If you are a 90s kid then you know the craze of martial arts movies during that time. Big stars like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Chuck Norris, Jet Li became idols of many people around the globe. It was the Golden era of martial arts movies.
Over time many different sub-genres of action movies have emerged and martial arts movies have seen a decrease in popularity. But that doesn’t affect the OG martial arts movie lovers.
In this post, I’ll be sharing with you my list of 20 All-time Best Martial Arts movies.
1. Ip Man
- Logline: A story based on the life of Ip Man, the grandmaster of the Wing Chun style of kung fu and master of legendary kung fu superstar Bruce Lee.
- Year: 2008
- Cast: Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Siu-Wong Fan
Ip Man is considered one of the best martial arts movies of all time. It not only has great action but also a storyline that will keep you gripped at all times. Also, the franchise has four parts and all of them are highly acclaimed by the critics and the audiences.
A story set in a period of Sino Japanese War in 1937. Japanese army invades China and unleashes brutality over Chinese people. Grandmaster Ip Man, who is a well-renowned fighter in China is asked to teach his beloved fighting art to the Japanese soldiers which he refused. Thus he is forced to fight for the honor of his country in a series of kill or be-killed battles.
2. Kung Fu Hustle
- Logline: A story of a wannabe gangster who wants to be the part of a powerful Axe Gang.
- Year: 2004
- Cast: Stephen Chow, Wah Yuen, Qiu Yuen
I’m sure most of you have already watched this masterpiece. A martial arts movie that will make your stomach hurt with its comic timing. It is so unique in its storytelling that I haven’t seen another movie like this.
The story revolves around a guy named Sing, who’s a wanna gangster and wants to join Axe Gang. To solidify his position in the gang he messes with slum landlords who are Kung Fu masters in disguise. His misadventure brings the Axe Gang and the landlords in confrontation with each other.
- Logline: A family feud results in a fight between two brothers at the biggest stage of MMA Tournament.
- Year: 2011
- Cast: Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, Joel Edgerton
Warrior is considered as one of the best sporting films ever made. It dives deep into the world of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighting. The movie has everything, it has action, drama, emotions, and betrayal.
The story starts with Tommy, a former marine who comes back home and asks his father to train him to fight for an MMA tournament giving big rewards. On the other side, his brother Brendan who is a former MMA fighter also decides to sign up for the tournament.
Brendan doesn’t get along with his father and brother because of the bad past. As both brothers confront each other in the ring, all the past emotions come out resulting in an intense fight.
- Logline: A mother’s desperate attempt to save her daughter from kidnappers.
- Year: 2019
- Cast: Van Veronica Ngo, Mai Cát Vi, Thanh Nhien Phan
There is no denying the fact that the martial arts genre has been dominated by male protagonists for a long stretch.
Furie is a Vietnamese action film that depicts the story of a single mother. Furie was one of the few Vietnamese movies to cross the hundred billion VND box office collection.
Hai Phuong, an ex-gangster and a single mother confronts a tragic event when her only daughter gets kidnaped by an organ trafficking mafia.
The movie follows her attempts of saving her daughter while she confronts her violent past in the chase.
The movie gained popularity after Netflix purchased its streaming rights. A unique storyline, over the top action scenes coming from a female protagonist, are some considerable points to add this to your watchlist today.
- Logline: A brutal killing of a police investigator’s family leads him in search of the culprits
- Year: 2018
- Cast: Je-Heon Choi, SooJin Jeong, Bruce Khan
Written and played by Bruce Khan, “Revenger” is another South Korean action movie that leaves no stone unturned in showing Bruce Khan’s martial arts skill.
Revenge stories are some of the most common themes used in fighting martial arts movies and the name of the movies don’t make us think much about the same.
Bruce Khan plays as a police investigator who intentionally lands on a prison island to revenge the killing of his loved ones.
The movie scores poorly on rating websites due to its conventional storyline but on part of the action it scores a clear ten and if you are an action movie lover you can’t afford to miss this one.
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- Logline: A story of a former world boxing champion struggling to reach glory again.
- Year: 2013
- Cast: Nick Cheung, Eddie Peng, Ting Mei
A martial arts movie that is a mix of tears and laughter and pain and joy. It is one of those movies that excite, entertain, and inspire its audiences. This movie takes you to a world of professional modern-day fighting.
Ching Fai is a former world boxing champions who moves to Macau to escape from loan sharks. There he meets a single mother who’s his landlady and a young guy who wants to take part in an MMA competition and requests Ching to train him.
He soon forms a bond with the people around him. But problems don’t leave his side, though this time he decides to fight rather than run away.
7. The Raid 2
- Logline: A story of a police officer who goes undercover to discover the corruption going on in his police department.
