2.03.2015

A '100 Best Martial Arts Movies of All Time' list that does not suck


Frequently across our fair "internets", a questionable source will post a Top 25, Top 50, or Top 100 list that attempts to rank movies, albums, etc. Although most of 'em are lame, a small number of these show that some serious consideration went into producing them. The one that no one ever seems to get right, though, are the martial arts movies lists.

A few short days ago, for example, a supposed list of "The 100 Best Martial Arts Movies of All Time", compiled by Paste Magazine, was shared with friends on Facebook by a justifiably annoyed Ron Wimberly (Prince of Cats). He and essentially everyone else who saw the share and left comments on it agreed that Paste's list sucked Chinese stress balls.

Seriously. American Ninja included on a '100 best martial arts movies' list but not Shaolin and Wu-tang, one of the most magnificent martial arts spectacles ever preserved on 35mm film,  VHS and DVD? Holy Robe of the Shaolin Temple, Batman! Where were the Paste folks when they put together some of those selections on that list (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), an opium den?

Mr. Wimberly 'sez that folks who put such lists together usually don't know $#%&, which all too often does seem to be quite the case. And the folks who do know what they're talking about often have little interest in spending numerous hours listing and ranking 100 of the best martial arts films, which can be somewhat subjective to begin with.

Unfortunately, you also can't help but find yourself thinking sometimes that some people who put together such lists, especially those pertaining to the subject at hand, have never even watched many great martial arts films––including some of the ones that they've listed, a similar viewpoint expressed in a particularly heated comment by my buddy Mike (MeccaGodZilla).

More than anything, what these lists often tend to show is that the folks who made them were unqualified to even take on such a task. How can someone assemble a 'best of' list if they haven't actually seen the best that the genre has to offer? To them I say, "Stay in your lane, Grasshopper, and leave lists like these to the experts––and to the hardcore fans."

As a hardcore fan and a self-professed Martial Arts Movie Watching Grandmaster™(who has actually viewed upwards of 200 martial arts flicks in between readings of Plato and comic books), I feel a pressing need to weigh in on this very controversial subject. Someone with at least half a clue should, right?

Admittedly, I've been wanting to do one of these since publishing the "One-Hundred Fingers of Death Martial Arts Movie Watching Master List" in an 8-page mini-zine four or five years ago. Fortunately, due to all the work done on that list, the time required to make another list with "rankings" was cut down considerably...to about three days.

I should take a moment now to say, before anyone who sees my personal list has a conniption upon seeing films like Ip Man ranked higher (meaning lower), puhleeze get down into the top 50 before you do. The flicks listed there will shed some light on the semi-discerning rationale involved in the placement of some higher (meaning lower) ranked films.*

Big fans of samurai films should be warned, too, since none are represented in this list. Even though I love the genre (Zatoichi movies especially), this list compiles 100 of the all time best martial arts flicks. And the fight choreography in most samurai films is extremely light, as compared to kung-fu and karate flicks. Sorry, just my heavily weighted criterion.

And now, without further ado...


A '100 Best Martial Arts Movies of All Time' list...that does not suck

100. Game of Death (Don't have a cow. All but 15 minutes sucked and you know it.)
99. Tattoo Connection
98. Wheels on Meals
97. Ninja Death III
96. Soul Brothers of Kung Fu 
95. Ip Man: The Final Fight 
94. Heroes of Shaolin I
93. Heroes of Shaolin II
92. Ip Man (Five movies based on Ip Man's life have come out since 2008, so relax already.)
91. The Snake, The Tiger, The Crane
90. The Screaming Tiger 
89. Police Story I
88. Shaolin Temple (1978)
87. Police Story III
86. Killer of Snakes, Fox of Shaolin
85. Shaolin Deadly Kicks
84. Snake Crane Secret
83. New Dragon Gate Inn 
82. The Mystery of Chess Boxing 
81. Deadly China Doll
80. Black Belt Jones 
79. Ten Fingers of Death
78. Crippled Avengers
77. Once Upon A Time in China III
76. Armour of God
75. The Inspector Wears Skirts
74. The Forbidden Kingdom
73. Man With the Iron Fists
72. Rush Hour
71. Chandni Chowk to China (Bollywood comedy with Gordon Liu that many have slept on.) 
70. Tony Ja's The Protector 
69. Tai Chi Master
68. Buddha's Palm
67. The Shaolin Temple (1982)
66. Ashes of Time 
65. Yat Do King Sing aka Blade of Fury
64. Ninja Death II
63. Police Story II
62. Butterfly and Sword
61. Shaolin Drunken Monk 
60. Dragon Chronicles: The Maidens of Heavenly Mountains
59. Shadow Ninja
58. The Shaolin Invincibles
57. Kid With the Golden Arm 
56. Invincible Shaolin
55. Hapkido aka Lady Kung Fu
54. Golden Swallow
53. Tai Chi Hero
52. Martial Arts of Shaolin
51. Shaolin vs. Lama 
50. The Karate Kid (2010) (Down to the top fifty. Things are heating up now.)
49. The White Dragon
48. Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons 
47. Tai Chi Zero
46. The Tongfather aka Hands of Death
45. Once Upon A Time in China II 
44. Two Great Cavaliers aka Deadly Duo
43. The Octagon
42. The Last Dragon
41. Rumble in the Bronx
40. Ninja Death I (Question: Why are the baddest ninjas in films from China, not Japan?) 
39. The Street Fighter 
38. Rush Hour 2
37. Kung Fu Hustle
36. The Magnificent Butcher 
35. Master of the Flying Guillotine 
34. Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow
33. Sister Street Fighter (Sue Shiomi is a goddess. Just saying.)
32. The Avenging Eagle
31. The Raid Redemption
30. Ip Man: The Legend is Born
29. Mad Monkey Kung Fu
28. Chinese Connection
27. Holy Robe of the Shaolin Temple
26. The Street Fighter's Last Revenge 
25. Come Drink With Me
24. Millionaire's Express (The Sammo Hung & Cythia Rothrock fight is a beast.)
23. Once Upon A Time in China
22. Last Hurrah for Chivalry
21. Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior
20. Fearless
19. Shaolin Soccer
18. Return of the Dragon
17. Five Fingers of Death
16. Iron Monkey
15. The Five Deadly Venoms
14. Executioners From Shaolin 
13. Return to the 36th Chamber
12. Shaolin Prince
11. Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster
10. Drunken Master
09. Enter the Dragon
08. 36th Chamber of Shaolin
07. Clan of the White Lotus
06. The Grandmaster
05. Shaolin & Wu-Tang 
04. Hero 
03. Fist of Fury (Bruce Lee gets the 'Bad Mother----er wallet' for this one. The final scene breaks me up every time.)
02. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon 
01. Eight Diagram Pole Fighter 


*Some films that comprise parts of trilogies can be weighted higher to allow room in the bottom 50 (meaning top) for single entry films, whenever one installment is represented in the top 50. Ninja Death I, II and III appears at #97, #64 and #30, for example. Films with the same lead actor (s), or director(s) could be ranked similarly, unless it has Bruce Lee or Gordon Liu in it. Those are just too bad ass to be bound by any rules.