100 Martial Arts Movies You Must See Before You Die

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 films 76 through 100. To see the other 75 movies read the accompanying articles.

76) Pedicab Driver ( 1988 )
Sammo Hung’s best film. A group of pedicab drivers fight local crime bosses who are abusing their girlfriends.

77) Police Story
aka Jackie Chan’s Police Force ( 1985 )

In the early 1980s Jackie Chan starred in two movies made for Hollywood’s Warner Brothers Studios. Both failed to make Jackie a star in the West which he blamed on the directors. Jackie insisted that had the directors of both movies listened to him an allowed him to add more action then more people would have gone to see his films. In both cases when the directors did not listen it only inspired Jackie to go back to Hong Kong and use his ideas in Chinese movies. ( We will discuss the other movie later on this list. ) One of the Warner Brothers movies was a formula cop buddy picture called The Protector. Unable to get director James Glickenhaus to listen to his ideas to pep up the action scenes, Jackie decided he wanted to make it up to his fans by directing his own action filled police film. The result was Police Story. Just the ending alone where Jackie fights gangsters in a glass filled shopping mall must be seen to be believed.

78) The Prodigal Son
aka Pull No Punches ( 1981 )

Sammo Hung took the martial arts movie to a whole new level with what many consider the best movie about Kung Fu ever made. Yuen Biao is a spoiled rich kid who is always getting into and winning fights, not realizing that his rich father was paying his opponents to throw the fights. When he finally gets his ass kicked by a performer in the opera he realizes he does not really know Kung Fu, and begs the man who beat him to be his teacher.

79) Project A ( 1983 )
Jackie Chan’s groundbreaking comedy/action movie. Jackie is a member of the Coast Guard in the early 1900’s who have failed to stop pirates from terrorizing the coast. This causes the coast guard to be disbanded and folded into the police force. Now a police detective Jackie discovers that the local politically connected gangsters have been fencing the stolen loot for the pirates.

80) Return to the 36th Chamber
aka Return of the Master Killer ( 1980 )

When Shaw Brothers asked director Lau Kar Leung for a sequel to his classic film The 36th Chamber of Shaolin they had one stipulation. That it would be a comedy. Leung resisted at first, but eventually came up with one of the funniest martial arts comedies ever made. Liu Chia Hui plays a con artist impersonating Shaolin Priest San Te in order to spook the thugs who have taken over a local dying plant. The ruse does not work, and the disgraced con artist decides to go to the real Shaolin Temple to learn Kung Fu for real. After he is caught sneaking in to the temple he is put to work building a scaffolding, from which he somehow learns a technique called Rooftop Kung Fu.

See also  Entertainment Weekly's Top 25 Action Films of All Time

81) Roots of Evil ( 1979 )
German rock star Christian Anders wrote, directed, sang the theme song and starred in his own martial arts movie. It is not the fights that make this movie memorable but the choice of casting midget actor Deep Roy as the villain.

82) Royal Warriors
aka In The Line of Duty I ( 1986 )

The first movie in the popular In the Line of Duty series. Michelle Yeoh, Michael Wong and Henrey Sanada are three off duty police detectives who each happen to be on the same airline flight during a hijack attempt. The trio team up and kill the hijackers, not realizing one of the hijackers was not detected and has vowed vengeance against the three cops.

83) Rush Hour ( 1998 )
Jackie Chan’s first film for Hollywood after Rumble in the Bronx became a hit, the success of which cemented Jackie Chan as a Hollywood star giving him the clout to make such films as Shanghai Noon.

84) The Savage Five ( 1974 )
In this Shaw Brothers/Chang Cheh classic, a village is taken over by a gang of criminals who just robbed the government bank and have brought the safe they stole with them. After much abuse five of the town’s men get together in a suicide mission to attempt to drive the bandits out of town.

85) Secret Rivals
aka Silver Fox Rivals ( 1976
The movie studio Seasonal Films was only a couple of years old when they produced this classic low budget film which was the first independent Chinese martial arts movie to challenge the popularity of Golden Harvest and Shaw Brothers. Two rival martial artists team up to fight the evil Silver Fox. This movie made a star of Taiwanese actor John Liu.

86) The Seven Samurai ( 1954 )
Director Akira Kurosawa’s classic. A town finds out that bandits are preparing to raid them and hire seven ronin to protect them. On the one hand this movie does not have any choreographed fights. The fights that do happen are more like men sticking each other with weapons rather than swinging and blocking. On the other hand, The Seven Samurai was one of the greatest movies ever made and has inspired many adaptions including The Magnificent Seven and Battle Beyond the Stars. And since the main characters are samurai this film does count as Chambara and therefore martial arts.

87) Snake in the Eagles Shadow
aka Eagle’s Shadow ( 1978 )
Jackie Chan’s groundbreaking film that officially introduced comedy to martial arts. Jackie is a rambunctious student at a martial arts school who befriends and old hobo who turns out to be the master of the Snake style.

88) The Story of Ricky
aka Riki Oh ( 1991 )
The ultra-violent cult movie. Ricky is sentenced to ten years in prison for killing the man who killed his girlfriend. The prison is ruled by a group of evil martial artists known as the Gang of Four. The conflict between them and Ricky results in some of the goriest over the top fights ever recorded on film.

89) The Stranger and the Gunfighter
aka Blood Money ( 1974 )

The one and only Kung Fu Spaghetti Western. Lo Lieh and Lee Van Cleef team up in the old west to find a buried treasure.

