Martial arts movies have been a popular genre since the 1970s, featuring impressive fight choreography and showcasing the skills of some of the world’s greatest martial artists.
These movies are known for their intense action sequences, intricate fight scenes, and engaging storylines that often center around themes of honor, loyalty, and redemption.
Whether you’re a fan of classic kung fu films or modern action movies, there’s something for everyone in the world of martial arts cinema.
From the iconic works of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan to the modern-day epics of Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa, martial arts movies continue to captivate audiences around the globe with their thrilling action and timeless themes.
Best Martial Arts Movies/strong>
So, grab some popcorn and get ready to experience the excitement and adrenaline of the best martial arts movies.
“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” is a martial arts film released in 2000, directed by Ang Lee and starring Chow Yun-fat, Michelle Yeoh, and Zhang Ziyi. The film is based on the novel by Wang Dulu and tells the story of two warriors who embark on a dangerous journey to recover a stolen sword.
The film is set in 19th century China and follows the story of Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-fat), a legendary warrior who is retiring from his life of fighting.
He entrusts his famous sword, the Green Destiny, to his friend and fellow warrior Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), who is in love with him. When the sword is stolen, Li and Yu set out to recover it and bring the thief to justice.
Their journey takes them to the desert, where they encounter a mysterious young woman named Jen (Zhang Ziyi), who is skilled in martial arts and appears to be the daughter of a wealthy family. As they pursue the stolen sword, Li and Yu also become embroiled in a complex web of love, loyalty, and betrayal.
“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” was a critical and commercial success upon release, winning four Academy Awards and becoming the highest-grossing foreign-language film in the United States.
The film’s innovative use of wirework and special effects to create gravity-defying fight scenes was widely praised, as was its exploration of themes of love, honor, and sacrifice.
Overall, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” is a visually stunning and emotionally powerful martial arts film that showcases the best of Chinese cinema. Its compelling characters, breathtaking action sequences, and thought-provoking themes have made it a classic of the genre.
2. Five Elements Ninjas (1982)
“Five Elements Ninjas” is a 1982 martial arts film directed by Chang Cheh and starring Cheng Tien-chi, Lo Mang, and Lung Tien-chiang.
The film follows a group of martial arts students who are trained in the Five Elements style of fighting by their master. When their master is killed by a rival Japanese ninja clan, the students vow to avenge his death and defeat the enemy.
The film is known for its highly stylized and acrobatic fight scenes, which showcase the unique fighting styles of the different ninja clans. Each clan represents one of the five elements: metal, wood, water, fire, and earth, and each has its own distinctive weapons and techniques.
“Five Elements Ninjas” is a classic of the martial arts genre and is highly regarded for its innovative fight choreography, colorful characters, and engaging storyline. The film has influenced many subsequent martial arts films and is considered a must-see for fans of the genre.
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“Hero” is an epic martial arts film directed by Zhang Yimou and released in 2002. The movie stars Jet Li, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, and Zhang Ziyi, among others, and is set in ancient China during the Warring States period.
The film tells the story of Nameless, a warrior who is summoned to the palace of the King of Qin after he claims to have defeated three legendary assassins.
Through a series of flashbacks, Nameless recounts his encounters with the assassins and the events that led up to his meeting with the king. As he tells his story, it becomes clear that things are not as they seem, and that there may be more at play than meets the eye.
“Hero” has been praised for its stunning visual style, intricate plot, and expertly choreographed fight sequences. The movie’s themes of loyalty, sacrifice, and the nature of heroism have also been noted for their depth and complexity.
The film’s use of color, music, and symbolism have also been widely praised, and it has been credited with helping to popularize martial arts films in the West. “Hero” has been hailed as a masterpiece of the genre, and has won numerous awards and accolades for its direction, cinematography, and performances.
“Return to the 36th Chamber” is a martial arts film that was released in 1980. It was directed by Lau Kar-leung and stars Gordon Liu.
The film is a sequel to “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin” and follows the adventures of a man named Liu, who returns to the Shaolin temple to hone his martial arts skills and help the oppressed workers of his village.
In the film, Liu disguises himself as a worker and infiltrates a factory that is exploiting its employees. He decides to train them in the ways of kung fu so that they can fight back against their oppressors.
Liu uses his knowledge of the Shaolin techniques to create a new training regimen that he calls the “36th Chamber of Shaolin.”
The film features a number of memorable fight scenes and showcases the athleticism and skill of the performers. It also explores themes of social justice and empowerment, as the workers learn to stand up for themselves and fight for their rights.
