The Best Martial Arts Movie Fights Of All Time

The Best Martial Arts Movie Fights of All Time

From karate chops to roundhouse kicks, cinema has seen its share of martial arts fights. Now, it's time to look at the ones that come out on top when the others went down for the count. The best, if you like.

Obviously, making a list like this is quite a task. Saying one fight is better than another is subjective. And it would be so easy to make a laundry list that consists only of Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen and Jet Li fights. That I have not done. Sorry!

Instead, this is comprised of a variety of different fights from over the years from different actors and directors in order to distill these scenes into a larger, all-encompassing best list. The scenes included show either a high level of martial arts skill, or in the case of some (I'm looking at you, Tarantino), an unabashed love of the genre itself.

If there are scenes I have missed, forgotten, or simply ignored, add them in the comments section below. Also note that some of the descriptions contain spoilers, so if you see a movie you haven't seen yet but plan to, you might wanna keep scrolling.

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

The Best Martial Arts Movie Fights of All Time

This was one of the first times American mainstream moviegoers, who were used to cowboy saloon brawls, had seen a karate fight scene like this. The scene blew people's minds, inspiring some cinemagoers to take up karate, much like The Karate Kid would decades later. Sure, it doesn't compare with the martial arts acrobatics of the years that followed, but it's brutal and rough. So much so that Frank Sinatra ended up with a broken hand.

Zatoichi Challenged (1967)

The Best Martial Arts Movie Fights of All Time

The incomparable Shintaro Katsu as the character he made famous, the blind swordsman Zatoichi. Sure, Beat Takeshi did a commendable job in his 2003 take on Zatoichi, but here, Katsu shows why the character will always be his — and his alone — in this elegant samurai showdown.

Fist of Fury (1972)

The Best Martial Arts Movie Fights of All Time

Geez. Can you really pick Bruce Lee's best fight? Is that possible? In his short career, Lee left a series of iconic fights. There's everything like the the Chuck Norris duel to that time Bruce Lee tangoed with Kareem Abdul Jabbar — the last of which isn't really a great fight per se, but hey, it's got Kareem in sunglasses. But the Fist of Fury dojo fight lives up to its English language title. It's Bruce Lee uncorked and let loose. Jet Li did a damn fine job in the 1994 remake Fist of Legend, which proved him as a worthy successor.

Executioner (1974)

The Best Martial Arts Movie Fights of All Time

Most men could not pull off fighting in a frilly shirt-bowtie combo. Then again, Sonny Chiba is not most men. He fights bears. He throws X-ray punches. Here, he kicks paint off dudes' faces and rips out their bones. Sonny Chiba is a karate warrior. Sonny Chiba is the Street Fighter. Sonny Chiba is fucking badass.

Master of the Flying Guillotine (1976)

The Best Martial Arts Movie Fights of All Time

That's writer-director Jimmy Wang Yu as the One-armed Boxer, facing against a character that inspired Dhalsim from Street Fighter in one of the 1970's most inventive martial arts flicks.

The Magnificent Butcher (1979)

The Best Martial Arts Movie Fights of All Time

This was supposed to be Sammo Hung's breakout film a la Jackie Chan's Drunken Master. While it didn't surpass Jackie Chan's original, the film left us with some of Sammo Hung best fight scenes. That shouldn't come as a surprise seeing that iconic martial arts choreographer Yuen Woo-ping directed the film.

Wheels on Meals (1984)

The Best Martial Arts Movie Fights of All Time

As with Bruce Lee, picking Jackie Chan's best fight sequence is difficult, if not impossible. While Chan has done bigger stunts, the Wheels on Meals fight scene with Benny Urquidez is so relentless that even watching can be exhausting. Unlike other Jackie Chan fight scenes, this one doesn't rely heavily on props and instead lets viewers marvel at Chan's and Urquidez's skills. Honourable mention to both Drunken Master II and Who Am I, among a lifetime of spectacular work.

Once Upon a Time in China II (1992)

The Best Martial Arts Movie Fights of All Time

This isn't only one of the greatest movie marital arts fights, it is the greatest martial arts fight with bamboo poles. Bar none. Here, Jet Li and Donnie Yen are at the top of their game.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

The Best Martial Arts Movie Fights of All Time

Who knew the guy who made Eat Drink Man Woman and Sense and Sensibility could film a fight scene like this? Until the year 2000, no one.

Hero (2002)

The Best Martial Arts Movie Fights of All Time

Without a doubt, one of the most beautiful fight scenes ever filmed.

Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)

The Best Martial Arts Movie Fights of All Time

OK, so the scene is heavy on special effects, wire-work, and camera tricks. But it's such a stylish love letter to martial arts films that the scene comes together in a kinetic and satisfying way. Fun fact: Sonny Chiba's daughter is one of the Crazy 88s.

The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

The Best Martial Arts Movie Fights of All Time

While not costing $US40 million dollars like the Agent Smith fight apparently did, Matrix Reloaded's chateau scene is the better for it. There's no badly aged CGI, and instead, there's a well-paced, easy to follow, and brilliantly choreographed fight — something that most Hollywood movies are unable to do.

The Protector (2005)

The Best Martial Arts Movie Fights of All Time

While Ong-Bak has Tony Jaa kick arse WHILE ON FIRE, The Protector showcases his martial arts talent in a four-minute long take that took a month of preparation. The shot was so complex that it was only possible to do two takes per day — in order to fix the set between takes. The result is the Touch of Evil or the I Am Cuba tracking shot of marital arts movies.

