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Poll: Best Martial Arts Movies

the protector tony jaa

Update: I’m adding to the list based on readers’ comments, and movies I have watched since writing the post. The originals I wrote are the ones with brief remarks after them.

What’s that behind you? It’s me! Wham!

Now that you’ve recovered, I must tell you that I’ve been on a huge chop socky flick kick. This happens about once a year where I round up all of the (hopefully) best martial arts movies I can find and I watch or rewatch them.

This year, as with the previous three, Tony Jaa’s The Protector is at the top of my list. It is the only movie I have ever seen where a giant, musclebound white guy throws an elephant. True story.

So first, watch The Protector. But if that’s not enough for you, here are a few I can vouch for, and will vouch for, through flying fists and feet, if necessary…


  • Enter The Dragon: This is a no-brainer
  • When We Were Kings – I’m putting this in because it’s got Muhammad Ali in it, and it’s the greatest documentary I’ve ever seen
  • The 36 Chambers of Shaolin – Got turned on to this by the RZA in The Tao of Wu (my review)
  • Barry Gordon’s The Last Dragon – Indescribably bizarre and great
  • Rumble In The Bronx – This was the first time I saw Jackie Chan and it still makes me laugh every time the Mexican guy yells “Que Pasa!” because that’s what Mexican Gang members in America yell, as viewed through Asian cinema creators. Also, there is a guy in a fringe coat who wear braids that I think of as “Native American Man.” Great action scenes, despite all the silliness.
  • American Ninja – This is the only time I’ve watched a martial arts flick and thought “I could kick that guy’s butt.” Still, it’s a great guilty pleasure
  • Ip Man
  • Ip Man 2
  • True Legend
  • Ong Bak
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  • Kung Fu Hustle
  • Bloodsport
  • Best of The Best
  • Once Upon A Time In China
  • Iron Fist Pillage
  • The Karate Kid
  • 5 Deadly Venoms
  • Fist of Legend
  • Iron Monkey
  • The Challenge
  • Revenge of The Ninja
  • The Big Brawl
  • Master of The Flying Guillotine
  • Drunken Master
  • Hero
  • Kung Fu Panda
  • Equilibrium
  • Return of The Dragon
  • Rocky
  • The Bourne Identity
  • Million Dollar Baby
  • King of The Kickboxers
  • Blind Samurai
  • Seven Samurai
  • Ichi
  • Ghost Dog
  • Game of Death
  • Lone Wolf McQuade
  • Chocolate
  • Dragons Forever
  • Blood and Bone

I’ll leave it at that for now. I have to go kick something. But feel free to fill in the blanks.

What’s that behind you! It’s one of the best martial art movies ever. Go watch it!


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Bob February 8, 2011, 12:22 pm

    You need to watch Ip Man. Awesome movie.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 8, 2011, 12:29 pm

      I’ve seen Ip Man. Loved it. Can’t wait until part 2 comes around these parts.

      • itoaj38 May 14, 2011, 12:37 pm

        You have gotta be kidding me. No IP Man, True Legend, Chocolate, Ong-Bak, Seven Swords, 14 Blades, HERO or Goemon. You must have severely limited resources for awesome Martial Arts Movies. Sure sometimes you want nothing but authenticity in your movie no CGI just butt-kicking. And other times a Beautiful spectacle like HERO, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon or especially newly released Goemon fills every eye-candy need known to mankind, imho. Cheers!!!

        • Josh Hanagarne May 14, 2011, 12:38 pm

          They’re being worked into the post as the comments continue to roll in. +1 zillion on Ip Man.

  • wilson usman February 8, 2011, 12:23 pm

    Nice. Definitely Enter the dragon my favorite. Oh and Rumble in the bronx was killer first time I saw it in the theater.

  • david buckles February 8, 2011, 12:31 pm

    Kung Fu Hustle is my fave, must watch with the english subtitles, its much funnier in its native tongue.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 8, 2011, 2:45 pm

      I’ve got to try that then. I got through about half of it in English and just got annoyed and turned it off. Loved the opening sequence though.