“Return to the 36th Chamber” was a commercial success and is regarded as a classic of the martial arts genre. It has since been noted for its humor, inventive action sequences, and charismatic lead performance by Gordon Liu.
“The Battle Wizard” is a Hong Kong martial arts fantasy film released in 1977, directed by Pao Hsueh-Li and starring Danny Lee and Lin Chen-Chi. The film is set in a mythical world filled with magic and sorcery and follows the story of a young man named Wu Tao who embarks on a quest to defeat an evil sorcerer who has taken over the kingdom.
The film features elaborate fight sequences and special effects, with characters wielding swords and engaging in aerial battles. It also incorporates elements of Chinese mythology and folklore, such as the use of magical powers and creatures such as dragons and phoenixes.
“The Battle Wizard” was a box office success in Hong Kong and helped to popularize the wuxia genre of martial arts films. It is considered a cult classic and has been noted for its innovative special effects and imaginative world-building.
Overall, “The Battle Wizard” is a thrilling and visually stunning martial arts film that is sure to delight fans of the genre. Its blend of action, fantasy, and mythology makes it a unique and memorable viewing experience.
“Iron Monkey” is a martial arts action movie released in 1993, directed by Yuen Woo-ping and starring Donnie Yen, Yu Rongguang, and Jean Wang.
The film is set in 19th-century China and tells the story of a masked vigilante known as the Iron Monkey, who defends a small village from corrupt officials and wealthy oppressors.
The film features a number of impressive action sequences and acrobatic stunts, as well as a compelling story that explores themes of justice, corruption, and the importance of standing up for what is right.
The movie also features memorable characters, strong performances from its cast, and an engaging visual style that blends traditional Chinese elements with modern action movie aesthetics.
“Iron Monkey” was a critical and commercial success upon its release, and has since become a cult classic of the martial arts genre, known for its innovative action choreography, entertaining story, and charismatic characters.
7. True Legend (2010)
True Legend is a 2010 Chinese martial arts movie directed by Yuen Woo-ping and starring Vincent Zhao. The movie follows the story of Su Qi-er, a martial arts master who seeks to avenge his family and restore his clan’s honor after being betrayed by his brother-in-law and former best friend.
The movie is notable for its stunning fight choreography and elaborate set pieces, which feature a blend of traditional Chinese martial arts and modern wirework techniques.
It also explores themes of loyalty, sacrifice, and the pursuit of martial arts mastery, making for a thrilling and emotionally resonant viewing experience.
True Legend was a critical and commercial success upon its release and is widely regarded as one of the best martial arts movies of the past decade. If you’re a fan of martial arts cinema, this movie is definitely worth checking out for its impressive fight scenes and engaging storyline.
“Drunken Master” is a martial arts film released in 1978, directed by Yuen Woo-ping and starring Jackie Chan.
The film tells the story of Wong Fei-hung, a legendary Chinese folk hero and martial arts master who must train under the tutelage of his uncle, a famous and eccentric “drunken” kung fu master, in order to defeat a dangerous rival.
The film is set in 19th century China and follows the story of Wong Fei-hung (Jackie Chan), a young martial artist who is constantly getting into trouble.
When his father hires Beggar So (Yuen Siu-tien), a famous and eccentric kung fu master, to train him, Wong must learn the unique and unorthodox techniques of the “Drunken Fist” in order to defeat a rival martial artist, Thunderfoot (Hwang Jang Lee), who is terrorizing the community.
As Wong struggles to master the techniques of the Drunken Fist, he learns valuable lessons about discipline, respect, and perseverance, and ultimately becomes a formidable fighter capable of taking on Thunderfoot and his minions.
“Drunken Master” was a box office success and is considered one of Jackie Chan’s most iconic films.
The film’s innovative use of comedic elements and acrobatic stunts, combined with its portrayal of traditional Chinese martial arts, has made it a classic of the genre. It has also inspired numerous sequels and imitators, and remains a favorite among martial arts fans around the world.
“The Matrix” is a 1999 science fiction action film written and directed by the Wachowskis and starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, and Carrie-Anne Moss.
The film is set in a dystopian future where humanity is enslaved by a race of intelligent machines that have created a simulated reality known as the Matrix to keep humans pacified and under their control.
Reeves plays Neo, a computer programmer who is contacted by a group of rebels led by Morpheus (Fishburne), who reveal to him the true nature of the Matrix and offer to help him break free from it.
Neo, along with the rebel fighter Trinity (Moss), must navigate the dangers of the Matrix and battle the agents of the machines in order to free humanity from their enslavement.
