Top 5 MMA Movies That Are So Bad, They're Good
It’s fair to say that mixed martial arts films are the red-headed step children of the movie industry. Then again, that would be a bit harsh on red-headed stepchildren who haven’t really done anything to earn our ire. MMA movies, on the other hand, have done very little right since they started appearing in DVD bargain bins throughout the country.
Sure, we’ve had the occasional decent flick like Warrior. There are even some terrific documentaries out there. But most who try to cash-in on MMA’s popularity end up creating the kind of movie that makes Gigli look like Oscar-bait.
And that’s actually the good news. If MMA movies were just bad, there would be no entertainment value. Like The Room, many of the films transcend mere badness to the point that they become wildly entertaining.
So, without further delay, read on for a rundown of the top five MMA movies that are so terrible you might actually get a kick out of them.
5. Fighting (2009)
Let’s be clear about something before I go any further. Fighting, starring Channing Tatum and Terrence Howard, shamelessly rips off an infinitely better film called Lionheart, which stars Jean-Claude Van Damme at his cheesy best.
I half expected Channing Tatum to affect a hybrid JCVD-GSP accent just to complete the intellectual property theft. Seriously, this could have been considered a remake more faithful to the original than Vince Vaughn’s Psycho.
The movie follows Shawn McArthur, who is recruited to become an underground street fighter. Betrayal, romance and predictable plot lines ensue.
The first thing that I noticed while watching this film recently is that Tatum has improved almost beyond recognition as an actor. He was excellent in 2012’s Magic Mike. In Fighting? Not so much. To say that he represents a charisma vacuum would be putting it mildly.
Indeed, Tatum delivers each line as though he is reading from an out-of-focus teleprompter. The director could have saved the studio some money and replaced his lead by drawing a tortured-looking face on a two-by-four. No one would have been the wiser.
The action scenes are of a decent standard, which is the only thing that saves this movie from being further up the list.
4. Never Back Down (2008)
Let’s be fair here. Never Back Down isn’t quite as terrible as some have made it out to be. Its main crimes are that it is overly predictable and represents MMA about as accurately as Rocky IV represents boxing.
The film stars Sean Faris as Jake Tyler, a troubled kid who comes to town and gets beat up by the school bully, before stealing the bully’s girlfriend and then beating up said bully at the end of the movie, etc. I think you the get the picture.
In between these predictable beats, Jake is trained by the beastly Djimon Hounsou and, over the course of a few weeks, becomes an ADCC-level submission artist with the kind of guard that makes Shinya Aoki look like Lavar Johnson.
Cue daddy issues being resolved, triangles and armbars being applied, MMA fights taking place in makeshift cages composed of parked cars, and more.
It’s all very entertaining as long as you’re willing to switch off your brain for 90 minutes and pretend you know nothing about MMA.
3. Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown (2011)
I have to admit, I was cautiously optimistic that this would turn out to be a decent representation of MMA. After all, Eddie Bravo and Scott Epstein were involved in the movie and had been boasting about how realistic Never Back Down 2 was going to be in comparison to the original.
Boy, did they ever mislead the movie-going public. If they were going for realism, they missed the mark by a few miles. There could scarcely have been less realism had Pixar got involved and turned it into an animated flick.
The film is directed by and stars Michael Jai White as a washed-up former mixed martial artist who trains a select few young men whom he deems worthy of his knowledge—no one knows his criteria for determining worthiness.
Hilariously, Todd Duffee also has a prominent role in the movie, as one of Michael Jai White’s students. If you thought Channing Tatum was wooden in Fighting, just wait until you see Duffee’s tree-like performance.
Now, back onto the subject of realism. How realistic is it that an MMA trainer would, instead of focusing on grappling, teach a former pro boxer capoeira? How realistic is it that an MMA trainer would tell a former wrestler to spend weeks trying to punch a hole in a piece of paper before he tries to learn anything practical?
And don’t even get me started on the scene where Michael Jai White beats seven shades of fecal matter out of five police offers while his hands are, quite literally, tied behind his back. Halfway through, I was looking for extra hands to facepalm with.
Maybe I’m taking this too seriously, but when Eddie Bravo tells me that an MMA movie is going to be realistic, I don’t expect the one-night tournament that concludes the film to boast more highlight finishes than have occurred in the UFC’s 20-year history.
If you decide to watch the movie, feel free to tweet Eddie Bravo some of your questions regarding its supposed realism.
2. Supreme Champion (2010)
For the top two spots on the list, I have a couple of rare treats for you, friends. Let’s start with Supreme Champion, starring Stephan Bonnar as Troy Jennings.
In a nutshell, Bonnar’s character is forced to compete in a mixed martial arts tournament after he and his girlfriend are captured by the devious—and brilliantly named—Lucien Gallows.
You’ve heard of B-Movies? Well, I think we’d need a few more letters in the alphabet before we could accurately classify this one.
I’ll start with the cinematography. Now, I’m sensitive to the fact that a movie like this is going to have a low budget. However, I didn’t think the makers would grab the first guy they saw with an iPhone and ask him to be the cameraman.
Watching a movie like this makes you appreciate how difficult it is to make a movie look good. Simply pointing a camera at the actors and filming won’t get the job done.
For what it’s worth, Bonnar does a decent job with what he has to work with. It’s just a shame that the cinematography and the script are so distracting. Moreover, Bonnar has one of those faces that you can't take seriously.
Even when "The American Psycho" is supposed to look beat up, his facial expression looks more like something out of a Laurel and Hardy film.
Take a peek at the trailer, since I can't possibly do this masterpiece any justice.
1. No Rules (2005)
No Rules is a relatively early MMA film, starring Randy Couture, Frank Shamrock, Dan Henderson and Bruce Buffer, among others. Pamela Anderson and Gary Busey even make appearances.
IMDB describes the movie as follows:
This action film follows the triumphs of a small town mixed martial artist whose good hearted actions, desire to be an MMA champion and the haunting visions of his parent's double murder lead him to a Cagefighting showdown; where he is forced to face his fears, defend his family name, fathers honor, and in the end risk his own life in the cage.
If you thought Supreme Champion was low budget, you’ll be wondering whether the producers resurrected Abraham Zapruder to film this one.
The most entertaining aspect of this movie is watching Randy Couture act like the world’s most cartoonish bad guy, complete with Dr. Evil-style laughs after some of his more loathsome actions.
The movie’s script and acting are so horrifically entertaining that you’ll be searching online to see if Tommy Wiseau had a hand in making the film. No need to take my word for it, though.