Entertainment

The Best Action Movies of 2018

aquaman movie
Aquaman | Warner Brothers
Aquaman | Warner Brothers
Nostalgia is great and all, but it's a new year! When you're done here, check out our constantly updating list of the best movies of 2019 and the best action movies of 2019

Despite the range of fiery, computer-generated explosions on display at your local multiplex, this is a peculiar historical moment for the action movie. As major studios increasingly devote their resources to spectacle-filled comic book tentpoles like Avengers: Infinity War or sci-fi extravaganzas like Ready Player One, the more grounded punch-fest has become a specialized commodity for fans who keep track of streaming debuts, OnDemand releases, and the latest international exports. It's a solid, creatively rich time for action movies. You just need to know where to find them.

Hopefully, the list below is a helpful guide to what you may have missed in 2018. As you'll soon find out, we consider the "action movie" to be an elastic concept that can be stretched to encompass genre-blurring stories that some might also describe as thrillers, spy dramas, superhero movies, buddy comedies, or horror films. What makes them action movies? Well, they're on this list.

Deadpool movie
20th Century Fox

23. Deadpool 2

Released: May 18
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, Julian Dennison, Zazie Beetz
Director: David Leitch (Atomic Blonde)
Why it’s great: There's an obnoxious aside in Deadpool 2, the latest chapter in the ultra-violent (and ultra-smarmy) X-Men spin-off series, where Ryan Reynolds's red suit-wearing anti-hero turns to the audience and says there's a "big CGI fight scene coming up." He's not kidding -- the Russian tin man Colossus brawls for a while with an animated villain I won't reveal here -- and that's the irritating part of the gag: The filmmakers are just acknowledging a cliché instead of upending it! In the first Deadpool movie, the comedic "too much-ness" of the character was often used to cover up some perfunctory, uninspired action sequences. Luckily, the sequel, which centers around Deadpool's efforts to save young Firefist (Dennison) from the clutches of badass time traveler Cable (Brolin), delivers sharper one-liners and more dynamic set-pieces, including a bloody X-Force raid that turns into a Rube Goldberg-like show-stopper for the luck-prone Domino (Zazie Beetz). The CGI battles, meta winks, and constant pop culture references can be exhausting, but there's an entertaining 90-minute Shane Black-ish comic book movie lurking beneath all the clutter.
Where to see it right now: Rent on Amazon, iTunes, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

final score movie
Altitude Film Distribution

22. Final Score

Released: September 14
Cast: Dave Bautista, Pierce Brosnan, Ray Stevenson, Alexandra Dinu
Director: Scott Mann (Heist)
Why it’s great: In the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, where he plays the hulking alien creature Drax, Dave Bautista projects an endearing combination of toughness and sensitivity. It's a quality that extends to the former pro wrestler's gruff but self-aware public persona, and it can also be found in this enjoyable VOD potboiler that should just be called "Die Hard in a soccer stadium." As ex-military hero Michael Knox, Bautista gets to fire a gun, beat up bad guys, and, in one gleefully ludicrous sequence, ride a motorcycle on the roof of the building without anyone in the crowd noticing. The plot is needlessly dense -- the main villain (Stevenson) is searching the arena for his brother, a political dissident who faked his death, got facial reconstruction surgery, grew a beard, and now looks like Pierce Brosnan -- but the low-budget action is effective and Bautista is charismatic. Compared to the studied bloat of Dwayne Johnson's recent Die Hard tribute Skyscraper, Final Score has a scrappy, walk-through-glass charm that John McClane could appreciate.
Where to see it right now: Rent on Amazon, iTunes, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

venom movie
Sony Pictures

21. Venom

Released: October 5
Cast: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze
Director: Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland)
Why it’s great: Tom Hardy is a magician. There's no other explanation for how he could transform what should've been a completely perfunctory origin story for a convoluted Spider-Man villain into such delirious, brain-killing kitsch. Playing both Eddie Brock, a San Francisco-based activist-journalist who works for a VICE-like outlet, and the titular Venom, a (very hungry) Symbiote creature with a giant tongue, Hardy infects every scene with Brando-ey tics and Looney Tunes physical comedy. Like this year's slick Cronenberg riff Upgrade, it's a movie about the divide between the mind and the body. Even if the action scenes are mostly forgettable and joyless, the connective tissue pulsates with the the junk food energy that you'd expect from a movie that closes with a late-period Eminem song over the end credits. Venom is merely the host; Hardy is the disease.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

