40 Excellent Martial Art Movies (Achilles Initiated)


The myth of Achilles

When Achilles was very young, his mother, Thetis, dipped him into the river Styx to try and protect him from a prophesied early death. The magical river between Earth and the Underworld (Hades), supposedly offered the power of invulnerability, so Thetis gave it a go.

Her action made Achilles invulnerable, except for his heel, because that’s where his mother held him when she dipped him into the river Styx. A bit of water failed to make contact with his heel, which meant Achilles had a weak spot.

Achilles went onto become a champion warrior for the Greeks. He survived many great battles. As the war on Troy later became inevitable, his mother warned him of what she then knew about his destiny. He would gain immortal glory if he took part in the Trojan war at the cost of his own life.

During the Trojan war, Achilles defeated Hector in one-on-one battle, however he ended up losing his own life a short time later as foretold, after being shot by an arrow in the heel.

This is how the term ‘Achilles Heel’ eventually came about. It describes a strong person’s one significant weakness which can lead to a downfall, like any small but fatal flaw. It’s a vulnerable spot.

The showdown between Achilles and Hector turned out to be a very significant event during the Trojan war. It came to a head, when Achilles wanted revenge after his faithful friend Patroclus had been killed by Hector.

The legendary fight between the Greek warrior, Achilles, and the Trojan Prince, Hector, has to be one of the greatest one-on-one duels of all time.

There you have it, one of the greatest fights in history began with a revenge motive. The thing is even though Achilles had his revenge, the Greek Gods had their own retribution in store after weighing things up. Apollo is thought to have guided a Trojan arrow that flew towards Achilles, so that it hit him in the heel. The blow to the heel, his one weak spot, caused the death of the young Achilles. It also fulfilled the prophesy regarding his immortal glory.

Achilles, Hector and Apollo have influenced the Martial Arts ever since.

Martial Art Movie Philosophy

Martial Art movies often borrow themes from the famous Trojan War duel. The three key acts in martial art films often played out include:

1. Loss of someone or something special, being beaten or little respect in the beginning.
2. Training undertaken to become as close to invulnerable as possible if the hero isn’t already.
3. Revenge or respect obtained by defeating an opponent (biggest baddie) in a climactic fight.

All you have to do is watch the movie, Enter the Dragon, to see how this works. The Karate Kid is another good example.

Enter the Dragon

The hero sets off on a ship to another land full of opponents, just like Achilles did.
One villain shows his extreme lack of respect and gets his just deserts.
Here the hero is already a master fighter/warrior, similar to Achilles on his arrival to Troy.
The war in Enter the Dragon is the fighting contest. The reason for the war is something else.
A special woman is a big reason the hero is there in the first place. Think Helen of Troy.
A friend of the hero gets killed. This is equivalent to the death of Patroclus.
Lee then has a final climactic showdown with a very powerful opponent.
The battle in the mirror chamber reflects Achilles and his weaker heel over a stronger hand.

The Karate Kid

In the Karate Kid, Daniel is bullied and beaten up by a gang of youths from his school.
He soon trains under the guidance of a Japanese master who teaches him karate.
Training involves being immersed in the ocean to improve his balance.
This is the equivalent of Achilles being dipped into the river Styx. It makes him invulnerable.
Daniel then enters a Martial Arts contest in an attempt to win some respect.
Finally he uses his heel in an awesome salute to Achilles.

The myth of Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee and Achilles led a similar life in a few ways. For instance, three things stand out:

1. They were both legendary warriors in their own way.
2. They both departed earth at a youngish age.
3. They both achieved immortal glory status.

“Be water, my friend.”

~ Bruce Lee ~

Date of Birth: 27 November 1940, San Francisco, California, USA
Date of Death: 20 July 1973, Kowloon, Hong Kong

Bruce Lee became well known as Kato from the television series The Green Hornet (26 episodes from 1966-1967). He also appeared in three episodes of the early Batman series (1966-1967).

He developed his own Martial Art style known as Jeet Kune Do (Way of the Intercepting Fist).

His four classic Martial Art movie masterpieces include:

The Big Boss (1971) – also known as Fists of Fury.
Fist of Fury (1972) – also knows as The Chinese Connection.
Way of the Dragon (1972) – with the final battle at the Colosseum against Chuck Norris.
Enter the Dragon (1973)

Game of Death (1978) was made into a Bruce Lee film after his death. The film had been made using remaining footage before his death, while also using a look-alike in other scenes where required. The final 20 minutes of the film shows Bruce Lee battling his way up a tower. It’s very impressive and I still consider this film to be one of the greatest martial art movies of all time, even though he only appears in it for a relatively short period of time.

40 Excellent Martial Art Movies

The films shown below are some of the greatest martial art movies ever made. Many of these movies have really stuck in my mind over the years.

I’ve only included one Bruce Lee movie, Enter the Dragon, in this list because if you’re a fan of this type of cinema, watching his awesome movies over and over is a must. Especially several of his classic fight scenes. There is none better than the nunchuck scene in Fist of Fury.

The list has been split up into 30 Asian style and 10 Western style martial art movies to showcase a wide variety of this type of brilliant cinema. Achilles, Hector and Apollo would be in total awe.

Asian Style Masterpieces

1. Enter the Dragon (1973)
2. Kung Fu Hustle (2004)
3. House of Flying Daggers (2004)
4. The New One-Armed Swordsman (1971)
5. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)
6. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
7. Police Story (1985)
8. The Raid (2011)
9. Ip Man (2008)
10. Hero (2002)

There are some movies numbered from 11 to 30 that I haven’t seen. The reason I have chosen some of these movies to be on this list is because other Martial Art fans have highly recommended them and they do sound extremely interesting. I can guarantee there are a few classics here.

11. The Prodigal Son (1981)
12. Drunken Master (1978) & The Legend of Drunken Master (1994)
13. Come Drink with Me (1965)
14. Ong-Bak (2003)
15. The One-Armed Swordsman (1967)
16. Zu: Warriors From Magic Mountain (1982)
17. Master of the Flying Guillotine (1976)
18. Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1983)
19. The Tournament (1974)
20. Five Element Ninjas (1982)
21. A Touch of Zen (1969)
22. Duel to the Death (1983)
23. Swordsman (1990) & Swordsman II (1992)
24. Legendary Weapons of China (1982)
25. Five Deadly Venoms (1978)
26. Crippled Avengers (1978)
27. The Clan of the White Lotus (1980)
28. Once Upon a Time in China (1991)
29. Heroes of the East (1978)
30. King Boxer (1972)

Western Style Masterpieces

1. The Karate Kid (1984)
2. No Retreat No Surrender (1986)
3. Bloodsport (1988)
4. Kill Bill 1 (2003) & Kill Bill 2 (2004)
5. Enter the Ninja (1981) & Revenge of the Ninja (1983)
6. The Octagon (1980)
7. American Ninja (1985)
8. Under Siege (1992)
9. Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
10. Undisputed 2: Last Man Standing (2006)