Sunday, April 17, 2011

Top 5 Martial Arts Movies

For fun, I've put together a top 5 list of martial arts movies.  I should warn you, they are not all necessarily great films, by critics standards, but for one reason or another they are significant to me. 

So, without further ado, starting at #5, here are Journeyman's top 5 martial arts movies:

#5.  Redbelt (2008) 

This movie was a surprise to me.  It combined two things that don't always go together, decent martial arts and decent acting. The story is moving, pretty well acted and the martial arts (mainly Brazilian Jiu Jitsu), is pretty solid.  The thing I liked most about it is the struggle of a man trying to live the life of a warrior, fighting to lead an honourable existence in the face of an unscrupulous world.  

#4  The Hunted (2003)  

What a great action film.  There's no real surprises with the plot, but it's a great ride.  Top notch actors in the film.  It's all about tracking a wanted man through the wilderness and the urban jungle as well.  What makes this a standout in my list is the knife fighting scenes.  They are brutal, fast and pretty realistic.  I have not seen another Hollywood film that has done this good a job with knife work.  Gritty and good.  Clearly the actors spent a long time training with someone who knows their stuff. To any fans of knife work out there, don't miss this one.  Knife work aside, it's a pretty good movie too.  Tough not to like this one if you like action.

#3.  Roadhouse (1989)  

Roadhouse hits my list as an influential film.  The martial arts action isn't on par with some of the other entries, but the film has it's good points. I imagine many a young man contemplated a career as a bouncer after this film.  It's got some 80's cheese and some big hair but it's a gem.  Many words of wisdom in the film.  They come across as silly, but there's some deeper meaning and some good advice to all the warriors out there.  The Tao of Swayze...

The good guys are good, the bad guys are really bad, the soundtrack is great. It'll always hold a spot in my heart.  Ah, the Double Deuce, good memories.

#2.  Bloodsport (1988)  

Another gem from the 80's.  This film put Van Damme on the map.  To my knowledge, it is also one of the first films to showcase a bunch of different marital arts.  Training montages, funny supporting cast, big hair, and based on a true story.  No doubt, this is one of the more influential films from this era. It paved the way for a whole bunch of martial arts movies and put them on the big screen. A must see for any martial artist, if only to say you saw it.  I still find myself watching it if it comes on t.v.

#1.  Above the Law (1988)

A relatively unknown Steven Seagal burst on to the screen in 1988, bringing with him the relatively unknown martial art of Aikido.  I've made it no secret that I think Seagal is the real deal in Aikido, but that's not the point.  In my opinion, this movie showed the most realistic portrayal of actual effective Aikido techniques, and they were done in real time.  No sped up action shots in this film!  This film has a major impact on my martial arts journey. Decades ago, this film was partially responsible for leading me to my first Sensei (who's also my Sensei today). What I loved about the film is that I remember actually being taught the same techniques from the film in my Jiu Jitsu dojo.  And as far as Aikido goes, Seagal used a fair amount of atemi (striking techniques) in the movie, an often overlooked area of study in some Aikido schools.  To this day, Above the Law boasts some of the best martial arts techniques seen in any movie.  The moves were real, and they'd work in real life.

As a bonus, there's lots of footage of Seagal doing Aikido in Japan.  A must see movie for any martial artist.  And yes, there's some 80's flair, but that's just part of it's charm.   Watch it.

There you have it.  Comments are welcome as well as any recommendations on other great (or influential) martial arts films.  



  1. i have to admit, perhaps reluctantly, that I was quite smitten with the early '80s ninja movies (enter the ninja; the return of the ninja; american ninja)... however, karate kid and bloodsport were factors too... i didn't see a bruce lee movie until i was in my twenties....

  2. You know, I forgot about those. Perhaps they should have been added. Any chance you remember Gymkata? Just the poster makes me cringe.

    I didn't include Bruce Lee and his movies for the same reason. The films didn't have an impact on me when they came out, I was but a wee tot at the time.

  3. never seen gymkata but looked up the cover.... oh dear....

  4. I have seen reviews of Gymkata - they were less than kind, and based on the clips I have seen, it is easy to see why. While there is no doubt the young gymnast involved is skillful, the very idea that gymnastics can be immediately applied as a martial art is hilarious. Also the plot is horrendous, which didn't help much.
    Thanks for this post, I found it very interesting. Steven Seagal was an inspiring aspect to my own training - Under Siege 1 & 2 come to mind.

  5. Yamabushi,

    Glad you enjoyed the post. Just the posters alone of Gymkata make me laugh.

    I suspect Steven Seagal had more of an impact on many martial artists than they'd care to admit, at least in the earlier years of his career.

  6. Great post ,i love all those movies!!

    Martial Art Training

  7. Tal,

    Glad to hear it. Thanks for commenting