want to watch a Paul Walker action film, you could also go the Fast and Furious route (both The Fast and the Furious and 2 Fast 2 Furious are offered on the service), but you might consider this underseen gem instead. Wayne Kramer’s 2006 film follows Walker as Joey, a low-ranking mafia thug charged with getting rid of a gun used in a horrible crime. A kid steals the gun, however, and it’s off to the races from there. The film truly showcases Paul Walker at his best, leading a weird cast in a crime film that is legitimately gritty and unsettling. It’s tense, quickly-paced, and plays for keeps. Check it out.

The Adventures of Robin Hood


Image via Warner Bros.

Directors: Michael Curtiz and William Keighley

Writers: Norman Reilly Raine, Seton I. Miller, Rowland Leigh

Cast: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains, Una O’Connor, Alan Hale, Eugene Pallette

Action doesn’t have to be a bunch of guns and explosions. It can also involve swashbuckling heroics, such as in this very classic retelling of the Robin Hood legend. It’s hard to take your eyes off the extremely charming Errol Flynn and he laughs in the face of his cruel overlords. You’ve got your bows, your swinging around, your dashing sword fights and everything else associated with Robin Hood. But you also get a heavy dose of fun and style missing from many later versions. Plus none of those other Robin Hood movies have Claude Raines in them. So there.

Princess Mononoke


Image via Studio Ghibli

Director/Writer: Hayao Miyazaki

Cast: Yōji Matsuda, Yuriko Ishida, Yūko Tanaka, Kaoru Kobayashi, Masahiko Nishimura, Tsunehiko Kamijo, Akihiro Miwa, Mitsuko Mori, Hisaya Morishige

Hayao Miyazaki is now and will probably forever remain one of the greatest animators the form has ever seen. His films touch audiences of all ages and folks who are children right now will probably show their kids My Neighbor Totoro before they can even speak. Of his impressive filmography, Princess Mononoke offers his most grown-up, action-packed entry. A warrior infected with a rare poison must bridge the gap between animalistic gods and men, though the war-like folly of mankind makes his job very difficult. Kids can probably watch Mononoke, but its epic storytelling and complicated themes will mean much more to adults. And so will the intense, amazing action sequences.

The Wild Bunch


Image via Warner Bros.-Seven Arts

Director: Sam Peckinpah

Writers: Walon Green and Sam Peckinpah

Cast: William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Edmond O’Brien, Warren Oates, Jaime Sánchez, Ben Johnson, Emilio Fernández, Strother Martin, L. Q. Jones

You can’t talk about the evolution of action films without including Sam Peckinpah’s masterpiece, The Wild Bunch. The story of outlaws who have outlived their era pulls few punches when depicting the horrors of what a bullet does to a human body. But more than its genre-defining squib work, The Wild Bunch is a film just drowning in grime and distasteful details that make it unique. This is definitely a crew of badasses, but they aren’t exactly charming and Peckinpah never cares much if you like them or not. The Wild Bunch isn’t just one of the greatest, most important action films ever made; it’s a classic all film fans need to see at least once.

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About The Author

Evan Saathoff
(4 Articles Published)

In addition to writing for /Film and Collider, Evan’s probably best known for his time as Senior Editor of Birth.Movies.Death. His passions include dumb action movies, not-dumb action movies, Shakespeare, and Tyler Perry. While he claims to understand that people don’t always get what they want, he nevertheless believes it would be “cool” if he could become more like Danny DeVito with age.

From Evan Saathoff


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