We all watch movies, and which is the “best” is a matter of opinion really. Here are the top 10 martial arts movies released from 1980-1990. Don’t forget to check out other lists throughout Thought for Your Penny.
10. The Last Dragon (1985) 43% at Rotten Tomatoes
Bruce Leroy dreams of reaching the final level of martial arts, known as “The Glow.” To do so, he’ll need need to defeat Sho’nuff, a vicious fighter who has already mastered it.
Director: Michael Shultz
Starring: Taimak, Vanity, Christopher Murney
9. The Karate Kid (1984) 88% at Rotten Tomatoes
Daniel is a Jersey kid who doesn’t fit in with the California surfer crowd. After being bullied and beaten by several local kids, he’s trained in the art of karate by the neighbor gardener, Mr. Miyagi and competes in a local tournament.
Director: John G. Avildsen
Starring: Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, Elisabeth Shue
8. Police Story (1985) 83% at Rotten Tomatoes
A Hong Kong cop takes down a drug dealer who subsequently frames him for murder. Now he must clear his name, fight off the criminal gang, and keep his rocky relationship in tact.
Director: Jackie Chan, Chi-Hwa Chen
Starring: Jackie Chan, Maggie Cheung, Brigitte Lin
7. The Shaolin Temple (1982) 78% at Rotten Tomatoes
The Tang Emperor is betrayed by one of his generals, who assumes power, but one of his slaves’ sons escapes to train with the Shaolin Monks. Now they’re on a mission to restore order to the Eastern Kingdom.
Director: Hsin-Yen Chang
Starring: Jet Li, Lan Ding, Jianqiang Hu
6. Big Trouble in Little China (1986) 82% at Rotten Tomatoes
A truck driver arrives in San Francisco’s Chinatown and must save his friend’s fiancee, who has been kidnapped by a street gang run by evil sorcerer David Lo Pan.
Director: John Carpenter
Starring: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun
5. Kickboxer (1989) 60% at Rotten Tomatoes
When Kurt Sloan’s brother Eric is paralyzed in the ring by Thai champion Tong Po, he must train in the ancient art of kickboxing to avenge him.
Director: Mark DiSalle, David Worth
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dennis Alexio, Dennis Chan
4. Best of the Best (1989) 73% at Rotten Tomatoes
The U.S. Tae Kwon Do team is training hard to compete against their rivals in Team Korea. Each has personal demons to overcome before the fight of their lives against seemingly invincible opponents.
Director: Robert Radler
Starring: Eric Roberts, James Earl Jones, Sally Kirkland
3. Bloodsport (1988) 33% at Rotten Tomatoes
Frank Dux goes AWOL from the military in order to compete in the Kumite, a deadly martial arts tournament. There, he faces the fight of his life against Chong Li, the defending champion, who’s known to have killed several opponents in the ring.
Director: Newt Arnold
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Donald Gibb, Leah Ayres
2. The Octagon (1980) 33% at Rotten Tomatoes
A martial arts master is plagued by memories of his rigorous training and the death of his friend. Now he’s tracking a criminal gang called The Octagon, who were responsible for his friend’s death.
Director: Eric Karson
Starring: Chuck Norris, Karen Carlson, Lee Van Cleef
1. They Call Me Bruce? (1982) 48% at Rotten Tomatoes
A young boy moves from Korea to California and finds work as a chef. The local gangsters and everyone else around town thinks he’s Bruce Lee because they can’t tell Asians apart. He uses this racist stereotype to convince them he has martial arts skills and becomes a local hero.
Director: Elliott Hong
Starring: Johnny Yune, Margaux Hemingway, Raf Mauro