Martial Arts Movies and Action Hero Movies in English

Welcome to my ever-expanding list of the best English language based, Martial Arts packed Action Hero movies of all time.

Overview

Let’s start with a simple overview of all the movies we’ve reviewed so far, that we’ve rated OK and above, using my new star rating system – treat them like Michelin stars, since even just one star is a respectable achievement here.

  • RED means it’s totally a martial arts movie, in plot and in choreography. Maximum martial arts value.

  • ORANGE is less likely to be called a martial arts movie, but is the next closest thing.

  • OTHERS still usually have a significant element of martial arts in them, but any watchable action hero movie is eligible for review here.

MOVIE RATING
Excellent
The Matrix (1999) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Bloodsport (1988) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Very Good
The Foreigner (2017) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Ninja (2009) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Rundown (2003) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Equilibrium (2002) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Blade (1998) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Quest (1996) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Kickboxer (1989) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Crocodile Dundee (1986) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Pretty Good
The Equalizer (2014) ⭐⭐⭐
Bulletproof Monk (2003) ⭐⭐⭐
The Transporter (2002) ⭐⭐⭐
The Order (2001) ⭐⭐⭐
Shanghai Noon (2000) ⭐⭐⭐
If Looks Could Kill (1991) ⭐⭐⭐
No Retreat, No Surrender (1986) ⭐⭐⭐
Decent
Code 8: Part II (2024) ⭐⭐
The Equalizer 3 (2023) ⭐⭐
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022) ⭐⭐
Code 8 (2019) ⭐⭐
The Equalizer 2 (2018) ⭐⭐
Hotel Artemis (2018) ⭐⭐
Black Panther (2018) ⭐⭐
Ghost In The Shell (2017) ⭐⭐
The Accountant (2016) ⭐⭐
Boyka: Undisputed IV (2016) ⭐⭐
Assassination Games (2011) ⭐⭐
Undisputed III: Redemption (2010) ⭐⭐
Transporter 3 (2008) ⭐⭐
Transporter 2 (2005) ⭐⭐
Replicant (2001) ⭐⭐
The One (2001) ⭐⭐
Romeo Must Die (2000) ⭐⭐
Inferno (1999) ⭐⭐
The Glimmer Man (1996) ⭐⭐
The Hunted (1995) ⭐⭐
Fist Of Legend (1994) ⭐⭐
Léon: The Professional (1994) ⭐⭐
Universal Soldier (1992) ⭐⭐
The Master (1992) ⭐⭐
The Karate Kid Part III (1989) ⭐⭐
The Karate Kid (1984) ⭐⭐
Beverly Hills Cop (1984) ⭐⭐
OK
The Matrix Resurrections (2021)
The Magnificent Seven (2016)
The Karate Kid (2010)
Fearless (2006)
Undisputed II: Last Man Standing (2006)
The Specialist (1994)
Double Impact (1991)
Above the Law (1988)
Lethal Weapon (1987)
Raw Deal (1986)
The Golden Child (1986)
The Karate Kid Part II (1986)
Highlander (1986)
The Protector (1985)

Detailed breakdowns, movie by movie

For detailed reviews, don’t forget to click through to the dedicated pages where the review often continues with interesting extra details.

Movies rated EXCELLENT ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

These are the very best movies I have found (to my taste). If you don’t already know & love them, I don’t know what planet you’re from.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Matrix (1999) – Keanu Reeves

ACTION BUSYNESS ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
MOOD SETTING ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
SCRIPT COHESION ⭐⭐⭐⭐
PLOT DENSITY ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

This quality of movie simply cannot exist without high budget, great lead actors and a lot of love & dedication by the writers, producers and some supporting cast.

The Matrix isn’t totally a ‘martial arts movie’ but is an action-packed, convincing sci-fi thriller with a significant element of martial arts. From instant (computer-assisted) learning of kung fu and other martial arts which are exhibited with great camerawork, to the eccentric use of guns and stunts – this movie is a great example of what can happen when people make a real effort and don’t cut corners in producing a movie that was cutting edge for its time.

A cool plot involving hacking and conspiracies make this sci-fi both believable and doubly entertaining for fans of martial arts movies. This is a classic performance by Keanu Reeves, who has made many great action movies.

Due to the overall quality of acting and production, I give this movie a 9/10 – to get a perfect 10 it would probably need a more genuine representation of great martial arts training exercises, and it would need a deeper, broader or generally more significant base of philosophical teaching behind the movie.

Still, it’s an excellent movie as it is, from start to finish, and the only real disappointment is how its inevitable sequels don’t manage to maintain the standard set by the original although they are still well worth watching sequentially, but sometimes you might still want to enjoy the original by itself.

It’s not so easy to rewatch every year like Bloodsport is, but what it lacks in sustained comfortable vibe, it makes up for in frequently cutting-edge features. The Matrix has more of an intermittently chilling vibe – it’s not the same genre as Bloodsport and doesn’t try to be – they are both masterpieces in their own way.

Martial arts wise, there’s a bit of fighting, a bit of running, a lot of shooting, and a strange kind of war going on. Action wise, it’s packed with action in all its forms, with a few drama-ish scenes between. Plot wise, it’s almost confusing, but it kind of works and has become a massive cult classic. Cast wise, there were several strong performances and a few less strong.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Bloodsport (1988) – Jean-Claude Van Damme

ACTION BUSYNESS ⭐⭐⭐⭐
MOOD SETTING ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
SCRIPT COHESION ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
PLOT DENSITY ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This is easily one of Van Damme’s best movies. A masterpiece of a martial arts movie. Great budget, great acting, great story, great entertainment throughout – keeps busy and doesn’t have boring or over-predictable patches like Van Damme’s later straight-to-VHS/DVD style movies did. This movie was clearly made with love. Great soundtracks, ample distinct highly entertaining scenes, great cast. The lead antagonist is played by Bolo Yeung from Bruce Lee’s ‘Enter The Dragon’ as he’s a highly credible martial artist with high talent in real life (this is why he was chosen for a strong role in Bruce Lee’s highest-budget, last-completed movie). Bloodsport could probably get a perfect 10/10 if it had one or two further outstanding actors in it and if its martial value was far more detailed (helping viewers learn a lot more about martial arts techniques & principles while watching). If you’re a fan of martial arts movies, particularly Van Damme’s movies, and haven’t yet seen this one, you really need to catch up with this classic. Easily re-watchable every year or two.

Martial arts wise, it’s heavily themed around martial artists in a tournament. Action wise, it’s not James Bond, but there’s a lot of fist fighting and a bit of running around. Plot wise, it’s quite zeroed in on a simple concept, but stays quite busy works fantastically. Cast wise, there are several strong performances and a few less strong.

This movie was inspired by the alleged real life story of Frank Dux, a martial artist still living & teaching today. Although his story now appears to be almost certainly bogus, I guess we can still thank him for his dodgy story having inspired one of the greatest martial arts movies ever made.


Movies rated VERY GOOD ⭐⭐⭐⭐

A level below the very best few movies, but still very very good – thoroughly entertaining if you’ve not seen them in a while. Very few boring bits, if any. These would be the very best movies ever, if not for the odd extra special ones mentioned earlier. Enjoy!

⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Foreigner (2017) – Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan

ACTION BUSYNESS ⭐⭐⭐⭐
MOOD SETTING ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
SCRIPT COHESION ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
PLOT DENSITY ⭐⭐⭐

Thoroughly entertaining – one of Jackie’s slightly more gritty performances but great action for his usual fanbase just with the omission of the usual comedic edge. The only letdown is the strong vibe of modern imperialist propaganda that this movie stinks of. Still Jackie holds it down very well so it doesn’t upset the movie too much. Very strong performance by Pierce Brosnan too, as an Irish politician and former IRA leader who has to defend his farm-come-castle from an angry elderly chinaman who happens to be ex special forces – a role played flawlessly by Jackie Chan with the help of a great all-round movie production. Slightly minimal on plot beside the core story – hardly as much twists as The Matrix – but that’s fine, it focuses on one theme, a slowly developing scenario and does it very well.