overlord
Paramount Pictures

20. Overlord

Released: November 9
Cast: Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier, Pilou Asbæk
Director:Julius Avery (Son of a Gun)
Why it’s great: A movie that was initially rumored to be a part of the ever-expanding Cloverfield universe, Overlord ended up being a neat, brisk stand-alone feature unencumbered by ties to a pre-existing property or pre-established franchise. Crazy, right? That doesn't mean the plot was terribly original -- the story of a paratrooper (Adepo) falling behind enemy lines during WWII and discovering a secret Nazi science project feels like a mix of Indiana Jones, John Carpenter, and any number of first-person shooter games -- but the practical effects, the wry performances, and the tense confrontations were properly calibrated to entertain a crowd of rowdy moviegoers on a Friday night. It's certainly not a perfect movie, but it knows how to singe your eyebrows off when it counts.
Where to see it right now: In theaters (watch the trailer)

hunter killer
Lionsgate

19. Hunter Killer

Released: October 26
Cast: Gerard Butler, Gary Oldman, Common, Linda Cardellini
Director: Donovan Marsh (Avenged)
Why it’s great: With its emphasis on chess-like strategy and closed-quarters suspense, the submarine thriller is an odd fit for Gerard Butler, a baroque action hero who often excels on open battlefields littered with hollering opponents to mow down. Though the 300 star tampers down some of his yell-ier tendencies here to play Captain Joe Glass, the story around him is appropriately waterlogged with globe-trotting conflicts and puzzling geopolitics: Besides following the action on the boat, which is stranded in Russian waters after a rescue mission, the plot pings between hostile strategy sessions in the Situation Room and bullet-ridden rescue missions on the ground in Russia. (At one point, the Americans must kidnap the film's fictional Russian President to prevent a military coup.) A piece of unapologetic military propaganda with a warped relationship to reality, Hunter Killer feels like the answer to an unstated hypothetical question: What if an industrious computer scientist designed a Tom Clancy bot and asked it to write a screenplay culled from cable news chyrons? It'd probably turn out like this.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer

Beirut movie
Bleecker Street

18. Beirut

Released: April 11
Cast: Jon Hamm, Rosamund Pike, Dean Norris, Shea Whigham
Director: Brad Anderson (The Machinist)
Why it's great: This is a film made by seasoned professionals. Anderson is a big screen and TV veteran, and the movie's screenwriter, Tony Gilroy, was responsible for Michael Clayton and the best entries in the Bourne series. The script for the 1980s-set Beirut, which follows a former US diplomat (Hamm) as he gets pulled back to Lebanon by shady intelligence officials to handle a tense hostage situation, was actually written in the early '90s and sat on the shelf for ages. (If it feels like a vintage Blockbuster rental, that's why.) The film's politics are often glib and reductive -- it doesn't have a keen interest in the Lebanese people or the history of the region -- but, if you like spycraft stories in the vein of John le Carré's work, this is a briskly paced, occasionally clever thriller featuring a winning performance from Hamm, who has struggled to find the right star vehicle since the end of Mad Men. His character is a familiar type: a wounded, hard-drinking negotiator who can talk himself out of any situation. He's only slightly less morally compromised than the CIA sharks he swims with. The pleasure comes from hearing Hamm turn Gilroy's cynical, punchy dialogue into a sales pitch. 
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

tomb raider
Warner Brothers

17. Tomb Raider

Released: March 16
Cast: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu
Director: Roar Uthaug (The Wave)
Why it’s great: Not enough modern action movies have lengthy sequences where scrappy adventurers face down certain death as they rush to solve elaborate puzzles. It's a problem. Luckily, Tomb Raider, the latest cinematic reboot of the long-running video game series centered around the gun-toting Lara Croft (played by Vikander here), has plenty of those scenes, along with a range of fun, thrilling, and invigorating non-puzzle detours. There's a heart-pounding bicycle race through the streets of London, a disaster-movie worthy shipwreck on the high seas, a gravity-defying escape from an old plane perched on a waterfall, and a MMA-style brawl on a ladder strewn across a giant cliff-like hole. Does the melodrama connecting these set-pieces totally work? Not really -- a second-act twist involving a bearded Dominic West is both predictable and baffling -- but Vikander sells the preposterous plot with the same Oscar-winning gusto she brings to pondering ancient riddles. Maybe next time they'll crack the whole code.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

