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The best ’80s action movies on Netflix

From Conan the Destroyer to Road House, these are the best '80s action movies to stream on Netflix.

Sly Stallone and Mr. T in Rocky III.

Over the decades of its existence, the action movie has continued to evolve and change. In today’s blockbuster landscape, action movies are almost relentless, but that wasn’t always the case. The modern action movie first emerged in full force in the 1980s, when everything was bigger, including both the car chases and the explosions. We all know that Netflix has an excellent selection of action movies that span decades throughout the genre’s long history.

When it comes to the 1980s, though, what kind of movies does Netflix have available? There are a number of great 1980s action movies that you can watch on Netflix, including the titles below. Across these six titles, we have a wide array of different types of action movies to choose from. Some are much more political and historical, while others are based purely in fantasy or in some heightened version of reality. We also have an excellent combination of fun, light movies and heavier, darker material. Whatever type of ’80s action movie you’re looking for, though, you’re almost guaranteed to find it among these selections. These are the best ’80s action movies that Netflix has to offer:

Conan the Destroyer (1984)

Conan the Destroyer
Adventure, Fantasy, Action
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Olivia d'Abo, Grace Jones
Directed by
Richard Fleischer
Watch on Netflix

The same year as his breakout in Terminator, Arnold also starred in Conan the Destroyer, a sequel to Conan the Barbarian. The movie itself is fairly paint by numbers, but Conan the Destroyer is an excellent opportunity to dive into what Arnold’s screen persona was like when he was still in the midst of forming it. He looks absolutely ripped here as Conan is duped into going on a mysterious quest on behalf of an evil witch. Arnold didn’t do much outright fantasy later on in his career, which feels like something of a shame. He’s one of the great muscle-bound men in the history of cinema, and he could have made an ideal character in almost any fantasy landscape.

Conan the Destroyer (1984) Official Trailer - Arnold Schwarzenegger Action Movie HD

Rocky III (1982)

Rocky III
Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young
Directed by
Sylvester Stallone
Watch on Netflix

A movie that is both ridiculous and kind of beautiful, Rocky III follows Rocky after he’s beaten in the ring, and ultimately turns to his former rival Apollo Creed in order to return to his life as a champion. In addition to giving us “Eye of the Tiger,” Rocky III is also the movie that really perfected what a Rocky sequel should be. The movie’s not good, but it’s a lot better than it needs to be, and the fights are genuinely thrilling. If the first Rocky is justly revered by film lovers everywhere, Rocky III is the kind of Rocky movie that even casual fans of the franchise can enjoy, and a truly great fighting movie more generally. It’s silly, frothy, and has stakes that feel exactly the right size. Rocky’s not beating communism here, he’s just taking on another fighter. As an additional note of interest, Rocky III is also a pretty solid template for Creed III, which just hit theaters earlier in 2023.

Rocky III (1982) | Official Trailer | MGM Studios

Road House (1989)

Road House
Action, Thriller
Patrick Swayze, Kelly Lynch, Sam Elliott
Directed by
Rowdy Herrington
Watch on Netflix
One of the great things about the ’80s is that you didn’t need a huge, high concept premise to sell a solid action movie. Instead, you could get something like Road House, which tells the story of a Ph.D. educated man who chooses to work as a bouncer at one of the meanest joints around. Patrick Swayze is stellar in the film’s central role, and sells the entire enterprise with a kind of irresistible swagger. There’s a reason that, in spite of its rather simple, slightly nonsensical premise, Road House eventually became a franchise. The action isn’t necessarily the focus here, but there are some pretty solid fight sequences scattered throughout the film, ones that ultimately serve as reminders of just how sexual action can be under the right circumstances.  
Road House (1989) | Official Trailer | MGM Studios

Born on the Fourth of July (1989)

Born on the Fourth of July
Drama, War
Tom Cruise, Raymond J. Barry, Caroline Kava
Directed by
Oliver Stone
Watch on Netflix
A more epic, prestige-oriented movie than many of the other titles on this list, Born on the Fourth of July follows a young soldier who accidentally kills one of his fellow marines, and ultimately gets paralyzed in the fighting in the Vietnam War. Although the action in this movie is largely confined to the sections that take place in the war, the movie is well worth watching in its entirety. Tom Cruise gives the kind of committed performance that many of his detractors often forget he was capable of, and this story of a veteran who becomes an anti-war activist is worth both watching and carefully considering. Director Oliver Stone has one of the more fascinating careers in the history of Hollywood, and Born on the Fourth of July is one of his most interesting movies. 
Born on the Fourth of July Official Trailer #1 - Tom Cruise Movie (1989) HD

The Karate Kid (1984)

The Karate Kid
Action, Family, Drama
Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, Elisabeth Shue
Directed by
John G. Avildsen
Watch on Netflix

Another movie that birthed an entire franchise, The Karate Kid tells the story of a teenage boy who moves across the country and finds himself the subject of bullying. When he befriends an unassuming repairman named Mr. Miyagi who is actually a martial arts master, the two of them go on a journey together that ultimately culminates in a karate tournament. Here, the action is largely confined to the final third of the movie, but there are plenty of great training sequences ahead of that that helped define an entire genre. After The Karate Kid hit theaters, everyone wanted to learn the sport so that they too could take down their high school bullies.

THE KARATE KID [1984] - Official Trailer (HD)

Dune (1984)

Action, Science Fiction, Adventure
Kyle MacLachlan, Francesca Annis, Patrick Stewart
Directed by
David Lynch
Watch on Netflix
Long before Timothee Chalamet and Denis Villeneuve had a chance to leave their mark on Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi story, David Lynch took a crack at adapting the novel to the big screen. Unlike the 2021 version, this Dune adapts the entire story, and is therefore considered to be a bit of a mess. Although it is definitely hard at times to totally follow the story, Dune‘s reputation as a total disaster is a bit unearned. This story of a young man who is banished to the wilderness after losing his family and ultimately returns a hero is timeless, and there’s plenty to love in the 1984 adaptation of it, from the effects to the genuine desert photography they were able to capture. Dune may not be perfect, but it’s an important landmark in the history of sci-fi cinema, and a great way to warm up for Dune 2 before it hits theaters.
Dune (1984) Official Trailer #1 - Science Fiction Movie HD

Editors' Recommendations

Movie images and data from:
Joe Allen
Joe Allen is a freelance culture writer based in upstate New York. His work has been published in The Washington Post, The…
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