10 Greatest Martial Arts Movies Of All Time

After hundreds of movies, thousands of eye-popping fight scenes and millions of punches thrown…which ones are the best? Which ones have I been missing out on my whole life? Which ones must I have in my collection in order to not bring shame upon my family name?

We’ve scoured the internet. Reviews. Forums. Amazon. Postings. Bulletins. And this list is what we’ve come up with as the greatest Kung-Fu movies of all time and why you should watch each one. Pay attention to movies involving Yuen Wo-Ping as either director or action director, there’s a reason why half this list is movies where he was involved!

#1 – Way of the Dragon (1979)

This is the only finished film to be written and directed by Bruce Lee. (Game of Death is the other one but is unfinished) We could write a lot about the plot, characters or fight scenes…but all you really care about is watching Bruce Lee fight Chuck Norris in the final battle.

Martial Artists: Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris
Director: Bruce Lee

#2 – Shaolin Temple (1982)

Depicts the amazing history of the Shaolin Temple, the focal point for Chinese Martial Arts. Think of the Shaolin Monks as Jedi Knights (an elite group of fighters) and the rest of China as the messed-up universe that Star Wars takes place in (people who are afraid of the elite fighters and want to take them out of power). Much work to do, you have, young Jet Li. *picture Yoda’s accent on that one* Define Irony: A movie shot at the site of the Shaolin Temple, telling a story about the fall of the Shaolin Temple, sparks so much public interest that the temple was re-opened shortly after the movie released.

Martial Artist: Jet Li (His debut movie)
Director: Chang Hsin-Yen

#3 – Ong Bak (2003)

Raw action without wires, Tony Jaa brings a new martial arts style to the big screen and does so in style. Muay Thai (Thai Boxing) is stronger and more direct than the Chinese styles you’re used to seeing with Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, giving a new look to how a martial arts movie can be done. You’ll be seeing more of him…guaranteed.

Martial Artist: Tony Jaa
Director: Prachya Pinkaew

#4 – Iron Monkey (1993)

Doctor by day, thief by night…Iron Monkey is your classic Robin-hood meets Kung Fu. It’s an action packed flick that can’t go 5 minutes without an excellent fight scene. It all comes down to a battle between Iron Monkey (ie Robin Hood) and an ex Shaolin Monk (remember, these guys are like the Jedi Knights of Chinese martial arts…they’re elite). Remember that guy Yuen Wo-Ping I mentioned? Well he’s the director in this one, so you know it’s good!

Martial Artists: Yu Rong-Guang, Donnie Yen
Director: Yuen Wo-Ping
Action Directors: Yuen Cheung-yan, Yuen Shun-yi

#5 – 5 Deadly Venoms (1978)

No room form “martial arts beauties” in this one, there’s so much blood and action that they only cast male actors. Exit the traditional elaborate costumes and enter the muscular, skin-bearing, bloody martial arts style that would become a trademark for director Chang Cheh. Each cast member is trained in an art resembling one of 5 venomous creatures (Scorpion, Snake, Centipede, Gecko, Toad) with the 6th cast member being trained in all 5. Six main martial arts actors = LOTS OF ACTION!

Martial Artists: 6 Martial Artists (yes, 6 main characters)
Director: Chang Cheh

#6 – The Seven Samurai (1954)

One of the greatest classic kung-fu movies of all time and arguable Kurosawa’s best work. Some Samurai of the time were down on their luck (homeless) and willing to do anything for a meal. A village under attack by bandits recruits a group of seven such Samurai warriors and asks them to help defend their village. The movie is about the Samurai teaching the village how to fight and culminates in a massive battle between a village and almost 50 attacking bandits. The acting is superb, the emotions run high and Kurosawa keeps you hooked from beginning to end.

Martial Artists: 7 Martial Artists (all names you won’t know since this movie is so old)
Director: Akira Kurosawa

#7 – Legend of Drunken Master (1994)

Some will say this is the greatest martial arts movie of all time because of it’s balance between plot-line, comedy, drama and amazing kung fu sequences. Probably Jackie Chan’s best martial arts performance. You’re going to love the final scene where you learn what “Drunken Master” really means. We’re talking box-splitting, fire-spitting craziness!

Martial Artist: Jackie Chan
Director: Lau Kar-leung

#8 – Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000)

Based on a Pentalogy (yes, that’s 5 books) written by Wang Dulu, this movie covers mostly the 4th book. Critically acclaimed to cross international borders with it’s amazing character development, intricate plot, martial arts ideals, stunning special effects and quicker-than-the-eye fighting scenes, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon set a new standard for martial arts movies. Telling Zhang Ziyi (the lead female character and an amazing martial artist) to get back in the kitchen would likely cost you 50 punches to the “bags”. Be ready for subtitles, cuz turning on the English track is like watching…uh…like watching a kung fu movie in English.

Main Martial Artist: Chow Yun-fat
Other Martial Artists: Zhang Ziyi, Michelle Yeoh, Chang Chen, Cheng Pei-pei
Director: Ang Lee
Action Director: Yuen Wo-Ping

#9 – Kill Bill vol. 1 (2003)

You’re going to want your home theatre room for this one. It’s tough to beat beautiful women beating the crap out of each other in fast-paced, action-packed, make you cringe, bloody, gory, cut’em-up (more buzz words go here) movie jam packed with as much martial arts death as possible. Tarantino expertly uses every camera angle and a plethora of special effects to deliver a better-than-real visual experience that gives this blood-and-guts thriller an artistic feel you’ll appreciate at the end. Did I mention is has Uma Thurman in it?

“Kill bill vol. 2” brings closure to the set, but hey…we had to choose one movie. Say “Five-Point-Palm Exploding Heart Technique” 5 times fast.)

Actors: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Lucy Liu, Daryl Hannah, Vivica A. Fox
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Action Director: Yuen Wo-ping

#10 – Fist of Legend (1994)

A classic story of Chinese vs. Japanese martial arts, Fist of Legend is actually a remake of the original Bruce Lee movie, Fist of Fury. If Bruce Lee is like the original James Bond, Jet Li is the Pierce Brosnan. He’ll never be the original, but the modern film-making and larger budget bring the entertainment value just a hair above the original Fist of Fury. (The ghost of Bruce Lee is probably going to strike me down for writing that) The Yuen Brothers are known for amazing action choreography, and they totally deliver on this one. (Casting Jet Li may have helped them a little too.)

Martial Artist: Jet Li
Director: Gordon Chan
Action Directors: The Yuen Brothers

The fun doesn’t stop there.

We tried to stop at only 10…really, we did. But we just couldn’t control ourselves.
“Once it hits your lips, it’s so good!” – Will Ferrell in “Old School”

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