Ranking the 10 Worst American Martial Arts Movies
I love martial arts and have been a practitioner since I was child. I have also been glued to the wonderful invention that is television ever since I could sit up under my own power.
There have been some iconic martial arts films such as Enter the Dragon and The Karate Kid (1984), but we have also been subjected to some of the biggest cinematic atrocities in film. With the rise of mixed martial arts, we are slowly seeing MMA making it's way into film—but not in a good way.
Since I have had the privilege of seeing some of these films, I thought what better way to show my appreciation (read: displeasure) to Hollywood than by bringing them to you.
Now there are some rules. In the movies I've selected, the main purpose of the film was to showcase either a specific martial art or martial arts in general. So while I could probably fill this list with Steven Seagal movies alone, unfortunately he does not appear on this list.
I'm also ashamed to say that I own some of these, but aren't some movies so bad they're actually entertaining? Some of these were also box office successes, but when has that ever meant that a movie was worth watching?
Honorable Mention: Street Fighter
Style Showcased: Various
Under normal circumstances, this movie could easily be in the top five. However, this was based on the hugely popular video game, so it's not a martial arts film per se.
It's still one of the worst movies ever made, and it pains me to know that Raul Julia's last role before his death was in this film. If you haven't seen this, consider this your warning.
Watchable? I will NEVER watch this film again!
Honorable Mention: The Karate Kid
Style Showcased: Kung Fu
While I thought this should've been higher, its critical acclaim has to be considered. It's one thing to make a remake, it's another thing to take all of the signature lines from the original and change a word here and there to fit your movie.
"Break his leg!" Seriously, what is that about?
Aside from being 30 to 45 minutes too long, it lacked the high school testosterone and "in-crowd" feel that made the original. Does anyone really care that 12-year-olds can't get along?
For the record Mr. Han, fighting 12-year-olds is assault.
Watchable? It's decent and family friendly but if you're an 80's movie purist, you won't be pleased.
Style Showcased: Various
Hey, isn't that...yes, it's Van Damme again. It's the story of Frank Dux, the first Westerner to win the Kumite. However, whether Dux ever actually competed in this tournament remains a disputed subject.
Where do we start, the terrible beginning with the weird kid breaking into the Tanaka's house? The cocky American boxer—I use that term loosely—who somehow advanced in the tournament? The montage during the final fight?
The reporter, played by Leah Ayers, served no legitimate purpose, but she was easy on the eyes. The Kumite fight scenes are pretty cool.
Watchable? It's worth watching, I own it. It's $5 bin worthy, but avoid the sequels at ALL costs.
9. Best of the Best
Style Showcased: Karate/Tae Kwon Do
I'll lay this out for you: James Earl Jones is coaching Chris Penn and Eric Roberts to defeat the Korean national karate team.
While entertaining, especially Chris Penn's antics, other than the Korean team and actor Philip Rhee from the American team, don't expect much as far as actual martial arts ability.
Again, avoid the sequels, they only get worse.
Watchable? I own it. It's 2AM movie worthy.
8. Only the Strong
Style Showcased: Capoeira
Before Mark Dacascos was "The Chairman," he was the "Capoeira maestre."
It's your typical soldier returns home, takes on the local thug, loses the first fight, wins the second, saves the day and everyone cheers movie. This does get points given that it shows a martial art that is rarely featured on screen, Capoeira.
I'll admit, watching the maestres is great, but that's about it with this movie. The theme song of the movie "Paranauȇ" is hypnotizingly catchy.
Watchable? It's worth seeing once.
Style Showcased: Muay Thai
I promise I am not picking on JCVD. This movie was actually decent, but there are minimal sightings of actual Muay Thai. American kickboxing legend Dennis Alexio co-stars to give the movie credence but fails miserably.
What also puts this movie on the list are the four horrendous sequels that followed. Three of them starred Sasha Mitchell (yes, as in Cody). Sadly, the sequels actually featured more Muay Thai and kickboxing than the first movie.
Watchable? The first two aren't bad. Skip the rest (says the guy who owns the boxed set). It was $20!
6. The Quest
Style Showcased: Various
Ok, so maybe I am picking on Van Damme. He did a movie with Dennis Rodman for goodness sake.
Take his earlier film Bloodsport, change the venue from Hong Kong to Tibet, change JCVD's character's name from Dux to DuBois and throw in Roger Moore, and it's the same exact film.
The aged Van Damme sitting alone recounting the story at the end of the film is the bitter icing on a very stale cake.
Watchable? Watch once to see what I mean, then have a drink to erase the memory.
Style Showcased: Karate
In case you didn't know, Billy Blanks used to be an actor. Notice I didn't say a good one.
I have to admit, this movie is a secret obsession of mine. It's so incredibly bad it's down right hilarious. It's plot is akin to The Karate Kid except these "teenagers" are clearly too old for high school.
A kid moves to a new town from Kansas, likes a girl and her boyfriend beats him silly. I'm sure you can figure out the rest from there. Don't forget the B-movie staple, an illegal fighting ring that must be stopped, and Billy is just the janitor to do it.
Watchable? I've searched but can't find the DVD. It's one of the greatest comedies I've ever seen. Oh wait, it's not a comedy?
4. 3 Ninjas
Style Showcased: Ninjutsu
Even as a child, I thought the idea of three elementary-aged children and their grandfather taking out a criminal organization was a bit of a stretch.
What's worse? There were sequels.
What's even worse? One starred Hulk Hogan.
Watchable? The kids succeed, and dad takes them out for pizza after. There, I just saved you some brain cells.
3. Never Back Down
Style Showcased: Mixed Martial Arts
Again I say, guy enrolls in new school, guy flirts with girl and her boyfriend beats him silly. This time, the film seeks to capitalize on the explosion in popularity of MMA.
The plot is very thin. It tries to incorporate social networking, online video, over-indulged teenagers and every other cliche relating to the last five years that you can think of.
Watchable? I couldn't take it anymore. I went to Wikipedia to read the ending. I suggest you do the same.
Style Showcased: Pit Fighting
This is another guilty pleasure (and a sure-fire way to get my wife to leave the room).
Lou Ferrigno is a Rambo-esque war hero who is injured and must be cared for by his buddy whose life he saved. Lou is then tricked into fighting in an illegal fighting ring (there it is again) and must fight for both of their lives.
The acting, sound effects, plot and even the scenery are so bad that it's just plain amusing. While I'm not poking fun at the fact that he was injured, Lou should've avoided "serious" roles and stuck to getting mad and turning green.
Watchable? If you can get pass the first seven minutes (I'm the only one I know of who can) you may get a decent laugh. Sadly, I own this.
1. The Next Karate Kid
Style Showcased: Karate
Two words describe this film: Absolute disgrace
The Karate Kid was an iconic movie of the 80's. To have it completely tarnished by this atrocious film is just plain wrong. I loved the first two and will occasionally watch No. 3.
While this was a breakout role for Hillary Swank, watching her beat up her boyfriend's bullies is just ridiculous. Adding the monks for credibility should also be condemned.
Watchable? It's just as watchable as Rocky V, Jason X and Major League 3
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