The film is known for its groundbreaking visual effects, innovative action sequences, and philosophical themes. It explores ideas such as the nature of reality, free will, and the power of belief, and has been praised for its thought-provoking storyline and complex characters.
“The Matrix” was a critical and commercial success upon release and has since become a cultural phenomenon.
It spawned two sequels, “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions,” as well as video games, comic books, and other media. It is widely regarded as one of the most influential and important science fiction films of all time.
“Fearless” is a martial arts film directed by Ronny Yu and released in 2006. The movie stars Jet Li in the lead role, along with Nakamura Shido II, Betty Sun, and Dong Yong, among others. The film is loosely based on the life of Huo Yuanjia, a famous martial artist and founder of the Jin Wu Sports Federation.
The film tells the story of Huo Yuanjia, who after a tragic event in his youth, becomes a legendary fighter in China.
However, as he gains fame and fortune, Huo becomes increasingly arrogant and isolated, leading to a confrontation with a rival fighter that has tragic consequences.
After experiencing a crisis of conscience, Huo seeks redemption by traveling to a remote village and dedicating himself to teaching martial arts to the local children.
“Fearless” has been praised for its stunning fight scenes, which were choreographed by Yuen Woo-ping, as well as its themes of redemption, humility, and the value of community.
The film has been noted for its exploration of Huo Yuanjia’s personal journey, and its portrayal of the changing attitudes towards martial arts in China during the early 20th century.
The movie has been credited with helping to popularize martial arts films in the West, and has won numerous awards and nominations for its direction, performances, and cinematography.
“Ip Man” is a martial arts film that was released in 2008. It was directed by Wilson Yip and stars Donnie Yen in the lead role as Ip Man, a legendary Wing Chun master and teacher of Bruce Lee.
The film is set in the 1930s in the city of Foshan, China, during the Japanese occupation. Ip Man is a respected martial artist who lives a comfortable life with his family, but his world is turned upside down when the Japanese army invades his town and takes over his home.
Despite his reluctance to fight at first, Ip Man is eventually forced to use his martial arts skills to defend his family and his people.
“Ip Man” is notable for its action sequences, which are expertly choreographed and showcase Donnie Yen’s impressive martial arts abilities. The film also explores themes of honor, sacrifice, and cultural identity, as Ip Man struggles to reconcile his peaceful philosophy with the violence and brutality of war.
The film was a commercial and critical success, and spawned several sequels, as well as a spinoff film series focusing on Ip Man’s most famous student, Bruce Lee.
It has been credited with helping to revitalize interest in Wing Chun and Chinese martial arts in general, and has gained a cult following among fans of the genre.
“Enter the Dragon” is a martial arts film released in 1973, directed by Robert Clouse and starring Bruce Lee in the lead role. The film follows the story of a martial artist named Lee who is recruited by British intelligence to infiltrate a criminal organization that is holding a martial arts tournament on a remote island.
The film features elaborate fight sequences and showcases Lee’s martial arts skills, including his signature style of Jeet Kune Do. It also incorporates elements of espionage and crime drama, with Lee and his fellow fighters working to bring down the criminal organization.
“Enter the Dragon” was a box office success and helped to popularize martial arts films in the Western world. It is considered a classic of the genre and has been noted for its innovative fight choreography and Lee’s charismatic performance.
Overall, “Enter the Dragon” is a thrilling and iconic martial arts film that is a must-see for fans of the genre. Its blend of action, drama, and espionage make it a unique and exciting viewing experience, and its influence can be seen in countless martial arts films that have followed it.
“Seven Samurai” is a Japanese epic samurai movie released in 1954, directed by Akira Kurosawa and starring Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, and Isao Kimura.
The film is set in 16th century Japan and tells the story of a group of seven samurai hired by a poor village to defend against a group of bandits who plan to raid and steal their crops.
The movie is known for its innovative cinematography, strong performances, and compelling story that explores themes of heroism, sacrifice, and the role of the warrior in society.
The film features a number of memorable characters, each with their own unique personality and motivations, and is considered one of the greatest examples of the samurai movie genre.
“Seven Samurai” received critical acclaim upon its release, and has since become a seminal work in world cinema, inspiring numerous imitations and adaptations in various forms of media.
The film is celebrated for its lasting impact on filmmaking, its exploration of complex themes, and its masterful blending of action, drama, and social commentary.
Kung Fu Hustle is a 2004 Chinese martial arts comedy film directed by Stephen Chow. The movie is set in 1940s China and follows the story of a small-time crook named Sing who aspires to join the notorious Axe Gang, which controls the city’s criminal underworld.
