Photo: AJ Pics/Alamy Stock Photo
This article is updated frequently as titles leave and enter Max. *New additions are indicated with an asterisk.
Action movies have long been the most successful genre at home, as viewers try to replicate that rush they got at the movie theater in their own living room. The Max (formerly HBO Max) selection of action flicks is predictably dense, bringing in some of the DC Universe, classic genre movies, and modern hits. Everyone from Martin Campbell to Martin Scorsese can find a home here, and you’ll often find a Batman, too. We will update this list regularly to give readers a new action movie to watch whenever they need a fix, or a reminder to watch a classic they’ve already seen.
Runtime: 2h 56m
Director: Matt Reeves
Matt Reeves now owns the saga of the Dark Knight as a sequel to his March 2022 action blockbuster has already been announced. Dropping on Max while it was still in theaters, The Batman is an ambitious epic reboot of the legendary hero, anchored by Reeves’s craft and fascinating performances from Robert Pattinson, Zoe Kravitz, Paul Dano, and many more.
Runtime: 2h 10m
Director: Matt Reeves
Any list of the best modern action trilogies really needs to include the rebooted Planet of the Apes series that started with Rise of the Planet of the Apes over a decade ago. The series arguably got even richer in the follow-up from The Batman director Matt Reeves, which is currently the only one in the trilogy on Max for some inexplicable reason. Still, it’s a great movie, even if it’s weird to not have the whole saga of Caesar to marathon for your subscription fee.
Runtime: 1h 47m
Director: Christopher Nolan
The Dark Knight director returned to his homeland to tell one of its most formative war stories in the evacuation of British soldiers from northern France in 1940. Telling a story of land, sea, and air evacuations simultaneously, Dunkirk is a technical marvel, a film that only a filmmaker as ambitious and crazy as Nolan could even consider, much less pull off. Don’t watch this one on your phone. And turn it up loud.
Runtime: 1h 54m
Director: Doug Liman
Also known as Live Die Repeat, this is one of the best video game movies even if it’s not technically a video game movie. But think about it. It’s about a guy (Tom Cruise) who respawns every time he dies, taking what he learned from the previous attempt to try and defeat an alien race. That’s kind of how video games work. This movie rules, partially because it also includes a fantastic Emily Blunt supporting performance.
Runtime: 1h 47m
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Remember when George Clooney was a legitimate action star? There was a brief window there, and his best film with a gun in his hands is probably this Robert Rodriguez cult classic, written by Clooney’s co-star Quentin Tarantino. What starts as a straightforward crime flick becomes something else altogether when Clooney and Tarantino get to a strip club that has a very dark and supernatural secret.
Runtime: 2h 10m
Director: Andrew Davis
Remember when Hollywood took action movies seriously? An action movie could be made for adults and win Oscars like this movie, that was such a broad hit that it was nominated for Best Picture! Harrison Ford steps into the shoes of Dr. Richard Kimble, a man accused of murdering his wife. After an accident sets him free, a hunt begins, led by Tommy Lee Jones, who won an Oscar for his great work here.
Runtime: 2h 4m
Director: Gareth Edwards
The new MonsterVerse is on Max in its entirety, but let’s take a minute to lavish some praise on the one that restarted it all, Gareth Edwards’s underrated 2014 blockbuster. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, and Bryan Cranston star in the reboot of the classic Toho series that pits the big lizard guy against two monsters of equally unfathomable size. It’s a rocking good time.
Runtime: 1h 59m
Director: Ric Roman Waugh
An end-of-the-world movie released during the first Summer of the pandemic, this genre exercise wasn’t seen by enough people. It’s really solid, a reminder of how much Gerard Butler can carry a movie like this one, which reunites him with his Angel Has Fallen director in a film that’s quite literally about the end of humanity. The movie takes a micro approach to the most macro issue as it tracks one family trying to find a way to survive the impending impact from a planet-destroying comet.
Runtime: 2h 58m
Director: Peter Jackson
The Oscar-winning franchise by Peter Jackson bounces around the streaming services with alarming regularity, now finding its way to Max for an indeterminate amount of time. Watch the entire saga of Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gange, and the rest of the Fellowship while you can.
