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Chopping Down the Competition: The Best Martial Arts Movies of All Time

Did you that around 3.6 million people around the world practice some form of martial arts? The practice of martial arts is known to help a person with their physical and mental health. This practice has been around for centuries but over time more people have come across martial arts and it has become incredibly popular.

Part of this popularity is due to the growing genre of martial arts movies. These movies have been popular for decades and there’s a great selection from which to choose. Keep reading to see our list of the best martial arts movies you have to watch for yourself.


1. The Big Boss

This 1971 film features the iconic star of the martial arts genre, Bruce Lee. His skills and screen presence shine through in this low budget film directed by Lo Wei.

Lee stars as Cheng Chao-an, who moves from China to Thailand to live with his cousins. This leading role was originally written for the actor James Tien but he was quickly replaced by Lee and the film went on to become a hit.


2. Enter the Dragon

Another in the list of classic martial arts movies is Enter the Dragon. This 1973 film directed by Robert Clouse was the last film to feature Bruce Lee before his unfortunate death at the young age of 32.

This classic film is categorized by many critics as one of the best martial arts movies of all time, it was selected to be preserved in the U.S. National Film Registry in 2004.

In the movie, Lee must fight off against criminal trafficking in drugs and enslaved people. All of the incredible fighting scenes were choreographed by Lee himself.


3. The Karate Kid

This 1985 film directed by John G. Avildsen goes out to all of the kids who grew up during the 80s and 90s. Watching this movie was a sort of rite of passage, coming of age experience for our younger selves.

Everyone loves a story about an underdog and that is exactly what makes this story so great. Ralph Macchio plays Daniel LaRusso, a teen that learns karate in order to stand up to his tormentors. The incomparable Pat Morita plays Mr. Miyagi, the incredible teacher that shares his wisdom with LaRusso.


4. Police Story

Another on the list of old karate movies but a classic nonetheless is Police Story. This 1985 film was written and directed by Jackie Chan, another icon in the martial arts film genre.

The movie stars Chan as an officer who’s in charge of protecting a witness in a trial against a horrendous crime boss. What makes this movie, and many of Chan’s films, so unique is his ability to blend violence and comedy so seamlessly.


5. Once Upon a Time in China

This 1991 film made a lot of cultural commentary during the time of its release. The story of a rebel group fighting those in power was clear in the message it was trying to convey.

The director, Tsui Hark, was able to create some of the most incredible fight scenes ever seen in the martial arts genre. Jet Li stars as Wong Fei-hung, the Chinese martial arts folk hero. Li’s martial art skills are mesmerizing in this film, the fight scenes are the most memorable part of the movie.

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6. Iron Monkey

The list of martial arts movies continues with the 1993 film Iron-Monkey. This film directed by Woo-ping Yuen tells another version of the legendary Wong Fei-hung.

While the plot of the movies follows a familiar formula, the action makes up for it. Massive fight scenes including fire and fighters jumping from wooden poles are what make the movie exciting.


7. Fist of Legend

This 1994 film directed by Gordon Chan is a remake of the classic Bruce Lee film Fist of Fury. Fist of Legend is what helped make Jet Li a household name.

The best parts of this movie are, like many of the martial arts movies, the fight scenes. The choreographer, Yuen Woo-ping, created some incredibly intricate work which led him to go on to work on The Matrix.


8. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

One of the most famous Kung fu movies has got to be Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. This film from the year 2000 was directed by the remarkable Ang Lee.

This film proved to audiences that the martial arts genre could peak the highest slope of the film industry. The movie went on to win four Academy Awards.

While the fight scenes are completely mesmerizing, the story is just as captivating. Written by Wang Hui-ling, James Schamus, and Kuo Jung Tsai the script explores ideas of love and revenge in a beautifully nuanced way.


9. Kung Fu Hustle

This 2004 movie directed by Stephen Chow is at the top of many people’s lists. Kung Fu Hustle takes place in the Pigsty Alley slum in Shanghai in the 1940s.

Thieves and gangsters fight off against the slum’s landlady, who just happens to have a cigarette in her mouth at all times. Filled with comedy and amazing fight scenes, this is a martial arts movie no one should miss.

Best Martial Arts Movies to Watch

The martial arts genre has so many great films to watch and we’ve included only some of the best martial arts movies in the list above.

Don’t be afraid to check out other martial arts movies and find the ones that you love best.

Are you looking for more content like this? If so, please take a look at our other articles!

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