Martial arts movies have long been a hallmark of the action genre, thrilling and inspiring audiences to train. These films have left an indelible mark on cinema, from Bruce Lee’s classics to recent releases featuring awe-inspiring fight scenes.
Which fight moments stand out among thousands of visually stunning fight films and millions of punches delivered? Which ones must I have in my collection? In this article, I explore the greatest martial arts films of all time and explain why they stand out from the pack.
I searched the web extensively. Reviews. Forums. Amazon. Postings. Bulletins. There’s a reason why half of this list consists of films with Yuen Wo-Ping as either the director or action director; pay attention to such films! And here is the list of the top Kung-Fu films ever made, along with an explanation of why you should watch each one.
1. Way of the Dragon (1979)
The only completed movie that Bruce Lee wrote and directed is this one. The other one, Game of Death, remains unfinished. You only care about watching Bruce Lee fight Chuck Norris in the final battle. However, I could write a lot about the plot, characters, or fight scenes.
Martial Artists: Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris
Director: Bruce Lee
2. Shaolin Temple (1982)
The Shaolin Temple, the center of Chinese martial arts, has a fascinating history depicted in this book. Imagine the Shaolin Monks as Jedi Knights, an elite cadre of combatants, and the rest of China as the chaotic Star Wars universe (people who are afraid of the elite fighters and want to take them out of power).
Young Jet Li, you have a lot of work to do. (Imagine Yoda’s accent on that one.) Define Irony: The Shaolin Temple was reopened immediately after the release of a movie about its destruction that was filmed there. The movie tells the tale of the Shaolin Temple’s demise.
Martial Artist: Jet Li (His debut movie)
Director: Chang Hsin-Yen
3. Ong Bak (2003)
Tony Jaa introduces a fresh martial arts style to the big screen with class and raw action free of wires. Compared to the Chinese forms you’re used to seeing in martial arts movies starring Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, Muay Thai (Thai Boxing) is more powerful and direct. You’ll see more of him, I promise.
Martial Artist: Tony Jaa
Director: Prachya Pinkaew
4. Iron Monkey (1993)
Dr. by day, thief at night. The famous Robin Hood story meets kung fu in Iron Monkey. It’s a jam-packed action movie that can’t go five minutes without a great fight sequence. The last showdown is between Iron Monkey (Robin Hood) and a former Shaolin monk; remember that these people are the Jedi Knights of Chinese martial arts; they are highly skilled. Do you recall Yuen Wo-Ping, the person I mentioned? Since he directed this, you can be sure that it’s excellent.
Martial Artists: Yu Rong-Guang, Donnie Yen
Director: Yuen Wo-Ping
Action Directors: Yuen Cheung-yan, Yuen Shun-yi
5. 5 Deadly Venoms (1978)
Enter the muscular, skin-bearing, brutal martial arts style that would become director Chang Cheh’s signature and leave the conventional lavish clothing behind. There is no room for “martial arts beauties” in this movie because there is so much blood and violence. Only male performers were used.
The sixth cast member is trained in all five venomous species, with the others (Scorpion, Snake, Centipede, Gecko, and Toad) trained in one technique. Lots of action thanks to the six primary martial artists.
Martial Artists: 6 Martial Artists (yes, 6 main characters)
Director: Chang Cheh
6. The Seven Samurai (1954)
One of the all-time great old-school kung-fu films and possibly Kurosawa’s finest work. Some Samurai at the time were homeless and down on their luck, and they would do anything to get food. A group of seven such Samurai warriors is enlisted by a village attacked by bandits to defend the community.
The film centers on a Samurai training a hamlet how to fight, and it ends with a massive battle between a village and nearly 50 outlaws. The acting is excellent, the emotions are strong, and Kurosawa captures your attention from start to finish.
Martial Artists: 7 Martial Artists (all names you won’t know since this movie is so old).
Director: Akira Kurosawa
7. Legend Of Drunken Master (1994)
Given how the plot, comedy, drama, and incredible kung fu sequences are all balanced, some people will claim that this is the best martial arts film ever made. Jackie Chan most likely had his best martial arts performance. You’ll love the concluding scene where you discover the true meaning of “Drunken Master.” I’m talking crazy, fire-spewing chaos here!
Martial Artist: Jackie Chan
Director: Lau Kar-leung
8. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000)
This film primarily focuses on the fourth book in Wang Dulu’s Pentalogy, which consists of five novels. With its excellent character development, complex plot, martial arts values, breathtaking special effects, and faster-than-the-eye battle scenes, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon became a cultural phenomenon that transcended national boundaries.
You would probably take 50 punches to the “bags” if you told Zhang Ziyi, the lead female character and an incredible martial artist, to go back into the kitchen. Because switching to the English track is like, well, seeing a kung fu movie in English, be prepared for subtitles.
Main Martial Artist: Chow Yun-fat
Other Martial Artists: Zhang Ziyi, Michelle Yeoh, Chang Chen, Cheng Pei-Pei
Director: Ang Lee
Action Director: Yuen Wo-Ping
9. Kill Bill vol. 1 (2003)
For this one, you’ll need your home theatre room. It’s hard to top seeing gorgeous women beating the living crap out of one another in a frantic, action-packed, make-you-wince, violent, gory, cut-’em-up (for more buzzwords, see here), martial arts-heavy movie.
To create a better-than-real visual experience that gives this blood-and-guts thriller an artistic flair, you’ll appreciate Tarantino skilfully employs every camera angle and a plethora of special effects. Did I mention that it stars Uma Thurman?
“Kill Bill Vol. 2” concludes the set, but I had to pick just one film, right? Say “Five-Point-Palm Exploding Heart Technique” 5 times fast.
Actors: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Lucy Liu, Daryl Hannah, Vivica A. Fox
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Action Director: Yuen Wo-ping
10. Fist Of Legend (1994)
Fist of Legend, a timeless tale of Chinese vs. Japanese martial arts is a remake of the first Bruce Lee film, Fist of Fury. Jet Li is the Pierce Brosnan if Bruce Lee is the original James Bond. Although he’ll never be the original, the higher budget and contemporary filmmaking techniques raise the entertainment value above that of the first Fist of Fury.
The Yuen Brothers are famed for their incredible action choreography, and they definitely deliver on this one. (Jet Li’s casting might have also given them a tiny boost).
Martial Artist: Jet Li
Director: Gordon Chan
Action Directors: “The Yuen Brothers”
The world of martial arts movies has something for everyone. These ten movies are the best, from legendary martial artists to mesmerizing fight scenes and captivating storylines. They have inspired generations of viewers and will continue to for years.
This list of the Top 10 Martial Arts Movies Of All Time attests to the genre’s timeless appeal. They offer exciting action, thrilling fight scenes, and inspiring stories of courage and perseverance. Each movie provides something unique that makes them stand out from the rest and speaks to viewers from all backgrounds.
Whether you’re a fan of Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan, these movies are sure to entertain and inspire. Grab some popcorn and watch the greatest martial arts films!
The enjoyment doesn’t end there. Comment below if you liked my list or think I missed your favorite.