Streaming services may be feeling the pinch right now, but Amazon Prime Video is having a moment in the sun thanks to the success of Reacher and the considerable coup of being able to stream the entire James Bond back catalogue, including the most recent entry, No Time To Die. You may be a bit surprised to learn – I certainly was – that Reacher is the most successful streaming show of 2022 so far. The word is that 007 is doing pretty well right now, too.
What does this mean? Clearly, that movies involving violent yet gentlemanly men, who are both in touch with their sensitive side, and able to punch you in yours, are having a resurgence.
What Dr Hulk lookalike Jack Reacher and the suave yet homicidal James Bond have in common is that they are both rather old-school characters. They're entertainment written and made by – and aimed squarely at – men, although clearly they have female fans as well. Reacher and Bond both live in worlds where there is no problem that can't be solved with a bit of lateral thinking, fast driving and skilful application of advanced techniques, plus a reasonable amount of extreme violence and blowing up of things.
Now, if you have finished Reacher and watched all the best Bond films from each era – and indeed the worst Bond films by each actor to play him – you may be at a bit of a loose end. Don't worry; Amazon is absolutely awash with unabashedly violent and escapist movies, starring a wealth of thinking man's thugs.
I've called them 'men's movies' in the headline but hopefully not all of these films are completely repellant to women. They could just as easily have been called 'dad movies', to be honest, but I thought that might read a bit negatively. Anyway, moms may well enjoy some of these films – particularly the ones with Patrick Swazye in, if my mother is anything to go by. I’m not cancelling Netflix, as that has plenty more great movies to watch, but for my money, Prime is better.
Why is Amazon Prime Video so good?
A lot of Amazon Prime Video users probably only use it because it comes bundled with Amazon Prime – the subscription deal that gives you free, next-day delivery of products. As a result, the service is a little underrated.
It would be ridiculous to describe anything the trillion-dollar behemoth Amazon does as some kind of plucky underdog success story, but Prime Video hasn't really received the props it deserves over the years. But the fact remains that there is a wealth of great stuff on there, whether from Amazon itself, movies and TV shows licensed from other broadcasters, or from an impressive smorgasbord of 3rd-party, bolt-on 'channels', covering everything from art movies to old-time studio classics to horror.
There's no Amazon channel specifically for manly/violent/escapist/crime/spying-related films and TV shows, as far as I know. However there is an awful lot of butch and rugged fun to be had from Prime Video, and these are 5 of my favourites. They're all available in the UK and probably in other territories too, although there may be some variance.
For Reacher and Bond fans who are… more serious
I couldn't really put together a list of movies about thoughtful men of violence without including Pacino and De Niro. And so to save space I have smuggled in both, via Michael Mann's Heat. Most of Mann's films could be summed up as studies of men who are experts in their fields – with said fields usually being committing crimes and stopping men who commit crimes. Heat takes this to a logical extreme by pitting the two pre-eminent actors of their generation against each other: De Niro as a master criminal planning a huge heist; Pacino as a veteran cop dedicated to busting him – because bustin' makes him feel good.
Heat is a long film but it doesn't feel overstretched in the way that, say, The Irishman does. That's testament to the incredible work done by the whole cast – arguably Val Kilmer is the real star of this show, despite the presence of Pacino and De Niro – and also by Mann's ability to roll out tension-wracked set-pieces on a regular basis throughout the movie's near three-hour run time.
For Reacher and Bond fans who are… very relaxed
I was hoping this Patrick Swayze classic would be available to stream for free on Prime Video. Sadly, it is not, but it can be bought for just £2.99. You see, another great thing about Amazon's service is that if they can't provide any given film to you as part of your Prime subscription, they will be more than happy to sell it to you, often for peanuts.
Road House is very 'manly' indeed and probably the greatest big-budget B movie of all time. Oh and it stars not only Swayze but also Sam Elliot at his absolute handsomest, meaning there is very much something for the ladies here – and, indeed, some of the gentlemen. And the director is called Rowdy Herrington! You just cannot improve on that.
There is so much to unpack from this deliriously enjoyable film, but long story short: Swayze is the head bouncer in a rowdy (herrington) bar, in a town that appears to have no form of police service whatsoever, and is consequently run entirely to suit the whims of hilariously evil crook Brad Wesley. He's played by Ben Gazzara, who used to be in prestigious flicks by John Cassavetes, and was later Jackie Treehorn in The Big Lebowski.
If you think Jack Reacher is a pretty great guy, who combines old-fashioned courtesy and manners with an even more old-fashioned ability to pummel people to death, you will absolutely love Swayze's John Dalton in Road House. He exudes a zen-like calm, charm by the bucketload and is the perfect gentleman… until it is time to literally rip a man's throat out.