den of thieves
STX Films

16. Den of Thieves

Released: January 19
Cast: Gerard Butler, Pablo Schreiber, O'Shea Jackson Jr., Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson
Director: Christian Gudegast
Why it’s great: If there's one thing you've probably heard about this often ridiculous bank robbery epic, it's that it steals shamelessly from Michael Mann's crime saga Heat. The broad plot elements are similar: There's a team of highly-efficient criminals led by a former Marine (Schreiber) and they must contend with a obsessive, possibly unhinged cop (Butler) over the movie's lengthy 140 minute runtime. What makes Den of Thieves oddly fascinating is that it feels like a bootleg t-shirt you'd buy for a band outside the venue, all garish and unconcerned with matters of good taste. A screenwriter helming a feature for the first time, Gudegast is not in the same league as Mann as a filmmaker and Butler, sporting unflattering tattoos and a barrel-like gut, is hardly Al Pacino. But everyone is really going for it here, attempting to squeeze every ounce of Muscle Milk from the bottle. You might respect the hustle.
Where to see it right now: Rent on Amazon, iTunes, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

spider-man into the spider-verse
Sony Pictures

15. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Released: December 14
Cast: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali
Directors: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman
Why It's Great: In this shrewd twist on the superhero genre, the audience's familiarity with the origin story of your friendly neighborhood web-slinger -- the character has already starred in three different blockbuster franchises, in addition to countless comics and cartoon TV adaptations -- is used as an asset instead of a liability. The relatively straight-forward coming-of-age tale of Miles Morales, a Brooklyn teenager who takes on the powers and responsibilities of Spider-Man following the death of Peter Parker, gets a remix built around an increasingly absurd parallel dimension plotline that introduces a cast of other Spider-Heroes like Spider-Woman (Steinfeld), Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), Peni Parker (Kimiko Glen), and, most ridiculously, Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), a talking pig in a Spider-Suit. The convoluted set-up is mostly an excuse to cram the movie with rapid-fire jokes, comic book allusions, and dream-like imagery that puts the rubbery CG imagery of most contemporary animated films to shame. It can be exhausting, particularly in some of the drawn-out action beats, but the unchecked imagination on display is enough to keep the spider-senses tingling.
Where to see it right now: Rent on Amazon, iTunes, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

upgrade movie
BH/Tilt

14. Upgrade

Released: June 2
Cast: Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel, Harrison Gilbertson, Benedict Hardie
Director: Leigh Whannell (Insidious: Chapter 3)
Why it’s great: As the writer behind first Saw movie and the Insidious series, Whannell has proven he knows how to dish out gruesome twists and find tension in spooky places. Upgrade, a thriller about a mechanic (Marshall-Green) implanted with a chatty microchip in his brain following a tragic accident, finds the filmmaker adding a bit of John Carpenter-esque social commentary to the mix, along with a healthy dose of Terminator-style action mayhem. The revenge aspect of the story is one-note and familiar -- Death Wish and John Wick cover similar territory -- but Marshall-Green's lead performance is darkly funny and he brings a startling degree of vulnerability to the role. When the microchip takes control of his body, his limbs flail about like they're being pulled by a digital puppet-master and the movie discovers a mischievously absurd tone. The shifts between Silicon Valley satire and body horror can be jarring, but it makes sense that a project this tricky would have a few bugs built into it.  
Where to see it right now: Rent on Amazon, iTunes, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

aquaman
Warner Brothers

13. Aquaman

Released: December 21
Cast: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson
Director:James Wan (Furious 7)
Why it’s great: Following the less than inspiring glimpses of Aquaman audiences received in Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League, there weren't many reasons to get excited about a solo adventure for the very wet, very goofy superhero played by Jason Momoa. Don't forget: the mere existence of this movie was an Entourage punchline over a decade ago. But the tides of comic book filmmaking have shifted, allowing a genre journeyman like James Wan to make a deeply silly, proudly cheesy work of non-stop spectacle. From the Bond-like rooftop chase sequence in Italy to the shark-filled Lord of the Rings-esque battles below the sea, Aquaman delivers the slickest pop thrills that a $200 million budget can buy. Like he did in the far less expensive Braven, Momoa holds everything together with his affable demeanor and hang loose jocularity. Surfs up, dude. 
Where to see it right now: In theaters (watch the trailer)

