Top 50 Martial Arts Movies

Using data from movie review aggregation websites Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic and IMDb, we’ve listed the best martial arts films widely released in the U.S. Newsweek

Martial arts movies began in 1920s China, where they were labeled as "wu xia pian," or "films of chivalrous combat." Movies such as 1928’s The Burning of the Red Lotus Temple set the template with its high-tech special effects and stylised fight sequences in its portrayal of scrappy martial arts cliques. Sadly, despite its mammoth 27-hour running length, this early martial arts classic has since been lost entirely.

In the 1930s the Chinese government censorship board delivered a fatal death blow to the genre, which they saw as violating morality, and the martial arts movie scene shifted to Hong Kong. These movies tended to favor real, trained kung fu martial artists rather than flashy special effect trickery.

Meanwhile, Japanese directors were developing a martial arts movie tradition of their own. Akira Kurosawa, who is widely regarded as among the best directors of all time, stunned audiences with 1954’s Seven Samurai, which portrayed the titular samurai battle bandits during the medieval Sengoku Period.

Although martial arts had influenced Hollywood, there wasn’t truly a crossover moment until the very loud arrival of Bruce Lee in the 1970s. With movies such as Enter the Dragon, Lee developed a unique gritty style, including a racially diverse cast while revolutionizing Hollywood’s portrayal of Asian masculinity.

Lee had died, aged just 32, by the time Enter the Dragon was released, but another actor was waiting in the wings to become the next global martial arts star. Hong Kong native Jackie Chan’s on-screen persona came across as less cerebral than Lee’s, but his everyman appeal drew audiences and drove Hollywood box office smashes such as 1998’s Rush Hour and 2000’s Shanghai Noon .

By then, martial arts movies were fully engulfed in the mainstream, with movies such as The Matrix (1999) polishing cleverly choreographed fight scenes into CGI-augmented perfection. The time was ripe for international blockbuster Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) to return the form to its Chinese roots.

Although the martial arts movie has waned in popularity over the past decade, franchises such as The Raid show how the genre still allows international collaborations to shine—The Raid movies are Indonesian productions with a Welsh director.

Using data from movie review aggregation websites Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic and IMDb, we’ve listed the best martial arts films which were widely released in the U.S.

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01 Rush Hour
50. Rush Hour (1998). Total score: 190. IMDb users: 7. Metacritic: 60. Rotten Tomatoes: 6. Directed by: Brett Ratner. Starring: Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, Ken Leung. Plot summary: A loyal and dedicated Hong Kong Inspector teams up with a reckless and loudmouthed L.A.P.D. detective to rescue the Chinese Consul's kidnapped daughter, while trying to arrest a dangerous crime lord along the way. Get it here. New Line Cinema
02 District 13- Ultimatum
49. District 13: Ultimatum (2009). Total score: 190. IMDb users: 6.5. Metacritic: 64. Rotten Tomatoes: 6.1. Directed by: Patrick Alessandrin. Starring: Cyril Raffaelli, David Belle, Philippe Torreton. Plot summary: Damien and Leito return to District 13 on a mission to bring peace to the troubled sector that is controlled by five different gang bosses, before the city's secret services take drastic measures to solve the problem. Get it here. Magnet Releasing
03 Brotherhood of the Wolf
48. Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001). Total score: 191. IMDb users: 7.1. Metacritic: 57. Rotten Tomatoes: 6.3. Directed by: Christophe Gans. Starring: Samuel Le Bihan, Mark Dacascos, Jérémie Renier. Plot summary: In 18th century France, the Chevalier de Fronsac and his native American friend Mani are sent by the King to the Gevaudan province to investigate the killings of hundreds by a mysterious beast. Get it here. Universal Pictures
04 Rumble in the Bronx
47. Rumble in the Bronx (1995). Total score: 192. IMDb users: 6.8. Metacritic: 61. Rotten Tomatoes: 6.3. Directed by: Stanley Tong. Starring: Jackie Chan, Anita Mui, Françoise Yip. Plot summary: A young man visiting and helping his uncle in New York City finds himself forced to fight a street gang and the mob with his martial art skills. Get it here. New Line Cinema
05 Haywire
46. Haywire (2011). Total score: 193. IMDb users: 5.8. Metacritic: 67. Rotten Tomatoes: 6.8. Directed by: Steven Soderbergh. Starring: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender. Plot summary: A black ops super soldier seeks payback after she is betrayed and set up during a mission. Get it here. Relativity Media
06 Big Trouble in Little China
45. Big Trouble in Little China (1986). Total score: 195. IMDb users: 7.3. Metacritic: 53. Rotten Tomatoes: 6.9. Directed by: John Carpenter. Starring: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun. Plot summary: A rough-and-tumble trucker helps rescue his friend's fiance from an ancient sorcerer in a supernatural battle beneath Chinatown. Get it here. Twentieth Century Fox
07 The Last Samurai
44. The Last Samurai (2003). Total score: 196. IMDb users: 7.7. Metacritic: 55. Rotten Tomatoes: 6.4. Directed by: Edward Zwick. Starring: Tom Cruise, Ken Watanabe, Billy Connolly. Plot summary: An American military advisor embraces the Samurai culture he was hired to destroy after he is captured in battle. Get it here. Warner Bros.
08 The Way of the Dragon
43. The Way of the Dragon (1972). Total score: 197. IMDb users: 7.3. Metacritic: (n/a). Rotten Tomatoes: 6.3. Directed by: Bruce Lee. Starring: Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Nora Miao. Plot summary: A man visits his relatives at their restaurant in Italy and has to help them defend against brutal gangsters harassing them. Get it here. Bryanston Distributing
09 Dragon
42. Dragon (2011). Total score: 200. IMDb users: 7.1. Metacritic: 62. Rotten Tomatoes: 6.7. Directed by: Peter Ho-Sun Chan. Starring: Donnie Yen, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Wei Tang. Plot summary: A papermaker gets involved with a murder case concerning two criminals leading to a determined detective suspecting him and the former's vicious father searching for him. Get it here. The Weinstein Company
10 So Close
41. So Close (2002). Total score: 200. IMDb users: 6.7. Metacritic: 66. Rotten Tomatoes: 6.7. Directed by: Corey Yuen. Starring: Qi Shu, Wei Zhao, Karen Mok. Plot summary: A conflict of interest between two high-kicking assassin sisters is complicated as they're pursued by the criminals who hired them and an equally high-kicking female cop. Get it here. Columbia Pictures
11 The Karate Kid
40. The Karate Kid (1984). Total score: 201. IMDb users: 7.2. Metacritic: 60. Rotten Tomatoes: 6.9. Directed by: John G. Avildsen. Starring: Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, Elisabeth Shue. Plot summary: A martial arts master agrees to teach karate to a bullied teenager. Get it here. Columbia Pictures