One thing is certain: the martial arts film industry has an impressive cast, from early masters like Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris to subsequent comedic and action legends like Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Donnie Yen, and Lucy Liu.
In addition to shouts and flying kicks, martial arts movies cover every imaginable genre and use a wide range of methods that require wires, camera rigs, and months and months of practice.
When we see a terrific martial arts film, we are not just witnessing the first take; rather, we are watching something that is as choreographed as a stage performance, a dance, or a circus, where everything must go perfectly since even the smallest mistake might result in severe injury.
In other words, we enjoy good martial arts films because we can see the passion, commitment, and effort that go into each take.
So let’s take a moment to highlight a few of the greatest.
A “martial arts film” is one in which the use of martial arts as the primary storytelling tool—either for humor or for drama—means that the physical action of the scenes is crucial for illuminating the motivations, relationships, emotions, and internal conflicts of the characters.
Martial arts are sometimes used in dramatic situations in movies; they aren’t necessarily essential to the plot or the main characters, but they do help to depict conflict.
Therefore, even though we adore movies like The Matrix and John Wick—and are aware of how both employ various fighting techniques for their action sequences—we don’t believe the style takes center stage in the narrative.
To tell the story, we need the arts.
Here are the top 25 martial arts movies of all time. Did we miss a few swings and misses? Probably. It’s true that not every situation can be as flawless as a Jackie Chan fight.
1. The Protector (2005)
Thailand’s Tony Jaa and his Muay Thai choreography may be some of the cruelest and most realistic martial artists on our list; we’re pretty convinced he’s actually punching men. You’ll get exhausted just watching the combat scene in The Protector, which lasts for about five minutes.
2. Prodigal Son (1981)
Thriller comedy This entails extensively edited gunfights and chase scenes in certain movies. It entails incredible orchestrated combat for Prodigal Son. There is also a tonne of comic absurdity.
3. Police Story (1985)
Jackie Chan is our first entry! In actuality, Chan is the best at stunt work because he possesses both the eyes and hearing of a director and the feet of a performer. The results are frequently the craziest stunts you’ll ever see. Chan is seen hanging from a double-decker bus in the opening sequence of Police Story when there is a car chase. Sold.
4. Kill Zone (2005)
Donnie Yen is another famous action star from Hong Kong. He’ll show up far more frequently on this list in more legendary roles. But in Kill Zone, we witness some of Yen’s most intensely spontaneous choreography to date. Kill Zone is included for one specific alleyway battle.
5. Master of the Flying Guillotine (1976)
It’s a kung fu classic and another illustration of how Hong Kong film dominates this list.
6. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)
The life of San Te, a renowned Shaolin disciple, is mythologized in the movie. The movie is among the best of its kind, and decades after it came out, it still had an impact. Ask the Wu-Tang Clan, please.
7. Drunken Master (1978)
Added Jackie Chan is discovered by Drunken Master studying a peculiar form of martial arts called drunken martial arts. Don’t be put off by the movie’s absurdity; the stunt work is top-notch.
8. Once Upon a Time in China (1991)
The 1990s martial arts fad was helped by the movie, which also stars Jet Li. Later, more on Li.
9. Hero (2002)
Hero is an epic of martial arts. One of the biggest and most successful movies in Chinese history at the time was directed by the legendary Zhang Yimou. They were paying respect to this in the 300 arrow scene, I guess.
10. Five Deadly Venoms (1978)
The martial arts cult craze is undoubtedly entertaining, action-packed, and somewhat bizarre. It showcases a variety of distinctive martial arts disciplines.
11. Kung Fu Hustle (2004)
Speaking of cult martial arts, Stephen Chow must be included on any list of martial arts movies. While there are many bizarre kung fu movies available, Kung Fu Hustle remains the best. It’s humorous and has better combat than 99.9% of Hollywood’s serious movies.
12. Warrior (2011)
Jokes on the internet We all shed strong tears when Brendan told Tommy he loved him in “Warrior,” which is likened to “Titanic” for guys. While I’m not denying that Titanic made us cry, Warrior—possibly the best MMA film ever created—really is as moving as any drama.
13. The Karate Kid (1984)
A fantastic sports film. A fantastic coming-of-age film. A fantastic film. And finally, a fantastic martial arts film. The Karate Kid has a lot of heart to make up for the fact that the kicking and screaming may not be as dramatic as in other movies on our list.
14. Kill Bill (2003)
Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill is one of the few western movies to successfully replicate the frantic intensity (and humor) of classic martial arts movies. The man is an expert in his field.
15. House of Flying Daggers (2005)
The martial art in House of Flying Daggers appears more like a dance. No criticism is meant by this. Kinetic poetry is the epic martial arts romance time period play. Or, more accurately, the movement has never looked this good.
16. Fearless (2006)
Let’s discuss Jet Li now. I used to be a champion Wushu fighter and competitive martial artist. At the age of 19, he retired. He has since appeared in some of the greatest martial arts films ever made. He plays another competitive martial artist who battles for patriotic pride in the movie Fearless.
17. The Legend of Drunken Master (1994)
Chan’s The Legend of Drunken Master, a sequel to his first drunken ass-kicking, captures the artist at the pinnacle of his stunt work and choreography. It’s absurd and breathtaking, electric and hilarious. If only American filmmakers would let Chan cook in this manner. Watch this if nothing else on this list interests you.
18. The Way of the Dragon (1972)
There is someone we’ve been missing, and that person is Bruce Lee. In the Lee canon, The Way of the Dragon stands out for its lighthearted attitude to action. In it, Lee also squares off against Chuck Norris, another legendary figure.
19. Fist of Legend (1994)
Jet Li’s Fist of Legend, a recreation of an earlier Bruce Lee movie (which may or may not be forthcoming), is one of the martial artist’s best efforts. It would also prompt the inclusion of kung fu in The Matrix not long after.
20. Fist of Fury (1972)
The original starred Bruce Lee at the height of his talents.
21. Ip Man (2008)
Ip Man, who was called after the trainer of Bruce Lee, is essentially the Hong Kong version of Rocky. It is an underdog tale about competing against the adversary of your country in sport.
Except that you’re not really the underdog, but rather the master, and the adversary is actually an occupying force. When we give it some thought, it’s actually much cooler than Rocky.
22. Ong Bak (2003)
At his most unfiltered and genuine, Tony Jaa is Ong Bak. The movie not only marked Jaa’s breakthrough on the global stage, but it also assisted in introducing Muay Thai to new audiences.
23. The Raid 2 (2014)
If Tony Jaa and Muay Thai were Ong Bak’s gifts to the world, The Raid gave us Silat, an Indonesian martial art, and Iko Uwais. The film’s sequel turned out to be even bigger, and we believe it contains some of the craziest and most intense action scenes ever captured on camera. Where can we now register for Silat classes?
24. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Ang Lee’s epic martial arts movie from 2000, which was based on a Wang Dulu novel, just defies hyperbole. The movie is a technicolor adaptation of an old Chinese martial arts legend. Additionally, Crouching Tiger isn’t simply a fantastic martial arts picture with slick choreography and exciting combat scenes; it’s also a fantastic movie overall. among the top in the 20th century.
25. Enter the Dragon (1973)
How can this not be the end? Enter the Dragon, which many people believe to be the greatest martial arts movie ever, would, unfortunately, be Bruce Lee’s final performance. However, he also left us with something irreplaceable that not only celebrates martial arts but also movement, discipline, and life.