Here is a list of Martial arts movies have been a popular form of entertainment for decades, captivating those who are learning martial arts (and those that aren’t) with their high-flying action sequences, fast-paced martial arts fights, and captivating storylines.
These films come from a long and rich tradition of Asian martial arts films, which can be traced back to the Hong Kong martial arts films of the 1950s and 1960s.
Over the years, martial arts movies have evolved and expanded, reaching a global audience and becoming a major genre in their own right popular martial arts movies:
These films are a testament to the skill and artistry of the martial arts. Whether you’re a lifelong fan or new to the genre, martial arts movies are a must-see for anyone who loves action, adventure, and the thrill of the fight.
1. Enter the Dragon (1973)
Enter the Dragon is a classic martial arts movie released in 1973. Directed by Robert Clouse, the film stars Bruce Lee as a martial artist who is recruited by a British intelligence agency to participate in a martial arts tournament on a mysterious island, where he discovers a criminal underworld operation.
The film was Bruce Lee’s final completed film and is considered one of his best works. Enter the Dragon is famous for its intense martial arts scenes, innovative fight choreography, and memorable characters.
The film also helped to popularize martial arts in the Western world and is considered a cornerstone of the modern martial arts genre. Today, Enter the Dragon remains a highly regarded and influential film, inspiring countless other martial arts movies and influencing the development of the genre.
2. Kung Fu Hustle (2004)
Kung Fu Hustle is a 2004 martial arts comedy film written and directed by Stephen Chow. The film is set in China during the 1940s and follows the story of a wannabe gangster who dreams of becoming a member of the notorious Axe Gang.
When he tries to scam residents of a poor neighborhood, he finds himself caught up in a battle between the Axe Gang and the residents, who turn out to be powerful martial arts practitioners. The film combines elements of comedy, drama, and action, and is known for its over-the-top fight scenes and humorous characters.
Its is a classic martial arts comedy that combines the best elements of action, humor, and drama. With its incredible fight scenes, memorable characters, and creative blend of comedy and action, the film is a must-see for anyone who loves martial arts movies.
3. Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2 (2003, 2004)
Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2 are two highly stylized martial arts films written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. The films follow the story of “The Bride,” a former member of an assassin squad, who seeks revenge on her former colleagues after they try to kill her and her unborn child. The films are known for their intense, fast-paced action scenes, which are heavily influenced by Japanese martial arts films and Hong Kong action cinema.
In addition to its incredible action scenes, Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2 are also known for their quirky sense of humor, memorable dialogue, and distinctive visual style. The films are filled with memorable moments and iconic scenes, and the soundtrack features a mix of classic songs and original music that perfectly captures the films’ eclectic vibe.
Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2 are two of the most influential and popular martial arts films of the modern era.
4. The Matrix (1999)
Directed by the Wachowski siblings, the film stars Keanu Reeves as “Neo,” a computer programmer who discovers that the world around him is actually a simulated reality created by sentient machines.
The martial arts play a central role in The Matrix, both in terms of the film’s story and its iconic action scenes. The movie features a unique blend of Hong Kong-style martial arts and Japanese anime-inspired action, incorporating elements of kung fu, karate, and judo.
The film’s choreography, performed by legendary Hong Kong stunt coordinator and filmmaker Yuen Woo-ping, combines fluid, acrobatic movements with intense, bone-crunching fights. The use of martial arts in The Matrix helps to establish a heightened sense of reality and provides a visual language for the film’s exploration of power, control, and freedom.
The movie’s memorable action sequences, such as the “lobby scene” and the “burly brawl,” have become classics of the genre and have inspired countless imitations and homages.
5. Ip Man (2008)
Ip Man is a biographical martial arts film directed by Wilson Yip. The film is based on the life of Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man, who is best known for being Bruce Lee’s teacher. The movie focuses on Ip Man’s life in Foshan, China, during the Sino-Japanese War, and his efforts to protect his fellow citizens and maintain his traditional martial arts beliefs.
The film features an outstanding cast, led by Donnie Yen in the title role, and showcases breathtaking martial arts sequences that showcase Wing Chun, a style of kung fu that emphasizes speed, precision, and fluidity.
Ip Man was a critical and commercial success, and has since spawned multiple sequels and spin-offs, cementing its place as one of the most popular and beloved martial arts movies of all time.
The film’s portrayal of Ip Man as a wise and dignified master, as well as its exploration of the themes of tradition, patriotism, and self-defense, has made it a touchstone for fans of martial arts and historical epics alike.
6. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
The film, directed by Ang Lee, is set in 19th century China and follows the story of a legendary warrior, Li Mu Bai (played by Chow Yun-Fat), who is on a quest to retrieve his stolen sword, the Green Destiny. Along the way, he encounters a skilled young warrior named Jen (Zhang Ziyi) and a masked thief (Chang Chen), leading to a series of battles and revelations that explore themes of love, loss, and loyalty.
The film is notable for its breathtaking martial arts sequences, which incorporate elements of Chinese wushu, or kung fu, and wire work to create a unique and visually stunning style of action.
The film’s choreography, directed by Yuen Woo-ping, blends fast-paced action with elegant, acrobatic movements, creating a sense of weightlessness and fluidity that is rarely seen in martial arts movies.
7. The Karate Kid (1984)
The film stars Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso, a teenager who moves to Southern California with his mother and finds himself the target of bullies. With the help of Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita), an elderly handyman who also happens to be a karate master, Daniel trains to compete in the All Valley Karate Tournament and defend himself against the bullies.
