There's a very special kind of excitement that arises when action movies feature celebrities who can actually fight. For starters, it eliminates the need for rapid-fire editing designed to conceal the use of a stunt double. More importantly, though, it allows viewers to get more engrossed in the characters and what happens to them. The story begins to feel more real.
It's not all about stars fighting or doing their own stunts, though. Some actors certainly go that route. Others have taken roles that befit their real-life talents or trained in specific skills so that they could show them off in movies. That, of course, is a special kind of commitment, and no one currently exemplifies it better than Tom Cruise, who adds to his skill set on a regular basis.
The following celebrities who can fight or exhibit genuine mastery in other physically daunting areas include some of the biggest names in cinema history. They've achieved popularity for many reasons, but their physical prowess undeniably played a part. Remember to vote up your favorites.
- Photo: Enter the Dragon / Warner Bros. Pictures
Bruce Lee was the king of martial arts movies. It's unlikely that anyone will ever top him. His 1973 film Enter the Dragon is considered the ultimate classic in the genre. Some other popular pictures in which he starred are The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, and The Way of the Dragon.
Watching Lee do martial arts is like watching Fred Astaire dance. You're seeing someone with real grace, who has mastered the form as well as it can be mastered. His excellence was born of anguish. As a teenager, he joined a street gang and got into some trouble. He decided to channel his energies into studying kung fu, learning how to fight from the legendary Master Yip Man.
The student ultimately became the teacher. Lee taught Wing Chun and Jeet Kune Do, the latter of which is a form he personally developed. That led him to him being cast in the TV show The Green Hornet and, later, in films, where he demonstrated Jeet Kune Do to appreciative audiences worldwide.1,54431Real-life action star?
- Photo: The Legend II / Golden Harvest
Jet Li has been making movies since the early 1980s, most of them martial arts flicks. In his native China, he became a star via high-octane brawlers like Fist of Legend and The Master. During the 2000s, he went Hollywood, appearing in big studio fare, including Romeo Must Die, Kiss of the Dragon, and The One. He even joined forces with a bunch of other big-name action stars for The Expendables and its sequels.
Li is one of those actors who has been able to very effectively utilize his skills in a cinematic format. He started studying Wushu as a child. Later, he competed in tournaments, winning five men's national championships. His debut film, 1982's Shaolin Temple, was crafted around his abilities. When it became a gigantic hit in China, other offers came to bring Wushu to the screen.
To Li, it's more than just doing his thing in front of a camera. He attempts to let the style of the moves help define the character. He explained to Kung Fu Magazine, "With an action movie, the most important thing is how you describe the character. And use martial arts to make this more clear. What are they thinking, what are they fighting?"1,15520Real-life action star?
- Photo: John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum / Lionsgate
Keanu Reeves has appeared in all kinds of movies. but when he works in action, it seems to yield the most popular results. Speed and the John Wick franchise are among his best-loved works. But it was, of course, The Matrix that really paved the way for him to become an A-list action hero. For that movie's complex fight sequences, Reeves studied Jiu-Jitsu, Wushi, boxing, and Krav Maga.
He later went on to train in Judo and karate. These skills, along with weapons training he underwent, allowed the actor to do the vast majority of his own stunts in John Wick and its two sequels. Because Reeves could really perform the moves, director Chad Stahelski was able to use longer, unbroken shots in the fight scenes. There was little need to conceal a stunt double in the editing, as some stars require.
Even as he gets older, Reeves insists on doing as much as he can. "I feel fit and healthy but it’s a lot harder for me to execute some of the moves the way I would have 20 years ago or when I was doing the Matrix films," he told the South China Morning Post. "You also get very sore and stiff and you’re not anxious to keep doing take after take. But I would never let a stunt man do the work for me. I have to do it myself even if it's painful sometimes."1,70175Real-life action star?
- Photo: Bloodsport / Cannon Films
Jean-Claude Van Damme announced himself a serious player in the action movie game during the late '80s when he starred in a string of successful low-budget martial arts flicks like Bloodsport, Kickboxer, and No Retreat, No Surrender. He went mainstream in the '90s with major studio productions including TimeCop and Sudden Death. Even now, when he's passed the age of 60, he still has viability as an action star, although he's gone back to independently made fare.
In fact, it was his skill at martial arts that captured filmmakers' interest to begin with. JCVD began studying Shotokan karate as a preteen. He went on to become a karate champion, scoring 44 victories and only four defeats between 1976 and 1980. To help with the fluidity of his moves, Van Damme additionally studied ballet. That background in dance influenced the famous split he's demonstrated multiple times over the years.1,15168Real-life action star?