The Raid: Redemption (2011)

The Best Martial Arts Movie Fights of All Time

The Raid's big hallway setpiece might evoke comparisons with Old Boy's big fight. But the key difference is that Old Boy's feels like a tooth-and-nail (and hammer) brawl. The Raid's is also a down and dirty brawl, but with more of a martial arts flair.


Comments

    Author DESPERATELY needs to watch Ip Man - the round table fight scene between Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung is absolutely terrfic

    Until that fight is added, this page is without credibility

      That fight and the 10 man beatdown scene. That shit is legit son!
      TBH this list needs a lot more Donnie Yen.

        I always thought the the Ip Man 10 man beatdown is a homage to Bruce Lee's Dojo scene in Fist of Fury.

          And essentially stole the whole plot, beat for beat, from Rocky 4. But I'm not saying that should affect your enjoyment of the movie. Just sayin'.

        It definitely does. Leaving the Flashpoint finale off a list like this is a crime. Probably my favourite Donnie scene, and pretty close to my favourite action scene of all time. It's a real pity that the movie that comes before is so mind-numbingly dull.

        Last edited 12/02/15 7:54 pm

      was thinking exactly the same thing when read this article

      Scrolling down and no mention of IP Man

      Even IP Man 1 when he takes on the 10 Japanese is an epic fight scene. What a bad ass scene!

        Yep, as the guys above said, an awesome scene as well!

    The "Old Boy" hallway fight (the original, not the Spike Lee remake). A 3 minute fight filmed with a single-shot is an all time great cinema moment, not just martial art fight scene.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-OzB-mop6AA

      Yeah, he mentions it in The Raid's excerpt. Great fight scene

    You missed THE RAID 2 : BERANDAL, the prison yard fight, the car fight, the end fight.... pretty much the WHOLE movie beginning to end. Most fights in this list pale in comparison to that movie. It's just that good.

    The prison scene for example, beautifully executed for the giant setpiece of chaos it was:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mavsn628XPk

      Came here to say this. I pimped out TR:R ever since I saw it to anyone that would listen. I didn't think it could be topped... and then I saw the second one. Holy s$#%, what a movie.

      Pretty much can't think about the third instalment without getting excited.

      The Raid 2 is just brutal. Hammer Girl gives me nightmares. Goons really need to learn that if 6 or more of your buddies have been taken out by a weedy girl with hammers, do they really think that somehow the odds are going to suddenly swing in their favour when they step up?

      It's like the Crazy 88 fight in Kill Bill—if I make it down to the last 10, I conveniently find somewhere else to be.

        That Hammer Girl gives me a raging boner.

    dont hate me, but i was actually impressed with the Jason Bourne fight with Desh, in the small apartment.

    also would like to mention the re-telling of Bruce Lee Fist of Fury, the Jet Li version - Fist of Legend - had some amazing fight scenes in it.
    i also recall Ong Bak having some badass fight scenes too, but its been way too long since ive seen it.

    and ive always loved Drunken Master with Jackie Chan, that had some awesome fights.

      I love the Bourne fight scenes. It's just a shame there's so much shaky cam, because they're so well choreographed.

        Yea I absolutely hate hollywood's shaky cam and close up technique used in fights. Why won't they learn!!

    One of my favourite is the oil slick fight scene from the first transporter movie, very well choreographed and easy to follow scenes make it a joy to watch.

      After re reading this I was pleasantly surprised to notice I had read it wrong - Transporter, not Transformers! Long day already lol...

      Transporter had some great scenes - Transformers, however, did not

    I agree with most movies here but have to mention Iron Monkey. Some of the best wire work in a movie and that final fight on the burning wooden planks is the best

    Wait... No Ong Bak?

      Ong Bak was big and flashy and fun, but its fights amounted to stunt guys waiting to be hit by Jaa.

        Your point being? All movie fights are stunt guys waiting to be hit by Jaa, Lee or whoever is the star...

    Last fight in "Kung Fu Hustle" ????!!! Buddha's Palm FTMFW!

      Nah, this list has legitimate fight scenes. Hustle had way too much shitty CGI.

    I recently watched John Wick, i found that movie has some very good hand to hand (and hand to gun) fight scenes shot in continuous sequence which i found pretty awesome.

    I watched the Jackie chan break down on how and why his martial arts in movies is generally pretty popular (think i saw it on kotaku too)

    Sha Po Lang has one of the best choreographed fights ever (2nd last fight).

    For me, a list like this has to include:
    Flashpoint (Donnie Yen): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NyTt1CFiOKI
    Drunken Master 2 (Jackie Chan): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WEt4B1poOfM

    And anything by The Stunt People (e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5VSi7YNr4Y).

    Seriously, these guys are really fantastic. The indie martial arts movie scene are putting out incredible work, way better than anything mainstream Hollywood has ever produced, and better than pretty much anything out of HK since the '90s as well.

    WHERE IS YURI BOYKA!!!!!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbI_04n3lLU

    While I'm not saying this is in the Pantheon, but I enjoyed the fight scenes from Haywire. Gina Carano's acting notwithstanding, the fights between her and Charming 'Taters and Michael Bassfender were on the practical, short and brutal rather than artistic and flourishing, but I think they really worked to set the tone for the film. Plus it was good to see a chick go toe-to-toe with a guy and not have to really suspend your disbelief.

    List seriously needs more Donnie Yen love.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljHRS_19vwk

    What about Kick Ass? You can't tell me that hallway fight wasn't amazing.

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