Quotable lines fly at you throughout Road House like the flurries of punches that fly at Brad Wesley's hired goons and Dalton's team of inept bouncers. These include the memorable likes of, "Pain don't hurt," as Dalton receives stitches, and, "I want you to be nice… until it's time not to be nice" – invaluable advice from Dalton to his bouncer boys. There is also a legendary threat delivered during the most intense fight scene in Road House that is probably the funniest line I have ever heard in a film… but which is unfortunately much too rude to publish here.
If you can't afford 3 quid and simply must have a free film starring Swayze, you'll be glad to know that Kathryn Bigelow's brilliant Point Break, co-starring Keanu Reeves, is available on Prime Video for nothing. With The Swayze at his most macho-and-yet sensitive-and-thoughtful, this movie remains easily the best sky-diving, surfing, armed-robbing, mildly homoerotic bro buddy movie ever.
For Reacher and Bond fans who are… British dads
No, not Ridley Scott's Legend, with Tom Cruise riding a unicorn. This Legend is the story of London's notorious Kray twins, a pair of right dodgy geezers who terrorised the East End and Soho with their propensity for nightclub- and pub-based violence.
As it was probably quite hard to find identical twin actors to play the roles of Ronnie and Reggie, director Brian Helgeland hit on the rather excellent wheeze of getting Tom Hardy to play both of them. This is achieved more or less seamlessly, apart from a few slightly unreal looking scenes where both twins' faces are in shot in the same frame.
Hardy acquits himself well in the dual role too. He plays Ronnie as a mentally ill and relatively shy, violent psychopath who wears glasses and is gay. For just enough contrast, he does Reggie as a sharp and confident, violent psychopath who does not wear glasses and is not gay. I'm not going to pretend that's Oscar-worthy but it is enough for the purposes of this particular movie.
Legend is not the most intelligent film about the Krays – that accolade must go to 80s film The Krays, which is excellent, despite starring Gary and Martin Kemp of Spandau Ballet. However, Legend is still a pretty smart film, and tells its violent and grimy story in an efficient and exciting manner. Style-wise, it's undeniably a bit reminiscent of Guy Ritchie, right down to having voiceover work that you could probably do without. It's considerably less stupid than Ritchie's films though.
Brian Helgeland, incidentally, is best known for writing the excellent LA Confidential, which also just happens to be on Amazon Prime Video.
For Reacher and Bond fans who are… gamers
Those looking for the more cerebral and sophisticated (but very violent) thrills of Reacher and Bond may find this film just a teensy bit on the stupid side, but I thought it was a blast, with just a little tiny bit of depth. This film answers the question, 'What would Groundhog Day have been like, had it been about killing people with bazookas and swords?' Admittedly, Source Code and Edge of Tomorrow have both answered that question to an extent but neither of them is on Prime Video, and neither is as insanely testosterone-fuelled as Boss Level.
As the name suggests, Boss Level is like a live-action computer game in which a muscular lunk gets killed repeatedly, but gradually learns how to advance in the 'game'. Thankfully, that muscular lunk is played by the enjoyably ludicrous Frank Grillo. And even better, his ultimate enemy is played by… Mel Gibson! That guy is crazy! No really. He is.
Somewhere in this movie is buried something deep about loss, failure and the nature of memory, but that is largely obliterated by explosions, gratuitously violent deaths and large men hanging off of helicopters with HUGE machine guns in them. Excellent.
King of New York
For Reacher and Bond fans who are… OG
When talk turns to the all-time great gangster films, this one tends to get passed over, but it's up there if you enjoy profane dialogue, Uzis being fired in slow motion, moral ambiguity and old-school hip-hop – the soundtrack is largely provided by Schoolly D. And it's free on Amazon Prime Video!
Despite being among the whitest men alive – even his character's name is Frank White – Christopher Walken plays the boss of an entirely non-WASP gang in, obviously, New York. His lieutenant is a never-better Laurence Fishburne as Jimmy 'Jump' Colt – a man with a level of gangster lean so pronounced, it's a miracle he doesn't fall over. He is also a man with no scruples whatsoever about icing any fool who crosses him, whether that be a witness – "I DON'T LEEEEEAVE NO WITNESSES!" he helpfully explains to the police, while at the police station at one point – or a fast food restaurant employee who fails to provide good customer service.
Frank, meanwhile, is determined to take over New York by wiping out other gangs who he sees as failing to share his own ethical outlook on life. For whatever reason, the NYPD refuse to recognise his virtue and insist on trying to arrest him and his homeboys. Then, when they can't arrest him, they get a little creative and try to bring the gang down using more off-beat methods, involving lots more firing of Uzis in slow motion.
It takes a great cast to carry off a film as potentially laughable as King of New York, but thankfully, a great cast is exactly what director Abel Ferrara assembled here. How does Walken, Fishburne, Wes Snipes, Giancarlo Esposito, David Caruso and Steve Buscemi grab you? Damn right it does.
This film can be seen for free on the IMDb TV Amazon channel, with adverts. If you would rather not have commercial breaks, you can also get it for nothing as part of a 7-day free trial of Arrow Video's channel. There are so many ways to get great movies on Amazon Prime Video!