We’ve previously seen how fantastic a movie can be when a top martial arts movie star teams up with James Bond, as happened when Van Damme worked with Roger Moore in The Quest (1996). The Foreigner is no exception to this trend – Jackie Chan makes a great team with Pierce Brosnan here, and this time they are adversaries.

Martial arts wise, there’s a good amount of combat but this movie is more about the story. Action wise, it’s not James Bond, but it’s got a good amount of action throughout. Script wise, it’s a simple story, well executed. Cast wise, there are several strong characters in this movie.

⭐⭐⭐⭐
Ninja (2009) – Scott Adkins

ACTION BUSYNESS ⭐⭐⭐⭐
MOOD SETTING ⭐⭐⭐⭐
SCRIPT COHESION ⭐⭐⭐⭐
PLOT DENSITY ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Scott Adkins has made many strong contributions to the English language martial arts movie industry, and Ninja (2009) is easily one of his best. This movie sees the main character grow up in a Ninja school in Japan, competing with his ninja brother to inherit the position of Soke (master) of the school. Upon being disrespectful and outcast by the current master, the main antagonist then kills the current master and everyone found in the school that night, while hunting down the old master’s daughter who fled to America with the movie’s main hero to hide and protect the sacred armour & weapons that have been kept by the school for hundreds of years. American police obviously get involved, as does an organised crime syndicate, but they aren’t able to do much against the talented ninjas. With a likeable lead man and woman, and credible moves, equipment, bad guys and cops, this movie is just one level shy of the best action hero movies ever made, in my opinion.

⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Rundown (2003) – Dwayne Johnson and Seann William Scott

ACTION BUSYNESS ⭐⭐⭐⭐
MOOD SETTING ⭐⭐⭐⭐
SCRIPT COHESION ⭐⭐⭐
PLOT DENSITY ⭐⭐⭐

Also known as ‘Welcome to the Jungle’, this movie stars Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) and Seann William Scott (from Bulletproof Monk and American Pie) and deserves a very high rating as it’s thoroughly entertaining from start to finish mainly thanks to great performances by the two lead characters who are well known for producing thoroughly entertaining action movies. The rundown also benefits from a mildly adventure-packed plot, and decent performances by the supporting cast – some of whom are just as famous as the lead actors. Christopher Walken is the bad guy; while the lead female role is played by Rosario Dawson who is perhaps best known for playing Claire (the nurse) in Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and The Defenders. The Rundown is a real adventure and highly recommended for fans of Dwayne Johnson and fans of Seann William Scott who both produce some of their best work in this movie. As you’d expect, with Dwayne’s background in wrestling and combat-oriented movies, and Seann’s role in another awesome martial arts focused movie in the same year, this movie features plenty of fighting – mainly empty-handed but also plenty of action with guns. This movie doesn’t seem under-funded although it does have a fairly simplistic (but kind of sufficient) plot – with a more advanced plot this movie could potentially be on a par with the best movies ever made due to its already outstanding action-comedy entertainment value.

Martial arts wise, there’s a fair amount of martial value but that’s not strictly the focus of this movie. Action wise, it’s an action packed adventure, with a few slower scenes. Plot wise, it is a weak plot, which allows for a casual atmosphere, but could massively benefit from a strong plot. As with many star studded movies, the stars are carrying this one through a poor script and it would be a pointless movie if it only had average actors. Cast wise, here we have two megastars in one movie! Plus a strong chief antagonist and a decent lead female. It could still benefit from one more star in the cast, but is already doing very well in this department.

⭐⭐⭐⭐
Equilibrium (2002) – Christian Bale

ACTION BUSYNESS ⭐⭐⭐⭐
MOOD SETTING ⭐⭐⭐⭐
SCRIPT COHESION ⭐⭐⭐⭐
PLOT DENSITY ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This movie was made shortly after The Matrix came out breaking all kinds of records, and seemed to try to copy its style, with slickly-dressed plain-faced agents dropping guns from their sleeves and shooting guns from exotic martial arts stances as if performing a wushu demo. But it’s not just a corny ripoff; this movie has a quality of its own. Particularly appealing to people with an interest in the plight of a freedom-fighter movement against a hi-tech draconian police state. This is more of a sci-fi than a martial arts flick, but is listed here as it contains plenty of fast-paced skilled combative action including empty-handed fighting, samurai swordsmanship and guns ablazing in Matrix-like ‘bullet time’. Plotwise, Equilibrium basically follows the plight of the highest-ranked, most-skilled assassin from the government’s elite hit squad, from initially callously killing anyone he’s ordered to kill, to eventually becoming leader of the rebellion and overthrowing the evil dictator. It’s not too heavy on the plot so not a movie for drama lovers but has the balance just right for those who prefer adrenaline-rich action and steer clear of gritty drama. With a likeable lead character, entertaining techniques, strong scenery and a simple but powerful story, this movie makes an impact, scoring 8.5/10.

A good amount of martial value, it’s action packed, and has a decent concept. Cast wise, there are some strong performances, some less strong. Christian Bale is a convincing lead, albeit not a massive star. Sean Bean adds a lot of value to this movie.

⭐⭐⭐⭐
Blade (1998) – Wesley Snipes

ACTION BUSYNESS ⭐⭐⭐⭐
MOOD SETTING ⭐⭐⭐⭐
SCRIPT COHESION ⭐⭐⭐
PLOT DENSITY ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Wesley Snipes is a top-tier action movie hero when given the right movie to work on, as we saw earlier in his career with Demolition Man and Passenger 57; and this movie certainly brings out the best of him. Undoubtedly inspiring the Matrix to some degree, which came out the year after, with agents instead of vampires dodging bullets, and a team instead of a single man. Wesley Snipes has less of a cool ‘hacker’ feel than Keanu Reeves, but more of a convincing martial artist vibe about him, so this movie is very close to the level of the Matrix in terms of acting performance and convincing execution of plot. Wesley Snipes makes a very convincing animalistic/vampiric human being – his moves are sharp and slick, helped very much by great camerawork but also largely thanks to Wesley’s real life martial arts background and his general on-point demeanour. Blade is a rare example of a ‘vampire horror’ that appeals to people who prefer non-gritty, fast-paced, martial-arts-packed action movies that thrill rather than scare. I don’t personally enjoy horror movies, but this one’s fine as it’s more of an action thriller than anything. Like The Matrix, Blade also has a couple of sequels which is inevitable considering how great the original movie turned out to be; and like The Matrix, Blade’s sequels are not quite as good as the original but still worth watching sequentially.

It’s a very combat oriented theme, with fists and blades and guns from start to finish. Adrenaline is pumping intermittently throughout. Plot wise, it’s a fairly solid concept, just lacking a touch of magic. Cast wise, we have the odd strong character and a few less strong – this movie could easily benefit from an additional very strong cast member if the plot would allow.

⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Quest (1996) – Jean-Claude Van Damme and Roger Moore

ACTION BUSYNESS ⭐⭐⭐⭐
MOOD SETTING ⭐⭐⭐⭐
SCRIPT COHESION ⭐⭐⭐⭐
PLOT DENSITY ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Action packed, almost slapstick adventure, all about empty handed martial arts. Based around the idea of Bloodsport where a tournament decides who is the best fighter from all corners of the world, and has endless similarities with Bloodsport in terms of techniques and fighting styles, but with an added injection of great story and strong acting thanks to Roger Moore’s ever-excellent presence, albeit probably on a far lower budget than Bloodsport but the strong lead cast of The Quest makes it a convincing, enjoyable movie (just a little bit boring in the over-dragged-out final fight scene at the end).

If you enjoyed seeing a top martial arts action hero like Van Damme teaming up with a legend from James Bond like Roger Moore, you may also be interested in The Foreigner (2017) which sees Jackie Chan teaming up with Pierce Brosnan in what’s arguably the best performance of both their careers.

This movie has a very martial arts oriented theme; a good amount of action, with some slower scenes; a strong plot, but lacking at the very end; and several strong characters.

