Paste's 100 Best Martial Arts Movies of All Time

Paste's 100 Best Martial Arts Movies of All Time's icon

Created by Panunzio.

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List added January 2015

Fighting, whether sanctioned or no-holds-barred, is without a doubt the oldest form of competition that mankind has ever engaged in. At times, it has been a necessary tool of survival—kill or be killed—and that proved an extremely effective motivation and crucible for enhancing mankind’s fighting prowess. Technology rapidly came into play and has been seen out to its inevitable conclusion, which removes man from the equation almost entirely. Today, robotic drones are poised to do much of our fighting for us—whether we ultimately end up in a Robot Jox scenario where wars are decided by giant mech battles is a valid (and awesome) question.

And yet, despite all of our sophistication and technology, we still fight by hand as well. Some is driven by necessity. Others fight professionally, and have only continued to expand the complete picture of what a fighter is. Look at the exponential growth in sophistication from the early days of mixed martial arts to how the sport has become in 2015, going from big guys winging punches at one another to a beautiful, scientific system of mixed grappling and striking styles. The audience has never been bigger, because on some level, we love fighting, if only because it reminds us of our most primal roots that have long been shelved and put aside by civilization.

And nowhere is appreciation for the beauty of fighting more apparent than in the wide, storied genre of martial arts cinema. Violence is the selling point of these films, but seeing as that violence is achieved through trickery, stunt work and movie magic, it’s not truly the audience’s bloodlust that drives the industry. It’s an appreciation for the beauty of violence, a reminder of the exceptional abilities derived through training and a celebration of ancient, classical storytelling, in the vein of “Avenge me!” No genre reveres classic themes as this one does, because at their root they speak to us like cinematic comfort food, and they provide excuses for what people have really wanted to see all along: The action.

And so, let us celebrate the martial arts genre from its top to its bottom, old and new. Epic and modest. Comedic and tragic. Grave and absurd, all represented in equal measure. These films contain many wondrous sights: Monks training their bodies to repel bullets. Men with prosthetic iron hands shooting poison darts. Flying heads. Incredibly silly ninja costumes. It’s all here.

But please note, don’t look for Seven Samurai, Yojimbo or The Sword of Doom here. Although they’re all great films, we wanted this list to focus squarely on our conception of “martial arts cinema,” which has little in common with a great samurai drama by Akira Kurosawa. These films are action-packed fighting spectacles, but above all, they’re just plain fun.

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  1. 1 new

    Wu du

    1978 — a.k.a. Five Deadly Venoms, in 3 top lists Check
  2. 2 new

    Shao Lin san shi liu fang

    1978 — a.k.a. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, in 6 top lists Check
  3. 3 new

    Enter the Dragon

    1973, in 11 top lists Check
  4. 4 new

    Wong Fei Hung

    1991 — a.k.a. Once Upon a Time in China, in 8 top lists Check
  5. 5 new

    Can que

    1978 — a.k.a. Crippled Avengers, in 2 top lists Check
  6. 6 new

    Wo hu cang long

    2000 — a.k.a. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, in 23 top lists Check
  7. 7 new

    Jui kuen II

    1994 — a.k.a. The Legend of Drunken Master, in 2 top lists Check
  8. 8 new

    Ren zhe wu di

    1982 — a.k.a. Five Element Ninjas, in 2 top lists Check
  9. 9 new

    Tom yum goong

    2005 — a.k.a. The Protector, in 0 top lists Check
  10. 10 new

    Siu nin Wong Fei Hung chi: Tit ma lau

    1993 — a.k.a. Iron Monkey, in 4 top lists Check
  11. 11 new

    Kill Bill: Vol. 1

    2003, in 15 top lists Check
  12. 12 new

    Kill Bill: Vol. 2

    2004, in 7 top lists Check
  13. 13 new

    Yip Man

    2008 — a.k.a. Ip Man, in 3 top lists Check
  14. 14 new

    Du bi quan wang da po xue di zi

    1976 — a.k.a. Master of the Flying Guillotine, in 3 top lists Check
  15. 15 new

    Wu Lang ba gua gun

    1984 — a.k.a. The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter, in 4 top lists Check
  16. 16 new

