Fighting movies are a different breed of film. After watching Ronda Rousey destroy Cat Zingano in 14 seconds this past weekend, I felt inspired to put together a list of the best fighting movies ever. I’m not talking about movies about a boxer thought, like Rocky or Raging Bull. Those are biopics or dramas, that revolve around a boxer. Films like The Wrestler and The Fighter won’t get in. This list is for movies that were made largely to put fights on the screen. Movies that started with the premise of fighting, and a story was built around that. That’s not to say that all ‘fighting movies’ can’t have a great story. The ones at the top of this list probably do. But the one’s at the bottom of it don’t necessarily have to! So let’s get on with it. We’ll begin from the bottom and work our way up the list of the best fighting movies of all time.
The other Jean Claude Van Damme underground martial arts movie, and basically a copy of Bloodsport with a little bit worse acting and plot. Still fun to watch if you’re a fan of cheesy 80’s action, and Van Damme’s killer kicks.
Three Ninjas (1992)
This one is a childhood memory basically, which we can look back on now and wonder why we loved it. But we did. Every little kids dream was to be a little martial arts hero and beat up mean adults. The three ninjas did it well. Plus they wore their baseball caps backwards and let their fringe poke out the front. That was gangster. At the time.
The Top 10 Fighting Movies Of All Time
10. Bloodsport (1998)
The film that made fighting legend Jean Claude Van Damme famous, Bloodsport is not exactly a well crafted story, but it is based on a true one (real life martial art legend Frank Dux). Van Damme plays a US soldier in Hong Kong who gets caught up in an underground fighting circuit, and becomes a challenger for the championship which is pursued by any number of merciless killers. The acting is campy and wooden, and the production of the film is poor, but this almost adds an underground grit to the proceedings. Then there’s the slow motion shots of Van Damme screaming as he destroys someone. Plus, the final showdown is a classic. Fight fans should check it out.
9. The Karate Kid (1984)
One of the most beloved movies by kids in the 80’s and 90’s, The Karate Kid is another campy, cheesy but undeniably entertaining movie. It’s fame can be well measured by it’s most memorable moments, it’s many quoted lines and it’s most memorable character Miyagi, the unlikely mentor of our protagonist. It’s one of the original, ‘unorthodox methods pay off’ movies, and who can forget catching the fly and ‘wax on, wax off’. Of course, there are some other classic lines, that are known more for their cheesiness, such as the endlessly ridiculous “SWEEP THE LEG” scene. It’s a fun movie for youngsters, and is pretty timeless in that sense, even though as you grow up it loses its luster. It was also followed by a number of mediocre sequels.
8. Raze (2013)
An unexpected entry to the list quite frankly, but this exploitation film about a large group of women who are trapped and imprisoned as a part of some sick game/social experiment, and forced to fight it out to survive. It’s got a cast of unknowns and is not for the feint-hearted, but it’s got some crazy fight scenes, and takes girl power to a level that I’m not sure it was intended. It’s got some social relevance also, and is actually not completely gratuitous in it’s violence, but this almost adds to it’s grit. It’s a flawed film but it’s basically a brand new take on the concept that has been used without remorse in the likes of Battle Royale and The Hunger Games. This one keeps the fights low budget and real though, and it’s a visceral experience that won’t be for everyone. You might think twice about talking back to your girlfriend after this one.
7. Mortal Kombat (1995)
A true guilty pleasure film for 90’s video game fans, Mortal Kombat is a fighting movie in every sense. It is full of poor acting, ridiculous costumes, cheesy lines Christopher Lambert. Christopher Lambert. That being said, we love it. Mortal Kombat is one of the most famous fighting games in history, made famous on the Super Nintendo and Sega Mega Drive, and involved a tournament of martial arts, where the goal is to fight your way to the top of a tower, until you reach the top and face the impossible Tsung Shang (or the more impossible Shao Kahn). The film creates a similar plot, with an Enter The Dragon rip off type of deal, where a group of characters, some good and some bad, arrive at a secret location, all with their own hidden agendas for being there. The plot is not what’s important though. It’s the memorable characters, which the film manages to get right. Fighters like Johnny Cage and Lui Kang are perfectly cast, but the hard part was getting cartoon fighters like Scorpion and Goro to seem plausible, and miraculously, they managed it. Johnny Cage’s fight with Scorpion is fantastic, his brawl with Goro is truly cheesy and hilarious, and the special effects manage to hold up well. The violence is actually toned down a little bit from the insane and famous “Fatalities” that made the video game so gloriously gory and creative, but that’s basically the only criticism of this beautiful disaster.