⭐⭐⭐⭐
Kickboxer (1989) – Jean-Claude Van Damme

ACTION BUSYNESS ⭐⭐⭐⭐
MOOD SETTING ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
SCRIPT COHESION ⭐⭐⭐⭐
PLOT DENSITY ⭐⭐⭐

This is one of Van Damme’s best movies after Bloodsport. Kickboxer was released just one year after Bloodsport and you’ll spot a few resemblances in the training methods and fighting techniques used in this movie. Good storyline and good training scenes – really captures the imagination and draws you in with the help of great soundtracks too. Dennis Chan Kwok-San also treats us to a strong performance as Van Damme’s trainer in this movie. Kickboxer also has sequels (as it’s a franchise) but they’re not starring Van Damme, with the exception of the sixth instalment and thereafter where he has a supporting role. Generally the sequels are neither similar nor as good as the original – but 6, 7 & 8 are quite star-studded with combat sport celebrities.

This movie has a very martial arts oriented theme; a good amount of action, with bits of drama in between; a very basic plot that could do with a bit of extra help; and the odd strong character with a few less strong – it would benefit from an additional very strong cast member.

⭐⭐⭐⭐
Crocodile Dundee (1986) – Paul Hogan

ACTION BUSYNESS ⭐⭐⭐⭐
MOOD SETTING ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
SCRIPT COHESION ⭐⭐⭐⭐
PLOT DENSITY ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

An oldie but goldie. This is not a particularly martial arts oriented movie but is based around a character who has outstanding fighting ability not just with his fists and knives but also with throwing blunt objects and in utilising his environment smartly. Mick ‘Crocodile’ Dundee is an ingeniously skilled survivalist who is in his element in the Australian ‘bush’ but has many a trick up his sleeve on his strange trip to New York too. High budget; plenty of entertaining scenes that keep impressing the viewer; decent supporting cast; and above all, an outstanding concept and lead performance. The sequel in 1988 is equally great, although the third instalment made much later in 2001 was not on the same level.

Martial arts wise, there’s a good amount of combat, but this movie is more about the story. Action wise, it’s not James Bond, but it’s got a good amount of action throughout. Plot wise, it’s a strong concept, well developed. Cast wise, it has the odd strong character, and some less strong.


Movies rated PRETTY GOOD ⭐⭐⭐

These movies are really all epic classics, but they are also clearly lacking something compared to the very best movies of all time (featured above). So when you’re short of something to watch, and haven’t seen these in the last few years, they provide solid entertainment value. Boring bits are few and far between. First-time viewers will probably rate them even higher, but they may get over-cheesy for many-time re-watchers. Enjoy!

⭐⭐⭐
The Equalizer (2014) – Denzel Washington

Continuing the vibe of The Book Of Eli (2010) where Denzel plays an expert assassin with a good heart, here we see him do much the same thing but with a more simple & standard plot.

The Equalizer (2014) masterfully sets the mood with the help of Hollywood’s best sound effects and camerawork, as well as actors in Denzel and his main adversary played by Marton Csokas – they both do an outstanding job to match the unseen crew.

Further supporting actors generally do a good job too, including Chloë Grace Moretz who plays the main victim Denzel’s character attempts to rescue; Melissa Leo who plays a politically connected senior member of the CIA (who Denzel’s character turns to for information on his adversary); David Harbour who plays a bent cop; and David Meunier who plays the local Russian mafia boss – these actors all do a pretty good job.

The action is mostly fluid and of a high standard although there are some slower drama scenes and there are some uncomfortable gritty patches. The ending is especially overly drawn out, from a frequent rewatcher’s perspective. This issue, combined with the simplistic plot, and the impression of great values being taught on the big screen when really we’re only seeing a watered down and twisted version of what they should be, mean The Equalizer is only half the masterpiece it could have been, from a smooth action hero movie junkie’s perspective. It really could have been as good as The Foreigner (starring Jackie Chan) or better, but it’s definitely not, due to these issues. Instead, I rank it on a par with The Transporter (starring Jason Statham), which has similar style, a similarly strong cast, a similar simplicity of concept, and is similarly let down by an over drawn out weak ending, although in The Equalizer’s case, the fairly dull long scene near the end is followed by a few strong short scenes at the very end, to lift the mood.

The Equalizer is quite a classic, and is one of Denzel’s best performances, so it’s good to see a couple of strong sequels were made, just like The Transporter had.

⭐⭐⭐
Bulletproof Monk (2003) – Chow Yun-Fat and Seann William Scott

With strong performances by the two lead characters and an interesting storyline, this martial arts movie is infused with touches of humour as you’d expect from a Seann William Scott performance. Entertaining for the most part from start to end, just a bit short of depth in plot or breadth of strong cast – you may get a bit bored for a minute or two but that won’t last long as there’s enough action and entertainment here to keep you on your feet most of the way through.

⭐⭐⭐
The Transporter (2002) – Jason Statham

Jason Statham has been involved in a lot of good action movies in recent decades, and this is easily one of his best movies. This is where he really made his name in the big time – prior to this movie he had only supporting roles such as in The One (2001) with Jet Li, and a couple of movies with Vinnie Jones. The Transporter was such a hit, it had multiple sequels, each one being not quite as good as the one before (like most sequels are). Owing to his on screen charisma and martial arts ability, Statham went on to secure the lead role in many other decent action movies (especially after he proved himself yet again in Transporter 2), and has since teamed up with many other stars too (including being a key figure in all of The Expendables movies, and joining the Fast & Furious movie saga from number 6 with a minor appearance and number 7 as a key cast member).

The Transporter basically tells the story of a man who is a very good driver and gets hired to confidentially drive packages around. He conducts himself with great precision and pretty much always gets the job done, in style.

Shu Qi (of Gorgeous (1999) and Chinese Zodiac (2012) with Jackie Chan) does well as the lead female, especially early on – the chemistry between her and Statham is believable – and François Berléand puts in an outstanding performance as the senior police investigator who is cordially acquainted with The Transporter – very much respecting him, while also investigating him.

The Transporter is a fast paced action flick with good budget and just the right amount of downtime for the likes of romance and banter, at least in the beginning and middle. The action scene at the end is overly drawn out and in dire need of additional plot to continue the level of quality that the movie began with – this makes it a bit boring and very skippable for frequent rewatchers. Still, for the most part, it’s a masterpiece of a movie, if a bit one dimensional near the end. It could probably have edged into a 9/10 rating if it were more serious about the plot in places, especially towards the end, and had stronger villain characters. So I give it a well deserved 8/10, and concede that it’s probably an 8.5 or 9 for first time viewers. Well worth watching and rewatching every few years. Enjoy the whole series sequentially, or just watch the first 2 or 3. Jason wasn’t interested in the 4th so another actor took that role, but rumour says Jason is coming back for the 5th in 2025.

Martial arts wise, this movie is not themed totally around martial arts like Bloodsport or Kickboxer for example. But it features a good amount of combat in various forms from an accomplished martial artist in the lead role – on a par with The Foreigner in this respect, and many other action hero movies. Action wise, it’s quite action packed, but the action revolves around one man – it could do with an extra dimension to story to facilitate more kinds of action. Plot wise, there is some plot, which works in some ways, but it could benefit from a little extra, especially towards the end. Cast wise, there’s a strong lead male, strong lead policeman, decent lead female, and wrong genre of the lead antagonist – a better set of baddies would benefit this movie.

⭐⭐⭐
The Order (2001) – Jean-Claude Van Damme

This is one of Van Damme’s better movies in terms of plot. Quite adventurous and a bit mysterious, yet still with that cool ass-kicking vibe you expect from all his movies. With the help of a small but strong supporting cast, this movie warrants a successful 8/10.

This is not so much a martial arts movie per se, but is led by a martial artist who uses his skills a lot. There’s a good amount of action, although it can get gritty in places. It has a surprisingly well endowed script for a Van Damme movie, and a strong lead with varying levels of support – this movie could easily benefit from an additional star.

⭐⭐⭐
Shanghai Noon (2000) – Jackie Chan

High quality acting with an action-packed plot backed by decent budget, this Jackie Chan movie is one of his more comedic and adventurous ones – great for watching with people who like comedy and adventure movies. Good level of martial arts involved but not so much that only martial arts fans would like it. Shanghai Noon also has a high quality sequel – Shanghai Knights – with its own creative storyline – well worth watching in succession. Don’t be put off by the co-star’s Boris-Johnson-esque wig, he’s actually a likeable character that wins you over by the end.

