Do you know any martial arts movie that is dynamically different? We do! This countdown is for the best martial arts movies out there that offer different storylines and unique characters. What does that mean, exactly?
Well, when we say different, it means it’s not your usual kicking and fighting overload of a martial arts movie. These movies also got heart. These movies will also make you think, as well as feel. Those are the kind of martial arts movies that make a mark in the world.
No matter if the action is not as diverse or as adventure-packed here, audiences remember them for their totality and impact in their lives. And for those action-driven movies in the list, they also offer different kinds of fighting styles. So there’s something for everyone here to discover.
So let’s see what are some of the best martial arts movies in this vein. Roll camera!
1. The Matrix
It’s not all fighting and bloodshed with this one, but The Matrix definitely earns its stripes here in our list of best martial arts movies with a unique twist. What’s unique here is that, back in the late 1990s, you won’t generally see white actors duking it out with each other using Asian-identified martial arts moves. But this film brought that fight up many notches, and continues to be a pioneering example in many ways.
This 1999 cyberpunk film stars Keanu Reeves as a disillusioned computer programmer, who also does some hacking and illegal data selling on the side. But he finds himself chasing after the concept of “the matrix” which, soon enough, he discovers that it exists. And to up the level of his interest, the people outside of the matrix peg him as the prophesied hero that will save humanity and all that.
Big shoes to fill for someone who doesn’t initially know what he’s doing! But later, he gets programmed to do some martial arts stuff. And the fight now begins…
If you haven’t seen this classic, even this first of the trilogy by The Wachowskis, then grab some popcorn and see why it’s number one on our list!
2. Enter The Dragon
When we talk of the best martial arts movies, a Bruce Lee film ought to be on this list. And here it is! The 1973 film Enter The Dragon is, sadly, the master martial artist’s last film before his untimely death. But it still packs a wallop as a great fight film.
Of course, the story has to have drama first. To set up the action, the film starts with the British Intelligence asking the martial artist’s help in infiltrating a crime ring. And that crime ring’s illegal actions are being masked by an upcoming martial arts competition in a private island.
This Hong Kong-produced film hit it big on the Asian markets at the time of its release. But it also added to Bruce Lee’s charisma and enigma when it was also shown in other parts of the world, especially in America. Go watch this one and pay tribute to a true master.
3. Ong Bak
The Thailand style of fighting might not be so popular worldwide, but Ong Bak gave the world a peek of it when it was released in 2003. This fighting style is called Muay Thai, and this 2003 film is full of it!
This traditional Thai martial arts is actually one main attraction of the film. But the story is nice as well, to set it up. The film is about a villager named Ting who volunteers to find and retrieve the stolen Buddha head from their village. This adventure leads him to the Thailand capital of Bangkok.
Needless to say, there’s a lot of action that goes on in Bangkok. Ting finds himself entering the world of crime people, and directly exposing them to his very skilled Muay Thai expert moves. The adventure leads him into different action-packed encounters, while still trying to find the artifact of his village.
Go watch this one if you haven’t seen it yet. It’s a different kind of fighting, but it’s still very satisfying to see! The virtual tour of Bangkok is also an added bonus here.
4. The Karate Kid
While this film is all teen angst with little fighting and more drama, The Karate Kid still earns its spot here in our list of best martial arts movies with a twist or with drama in it. That’s because it tells a heartwarming tale about a boy and his seemingly downtrodden life, one he ultimately rises above from, and becomes an underdog champ.
Who doesn’t know Daniel LaRusso, the transplanted New Jersey teen who tries to find his space in California? Living with his single mother is tough, but he wants to be tougher in his new environment. So he teaches himself karate, and tries to enroll in a karate school in town.
However, the drama begins when he sees the students in that karate school: the tougher big guys who bullied him. So what’s a frustrated fighter to do? Good thing he has an angel looking over him – or a Japanese neighbor named Mr. Miyagi who turns out to be a martial arts expert.
You should definitely watch this film, if you love the mix of underdog heroes, teen drama-comedy, and karate. Go watch it!
How about a film based on supposed true-to-life events? Well, it’s hard to verify those events, but the film about some epic fighting might be good to include in our list. And that movie is Bloodsport.
