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Epic fistfight movies you can watch on Netflix

In a world where action movies are finding new and exciting ways for good guys and bad guys to beat the snot out of each other, it seems that every weapon under the sun has been depicted in some form or another. However, in the pantheon of on-screen violence, nothing has been able to replace the simple and profound purity of a good, old-fashioned fistfight.

Seriously, whether it's watching martial artists go toe-to-toe or seeing scrappy brawlers have at it, it doesn't get any more intense or intimate than watching a hero or villain square off with nothing but their bare hands and bloodlust. And as dedicated movie watchers scroll through Netflix, looking for the next action flick to satisfy their thirst for cinematic violence, they may want to consider specifically finding themselves a good fistfight movie, if for no other reason than to see the technical prowess that goes into crafting the perfect fight scene.

To help separate the good from the bad and the mundane from the awesome, below is a rundown of some of the best fistfight movies that are currently available to stream on Netflix.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is like watching a video game boss battle

Directed by Edgar Wright, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is an epic love story set in a universe where reality is based on video game logic. As for the plot, it follows a young Canadian guy named Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) as he ditches his much younger girlfriend after getting a passionate crush on the new girl in town, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). However, he quickly learns that in order to date Ramona, he'll have to defeat her seven evil exes. While the metaphor of a guy having to find the maturity and self-confidence to look past a potential partner's dating history might not be subtle, neither is the movie.

When Ramona says that he'll have to defeat her evil exes, she means literally defeat them in a series of increasingly bonkers fistfights. While the whole film is incredibly stylized, it turns the volume up all the way during the action scenes, bursting into high-concept, video game-style mayhem whenever Scott crosses paths with someone Ramona used to date. For example, in one battle set to the tune of a Bollywood musical, he trades blows a pirate-garbed bully and his posse of demon hipster chicks. In another cartoonish brawl, Scott fights a famous movie star (played by Chris Evans), as well as his entire stunt double team, while armed with only a skateboard and the ability to take several punches. 

The movie may sound like it goes off the rails, but the truth is that it starts there and finds its heart as the action progresses and gets more cuckoo.

The Matrix is a classic fistfight movie

One simply cannot talk about the pantheon of good fistfight movies without mentioning the 1999 masterpiece from the Wachowskis that became a cultural phenomenon and spawned multiple sequels. That's right — we're talking about The Matrix.

The movie focuses on a computer hacker named Neo (Keanu Reeves) who discovers the horrifying truth about reality. Years ago, there was a war between mankind and intelligent machines. The machines won and placed humans in a shared simulation called the Matrix, pacifying them while harvesting people for their biometric energy.

Once free of the Matrix, Neo discovers that he can do anything once he elects to go back inside. Mastering combat techniques like kung fu, jiu-jitsu and karate is as simple as downloading the right program to one's brain, and as a result, we're treated to a series of fascinating fistfights. One of the more impressive battle scenes happens when Neo first test-drives his new skills by sparring in a dojo with his mentor, Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne). Not only is the fight lightning-fast, but the viewers and Neo quickly learn that fighting is a lot easier when the rules of physics don't apply to you.

The fighting gets better still when Neo faces a sadistic computer program named Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), and the climactic showdown is one for the ages, complete with kung fu moves, nods to Bruce Lee, and even spaghetti Western music. The battles are fluid, beautiful, and violent, and as a result, The Matrix boasts some of the best fistfight scenes crafted in the last two decades.

Bloodsport pits fighting style against fighting style

Is there a better way to showcase the grace and technical proficiency of some of the world's greatest martial arts styles than to concoct a story that puts them all in the same fighting tournament at once? Well, the 1988 Jean-Claude Van Damme film Bloodsport does just that. 

Not only does it give its star a chance to showcase some of his signature high kicks during what can only be described as his peak physical shape, it invites a slew of other great fighters to join and show audiences what it looks like when kung fu goes up against ninjutsu or when kickboxing goes head-to-head with taekwondo. Furthermore, it's been alleged that the film used almost no stunt people, opting instead for real fighters who could take actual blows.

The film centers around U.S. Army Captain Frank Dux (who has an inexplicable French accent). After spending years of his life training in martial arts, he's invited to a secret, underground, full-contact fighting tournament called the Kumite in Hong Kong. However, to do so, he must go AWOL from duty. The movie follows Dux as he climbs up the tournament ladder while the U.S. government tries as hard as it can to bring him to justice.

