10 Best American Martial Arts Movies

Sunday, March 27 by Caleb McAllister

Creating a list of the 10 best American martial arts movies is a tall order to say the least. Even when overseas productions are ruled out, there are too many incredible options to create a list that everyone will agree with. So, in order to include more of these terrific movies on the list, we will only include one movie per series. "Shanghai Noon" and "Shanghai Knights" are both great movies, for example, but only "Shanghai Noon" will be listed.

  1. "Enter the Dragon" The quintessential Bruce Lee movie, "Enter the Dragon" shows off Lee's incredible and un-enhanced abilities better than any of his other movies. Lee plays an elite martial artist recruited to investigate a mysterious island tournament run by the shadow Mr. Han.
  2. "The Karate Kid" The iconic crane kick from "The Karate Kid" is still an instantly recognizable symbol of the mystique and power we associate with martial arts—or at least did when we were kids. Macchio plays a boy constantly harassed by bullies when he movies to a new school until a mysterious old janitor offers to teach him karate.
  3. "Bloodsport" No movie is more iconically Van Damme than this wonderfully over-the-top tale of Frank Dux competing in the mysterious Kumite tournament. The movie's "based on true events" claim might be debatable, but do we really even care?
  4. "Unleashed" Although some will debate whether this is technically an American film, no one will argue that this is one of Jet Li's most incredible films, featuring jaw-dropping fight scenes and moving character development. Li's character is raised to be a mindless enforcer for a small-time thug until his life is changed by the kindness shown him by a blind piano tuner (played by Morgan Freeman) and his daughter.
  5. "Shanghai Noon" This movie is trademark Jackie Chan with his beloved mix of lightning-fast acrobatics and lovable, quirky humor. Owen Wilson plays the perfect foil to Chan's super-serious Imperial Guard on a mission to rescue a lost Chinese princess in the American Old West.
  6. "The Matrix" Maybe Keanu Reeves is no Bruce Lee, but "The Matrix" deserves a spot on this list if for no other reason than that it gave us the immortal line: "I know Kung Fu." And even if Reeves can't hold a candle physically to most of the stars on this list, you almost won't notice it thanks to the jawdropping fight choreography by Yuen Woo Ping in this futuristic sci-fi thriller about a world where humans are hunted almost to extinction by machines.
  7. "Rush Hour" Chan and co-star Chris Tucker might not have had quite the same level of chemistry that Chan and Owen Wilson did in "Shanghai Noon," but that's a tough act to beat. Plus, some of the acrobatics Jackie pulls off in this movie are hard to believe, even now. He plays another fish-out-of-water role in "Rush Hour," this time as a Chinese cop looking for a kidnapped little girl in Los Angeles.
  8. "Kiss of the Dragon" A dark, gritty drama about the seedy underworld of Paris with Li as a Chinese cop trying to take down a drug kingpin. You'll see stunts in some of the fight scenes that still haven't been equaled.
  9. "Blade" Karate and vampires? What's not to like? Plus, Wesley Snipes carries some pretty impressive lightning quick fight scenes. The plot delivers little beyond the titular superhuman vampire hunter hunting vampires, but at the end of the day, that was really all it needed.
  10. "Kill Bill" "Kill Bill" is Quentin Tarantino's love letter to the entire genre of martial arts films. It's gory and over-the-top with some surprisingly deep and touching moments as well. Fans of old-school Kung Fu movies and similar influences will appreciate the recurring tributes and references Tarantino included in his tale of an elite female assassin who wakes up from a coma and swears revenge on those who betrayed her.