Could these be the 5 Best Movie Martial Artists of all Time?
DIsney’s Mulan is set to release on Disney plus premiere on September 4th, From the trailer, it looked much more like an epic martial arts saga rather than the more comical song and dance of the original animated feature. It also stars martial arts heavyweights Donnie Yen and Jet Li. With that in mind, we got thinking who were the the best movie martial artists of all time. Kalvin took the challenge to ‘Kal’s Corner’ to come up with an answer.
So, after having a lengthy conversation with my WTF team members, I was tasked with coming up with the definitive top five list of the best movie martial artist ever. After probing the inner depths of my mind, I have come up with what I feel is the best that the martial arts movie genre has to offer! (In no particular order)
- Bruce Lee (Or as Brick top, from the movie Snatch calls him: Muhammed “I’m Hard” Bruce Lee)
Bruce Lee is someone that everyone will have on their list. He is probably the most ICONIC movie martial artist of all time. Despite only having a few movies that had hit the main stream, such as The Big Boss (1970), The Chinese Connection/Fist of Fury (1972) and The way of the Dragon (1972), it’s the 1973 classic – Enter the Dragon, which he is most known for. This Classic martial arts movie cemented him as a Hollywood star and catapulted him to stardom worldwide.
Even though this was the movie that made Bruce Lee famous across the world, he was already a well-known star in his home country of China. Despite being born in San Francisco in 1940, he would go to his parent’s home country and due to his father being an actor, Bruce would be in a lot of roles staring as a baby and a child. This started to bring him notoriety within the country. So much so, that when Bruce landed an American role on a TV series called, The Green Hornet, playing a side kick called ‘Kato’, when this was shown in Hong-Kong, Bruce was such a star that the name of the show was changed to ‘The Kato Show’.
Bruce Lee began practicing martial arts from a very young age and eventually opened many martial arts schools and was the founder of the martial art Jeet-Kune-do (The Way of the Intercepting Fist). Did you know that he was also the winner of the 1958 Hong-Kong Cha-Cha dancing championship? That was where he must have got all of his nifty martial arts footwork from!
Despite it being 47 years since the untimely death of the superstar, Bruce Lee is even more famous than he was when he was alive. He is still copied by many people today and he is quoted all the world over. Thus making Bruce Lee my first one on this list.
- Jackie Chan
Jackie Chan is an absolute megastar when it comes to martial arts movies. His comedic style of martial arts was first showcased in his early films such as the ICONIC ‘The Drunken Master (1978) and Police Story.
Jackie Chan is an actor, stuntman and director and has trained in Wushu, Kung-Fu and Hapkido, amongst many more. This has led to him being in over 150 movies both internationally and domestically in his home country of China. Did you know that Jackie Chan was in ‘Enter the Dragon’ with Bruce lee? He was a stuntman and an extra who actually has a fight scene with the famous martial artist!
As well as the success that Jackie was having with his home-grown films, he finally had his breakthrough in Hollywood with his 1995 movie ‘Rumble in the Bronx’. This got Jackie noticed my a whole new audience who appreciated his skills and movie making, thus leading to him getting a lead role alongside Chris Tucker in the critically successful ‘Rush Hour (1998)’. Such was the success of this film that it penned two sequels, ‘Rush Hour 2 & 3’
Although being at the age of 66, Jackie Chan is still staring in movies and showing us his martial arts skills. You would think he would have calmed down by now despite breaking nearly every bone in his body over the years and fracturing his skull! Jackie Chan is definitely someone who has to be on the list of great movie martial artists.
- Jet Li
Retired WUSHU Champion martial artist Jet Li, has been in the movie making business since his debut in the film ‘Shaolin Temple (1982)’. Since then he has starred in a number of martial arts films in China that have been praised about his fighting skills and he has received critical acclaim for those roles. Due to this, he became known within Hollywood and was offered his first Non-Chinese speaking role alongside great actors such as Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in the movie ‘Lethal Weapon 4’ (1998).
From here, Jet Li has gone on to star in a number of Hollywood high budget films and is always praised for his immense martial arts skills. Did you know that Jet Li turned down the role of Seraph in ‘The Matrix 2 & 3’. He was also meant to play the role of Li-Mu-Bai in the movie ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’, which was eventually passed over to Chow-Yun-Fat.
Jet li has continued his martial arts domination within films such as ‘Romeo Must Die’ and ‘The Expendables’ movies, however, he has had to slow down in the last few years due to him suffering from hyperthyroidism. Thankfully this is now being controlled with medication and he will be making a welcomed return in the highly anticipated Disney live-action remake of ‘Mulan’. Due to the influence that he has had on the many films that he has been in, he had to be placed on my list.
- Jean Claude Van Damme
Born in 1960, this ‘Muscles from Brussels’ began practicing the martial arts of Karate and kickboxing at the age of 10 years old and achieved his black-belt at the age of 18. During those years, he also took up Taekwondo and Muai Thai as-well-as ballet at the age of 16. He stated that he has made him light on his toes.
He stared in minor roles from 1982-1987 before he had his breakout role in the movies Bloodsport (1988) and Kickboxer (1989). These were box office successes and catapulted Jean Claude into the mainstream. Since then, he has had a number of movie hits that have garnered him a legit movie star with his trademark pinning back kick taking out all bad guys, and maybe some good guys too (The Expendables 2)
A guilty pleasure of mine is the Arcade Game – turned movie called ‘Street Fighter (1994). This was starring Jean Claude Van Damme and believe-it-or-not Kylie Minogue. This is such a bad movie and the role that Jean Claude plays is dastardly, however he puts his all into the character of General Guile and I cannot help but to love this movie.
At the end of the 90’s and into the 2000’s. Jean Claude had a few movie flops, which prompted a move to make straight-to-DVD films, however a resurgence came about when he was tasked in the aforementioned ‘The Expendables 2’ (2012), alongside Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham. He has continued to get further roles such as voice work in Kung Fu Pander and the upcoming Pixar sequel: The Minions 2 – Rise of GRU.
Jean Claude Van Damme had to be on my list as he is a widely known and celebrated movie martial artist and many of his films, though not necessarily box office smashes are still ICONIC to many of his fans. Did you know that he made an appearance as a dancer in the 1984 film Breakin’? He was also meant to play the role of ‘The Predator’ in the movie of the same name?
- Steven Segal
Steven Segal practiced the martial art of Akido, where he became so efficient at it that he earned a 7th Dan Black Belt in the art form and was the only non-Japanese person to teach at a Dojo in Japan.
Steve began his movie career in the early 1980’s, however he has his break out roles in the movies, Above the Law (1987), Hard to Kill (1990), Marked for Death (1990) and Out for Justice (1991). These were all box office hits and people were impressed by his relaxed and laid back martial arts shown in the movies. He made the form look effortless and took out this enemies without breaking a sweat. This prompted mainstream success that followed.
1992’s Under Siege, where he starred alongside a charismatic Tommy-Lee Jones, propelled him further into Hollywood where he was praised for his acting as well as his martial arts skills. This then lead to a sequel, Under Siege 2 – Dark Territory (1995) and he starred alongside Kurt Russell and Halle Berry in Executive Decision (1996).
Unfortunately, since then, Steven Segal has had a number of movie flops and he now tends to do Direct-To-Video (DVD/Streaming) movies. His martial arts are still impressive at the age of 68 years old and he has also been known to help Mixed Martial Arts stars train before their contests. Steven Segal is definitely one for my list.
What did you think of my 5? Would you agree or disagree? Who are your top 5 movie martial artists of all time? Comment and let me know!