We all watch movies, and which is the “best” is a matter of opinion really. Here are the top 10 martial arts films from 1990-2000. Don’t forget to check out other lists throughout Thought for Your Penny.
10. The Matrix (1999) 87% at Rotten Tomatoes
Computers have taken over the world and enslaved humans as batteries inside a program called The Matrix. Gifted hacker Neo figures it out and is released only to learn he’s the chosen one meant to save humanity. Before he can do it, however, he has to fight off evil agents of the Matrix, including Agent Smith, who is obsessed with taking him down.
Director: Lana Wachowski, Lily Wachowski
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne
9. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) 40% at Rotten Tomatoes
Four turtles are mutated by an ooze and grow up in the sewers of NYC, being trained as ninjas by a rat named Master Splinter. When an organized crime ring called the Foot Clan led by Shredder terrorizes the city (and reporter April O’Neil in particular), they rise from the sewers to face the threat head on.
Director: Steve Barron
Starring: Judith Hoag, Josh Pais, Brian Tochi
8. Lionheart (1991) 33% at Rotten Tomatoes
After leaving the French foreign legion, Lyon begins participating in underground street fights to win money for his brother’s family. Soon he’s entangled in an organized crime ring and must fight his way out. If he can survive that, he still has to deal with his deserter status from the foreign legion.
Director: Sheldon Lettich
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Harrison Page, Deborah Rennard
7. 3 Ninjas (1992) 32% at Rotten Tomatoes
Rocky, Colt, and Tum Tum have been training with their grandfather Mori Tanaka in the art of ninjutsu for years. Their father is an FBI agent, so they’re one day kidnapped by an old friend of Grandpa’s who now runs an organized crime ring. Now they must team up to outwit and outfight the thugs long enough for Grandpa to come in and save the day.
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Starring: Victor Wong, Michael Treanor, Max Elliott Slade
6. Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993) 79% at Rotten Tomatoes
Bruce Lee is widely known as one of the original kung fu movie masters, and his Jeet Kune Do fighting style was adapted from Wing Chun to become one of the most difficult, yet effective defensive styles ever invented. This movie is a fictionalized account of the man’s life, death, and the many struggles he experienced becoming the legend we know today.
Director: Rob Cohen
Starring: Jason Scott Lee, Lauren Holly, Robert Wagner
5. Only the Strong (1993) 0% at Rotten Tomatoes
An ex-special forces soldier returns to Miami to learn his old high school has been overrun by drugs. He starts a program to teach the most troubled teens the Brazilian art of capoeira and soon finds himself having to fight the local drug kingpin, who also happens to be a master of the craft.
Director: Sheldon Lettich
Starring: Mark Dacascos, Stacey Travis, Geoffrey Lewis
4. Best of the Best 2 (1993) 11% at Rotten Tomatoes
After witnessing the death of cowboy Travis in an underground fighting ring at the hands of Brakus, Alex and Tommy begin training to avenge their friend’s deaths. Years ago, they were the American team competing against Korea in a Tae Kwon Do tournament, and now former rival Dae Han is here to help.
Director: Robert Radler
Starring: Eric Roberts, Phillip Rhee, Chris Penn
3. Swordsman II (1992) 71% at Rotten Tomatoes
Blademaster Ling’s martial arts school is located in the remote Blue Mountains. They find themselves embroiled in a clan war when Yin-Yin is kidnapped by Fong, who uses a sacred scroll to become Invincible Asia. Whose kenjutsu will be proven strongest?
Director: Siu-Tung Ching, Stanley Tong
Starring: Jet Li, Michelle Reis, Brigitte Lin
2. Rush Hour (1998) 60% at Rotten Tomatoes
When Detective Inspector Lee is brought from Hong Kong to investigate the kidnapping of the Chinese consul’s daughter, LAPD assigns Detective James Carter to babysit him. Tucker and Chan work so well together, the movie became a trilogy, and Chan’s fight scenes are always breathtaking on film.
Director: Brett Ratner
Starring: Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, Tzi Ma
1. Once Upon a Time in China (1991) 0% at Rotten Tomatoes
Li is a master of martial arts, and Tsui’s epic casts him in the role of Wong Fei-Hung, who fought against foreign plundering of China at the end of the 19th century. It’s gorgeous and has epic battles throughout.
Director: Hark Tsui
Starring: Jet Li Rosamund Kwan, Viao Yuen