When Home Box Office announced they were shutting down HBO Now and HBO Go and combining them into a single service called HBO Max, it struck a lot of us as an unnecessary complication, especially since the app wasn’t initially available on all platforms. What was this, exactly, aside from a name change?
We needn’t have worried. HBO Max turned out to be everything the prior services were, plus: a broad selection of classic Warner content from Looney Tunes to the golden age of Hollywood; third party content from studios and hosts like Comedy Central, Studio Ghibli, and the Sesame Workshop; an expanded slate of homegrown “Max Originals.”
HBO Max has a massive library of subscription-based streaming content; so much so that Netflix is its only peer in regards to sheer scope and volume. And although that library is shrinking—one of many fallouts from the ongoing merge of Discovery+ and HBO Max–it’s largely at the expense of shows and movies that no one was watching anyway, according to a report from Variety.
By that logic, the action movies on this list should be safe from the ax. They are all certified crowd pleasers that bring the adrenaline, the violence, the high-speed car chases, and the quippy one-liners to break it all up. Here are the 20 best action movies that you can watch, right now, on HBO Max.
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick
Director(s): James Cameron
The greatest action sequel ever made is also #1 on our list. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as the T-800, a cyborg killer who is sent back in time to protect the future leader of humanity from the T-1000, a more advanced cyborg made of liquid metal.
The most unbelievable thing about this movie is how well it has aged. The special effects are a blend of practical and digital effects that doesn’t overextend itself beyond what was technically possible at the time. And the iconic scenes are too numerous to count, although the motorcycle versus truck chase scene is next-level impressive.
Starring: Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura
Director(s): Akira Kurosawa
Seven ronin defend a village from marauders in this samurai classic. It clocks in at 207 minutes, but the high-paced action makes it feel much shorter. Released in 1954, Seven Samurai was a formative film that influenced nearly every other entry on this list.
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving
Director(s): The Wachowskis
“What is the Matrix?” That question capped the ’90s action wave and started a new one in the ’00s, by combining kung-fu, wire stunts, and “bullet time” into a cinematic spectacle. The dialogue about choice, fate, and destiny created a devoted fan following and three increasingly complex sequels. The most recent one, The Matrix Resurrections, debuted in 2021.
Starring: Sylvester Stallone
Director(s): Ted Kotcheff
Sly plays John Rambo, a Vietnam War veteran suffering from PTSD who is triggered by abusive law enforcement. They subsequently hunt him down after he escapes captivity. Four sequels followed with more bloodletting, gore, and crazy kills. But the original can’t be beat for its emotional impact, suspense, and political subtext.
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron
Director(s): George Miller
Fury Road is a massive, non-stop vehicular chase, and the post-apocalyptic environment gives every action a life-or-death orgency. The third sequel in the Mad Max franchise defied the law of diminishing returns, and it gave us the greatest female action hero since Ellen Ripley. A prequel starring Furiosa is on the way.
Starring: Jackie Chan
Director(s): Jackie Chan
Jackie Chan is one of the gutsiest men in Hollywood. He performs all his own stunts and has the broken bones and injuries to prove it. And this is especially true in Police Story, where he injured his back and received second-degree burns on his hands when he slid down a three-story, electrified pole.
Starring: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum
Director(s): Steven Spielberg
Jurassic is pure Spielbergian magic. Based on the bestseller by Michael Crichton, scientists make a breakthrough when they discover how to clone dinosaurs. The movie depicts the opening–and subsequent closing–of the first dinosaur theme park. Multiple sequels have come and gone, but nothing compares to the thrill and wonder of the original film.
Starring: Uma Thurman, David Carradine
Director(s): Quentin Tarantino
This tribute to ’70s kung fu and spaghetti Westerns was originally planned as a single volume. But writer/director Quentin Tarantino split it into two volumes, because he thought a three-hour epic would be pretentious. We love these films–we did Easter egg writeups for both Volume 1 and Volume 2–and the density of their pop culture references rewards multiple rewatches.
