The Best Action Movies of 2023

Our picks for the best action of 2023 come from six different countries and include originals, sequels, and maybe even a monster movie?
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This article is part of our 2023 RewindFollow along as we explore the best action movies of 2023 from all around the world.

Action movies have always been something of a balm for me. The visceral thrills, the catharsis of good beating evil’s ass, the enjoyably over the top bad guys, the immensely satisfying underdog tales — action movies big and small, American and otherwise, old and new, they let you put the real world on hold to enjoy seeing wrongs righted at the end of a fist, a gun, a foot, or whatever else is within reach. Even “bad” action films can entertain, and that’s the beauty of the genre.

Of course, there’s more beauty to be found in the great ones, and 2023 has been exceptionally kind in that department by gifting action fans with a copious amount of bangers. The 15 action movies below are the best of the many, many that I’ve watched this year in theaters, at festivals, and on streaming. They represent six different countries and range from martial arts extravaganzas and assassin flicks to cop stories, revenge tales, and superhero journeys. Hell, there’s even a monster running amok below.

Now keep reading for a look at the 15 best action movies of 2023.

15. The Killer (USA)

Some will argue against the inclusion of David Fincher‘s latest feature, his first genre film since 2014’s Gone Girl, on a list celebrating the year’s best action films. And I get it. Not only does The Killer make the odd choice of reminding you right up front of one of cinema’s greatest action spectacles, John Woo’s The Killer (1989), while delivering a title sequence overflowing with murderous acts that never actually occur in the film, but it then spends the next two hours giving us very little actual action. So why’s it on this list? Well, for one, Fincher and writer Andrew Kevin Walker (Seven, 1995) craft something of a treatise on the preparation and expectation of action as our title character, Michael Fassbender‘s professional assassin, delivers voiceover and commentary on the job of murder. He talks about the importance of planning, discusses the mundane aspects of his own behavior and appearance, mentions the trajectory and bullet drop of sniper rifles, compares proximity kills with “Annie Oakley” jobs — he talks. A lot. It makes for a fascinating approach to the material, a methodical and often blackly humorous look at a profession and a film genre we know all too well via other movies, and the result is an atypical action joint that feels like the most interesting parts of IO Interactive’s popular Hitman game franchise brought to life. Which brings us to reason number two as to why The Killer has earned a spot on this list of 2023’s best action films. When the talking stops, when the internal monologues pause, Fincher delivers on his lead character’s lonely occupation. A lowkey getaway on a moped and some non-combative kills keep things engaging, but the film’s biggest action set-piece sees our “hero” go toe to toe with an aggressively big baddie in a wickedly brutal and violently choreographed brawl offering up four minutes of carnage and mayhem giving Fassbender his most intense workout since getting his ass kicked by Gina Carano in Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire (2011). If you require a high percentage of adrenaline, blood, and sweat in your action movies, then skip this one and move on down to any of the films below. But if you don’t mind taking a break from the genre’s usual elements, Fincher’s latest is something different done extremely right.

Available to stream on Netflix.

14. Kandahar (USA)

While Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant garnered more critical praise this year for its tangentially similar plot, director Ric Roman Waugh and his muse Gerard Butler carry their own weight and deliver a lower-profiled banger about honor, character, and instinctual improvisation on the battlefield. Butler is in his gritty and gruffy mode as a US operative trying desperately to escape Afghanistan with his interpreter in tow, and the film affords him more than a few moments to shine. Butler has a teen daughter back in the States who he’s trying to return to, and he finds the emotion to make that compelling enough even if he’s outshined by Navid Negahban‘s Mo, the interpreter whose “mission” is every bit as timely (and sets things up nicely for a sequel?) That said, the film’s real strength comes in some solid action sequences that manage a few things we really don’t see enough of in the genre these days. Yes, most of it involves running and gunning, but in addition to a stellar motorcycle dismount (speaking of running and gunning…), we’re also treated to a set-piece involving night vision goggles and automatic weapons as our protagonists are hunted from a helicopter overhead. This is a B-movie through and through, and there’s not an ounce of shame in that label.

Available to stream and on home video.

13. The Comeback (China)

The first of two direct-to-video action joints from China is as messy as they come with a jumbled structure and a whole lot of nonsense in its narrative, but this is a list celebrating action movies… and on that front? This is the good stuff. Simon Yam is an old man with a past, Yuen Wah is an older man with a past, and Andy On is the head of a stylish (government?) assassin squad — and the fact that those three Hong Kong action stalwarts are headlining a film in the year 2023 already makes this worthwhile. A plot recap is a waste of time (and I’d be lying if I said I would definitely get it right anyway), so just know that the action is plentiful, bloody, and stylish with explosive gun battles and creative fight scenes. We get dual-wielding, drone antics, a laser lariat (?), hardware wars, and more, and it’s never even remotely boring. Nonsensical, yes, but boring? Nope.

