The best martial arts fight scenes of all time each bring something unique to the table. They have to because there is a long tradition of one upsmanship with complexity and overall skill.
We put together a list of the best martial arts fight scene from a filmmakers perspective, so we’ll be looking at everything from production design, fight choreography, camera work, and overall story.
Great Martial Arts Fights
14. The Raid: Redemption | Mad Dog vs Rama & Andi Fight SceneAll of the fight scenes in The Raid Redemption are fun to watch, including the hallway scene, but this particular scene has three very skilled combatants fighting it out over really important stakes.
Throughout the film, we see Iko Uwais’ character beat down dozens of bad guys only to watch him struggle in this last fight, which tells us about the Mad Dog. There is also some serious brutality in this scene.
Best Keanu Reeves Fight Scenes
13. The Matrix Reloaded | Chateau Fight Scene
The Chateau fight scene from The Matrix Reloaded is one of the best martial arts fight scenes in a movie for a number of reasons. Notice how the camera moves in this scene. It often begins on a piece of production design or a prop, but then move to reframe one of the combatants.
The fight choreography, wire work, variety, and performances all make this a highly entertaining fight scene. There is also fun use of slow motion, and the majority of the scene is captured with wide shots which elevates the action on screen and shows off the prowess of the fighters.
Best Karate Fight Scenes
12. Ninja in the Dragon’s Den | Dragon's Den Fight SceneThis fight scene from Ninja in the Dragon’s Den is one of the more hidden fight scenes out there, which is suppose is appropriate. It has all of the parts that make up a great fight scene, including some laughs spread out in the action, and violence that shakes your senses awake.
Some really amazing moments in the scene happens when Genbu’s sword is trapped in a box, as well as a great ending. This fight scene and the choreography have influenced many of the others on this list.
Best Kung Fu Fight Scenes Ever
11. The Matrix | Dojo Fight Scene
Imagine watching a movie in the theaters 20 years ago. It stars Keanu Reeves of Bill & Ted fame, and begins with a hacker/corporate employee being fed a pill that takes him out of a simulation into the “real world”. Suddenly, you’re in a Dojo and watching “masterful” martial arts.
The way this scene was used to both explain the rules of The Matrix as well as setting up important call backs, character motivations, and some of the best mid fight one-liners is why the sparring program will go down as one of the best martial arts fight scenes of all time.
Best Martial Arts Scenes
10. Ong-Bak | Fight Club SceneThe thing that jumps out at me in the Ong-Bak fight club scene that makes it one of the best of all time is the variety. Ting doesn’t want to fight, but he’s quickly goaded into fighting not one, or two, but three different fighters each with their own unique style and approach.
With each fight, you almost get the feeling that the point of the scene is to show off the style of Muay Thai, and how it can potentially defeat any other style of fighting. The question of fighting style and skill level has always been an integral part of the martial arts fight scene tradition.
Best Tony Jaa Fight Scenes
9. The Protector | Staircase Fight SceneThe staircase fight scene in The Protector is one that requires the viewer to both understand the difficult task at hand, and to enjoy the fruits of the filmmaker’s labor. The scene is slower than most because there was very little margin for error, and the execution had to be technically perfect.
When you add up the planning, the sacrifices made by the stunt actors, the coordination of the many extras, the destructible production design, and Tony Jaa’s performance, you get an unforgettable scene.
Best Bruce Lee Fights Scenes
8. Fists of Fury | Dojo Fight Scene
This is one of the more iconic Bruce Lee fight scenes, and it shows how a group of combatants can lead to a more exciting fight scene. It also influenced many imitators, some of which raise the bar, and others that seem to take the worst parts of this scene as the main takeaway.
I think the absolute best part of this scene is when Bruce Lee busts out the nunchakus, and begins beating up a bunch of students. There is also a really great moment where the camera flips to a POV shot of the teacher as Bruce Lee fires off a flurry of kicks and strikes.
Best Jackie Chan Fight Scenes
7. Who Am I? | Rooftop Fight SceneThis is the first Jackie Chan fight scene on our list, but it won’t be the last. The rooftop fight scene from Who Am I? shows you many of the reasons that Jackie Chan is a legend in martial arts filmmaking.
