Netflix Top 10: Critically-Acclaimed Gritty Action & Adventure

You’ve got to love Netflix’s crazy specific categories. Here are the ten best movies in the streaming service’s Critically-Acclaimed Gritty Action & Adventure category:

10. Zulu (1964)

Plot Summary: 140 British soldiers, cut off from the rest of the British army, learn that a 4,000 man strong Zulu army will be descending on them. With no means of of escape they prepare for a battle for which they can foresee no victory. Based on a true story.

Zulu is one of the great finds on Netflix, a movie few have seen and you would never have found at Blockbuster when that was the way we found older movies. This was Michael Cain’s breakout part in a supporting role as one of the younger officers. The movie is a grittier, less stylized version of 300 (or maybe the other way around). It’s grittiness isn’t in how graphic it is but rather in how raw the whole film feels.

9. F/X (1986)

Plot Summary: A hollywood master of special effects is enlisted to stage a fake murder of a government witness and afterward gets sucked into a conspiracy.

Bryan Brown was red hot in 1986 (he was actually considered THE Australian star at the time, until Lethal Weapon came out a year later) coming off The Thornbirds (if you are under 30 you don’t know how big mini series were back then). This was his first big movie, which didn’t do as well as it should have. The title isn’t great and the hook seems silly but the movie itself is really entertaining. Having said that, this movie is in no way gritty so I don’t think Netflix really categorized it correctly.

8. John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

Plot Summary: After the LA police kill several gang members the gangs unite and vow revenge. Their plan is to attack a local police station which is closing due to budget cuts and mostly abandoned. The skeleton police force inside enlist the criminals in their cells to fight off wave after wave of gang members.

I would say forget the remake starring Ethan Hawke from a few years ago, but it was pretty good. John Carpenter’s original is still better. Knowing who made it and seeing the plot summary you should have a clear image of what this movie is, and if you don’t this likely isn’t the movie for you.

7. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

Plot Summary: Armed men take over a subway train in New York City and hold the train’s passengers hostage demanding ransom.

Again, I would love to kill the remake with Travolta and Denzel, but it wasn’t bad, just not as good as the original starring Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw. This movie is all about the two leads (frankly, as was the remake) and you really can’t do much better than those two guys. Matthau in particular is really funny as the transit cop in charge of the crisis. How good is this movie? Well, Tarantino made homages to it in Reservoir Dogs (the whole Mr. Green, Mr. Blue thing came from this movie).

6. Election (2005)

Plot Summary: Rival gang leaders are in the midst of a power struggle to see who will become the new chairman of Hong Kong’s Triad society.

Look, I am a sucker for Hong Kong cinema (a fact that will be made more evident in a moment). It is stylized and weird and violent is a way that is at once graphic and surreal and genuine to a film that is never trying to depict reality. The pacing is different, the fighting is different, the storytelling is different and all of those differences can take some people out of the movie but for me it draws me in. This is a really cool Hong Kong gangster movie (and they made a sequel too) that if you like John Woo movies you will really enjoy.

5. Ong-Bak (2003)

Plot Summary: It doesn’t much matter because it is all simply an excuse for fight scenes, but basically a kid from a small village in Thailand goes to Bangkok to find the stolen head of a sacred statue.

Tony Jaa is the most entertaining on screen martial artist since a young Jet Li (I mean Jet Li from 20 years ago, before he came to hollywood). Like all classic martial arts movies this is all about the fight scenes and there are a lot and they are amazing. The movie has produced two sequels (both really fun) and I hope it produces a fourth.

4. A Better Tomorrow (1986)

Plot Summary: A reformed gangster attempts to reconnect with his policeman brother and learns his ties to his old life aren’t that easy to break.

I am going to be honest about something here, they remade this movie a few years back in Korea and there is a possibility that it was the Korean version that was on Netflix. Why don’t I just check? Because if it is the Korean version then I wouldn’t get to write about the first Chow Yun-Fat/John Woo collaboration. I actually lived in Hong Kong in 1986 when this movie came out and it was all people could talk about. This was the beginning of the stylized, cool, Hong Kong shoot ’em up that has become so copied. Don’t get me wrong, The Killer and Hard Boiled are both probably better movies but this one is still really good.

3. Jackie Brown (1997)

Plot Summary: A stewardess enlists the help of a bail bondsmen to steal a lot of money from a gun runner while the ATF watches their every move.

Somehow this movie always seems to get forgotten about or too rapidly dismissed when people talk about Tarantino’s filmography. I never have been able to figure out why. Is it Pulp Fiction? No, but what is? This movie is a lot of fun and Pam Grier and Robert Foster are terrific as a pair of world worn people figuring their way through some tricky situations. Besides, Tarantino may like Hong Kong cinema even more than me, so I have to give him props whenever I can.

2. Thief (1981)

Plot Summary: A safecracker who wants nothing more than to make enough money to retire and lead a “normal” life decides to do one last big score for the mob. It turns out the mob has other plans.

James Caan is so good as Frank the safecracker. This is one of Michael Mann’s earlier directorial efforts, even pre-Miami Vice. You can see his heavily stylized eye throughout, but what you can also see is the way he patiently builds tension and almost admires “professional” thieves (a feeling you get when you watch Heat as well). Really cool movie throughout.

1. True Grit (2010)

Plot Summary: A young girl enlists the help of an old Marshal to track down the man who killed her father.

You almost forget this was a Coen brothers movie. This is one of those flicks that everyone loved, then the love went too far so their was a bit of a backlash, and now it has settled into a weird state where it’s like people aren’t sure if it was great or just good, it was great.

Conclusion

A good category by Netflix with some really good movies. It was fun to remember Zulu (I must have gone 25 years between viewing of that movie, maybe more) and A Better Tomorrow and I love the fact that some of the great 70’s action flicks have found a home again. Check these movies out, you wont be disappointed.

But hey, what do I know? I’m fat.