No, this is not a list of the 100 greatest Martial Arts movies. Let others debate which movies had the best fights, plots or production values. These are the 100 most talked about martial arts films ever. Some because they were ground breakers, some because of incredible fight scenes and some because they were so unbelievably bad that they became cult favorites. But together these are the 100 any true martial arts fan must see. Because this is by no means a “best of” or “worst of” list the movies are not ranked in any particular order other than listing them alphabetically. The following are numbers 26 through 50 on the list. For the other 75 films see accompanying articles.
26) Dirty Ho ( 1979 )
Liu Chia Hui is the 11th Prince of Manchuria who likes to leave the palace incognito as Master Wang a jewelry dealer. Not wanting to give away that he is not a jewelry dealer the Prince hides the fact that he is an expert martial artist by disguising his fights, such as pretending he is inspecting fabric when he is really fighting off a Tailor who is trying to assassinate him, or in another instance manipulating a prostitute to make it look like she is the one fighting off an attacker.
27) Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story ( 1993 )
After decades of getting martial arts movies wrong, this was the first Hollywood movie to get it right. As a biography the movie is less accurate than the cheap Hong Kong Bruceploitation biographies made in the ’70s. But if it is fights your looking for this movie was filled with ones that matched the quality of what was coming out of Asia. It also contains one of the most memorable movie themes in motion picture history.
28) The Dragon Lives Again
aka Deadly Hands of Kung Fu ( 1977 )
From one of the few good Bruceploitation films to one of the worst, this movie goes further from exploiting Bruce Lee to exploiting dozens of other characters and actors. The film takes place in the afterlife, some sort of purgatory between Earth and Hell which is ruled over by an emperor who keeps his subjects in check with his ability to cause earthquakes. It is here that Bruce Lee awakes and discovers that the Godfather is trying to usurp the Emperor with the aid of his four henchmen, James Bond, Clint Eastwood, The Exorcist and Dracula. Bruce Lee accepts the job as the Emperor’s bodyguard and teams up with Popeye and Kwai Chang Caine to stop them. Perhaps the weirdest and most infamous of all the Bruceploitation movies.
29) Drunken Master ( 1978 )
Jackie Chan turns the legend of Wong Fei-Hung on it’s head by making him a drunk. One of two films made by Jackie Chan which revolutionized the martial arts movie by introducing comedy to the genre.
30) Drunken Master II
aka Legend of the Drunken Master ( 1994 )
The long awaited sequel which includes some of Jackie Chan’s best screen fighting.
31) Duel to the Death ( 1983 )
Duel to the Death was Golden Harvest’s attempt to film the ultimate swordplay movie, and here they succeeded with unbelievable over the top sword fights.
32) Eastern Condors ( 1987 )
The movie could have been a lot better. Whenever friends Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao teamed up in the same movie they were known as the Three Dragons. Popular Three Dragon movies included Project A, Winners and Sinners and Wheels on Meals. Eastern Condors had been planned as yet another Three Dragons project, but production ran over on Jackie Chan’s overly ambitious sequel to Armour of God. Sammo and Biao went ahead without Jackie, yet still were able to create a spectacular action movie. Biao and Sammo are part of a commando team sent in to Vietnam to destroy a hidden base with a huge arsenal of weapons that the Americans left behind after the war. Joining the cast was Academy Award winning actor Hang S Ngor in his first movie since The Killing Fields. As a nod of respect Chan renamed his movie Armour of God II: Operation Condor as well as renaming his screen character Condor.
33) Eight Diagram Pole Fighter
aka Invincible Pole Fighter ( 1984 )
On July 7th 1983 martial arts star Alexander Fu Sheng was killed in a car accident. He had been midway through filming Lau Kar Leung’s lates film Eight Diagram Pole Fighter, and had not yet filmed any of his fight scenes other than a staged fight for the opening credits. Sheng had been Lau Kar Leung’s favorite actor, and after his death he immediately shut down production on the movie and went into a deep depression. His studio, Shaw Brothers, wanted the movie completed as soon as possible so that they could capitalize on what would be Fu Sheng’s final movie. The Shaws did not seem to mind that the film could not possibly be completed as written and would have settled for the footage being edited into a completely different movie just to pad it out to feature length. At the time it seemed impossible for the completed version of the movie to be anything but garbage. And yet Leung managed to pull himself together and rewrite the script. Now casting his brother Liu Chia Hui in the lead the script had his character surviving the massacre that killed the rest of his clan and taking refuge at the Shaolin Temple where he masters the 8 Diagram Pole style. The final fight was at the time the most elaborate ever filmed. Despite the odds Eight Diagram Pole Fighter would go on to become one of the greatest martial arts movies ever made.
34) Enter the Dragon ( 1973 )
Aside from this being a Bruce Lee film which good enough to make this list, this was the first major martial arts movie to be co-produced by a Hollywood studio. A major milestone even if you think it is overrated.
35) Enter the Ninja ( 1981 )
The first American produced ninja movie, and the first to inspire hundreds of low budget knockoffs. Not because ninjas were particularly popular or that this movie made that much at the box office. But because the hero wears a ninja costume that conceals his face then the actor playing him could easily be doubled by a real martial artists for the fight scenes without the audience noticing.
36) Fist of Fear, Touch of Death ( 1980 )
The worst Bruceploitation movie ever made. Enjoy.