Martial arts wise, there’s lots of scraps & stunts, but it’s not a martial arts focused theme per se. Action wise, it’s a busy movie that keeps you on your toes. Surprisingly, there’s scarcely a dull moment in it. Plot wise, this is a story and a half, which stays busy and fun, if a bit muddled. Cast wise, it has a strong lead with decent support. This movie is probably high budget, but would still benefit from an additional star being given significant screen time.

⭐⭐⭐
If Looks Could Kill (1991) – Richard Grieco

Originally released under the name of ‘Teen Agent’, this is a fun action adventure – not so much a martial arts movie but involves a lot of James Bond style operatives and assassinations. It’s basically James Bond crossed with Naked Gun. Mild humour but decent quality throughout. Strong performance by all of the lead cast members.

This is not so much as martial arts movie, although there are some combative scenes and tactical concepts. There’s a fair amount of action with slower scenes between. It’s a fun movie but a bit of a cheesy script, which could have been beefed up more. It’s got a fairly strong lead with varying levels of support – could easily benefit from an additional star.

⭐⭐⭐
No Retreat, No Surrender (1986) – Kurt McKinney and Jean-Claude Van Damme

This is one of the few movies Van Damme has done where he doesn’t play the hero role. Kurt McKinney is the hero in this movie and puts on a decent performance, while Van Damme plays the role of the main enemy and does an good job of it. This movie is packed with uplifting training scenes backed by good soundtracks (although the music varies between versions and some are far better than others). Overall it’s a low quality of acting by all but the lead characters but is a story you can really enjoy and get motivated by, like many mild-quality martial arts movies are when they have a classic action hero tale and a good lead performance.

This is a martial arts movie through & through, with a decent amount of action, and drama scenes between. The plot does work, but it is a bit thin. It has some strong characters, with varying levels of support.


Movies rated DECENT ⭐⭐

We’re getting much further down the list now, but these are still legendary movies! The only reason they’re ranked so low is because they’re beaten by those ranked higher. These movies are still quite entertaining for the most part, and can be very enjoyable for first time viewers. If you’ve never seen them before, you definitely need to check them out. They are all very noteworthy contributions to the martial arts movie archives, worth rewatching every few years.

⭐⭐
Code 8: Part II (2024) – Robbie Amell and Stephen Amell

If you enjoyed Code 8, you may also be interested in the sequel, Code 8: Part II (2024) which is roughly the same genre and a similar level of quality.

Part II sees the return of real-life cousins Robbie Amell and Stephen Amell. Robbie having that Tom Cruise vibe, and Stephen having that Bradley Cooper vibe.

New cast members include Sirena Gulamgaus who does a great job as a kind of tech-psychic capable of listening to the airwaves and controlling the drones. Sirena plays a young girl whose big brother is killed by an allegedly non-lethal drone, so she goes on the run and Robbie’s character takes her in.

Alex Mallari Jr also does a great job as the main antagonist in this movie – he plays a corrupt police officer who is more powerful than meets the eye.

⭐⭐
The Equalizer 3 (2023) – Denzel Washington

In stark contrast to the first movie in the series, which set the mood beautifully from the outset with the help of expert sound effects, this movie if far too trigger happy on the sound effects at the beginning, to the point it’s just a lot of noise. But the noise effects mostly sort themselves out once the movie settles down beyond the opening scenes – although they do occasionally come back and make you think “what’s all this noise for?” since it’s twice the volume of the actors’ voices and a bit chaotic in places.

Equalizer 3 also has a bit more nastiness than those before it – more explicit blood & guys, and more nefarious methods of wounding – there’s multiple scenes guilty of this stuff even within the first 15 minutes – this stuff is better suited to a Horror Genre movie, it doesn’t belong in the movie of a smooth action hero. Whatever happened to the Denzel that apologised for having to kill someone even when they totally deserved it? This series has clearly gone down hill both morally and artistically. But most movie sequels are worse than those before them, and when you factor this in, it’s not a bad trilogy to enjoy. As with the previous movie, this one has a nice injection of extra creativity in the form of novel new plot features that make it a generally enjoyable experience for fans of the original. All three movies in the Equalizer saga exhibit a similar style of action albeit done to declining levels of quality, and have their own plot angles which makes them individually respectable for the most part.

An extra inconvenience with Equalizer 3 compared to those before it, is the amount of foreign language dialect – this movie is set in Italy and there’s a fair amount of Italian without built-in subtitles, and many subtitle systems fail to translate the Italian parts, but good subtitles can be found on some websites, and it’s mostly an English based movie still.

Denzel is also getting on a bit in this movie, which is 9 years on from the original. He was never particularly well built for an action hero role. His shape is average – a bit of a dad bod – and his posture is quite hunched and involuntarily bouncy like someone unathletic who can’t fight at all. This has been an issue in all three movies, but now he’s an older man too. Denzel is always a strong actor, and this role kind of suits his calm & calculative, serious demeanour, although it was a better fit in the original when everything worked better. But on the plus side, the debilitating injury in the plot of this movie suits his old age and hobbling way of walking in a way that we didn’t have in previous movies – it kind of clicks together in new ways now.

In-keeping with the trend set by the last two Equalizers, this one also has an overly drawn out action scene near the end followed by a positive short scene at the very end. And in-keeping with the trend of going down hill with each sequel, this one’s ending is even worse than the last one. A shame because it goes a long way towards ruining the overall quality of the movie, when the long ending is weaker than the standard set by the bulk of the movie.

⭐⭐
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022) – Tenoch Huerta and Letitia Wright

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022) is the sequel to the original Black Panther (2018) movie by Marvel Studios.

If not for the ill motives shining through on so many levels in this movie, I would rate it higher than the original, but as it stands, I’ll rate it equal to the original, alongside several other classics that are excessively one dimensional and a bit dull in patches.

Who is the star of this movie, by the way? I’ve gone for Tenoch Huerta (the bad guy) and Letitia Wright (the female Black Panther), but several others were on a similar level here. I would have personally loved to see a version of this movie starring a benevolent Michael B Jordan and maybe Lupita Nyong’o in an even more prominent role; or a more heroic version of Tenoch Huerta. Nothing against Letitia Wright though, she makes a good supportive sister to an action hero, she just isn’t lead role material in this genre, at least not the way her character comes across here. Come on Marvel, get it right for Black Panther 3, if there will be one. DC blew you out the water with Black Adam in 2022 – they had all your epic new sound effects PLUS a strong lead character (even if he had a dark side, he was mostly heroic).

⭐⭐
Code 8 (2019) – Robbie Amell and Stephen Amell

Not much of a martial arts movie per se, but many of the characters in this modest sci-fi action movie have special powers like telekinesis, electrocution and healing abilities. Plenty of action, and a pretty good cast. Not much plot, but quite worth watching if you’re bored and are a fan of this genre and haven’t seen this movie before.

Robbie Amell does a pretty good job as the main hero of the movie, with electrical powers. He has a bit of a Tom Cruise vibe about him. Stephen Amell (Robbie’s real-life cousin) also did a pretty good job playing the semi-bad guy with telekinetic powers who befriends Robbie by giving him a shady job. Stephen has a bit of a Bradley Cooper vibe about him. Sung Kang also impresses as a senior police officer who is sympathetic towards Robbie’s character. These were the main standout cast members to me, but some other supporting actors put in strong performances too. Namely, Vlad Alexis (telekinetic), Laysla De Oliveira (pyro), and Simon Northwood (nearly indestructible), although these people only had minor supporting roles. Some other actors did a decent job too, such as Greg Bryk (mindreader) and Aaron Abrams (police officer). Further cast members that I haven’t named here, were not necessarily bad, they just didn’t stand out so much to me – this may be due to the lack of substance in their role, or they may have had more of a soap opera vibe which is not my cup of tea.

After watching Code 8 be sure to enjoy the sequel which is just as good.