Starring: Akira Takarada
Director(s): Ishirō Honda
The monster movie that began a 70-year franchise was an allegory for the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima. There are actually two versions of the movie–one with the original Japanese dialogue and political themes, and the recut American version, titled Godzilla: King of the Monsters! HBO Max made both films available for streaming, so feel free to do a side-by-side comparison and pick a favorite.
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine
Director(s): Patty Jenkins
Arguably the best DCEU film to date knew exactly when to make things light, when to take things seriously, and when to pause and allow a little breathing room–always difficult, especially when you’re making a movie about the princess of the Amazons. The trench scene, which director Patty Jenkins had to fight to keep in the movie, is perfection.
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Director(s): Paul Verhoeven
One of many dystopian movies inspired by a Philip K. Dick short story, Total Recall is about a man who discovers repressed memories of being a Mars agent, which means his entire domestic life and existence as a construction worker has been a lle. The movie received accolades for its visual effects at the time, and it’s received even more accolades for its themes and storytelling in the decades since.
Starring: Judith Hoag, Elias Koteas, Corey Feldman
Director(s): Steve Barron
It’s been over three decades, and there has yet to be a better, more impactful TMNT film than this one. The rubber, live-action suits still look better than any CGI, and it’s no wonder; they were made by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was one of Henson’s last major project before he died in 1990. Check out our Kevin Eastman-approved Easter egg roundup here.
Starring: Meiko Kaji
Director(s): Toshiya Fujita
A young girl trains to be a warrior to kill the men who raped her mother and destroyed her family. Starring singer Meiko Kaji, the film inspired both imitators and admirers. It was one of Quentin Tarantino’s main inspirations for Kill Bill; the O-Ren Ishii character demonstrates this most prominently.
Starring: Patrick Swayze, Keanu Reeves
Director(s): Kathryn Bigelow
The greatest surfing movie ever made stars Keanu Reeves as an undercover FBI agent, who infiltrates a robbery gang of surfers and befriends the gang’s leader. It is either a buddy film or a romantic drama, depending on how much you read between the lines.
Starring: Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman
Director(s): John Stevenson, Mark Osborne
An uncommonly good animated film with genuine respect for Chinese culture, Kung Fu Panda has incredible fight scenes and a deeper message than one might think at first glance. Two solid sequels followed, and Dreamworks confirmed the fourth entry in 2023.
Starring: Aaron Johnson, Nicholas Cage, Chloe Grace-Moretz
Director(s): Matthew Vaughn
As much a deconstruction of the superhero genre as it is a celebration of it, Kick-Ass is a crude, violent, and hilarious comedy. It made Chloe Grace-Moretz into a star, and a sequel, Kick-Ass 2, followed three years later.
Starring: Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena
Director(s): James Gunn
This is the far superior entry of the two Suicide Squad films. Directed by James Gunn, it’s the right amount of stylized, humorous, and over-the-top gory, and it depicts its broken antiheroes as three-dimensional individuals, worthy of both our respect and pity.
Starring: Hugo Weaving, Natalie Portman
Director(s): James McTeigue
Based on the Alan Moore comic of the same name, this movie lays its dystopian commentary on thick, but it’s moving nonetheless. It made the Guy Fawkes mask an iconic symbol of anarchy and rebellion, and features a faceless performance by Hugo Weaving that showcases the actor’s body language and ability to emote.
Starring: Will Smith
Director(s): Francis Lawrence
In this apocalyptic thriller, Will Smith plays Robert Neville, the last man alive in NYC, as he fends off vampire-like monsters with nothing but a dog and a rifle to keep him company. The opening scenes, of Robert hunting lions in Times Square, capture an eerie loneliness like no other.
Starring: Forest Whitaker
Director(s): Jim Jarmusch
A hidden gem from the late ’90s with a musical score composed by the RZA, this movie tells the story of Ghost Dog, a hit man who adheres to a samurai code via the Hagakure. Whitaker excels in his role, portraying (as he often does) an amoral man with vulnerability.