Available to stream on iQIYI.

12. Godzilla: Minus One (Japan)

Takashi Yamazaki‘s latest feature is the rarest of breeds in that it deserves a spot on nearly every year-end list we could consider for 2023. Best film, best horror, best non-English, best sci-fi, best tearjerker… and obviously (given its appearance here), best action. The film opens during World War II as a Japanese pilot trained for kamikaze duties chooses life instead. That choice leads to an encounter with a young Godzilla, and years later, the much larger beast returns to wreak havoc on coastal communities. Fighter planes strafe, naval ships fire cannons, and the big guy absolutely demolishes buildings, people, and everything else in his path. At just over two hours, we get a bit more character work and drama than Godzilla antics — a good thing as we actually care about these people — but the film never leaves viewers wanting carnage for long without ramping up the action with the pissed off lizard going ham on humankind. He’s a deadly beast on land, but in the ocean? He’s absolutely terrifying and a threat to anything and everything that you mistake for safety.

Available in theaters.

11. Sisu (Finland)

The action genre, more than any other, makes frequent use of the most basic of premises. One of the most common sees a villain commit some act and then our hero stand up, strike back, and/or get revenge. Jalmari Helander‘s latest is as straightforward as it gets — a necessity after his long-gestating sci-fi epic was put on hold during the pandemic — and is ultimately one ninety-minute chase. A man strikes gold deep in Lapland only to see a passing squad of Nazis steal his booty and leave him for dead. Unfortunately for them, they’ve fucked up and they’re about to find out how badly. The film’s protagonist, played by Rare ExportsJorma Tommila, is a John Wick-like character, a man with incredible skills and a singular focus to aim them towards. He’s mostly silent and instead lets his actions do the talking, and those actions see him shooting, stabbing, burning, mutilating, running over, and otherwise making absolute wrecks of the bad guys. And it sure doesn’t hurt that those baddies are Nazis, because who doesn’t like seeing those fuckers get their asses handed to them. Sisu is ultimately the ideal action film for when you want to turn off your brain, settle in for some wonderfully gory violence, and find yourself immensely satisfied when the end credits roll.

Available to stream and on home video.

10. The Equalizer 3 (USA)

The argument can be made that Denzel Washington is not only one of the greatest American actors but also one of the last remaining movie stars. He’s also the kind of talent who enjoys challenging dramatic work as much as he does entertaining action/genre fare, and one of the highlights on that latter half of his career has been The Equalizer franchise. Washington’s only foray into sequels, all with director Antoine Fuqua, has given us three fantastic action flicks giving new life to the popular Edward Woodward-led series from the 80s. He plays an ex-military man named Robert McCall who spends his retirement helping out people in need, typically those who’ve been seriously wronged, and the result is always a lot of baddies winding up in body bags. I’m probably in the minority here, but each of these movies has been better than the last, meaning the third entry is the best one yet. McCall heads to a beautiful seaside town in Italy for some much needed relaxation, but when he discovers his new friends are being harassed, brutalized, and even murdered by the local mafia, he sees no option but to do what he does best. The action here is visceral, exciting, and highly cathartic, and there’s an extra thrill watching an actor of Washington’s caliber dishing out the bloody pain. One of the big draws, specifically for this entry in the trilogy, is the locale as the town and its oceanside visuals are never less than stunning, and paired with Washington’s performance offer up the feel of a modern-day western. It’s a rare backdrop for gun fights and brutality, beauty and ugliness mashed together into attractive genre thrills, and I absolutely can’t wait until Washington and Fuqua reunite for part four.

Available to stream and on home video.

9. The Roundup: No Way Out (South Korea)

No one probably expected all that much from 2017’s The Outlaws, a solid little action picture about South Korean cops battling Chinese gangsters, but a belated sequel in 2022 changed all that. The Roundup brought the police squad back for more crimefighting antics and improved upon the first, and this year’s sequel ups their game in some ways even more. The secret ingredient across all three films (and the recently announced fourth entry slated for 2024) is the presence of the terrifically charismatic Ma Dong-seok (aka Don Lee) as the lead detective. All of the films feature gun play, but the highlight is always Ma busting loose and busting bones with his big, meaty paws. He’s a brawler — you won’t see him breaking out fancy martial arts moves — and the pummeling he unleashes is never less than entertaining and satisfying. To that point, his “boxing” feels improved this time out as his hit choices and defensive bobbing are more varied which keeps the fights from ever growing stale, and the end result is a fun, uncomplicated tale of bad guys being served justice in the form of knuckle sandwiches.

Available to stream and on home video.

Keep reading for the top 8 action movies of 2023!

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Rob Hunter: Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.