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.
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Top 50 Martial Arts Movies 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