  • Jon February 8, 2011, 12:38 pm

    Super cheesy, but I admit I’ll watch it every time it comes on TV: Bloodsport.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 8, 2011, 2:44 pm

      This is my unifying theory of everything: Bloodsport and Roadhouse are always on somewhere, and they grow better with every viewing.

  • Kirk February 8, 2011, 12:47 pm

    I am on board with the Bloodsport cheese love. I would also put forth Best of the Best. Super fun movie about US vs. Korea full contact – their training and stories. Cheese? Absolutely. But, oh so tasty!

    • Josh Hanagarne February 8, 2011, 2:44 pm

      Bloodsport is the greatest thing ever. Loved best of the best as well, although part 2 got silly, even for this. It really made me laugh in BOTB that Chris Penn was a martial artist.

  • josh February 8, 2011, 12:54 pm

    Once upon a time in china is amazing, also I’m a big fan of hero. When it comes to guilty pleasures it doesn’t get any better than Iron fist pillage, its an old kung fu movie that cappadonna and other guys from wu tang dubbed their voices over. Its absolutely hilarious and if you would like to borrow it Josh I happen to have randomly come across a signed copy of it. Its hard to find so I can burn you a copy also if you want.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 8, 2011, 2:43 pm

      I liked Hero too. I’ll see if I can track down Iron Fist Pillage, and if not, I’ll let you know, thanks.

    • mikesharkey February 9, 2011, 2:42 am

      props on once upon a time in china… Wong Fei Hong is a legend.

  • Gordie February 8, 2011, 1:05 pm

    Karate Kid!

    • Josh Hanagarne February 8, 2011, 2:43 pm

      Gordie, glad to see you’re still around. KK for sure.

  • Demond Thompson February 8, 2011, 2:27 pm

    Good choices, however there are some greats that are missing.

    5 Deadly Venoms (classic!)
    Fist of Legend (Jet Li’s best by far)
    Iron Monkey

    By the way, thank you for reviewing Tao of the Wu. It was a great book. Considering I love the Wu, I was pleasantly surprised about the thought that went into it’s creation. Also thank you for mentioning The Last Dragon…Sho ‘Nuff.

    Nuff said.

  • Boris February 8, 2011, 3:46 pm

    Sho’ Nuff.

    Most of these are truly awesome. Some are awesome because they are so bad.

    The Last Dragon
    Big Trouble In Little China
    The Challenge (w. Toshiro Mifune – I think the title was later changed)
    Revenge Of The Ninja
    Enter The Dragon
    The Big Brawl (w. Jackie Chan – I think the title was later changed)
    The Seven Deadly Venoms
    Master Of The Flying Guillotine
    No Retreat No Surrender

  • ami February 8, 2011, 6:15 pm

    You need more Jackie Chan in the mix. Maybe Drunken Master. The new Karate Kid flick isn’t bad either. I also liked Dragon (the one about Bruce Lee)

    When DH and I were training in taekwondo, we watched chop sake movies for the fight scenes – plot was sometimes a drawback. Thus Mortal Combat was a good one (even tho’ your IQ went down as you watched) – as was The Matrix.

    More recently, martial artsy fartsy became acceptable, thus: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, Kung Fu Hustle.

    And I have to add: Kung Fu Panda for the humor.

    • mikesharkey February 9, 2011, 2:40 am

      actually I thought kung-fu panda had some pretty awesome fight scenes.

  • Frankie Faires February 8, 2011, 10:33 pm

    I certainly agree with:
    Fist of Legend
    The Protector
    Karate Kid
    Iron Monkey
    Ip Man
    Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

    Return of the Dragon
    The Bourne Identity (#1 right)
    Million Dollar Baby

    been mentioned yet?

    What makes a good fight scene?
    The choreographer
    The actors / stuntmen
    the videographer/cinematographer, etc.

    How it is captured makes ALL the difference.

    • mikesharkey February 9, 2011, 2:46 am

      Frankie, I thought the fight scene in the second Bourne film was one of the best i’ve ever seen.