    Jing wu ying xiong

    1994 — a.k.a. Fist of Legend, in 2 top lists Check
  17. 17 new

    Shogun Assassin

    1980, in 2 top lists Check
  18. 18 new

    Tai ji: Zhang San Feng

    1993 — a.k.a. Tai-Chi Master, in 2 top lists Check
  19. 19 new

    Ging chaat goo si

    1985 — a.k.a. Police Story, in 8 top lists Check
  20. 20 new

    Xia nü

    1971 — a.k.a. A Touch of Zen, in 14 top lists Check
  21. 21 new

    Jin bei tong

    1979 — a.k.a. The Kid with the Golden Arm, in 0 top lists Check
  22. 22 new

    Du bei dao

    1967 — a.k.a. The One-Armed Swordsman, in 4 top lists Check
  23. 23 new

    Zhong hua zhang fu

    1978 — a.k.a. Heroes of the East, in 1 top list Check
  24. 24 new

    Wu guan

    1981 — a.k.a. Martial Club, in 1 top list Check
  25. 25 new

    Yi dai zong shi

    2013 — a.k.a. The Grandmaster, in 1 top list Check
  26. 26 new

    Kuai can che

    1984 — a.k.a. Wheels on Meals, in 2 top lists Check
  27. 27 new

    Hung fan kui

    1995 — a.k.a. Rumble in the Bronx, in 3 top lists Check
  28. 28 new

    Zan xian sheng yu zhao qian Hua

    1978, in 0 top lists Check
  29. 29 new

    Lin Shi Rong

    1979 — a.k.a. Magnificent Butcher, in 2 top lists Check
  30. 30 new

    Gekitotsu! Satsujin ken

    1974 — a.k.a. The Streetfighter, in 1 top list Check
  31. 31 new

    Feng hou

    1979 — a.k.a. Mad Monkey Kung Fu, in 1 top list Check
  32. 32 new

    Jing wu men

    1972 — a.k.a. The Chinese Connection, in 6 top lists Check
  33. 33 new

    Serbuan maut

    2011 — a.k.a. The Raid: Redemption, in 1 top list Check
  34. 34 new

    Ong-bak

    2003 — a.k.a. Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior, in 2 top lists Check
  35. 35 new

    Xiao ao jiang hu: dong fang bu bai

    1992 — a.k.a. Swordsman II, in 2 top lists Check
  36. 36 new

    Da zui xia

    1966 — a.k.a. Come Drink with Me, in 4 top lists Check
  37. 37 new

    Da jue dou

    1971 — a.k.a. Duel of the Iron Fist, in 0 top lists Check
  38. 38 new

    Lik wong

    1991 — a.k.a. Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky, in 3 top lists Check
  39. 39 new

    Wing Chun

    1994, in 1 top list Check
  40. 40 new

    Long men kezhan

    1967 — a.k.a. Dragon Inn, in 7 top lists Check
  41. 41 new

    Shi ba ban wu yi

    1982 — a.k.a. Legendary Weapons of China, in 1 top list Check
  42. 42 new

    The Matrix

    1999, in 26 top lists Check
  43. 43 new

    She diao ying xiong chuan

    1977 — a.k.a. The Brave Archer, in 0 top lists Check
  44. 44 new

    Tang shan da xiong

    1971 — a.k.a. The Big Boss, in 3 top lists Check
  45. 45 new

    Xi you: Xiang mo pian

    2013 — a.k.a. Journey to the West, in 1 top list Check
  46. 46 new

    Dou fo sin

    2007 — a.k.a. Flash Point, in 0 top lists Check
  47. 47 new

    Tian xia di yi quan

    1972 — a.k.a. Five Fingers of Death, in 5 top lists Check
  48. 48 new

    Meng long guo jiang

    1972 — a.k.a. The Way of the Dragon, in 6 top lists Check
  49. 49 new

    SPL: Sha po lang

    2005 — a.k.a. SPL: Kill Zone, in 2 top lists Check
  50. 50 new

    Bei pan shi men

    1980 — a.k.a. The Master, in 0 top lists Check
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Last updated on Jan 24, 2018 by Panunzio; source