⭐⭐
The Equalizer 2 (2018) – Denzel Washington

The new plot features in this sequel almost makes up for the lack of awe like we had in the first movie. It’s very similar in style & genre but the stage is already set so we get straight back into the story with The Equalizer 2. It’s a solid follow up movie but slightly inferior to the first in the series since there’s less of a big reveal factor here, and this one gets a bit more into gritty drama vibes, although the new interesting plot features almost make up for this. There’s also no antagonist or even any supporting actor this time round on the level of Marton Csokas from the previous movie, but Pedro Pascal does a fair job as Denzel’s shifty frenemy. Denzel himself is just a few years older here, and seems a bit more relaxed in the role now, which isn’t such a good or bad thing, it just blunts the edge a bit.

Perhaps the sound or lighting or camerawork is also responsible for less of a crisp vibe this time – maybe budget was a factor, although the budget was pretty much the same as last time – it was estimated between $55m to $73m last time and was around $62m this time round. Or maybe the crew were busy tripping on substances, since the catering staff for the next sequel (Equalizer 3) were busted in possession of cocaine just a few weeks after they started filming in Italy.

Like last time, the ending is overly drawn out – this time even worse so, which makes for a poor rewatching experience towards the back end of the movie. And there’s no cool scenes at the very end this time either – instead it practically turns into a messy soap opera drama.

Overall though, it’s still a decent sequel, especially in the first half of the movie. It’s well worth watching the whole trilogy sequentially – the third movie in the Equalizer series came out in 2023.

⭐⭐
Hotel Artemis (2018) – Dave Bautista

Hotel Artemis is a novel concept that works quite well with the help of stars like Jodie Foster who plays the friendly but strict old lady who runs the hotel; Jeff Goldblum who plays the feared hotel owner and local mafia boss; Sterling K Brown who plays a lead role as a criminal taking refuge in this secure hotel for member criminals; Sofia Boutella who plays a deadly assassin; and of course Dave Bautista who plays the hotel’s one-man security force.

The action scenes are plenty, although there are some slow drama scenes between, which make this movie a bit less entertaining for action junkies, especially when it comes to rewatching it before having very well forgotten it.

Although the basic concept is an interesting one, that seems quite creative and exciting, the plot is otherwise barely existent, so this movie is barely a fraction of what it could be with the current cast and a much more substantial script.

Overall, I rate it pretty good for first time viewing, and decent enough for rewatching every few years.

⭐⭐
Black Panther (2018) – Chadwick Boseman and Michael B Jordan

Black Panther is a very modern blockbuster movie with all the special effects you’d expect from any modern Marvel Studios movie.

The combat scenes are rapidly flickering between cameras, while being saturated with special effects depicting impossible things, on top of stuntmen doing fancy tricking moves. This is probably to mask the fact the actors themselves don’t have any real martial arts skills. The special effects are occasionally impressive, but the moves generally lack realistic efficiency which makes for a less impressive experience to the trained eye, and brings headaches to anyone suffering from epilepsy or heightened stress levels.

The dialogue and mannerisms displayed in this movie are clearly attempting to push unintelligent, even belligerent forms of communication as an example for our kids to follow. I would even say much of it is childish, while coming from adult actors, but that would be disrespectful to well raised kids. I don’t think this is a racial thing, because all similar modern high-budget movies and TV shows targeting kids and young adults are doing a similar thing – dumbing down and warping the attitude of our next generation.

Chadwick Boseman does a mediocre job as T’Challa, the lead character in this movie. He’s no Wesley Snipes, but that’s not the end of the world, it’s just a missed opportunity. He has a face for friendly mid-level leadership, but he comes across too demure, too emasculated for a major action hero leadership role. Add this to having an all-female crew of bald-headed warrior guards, and it’s clear the Marvel bosses are enamoured with some kind of gender bender fantasy.

Michael B Jordan (of Creed) does a pretty good job as Erik Stevens aka Killmonger, the main antagonist in this movie – the main rival of T’Challa.

Supporting cast members include Letitia Wright who does a pretty good job as Shuri, the younger sister of T’Challa. Winston Duke does a fair job as the leader of a rival tribe, who eventually joins forces with T’Challa in an effort to overthrow the nasty new leader, Erik Killmonger. Andy Serkis is quite convincing in his role as one of the bad guys – he’s just a bit cheesy with his over-acting, it’s borderline satirical, but that’s probably what this movie calls for considering how the lead character has such dry and disconnected humour, and other characters are often childishly bickering. Danai Gurira puts in a dry yet aggressive performance as Okoye, the main royal guard – she’s about as good as Chadwick Boseman (T’Challa) in this movie – in some scenes they do very well but for the most part they fail to foster an appealing vibe. Danai’s best moment is when she decides to turn on the bad new king, she delivers that performance spot on. Lupita Nyong’o does a decent job as Nakia, the female warrior spy who’s set to marry T’Challa. Daniel Kaluuya does a basic job as the royal right-hand man, leader of the male warrior group and commander of the strange robotic rhinos who appear when he blows his special horn. Martin Freeman does a fair job, as a CIA agent familiar with Wakanda – he brings decent acting but with a face made for juvenile drama, not manly action heroics – this is perfectly in-keeping with the common flaw of this movie, which is accentuated at the very end when the energetic climax morphs into a bratty pop song as the credits begin to roll. It’s good to see Forest Whitaker (the black FBI agent from Bloodsport) playing a supporting role here – he does a decent job as the tribal elder who officiates the leadership duels and associated rituals. That’s all the significant cast members covered. Overall they range from mediocre to pretty good. Nothing too desperate, but no stunning performances either.

⭐⭐
Ghost In The Shell (2017) – Scarlett Johansson

Scarlett Johansson does a convincing job in this movie, as ‘Major’ (Major Mira Killian aka Motoko Kusanagi) – an elite government agent with human brain and synthetic body. The ‘ghost in her shell’, is her pervading spirit and her returning memories that the agency attempted to wipe clean.

It’s an exciting concept with a mediocre level of substance to the script so it runs a bit dry of what it could be with more budget & creativity. Bearing in mind it’s not even an original story for this movie, it’s based on a Japanese seinen manga comic from 1989 which has had many TV shows, movies and computer games named after it long before this movie came out.

Supporting actors generally do a decent job, especially Pilou Asbæk who plays a tough guy with big guns called Batou who is Major’s main accomplice; and Takeshi Kitano who plays Aramaki who is one of the leaders of the agency, who puts his loyalty to Major and to ethics ahead of his loyalty to his murderous co-leader Cutter played by Peter Ferdinando.

It’s not easy for a woman to pull off an action hero lead role like this, but Scarlett does alright.

⭐⭐
The Accountant (2016) – Ben Affleck

The accountant is a cool movie to watch for the first time, especially for anyone interested in how Asperger Syndrome can effect the performance of a martial artist. Many movies have portrayed a slick, meticulously accurate assassin but few go so far as to portray such a well rounded account of autism by the lead character – this movie is like a cross between Hitman and Rain Man. In terms of martial arts moves, there’s nothing flashy – there’s a lot of quick-kill gun shooting and a bit of empty-handed combat of a similar nature – no classical exotic moves but a good representation of the spirit of the ninja you could say. Casting wasn’t bad either – there are multiple strong performances in this movie, including by Jon Bernthal (Marvel’s ‘The Punisher’) and above all the lead role by Ben Affleck. And there are times where production has shined by taking well-researched notions and strong creative ideas then doing them justice on screen, especially where traits of Higher Functioning Autism could manifest themselves in the life of a careful assassin. For the most part, the genre is a bit James Bond without the humour – it’s callous from start to finish but only faintly gritty and containing enough James Bond style features to make the movie very watchable by fans of that genre. It has a bit of a simplistic drawn-out ending which makes rewatching it less fun than it otherwise would be – perhaps the writers became complacent after a decent beginning and middle, or the producers ran out of budget to wrap things up in style, or they preferred to linger in the grittier drama genre that the movie exposed us to throughout, even though the bulk of the movie appeals to the opposite audience. There are probably certain people who love both genres, but for a fan of high budget action who steers clear of gritty drama, I would rate this movie an 8/10 for first-time viewing and have settled on 7.5/10 to cover rewatchings. Still, it had so much potential and such great good parts (demonstrated perfectly by the trailer) that it could have easily been rated higher with a bit more work, although that would probably have been to the dissatisfaction of gritty drama lovers – perhaps you can’t please everyone and trying to do so may have been the reason why this movie never achieved the heights it promised to. Still, a good watch.