This 1988 film is the film that made Jean Claude Van Damme a popular name at the movies. He became popular not because of his great acting, but it’s mostly due to his fighting abilities. Okay, he’s good-looking, too, so that’s a plus. Yes, he’s the gorgeous martial artist who can do those epic splits, like what he did in a Volvo commercial recently.
This film is the story of a US Army captain who trained with a great fight mentor early in his youth. He even feels close to the family, which has accepted him as their own. But when he grew up, he also got involved in some illegal fighting competitions in Hong Kong. And it’s in this arena where he is able to honor his mentor and display what he learned from his master.
Go see it to believe it! And see why we included at least one film by the Muscles from Brussels in our list of best martial arts movies with interesting storylines.
6. Kill Bill Vol. 1
When it comes to honoring the best martial arts movies, maybe Quentin Tarantino can give us some pointers. That’s because he honors them by making movies that mimic them. Case in point: Kill Bill Volume 1.
This 2003 is obviously an homage to these great martial arts movies coming from Asia. They’re made in Hong Kong to be exact, as well as in China, too. However, Tarantino was able to popularize some of them through his films.
This particular movie finds a samurai-wielding bride out for revenge against his former assassin boss. And the martial arts prowess exhibited in this movie’s scenes is enough to entertain you and humor you. So go watch it, and don’t get squeamish!
7. Seven Samurai
It’s not exactly an all-out fighting film, but Japanese master filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai should be in this list of best martial arts movies with a heart.
The story in itself is great, that’s why it should be here. It tells the tale of a small town that’s always infested by bandits from time to time. They decided to pool their resources and hire some samurai who could defend them from these bandits. That’s the basic premise of this film.
The rest of the film is quite a zen spectacle to see. Yes, even the battle scenes! Of course, the great Toshiro Mifune is also here, so be rewarded with this cinematic gem when you watch it.
If there is a Hollywood actor worthy of including in this best martial arts movies list, it’s Wesley Snipes. And we pick his first Blade film for this countdown. Why? Because this film departs from the usual comic book hero type of films we see lately.
The 1998 film stars Snipes as the titular Blade, who is actually a superhero with vampire blood. Only he’s a daywalker, and can go out during sunlight. But his quest is to suppress his thirst for blood, as well as kill the bad vampires that populate the city.
Snipes indeed has real-life martial arts training under his belt. That’s why the fight scenes here look so beautifully choreographed and very authentic. He looks like a natural fighter here, unlike those other comic book heroes who only learned the fight for that particular film. Snipes brings Blade to life in a better way.
So go watch this now! It’s highly entertaining. Find the sequels, too. They’re also fun.
9. Rumble in the Bronx
Jackie Chan is already a household name in Asia even before Hollywood discovered him. But if we’re looking for a breakout Hollywood film for him, then we should consider Rumble in the Bronx.
This 1995 film was hyped much due to this fact. While Jackie Chan has many other better films released in Hong Kong, this one still offers great fight scenes. After all, it took place in America, finally. And Jackie Chan was able to display his skills better in Hollywood because of this film.
The film is about a Hong Kong policeman who visits an uncle in New York. This uncle lives in a crime-infested area of the Bronx. And he soon discovers that the crimes affect his uncle and his livelihood there. He eventually gets embroiled in the drama, as well as in the action.
Go see this if you’re a huge Jackie Chan fan. It still doesn’t disappoint!
If you love your martial arts films set in ancient times, then you should not miss Hero.
The great Chinese film director Zhang Yimou is the one behind this epic opus. It stars Jet Li as an assassin who tries to get near the king. He tells of how he killed the two assassins who previously tried to assassinate the king. But the king doesn’t believe him, and they exchange stories as to whose narrative is the true one and which is the false one.
This epic tale has its fights alright, but it’s here in our list of best martial arts movies because it offers more than the fights. The interesting tale that the movie narrates is entertainingly curious. The film also boasts of the best talents to come out of the Asian region, namely its star Jet Li, as well as the lovely Zhang Ziyi, Maggie Cheung, and Tony Leung.
This is one film that you shouldn’t miss. Go watch it now!