- Year: 2014
- Cast: Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, Arifin Putra
If you haven’t seen the first part of the movie then don’t jump on this one. In all honesty, both parts deserved to be on this list but the second part gets the spot by a little margin. The Raid is a martial arts movie that has a strong storyline and intense action scenes.
Ram is tasked with the anti-corruption bureau as an undercover cop to get close to a mafia boss and find his relationship with the police department. All the while Ram also gets consumed by his vendetta that affects the mission.
8. Kung Fu Jungle
- Logline: A martial arts master offers to help the police to fight a criminal in return for his freedom.
- Year: 2014
- Cast: Donnie Yen, Wang Baoqiang, Charlie Yeung
Donnie Yen got his stardom after Ip Man in 2008 that made him the top action star in Asia. He shot this movie at the age of 51, at the time when most of the big action stars have retired from making martial arts movies. ‘Kung Fu Jungle’ has brought many action legends together to create a movie that has a 90s vibe.
Hahou Mo, a well known martial arts instructor is incarcerated for killing a man and now spending his time in jail. When an unknown criminal starts targeting martial arts masters, Hahou Mo offers the police his assistance in return for his freedom.
9. Ong Bak 2
- Logline: A revenge story of a boy whose family was assassinated by his father’s rival.
- Year: 2008
- Cast: Tony Jaa, Sarunyu Wongkrachang, Sorapong Chatree
When people talk about martial arts movies, their mind directly goes towards Chinese movies. Although China indeed makes most of such movies, Thailand also has a very strong martial arts movie industry and Ong Bak is a prime example of it.
The story revolves around a boy named Tien who saw his entire family being assassinated by his father’s rival. He is then adopted by a man who teaches him all forms of Asian Martial Arts. After getting the full knowledge of fight, Tien decides to take revenge from everyone who wronged him.
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- Logline: Biography of an undefeated Chinese fighter.
- Year: 2006
- Cast: Jet Li, Li Sun, Yong Dong
Based on the life of a fierce Chinese martial artist Huo Yuanijia who conquered over foreign fighters in public fighting events restoring pride and nationalism to China.
The movie tries to shed light on each possible event that led Huo to become a Hero in China. Huo’s father, Huo Endi a martial art teacher didn’t want his son to follow the same path but his dishonored defeat led Huo vows to become an undefeatable fighter and unlike his father showed no mercy towards his opponents.
You may get a bit disappointed by the traditional screen filter but on part of the storyline, it is much more than just a hero fighting to keep his vow. Hou walks a long way through moments of tragedies to accomplishments and the movie does justice in portraying the same.
11. The Protector
- Logline: A story of a guy who goes to Australia to retrieve an elephant that was stolen from him.
- Year: 2005
- Cast: Tony Jaa, Nathan Jones, Xing Jin
To summarise this movie in a line, The Protector is ‘Tarzan with martial arts’. It is a movie where our main lead shares a deep bond with the animals and treat them as a family and will go to all ends to protect them.
The story revolves around a guy named Kham who has been raised in a jungle with elephants by his father. One day two of his elephants are stolen by a Thai mafia and sent to Australia. Kham decides to go to Australia and get back his elephants and punish the culprits.
12. Journey to The West
- Logline: A story of an aspiring demon hunter and his comrades who fight against vicious demons to protect the peace.
- Year: 2013
- Cast: Zhang Wen, Qi Shu, Bo Huang
A movie directed by Stephen Chow who’s has also directed blockbuster movies like Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer. This movie is loosely based on a 16th century Chinese Novel. It has comedy, tragedy, romance and of course a tonne of action.
The movie revolves around Xuan Zang, an aspiring demon hunter who believes that the best way to defeat a demon is by bringing the goodness in them. So he sings the pop version of nursery rhymes to them which is not very successful. Along with a fellow Demon hunter, he goes on a journey to defeat the Monkey King, ruler of all demons.
13. The Pirates
- Logline: A gray whale swallows the Emperor’ seal and the state announces a big reward for whoever brings the seal back.
- Year: 2014
- Cast: Nam-Gil Kim, Ye-jin Son, Hae-Jin Yoo
The Pirates is a South Korean film recognized as one of the best action-comedy that puts in light a group of pirates from China. This fifteen million USD budgeted movie not only crossed charts in the Asian subcontinent but globally as well.
Set during the eve of the founding of the Joseon Dynasty the movie details the fight between a band of pirates and a group of bandits to catch a royal gray whale that has swallowed the Ming Emperor’s seal of the state.
The reward to bring back the royal seal interest many and the chase brings out some hilarious and watch worthy happenings.
14. Kill Bill
- Logline: Four years after surviving an attack, the woman haunts the man who bought her to this current situation.
- Year: 2018
- Cast: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Vivica A. Fox
Kill Bill is an episode of three-movie series the first of which was launched back in 2003 as Kill Bill Vol 1. The first two parts (Vol 1 and Vol 2) were made in a single production but due to the long runtime, the movies were released in two parts.
