Top 10 Tamil Action Films On OTT

Action films of some substance are rare to come by these days.

Most film-makers mistake gore and excessive blood for well-constructed action cinema that thrives on drama and interpersonal stakes.

But some stories get to us on a gut level with the way character dynamics are set up and make us root for the hero on the screen to land his punch.

Arjun Menon looks at some Tamil films from the last decade that tick all the right boxes, and lists where you can watch them.

Vishwaroopam (2013)
Director: Kamal Haasan
Featuring: Kamal Haasan, Pooja Kumar, Andreah Jeremiah and Rahul Bose

Where to watch? Disney+ Hotstar

This film, conceived by and starring Kamal Haasan in the lead role, is much more than your regular run-of-the-mill action thriller.

Vishwaroopam is in equal parts an espionage thriller dealing with international intrigue, and a solid action film that thrives on the novelty of its austere film-making.

Kamal Haasan casts himself as a secret agent, on whose shoulders the fate of the world at large rests.

The film combined the scope and narrative slickness of Western spy thrillers, with a sensitive subject matter revolving around terrorism and religious fundamentalism, that could lend itself to the wrong interpretations, if not for its acute sense of political awareness.

In the umpteen efforts by Indian film-makers to capture the visual aesthetics and epic nature of successful Hollywood counterparts, Vishwaroopam stuck the landing in terms of the seamless blending of important socio-political issues that are specifically Indian in its thematic underpinnings and the narrative flourishes driven by style.

Yennai Arindhaal (2015)
Director: Gautham Vasudev Menon
Featuring: Ajith, Trisha, Arun Vijay, Anushka Shetty, Anikha Surendran
Where to watch? Disney+ Hotstar

Unlike the typical Ajith star vehicles, Yennai Arindhal focused more on character than just blatant action, the result being one of the slickest cop films from Tamil cinema in recent years.

Gautham Vasudev Menon infuses a lot of finesse and grace in the way this undercover cop story is framed and strung around the star.

Yennai Arindhaal explores the poignant relationship between a father and daughter, in between the high-stakes crime plot revelations.

The film, however, does not backtrack in providing the necessary highs and thrills expected from a genre cop flick.

Ajith’s magnetic screen presence, coupled with Gautham Menon’s crafty touches makes Yennai Arindhal a special film that has aged well.

Vada Chennai (2018)
Director: Vetrimaaran
Featuring: Dhanush, Aishwarya Rajesh, Ameer Sulthan, Samuthirakani, Andrea Jeremiah
Where to watch? Amazon Prime Video

This ambitious, real life-inspired retelling of the local gangster scene in the alleys of North Chennai dating back to the late 1980s, has come to define action storytelling in Tamil cinema in the past decade.

Vada Chennai belongs on the list purely for the visceral charge ingrained in Vetrimaaran’s brutal take on the gangster epic sprawling across decades of a specific place and its political history.

Dhanush is masterful as the gullible carrom player, dragged into a world of crime.

Vada Chennai infuses a larger-than-life affectation to its proceedings by leaning into the often-used ‘chosen one’ narrative, where violence and bloodbath is a necessary evil for the ‘messianic’ figure fighting against a corrupt system.

Vada Chennai also had some of the most uniquely-staged action set pieces like the carrom tournament set inside the prison that breaks out into a full-fledged battle of betrayals and revelations, the sheer creative highs of that sequence alone wins the film a place on this list.

Asuran (2019)
Director: Vetrimaaran
Featuring: Dhanush, Manju Warrier, Pasupathy, Prakash Raj
Where to watch? Amazon Prime Video

Again an iconic collaboration between Director Vetrimaaran and Dhanush, this time for a story more charged by emotion as a basis for all the bloody action.

Asuran is one of the bloodiest films to come out of Tamil cinema in the recent past, with severed limbs and disfigured body parts being a consistent foil of its story world.

However, unlike many contemporary action films that gloat on the film-maker’s indulgence with excessive, gory violence for violence’s sake, each moment of excess in Asuran felt earned by the way this story of caste-based oppression is structured at the writing level.

There is this intrinsic cathartic release for the viewer by way of how the bad guys in this film get their much-needed comeuppance from the initially passive ‘Sivasamy’, the hero who is forced to take things into his own hands as his family is pushed to the limits.

Kaithi (2019)
Director: Lokesh Kanagaraj
Featuring: Karthi, Narain, Arjun Das, George Maryan
Where to watch? Amazon Prime Video

Kaithi is the most derivative entry in this list of action films that manages to contextualiSe the real-time bound narrative stakes of John Carpenter’s 1976 classic Assault On Precinct 13, with the emotional beats of a father-daughter story, well suited to the Tamil milieu.

Lokesh Kanagaraj, in his sophomore directorial, manages to stamp in his keen eye of shooting action and constructing exciting set pieces that are driven more by character work.

Kaithi is a throwback to the kind of fun, no-holds-barred action film-making that thrived in the 1990s where the action was an inbuilt feature of the storytelling, backed by strong emotional conflicts driving the hero’s journey.