6. Ong Bak (2003)
There was a ton of hype for the star of this film, Tony Jaa, who made his debut here as a young man from the country who goes to the big city to recover a stolen Buddha statue from some criminals. Sounds pretty straightforward, and it is. But what is not straightforward, is this Thai stuntman’s insane fighting style, which is brutal and intense, drawing comparisons to some of the legends of the martial arts movie industry. Now, his success hasn’t quite ballooned as many thought, outside of his Ong Bak trilogy (although he is appearing in the upcoming Furious 7, and is on the rumored cast list for The Raid 3) but that doesn’t take anything away from this movie. What does take away from this movie is it’s plot and acting. But again, nobody reading this list cares! Jaa dispatches villains with a ridiculous controlled rage, delivered patented elbows that make you reach up and rub your own head to make sure you’re not bleeding. Let’s see what Jaa can bring to a western Hollywood feature like Furious 7.
5. Ip Man (2010)
Ip Man is like Ong Bak, but with better acting and a good story. It stars martial arts master Donnie Yen as a family man whose town becomes occupied by the Japanese army. He is forced to fight for entertainment, but when he shows clear superiority in the arena he is gets entangled with the military leader, and has to hold up to his principles while also not taking any crap. Loosely based on ‘Yip Man’ who was the master of Bruce Lee (that’s saying something folks), this actually has a character worth learning a little about, but also has some masterful fight scenes, which are a little less brutally violent, but no less skillful and dazzling to watch. The film also spawned a couple of sequels, which were actually pretty decent in their own right. Check out the film and then go do some reading on the real life character that it’s based on.
4. Warrior (2011)
This is a film that is actually more of a sports drama than a fighting movie to be honest, but it has just enough fight scenes to qualify. It is probably the best pure movie on the list, but ranks lower because that’s not the primary criteria here! That being said, there is plenty of great MMA fighting in the film, which stars Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton as a pair of brothers struggling in their lives for different reasons, who both enter an MMA tournament with a big cash prize. The acting in the film is top notch, emotional and realistic. The fights are great to watch, and seem incredibly real, but have been spiced up enough to appeal to a mass audience. Kurt Angle makes an appearance as an unbeatable wrestler, but the real dynamic is built by watching the big favorite Hardy crush his opponents Ronda Rousey style, while his underdog older brother struggles to get through each round. It’s a brilliant film for fight and movie fans alike.
3. The Raid: Redemption/The Raid 2 (2011, 2014)
One of the more recent films on this list, The Raid got things started with one of the most insane, blood bumping, brutal and bloody martial arts movies ever filmed. I’m including both The Raid: Redemption and the sequel, The Raid 2 in the same entry, largely because there are a lot of movies I wanted to get in, and because they essentially flow right into each other, creating one giant story. As far as fighting movies goes, The Raid is on another level. It’s martial arts on crack. The story involves a young recruit named Rama going into a high rise apartment tower with his SWAT crew to take in a mob leader, but when the SWAT team begins to fall at the hands of the hundreds of killers inside, the youngster must fight his way to the top. It’s truly insane stuff, and incredibly violent, but the plot is not completely discarded. In fact, it’s quite well put together. The craziness of The Raid can only be topped by it’s sequel, The Raid 2. The follow up continues the story from the first, but ramps up the action to unimaginable levels. It’s not quite as tightly plotted, but there’s still plenty going on and some of the set pieces are beyond belief. If you love action, it doesn’t get much better than this.
2. Fight Club (1999)
David Fincher’s masterpiece, and the film that really got him on the map, Fight Club is much more than just a fighting movie, but it qualified because it does have plenty of fighting, and it is literally about a club of people who fight. It’s a dark movie, with plenty of twists and turns that Fincher is a master of, and the chemistry between Edward Norton and Brad Pitt is great. Norton plays a bored, depressed man who meets Pitt’s soap salesman, and the two eventually form a bond, and an underground fight club with some very specific rules. It’s a sometimes funny (in a dark way), always brutally violent but endlessly entertaining movie but upon it’s release it was actually pretty polarizing. That’s probably why it’s often considered to be a cult classic. I’m fine with that distinction, but in all honesty, I’d say it’s a pretty great movie no matter who you are.
1. Enter The Dragon (1973)
Bruce Lee, before and after his death, has always been considered a legend. Somewhat of a myth even, in the present time. He was arguably the greatest martial artist in history, at least out of those that we know of or that were exposed to the world. He lived a short life, and only made 5 movies, and this one, Enter The Dragon, is easily the most legendary and the best. It stars Lee as a man whose sister is killed by a drug dealer, and who therefore goes to the criminal masterminds private island to take part in his legendary martial arts tournament. Of course, the tournament is simply his ticket to the island, where he proceeds to fight his way to a final showdown. The film has a bunch of other reputable martial artists from the time, and is largely effective because of the simple but brilliant fight scenes. This is Bruce Lee at his purest, with all of his fighting principles, plenty of charisma and actually decent film making, which was most likely an attempt to help his films get huge in the United States. What we were left with is a legacy that set the bar for the martial artists we see these days.
Well, there you have it folks. Hope you enjoyed our list of the best fighting movies ever. Have a drink to the fact that I discovered that The Raid 3 was in development while researching this article!