Kickboxer Retaliation
Well Go USA Entertainment

12. Kickboxer: Retaliation

Released: January 26
Cast: Alain Moussi, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, Mike Tyson
Director: Dimitri Logothetis (Wings of the Dragon)
Why it’s great: It's been almost three decades since Van Damme's Kurt Sloan faced off against Tong Po in Thailand at the climax of 1989's Kickboxer. After four sequels, the series was rebooted for the modern MMA era with 2016's Kickboxer: Vengeance, which cast former stuntman Alain Moussi as the neck-snapping Sloane and gave Van Damme the role of fedora-wearing Master Durand. Kickboxer: Retaliation is the next entry in this super-formulaic but reliable series -- reportedly, there's another sequel coming next year -- and it's a cut above your average direct-to-DVD slugfest, putting an emphasis on tightly choreographed fights and cleverly executed camera work. (There's a ridiculous prison brawl that plays like a B-movie take on The Raid: Redemption.) The story inevitably runs out of gas by the time Sloan faces off against The Mountain from Game of Thrones in a lengthy, deadly bout at a muay thai temple, but it feels like a fair trade for all the bone-breaking chaos that comes early on. It's hard work for an aging fighter to stay this spry.
Where to see it right now: Stream on Netflix; rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

incredibles 2
Pixar

11. Incredibles 2

Released: June 15
Cast: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner
Director: Brad Bird (The Incredibles)
Why it’s great: After over a decade in hiding, Brad Bird's Incredibles, a superpowered family of neurotic do-gooders, return for a sequel that takes a little while to get going but still delivers the visual goods. Following a pair of live-action blockbusters, including the ridiculously entertaining Tom Cruise vehicle Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol, Bird's animation comeback displays a commitment to making his action sequences as kinetic and thrilling as possible. There's a train rescue mission led by Holly Hunter's Elastigirl in this movie that would make James Cameron and George Miller weep. Unfortunately, some of the connective tissue that gets us from spectacle to spectacle is distractingly flimsy -- Screenslaver, the masked villain of the movie, is a dud -- but you might be so knocked out by the frenzied set-pieces that you don't even notice.
Where to see it right now: Stream on Netflix; rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

antman and the wasp movie
Marvel Studios

10. Ant-Man and the Wasp

Released: July 6
Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña, Michael Douglas
Director: Peyton Reed (Ant-Man)
Why it’s great: The first Ant-Man was a rambunctious and clever take on the familiar Marvel origin story, introducing audiences to shrinking superhero dad Scott Lang (Rudd) and his extended family of friends and reluctant crime-fighters. The sequel is an even funnier and sillier refinement of the first chapter, ditching some of the heavier elements and going all-in on the gags. Though other entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been filled with sitcom-ish banter -- and Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok was happy to deflate its own self-important genre trappings -- this is the first one that really plays like a proper comedy. (It recalls Ghostbusters in the way it combines special effects and irreverence.) Rudd has a way of putting an absurd spin on even the most mundane lines, Peña again steals every scene he's in, and Reed approaches the pint-sized action beats with the goal of upending viewer expectations. Luckily, it's the rare blockbuster with charming human moments that doesn't feel the need to overcompensate with scenes of mass destruction or constantly apologize for its modest scale.  
Where to see it right now: Stream on Netflix; rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

Manhunt netflix
Netflix

9. Manhunt

Released: May 4
Cast: Zhang Hanyu, Masaharu Fukuyama, Ha Ji-won, Angeles Woo 
Director: John Woo (Face/Off)
Why it’s great: Any movie with a Jet Ski chase gets an automatic spot on this list. Luckily, Manhunt, the frequently ludicrous chase thriller from action filmmaking master John Woo, is more than simply one good scene where grown-men pursue each other on personal water crafts. It also has motorcycle rampages, sword fights, gun battles, and a secret super-soldier serum that can turn a senior citizen into a grizzled, roided-out warrior. The pharmaceutical conspiracy plot about wrongly accused lawyer Du Qiu (Hanyu) running from noble detective (Fukuyama) is merely a way to connect all the pieces in this insanely elaborate, goofy puzzle. The film has been described as a greatest hits collection for Woo, a showcase for all his favorite narrative tropes (Convoluted backstories! Orphans!) and his visual tics (Slow-motion! Pigeons!), but it's really more like a return-to-form record from an aging rock band: He knows what works and has delivered a slick, dutiful version of it. Manhunt can't touch his Hong Kong classics like Hard Boiled or The Killer -- and it's not as gleefully absurd as his Hollywood work like Face/Off or Broken Arrow -- but it's an impressive hybrid with style to spare. (And jet skis!)
Where to see it right now: Stream on Netflix (watch the trailer)