      Also, I think you would like the Three Kingdoms. Not so much for the ‘kung-fu’. but for the Art of War and some of the greatest general to ever live, including Zhu Ge Liang, whom Chinese culture holds next to Lao Tzu and Confucius.

      • Yen-Hong T May 21, 2011, 4:46 am

        you are right, Zhu Ge Liang was a diplomatic genius who was also a first-rate musician and intellectual!

  • Andy February 9, 2011, 2:12 am

    How about King of the Kickboxers?

    The story is near identical to Kickboxer (without the awesome dance scene) but with Billy Blanks as the Thai (???) bad guy.

    Great fight scenes, some great one liners and massive, unnecessary explosions. Pure awesome

  • mikesharkey February 9, 2011, 2:36 am

    no one mentioned the Matrix? C’mon!

    also Ong Bak was pretty dope.

    further, Tai Chi Master.

    and I have to say, Lethal Weapon 4. Jet Li’s first western movie. Total paradigm shift.

  • Eric | Eden Journal February 9, 2011, 6:45 am

    I liked Ong Bak a little better than the Protector, but I find it hard to argue with the big dude throwing an elephant.

    Lately my martial arts movie genre of choice has been the samarai movie. Here are a few of my favorites:
    The blind Samurai: Zatoichi (2003)
    Seven Samurai (old black and white and super cheesy)

  • Heather February 9, 2011, 7:27 am

    Enter the Dragon
    Ghost Dog
    ANYTHING with Chau Yun Phat!

  • Todd February 9, 2011, 7:31 am

    Well, any of Bruce Lee’s movies score high with me. Enter the Dragon, and The Octagon are probably my top picks.

    I’m a sucker for Steven Seagal’s movies. They’re so bad, but his fight scenes are a hoot, and he is probably the only current actor that actually knows how to properly handle a handgun.

  • Todd February 9, 2011, 7:36 am

    Sorry, correction–I was thinking Game of Death, not The Octagon.

    Although that does bring up Chuck Norris’ movies. Lone Wolf McQuade would be on my list.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 9, 2011, 12:22 pm

      Apology not accepted Todd. You’ve got to get a hold of yourself!

  • Boris February 9, 2011, 9:14 am

    Lone Wolf McQuade was good. Silent Rage was awesome! You can watch it on crackle for free btw: http://www.crackle.com/c/Silent_Rage/Silent_Rage/2479796?c=US
    The Last Dragon: http://www.crackle.com/c/The_Last_Dragon/The_Last_Dragon/2460332?c=US
    They might have others.

  • Michelle February 9, 2011, 10:07 am

    The story behind Chocolate is interesting. It’s worth a viewing.

  • Jason February 9, 2011, 6:55 pm

    If you’re a Jackie Chan fan, then you’ll find Dragons Forever entertaining which he did with his buddies Sammo Hung and Biao Yuen.

    Also, Supercop With Chan and Michelle Yeoh was pretty good too.

  • Steve February 11, 2011, 8:55 pm

    I can’t believe someone mentioned ‘No Retreat No Surrender’. I thought I was the only one who saw that. VanDamme has a lot to be embarrassed about but that one tops the list. But then again, I do hide the remote when Bloodsport is playing.

  • Leon Rosser May 13, 2011, 6:43 pm

    good list people !!! best of the best the two enemies the rei brothers are awesome martial artists , but what about rapid fire? and im shocked noone has mentioned BLOOD and BONE i thought that was awesome. also i used to like that capoeira film but cannot but the name on it , in the film rthis guys moves from brazil or some beach somewhere to central usa and teaches some kids capoeirea and as usual in cheese but awesome films he takes on some gangsters good film man!

    • Keith June 5, 2011, 9:30 pm

      The movie your thinking of is “Only the Strong” starring Mark Dacascos. Still waiting to see yojimbo great samurai film. And for those that mentioned Van damme “lionheart” is a good one, Seagal “Above the Law” is always a good choice.