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The best martial arts movies on Netflix right now

Netflix has a bevy of genre films to satisfy your every entertainment need. Especially as the company has leaned more into producing their own films in recent years, they have found success in filling specific genre voids. Still, it can be difficult to discover films of a specific genre, like martial arts movies, unless you've already done some due diligence on your own. That's where we come in.

Let's take a deep dive into the finest in martial arts on Netflix. These films are available for streaming now (in the United States, at least), and we will be keep the list updated as Netflix rotates their selection. Whether you're looking for a single movie to get you through an evening or you're planning an ultimate martial arts marathon, we've got plenty here you're bound to enjoy.

We'll be featuring a good mix of mainstream and obscure films through our martial arts journey — and hopefully not every single one will be about Ip Man. Sharpen those kung fu skills; here's what you should be watching.

The Matrix Trilogy

With a fourth film in The Matrix series headed our way, you might need to catch up on the trilogy that kicked things off. The original came out all the way back in 1999, so we forgive you if you don't quite remember all the intricacies of Neo, Trinity, Morpheus, Zion, and the legend of "The One." Lucky for you, The Matrix, The Matrix: Reloaded, and The Matrix: Revolutions are all available on Netflix.

If you don't know the story, The Matrix trilogy is set in the future, when humanity is locked in a simulated world after losing a war against an aggressive artificial intelligence. A select few people learn the truth and are able to break out, freeing others in an attempt to overthrow their mechanical oppressors and take back control. There's kung fu, lots of guns, and a whole lot of Keanu wearing black.

Fun side note — considering the trilogy's themes and plot structure and the Wachowskis' respective transitions, a lot of people now view The Matrix trilogy as a metaphor for the trans experience. The films arrived on Netflix March 31, 2020, which is International Transgender Day of Visibility.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Don't let the fact that this movie was a "mainstream" hit fool you — Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon still features some amazing action. The practical wirework effects are still mind blowing, especially when compared to films from a similar time period that relied on (what is now) obsolete CGI. On top of that, it's directed by the visionary Ang Lee, and boasts an incredible cast that includes Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon features a tale of thieves, hidden love, and betrayal, all set against the backdrop of 1700s China. The story is on par with the action, and even those who don't necessarily get excited about fight choreography will probably find themselves swept up in the unfolding plot. Let's face it, though — you're probably watching a martial arts movie for the martial arts sequences. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has a plethora of amazing fights — the duel between Shu Lien and Jiao Long is a particular standout, as are the battles within the tree branches.

Ip Man

There are a lot of films out there loosely based on the life of the legendary Ip Man, including the Ip Man series that began with this 2008 film. Most films that feature stories about the life of the man who trained Bruce Lee purport to be at least somewhat factual. As the legends grow, however, it can be tough to know what's true and what isn't.

That aside, the first Ip Man film is all sorts of badass. It stars Donnie Yen as the title character, and it features fight choreography from the man himself, Sammo Hung. The story follows the biographical story of Ip Man up to the founding of his school where he would later teach Bruce Lee the art of Wing Chun.

There are a few absolutely amazing fight sequences in Ip Man, but the highlight has to be when he seeks vengeance for a shooting and challenges ten black belts himself. They have no idea what they are in for, and watching Donnie Yen absolutely savage those grandmasters is reason enough to watch Ip Man.

Kung Fu Hustle

If you like a bit of slapstick comedy mixed in with your kung fu, give Kung Fu Hustle a go. Directed by and starring Stephen Chow, the movie features some pretty impressive fight choreography and action sequences, even with its somewhat goofy style.

Kung Fu Hustle follows Sing and Bone, two con artists who claim to be members of the widely feared Axe Gang. After a series of misunderstandings, the real Axe Gang shows up, seeking vengeance for their humiliation at the hands of a group of hidden martial arts masters. Scores are settled, more impressive martial arts styles are revealed, and eventually, an unstoppable kung fu master is unleashed.

Kung Fu Hustle follows almost video game-like logic: every time a new, powerful figure shows up to save the day or threaten someone, an opposing powerful force balances the scales. By the end of the film, you're watching two godlike masters battle it out. That said, the standout battle is probably the fight against the Harpist assassins — two warriors who hide their power within traditional Chinese music to defeat their foes.

A long-awaited sequel is reportedly in the early stages of development, so if you haven't seen Kung Fu Hustle, now is a perfect time to see what you've been missing.

Kill Bill Vol. 1

Both Kill Bill films are actually available on Netflix, but if you're looking for the more heart-pounding martial arts battles, Kill Bill Vol. 1 is the one you want. Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino and starring Uma Thurman, supported by impressive talent like Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, and Michael Madsen, you really can't go wrong with this two-part epic.

The woman known only as the Bride (Thurman) was once the member of a team of assassins, but she was betrayed by those she trusted and left for dead. She fights her way out of a coma, however, and ventures forth on a bloody quest for vengeance. Her goal is to hunt down every member of her former team, up to and including the mastermind, Bill.

Kill Bill is impossibly slick, featuring Tarantino's trademark stylings and clever dialogue. Uma Thurman's (at first nameless) warrior is extremely badass, and the highlight of Kill Bill Vol. 1 comes when she battles O-Ren Ishii's Crazy 88s in a glorious bloodbath that culminates in a one-on-one showdown.

Shadow

If you love watching crazy weapon battles, Shadow is one you should check out. Released in 2018, it comes from director Yimou Zhang, who also directed Hero and House of Flying Daggers.

Shadow is a period piece in which a general loses a duel to a superior opponent. His king flies into a rage, demoting the general and doing anything he can in order to appease a powerful force that threatens to topple him from power. Unbeknownst to almost everyone, the general actually has a body double, who he begins training in a style that counters the techniques of the man he lost against.