This film told the story of a recently released convict, rushing to meet his long-estranged daughter, only to be held back in a deadly game of chance between a drug cartel and a police officer hell-bent on delivering justice.

Kaithi catches you by the throat from the get-go with its pulpy world-building and never lets go till the very end. It also happens to be the place where the now popular ‘Lokesh Kanagaraj Cinematic Universe’ abbreviated as ‘LCU’ came into being.

Maanaadu (2021)
Director: Venkat Prabhu
Featuring: Silambarasan, SJ Suryah, Kalyani Priyadarshan
Where to watch? Sony LIV

Venkat Prabhu’s blockbuster Maanaadu┬áis veering more towards the sci-fi genre by way of its logline revolving around a man and a police officer caught in a loop when they are forced to live the same day again and again, being witness to the same event with many possible outcomes.

The film is designed like an action vehicle that subverts the cliches of the genre by the clever use of the time travel aspects in the quirky non-linear screenplay.

Maanaadu is one of the boldest and most stylistic idea-driven films to have executed with such tonal control in mainstream Tamil cinema.

You get to see the same action from many perspectives and in various forms, which makes it a one-of-a-kind genre exercise, high in ambition.

Maanaadu is self-aware, innovative action storytelling at its very best, firing on all cylinders.

Vikram (2022)
Director: Lokesh Kanagaraj
Featuring: Kamal Haasan, Fahad Faasil, Vijay Sethupathi, Narain, Gayathrie
Where to watch? Disney+ Hotstar

This one might be the most popular of all action films made in Tamil cinema in recent times, boasting a stellar cast led by Kamal Haasan, making his return to the big screen after a short hiatus.

The film brings together all the aspects of the now popular Lokesh Kanagaraj aesthetic predominantly: Dark, gritty crime worlds, grungy low-light night photography, and plenty of biryanis and gangsters.

Vikram, which is based on the lead character from a popular Kamal Haasan film of the same name from the late 1980s, rebranded the single-hero Tamil template to incorporate a multiple-character approach in the way films are mounted and presented.

Itis a case study in a film that jumps between different players and yet never loses track of the central narrative action. The film juggles plot and character work within an interlaced time-splicing narrative, and that is rare in commercial films.

Maaveran (2023)
Director: Madonne Ashwin
Featuring: Sivakarthikeyan, Aditi Shankar, Mysskin, Sunil
Where to watch? Amazon Prime Video

The most subversive entry in the list, this Sivakarthikeyan starrer is the story of a socially inert cartoonist, who starts to hear the voice of a superhero character in his comics, after a freak accident changes his life.

The film is a welcome departure from the worn-out tropes of the social justice film, repackaged as a graphic novel-like superhero origin story.

Sivakarthikeyan gets to invest in a passive character who is forced to lead the common man against an unfair housing conglomerate but the film tackles the innately somber subject matter with glee and cheekiness, rarely in hero-led mass films.

Maaveran gets the job done with a well-written transformative arc for the hero, whose penchant for action increases by a voice guiding him from within.

The bizarre action sequences are executed with a certain style and panache that makes Maaveran stand out.

Jailer (2023)
Director: Nelson Dilipkumar
Featuring: Rajinikanth, Mohanlal, Shiv Rajkumar, Vinayakan, Ramya Krishnan, Vasanth Ravi
Where to watch? Amazon Prime Video

Jailer was one of those films that inverted the use of stars in an action vehicle, by making the hero a God-like figure who strikes blows by way of power, and not by way of the physical act of beating down an unending array of goons himself.

The screenplay by Nelson understands the larger-than-life persona of Rajinikanth and comes up with innovative ways to use his silhouettes and shadows to greater effect than the man himself.

Jailer focuses on the efforts of a retired jailer in tracking down the killers of his dead son, only to come across even bigger revelations.

The film also makes great use of Director Nelson’s trademark wry black humour to present a contrast with the serious issues unfolding on screen.

No new age film-maker has been able to mine the myths surrounding Rajinikanth, the superstar, with such elegance and unhinged swerve.

Leo (2023)
Director: Lokesh Kanagaraj
Featuring: Vijay, Trisha, Sanjay Dutt, Arjun Sarja
Where to watch? Netflix

This adaptation of David Cronenberg’s classic History of Violence does not get lost in translation as Lokesh Kanagaraj manages to imbue the film with a grounded sensibility.

Leo is much more maximalist in its treatment of its hero, whose seemingly low-key life is upended when a dangerous gang misunderstands him for one of their former members.

Manoj Paramahamsa and Kanagaraj find interesting colour schemes and visual metaphors to map the journey of the hero from being a passive bystander to facing his past.

Leo is composed of gloriously crafted fight sequences, all with an emotional heft that keeps the drama intact.

Lokesh comes up with interesting ideas to explore a testosterone-fuelled narrative that hinges on Vijay’s on-screen charisma and peerless stunt work in highly kinetic action sequences.