mohawk movie
Dark Sky Films

8. Mohawk

Released: March 2
Cast: Kaniehtiio Horn, Eamon Farren, Justin Rain, Ezra Buzzington
Director: Ted Geoghegan (We are Still Here)
Why it’s great: Gripping and disturbing in equal measure, this low-budget historical thriller set in 19th century America is as bloody as it is beguiling. Young Mohawk tribe member Oak (Horn) battles a group of American soldiers hellbent on her destruction, turning the woods around them into a warzone. There's an almost psychedelic touch to the way Geoghegan shoots the forest -- at times, the movie resembles the mind-bending films of British cult favorite Ben Wheatley -- and that can also make for some puzzling stretches, but Mohawk has more on its mind than finding visually inventive ways to portray stomach-churning violence. It wants you to reflect on the carnage.
Where to see it right now: Stream on Netflix; rent on Amazon, iTunes, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

braven movie
Saban Films

7. Braven

Released: February 2
Cast: Jason Momoa, Garret Dillahunt, Zahn McClarnon, Stephen Lang
Director: Lin Oeding
Why it’s great: The main character in this movie is named "Joe Braven" and he's played by Jason Momoa. That simple fact alone should convince you to watch this scrappy, low-budget action movie about a logger tasked with fighting off a heavily armed gang of drug dealers who stash some primo shit in his log cabin. If the protagonist had a less goofy name, the movie would still be effective -- the director is a former stunt coordinator and he knows how to properly stage all the gunfights, bow-and-arrow deaths, and snowmobile chases -- but the stupid grin that you get on your face every time someone says "Joe Braven" really elevates this throwback outdoors thriller. Momoa has the sturdy, low-key charisma of the best '80s action heroes, and it's a shame that the the laws of modern blockbuster-dom mean he'll likely spend more time starring in CG monster throw-downs like Justice League when he could be snapping necks in gruff B-movies like Braven. In a just world, the Braven-verse would be rapidly expanding every year.
Where to see it right now: Stream it on Amazon Prime; Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

the night come for us movie
Netflix

6. The Night Comes for Us

Released: October 19
Cast: Joe Taslim, Iko Uwais, Asha Kenyeri, Sunny Pang
Director: Timo Tjahjanto (Headshot)
Why it’s great: There are images in The Night Comes for Us, a wild Indonesian action thriller starring two veterans of the celebrated The Raid franchise, that resemble what a child might think an action movie would be after simply looking at lurid VHS cover art and hyper-stylized movie posters. It flirts with parody at points and gleefully crosses over into absurdity in others. Towards the end of the movie, the two main characters -- an ex-mercenary for the Triads named Ito (Taslim) and his old friend turned rival Arian (Uwais) -- basically slash at each other's flesh like Itchy and Scratchy, their bodies carrying on long past the point of what conventional medicine would deem possible. Similarly, a brawl in a butcher shop just goes on and on, like the fight choreographer version of an extended one-liner run in a Judd Apatow movie. Is it overwhelming? Yes. But the dedication to mayhem makes this essential viewing for action fans with strong stomachs.
Where to see it right now: Stream it on Netflix (watch the trailer)

revenge movie
NEON

5. Revenge

Released: May 11
Cast: Matilda Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe, Guillaume Bouchède
Director: Coralie Fargeat
Why it’s great: This French thriller has one of the most gruesome, unsettling scenes of self-surgery ever filmed, but it always feels like the director is in control of her scalpel. Shot with the bright colors of a 90s music video and the roving camera movements of a Michael Bay blockbuster, Coralie Fargeat's ultra-slick reinvention of the rape-revenge sub-genre follows Jen (Lutz) as her romantic getaway with a married man (Janssens) is interrupted by his two loathsome hunting buddies. One of the friends assaults Jen, violating her in the morning after a night of partying, and later the three men push her off a cliff, leaving her to die in the sweltering desert heat. She springs back to life. Her violent retribution is often simultaneously stomach-churning and ridiculous -- the hallways of the chic rented house get turned into a bloody slip-and-slide by the ending -- but the performers and the filmmakers are zeroed in on a shared sensibility that does more than simply shock and provoke. 
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