That style involves using a metal umbrella as a weapon.

Oh, it's ridiculous. Oh, it's awesome. Shadow has some wild fight scenes, and a simple but fun plot that keeps you invested until the true battle begins. The film's climax features two simultaneous battles — a war in the streets and a (sort of) rematch of the duel that kicked everything off. Seriously, though: metal umbrella fighting style. Insane.

The Grandmaster

Interestingly, two biopics about the life of Ip Man were made about the same time, and there was a bit of a trademark kerfuffle about what each would be named. The more commonly known one is Ip Man, but The Grandmaster, released a few years later in 2013, is also an extremely entertaining bit of martial arts cinema.

The Grandmaster stars Tony Leung as Ip Man, and the film is directed by Kar Wai Wong. It is a biopic of the legendary Wing Chun instructor that follows his life from 1930s Foshan until his death in the 1970s. It has several different fight scenes that rival some of the best martial arts you can find on Netflix: the opening battle in the rain is a particular standout, and Ip Man's "precision duel" against Gong Er, where either fighter loses if they break anything in the room, is really impressive.

It essentially tells the same story, but The Grandmaster has some impressive fight scenes and strong performances that help it stand out from the many other titles about Ip Man.

Martial Arts of Shaolin

It may be the third of a trilogy, but you can start with this one and get along just fine. This film — alongside the first two movies in the series, Shaolin Temple and Kids from Shaolin — are notable for being the first credits for one of the giants of the martial arts industry: Jet Li. If you want to see the man himself in his younger years, Martial Arts of Shaolin is a great place to do it.

Plotwise, Martial Arts of Shaolin is fairly bare bones. Li plays an orphan, raised in a Shaolin temple. He learns that a corrupt government official is responsible for the death of his parents, and seeks vengeance. Pretty straightforward.

The film was released in 1986, and it definitely shows. The dubbing is atrocious; you'll want to skip the English language version and opt for subtitles to escape it. The sound effects are also... not great — punches sound like someone hitting a side of beef with a sledgehammer. All that aside, this is a classic martial arts film that showcases a true legend in his prime. The final fight scene, in particular, is an amazing watch.

Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy

There are a lot of movies based around the story of Ip Man, the man who trained Bruce Lee. Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy is a spin-off of the series: still connected, but not tied to the main story. It is not Ip Man 4, as that film came out a year later, but it does follow the events of the third film.

Instead of focusing on Ip Man himself, Master Z follows Chueng Tin-chi, who tries to maintain a low profile after being defeated by Ip Man. He steps in to help someone and winds up defeating an entire gang of thugs, who eventually come in search of the impressive fighter to exact revenge.

Master Z has some absolutely wild fight scenes, and the main cast is equally impressive. It stars Jin Zhang in the title role, with a supporting cast that includes Michelle Yeoh, Tony Jaa, and Dave Bautista. There isn't a ton of plot to speak of, but there are several creative fight sequences, including a memorable, neon-soaked battle above the streets of the city.

The Night Comes for Us

The Night Comes for Us deals in equal parts organized crime and martial arts. It's a blood-soaked Indonesian film, with plenty of shootouts and brutal fights. The violence can be a bit off-putting if that isn't your speed, but the fights look and feel incredibly real, and the basic revenge story will keep you invested through the gory climax.

The movie tells a familiar story: a high-level gang member decides he wants out, and the gang doesn't want to let him go. That man is Ito, who decides to devote his life to helping a young girl whose life has been destroyed by his former gang. His old bosses decide to send his ex-associates after him, and many of them jump at the chance to prove themselves and move up the ranks.

There's just as much gunplay as fisticuffs, and the fistfights are brutal rather than elegant, but The Night Comes for Us is an entertaining watch that you won't be able to take your eyes off of.

Equilibrium

Yes, Equilibrium takes itself a bit too seriously. No, not all the special effects hold up that well. Put all that aside, and you still have a kickass film where characters use a style of fighting called "Gun Kata." You've also got a pretty impressive cast, with a line-up including Christian Bale, Taye Diggs, Sean Bean, and William Fichtner.

Like we said, the plot is a bit silly. Equilibrium takes place in the near future, where emotions are outlawed and people take drugs to avoid accidentally experiencing them. Christian Bale's character, Preston, helps enforce the ban on emotions but accidentally misses a dose of his drugs, throwing the entire purpose of his existence into question. Soon, he is leading a rebellion against the same government that trained him.

But does any of that really matter? You sit down to watch Equilibrium for the ridiculous gun kata fights. The idea behind the fighting style is that the gun and bullets are used as other martial arts might use swords, spears, or other weapons. It makes for some impressive fight choreography as the combatants angle themselves to counter their foes and overcome terrible odds. As a bonus, there are a lot of trenchcoats.

Bloodsport

If you looked up "Guilty Pleasure" in the dictionary, it would not surprise us in the least if you found a picture of Bloodsport staring right back at you. This 1988 flick helped propel Jean-Claude Van Damme to stardom, and does a great job of showing off why.

Bloodsport's plot concerns the Kumite, a secretive and extremely dangerous underground fighting tournament where fighters are regularly killed. Van Damme plays Frank Dux ("Like... put up your dukes!"), a martial artist and US Army Captain who journeys to Hong Kong to fight in the tournament. Dux beats a man in record time, which angers Chong Li, the ruthless defending champion of the Kumite.

It's silly, but it also features some great fights from several different martial arts styles. Van Damme is still fairly raw as both an actor and a martial artist, but he has impressive physicality in the role. Chong Li is the highlight here — he's played by veteran Bolo Yeung (Enter the Dragon) with great menace, and the inevitable final fight in the Kumite is extremely satisfying.