Runtime: 2h 26m
Director: Tony Scott
One of Tony Scott’s last (and best) films is this action flick based on the 1980 novel of the same name. Scott collaborates with his regular star Denzel Washington, who plays a former G-man turned private bodyguard who scorches the earth after the 9-year-old he’s protecting is kidnapped. It’s one of those “they messed with the wrong guy” action flicks that really works.
Runtime: 2h 16m
Director: Lilly and Lana Wachowski
Neo and the gang returned to Max in late 2021 with The Matrix Resurrections, and the response was predictably divisive. You know what’s not divisive? The fact that the first movie still absolutely rules. The story of an average guy who learns that nothing is what it seems has influenced so much pop culture in the over-two decades since this movie was released. You can see Neo everywhere. (And you can watch the entire saga on the streamer if you want.)
Runtime: 1h 46m
Director: John McTiernan
It’s also on Max, but you can probably skip the first sequel (although check out Prey over on Hulu) and just stick to the 1987 original, a lean, mean movie that features one of Ah-nuld’s best ‘80s performances. It’s a survival tale that starts off like a war movie before it throws in one of the universe’s most famous killing machines.
Runtime: 3h 26m
Director: Akira Kurosawa
They don’t get more classic than Akira Kurosawa’s classic that inspired generations of action filmmakers. Co-written, directed, and edited by one of the best filmmakers of all time, it’s the story of seven ronin who are hired by farmers to fight the bandits who are ruining their village. It’s a formative text for the action genre, and quite simply one of the best movies ever made.
Runtime: 1h 46m
Director: Kerry Conran
Audiences had little idea what to do with this crazy film when it was released back in 2004, but it’s developed a pretty strong following over the years. Filmed using a bluescreen and fascinating CGI, this is an old-fashioned adventure film with modern tricks, and it uses Jude Law, Angelina Jolie, and Gwyneth Paltrow well.
Runtime: 2h 14m
Director: The Wachowskis
The Wachowskis’ most divisive film premiered in 2008 to almost universally negative reviews, but the tide started to turn almost immediately, making this into a film with a loyal cult following. Emile Hirsch stars in this adaptation of the classic 1960s manga, but the film belongs to the Wachowskis, whose pop confection color explosion really makes the film memorable.
Runtime: 2h 25m
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Largely unavailable in the United States, Max subscribers were stunned when Strange Days dropped on the streaming service to start 2023. A sci-fi masterpiece from the director of Near Dark and Point Break, Bigelow’s epic stars Ralph Fiennes, Angela Bassett, and Juliette Lewis in a vision of the end of the millennium that blends sci-fi and noir. A bomb when it came out, this is a flick begging for a reappraisal. (Sad note: It appears the version on Max is in the wrong aspect ratio, but we’ll take what we can get right now.)
Runtime: 2h 2m
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Denzel Washington won his second Oscar for a role that would help define his on-screen persona in this Antoine Fuqua flick that is somehow already two decades old. Washington plays Alonzo Harris, a corrupt LAPD cop who is accompanied by a new partner, played by Ethan Hawke. More thriller than traditional action, it’s still an intense, unforgettable experience and a reminder of how much Washington can be a force of nature when he’s allowed to be.
Runtime: 1h 53m
Director: Jan de Bont
June 2020 brought the news that Jan de Bont’s ‘90s blockbuster is going to be remade for a new generation in 2024’s Twisters, leading fans of the original to reminisce about a simpler time, a time when a cow flying through the air seemed like the peak of special effects. Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Jami Gertz, and Cary Elwes star as a group of storm chasers who get more than they can handle as a series of tornadoes unleash their fury on Oklahoma.
Runtime: 1h 46m
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
M. Night Shyamalan’s best film remains this story of an unexpected hero, a man who gets into a car crash and discovers that he may not be like most ordinary men. Bruce Willis is great in the lead role, his stoicism balanced by a fun performance from Samuel L. Jackson as his worldly opposite. Follow it up with the sequel Glass, which isn’t currently streaming for subscribers anywhere but is widely available for rent or purchase.
Runtime: 2h 12m
Director: Bryan Singer
There’s only one X-movie on Max but it happens to be one of the best. After the excellent First Class in 2011, the genuinely awful Bryan Singer returned to the franchise with this sequel, technically the seventh in the series. It merges the two versions of the X-universe — the Hugh Jackman one and the Michael Fassbender one — with clever style, humor, and action. In many ways, this was one of the first (and best) mash-up superhero blockbusters that have become more common a decade later.
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