However, the real villain is a ruthless fighter (Bolo Yeung) who isn't afraid to take advantage of the tournament's lack of rules against killing opponents. If seeing the varying fighting styles meet each other in the ring isn't enough to entice you into a night of watching Bloodsport, perhaps promises of a final battle between Dux and a cheating villain will do it for you.

Ip Man is a brutal martial arts epic

A martial arts classic, Ip Man takes place in 1930s China, a country under invasion by the Japanese. And when a cruel general starts brutalizing the people of a Southern Chinese area known as Foshan, mild-mannered master warrior Ip Man (Donnie Yen) decides to fight again after years of pacifism.

As a result, we get a fast-paced masterpiece that's perfect for anyone who's sick of fistfight movies where the people involved are clearly pulling their punches. After all, Donnie Yen holds a special place alongside Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li in the canon of fantastic on-screen fighters. And when he's beating up bad guys, Yen's mastery of movement allows for some of the most brutal, bone-breaking action and carnage seen in recent memory.

For example, an early scene in which Ip Man finally decides to go no holds barred on his Japanese oppressors sees the acclaimed martial artist demand to fight ten black belts at once. Why? Because he can beat them without breaking a sweat. The movie's fight scenes were so impressive that it spawned a myriad of sequels that not only made Ip Man a worthwhile franchise but propelled Donnie Yen to acclaim in the U.S.

However, it would be a mistake to say that Yen carries the movie by himself. Every major villain and henchman that Ip Man must defeat throughout the movie is giving it their all in an unparalleled symphony of violence.

Lady Bloodfight lives up to its name

For those who enjoyed Bloodsport but thought it needed more women in it, Lady Bloodfight is the movie for you. The film essentially follows the same plot and even calls its underground fighting competition the "Kumite." However, in this movie, the tournament is exclusive to females ... and significantly more lethal.

The story focuses on a character named June, played by Amy Johnston, who goes to Hong Kong in search of her military father after her mom's health starts to decline. Almost as soon as she arrives, she's mugged and finds herself broke and quickly thrust into the world of underground martial arts.

Once June hears about the Kumite, she asks a local to teach her the skills she needs to win and, subsequently, get her money and life back. However, when it becomes clear that a rival faction is just as interested in winning the Kumite, only with a more deadly approach, June is forced to prove she's more than just a demure lady.

Those who tune in will notice that, unlike Bloodsport, this movie stays true to its promise to deliver blood. The fights are intensely violent and tend to show injuries over time. In one scene, the main character is not only knocked to the ground but subsequently mounted by her opponent and hit with a flurry of violent blows, all while our hero is seemingly unconscious. The moment, like the movie, is graphic and sometimes hard to watch, but if you have the stomach for it, you'll be treated to some impressive competing martial arts styles. 

Mortal Kombat is the ultimate video game fistfight movie

Normally, movies based on video games are horrendous. However, the 1995 adaptation of the popular arcade game Mortal Kombat is a rare exception.

Like many on this list, the movie focuses on world-class fighters joining together for a high-stakes fighting tournament. However, there's more at risk here than just money and reputation. The Mortal Kombat tournament is a battle between the Earth realm and Outworld, where magic and monsters are real. And if a representative of Outworld wins ten consecutive Mortal Kombat tournaments, the evil sorcerer Shao Kahn (Frank Welker) will be allowed to invade Earth realm.

There to stop him are Shaolin monk Liu Kang (Robin Shou), movie star Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby), and military officer Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson). Up against them are a slew of literal monsters, demon ninjas, and magical warriors. Despite the concept, most of the fight scenes are grounded and based in real-life martial arts prowess. However, every once in a while, audiences can look forward to our heroes having to contend with things like ice powers or finding out if a four-armed monster reacts to a punch below the belt.

The movie does a great job of raising its own bonkers stakes while simultaneously escalating the challenges that the main characters have to face. Honestly, it's very similar to the pacing of a video game, so you know you can expect a pretty killer boss fight to cap it all off. If a blend of magic, realism, and incredible stunt choreography are your thing, Mortal Kombat is simply a must-see.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny is one of Netflix's best action flicks

After the immense success of the 2000 film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Netflix came along and brought us Sword of Destiny, the sequel to the Oscar-winning classic. Similar to the first film, part two focuses on the mysterious and powerful blade, the Green Destiny. And here, Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), the love of the sword's original protector, comes out of retirement as a new generation of warriors emerge, all destined to fight over the blade. 