90) Sudden Attack! The Killer Fist
aka The Street Fighter ( 1974 )
The first martial arts movie to get an X rating in the United States for violence, Sudden Attack! The Killer Fist was Japan’s Toei Studio’s first attempt to cash in on the unarmed martial arts market popularized by Bruce Lee, and was successful enough for two sequels and one spin off. Sonny Chiba is a Karate killer for hire who becomes a bodyguard for a princess. When the princess is kidnapped from under his nose he goes on a killing spree to get her back.

See also  Top Ten Classic Paul Newman Films

91) Three the Hard Way ( 1974 )
One of the more popular Blacksploitation films of the ’70s. A white supremest group invents a disease that only kills African Americans and plans to dump it into the water supplies of three major cities. Three black friends uncover the plot and take out the supremest at their own base. With Jim Brown, Fred Williamson and Jim Kelly as the friend who is also a martial arts expert. Directed by Gordon Parks Jr. who had previously directed Superfly.

92) True Game of Death ( 1981 )
One of the more notorious Bruceploitatin films. A Biopic of Bruce Lee that suggests his wife was tricked into poisoning him. It was later reedited to include actual footage of Bruce Lee at a press conference so that the producers could credit Bruce as one of the films stars.

93) The True Story of Wong Fei-Hung Parts 1 and 2 ( 1949 )
The first of what would be 70 Wong Fei-Hung movies. Okay, so the acting was amateurish, the sets were flimsy and the fight choreography was crude, but this was the 1940’s and filmed martial arts still had some evolving to do. Unfortunately if you want to see this film then you will have to hunt down a bootleg video. Another problem, the bootleg has no subtitles. Hopefully someone will make this movie available to western audiences in the next few years.

94) Under Siege ( 1992 )
Die hard on a boat. Steven Seagal is the cook on a navy ship. When mercenaries take the crew hostage and begin to steal the nukes only Seagal can stop them.

95) Vengeance
aka Kung Fu Vengeance ( 1970 )
The first of Chang Cheh’s gangster movies. After an actor ( Ti Lung ) is murdered by a local gang because the boss wants his wife, his brother ( David Chaing ) shows up in town seeking vengeance.

96) Winners and Sinners ( 1983 )
A group of misfits meet in prison and decide when they get out they will go strait. Forming their own janitorial company they accidentally come in possession of a briefcase with counterfeit printing plates that two warring mobster gangs are after. The film was mostly comedy with only a couple of fight scenes, but also included one of Jackie Chan’s most impressive action scenes. Jackie was only slated to film a few minutes of footage so he could be edited into the movie as a guest star. As was mentioned with Police Story, there were two films Jackie did for Warner Brothers that he was disappointed in. The first was The Big Brawl. One of the scenes in The Big Brawl had Jackie entering a roller derby style race that had competitors racing laps around a warehouse with obstacles. Jackie felt that the scene got redundant after the first lap and had proposed many extra stunts, but director Robert Clouse rejected the ideas. When Jackie returned to Hong Kong and was assigned to guest star in Winners and Sinners he proposed that one of his scenes involve him wearing roller skates. In the scene some muggers steal a man’s briefcase and police detective Jackie gives chase on his skates, following them down a staircase and then after they get into a car following them onto a highway where he skates underneath a moving truck.

See also  High Noon and Shane: The Appeal of Moral Ambiguity in the Old West

97) Yojimbo ( 1961 )
Another great early Chambara film from director Akira Kurosawa. Toshiro Mifune is a ronin who finds a town where two warring Yakuza gangs have set up an uneasy truce. Taking turns convincing each to hire him he manages to get both gangs to fight each other.

98) Zatoichi At Large ( 1972 )
The most popular of all the Chambara series was Zatoichi, a blind masseur who was secretly a Yakuza hit man who hid his sword inside his cane. Although blind, Zatoichi was a master swordsman who killed his foes with his phenomenal hearing. As the series progressed he gave up being a hit man and intended to live the remainder of his life as a simple masseur, but was still a wanted man for killing a few corrupt government officials and had a price on his head from a few angry Yakuza gangs he had double crossed. And he had a habit of wandering into towns ruled over by corrupt Yakuza bosses that he would end up having to confront. Zatoichi was played by actor Shintaro Katsu, who was also the series producer, and did so for 26 movies and 100 television episodes. The 23rd movie in the series, Zatoichi at Large, is not the best of the series but the one which is the best representation of the entire series.

99) Zatoichi Meets the One Armed Swordsman
aka Zatoichi Meets His Equal ( 1971 )
Zatoichi Meets the One Armed Swordsman is not the best representation of the series. It was one of two movies where as a gimmick Zatoichi teamed up with another famous movie swordsman, the other being Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo. While not a typical Zatoichi movie, it was one of the most memorable films in the series.

100) Zu: Warriors of the Magic Mountain
aka Zu: Time Warrior ( 1983 )
Lee Sau-Man’s novel The Legend of the Zu Mountain Warriors was an epic that took him twelve years to write and ran for 50 volumes with a prologue that ran for 9 volumes and a 5 volume epilogue. Because any adaption would involve hundreds of special effects no studio could afford to film an adaption. It was not until 1983 that Golden Harvest dared to tackle the book, handing the project over to director Tsui Hark. Tsui realized that while Western cinema had progressed in special effects with films like 2001 A Space Odyssey and Star Wars, but in Hong Kong they were still using special effects created in the 1920s. Tsui paid Robert Blalack who had created the special effects for Star Wars to teach his crew how to create western special effects. The end result was the first great special effects movie ever released by a Hon Kong movie studio. Other special effects films would follow, and Zu even was cited by John Carpenter as his inspiration for Big Trouble in Little China. While Zu’s incredible special effects have dated in the decade and a half since it was released it is still an awesome movie to watch.