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Martial Arts Scenes In Sci-Fi Classics That Blew Everyone Away

Watching a well-crafted martial arts battle in an action film is like seeing an expertly choreographed ballet with fighting maneuvers. Martial arts, or "wushu" in Chinese, literally translates into "discipline" or "skill." After all, martial arts fighters train their bodies and minds to transform what would normally be a simple brawl into a new art form.

But when you add science fiction to the mix, martial arts really force audiences to reconsider what is possible. Thanks to mutant abilities, cybernetic implants, virtual reality, alien weapons, and multiverse physics, science fiction martial artists aren't constrained by human limitations. The movements they're capable of completely bend the mind.

Ready to revisit your favorite battles on alien worlds and in apocalyptic futures? From a Japanese manga warrior made flesh to a genetically perfect fighter to multiple mutant martial artists, here are our picks for martial arts scenes in classic science fiction movies that blow us away.

Panzer-Kunst offers the ultimate bot battles

Let's be blunt: robots, androids, and cybernetically enhanced warriors are dangerous. You only need to watch "The Terminator" to see how powerful and relentless a mechanical being can be.

But what happens when those killer cyborgs start developing a martial art of their own? Then you get "Panzer-Kunst," a deadly fighting style practiced by someone who's made out of inorganic parts. Introduced in "Alita: Battle Angel," Panzer-Kunst is a long-forgotten martial art that allows even a petite cyborg to kick and punch with enough force to obliterate solid metal opponents and send them to the scrapyard.

What's truly scary about this martial art is that it remains deadly even after the cyborg using it is sliced to pieces. In the movie, amnesic cyborg Alita (Rosa Salazar) instinctively uses Panzer-Kunst against the massive cyborg serial killer Grewishka (Jackie Earle Haley) but gets her legs and arm cut off by his razor-sharp chains. Undaunted, Alita balances on her remaining hand, springs up, and punches Grewishka right through his face.

Later, Alita's remains are transplanted into the more powerful nanotech "Berserker" body which makes it even easier for her to take down Grewishka when he comes looking for a rematch. Still, let's be honest — any martial art that leaves you capable of mangling an opponent even as a disembodied torso already makes you unbeatable.

Multiverse shenanigans combine martial arts with surprises

True mastery of martial arts takes years — unless you happen to be Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), the hero of "Everything Everywhere All at Once" who can instantly access the abilities of her multiverse variants through some special ear pods. Informed by an alternate universe version of her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) that, "you're capable of anything because you're so bad at everything," Evelyn must learn how to fight when she's attacked by multiverse warriors sent by an evil version of her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu).

At first, the martial arts skills Evelyn gains are pretty standard. In fact, the variant she acquires them from is a movie star based on the real Michelle Yeoh. However, as the film leans into its absurdist themes, Evelyn's fighting style gets a weird upgrade. Inspired by her husband's plea to be kind to everyone, Evelyn fights with more empathy. Realizing that some of her opponents are into BDSM, she spanks them, giving them satisfaction even as she takes them out of the fight.

Ridiculous? Sure. But it also shows that mastering martial arts mean more than just knowing how to fight. By embracing the absurdity of the multiverse, Evelyn realizes that all her variants — from a professional sign-spinner to a teppanyaki chef — practice their own style of martial art. Evelyn understands that showing empathy for others is, as her husband reveals, its own form of fighting.

Alien rings create a deadly martial art

Introduced in the 1960s, The Mandarin is an Iron Man villain who discovers a set of 10 finger rings in an alien spaceship that allows him to shoot energy blasts. Over time, audiences realized he was an unflattering Chinese stereotype, which made it difficult to adapt him to the MCU. Films like "Iron Man" refer to the "Ten Rings" only as a terrorist group, while "Iron Man 3" introduces a British Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) who winds up being a decoy.

"Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" changes all this. The movie re-imagines the Mandarin as the immortal Chinese warlord Wenwu (Tony Leung) who secretly controls the world through a shadow organization. The rings themselves are now a series of metal bands worn on his forearms, like the iron rings used for weight training in several real-life martial arts like Hung Gar or for fighting in Chinese films like "Kung Fu Hustle."

This allows Wenwu to develop his own martial arts style by shooting the rings from his arms like projectiles, spinning them to create a shield, or forming them into a chain to grab people. However, we later learn he's not the only person the rings obey, as his son Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) and wife Li (Fala Chen) are also capable of controlling the rings. In both cases, we're treated to epic fight scenes where the competitors don't just punch and kick each other but need to connect with the rings in order to achieve victory.