However, things take a dramatic turn when Sing’s actions inadvertently provoke a gang war between the Axe Gang and the inhabitants of a rundown tenement known as Pig Sty Alley, where he and his partner are hiding.
Kung Fu Hustle is known for its over-the-top action sequences and a unique blend of martial arts and slapstick humor. The film is a tribute to classic Hong Kong cinema, with references to the work of Bruce Lee and other martial arts legends woven into the story.
The movie was a commercial and critical success and was praised for its inventive visuals and playful tone. Kung Fu Hustle is a must-watch for anyone who loves martial arts cinema and appreciates a good laugh.
“Kill Bill: Vol. 1” is a 2003 American martial arts film directed by Quentin Tarantino and starring Uma Thurman as “The Bride,” a former member of an elite group of assassins who seeks revenge against her former colleagues after they attempt to kill her on her wedding day.
The film is divided into chapters and follows the Bride as she embarks on a bloody and brutal mission to seek revenge against those who wronged her.
She travels across the globe, taking on skilled fighters and assassins in her quest for vengeance, all while uncovering the secrets of her past and the reasons behind the attempted assassination.
The film is notable for its stylized violence, innovative use of music, and nods to various martial arts films and genres. It also features a talented cast including Lucy Liu, David Carradine, and Michael Madsen, among others.
“Kill Bill: Vol. 1” was a commercial and critical success, grossing over $180 million worldwide and receiving praise for its unique blend of action, humor, and storytelling. It was followed by a sequel, “Kill Bill: Vol. 2,” which continued the Bride’s story and brought the saga to a satisfying conclusion.
“Kung Fu Panda 2” is a 2011 animated action-comedy film directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson and produced by DreamWorks Animation.
The film is a sequel to the 2008 hit “Kung Fu Panda” and stars the voice talents of Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Gary Oldman, and Jackie Chan.
The film follows the adventures of Po, a clumsy but lovable panda who is now the Dragon Warrior and a member of the Furious Five, a group of skilled kung fu warriors.
Po and the Furious Five are tasked with stopping the evil peacock Lord Shen, who plans to conquer China with a powerful weapon he has created.
As they battle Shen and his army of wolves, Po discovers the truth about his past and must confront his inner demons to become the hero he was meant to be.
“Kung Fu Panda 2” is known for its stunning animation, exciting action sequences, and heartwarming story. It explores themes of family, identity, and the power of inner strength, and has been praised for its impressive blend of humor, action, and emotional depth.
The film was a critical and commercial success, grossing over $665 million worldwide and earning numerous award nominations, including an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature.
It is widely regarded as one of the best animated films of the 2010s and a worthy follow-up to the original “Kung Fu Panda.”
“Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior” is an action film directed by Prachya Pinkaew and released in 2003. The movie stars Tony Jaa in the lead role, along with Petchtai Wongkamlao and Pumwaree Yodkamol, among others.
The film is known for its impressive stunts and action sequences, which were performed without the use of wires or special effects.
The movie tells the story of Ting, a young man from a rural village in Thailand, who travels to Bangkok to recover the head of his village’s Buddha statue, which has been stolen by criminals.
Ting soon finds himself embroiled in a dangerous criminal underworld, where he must use his martial arts skills to fight off a series of opponents in order to recover the stolen head.
“Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior” has been praised for its intense action scenes, which were choreographed by Tony Jaa himself, and for its innovative use of Muay Thai, a form of martial arts that is popular in Thailand.
The movie has been noted for its fast-paced, adrenaline-fueled fight sequences, as well as its exploration of the tension between rural and urban Thai culture. The film has become a cult classic among fans of action movies and martial arts films, and has spawned several sequels and spin-offs.
18. Crippled Avengers (1978)
“Crippled Avengers,” also known as “Return of the 5 Deadly Venoms,” is a martial arts film that was released in 1978. It was directed by Chang Cheh and stars a number of popular martial arts actors of the time, including Chen Kuan Tai, Lo Meng, and Sun Chien.
The film follows a group of four men, each of whom has been disabled by a cruel and powerful warlord.
They band together to train in the martial arts and seek revenge against their oppressor. Each member of the group has a different disability that they must overcome in order to become proficient fighters: one is deaf, one is mute, one is blind, and one has lost his legs.
The film features a number of memorable fight scenes, as the four heroes use their disabilities to their advantage in battle. It also explores themes of resilience, determination, and the power of friendship and teamwork.
“Crippled Avengers” is notable for its use of the “Venom Mob,” a group of actors who appeared in a number of martial arts films together in the 1970s and 1980s. The film has gained a cult following among fans of the genre and is regarded as a classic of Hong Kong martial arts cinema.