⭐⭐
Boyka: Undisputed IV (2016) – Scott Adkins

The Undisputed saga is quite unusual in how every next movie is better than the one before it, and this movie is no exception to this – at least in a way (mood wise, and maybe also plot wise) Undisputed IV is considerably better than the already much improved Undisputed III.

The cast is about as good as previously, but cast was never much of a problem in this saga. We have a lot of new faces now – only Yuri Boyka (played by Scott Adkins) is the same, plus the odd prison warden or military boss in a very minor role. But the sound has been upped a level, as is noticeable from the outset – the atmosphere is much more like what you’d expect from a high budget, high quality action movie now.

Cast wise, Scott does well as always. Teodora Duhovnikova does an mediocre job as Alma, the lead female character – the struggling wife of the opponent Scott regrets killing.

Brahim Achabbakhe does an average job in the role of Igor Kazmir – the local champion who Boyka needs to defeat to set Alma free. Martyn Ford makes an epic appearance as The Nightmare – the wildcard extra final boss fighter. Alon Abutbul does a good job in his role as the local mafia boss called Zourab who Alma owes big money to. Other supporting cast members ranged from okay to pretty good.

The plot is about as good as Undisputed III, maybe better – hard to compare as they’re so different, it’s like apples & pears. The diversity of action here may be a bit better too, a bit less monotone. But the musical sound effects, and probably some other less obvious things that affect the mood, that only higher budget movies have, seem much more on point this time. The ending probably doesn’t trump the previous one, but it’s no less creative and well executed this time round.

Overall it’s a decent movie – still a bit gritty, cold and one dimensional like the others, but getting quite closer to the level of a top action hero movie now. I can’t imagine Scott can keep doing these fancy spinning high kicks much longer, he’s already getting close to 50 years of age, so we might never get an Undisputed 5, but he could tone down the fancy moves a bit and work with a more exotic plot perhaps.

⭐⭐
Assassination Games (2011) – Jean-Claude Van Damme and Scott Adkins

Classic moody old Van Damme and classic moody prime Scott Adkins join forces in a beautiful depiction of two expert assassins colliding on a job then joining forces to finish personal vendettas against the odds. The only reason I don’t rate Assassination Games higher is because it has a fairly simplistic script and probably a lower budget than it deserves. The basic concepts in the plot are good, but they fail to flesh out into a more comprehensive plot to entertain us on another level which we should be considering the stars involved. The script is thin but the two action hero superstars carry this movie into a moderate success. The opening scene seems almost B Movie quality, but it quickly improves. Granted, there are some cool sets, like Van Damme’s apartment with secret rooms, and his agent’s lair was convincing too. All in all, it’s makes for decent viewing when you haven’t seen it in a while.

Supporting cast includes Kristopher Van Varenberg, also known as Kris Van Damme, and Bianca Van Varenberg, also known as Bianca Bree and Bianca Van Damme – these are Jean-Claude Van Damme’s two children from his current wife who he divorced then re-married (Jean-Claude has a son to ex-wife Darcy LaPier also – that one being called Nicholas Van Varenberg). Indeed, Jean-Claude Van Damme’s name is actually Jean-Claude Camille François Van Varenberg. In this movie, his daughter Bree plays the comatose wife of Scott Adkins’ character, and Van Damme’s son Kris plays one of the enemies of Adkins’ character.

⭐⭐
Undisputed III: Redemption (2010) – Scott Adkins

This is a much better movie than Undisputed II, which itself was a much better movie than the original Undisputed movie.

In ‘Undisputed III: Redemption’, Scott Adkins reprises his role as Yuri Boyka, now crippled with 1 broken leg after losing the last fight, and outcast to the filthy depths of Gaga’s prison – a similar position the Nikolai, the man in the wheelchair who helped his rival in Undisputed II.

Undisputed III is about the crippled beaten fighter, recovering to a level where he can fight again, but not yet fully recovered. This time, he surprises everyone by beating Gaga’s new champion Sykov, to earn himself a shot in an international prisoner tournament, then surprises everyone again by beating the guy given favourable treatment by the establishment. That’s literally the script in a nutshell, hence why I don’t rate it highly on plot, and the action is a bit monotonous, but it’s still clearly better than Undisputed II.

Other contestants include an American boxer called Turbo (played by Mykel Shannon Jenkins), a talented Brazilian capoeirista called Santiago Silva (played by Lateef Crowder), etc.

Undisputed III is like a cross between Van Damme’s movie In Hell (2003) where he fights prison battles organised by the wardens, and Van Damme’s other movie Bloodsport (or The Quest) where tournament contestants come from all around the world, showcasing their different styles.

I won’t spoil the story by going into further detail, I’ll just say this movie is a level above the ones before it in the Undisputed saga – a series of movies where each one is markedly better than the one before it (so far).

Scott Adkins does a good job, as do most of the other significant cast members, including Mykel Jenkins the American boxer who befriends Boyka; Mark Ivanir who plays Gaga; and Marko Zaror who plays Dolor, the Colombian fighter who is the main antagonist in this movie aside from the prison bosses & military leaders in charge.

In-keeping with the pattern of improving upon the last one, Undisputed III also has a good ending, even better than that from Undisputed II.

⭐⭐
Transporter 3 (2008) – Jason Statham

Maybe slightly downhill again from Transporter 2, but still a decent movie. Quite one dimensional in plot and lacking strong cast members aside from Jason Statham (The Transporter) and François Berléand (Inspector Tarconi). But there was a fair amount of the action we came for.

Robert Knepper did a decent job as the main antagonist in this movie even though he had very little plot to work with – aside from the final fight scene he scarcely did anything but make a few phone calls.

Natalya Rudakova was given plenty of screen time as the lead female in this movie. She played the kidnapped daughter of a politician, accompanying Jason throughout his journey. Her style may be pleasing to some, but for me it was quite basic and underwhelming. Horses for courses I guess.

⭐⭐
Transporter 2 (2005) – Jason Statham

Straight into the good stuff that we know & love from Transporter 1, this movie begins with Jason Statham in his element with a fancy car and a gang of thugs trying to steal it.

It then proceeds with Jason playing difficult cryptic word games with an energetic young child – something only a disengaged nerdy adult in Hollywood could come up with – probably an attempt to build plot and characters but it’s very unrealistic not to mention incredibly boring for this genre – sack the guy who dragged that bit out. It should have been a much shorter feature and/or much easier and more fun.

François Berléand rejoins us as Inspector Tarconi – this is one of the best things about this movie. This time he’s on vacation, gets raided by a swat team for his association with Frank Martin (Jason Statham’s character) then discretely helps him out via the FBI database.

Good to see Shannon ‘the Cannon’ Briggs given a minor role – Let’s Go Champ! – for those who don’t know, he still holds the record for the most round 1 knockouts in professional heavyweight boxing till this day.

Jason Flemyng did very well as Dimitri the scientist.

Kate Nauta performed well as an over-sexualised LGBT type baddie with guns – not to my taste but she put her heart into it – credit where it’s due.

Amber Valletta put in a bog standard performance as an anaemic-looking lead female character with whom Jason’s character was almost intimate.

Plot was a bit one dimensional to say the least – clearly pushing a theme of contagions and injectable cures. Nice shiny vials. Poor scene building. Filthy motives.

Still, there’s plenty of well made car chases and combat scenes to give us what we came for. With a more present & fertile lead female character worthy of credible romance, and a more creative and less malintended plot than the one we’ve got, and one or two better adversaries (or more character-building & screentime given to the better actors already cast here) this movie could have been about as successful as Transporter 1, but as it stands, it’s markedly inferior but not massively so. I give Transporter 2 a decent 7.5/10 rating. Best watched in close succession with the first and third movies.

⭐⭐
Replicant (2001) – Jean-Claude Van Damme

This movie has a very creative story, which makes it intriguing to follow until the plot unravels; then it becomes predictable. Not a bad effort in acting by the lead characters. Generally a classic direct-to-DVD JCVD performance – recommended viewing for Van Damme fans who watch all his movies and haven’t seen this one yet. This movie probably inspired Jet Li’s movie ‘Unleashed’ (2005) which has a lot in common with Replicant – not in how the child-minded killer is created, but in the basic story of a deadly killer kept encaged and trained to kill without being taught basic skills like how to communicate and perform common daily tasks, or how the world works, etc.