The film showcases the Okinawan martial art of karate, and its central themes of discipline, perseverance, and self-defense have made it an enduring classic and a beloved film for generations of viewers. The film’s memorable training sequences, such as the “wax on, wax off” scene, and its emotional climax at the tournament, have become iconic and have helped to establish The Karate Kid as one of the most recognizable and influential martial arts movies of all time.
8. The Raid: Redemption (2011)
The film follows a team of elite police officers who are tasked with raiding a high-rise building controlled by a ruthless crime lord and his army of thugs. The film is notable for its intense and brutal action sequences, which showcase a blend of Indonesian silat and traditional martial arts, as well as its breakneck pace and relentless energy.
The film’s choreography, directed by Iko Uwais, is characterized by lightning-fast strikes, dynamic grappling, and bone-crunching impacts, making it one of the most intense and thrilling martial arts movies of recent years.
The film’s blend of non-stop action and taut suspense has made it a hit with audiences around the world, and it has earned a dedicated following among fans of martial arts and action cinema. The Raid: Redemption remains one of the defining examples of Indonesian martial arts on the international stage.
9. Rush Hour (1998)
The film stars Jackie Chan as Hong Kong police detective Inspector Lee and Chris Tucker as LAPD detective James Carter, who team up to solve a kidnapping case in Los Angeles. The film is notable for its mix of humor, action, and drama, as well as for its showcase of Jackie Chan’s incredible martial arts skills.
Chan, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest martial arts performers of all time, performs his own stunts in the film, incorporating elements of Hong Kong-style kung fu and acrobatics into the film’s action sequences.
10. Once Upon a Time in China (1991)
The film, directed by Tsui Hark, is set in 19th century China and stars Jet Li as Wong Fei-hung, a legendary martial arts master and folk hero who uses his skills to defend the people of Canton against foreign oppressors and local gangsters.
The film showcases a blend of traditional Chinese martial arts, including Hung Ga and Wing Chun, as well as wire work and acrobatics, to create a visually stunning and dynamic display of action. The film’s choreography, directed by Ching Siu-tung, is characterized by fluid, graceful movements and fast-paced, explosive battles, making it one of the most influential and iconic martial arts movies of the 1990s.
Once Upon a Time has since become a classic of Hong Kong cinema, inspiring numerous sequels, spin-offs, and imitations.
11. Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master (1978)
The film stars Jackie Chan as Wong Fei-hung, a young martial arts student who is sent to learn the Drunken Master style from the legendary Beggar So (Simi Garewal). The film is widely regarded as one of Jackie Chan’s finest performances, and one of the most iconic examples of Hong Kong martial arts cinema.
The film’s choreography, directed by Yuen Woo-ping, blends traditional Chinese martial arts, including the Drunken Master style, with acrobatics, slapstick comedy, and improvisation, to create a dynamic and entertaining spectacle.
The film’s fast-paced, tongue-in-cheek action sequences and Chan’s physical comedy have made it a beloved classic and one of the most enduring and influential martial arts movies of all time.
12. Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior (2003)
The film stars Tony Jaa as Ting, a young man from a rural village who sets out to retrieve the stolen head of the Ong-Bak Buddha statue, the spiritual symbol of his community. The film is notable for its intense and brutal action sequences, which showcase Tony Jaa’s incredible athletic ability and mastery of the traditional Thai martial art of Muay Thai.
The film’s choreography, directed by Panna Rittikrai, is characterized by fluid, graceful movements and powerful strikes, making it one of the most thrilling and visually stunning examples of martial arts cinema.
The film’s raw energy and non-stop action have made it a hit with audiences around the world, and it has earned Tony Jaa a reputation as one of the most talented and exciting martial artists of his generation.
13. Hero (2002)
The film stars Jet Li as Nameless, a nameless assassin who is summoned to meet with the King of Qin (Daoming Chen) to tell him about his mission to kill the three most dangerous assassins in the kingdom.
The film is notable for its stunning cinematography and visual style, as well as its imaginative and dynamic display of martial arts.
The film’s choreography, directed by Ching Siu-tung, incorporates a wide range of martial arts styles, including wushu, tai chi, and sword fighting, to create a visually stunning and captivating display of action.
The film’s sweeping, epic narrative and its poetic, almost dream-like quality, have made it a classic of Chinese cinema and a beloved example of the wuxia genre.
14. Fist of Fury (1972)
This movie is also known as The Chinese Connection, is a 1972 Hong Kong martial arts film directed by Lo Wei. The film stars Bruce Lee as Chen Zhen, a student of the martial arts master Huo Yuanjia, who returns to Shanghai after his teacher’s death to avenge his death.
The film is considered one of Bruce Lee’s most iconic performances, and a classic of Hong Kong martial arts cinema. The film’s choreography, directed by Han Yingjie, showcases Bruce Lee’s mastery of the Wing Chun style of kung fu, as well as his unique and innovative approach to martial arts.
The film’s fast-paced, explosive action sequences, combined with Lee’s charismatic and commanding presence, have made it a beloved and enduring example of martial arts cinema.
15. The Big Boss (1971)
The Big Boss was directed by Bruce Lee’s mentor, Lo Wei, and starred Bruce Lee in his first leading role. The film follows the story of a young man who travels to Thailand to visit his relatives and becomes involved in a fight against a powerful drug lord.
The Big Boss showcases Bruce Lee’s incredible martial arts skills and solidified his status as a martial arts icon. The film was a huge success in Asia and introduced Bruce Lee and the Chinese martial arts style of Wing Chun to a worldwide audience.
The Big Boss is considered a classic in the martial arts genre and is a must-watch for fans of Bruce Lee and martial arts films.