VR martial arts pack a double punch

Gaming is serious business in "Ready Player One" which follows several video game champions searching the online world of "The OASIS" for an easter egg that will give them full control of virtual reality. Some are so obsessed with the search that they wear full-body Haptic suits that let them feel virtual punches and hook themselves into rigs and chairs that look suspiciously like hamster balls.

It sounds silly — until you realize these rigs let players execute gravity-defying moves in virtual space by twisting and spinning their bodies in real life. During the climax, the movie's hero Wade Watts aka Parzival (Tye Sheridan) gets into a vicious battle with corrupt CEO Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn). Although Sorrento's gear is better than Parzival's, Wade manages to keep Sorrento off-balance with a virtual "Shoryuken" attack from "Street Fighter." He then uses his rig to execute a devasting flip and kick his opponent in the crotch so hard that Sorrento feels the blow in the real world. Simulation or not, this VR martial art is one fighting style that packs a punch across multiple dimensions.

Mutant martial arts

In the world of martial arts, speed often trumps strength — which gives the mutant teleporter Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) a massive advantage. Born with the ability to instantly transport himself anywhere he can see, Nightcrawler can infiltrate even heavily guarded places like the White House. But when things get hairy, Nightcrawler kicks his powers into high gear and shows everyone what a mutant martial artist like him can really do.

What follows is one of the most memorable martial arts scenes in the "X-Men" sequel "X-2"– and possibly the entire "X-Men" film franchise. As multiple Secret Service agents converge on him, Nightcrawler vanishes — only to reappear an instant later and take out the guards with a flurry of circus acrobatics. Convinced they must be fighting multiple opponents, the agents open fire and try to get the President to a secure area, but this barely slows Nightcrawler down.

Appearing in the middle of the Oval Office, Nightcrawler punches, kicks, and even teleports the guards into submission before leaping onto the President and brandishing a knife. His assassination attempt is foiled by a quick-thinking agent's bullet — but in those few minutes, Nightcrawler shows us just how dangerous a mutant can be.

The Force is with this martial arts master

Ever wonder what a "Star Wars" version of Donnie Yen's martial arts grandmaster from the "Ip Man" films would be like? If you watch "Rogue One," you won't have to. As the blind warrior monk Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), Yen shows us exactly what a Force-sensitive martial arts master can do.

The results are jaw-dropping. In his first appearance, Chirrut places himself between the heroes and an entire squadron of Stormtrooper, proceeding to beat the entire squad into unconsciousness using only his cane. Later scenes reveal Chirrut's Force-sensitivity allowing him to take down an Imperial fighter with just an arrow or even walk through heavy gunfire without getting hit. As Chirrut isn't a Jedi and doesn't display any exotic Force powers or carry a lightsaber, his minimal reliance on the Force is all the more impressive.

Of course, he's not the only martial artist in the "Star Wars" universe. The movie "Solo" introduces us to Han Solo's ex-girlfriend Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke) who practices a deadly martial art called Teräs Käsi designed to take down Force-sensitive opponents, including Jedi. A Finnish term that translates into "Steel Hand," Teräs Käsi is a particularly brutal martial art that can deliver devastating punishment to normal people.

They know Kung Fu

"The Matrix" shows us an apocalyptic future where humans are imprisoned in a virtual reality world policed by sentient "Agent" programs capable of dodging bullets and punching through walls. Fortunately, the resisting humans have an edge of their own — they can download lifetimes worth of martial arts skills directly into their brains, making them unbelievable fighters in the Matrix.

We get a chance to see how good these fighters are when newcomer Neo (Keanu Reeves) spends several hours getting multiple combat training programs loaded into his head. Upon awakening, he delivers a now-iconic line to his mentor Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne): "I know kung fu."

Seconds later, he gets dropped into a simulated dojo where he gets to test his new skills against Morpheus who encourages him to "free your mind" and gain access to his full power. What follows is an incredible martial arts sequence where Morpheus and Neo block punches with superhuman speed, climb walls and kick solid wooden posts into toothpicks.

Remarkably, Neo just gets faster as he grows more accustomed to his abilities, eventually nearly punching Morpheus in the face. Later fight scenes in the "Matrix" trilogy let the fighters execute even more unbelievable moves, but the original dojo scene reveals just what is possible in this simulated reality.

Faster than a speeding bullet

"The Matrix" popularized the term "bullet time," which refers to slow-motion shots where Keanu Reeves dodges multiple bullets in a virtual reality world. A few years later, "Equilibrium" shows us how this feat might look in the "real world."

