Having spent hundreds of hours watching countless martial arts movies while gorging on bags and bags of popcorn and bottomless soda, I came up with my list of 10 must watch martial arts movies of all time. If you are a martial arts die-hard or just looking for a kick-ass movie to watch, here are the 10 martial arts movies that you must watch.
- The Way of the Dragon (1972)
Stars: Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris
Plot: Tang (Bruce Lee) helps his relatives who owned a restaurant in Italy against vicious gangsters harassing them.
The Way of the Dragon is Bruce Lee’s only finished directorial movie. The plot is nothing extraordinary, the script is bad however the fight scenes redefined this genre. The main reason that one must watch this movie is because of that amazing fight scene between Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris in the Colosseum. Before Chuck Norris became THE Chuck Norris, he was the worthy opponent of the greatest martial artist, Bruce Lee in this movie. Many view this fight scene as the best fight scene ever filmed. Aside from that, the nunchaku sequence was also one of the best use of weaponry in a movie.
- Shaolin Temple (1982)
Star: Jet Li
Plot: The Tang emperor is betrayed by his general, who makes himself the emperor in the East Capital. Jeu Yuan (Jet Li), son of one of the betrayed emperor’s slave workers escapes to the Shaolin Temple, learns kung-fu and sets out to kill the traitor, who killed his father. The monks help him and in the process, they save the true emperor, who rewards them greatly.
Shaolin Temple is Jet Li’s debut movie, so if you are a Jet Li’s fan, then you must have watched this movie. It portrays the amazing history of the Shaolin Temple, the central point of Chinese Martial Arts. Shaolin Monks are highly regarded and respected, so to be helped and taught by them would really mean that Jet Li’s character is the best he could become. Another reason to watch this movie is the fun fact that the Shaolin Monastery where this movie was shot re-opened due to the public interest this movie gained. It’s like social media at work 🙂
- Ongbak: The Thai Warrior (2003)
Star: Tony Jaa
Plot: Tim, a young, extremely skilled martial artist goes to the big city in search of the stolen head of a statue sacred to his village. Once in the city, he had to use his martial art skills in order to fend for himself and to take on the underworld to retrieve the stolen artifact.
This is Tony Jaa’s first memorable movie which showcased his expertise in Muay Thai. The fight scenes are raw and original, and the martial art style is new. The punches are strong and the kicks are direct, there are no unnecessary additives to the fight scenes to add drama on them. It is the first martial arts movie I’ve watched that I thought felt the blows and punches. I think I had imaginary body aches after.
- The Seven Samurai (1954)
Stars: Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Tsushima
Plot: When a poor village is under attack by brutal bandits, they are left with no choice but employ unemployed samurais to help them fight and defend themselves.
Directed by legendary Akira Kurosawa, this movie is worthy of the numerous remakes honoring the greatest fight movie plot of all time. Although, most certainly, we don’t recognize the casts anymore since this movie is very old, the story of the seven samurai, who defended a vulnerable village always touch our hearts. Personally, The Seven Samurai is one of my favorite movies of all time, not only because of its fight scenes but especially because of its heartwarming storyline. It has feel-good moments that you usually don’t expect in these kinds of movies.
- Enter the Dragon (1973)
Stars: Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly
Plot: Lee (Bruce Lee), a highly skilled Shaolin martial artist from Hongkong agrees to spy for the British intelligence agency on a suspected crime lord, Han, by joining a high profile martial arts tournament in Han’s private island.
Having martial arts legend Bruce Lee as the cast of this movie is enough reason to watch it, however, Enter the Dragon also offers a variety of martial arts. All fighter casts are real martial artists so it is no surprise that this movie is full of “real” fights, no wires and no effects. This movie basically served as an initiation for many martial arts movie fans in the west. This is Bruce Lee’s first and last English-speaking performance.
- Ip Man (2008)
Star: Donnie Yen
Plot: During the Japanese invasion of 1937, when a wealthy martial artist is forced to leave his home and work to support his family, he reluctantly agrees to train others in the art of Wing Chun for self-defense.
This is my favorite Donnie Yen movie so far. The movie rides on the popularity of Ip Man mentoring legendary Bruce Lee during his young age, but I feel that this was unnecessary because Donnie Yen did a superb performance both in acting and fight scenes. I especially love the scene where he fought against ten Japanese karate fighters which he easily won.
- Kill Bill Vol 1
Stars: Uma Thurman, Lucy Lui
Plot: The Bride (Uma Thurman) wakes up from a four-year coma with a missing child she carried in her womb before she lost her consciousness. Now she must wreak vengeance on the team of assassins who betrayed her – a team she was once part of.
A movie of Quentin Tarantino without blood and gore won’t be a Tarantino movie. Though there is Kill Bill Vol 2, I like Kill Bill Vol 1 better when it comes to fighting scenes, such as the Bride’s one-on-one with Gogo, and the final battle between O-ren Ishii. Nothing is better than two sword-fighting pretty ladies.
- Legend of Drunken Master (1994)
Star: Jackie Chan
Plot: A young martial artist is caught between respecting his pacifist father’s wishes or stopping a group of disrespectful foreigners from stealing precious artifacts. He uses his new, yet questionable Kung-fu style to fight against the enemies.
For me, this is Jackie Chan’s best movie. Legend of Drunken Master has all the element of Jackie Chan martial arts movie – good plot, humor, drama, and a lot of breathtaking kung-fu stunts. It is a movie that will make you wish that all that drinking will make you as good as Jackie Chan. This movie is best watched with friends, sober or not.
- Undisputed 2: Last Man Standing
Stars: Scott Adkins, Michael Jai White
Plot: A sequel to the 2002 film, Undisputed, this time, Heavyweight Champ George “Iceman” Chamber is sent to a Russian Jail on trumped-up drug charges and is forced to fight for his freedom against a tough Russian fighter.
This sequel is better that the first one because of the lead villain, Boyka (Scott Adkins); he’s so good that they made the next Undisputed film solely about him. Compared to Undisputed 1, it isn’t only about boxing anymore but kicks, knees, and even grappling – totally MMA, prison-style. I love the plot, and the ending is nice. MMA fan or not, this is one fight movie you must not miss.
- Chocolate (2008)
Star: JeeJa Yanin
Plot: An autistic girl uses her powerful martial art skills to collect debts from ruthless gangsters who owe her family money in order to pay for her sick mother’s treatment.
Just like many of Asian martial arts movies where the script is the main problem, Chocolate falls to the same fate, but it can be overlooked especially because of the incredible fight sequence. JeeJa Yanin, the lead star, is anything but amazing in all the fight scenes. Her punches and kicks are believably strong and hard. Her movements fluid and fast. You would not mind that she portrays a vulnerable autistic girl as long as she can kick butt.