American-made action movies may have massive budgets and fancy computer effects, but there's just no substitute for a talented director and stars who know how to kick ass. That's why so many of our favorite action movies in recent decades have come from overseas. Here are the best foreign action flicks for when you need an adrenaline boost in your life.
'La Femme Nikita' (1990)
Director Luc Besson helped define the look and feel of a whole new wave of stylish French thrillers with this movie. It doesn't hurt that star Anne Parillaud gave us the femme fatale heroine the movie world needed. It's usually a good sign when an action movie inspires multiple foreign language remakes.
'Once Upon a Time in China' (1991)
"Once Upon a Time in China" is undoubtedly one of the most influential martial arts films of the past several decades. Jet Li played one of his most iconic roles here as the Robin Hood-like hero Wong Fei-hung, with the end result being a movie that blends a crowd-pleasing story of heroism with some truly epic martial arts action.
'Hard Boiled' (1992)
Director John Woo cultivated his own unique brand of action movie in the '90s, one that combines classics "cops and robbers" storytelling with stylish gunplay and liberal use of slow motion and flying doves. "Hard Boiled" is where Woo really perfected that formula, and also where American audiences began to sit up and take notice of star Chow Yun-fat.
Outside the US, this movie is known as "Police Story 3," a terrific sequel to a movie that helped define and reshape Jackie Chan's career. Whatever you call it, this sequel remains one of the absolute best in Chan's massive catalog. No less an authority than Quentin Tarantino has praised "Supercop" for having some of the greatest action stunts committed to film.
'Drunken Master II' (1994)
While it wouldn't see official release in the US until 2000, hardcore martial arts lovers swooned over Jackie Chan's second "Drunken Master" movie. Never has the actor's incredible blend of athleticism and physical comedy been more impressive.
'Brotherhood of the Wolf' (2001)
"Brotherhood of the Wolf" is a welcome reminder that some of the best action movies come not from the US or Asia, but France. Loosely based on a real series of 18th Century killings, this lush epic also proves that martial arts movies can still offer great stories and deep characters in between all the carnage.
'Ong Bak' (2003)
The '90s made Hong Kong stars like Jackie Chan and Jet Li household names across the world. 2003 heralded the arrival of Tony Jaa. "Ong Bak" is basically a 90-minute showcase of Jaa's seemingly superhuman athleticism, one that features a mind-blowing blend of Muay Thai combat and urban free-running.
'District B13' (2004)
When it comes to big screen parkour, digital trickery is no substitute for athletic ability. "District B13" features some of the most impressive free-running stunts this side of Tony Jaa, along with a satisfying dystopian French setting for good measure.
"The Good, the Bad, the Weird" (2008)
It's way too rare to find American Westerns that just try to give viewers a good time rather than moping about the evils of the world. That's where "The Good, the Bad, the Weird" comes in. This rollicking romp of a Western pays homage to classic Sergio Leone while offering its own, wacky take on the Wild West.
'Ip Man' (2008)
This film (loosely based on the life of the legendary martial arts grandmaster) Donnie Yen showed action fans everywhere what a tremendous force he can be. In addition to be a stirring historical drama set against the backdrop of the 1937 Japanese invasion of China, "Ip Man" boasts some truly incredible fight sequences. This may be the only film where you actually believe the hero can really take on ten opponents at once.
'Ong Bak 2: The Beginning' (2008)
"Ong Bak 2" is only loosely connected to its predecessor, as it takes place hundreds of years in the past in feudal Siam. But in terms of satisfying action and superhuman physicality, it's very much an extension of the original. Tony Jaa is even more impressive here, particularly during the long climax where he cycles through nearly every armed and unarmed fighting style known to man.
'13 Assassins' (2010)
Director Takashi Miike took a break from body horror to direct one of the best Japaense samurai movies in recent memory. This action-packed historical drama (a remake of the 1963 film) is a nonstop thrill ride of swordplay. You have to love that final 45-minute fight sequence.
'The Raid: Redemption' (2012)
"The Raid" exposed martial arts fans to a whole new wave of up-and-coming stars. Director Gareth Evans delivers a brutally efficient action movie about a SWAT raid gone horribly wrong. Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian immediately won over legions of martial arts fans thanks to this movie.
'Sleepless Night' (2012)
This no-nonsense action thriller proves you don't need a complex story when you have tightly choreographed action and a sense of urgency fueling the fight scenes. Tomer Sisley stars as a cop who tries to trade a batch of ill-gotten cocaine for his son's life, only for his plans to fall apart when said cocaine is stolen.
'The Night Comes for Us' (2018)
Martial arts fans know exactly what to expect from a movie featuring Iko Uwais and Joe Taslim. This movie delivers an endless gauntlet of brutal martial arts sequences and seemingly impossible stunts. It's so violent that it pretty much crosses the boundary into body horror territory, but that's just par for the course with these superhuman fighters.