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19. The Masked Avengers (1981)
“The Masked Avengers” is a martial arts film released in 1981, directed by Chang Cheh and starring Philip Kwok, Lu Feng, and Chiang Sheng.
The film is set during the Qing dynasty in China and follows the story of three martial arts masters who set out to uncover a conspiracy involving corrupt officials and a group of masked vigilantes.
The film features elaborate fight sequences and showcases the acrobatic and martial arts skills of the lead actors, who were all members of the famous Shaw Brothers Studio.
It also incorporates elements of mystery and intrigue, as the protagonists work to uncover the true identities of the masked vigilantes and bring the corrupt officials to justice.
“The Masked Avengers” was a commercial success and is considered a classic of the martial arts genre. It has been noted for its innovative fight choreography, which incorporates weapons such as the flying guillotine and the rope dart, as well as its portrayal of honor and loyalty among martial artists.
Overall, “The Masked Avengers” is a thrilling and action-packed martial arts film that is sure to delight fans of the genre. Its combination of intricate fight choreography, engaging characters, and a compelling story make it a standout example of the Shaw Brothers Studio’s contributions to martial arts cinema.
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20. Five Deadly Venoms (1978)
“Five Deadly Venoms” is a martial arts movie released in 1978, directed by Chang Cheh and starring the famous martial arts actors Venoms, which includes Phillip Kwok, Chiang Sheng, Sun Chien, Lu Feng, and Lo Mang.
The film follows a dying kung fu master who sends his last pupil to track down five former students, each of whom has mastered a unique style of martial arts, and determine which of them has turned to evil.
The movie is known for its inventive action choreography, colorful characters, and unique visual style that blends traditional Chinese martial arts with elements of the western genre.
Each of the five Venoms is associated with a specific animal, and their respective fighting styles are visually represented through different colors and movements.
“Five Deadly Venoms” was a commercial and critical success upon its release, and has since become a cult classic of the martial arts genre, inspiring numerous imitations and parodies.
The film is celebrated for its memorable characters, imaginative fight scenes, and stylish presentation, and is considered one of the definitive works of the genre.
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3 Characteristics of Martial Arts Movies
Action-packed fight scenes: One of the most distinctive features of martial arts movies is their action-packed fight scenes. These scenes often feature acrobatic and visually stunning choreography, as well as a range of martial arts techniques and weapons.
Themes of honor and discipline: Many martial arts movies also explore themes of honor, discipline, and the pursuit of self-improvement. These themes are often reflected in the characters’ journeys, as they strive to become stronger and more skilled, both physically and mentally.
Cultural and historical references: Martial arts movies often draw on cultural and historical references, particularly from East Asian traditions.
They may include depictions of traditional martial arts styles, costumes, and settings, as well as references to ancient myths and legends. These references can give the films a sense of authenticity and provide deeper insights into the cultures they represent.
3 Reasons To Watch Martial Arts Movies
Spectacular Action: Martial arts movies are known for their visually stunning fight sequences and impressive choreography. They often feature acrobatic and highly skilled martial arts moves that are both thrilling and entertaining to watch.
Whether you’re a fan of hand-to-hand combat or weapons-based fighting, there’s no denying the excitement and spectacle that martial arts movies bring to the screen.
Cultural Insight: Martial arts movies can offer a glimpse into different cultures and traditions, as many of these films are deeply rooted in Asian culture and history.
They often showcase the philosophies and values that are integral to martial arts, such as discipline, honor, and respect. By watching martial arts movies, you can gain a greater appreciation for the art form and the cultures that produced it.
Inspirational Messages: Many martial arts movies also deliver inspiring messages about perseverance, determination, and overcoming adversity.
They often feature underdog protagonists who must work hard to achieve their goals and overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. These themes can be uplifting and motivating, reminding us of the importance of hard work and dedication in achieving success.
Best Martial Arts Movies – Wrap Up
In conclusion, martial arts movies have been captivating audiences around the world for decades, with their thrilling fight sequences, complex characters, and exploration of themes such as honor, justice, and personal growth.
From classic films like “Enter the Dragon” and “The Karate Kid” to more recent hits like “Ip Man” and “The Raid,” martial arts movies have a rich and diverse history that continues to inspire new generations of filmmakers and fans.
Some of the other notable martial arts movies that have left a lasting impact on the genre include “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Kill Bill,” “Kung Fu Hustle,” “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin,” “Drunken Master,” and “Police Story,” to name just a few.
With the continued popularity of martial arts films and the emergence of new talent in the genre, it’s clear that the legacy of these movies will continue to inspire and entertain audiences for many years to come.