The Commuter movie
Lionsgate

4. The Commuter

Released: January 12
Cast: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra (The Shallows)
Why it’s great: The last thriller from the team of Neeson and Collet-Serra was Non-Stop, a bracing and clever whodunit on an airplane. The pair are back in high-octane Agatha Christie mode with The Commuter, a mystery that begins with Farmiga's chatty passenger Joanna presenting Neeson's haggard ex-cop (and loyal transit-enthusiast of the title) Michael MacCauley with a bizarre hypothetical: If you could perform a seemingly insignificant task that would have disastrous consequences for another commuter in exchange for a generous financial reward, would you do it? It's a convoluted twist on Richard Matheson's "Button, Button" short story that was adapted into a classic Twilight Zone episode and the bonkers Richard Kelley movie The Box, but Collet-Serra is less interested in the moral dilemma. Instead, he simply wants to strip the giant locomotive -- and his star's lumbering frame -- for parts, finding Hitchcockian tension in each padded seat, empty corridor, and nervy patron. It's action filmmaking as controlled demolition -- and the best train potboiler since Steven Seagal's Under Siege 2: Dark Territory.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

Black Panther
Marvel Studios

3. Black Panther

Released: February 16
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira
Director: Ryan Coogler (Creed)
Why it’s great: Coogler's deft balancing of a high-tech spy gadgetry, ceremonial palace intrigue, fantasy action mayhem, and subversive political critique is unparalleled in the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe that Black Panther springs from. In the same way Creed, his propulsive and knowing reboot of the Rocky franchise, paid tribute to and upended boxing iconography, Coogler's take on superhero-dom is both pleasing and probing. Basically, he's got Soundcloud jokes, rhino battles, and takes on imperialism. The larger ideological conflict between the new king T'Challa (Boseman) and the American revolutionary Killmonger (Jordan) has been seen before in the pages of history books and comics, but it's never been given this type of eye-popping, brain-scrambling, heart-pounding blockbuster treatment.
Where to see it right now: Stream on Netflix; rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

mission impossible fallout
Paramount Pictures

2. Mission: Impossible -- Fallout

Released: July 27
Cast: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames, Rebecca Ferguson
Director: Christopher McQuarrie (The Way of the Gun)
Why it’s great: As Tom Cruise's stardom has plateaued in recent years, with recent movies like The Mummy and American Made failing to connect on a broader cultural level, the celebration of the Mission: Impossible franchise has only intensified. It feels like audiences have collectively decided this is how they want their TC: jumping out a plane, running across the roof of a building, or hanging off the side of a cliff. Honestly, fair enough! While Mission: Impossible -- Fallout isn't the best entry in the super-spy series -- my vote goes to Brad Bird's dazzling Ghost Protocol or Brian de Palma's thrilling 1996 original -- it has a keen sense of history, a wry sense of humor, and a handful of breath-taking set-pieces. (The bathroom fight and the helicopter chase share top honors.) McQuarrie, the first director to return for a second M:I adventure after handling 2015's Rogue Nation, is a skilled action craftsman, and, despite a 147 minute runtime, Fallout never loses momentum. It sends you hurtling out of the theater in search of similar highs. Too bad so few modern blockbusters can even breathe at the same altitude.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

mandy movie
RLJE Films

1. Mandy

Released: September 14
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Bill Duke
Director: Panos Cosmatos (Beyond the Black Rainbow)
Why it's Great:Mandy features Nicolas Cage doing the following things: guzzling booze straight from the bottle, snorting coke off a shard of broken glass, and lighting a cigarette with a flaming severed head. Each act of chemical-assisted self-destruction serves as an apt metaphor for what watching this mesmerizing, psychedelic freak-out of a movie feels like. For his follow-up to 2010's sci-fi retro-pastiche Beyond the Black Rainbow, Cosmatos casts Cage as Red, a lumberjack living in the Pacific Northwest circa 1983. When his beloved wife Mandy (Riseborough) is murdered by a Manson-like cult and some mutant bikers, Red sets off on a path to revenge. What sounds like stock post-Tarantino premise -- the movie's plot isn't dissimilar from Kill Bill, John Wick, or Mad Max -- ends up being a trapdoor into something far funnier, stranger, and haunting than it appears. How bizarre does it get? At one point, everything pauses for a goblin-themed macaroni commercial, and you won't even blink. Structured like an LP, with side A lulling you into an ethereal dream-state and side B launching into a series of violent nightmares, the film is destined to be picked over by blood-thirsty action devotees and theory-equipped academic eggheads. (The inherent tension between hippies and heavy metal fans has never been more artfully explored.) But it's not all cult cinema references, '80s kitsch, and vintage band t-shirts. Cage's unhinged performance, which takes on an operatic quality in the bonkers final third, gives the story a much needed emotional depth. You leave completely drained. Baptized in fire. Ready to ride the lightning again.
When you'll see it: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

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Dan Jackson is a staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment. He's on Twitter @danielvjackson.