The film introduces us to an eerie future where people take drugs to suppress their emotions. Art, literature, and music — which can stimulate emotion — are all forbidden and regularly destroyed by "Grammaton Clerics" who are also authorized to execute "Sense Offender" violators immediately.

What makes these Clerics so intimidating is their mastery of "gun kata." After analyzing recordings of thousands of gunfights, the emotionless enforcers have created a series of choreographed martial arts movements or "kata" that grant them a statistically high probability of killing their opponents. This allows them to anticipate shots and dodge gunfire — or even shoot multiple targets without looking at them.

Unfortunately for the Clerics, one of their most high-ranking members John Preston (Christian Bale) starts missing his daily doses of emotion-suppressing meds and begins sympathizing with an underground resistance movement. In the climactic scene, Preston uses his gun kata skills to take out an army of bodyguards before killing his former partner Brandt in a katana sword battle and finally besting totalitarian leader DuPont (Angus Macfadyen) in a gun kata showdown. Maybe they need to start using knives from now on.

Alien assassins are no match for dance fighting

Many martial artists strive to perfect their bodies and become masters of their fighting style. But what happens when the martial artist in question is already engineered to be genetically perfect?

Then you get a fighter like Leeloo (Milla Jovovich), an orange-haired woman resurrected from the perfect cells of an alien protector in "The Fifth Element." Superhumanly strong, fast, and durable, Leeloo can also absorb knowledge very quickly, learning entire fighting styles in just a few days. This comes in handy when she needs to fight a group of alien Mangalore warriors trying to retrieve four sacred stones from the alien opera singer diva Plavalaguna (Maïwenn).

As the Mangalores converge on the seemingly defenseless girl, Leeloo shows them what a genetically perfect martial artist can do. Accompanied by Plavalaguna's singing voice, she kicks, punches, blocks, and flips her opponents to death, turning a life-or-death situation into a surprisingly catchy dance sequence.

Where other martial arts scenes place the hero in unwinnable situations, it's pretty clear from the start that Leeloo outclasses all her enemies. At one point, she casually snaps a sword in two with a single kick, before effortlessly dodging heavy gunfire and daring her enemy to attack. By the end, she slaps one Mangalore repeatedly in the face "Three Stooges"-style before backhanding another Mangalore trying to sneak up on her. When you're secure enough in your fighting prowess to add some slapstick moves to the mix, you know you've got the makings of a perfect martial art.

There can be only one

What's better than one Jet Li? How about two Jet Lis — each wielding the combined strength of multiple martial artists? That's the concept behind "The One," which follows corrupt ex-MultiVerse Authority Agent Gabriel Yulaw (Li) as he attempts to hunt down and murder all the variants of himself living on alternate Earths. After each kill, the energy of his victims gets split among the survivors, making them superhumanly strong, fast, and smart. Once he murders all 124 versions of himself, Yulaw believes he will become a god: although it's also possible the entire multiverse will explode in the process.

Fortunately for the multiverse, the sole survivor of Yulaw's attacks is a decent police officer named Gabe Law who agrees to work with MultiVerse agent Evan Funsch (Jason Statham) and take down his dimensional twin. What follows is an epic showdown between two superhuman versions of Jet Li who can smash metal walls, walk through fiery sparks, and even snatch flying axes in mid-air. Unfortunately, while Gabe can't kill Yulaw and risk destroying the multiverse, Yulaw has no such restraint, giving the good guy a serious handicap.

While not regarded as one of Jet Li's best films, "The One" plays with some fun concepts and gives us an early look at what a martial artist with superpowers and no conscience can do.

Subliminal martial arts

Some of us listen to ASMR recordings to fall asleep. Not Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes), the psychopathic villain of "Demolition Man." After murdering dozens of innocent people, Phoenix gets caught by LAPD Sergeant John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone) and is sentenced to be cryogenically frozen for almost 40 years. While in deep freeze, Phoenix is supposed to be rehabilitated via subliminal reprogramming — but instead an evil mastermind changes the program and teaches Phoenix martial arts, computer hacking, and torture techniques.

Revived in the year 2032, Phoenix finds the future is full of non-violent police officers who have no idea how to handle him. He also learns his old enemy has been defrosted but was only taught how to knit and sew by his subliminal reprogramming. Believing this gives him the advantage, Phoenix uses his newfound martial arts skills to beat up his opponent — but just as he's about to deliver the killing blow, Spartan uses a vial of cryogenic chemicals to freeze Phoenix solid and kick his head off. Guess that's one Phoenix who won't be making any more resurrections.