⭐⭐
The One (2001) – Jet Li

The One is a pretty cool Jet Li classic. It’s a simple but pleasant sci-fi packed with kung fu by Jet Li. There’s some energetic solo demonstrations of Xing Yi and Ba Gua to enjoy, plus the usual fast-paced choreography. Jason Statham has a decent supporting role.

The main hero and the main villain are both played by Jet Li (they came from different universes). The villain is trying to kill the good guy in order to gain his power. He’s already killed 123 other versions, making the remaining 2 versions of Jet Li very powerful as they’ve automatically absorbed the speed & strength of those who died (power is split between survivors). The bad guy is trying to kill the good guy now, to become the last remaining one, at which point the universe could explode or the remaining one could ‘become a god’ they say.

⭐⭐
Romeo Must Die (2000) – Jet Li

This is one of Jet Li’s best movies in terms of having good supporting actors, great backing music and a seemingly decent production budget.

Although the plot is a bit thin, it’s ok – the action is frequent and the vibe is cool – intermittently exciting with good humour. A few slower scenes and the final fight scene drags on a bit, but otherwise it’s pretty fluid entertainment value.

Jet Li plays a Chinese kung fu expert called Han, who breaks out of jail upon hearing his brother is dead, to attend the funeral and find his killer.

It should be no surprise that the music is good, seeing how this movie has stars like DMX who plays a club owner called Silk, and Aaliyah who plays the lead female role called Trish. Both do a pretty good job in their respective roles here, and both of their music is played throughout, at very relevant times. Whoever selected the tunes and mixed them into the movie the way they did deserves some kind of award for it, especially the “Got Him” transition into the motorbike scene (can’t find the name of that tune anywhere) where Hilary Yip plays the Chinese woman who Jet Li’s character Han doesn’t want to hit.

Other decent performances include Russell Wong who plays the Chinese boss’s right hand man; Delroy Lindo who plays Isaak, Trish’s father, the head of the black people’s gang; Isaiah Washington who plays Mac, Isaak’s right hand man; and Anthony Anderson who nearly steals the show with his charismatic comedic touch as a low-level shot-caller working for Mac to help protect Trish.

⭐⭐
Inferno (1999) – Jean-Claude Van Damme

Inferno (also released as Desert Heat) is a simple story exhibiting classic Van Damme, as plays Eddie Lomax, a man ready to die, who rolls into a town called Inferno, somewhere in the Old West, to visit an old friend, an Native American Indian man called Johnny Six Toes, played by Danny Trejo, to deliver him a gift – an Indian motorcycle – and to ask for his blessing in ending his life. Unfortunately, before the gift could be delivered, the bike got stolen and Eddie nearly killed in the process. So Eddie stays in town for a bit longer, to deal with the thieves, and in the process, deals with two large gangs of thugs, while making some good friends and finding a woman he loves.

Van Damme is his usual self, convincing and entertaining in his role as Eddie Lomax, and he’s blessed with a decent script here – it’s no stunner but it’s sufficient for his essence to come out quite well on screen. Van Damme looks consistently cool, and there’s a nice injection of humour from time to time.

Danny Trejo does a decent job as Johnny Six Toes, the Indian man who is Eddie’s old friend. Since Eddie saved Johnny’s life a long time ago, the two have become spiritually joined at the hip.

The lead female role, Rhonda Reynolds, the local diner’s chef who becomes Eddie’s girlfriend by the end, is played by Gabrielle Fitzpatrick – she does a decent job – quite convincing.

We’re also blessed with a strong supporting role played by Pat Morita (better known as Mr Miyagi from The Karate Kid). In this movie he’s getting on a bit, but still does well in the character of a patient, positive & helpful old man.

I would say this movie is about average in Van Damme’s overall filmography. It’s not on the level of Bloodsport or The Quest but is not far behind. He’s in his prime here, and is backed by a decent cast. It’s better than a lot of the cheaper straight-to-video movies he’s made throughout his busy career – most of which are still classics nevertheless.

⭐⭐
The Glimmer Man (1996) – Steven Seagal

A fun concept with some good action and good humour although it does get slow at times. It’s a decent movie if you haven’t seen it in a while. Steven Seagal is in his element here as a wildcard former agent of undisclosed calibre, turned Buddhist monk, now working as Lieutenant Jack Cole, helping the police track down a killer who has made things personal. Seagal’s real life personality and fantasies come out in this movie. Supporting cast are decent, including Seagal’s sidekick Detective Jim Campbell played by Keenan Ivory Wayans, and Seagal’s hotshot adversary Donald Cunningham played by John Murice Jackson.

The movie lacks a significant female role and could do with a bit more of a busy script, but overall it’s a fairly enjoyable movie if you’ve not seen it in many years.

⭐⭐
The Hunted (1995) – Christopher Lambert

This one is a bit dated but probably had a fair budget in its day. Not exactly a blockbuster but it has classic Christopher Lambert in his element. Martial arts (ninja) theme throughout, with a decent quality of acting all round, thus consistently entertaining for those who are keen on this genre. Not a bad plot although could have been a bit more creative. Still, a decent film for those who haven’t seen it and are into this type of movie generally. I’d rate it a 7.5/10 alongside movies like Jet Li’s The Master which is a good comparison because it has a seemingly similar budget, a similar quality of acting / investment in cast, similar input on plot, similar year of production and all round similar style and quality of movie with the exception that one is about kung fu and one ninjutsu/samurai so if you like one you’ll probably like the other too.

⭐⭐
Fist Of Legend (1994) – Jet Li

Not as powerful a plot as Jet Li’s movie made a decade later called Fearless (2006), but at least Fist Of Legend (1994) has a decent English dubbed version unlike Fearless.

Fist Of Legend is an entertaining albeit thin on plot. The fight scenes are plentiful and well made – well staged, well shot, energetic and creative – not too monotonous for a Kung Fu movie.

Jet Li performs well as usual, this time in the role of Chen Zen, a student of Huo YuanJia (who the Fearless movie was based on). Chen Zen’s female companion in this movie, called Mitsuko Yamada, is played well by Shinobu Nakayama – she and Jet Li make a credible couple.

The other actors in this movie range from adequate to pretty good, including Yasuaki Kurata who does a good job as Fuimo Funakoshi, a wise & friendly Japanese warrior who defeats Chen Zen without injuring him. He is also Mitsuko’s uncle in this movie. And Billy Chow does a good job as General Fujita – a strong military leader and the final nemesis Chen Zen needs to defeat.

Fist of Legend (1994) is kind of a Tribute to Bruce Lee, as Jet Li replicates some of the concepts Bruce made famous two decades prior, including Dojo Storms (a la Fist Of Fury), Butterfly Boxing (a la Way Of The Dragon) and Backflip Kicks (a la Enter The Dragon). The plot runs VERY similar to Bruce Lee’s movie Fist Of Fury (1972), with a fictional lead character called Chen Zen whose teacher is poisoned by a Japanese plot with the help of Chinese traitors. Both movies feature an epic dojo storm. It’s also great to see Jet Li attempt to impersonate the beautiful Butterfly Boxing footwork that Bruce Lee made famous in Way Of The Dragon (1972) – credit to Jet Li for attempting this although it’s clearly not something he’s well trained in, as it looks quite awkward to the trained eye but probably looks fine to the casual audience – it even looked a bit forced when Bruce did it (compared to professional boxers dancing around a bouncy ring canvas, which is bound to be more fluid than dancing on concrete) so we’ll let Jet Li off with this and appreciate his tribute – it was still good to watch.

⭐⭐
Léon: The Professional (1994) – Jean Reno and Natalie Portman

An assassin movie with a twist. Starring Jean Reno as the master assassin, and a young Natalie Portman as his unexpected sidekick.

If you can forgive the inappropriate Lolita-style undertones (it probably inspired that movie which was released just a few years later), this is otherwise a pretty good assassin-themed action movie. Reno and Portman both act very well, and Gary Oldman does a decent job as the main antagonist and a senior DEA agent.