Jackie Chan understands that the best films are emotional rollercoasters, and that viewers want to laugh, and cringe, and worry, and rest easy — so if you can build scenes that do all of these things, you’re in good shape. The building slide at the end is also top notch.
Best Jet Li Fight Scenes
6. Hero | Courtyard Fight SceneThe courtyard fight scene from Hero features two of the greatest living martial arts actors. The scene introduces a didactic music source played by a blind musician, paid more than a customary price. What do these subtextual scene elements say about the plot implications?
The quickness is insane, and there are a few absolutely amazing moments, one where Donnie Yen’s character goes inverted, another where he steps over his weapon and fights through his legs. The rain, the music, and the scene setting all add an extra level of sophistication to this scene supported by the fight choreography and overall filmmaking.
5. Kill Bill Vol. 1 | The Bride vs. Gogo and The Crazy 88’s Fight SceneThe Crazy 88’s scene from Kill Bill Vol. 1 is one of the best fight scenes due to the length, the gore, the fight choreography, and the filmmaking. There is a great use of sound design and cinematography that makes each move have a greater overall effect on the viewer.
The sheer number of combatants and surrounding environment raises the effectiveness of this scene, and the use of special effects makes each strike extracts an extra layer of involvement from the viewer’s senses.
Best Wire Fight Scenes
4. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon | Sword Thief Fight SceneThis fight scene from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon raised the bar for wire based martial arts fight scenes. The stunt work, wire work, and narrative storytelling are flawless, and the scene covers a lot of ground.
The music and sound design also add a really important layer that gives the scene an animal feel. This scene feels more like a dance than many others, and that’s a compliment. There is a rhythm that is infectious, and the scene ends with a really fun punctuation along with a great escape.
Greatest Martial Arts Fight Scenes
3. Hero | Honorable Lake Fight Scene
The lake fight scene in Hero is by far the most beautiful fight scenes ever to be filmed and quite possibly one of the most beautiful scene ever to be filmed period. It has everything from perfect wire work, awesome choreography, interesting camera placement, and blissful sound design.
This is true filmmaking at work, where you find yourself watching an assembly of profound ideas placed in an order that takes you on an emotional journey. You have time to consider your own thoughts while watching and listening to the events on screen. This scene also plays out like a dance, an expression of honor, respect, and sorrow intertwined.
Best Donnie Yen Fight Scene
2. Ip Man | 10 Black Belts Fight SceneThis fight scene from Ip Man is fun to watch without any context, but it is a really effective moment when watching the entire film. The build in energy that leads up to this moment is really powerful and it makes each strike hit with an extra level of enthusiasm and meaning.
The choreography, stunts, special effects, and the camera work all add up to a fight scene that leaves first timers with their mouths agape and forces previous viewers to give nods of approval. I think everyone who watches this scene has to say to that very last black belt, “just go man… just go.” but without his beating, the scene would be incomplete.
Best Martial Arts Fight Scenes
1. Legend of the Drunken Master | Final Fight Scene
There are so many great Jackie Chan fight scenes, and you could easily make an entire best fight scenes list that featured nothing but scene from his films and it would totally count as a legitimate list. That being said, this fight scene is, in our opinion, the greatest of all time.
You have the classic story beats of a great Jackie Chan fight scene. At first he’s pretty good, but then the bad guys gang up on him and he starts to lose. Then he fights the “boss” and he really starts to lose, but he fights back. Then he really starts to lose — like we’re worried, all showcased in one of the most amazing action stunts ever filmed.
Then something flips. In this case, he drinks a bunch of pure alcohol used for cleaning mechanical gears. This allows him to power through, and to fight in his character’s signature style. This scene is funny, exciting, suspenseful, and filmed in a perfect wide shot. Everything is painfully authentic, and skills (filmmaking included) are on full display.
That’s why this is the best martial arts fight scene of all time.
If you have some great scenes that you think should have made our list, make sure to tell us in the comments below. Make a compelling enough argument and we may just add it to our best martial arts fight scenes list.
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Now that you’ve read our list of the best martial arts fight scenes of all time, make sure to check out our list on all of the James Bond films ranked so that you can see which are the first to watch with friends.