2023 is half over, and the only guarantee in life remains that we all have to die sometime. That’s something that action movies have always understood, so it’s fitting that this year — even though we’re only at the midway point — has already been a real banger for the genre. The eight films below are currently the best action films released in the US from January through June (or at least the best that I’ve seen). There’s no guarantee that they’ll still make the cut at the end of 2023, but for now at least, these are the movies to watch if you crave highly entertaining and beautifully crafted fights, stunts, and visceral conflicts.
Keep reading for an alphabetical look at the best action movies of 2023, so far.
Alban Lenoir should already be a name familiar to fans of excellent action as the star of both Lost Bullet (2020) and Lost Bullet 2: Back for More (2022). While those films focused much of the action on the vehicular side of things, Lenoir’s latest is a bloodied and bruised tale that hews closer to something like Tony Scott’s Man on Fire (2004). AKA stars Lenoir as a special ops agent who goes undercover to bring down a violent criminal only to find himself taking on a protector role for the man’s young son. The guy is a brooding beast capable of delivering beatdowns, and the film balances him with compassion and fist-pumping themes about standing up to bullies for those who can’t. Some viewers have claimed (incorrectly) that it can’t quite decide what it wants to be, but that’s dumb — it wants to a highly satisfying action flick, and it succeeds. Director Morgan S. Dalibert makes his debut here after being cinematographer on the Lost Bullet Films, so you already know you’re in good hands (and eyes).
AKA is currently streaming on Netflix.
Extraction 2 (USA)
In a year that didn’t see the return of John Wick (and possibly Ethan Hunt), Sam Hargraves’ sequel to his own Netflix hit would probably be sitting pretty as the year’s absolute best action film. That said, Extraction 2 might yet still take the top prize as we sit with it and the others over the remaining six months. What’s clear now is that the movie absolutely rips from start to finish. Chris Hemsworth proves himself again to be a legitimate action star through all manner of fist fights, brawls, gun battles, car chases, and more — the dude even fights a helicopter from a moving train at one point. The much-ballyhooed “oner” is the film’s showstopper guaranteed to leave people talking as it runs over twenty minutes, from a prison riot to a car chase to a train battle, and is just filled with spectacle and thrills. Just as impressive for my money, though, is a later set-piece that sees a high-rise coming under attack by terrorists. It’s all a magical ride, though, even up to the ending that teases more to come.
Extraction 2 is currently streaming on Netflix.
Like Lenoir above, Veronica Ngo should be a familiar name to action fans as the star of great flicks like Clash (2009), Furie (2019), and The Princess (2022). That middle film gets a (tenuous) prequel with Furies, and Ngo both stars and directs while giving the spotlight to three newcomers. Ngo plays a woman who brings together three mistreated and maligned young women, trains them in deadly arts, and then uses them to exact revenge on a gang known for trafficking women. It’s a mean, brutal, messy film, but Ngo finds beauty in the relationships, neon lighting, and stylized approach mitigated by a low budget. One sequence in particular shifts visual gears in dramatic fashion, and while it will turn some viewers off, it works to create a dreamy haze of bloodletting and chaos. What it lacks in narrative coherence and control, it makes up for it with heart and ass-kicking.
Furies is currently streaming on Netflix.
John Wick: Chapter 4 (USA)
Has any action franchise been as linear and condensed (timewise) with its narrative as the John Wick films? It’s wild that a straight line can still be drawn between the killing of Wick’s dog and his current quest for redemption within the world he tried to leave behind. Anyway, this nearly three-hour masterpiece of genre cinema delivers a relentless series of gun fights, martial arts battles, and stunts, all set against beautiful locales with gorgeous production design. It is exquisite, top to bottom, and while Keanu Reeves headlines he graciously shares the screen with a stellar supporting cast. Everyone shines, including newcomer Rina Sawayama and the legend that is Scott Adkins (honoring another legend with his nod to Sammo Hung), but prepare to fall in love with Donnie Yen all over again. Some have complained that there’s “too much” action here, but that’s blasphemous nonsense. There’s a stairway fight here that I could have watched for another hour!
John Wick: Chapter 4 is currently available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD.
Kill Boksoon (South Korea)
Say what you will about Netflix, and believe me, I have, the streamer often delivers when it comes to action movies. Get past their high profile duds (Red Notice, 2021; The Man from Toronto, 2022), and you’ll find some real bangers as evidenced by the first three titles above and this gem from South Korea. Jeon Do-yeon plays the title role as a highly skilled assassin who might just be at her breaking point. Double crosses, motherhood drama, elaborate fight sequences, and the politics of corporate killings all collide for a highly satisfying time. Some might want more action in a two-hour movie, but there’s more than enough here, and it rocks. The black comedy and interpersonal relationships — between Boksoon and her teenage daughter and with her ex-lover/current boss at the assassination society — make for compelling turns and beats in between the beatdowns.
Kill Boksoon is currently streaming on Netflix.
Indian action cinema received a shot in the arm last year thanks to the release of S.S. Rajamouli’s genre masterpiece, RRR. It was an eye-opener for some as to the nation’s steady drip of reliably entertaining action pictures that deliver intoxicating blends of action, excess, musical numbers, and male bonding. Four years after Siddharth Anand’s fantastically fun War, the director is back with another blast of super spies, geopolitical intrigue, slow-mo gun shows, and more. These are films that embrace the use of CG just as much as Hollywood blockbusters, but it feels more pure and less cynical somehow? There’s an exuberance to Pathaan, even as it dips into dark subjects, and it’s clear the singular goal here is the beauty of popcorn perfection guaranteed to leave you smiling throughout with set-pieces jumping equally between the impressive and the ridiculous.
Pathaan is currently streaming on Prime.
The Roundup: No Way Out (South Korea)
While Hollywood is home to endless franchises, other countries have found their own successes worth continuing too. One of the great ongoing film series got a third entry this year, and star Ma Dong-seok (aka Don Lee) returns with it. Ma plays a tough, bull in a China shop-kind of cop who’s more likely to pummel baddies into submission than shoot or arrest them. While not quite as focused on its characters as last year’s The Roundup, No Way Out still shines when it comes to the beatdowns and brutally entertaining charisma that Ma delivers at every turn. It’s the kind of fun, light, action-forward film that offers up a good time from start to finish, and sometimes that’s all you really need.
The Roundup: No Way Out is currently available on VOD.
From The Wrath of Becky to the new Indiana Jones, 2023’s been pretty great for fans of watching Nazis get the ever-loving snot beat out of them. We can now add this Finnish blast to the mix as it spins a one-note setup into pure gold. A man panning for gold gets lucky, but before he can cash it in, some Nazis steal it and try to leave him for dead. Fools. It kicks off a film-length chase with our hero slaughtering the thieves by any and all means available, and writer/director Jalmari Helander (Rare Exports, 2010) ensures all ninety minutes of it are engrossing, entertaining, and exciting thanks to an energetic and creative visual flair. Our hero barely says a word, but Jorma Tommila’s face says it all. This is the kind of action movie that’ll have you cheering more than once all the way through to the killer finale.
Sisu is currently available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD.
Honorable mentions: The Childe, The Covenant, The Fist of the Condor, Kandahar, Plane, Sakra