The Most Influential Movie Scenes In Martial Arts

By Sean Thiessen | Published

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From the silly to the spiritual, the martial arts film is a diverse form. Brilliant fighters and stunt performers have pushed the boundaries of the genre for decades, but some scenes have emerged as touchstones for all that succeed them. Here is our list of the cinema’s most influential martial arts movie scenes.

8. Bruce Lee’s Nunchaku Scene – Enter The Dragon (1973)

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Bruce Lee was known for a lot of things: his lean body, crazy fighting sounds, and an epic jumpsuit, just to name a few. Of all his signature elements, perhaps the most impressive were his nunchaku skills.

When Lee busts out nunchucks in Enter the Dragon, his opponent stops to marvel at the speed with which he flings the weapon around his body. Lee’s nunchaku stunts are the stuff of legend, showing off just how insanely fast he was.

Any nunchaku work in films made since can trace their roots to Bruce Lee. Enter the Dragon helped make Lee an icon in the United States, forever uniting nunchaku and Lee in a cinematic symbiosis that still influences modern filmmakers.

7. The Rooftop Scene – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

In 2000, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon launched wuxia into the international mainstream. The genre follows ancient Chinese heroes performing incredible feats. In the rooftop scene, a magical, dance-like fight sees Michelle Yeoh pursue a masked assailant as they glide across buildings.

This martial arts film is full of breathtaking scenes like this, which turned this romantic adventure film into a worldwide phenomenon. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon grossed more than $213 million according to Box Office Mojo. It also became the highest grossing foreign language film in the United States.

Brilliant wire work and impeccable choreography make this martial arts movie a true work of beauty, unraveling visual poetry in every meticulous frame.

6. The House Of Blue Leaves – Kill Bill: Vol. 1

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When you combine classic martial arts tropes with ultra stylized hyper violence, you get Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. The House of Blue Leaves fight features the Bride, played by the unmatched Uma Thurman, slicing her way through a small army of sword-wielding men trying to kill her.

The sequence takes notes from martial arts movies from the 1970s, adopting the era’s pop zooms and high pressure blood spray. In classic Tarantino fashion, he takes these elements to the next level, and the result is thrilling.

Kill Bill’s House of Blue Leaves fight is one of the highlights of Tarantino’s career, and is perhaps his finest action set piece. This classic scene is now a part of the martial arts history that inspired it, and it continues to influence action filmmakers to this day.

5. Final Battle – Ip Man (2008)

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Ip Man was a Chinese martial artist who rose up against the Japanese military during the occupation of his hometown of Foshan. In the biographical martial arts film Ip Man, a Japanese general tells Ip Man to teach Wing Chun, a Chinese martial arts style, to his soldiers.

Ip Man refuses, instead challenging the general to a fight. To preserve his honor, the general accepts. The film’s climactic duel puts Ip Man’s ability on full display. Actor Donnie Yen executes the moves with speed and precision as Ip Man delivers the finishing blows to his opponent, intercut with his training on a wooden dummy.

This emotionally charged and visually stunning scene is a hard fought moment of triumph for Ip Man, and it raised the bar for what a modern martial arts movie could accomplish.

4. Machete Gang – The Raid: Redemption (2011)

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Few martial arts movies are as relentless as The Raid: Redemption. The film is simple: a SWAT team fights for survival as they raid a building crawling with violent killers working for a vicious mobster.

That is pretty much all the story you need. The whole movie is a grueling fight to the top floor. One of the craziest battles along the way is with the infamous Machete Gang. Rama, the film’s protagonist, goes toe to toe with a wild group of machete-wielding psychos in a long, brutal fight that tests the limits of human endurance.

The men plow through doors, dodge blades, and grapple with each other in unbelievably well choreographed fight sequence. The Raid: Redemption delivers some of the most memorable and visceral martial arts stunt work in modern cinema, earning its place as an instant classic in the genre.

3. Training with Mr. Miyagi – The Karate Kid (1984)

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Any great martial artist will tell you that the form is not all about fighting. That is exactly the point Mr. Miyagi makes in his initial training sessions with Danny in The Karate Kid.

Miyagi makes Danny wax his car and paint his fence, much to Danny’s frustration. When Danny can’t take any more, Miyagi shows Danny that his chores have developed the muscle memory for essential blocking moves.

The lesson goes beyond the defensive strategies. Miyagi’s teaching shows Danny the importance of discipline and consistency, virtues Danny carries forward throughout the movie. The Karate Kid is a 1980s classic that gives the martial arts genre a coming-of-age twist that has endured for decades.

2. Ladder Fight – First Strike (1996)

Jackie Chan has made a lot of brilliant movies, and each one of them has at least one scene worthy of watching over and over again. His signature technique is to use his environment to craft unique and organic action set pieces, and none represent this better than the ladder fight in First Strike.

As Jackie Chan’s character arrives on the scene to plead his innocence in a murder case, he is attacked by a group of bodyguards. The fight progresses until Chan finally gets his hands on a ladder, which he wields as if it were a bow staff.

The fight takes on an instant specificity you won’t find anywhere else, and Jackie Chan’s dedication to such spectacular martial arts films continues to inspire action filmmakers around the world.

1. The Hall of Mirrors – Enter The Dragon (1973)

Enter the Dragon is considered by many to be the finest film Bruce Lee ever made, and perhaps even the greatest martial arts movie to ever grace the screen. The film is full of influential elements, such as its diverse cast and espionage plot.

One of the most imitated scenes in the film is the fight between Lee and the film’s antagonist, Han, in a hall of mirrors. The psychedelic scene is a visual marvel, playing with perception, light, and depth in a spectacle that amplifies the drama of the climactic battle.

Movies as recent as the John Wick franchise have taken notes from Enter the Dragon’s mirror sequence. The reach of this Bruce Lee classic proves it a martial arts movie for the ages.