Her martial arts do not grant her serenity

Look at the resumes of martial arts performers like Michelle Yeoh and Jackie Chan, and you'll usually find "dancing" listed among their skills. A dance background adds a lot of grace and balance to fight scenes — which is probably why Joss Whedon hired ex-ballet dancer Summer Glau to play child prodigy River Tam in his cult classic TV series "Firefly."

Altered by government experiments that give her psychic abilities but leave her unable to control her emotions, River is prone to violent fits where she's capable of hurting anybody. Coupled with the fact that her genius mind grants her an intuitive grasp of practically everything, River is one of the most dangerous fighters in science fiction.

This is evident in the 2005 film "Serenity." Now living aboard the transport spaceship Serenity, River gains an extended family in the crew which helps heal her emotional scars. However, she retains her violent mental conditioning, as seen when she hears a subliminal message in a television commercial and attacks several bar patrons with brutal efficiency.

Seeing this young woman suddenly become an unstoppable killing machine is nothing short of extraordinary. The fight choreographers used a combination of kung fu and kickboxing moves to take advantage of Glau's ballet background, giving her battles an eerie grace that's hard not to admire even as she's killing her enemies. 

He fights with expert timing

Compared to the stories of alien warriors and mutant heroes on this list, a movie about a time-traveling policeman seems tame. Still, when that film happens to be "Timecop" and the cop is played by martial artist Jean-Claude Van Damme, you know you're going to see some entertaining fight scenes.

As Time Enforcement Commission agent Max Walker, Van Damme is tasked with making sure unauthorized time travelers don't pollute the timeline. This puts him in some unusual battle scenes, like when he's sent back to 1929 to prevent his ex-partner Lyle Atwood (Jason Schombing) from manipulating the stock market. Frightened, Atwood calls in two goons to take Walker out.

As one of the thugs brags how "I went ten rounds with John L. Sullivan," Walker quips, "I saw Tyson beat Spinks on TV." He then proceeds to use a series of lightning-fast kicks and blows to subdue one goon while employing his trademark splits maneuver to dodge the second one's attack. When a second enemy pops on some brass knuckles and threatens him with a stick, Walker simply kicks the stick in half and uses the broken pieces to beat him silly. No telling if Walker's excessive brutality somehow altered the timeline, but it's a sure bet those thugs will be remembering that beating for years.

Predators fight with honor

The "Predator" franchise introduced the Yautja, a race of alien warriors with a unique code of honor. Although they possess advanced weaponry and technology, these hunters do not attack indiscriminately but seek out worthy adversaries to test themselves against. This gives their opponents a (somewhat) fighting chance — although they need to work hard to survive.

Most classic "Predator" fights involve a human opponent beating a Yautja with traps and strategy as opposed to one-on-one combat. However, there are some exceptions. In "Predators" (2010), Yakuza enforcer Hanzo (Louis Ozawa Changchien) is taken to a Predator game reserve to be hunted. Facing off against the "Falconer Predator" with only a katana sword to defend himself, his courage motivates the Falconer to deactivate its invisibility shield and engage him in a blade fight.

Where other Predator battles happen in jungles or swamps where the Yautja can launch sneak attacks, this fight takes place in an open grass field. Surprisingly, Hanzo's proficiency with his sword allows him to land multiple blows and he kills the Falconer before dying of his own wounds. It's a unique fight scene that takes inspiration from Japanese samurai movies (Hanzo's name may even reference the 16th century Japanese samurai military commander Hattori Hanzō) and shows that while Predators may be ruthless, they're still willing to fight fair.

CGI takes Turtle Power to the next level

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have appeared in many different TV shows and films, giving moviemakers plenty of time to work out how to portray them in fight scenes. While the 2014 "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" movie failed to win over critics, its action sequences rank as some of the most exciting depictions of the Ninja Turtles in live-action.

Where earlier films used physical costumes and puppetry to bring the Turtles to life, the 2014 version makes them entirely CGI (while using motion capture technology to mimic the actors' facial expressions). While some may prefer practical effects, this does allow the film to offer incredible martial arts sequences — like the final battle between the Turtles and the Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) atop a radio tower where the bad guys plan on launching a deadly virus over New York City.

What makes this fight scene riveting is that Shredder is also digitally enhanced to be much stronger and faster than all four turtles and initially takes them out with barely any effort. He's even equipped with throwing daggers that give him a ranged attack. Eventually the Turtles regroup and launch a more coordinated attack — but in the struggle the tower's support beams fail and the Turtles need to hold the tower up to stop the virus. Between the countdown to the virus launch and the nonstop action, this is one fight sequence that shows what it's like to see Turtle Power on the big screen.