The Best Kung Fu Movies Of The 1980s

Over 600 Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of The Best Kung Fu Movies Of The 1980s
Voting Rules
Vote up your favorite martial arts films that were released in the 1980s

The best ‘80s kung fu movies, and other martial arts movies, embody the rugged individualism and spirit of the decade; a time when the most exciting films involved non-stop action and intense fight scenes. Many of these films are about one man taking a solo journey to defy the odds and defeat his enemies - and let’s not forget, getting the girl while he’s at it.

What are the top ‘80s kung fu and other martial arts movies? Jackie Chan's films dominated the silver screen in the 1980s and 1990s. In ‘85 he wrote, directed, and starred in Police Story, a film Chan would later say was his personal favorite. The film spawned several sequels, and kept Jackie Chan in the public eye throughout the ‘80s. For '80s martial arts stars, this decade was all about the hero's journey. Be it the underdog hero from the Karate Kid or the unstoppable powerhouse, Chuck Norris, audiences were treated to countless acts of individual bravery. You'll also find great kickboxing movies on this list as well.

If you’re familiar with ‘80s kung fu and other martial arts movies, you may know the work of legendary director Sammo Hung, a pioneer of the Hong Kong New Wave movement. Many of his classic films are featured on this list.

Vote up the best '80s kung fu and other martial arts films and vote down any that you think other fans should skip.


Most divisive: Enter the Ninja
Ranked by
  • Bloodsport
    Jean-Claude Van Damme, Donald Gibb, Leah Ayres
    214 votes
    • Released: 1988
    • Directed by: Newt Arnold

    This intense martial arts film introduced the world to Jean-Claude Van Damme, who stars as Frank Dux, an American soldier participating in a dangerous underground fighting tournament called the Kumite. The story is inspired by the real-life experiences of martial artist Frank Dux and features incredible fight scenes that showcase Van Damme's impressive skills. Memorable scenes such as the blindfolded training sequence and the final battle with the ruthless Chong Li continue to resonate with fans of Kung Fu movies.

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  • The Karate Kid
    Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, Elisabeth Shue
    201 votes
    • Released: 1984
    • Directed by: John G. Avildsen

    A quintessential coming-of-age story, this film follows Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) as he moves to California and learns karate from the wise Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita), in order to defend himself against bullies at his new school. LaRusso's journey of personal growth through karate, culminating in an intense and emotional tournament showdown, has made this film a beloved classic among martial arts enthusiasts. Pat Morita's performance as Mr. Miyagi earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

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  • Kickboxer
    Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dennis Alexio, Dennis Chan
    151 votes
    • Released: 1989
    • Directed by: Mark DiSalle, David Worth

    Jean-Claude Van Damme returns to star as Kurt Sloane, whose brother Eric is paralyzed after competing in an underground kickboxing match in Thailand against the formidable Tong Po. Determined to seek revenge, Kurt trains under a wise master named Xian Chow and learns the ancient art of Muay Thai kickboxing, preparing himself for a brutal rematch against Tong Po. This action-packed film showcases some of Van Damme's most memorable fight sequences and further solidified his status as a martial arts icon.

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  • Big Trouble in Little China
    Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun
    166 votes
    • Released: 1986
    • Directed by: John Carpenter

    This cult classic directed by John Carpenter blends martial arts action with supernatural comedy elements to create a truly unique adventure. Starring Kurt Russell as truck driver Jack Burton and Dennis Dun as expert martial artist Wang Chi, they must navigate through the mysterious underworld of San Francisco's Chinatown to rescue two kidnapped women and defeat an ancient sorcerer. Notable for its thrilling fight scenes, colorful characters, and witty dialogue, this film remains a fan favorite among Kung Fu movie aficionados.

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  • Best of the Best
    James Earl Jones, Eric Roberts, Louise Fletcher
    131 votes
    • Released: 1989
    • Directed by: Robert Radler, Bob Radler

    A gripping story of teamwork and perseverance, this movie features an all-star ensemble cast including Eric Roberts, James Earl Jones, Sally Kirkland, and martial arts legends Phillip Rhee and Simon Rhee. It follows a group of talented American martial artists who must come together as a team to face off against Korea's elite Taekwondo competitors in an international tournament. Blending intense training sequences with emotional character-driven drama, Best of the Best has cemented its place as a classic 1980s martial arts film.

  • The Last Dragon
    Taimak, Vanity, Christopher Murney
    131 votes
    • Released: 1985
    • Directed by: Michael Schultz

    A unique blend of martial arts action, Motown music, and romance, this film stars Taimak as Leroy Green, a young kung fu prodigy searching for the elusive "Glow" – the highest level of martial arts mastery. As he navigates through New York City's urban landscape, he encounters memorable characters such as Vanity's Laura Charles and Julius Carry's Sho'nuff - The Shogun of Harlem. With its catchy soundtrack and unforgettable style, The Last Dragon is a beloved cult classic that still resonates with fans today.

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