37) Fist of Fury
aka The Chinese Connection ( 1972 )
Bruce Lee’s best performance, as well as having some of his best fights. And it has my favorite line from any martial art movie “This time you are eating paper. The next time its gonna be glass.” as said by Bruce Lee while he forces the Japanese villains to eat an unflattering sigh
38) Five Venoms
aka The Five Deadly Venoms
Five men were trained in five styles of martial arts, each style mimicking a different poisonous animal. Also, each man wore a mask so that their master never knew their identity. Now years later the master is having second thoughts about teaching these men, who he suspects are now involved in crime, and trains a new student in all the styles so that he can find the identity of each member and bring them to justice. The teacher tells his student this as he lays dying, lamenting that he did not have enough time to fully teach each style, and telling the student the only way he can defeat the Venoms is to find one that is not a criminal yet and team up with him. Thus begins Chang Cheh’s martial arts mystery Five Venoms that keeps you guessing throughout the film who is a Venom and who is just a corrupt government official. Especially memorable are the various styles that allow the fighter to scale the side of walls and hang from ceilings.
39) Five Element Ninja
aka Chinese Super Ninjas ( 1982 )
A clan of ninjas wipes out an entire clan of Chinese martial artists leaving only one survivor who must now find a master who can teach him Ninjutsu so he can take revenge by beating the ninjas with their own tricks. Most agree that Five Element Ninjas was the best ninja movie ever made.
40) The Flying Guillotine ( 1975 )
The film that introduced the weapon which would go on to become the most infamous in martial arts movie history.
41) Game of Death ( 1978 )
On the one hand, this is the infamous Bruceploitation film that took 11 minutes of actual Bruce Lee footage and padded it out to one hour forty minutes by editing it into a gangster movie with a Bruce Lee look alike and occasional footage from other Bruce Lee films. On the other hand, those 11 minutes of actual Bruce Lee footage are incredible, including one of the greatest fights ever filmed between Lee and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
42) Gymkata ( 1985 )
Robert Clouse hits bottom with what has to be the worst mainstream martial arts movie ever made. Kurt Thomas was a popular gymnast on the American Olympics team set to compete in the 1980 Moscow games. The United States boycotted the games after Russia invaded Afghanistan abruptly ending Kurt’s chances at a gold medal. Capitalizing on his celebrity Kurt tried for an acting career and came to the attention of Robert Clouse who saw his gymnastic skills as potential in martial arts films. Clouse had already optioned for a film version of the novel The Terrible Game and once signing Kurt Thomas to the project had the script rewritten so that the hero was a gymnast who combines his skill with Karate to create the new fighting technique called Gymkata. And yes, it looks ridiculous. There is also a story here about Kurt having to win a game in order to get some small country to agree to let the United States build a satellite monitoring station in their mountains, but who really cares.
43) Hanzo the Razor: The Snare ( 1973 )
An incredible Chambara film series made by the same actor/producer who gave us Zatoichi. Shintaro Katsu plays the law officer Hanzo Itami who solves crimes by raping female witnesses until they fall in love with him, then gets them to confess everything. There is more to this series, such as excellent sword fights, but it was the rape scenes as well as scenes where Hanzo exercises his penis that made this series notorious. The Snare may not be the best of this series, but it is the bloodiest and contains my favorite exit line in any Chambara film.
44) Hap Ki Do
aka Lady Kung Fu ( 1972 )
Not just Angela Mao’s best, but considered Golden Harvest’s best martial arts film from the 1970s
45) Hard Target ( 1993 )
John Woo’s first film for Hollywood marks the beginning of a wave of Hong Kong film industry talent that successfully transferred to Hollywood. Jean Claude Van Damme uses the gun far more than his martial arts skills, but just enough for this film to fall within the martial arts genre. If you can, try to find the uncut extra violent version.
46) Heroes of the East
aka Shaolin Challenges Ninja ( 1979 )
If Five Element Ninja was the best ninja movie ever filmed, Heroes of the East comes a very close second. Liu Chia Hui is a Chinese martial arts master who marries a Japanese woman who is skilled in Japanese martial arts. A friendly rivalry between the two spouses trying to prove which nation has the best martial arts somehow leads to Hui accidentally insulting his wife’s old school causing all it’s teachers to show up in China looking for a duel.The final match pits Chinese martial arts against Ninjutsu, and all the Ninja tricks are among the best on film.
47) The Heroic Trio ( 1993 )
Anita Mui is the superheroine Wonder Woman ( No relation to the D.C. heroine ). Maggie Cheung is the superheroine for hire Thief Catcher. And Michelle Yeoh plays Invisible Girl ( once again, no relation to the Marvel heroine ) who initially works for the film’s villain but later repents and teams up with the other two women to become The Heroic Trio. Johnny To’s martial arts fantasy took the Girls and Guns genre in a whole new direction, creating a superhero movie that for the longest time was far better than most of the campy superhero movies coming out of Hollywood.
48) House of Traps ( 1982 )
Until recently a very rare Chang Cheh Venom Mob movie only recently given a legal DVD release. A stolen treasure has been hidden inside a booby-trapped laden building, and anyone who tries to retrieve the treasure ends up getting cut to pieces.
49) The Iceman Cometh ( 1989 )
Two warriors, one good the other evil, are flash frozen while fighting over a magic pendent and end up thawing out in modern times and continuing the fight.
50) Ip Man ( 2008 )
The biographical film that took Bruce Lee’s teacher Yip Man and rose him to the folk hero status of Wong Fei-Hung.