It is an American martial arts film that follows the story of a retired assassin’s revenge against the man named Bill who tried to kill her and her unborn child.
A woman fighting in the aggression of a lost child creates an engaging standard throughout all three parts.
The action scenes can’t just be ignored as the movie is strongly backed by Kung Fu, Ninja, and Samurai style action.
Also Read: 35 Best Chinese Drama till 2020
15. Raging Bull
- Logline: A movie based on the life of a famous boxer, Jake LaMotta.
- Year: 1980
- Cast: Robert De Niro, Cathy Moriarty, Joe Pesci
Considered as one of the finest films of the decade, Raging Bull dives into the life of an infamous boxer, Jake LaMotta. It is a case study of his life and emotions. In a true sense, it’s not a martial arts movie but somehow I felt it deserved a spot on this list.
The movie focuses on his life in and outside the ring. His entire career he fought with rage and aggression and became the indisputable champion of the ring. But it also affected his personal life and his relationship with his family. His behavior made him distant from his family which made him more paranoid.
16. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny
- Logline: To face a warlord and to protect the legacy of his clan Michele has no option left to train a new fighter army of freshies.
- Year: 2016
- Cast: Donnie Yen, Michelle Yeoh, Harry Shum Jr., Jason Scott Lee
Based on the novel Iron Knight, Silver Vase by Wang Dulu this film is a sequel to the 2000 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The film was distributed by Netflix outside China and Hongkong.
The story advances forward fourteen years from where its prequel had ended. The story puts in spotlight Michelle Yeoh, a martial arts expert who assembles a group of amateur fighters and trains them to defend his village and a legendary sword from a warlord.
The beauty of movie direction is represented in such m manner that you don’t necessarily need to watch the first part as there is a clear depiction of each and element involved in the story.
- Logline: A young man unaware of his real identity struggles to solve the unknown mystery of his life.
- Year: 2016
- Cast: Iko Uwais, Chelsea Islan, Sunny Pang
In the race of Asian martial art movies, Indonesian movies perform at par with Chinese and Korean movies. “Headshot” is a perfect example that supports my argument.
This Indonesian action thriller was released at the Toronto International Film Festival and has gained positive reviews from critics worldwide.
The story follows the life of a man who is found lying by the shore on a remote island suffering a head injury and a severe memory loss. His traumatic past began to haunt him soon after being nursed. He becomes aware that he has duties to fulfill and revenge to settle.
Unlike other martial arts movies that present action and fight scenes lured with slow-mo and VFX this movie presents real looking fast-paced action scenes with minimal cuts.
- Logline: Gangleader calls for a bounty on her accomplice’s head that triggers a riot in a prison.
- Year: 2017
- Cast: Celine Tran, Jean-Paul Ly, Laurent Plancel
Cambodia is some of the less talked Asian regions in global competitions but the past few years have witnessed some exceptional entertaining films like Jailbreak coming out of Cambodia.
Available on Netflix, Jailbreak highlights the Cambodian martial arts of bokator while the story talks about the arrest of a ludicrous gangster Playboy who is responsible for many crimes and money laundry happening in the city.
In exchange for his freedom, The Playboy offers to reveal the true kingpin –Madame Butterfly.
To stop Playboy from revealing her secrets Madame Butterfly puts a bounty on his head that sparks a riot in prison.
A perfect demonstration of slapstick comedy, diverse character depiction, and an exciting plot are some reasons to which this movie might draw your attention.
19. Man of Tai Chi
- Logline: A young martial artist’s need for money forces him to enter the world of underground fighting.
- Year: 2013
- Cast: Tiger Hu Chen, Keanu Reeves, Karen Mok
The movie marks the directional debut of Keanu Reeves who also plays one of the leads in the same movie.
Like many underground fighting battle movies, Man of Tai Chi follows the conventional story of a poor man possessing extraordinary abilities to fight in desperate need of money.
What makes this movie stand out is the extremely appealing fight sequences. Each fist blow and kick make you feel the pure intensity of Tai Chi martial arts.
If you are a close Keanu Reeves follower you may be aware that debut firm didn’t work off well for him and was a flop. But for any action lover, this movie is a treat to watch.
20. Big Brother
- Logline: An ex-military brings new ways of engaging kids to study while saving the school from greedy business tycoons.
- Year: 2018
- Cast: Donnie Yen, Joe Chen, Ming-Kit Lok
A retired army man joins a school that is under the threat of a greedy entrepreneur who tries to win the land.
Earlier the students were not very less interested in the academic activities but as soon as the army officers take the charge there is a drastic improvement in the performance and skills of the students.
Though his teaching methods are unconventional he still manages to enlighten the students with his armed skills.