Martial arts movies have had a significant cultural impact on America for a long time. From the beginnings of their first superstar in Bruce Lee to the more modern and refined Ip Man, these films have pushed forward the karate phenomenom. As such, this is a list of the best and more influential martial arts movies that exist today. The list takes into account cultural impact as well as quality of the movie and its legacy.
The first movie on the list is The Karate Kid. This film is about a teen who gets pushed around by martial-arts practicing bullies. While the film is fun and memorable, it barely rises above mediocrity when judged on the quality of the actual film. That said, it has a huge impact on the culture of America and helped reinvigorate the karate craze that was starting to die down in the mid-80s. It also ushered in a new era of martial arts films and several sequels of its own. For this reason, The Karate Kid places 5th on our list.
The next film to make the list is Ong Bak. This movie is more of a martial arts and athleticism exhibition than it is a great martial arts film, but it’s really good at what it does and doesn’t fail to impress. Tony Jaa is very impressive in this film as he executes incredibly difficult Muay Thai techniques with little or no difficulty. The release of this film coincided with a rise in popularity of Muay Thai, some of which could be attributed to the movie. The fight scenes are some of the best out of any movie, and what’s best is that they’re all very realistic and not over-the-top like in some other films. Ong Bak takes the 4th place on our list due to its great fight scenes and influence on Muay Thai.
Enter the Dragon is a great martial arts film and an all-around classic. You might be wondering why it’s not ranked number 1. While it had the most cultural impact of any martial arts film, I just don’t feel like it stacks up that well agiainst the newer movies. Sure, it’s great, but it also has a fair amount of camp and is a bit silly at times. That said, Enter the Dragon is one of the best martial arts films ever and debuts at number 3 on our list.
I’ve only recently seen Ip Man, and I have to admit that I was thoroughly impressed. This is a quiet movie that surprises a lot of people that I show it to. They don’t expect it to have such intense and stylistically beautiful fight scenes. The film tells the story of Ip Man, the martial arts practictioner that first taught Wing Chun. The quality of production and story of the film earn it the number two spot on my list.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is probably the most critically acclaimed martial arts film ever. It received three academy awards and was nominated for a total of six. The movie makes extensive use of wires and the like to create incredible action sequences that rise above anything else before it. Crouching Tiger also initiated a martial arts craze in the US that continues to this day, although its impact wasn’t quite as large as The Karate Kids, at least not in the interest of practicing martial arts. From an entertainment perspective, however, it was infinitely more influential.