Long before we became obsessed with MMA, martial arts flicks satisfied our thirst for blood. We now pay tribute to the best of the best — and the kickass fight scenes and iconic stars that made these movies so essential. Click the links for video clips, and let us know how you feel in the comments section…
10. Kickboxer (1989)
Say what you will about Kickboxer, but it delivers what it promises. Jean-Claude Van Damme plays Kurt Sloane, the European-accented brother to an American kickboxing champion (?) who travels to Thailand only to be paralyzed by the vicious Tong Po. It isn’t until Sloane seeks out the wisdom and awesomely unorthodox training of Xian Chow that he is ready to seek revenge in a brutal underground match that features no shortage of broken glass-encrusted fists and long, drawn-out screams.
Best Ass-Kicking: How do you prepare for the fight of your life? By getting drunk and beating up bar patrons while dancing horribly in pleated pants. How else?
Classic Quote: “I tell them you say they no good fighters… and that their mothers have sex with mules.” (Xian Chow)
9. The Legend of Drunken Master aka Drunken Master II (1994)
Widely considered to be Jackie Chan’s masterwork, The Legend of Drunken Master centers on a good-natured devotee of “drunken boxing,” who — like Popeye with his spinach — becomes an unstoppable force whenever he gets some booze in him. It’s a perfect representation of Chan’s trademark mix of slapstick comedy, white-knuckle stunts, and machine gun-paced kung fu, and the climactic eight-minute sequence is possibly the most astounding piece of fight choreography committed to film. If the whole movie was like that, Drunken Master would be much higher on our list. Unfortunately there’s a lot of filler about ginseng roots and Western imperialism that you have to wade through to get to the good stuff.
Best ass-kicking: The aforementioned final fight between Wong Fei-hung (Chan) and the movie’s two villains, which features fire-breathing, an attempted chin-in-eye submission, and some truly diabolical feats of agility.
Classic quote: “What does it mean when there’s a picture of a skull?” “Good Stuff!” (Mrs. Wong and Wong Fei-hung)
8. The Protector (2005)
These days, Tony Jaa is the only action star worth watching. His films are marked by a high-impact ultra-realism, due to the fact that he’s genuinely kicking the shit out of his unfortunate co-stars. (Like Jackie Chan, Jaa also foregoes the use of wires and body-doubles.) In The Protector, he plays Kham, a man trained in Muay Thai as a guard/caretaker of his family’s sacred elephants. When his father is murdered and their prize elephant is stolen by a smuggling ring, Kham is sent into a kill-crazy rampage for justice. From his vicious arm-breaking spree near the end of the movie to his face-off against a pack of roided-out man-freaks, it’s a thrilling showcase of Jaa’s awe-inspiring abilities.
Best ass-kicking: The monumental tracking shot as Kham makes his way to the hideout of the smugglers. Four minutes of uninterrupted destruction, with no camera cuts — an absolute must-see.
Classic quote: “He came from Thailand; a stranger who lived by a code of honor that we have all but forgotten. His were the old ways, and there were those who mocked him for it. But his was the right path. The just path. And for me, he will always be a hero.” (Mark)
7. The Karate Kid (1984)
It’s hokey and it’s dated, but it’s still the classic that had kids in the eighties signing up for karate lessons and wearing flimsy gi’s as pajamas. I mean, at least I heard some kids did that, the losers. Daniel LaRussa is everyone’s favorite underdog as he stands up to the bullies at the Cobra Kai with Mr. Miagi’s help and romances Elizabeth Shue en route to winning a karate tournament and being declared “all right” by the formidable Johnny Lawrence.
Best Ass-Kicking: Mr. Miagi is Daniel’s savior as he drops in ninja-style to dismantle the skeleton crew from the Cobra Kai dojo.
Classic Quote: “Fear does not exist in this dojo, does it?” “No, sensei!” (John Kreese and Cobra Kai)
6. Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991)
It might just be the most batshit crazy cult classic of all time — and it’s definitely the grossest. Riki-Oh tells the tale of a young man born with superhuman strength, who is sent to prison after avenging his girlfriend’s sort-of-accidental death. Since it’s the year 2001 (!), all prisons are privately-owned, and this one is run by a corrupt warden and his henchmen in the Gang of Four. Ricky quickly lands on their shitlist, and spends most of the movie fighting for his life. Along the way, heads are crushed, eyeballs are punctured, and Ricky is nearly strangled with an attacker’s intestines. Trust us, it’s absolutely hilarious.
Best ass-kicking: Ricky punches holes through two men in the shower room; an honorable mention goes to his unforgettable demolition of Tarzan (clips from both scenes can be seen here, at the 0:51-1:34 and 2:13-2:37 marks).
Classic quote: “You got a lotta guts, Oscar!” (Assistant Warden)
Hit the “next page” link to see which flicks made our top 5!