It’s a simple plot, zeroed in on certain things, and generally made to high standards with strong performances by lead cast members – kind of like The Transporter in this way. However, Léon director Luc Besson was widely accused of inappropriate innuendos, and Natalie Portman retrospectively has mixed feelings about it, summing it up as ‘complicated’. Some people consider it a cult classic to this day. Feel free to make up your own mind about it. All in all, I give it a decent 7.5/10 rating but must advise it is liable to offend some people due to indecent innuendos.

⭐⭐
The Master (1992) – Jet Li

The Master is a fun film for the keen martial arts enthusiast. It’s not a very high budget blockbuster; but with a strong lead performance by Jet Li, a decent lead female for light-hearted near-romantic chemistry with him, and a complete focus on martial arts from start to finish with three separate schools of kung fu in the film, this is definitely one to watch if you’ve never seen it before and quite worth re-watching if you’ve not seen it in a few years as there are very few moments of boredom – it’s pretty much entertaining from start to finish if you haven’t watched it in years. The Master is not naturally an English language movie but there is a well dubbed English version which is almost as good for those who don’t like reading subtitles. With the humble budget, good lead cast, decent techniques and simple but effective storyline for the martial arts enthusiast we give this movie a rating of 7.5/10 which is a very respectable score.

⭐⭐
Universal Soldier (1992) – Jean-Claude Van Damme

Very creative base storyline, with credible lead acting, and the odd awesome scene; but it gets a bit boring towards the end as the writers run out of creativity, which makes for less interesting re-watching. Fortunately there are several sequels to keep you entertained if you like the first one. The sequels are about as good as the original.

⭐⭐
The Karate Kid Part III (1989) – Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita

This movie has plenty of the same creativity that made the previous two a success. Pat Morita does an outstanding job as Mr Miyagi, and Ralph Macchio does a decent job as Daniel-san too. This time the movie is set back in the States, but new rivals emerge in the form of an old student (Terry Silver) of the nasty Cobra Kai sensei (John Kreese), plus a new recruit (Mike Barnes) hired specifically to beat Daniel in the tournament and beat him up in the process.

Thomas Ian Griffith almost steals the show – he does an outstanding job as Terry Silver who makes it his mission to deceive and torment Daniel-san and Mr Miyagi. Sean Kanan does a decent job as Mike Barnes who bullies Daniel-san throughout the movie (as he’s hired to do by Terry Silver), and Martin Kove does a decent job reprising his role as John Kreese too.

Other cast members include Daniel’s new girlfriend Jessica Andrews, the lady from the pottery store across the road (played by Robyn Lively, who does a fair job), and Snake, a student of Terry Silver who is tasked with organising & assisting the bullying (played by Jonathan Avildsen, who does an excellent job, he is very convincing, albeit in a relatively minor role).

Due to creativity maintained, as set by prior movies in this saga, and considering the introduction of great new cast members, plus a strong ending as per usual, this movie deserves a 7.5/10 in my view.

This movie did well to develop the characters the way it did; but if it had a bit less bonsai tree drama, a bit more interesting action, a bit more meaningful philosophy, and a stronger leader female, plus dare I say a stronger lead male playing Daniel-san, this could be a more exciting movie worthy of an 8 or higher. It’s got so many strong ingredients that other movies don’t have. It’s fun to watch the whole series of Karate Kid movies back to back every few years, and these days we have the luxury of topping that off with the new Cobra Kai show which has six seasons out already and is still going strong.

⭐⭐
The Karate Kid (1984) – Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita

The Karate Kid is a classic martial arts movie – along with its sequels it was responsible for making karate and martial arts in general a lot more popular around the world – building on top of all the Bruce Lee led Kung Fu hype from the decade prior.

It probably deserves an 8/10 for first time viewing, but I give it 7.5/10 to account for rewatchings from an action hero movie fan’s perspective. Pat Morita does a fantastic job as the old man (Mr Miyagi) who teaches karate to the lead actor; and Ralph Machio does a decent job as the lead actor playing Daniel LaRusso (‘Daniel san’), a boy who’s not very strong and can’t fight well but has a determined attitude and a sensitive mind capable of learning fast, especially under the tutelage of a great teacher like Mr Miyagi. Martin Kove also does a pretty good job as the aggressive karate teacher (Sensei John Kreese) who instructs the bullies, and William Zabka does a fair job as the leader within their crew and the main antagonist in this movie (Johnny Lawrence) who has a history with Daniel’s newfound girlfriend.

Pat’s character was based on Chōjun Miyagi, who is credited as the founder of the Goju-ryu, one of the most popular styles of karate, as well as Fumio Demura, a more accessible modern karate man who Pat spent a lot of time with in order to nail the attitude of this character.

The script writer Robert Mark Kamen really went to town with the creativity involved in teaching Daniel-san how to block punches by having him wax cars, paint fences, etc. This makes for a great scene where a frustrated Daniel-san learns what skills he’s unwittingly acquired, as Mr Miyagi also raises his voice for the first and only time in this movie. There are some brilliant scenes & clips throughout the movie, but there’s also a bit of drama that makes it a bit boring if you rewatch it too often.

⭐⭐
Beverly Hills Cop (1984) – Eddie Murphy

An oldie but goldie – if you’ve not seen this before, or not seen it in the last 10 years, get your popcorn ready now.

Before Kevin Hart, there was Chris Tucker. Before Chris Tucker, there was Eddie Murphy.

Eddie does a good job as the lead character in this story of an uncontrollable detective on holiday in another police force’s jurisdiction. He travelled to Beverly Hills to investigate the powerful businessmen who he suspects killed his friend. The local police aren’t happy about the trouble he’s causing, but he’s not worried about that.

Other cast members do a decent job too, but Eddie Murphy is the centre of attention in this movie – a role he carries very well.

The plot is far from over-complicated, but has just enough going on to make for an enjoyable experience. It’s not so much a martial arts movie, but it’s a light-hearted action-packed cop drama with plenty of shooting and a little bit of hand-to-hand combat as you would expect.

If you enjoyed this movie, consider also watching the two sequels from back in the day: Beverly Hills Cop II (1987) and Beverly Hills Cop III (1994). They are all on a similar level – maybe the first and the third are slightly better than the second. Plus, in the spirit of Matrix Resurrections, this classic trilogy has recently been revived with a fourth instalment – Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F (2024).


Movies rated OK ⭐

These movies are mildly entertaining if you’ve not seen them before or in many years. Not quite classics like those above, but far from dustbin material.


Movies rated WATCHABLE

OK, now we’re scraping the barrel. The movies below are (barely) watchable if you’re desperately bored and haven’t seen them before. Any worse and I wouldn’t have bothered to review them, but as they made it to this list, they are genuinely watchable (once a decade, tops).


See Also

Wikipedia has some useful links for seeing the most popular action movies in history – this is a useful reference in case I’ve missed anything – of course I’ve missed lots of these but am gradually expanding my own list to include them all, it just takes time writing honest reviews which I like to do immediately after watching each one even if I’ve seen it many times before.


Why do I do this?

There are many lists of martial arts movies and action movies around the web, but they’re never in an agreeable order and are always missing some great ones while including some stinkers, often with many that aren’t even made in English! So this page began as a scrapbook of reviews & recommendations for anyone who wants to watch a good martial arts packed action hero movie (including the future me) but has seen most of them before and either can’t find anything new or can’t re-find a good one seen before (there’s one I’m still looking for).

Unlike all the other lists online, this one is BY an action hero movie junkie, FOR action hero movie junkies. I am also a teacher of Kung Fu myself, with a focus on practical Self Defence, not cinematics. So I know what I’m talking about when it comes to credible fight scenes, martial philosophy & psychology, strategy & tactics, etc.

I’m not into slow & gritty, suspenseful drama scenes like professional critics always seem to be. Nor am I into gruesome horror scenes. But I do appreciate good concepts, good acting, good information and good mood-setting so far as is appropriate for the action hero movie genre.

This list is gradually expanding – more action hero movies are being added every week, so feel free to bookmark this page and check back regularly.