The best action movies of the year so far – Polygon

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The action genre had a fantastic 2023, with strong new entries in banner franchises and exciting one-off movies from creators established and upcoming alike.
If the first few months are any indication, 2024 is picking up where its predecessor left off. Nations around the globe have already contributed stellar entries to the genre, with big-budget spectacle and clinical low-budget projects alike providing the joys of hard-hitting action.
Here are the best action movies of 2024 so far. This list will continue to be updated throughout the year, and will be sorted in reverse chronological order, so the newest movies always show up first.
Where to watch: For digital rental or purchase on Amazon, Apple TV, and Vudu on March 12

An eccentric meta actioner with blistering fight choreography, One Percenter (also known as One Percent Warrior) is one of the most offbeat entries of the year. Real-life cult action hero Tak Sakaguchi (Versus) stars as a character who is pretty straightforwardly a version of himself: Takuma Toshiro, a self-serious action star who has invented his own martial arts technique and had a cult hit some years ago. One Percenter is about Toshiro’s quest to make a “pure action” movie — he’s tired of the genre feeling like dance, and desires something a little more dangerous. While on location for an indie project, he runs across a yakuza dispute, which is the perfect opportunity for him to get some footage for his movie. So Toshiro takes down scores of gangsters with his Wave technique, dodging bullets and unloading on some poor fools.
Sakaguchi, a former underground street fighter who is one of the most peculiar action stars of his generation, is hypnotic as Toshiro, using his Wave technique to great effect. The pairing of Sakaguchi with fight choreographer Kensuke Sonomura (Baby Assassins), perhaps the best in the business at what he does, is a dream. The two have paired up a few times, most recently in the very good Bad City, and it’s a joy to watch their talents work together once again.
One Percenter gets a little too caught up in narrative tricks toward the end, but it’s a fun time for fans of the genre that has an all-time pairing of star plus choreographer (and an extended fight scene using just a flashlight that sees Sonomura once again break ground in cinematic expression through action).
Where to watch: Netflix

There are few joys in life as consistent as Ma Dong-seok hitting the hell out of some dudes.
A bizarre sequel (tonally) to the much more serious drama Concrete Utopia, Badland Hunters takes place in a post-earthquake apocalypse, where a group of survivors try to rescue a kidnapped teen from a mad scientist.
Badland Hunters may not reach the high highs of Ma’s Roundup movies, but it’s a very fun piece of genre filmmaking that puts the burly action star in the middle of a sci-fi scenario and lets him do his thing. Directed by former stunt coordinator Heo Myeong-haeng (who directed the fourth Roundup movie), Badland Hunters has solid action scenes with satisfyingly different fight styles for the three core protagonists. But the star of the show, as always, is Ma and his burly fists. Wherever they go, I will follow.
Where to watch: Netflix

An under-the-radar movie from Germany, Sixty Minutes has a game cast, a tight script, and an appealing gimmick.
As he’s about to step in the ring for his next big bout, professional fighter Octavio (former German national karate champion Emilio Sakraya) finds out that if he doesn’t make it to his ex-wife’s house in the next 60 minutes, she will file for sole custody of their daughter. He decides to flake on his fight and just book it there, angering elements of the criminal underworld who had big money on him to win. The movie takes place in real time over those 60 minutes, as he runs and fights his way across Berlin to his daughter (and essentially tries to run away from the movie he’s in).
Sakraya excels in the role, in a true star-making performance. He’s able to get across that Octavio has been an absent father — this ultimatum does not come out of nowhere — but that he truly cares for his daughter and has now decided he would do anything for her. He’s also a terrific fighter, and while Sixty Minutes occasionally cuts up the fight scenes too much for my liking, the choreo is strong and Sakraya still delivers in those moments.
Where to watch: For digital rental or purchase on Amazon, Apple TV, and Vudu

In 2021, director James Nunn and star Scott Adkins combined for an experimental action movie, One Shot. It combined the one-take gimmick from movies like Birdman and 1917 (note: One Shot was written before 1917, but came out after) with the post-John Wick wave of tactical action movies, all in a thrilling package that looked absolutely exhausting for its star. So, of course, they returned to do it again three years later, and this time did it even better.
One More Shot’s best change from the original is its setting. The first was set in a Guantanamo-style military prison — an environment that made sense for the movie, but was pretty drab, all things considered. One More Shot was able to shoot in a real international airport, bringing an instant familiarity of the environment to audiences and allowing for even more confident use of the gimmick and real-time traveling around the space.
Adkins is terrific once again, as the movie makes the most of his considerable skills as an actor and athlete, and this time action legends Michael Jai White and Tom Berenger join him in the cast. But the best fight is between Adkins and Aaron Toney (Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther stunt man) on a moving train that was actually traveling at 30 miles per hour. It makes fantastic use of the space, especially the train poles, as tools of movement and violence. Like much of the rest of the movie, the realness is tangible, and helps the whole experience shine.
Where to watch: For digital rental or purchase on Amazon, Apple TV, and Vudu

David Ayer brought back the tongue-in-cheek late-’80s/early-’90s actioner with The Beekeeper, an absolutely ludicrous, over-the-top Jason Statham vehicle seemingly designed for the star to deliver bee-themed one-liner after bee-themed one-liner.
If it was just Statham’s charisma, the silly bee hijinks, and the golden-hued cinematography (Ayer told Polygon it was meant to invoke honey), that would have been enough for The Beekeeper to make this list. But the movie went ahead and hired Jeremy Marinas (John Wick: Chapter Four) to direct the second unit and choreograph the fight sequences. He’s one of the very best in the business, and helps bring The Beekeeper up into that next echelon of action movies with fast-paced choreography that makes great use of props. Buzz buzz, join the hive.
Where to watch: For digital rental or purchase on Amazon, Apple TV, and Vudu

A brutal master class in how to choreograph and frame action from some of the minds behind Gangs of London, the French thriller Mayhem! (also known as Farang) is a can’t-miss experience for fans of the action genre.
A revenge thriller about a working-class fighter (former French national kickboxing champion Nassim Lyes) hoping to avenge the loss of a loved one at the hands of some unsavory individuals, Mayhem! distinguishes itself from other similar narratives by adding details and desires to its characters’ lives.
But Mayhem! really excels in the fight sequences. Second unit director and fight choreographer Jude Poyer comes from the Gareth Evans school of motivated camera movement (Poyer worked with Evans on Gangs of London), using the camera in concert with the choreography to bolster the impact of each blow. Add in a high-caliber fighter like Lyes and one of the greatest elevator fight scenes of all time, and a new action classic has officially been minted.
Where to watch: Awaiting digital release

All three movies in director Kim Han-min’s trilogy about legendary Korean admiral Yi Sun-sin are fairly dense historical dramas. But they succeed because of the attention to detail in their intense naval battles and top-notch production design in period work. Noryang: Deadly Sea, the final movie in the series, is no exception.
Each of the three movies has had a different notable Korean star play Admiral Yi — this time, it’s Kim Yoon-seok (Escape from Mogadishu), following the lead of Choi Min-sik (Oldboy) and Park Hae-il (Decision to Leave) from the first two. All three are very capable of bringing the hardheaded but brilliant Admiral Yi to life, but these movies really shine when they take a step back to show naval tactics.
The battle sequences are occasionally shown from a bird’s-eye view to better get across the tactics from both sides, which is thrilling. When you add in measured use of one-take sequences that bring out the carnage of war, these movies do a great job of showing the combination of deep calculation and chaos inherent to these battles. And you better be in for that if you watch these movies: The last 90 minutes of Noryang is essentially one long naval battle.
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