From Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan to Jean-Claude Van Damme and Ron Van Clief these talented martial artists also starred in some of the most iconic fighting films. There are those who enjoy martial arts movies and then there are those who are die-hard fans. Are you one? Check out our list of iconic martial arts films to see if you qualify as a bona fide superfan. All of these films and more are available now on Blackbelt+.
1.Return of the Dragon First on the list is the 1972 Hong Kong martial arts action-comedy filmReturn of the Dragon. It was famously written by, co-produced by, directed by, and starring Bruce Lee. The film co-stars Nora Miao, Robert Wall, Wei Ping-ou, and Chuck Norris—launching Norris into his own super stardom. The scope of the set is huge, and by huge we mean colossal, as in the major fight scene is set at the Colosseum in Rome. Simply iconic. If you have any respect for martial arts cinema then you’ve seen this film (and probably a dozen times!).
2.Enter of the Ninja Next is Enter the Ninja directed by Menahem Golan and starring Franco Nero, Susan George, and Shô Kosugi. Immediately upon completing his training at a ninja school, an army vet travels to the Philippines and finds himself battling a developer who is taking his war buddy’s property. This film solidified Kosugi as a bona fide martial arts superstar and gained him a massive cult following. This film also helped usher ninjas into the Western zeitgeist, and we are forever grateful.
3.No Retreat, No Surrender Next is No Retreat, No Surrender. This 1986 American martial arts sports film is written and directed by Corey Yuen and stars Kurt McKinney and Jean-Claude Van Damme. It’s a perfect blend between the ‘80s pop culture and the then growing trend of martial arts in American culture. And, of course, we have a Russian villain. What more could you ask for?
4.The Chinese Connection
The Chinese Connection might be the ultimate martial arts movie from the ultimate martial arts superstar Bruce Lee. This 1972 classic delivered the iconic line “you killed my teacher” and introduced the nunchuck to the world. The original name of the movie was Fist of Fury, then released in America as Chinese Connection. But Bruce Lee had another movie called Fist of Fury so to avoid confusion they called that movie The Big Boss…confused yet? Nah, you’re a true fan! You can watch this movie of many names on Black Belt+!
5.The Black Dragon’s Revenge The Black Dragon’s Revenge stars the “Black Dragon” himself Ron van Clief. This 1970s action thriller is about rival gangs in search of the lost "finger fighting" manual written by Bruce Lee. This film is the pinnacle of ‘70s Blaxploitation and kung fu flicks. And it outlives many in the genre due to Van Clief’s legitimate presence and capabilities.
6.Chinese Hercules The 1973 film Chinese Hercules directed by Huang Ta, stars Bolo Yeung. Yeung plays a fighter haunted by his past who now works the docks under an abusive boss. The workers struggle to fight back, but only the young fighter is strong enough to ultimately take on the henchmen and bosses. You might know Bolo from Enter the Dragon. As a bodybuilder, he was known for his massive physique, which is why he was often (always!) shirtless in these films. He also found a new fanbase in the late 1980s when he played the villain in the movie Bloodsport. Raise your hand if you knew that? Great!
7.Revenge of the Ninja
We talked about Enter the Ninja, now let’s look at Revenge of the Ninja. Directed by Sam Firstenberg and reprising the lead role is Sho Kosugi. After his family is killed in Japan by ninjas, Cho and his son Kane escape to America. Cho opens a doll shop that smuggles in heroin right under his nose. After discovering the betrayal, Cho prepares for the battle of a lifetime. Also starring Keith Vitali, Virgil Frye, and lead Sho Kosugi's son, Kane Kosugi. If you’re looking for cinema that shaped a genre, look no further. This 1983 classic sealed the concept of ninjas in the history of cinema.
That’s our list. How’d you do? If you need to brush up on your martial arts cinema, you can watch these iconic movies and more at Black Belt+
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