While the first Crouching Tiger film perfected the wuxia-style of physics-bending combat sequences, Sword of Destiny takes things to the next level. The fights are performed masterfully by world-class actors like Yeoh and Donnie Yen, and in the sequel, fans can look forward to a sequence where Yen's character is attacked by what seems to be an entire army of raiders, all armed to the teeth with weapons. However, he not only thwarts them while completely unarmed, he does so by making the bold decision to step on their feet as he moves through the air like it's water.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny gets to benefit its prestigious forerunner, but it has the resources of Netflix at its back, as well. The end result is a truly stunning sequel that both lives up to the first and expands the world in a way that feels organic for fans of the original. 

Man of Tai Chi has Keanu Reeves playing a martial arts villain

Fans of The Matrix and John Wick will no doubt be excited to see Keanu Reeves in the martial arts genre with the 2013 film Man of Tai Chi. However, unlike the ultra-heroic Neo, this time, Reeves is a downright nasty villain.

The film focuses on a young man named Tiger (Tiger Chen), who's half-trained in the art of tai chi. When his training is interrupted by an opportunity to fight for cash in an illegal, gladiator-style ring, Tiger initially refuses for fear that using his skills for profit would be dishonorable. However, when financial circumstances deem it necessary, he reluctantly agrees.

As time goes on, Tiger continues to win a series of impressive bouts against increasingly impressive fighters with mastery over their respective styles. The wins bring money, but the money pollutes the young warrior's chi. Shockingly, this delights Reeves' character, who seems more keen on showing that a tai chi master can be corrupted than he does actually having a winning and entertaining warrior in his fighting pits.

Those who tune into Man of Tai Chi will be struck by the fight choreography that goes into making the otherwise zen-like art of tai chi look so ruthless. It's especially enticing to see Reeves in a climactic final battle that rivals anything he's done in either John Wick or The Matrix. His swift and perfectly executed moves prove that he belongs in the fistfight genre in any form it takes, as he stands toe-to-toe with more seasoned, professional on-screen combatants.

Kung Fu Hustle is a fistfight comedy for the ages

Unlike a lot of fistfight movies that deal in the drama and high stakes of combat, the 2004 film Kung Fu Hustle — starring, written, and directed by the incomparable Stephen Chow — breaks the mold by coming out swinging as a rare comedy in the martial arts genre.

The film focuses on a down-and-out young man (Chow) who's desperate to be taken seriously as a villain. Specifically, he wants to join the local Axe Gang that terrorizes a small village. After posing as a member and being run out of town by the real gang, we're treated to a series of misadventures that cause our guy to realize that, in fact, he's a natural kung fu master with powers greater than even he imagined.

In addition to the movie being laugh-out-loud funny, the fight scenes are on par with anything you'd see in a movie like Ip Man or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The mere fact that an old man wearing curtain rings on his arms is the one battling a literal horde of gangsters is just icing on the cake.

Another aspect that sets Kung Fu Hustle apart from other films in the genre is the license it gets for its characters to take a cartoonish amount of punishment with relatively no consequences. Whether it's being beaten literally into the ground or being punched sky-high, there's no shortage of odd fight scenes and bizarre brawling styles riddled throughout this movie. From the get-go, Kung Fu Hustle proves that violence can have its lighthearted side as well.

Romeo Must Die is one of Jet Li's finest films

It would be hard to have a passable list of incredible fistfight movies without at least one that includes the masterful stylings of Jet Li. While there's no shortage of impressive martial arts movie starring the Chinese actor, the 2000 hit Romeo Must Die stands out. 

The film focuses on Li's character, Han, a former police officer who escapes from a prison in China after he learns of the death of his brother in the United States. He travels to investigate, only to find himself thrust into a racially charged gang war between the black and Chinese population in Oakland. At the heart of the tension is a nefarious land deal that has mobsters putting pressure on local businesses in an effort to buy up their land to build an NFL stadium.

The film deserves stellar marks for the series of violent and intense fights that Li and the supporting cast must engage in. For example, the climactic fight between Li's character and the main villain sees the hero's hands horribly burnt, forcing him to improvise and, at times, fight through the pain in a fast-paced, gritty, and bone-shattering throwdown.

Boasting a truly impressive cast (Aaliyah, Delroy Lindo, and DMX, among others), Romeo Must Die is a modern-day cops and robbers tale that doesn't shy away from the violence of gang life nor the racial inequality that plagues many of America's most otherwise prosperous cities. Regardless of tone, the explosive and fiery showdown should be more than enough to satisfy even the most critical movie fan's need for a good old-fashioned fistfight.