Who doesn’t love a top 10 list? There are few things I feel qualified providing a top ten list for but if I had to pick one, it would definitely be a karate movie list. So, here’s my list of the top 10 karate movies of all time.
First, a few disclaimers. I picked movies that have martial arts or karate themes, not just movies with martial arts fighting. Just about every action movie has martial arts fight scenes so I needed to be a bit more specific. Also, some of these movies are definitely not appropriate for children (but perfectly acceptable for dads once the kids go to bed). Please adhere to movie ratings and details when deciding what to allow your kids to watch.
No karate list is complete without a Chuck Norris sighting (enter favorite Chuck Norris joke here). Actually, not a bad family flick. Very much Chuck Norris’ Karate Kid wannabe attempt. Complete with Joe Piscapo as more of a caricature version of John Creese. Not to mention it has Winnie Cooper from the Wonder Years.
9. Game of Death
You didn’t have to wait very long for a Bruce Lee movie to enter the list. Sadly, this was his last film. The final sequence of Lee fighting different martial artists on each level of the pagoda, such as Hapkido’s Bong Soo Han and Kali’s Dan Inosanto is classic, culminating in a fight with none other than the baddest dude on the planet…Kareem Abdul Jabbar? Yep, that’s correct.
Jean Claude Van Damme was the man in the late 80s and early 90s. Dropping into the splits and doing athletic jump spinning kicks is very applicable to actual fighting (sarcasm anyone?). The actual reason this movie made the list is for Van Damme’s drunken dance scene.
Another Van Damme movie? Bloodsport is essentially the same movie as Kickboxer, or any other Van Damme movie for that matter. Avenge attack on friend instead of brother, swap out attractive blonde, and finish with an underdog victory in a match. Bloodsport does have Jackson, a sloppy, overweight American brawler who has the best one liner in the movie: “I ain’t your pal *bleep* face!”
6. Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story
This movie is a biography of Bruce Lee’s life. It stars Jason Scott Lee (no relation ironically). Not sure how accurate it is but it is very well done.
5. The Foot Fist Way
I have a love/hate relationship with this movie. I love laughing at Danny McBride’s hysterical yet vulgar portrayal of a Tae Kwon Do studio owner. I then hate that I can relate to some of it. It also makes me sad to think there are people out there who think karate instructors are like his McBride’s character.
4. Kung Fu Panda
Finally, a good family film! All in all, Kung Fu Panda is quite a good martial arts movie. Even though it is a cartoon, there are still some humorous moments adults enjoy.
3. The Best of the Best
I used to watch this movie over and over again. I think I secretly yearned to be on the US Karate Team, just training all day and competing at the highest level. You have to overlook the fact that 4 out of 5 members of the team are terrible martial artists (Eric Roberts, really?).
2. Enter the Dragon
Arguably the best Bruce Lee movie of all time. An even better dream than the US Karate Team from The Best of the Best would be to compete in a martial arts tournament on a secret island owned by a ruthless warlord whose operations you are attempting to infiltrate.
1. The Karate Kid
The original of course. Nothing against the remake, it just doesn’t even compare with the original. Millions of kids everywhere started karate in part due to this movie. It has a great message of standing up for yourself against bullies. Not the best martial arts action but a great movie. I am so happy to see the Cobra Kai series on Netflix taking off, so I don’t have to be a closet Johnny Lawrence fan any longer. No Mercy!
There are two movies I’d like to give an honorable mention to: Rumble in the Bronx and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Both movies have exceptional martial arts action and would certainly make the list if not for my initially stated criteria of the movie requiring there to be karate themes in the movie, not just action.
Comments? Omissions? Grievances? Let me know!