We’ve all been there, scrolling through Netflix, looking for the next action-packed film to get our hearts racing. It seems as though for every good film, there’s about five bad ones you need to sift your way through.
With that in mind, this list is designed to separate the wheat from the chaff and provide you with 10 of the best martial arts films and TV shows on Netflix (as of 2019).
This article will include a few documentaries, biopics and some full-fledged, adrenaline inducing action.
Also, don’t worry… I’ll make sure this list is spoiler free!
Conor McGregor: Notorious
The chances are you’ve heard of Conor McGregor. His antics both in and outside of the cage have led him to international superstardom.
This film follows his journey, from humble origins in Dublin, cashing benefit checks to stay afloat, to one of the most prolific (and wealthy) combat sport athletes of all time.
While many people have a distaste for his actions, once you’ve watched this film, I guarantee you’ll have a new found respect for the man.
The film itself provides an unfiltered insight into the dedication required to become a world champion. We’re brought on this journey of exceptional highs and lows that display the challenges world class martial artists must face.
When watching the film, I felt myself getting nervous before every one of McGregor’s fights. Even though I had watched them all live, seeing what was at stake behind the scenes was incredibly eye-opening.
For me, this is one of my favorite documentaries I’ve ever seen. If you’re passionate about martial arts and want to be inspired, it’s truly worth a watch.
Ip Man 3
Unfortunately, not all of the Ip Man (Yip Man if you so wish) movies are on Netflix. At the moment, we’ll just have to make do with Ip Man 3, which in my opinion, is one of the best.
If you haven’t seen any of the prior Ip Man films, I would recommend doing so as they’re all insanely good. That being said, you can definitely watch this first and still understand what’s going on.
So, why is Ip Man 3 one of the best martial arts films on Netflix? Well, the fight scenes are an incredible display of Wing Chun and are choreographed to perfection. Yes, they may be a little ‘over the top’, but that’s why we love these films, they get the heart racing!
Usually when I’m watching this genre, I’m always eagerly awaiting the next fight scene. However, that’s not the case with Ip Man 3, with one of my favorite scenes in the film having no fighting at all.
I won’t discuss it too much as to avoid spoilers, but we get to see a young Bruce Lee seek the tutelage of Ip Man. The ending of this scene gives a subtle nod to Bruce Lee’s famous quote ‘be like water’, which to be fair, I didn’t even realize the first time round.
All in all, if you’re a fan of Wing Chun and fancy seeing Mike Tyson (yup, he’s in it) battle it out boxing vs Wing Chun style, then I think you’ve found a film to add to your watch list.
Stronger Than the World
Stronger Than the World is a biopic about former UFC Featherweight Champion José Aldo. Aldo is a legend amongst the MMA community due to his undefeated 10-year reign of terror, which unfortunately came to an end at the hands of Conor McGregor.
The film was originally scheduled to be released after Aldo faced McGregor, with the hopes of utilizing the publicity from the fight. Unfortunately, Aldo lost that fight and the film was delayed for some time and probably didn’t get the reception it deserved.
Still though, Stronger Than the World is an incredible film that follows Aldo’s story, from the beginning of his brutal upbringing, to his rise to the top.
Admittedly, some aspects have been somewhat exaggerated in order to increase intensity and drama of the film. With that said, there’s no denying that Aldo has overcome serious adversity on his pursuit of World Champion status.
The fight scenes themselves are pretty good, especially considering this is a TV movie with a fairly limited budget. The actor who plays Aldo, José Loreto, also does a convincing job and his technique definitely looks the part.
The Legend of Bruce Lee (TV Show)
The Legend of Bruce Lee is a 50-episode biopic of Lee’s life, spanning from his high school days, through his rise to fame and his tragic death.
Admittedly the fight scenes aren’t the best. They use a lot of long shots and behind-the-back shots to mask the lack of actual contact between the actors. Still though, they haven’t done a bad job, especially considering the relatively low budget for a whopping 50 episodes.
If the show didn’t follow such a legendary life story, it perhaps wouldn’t warrant a place on this list. It definitely offers a brilliant insight into the icons life, which kind of makes you look past the lack of production value.
One aspect of this show that really blew me away was the main actor (Kwok-Kwan Chan). The resemblance between him and Lee is uncanny, which makes you feel as though you’re watching a Bruce Lee film for the first time.
What lacks in production is more than made up with an unbelievable story of one of the most iconic and forward thinking martial artists to ever live.
Iron Fist (TV Show)
Ok, last TV show, and this one’s definitely worth a watch. Iron Fist is a Netflix & Marvel original TV show based on the Marvel Comic – Iron Fist (unsurprisingly).
The main character (Danny Rand) is essentially a martial arts expect/ master, particularly in Kung-Fu and has a superhuman ability to summon a power called ‘Iron Fist’.
Finn Jones, who plays the main character underwent extensive Kung-Fu, Wushu and Tai Chi training in order to be better prepared for the role. This definitely proved to be a wise decision, as his performance is incredibly slick and natural.
The show itself is a pretty cool blend of superhero meets martial arts movie. This results in some pretty bad ass fight scenes and thanks to Netflix’s astronomical budget, look incredible.
This is hands-down one of the greatest, if not the greatest MMA film ever made. There’s three things I love about this film; the story, the acting and the fight scenes.
The Warrior follows the story of two estranged brothers as they, unbeknown to each other, enter the same high stakes MMA tournament.
One brother, a physics teacher is on the verge of bankruptcy, whilst the other struggles to cope with his experiences serving as a US Marine.
Not only does this film display some incredibly well choreographed fight scenes, the acting is world class. Nick Nolte, who plays the brothers father, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Stylistically, the two brothers bring very different aspects of mixed martial arts to the tournament. Tom Hardy’s character displays impeccable boxing skills, power and wrestling, whilst the other utilizes BJJ submissions to overcome his larger opponents.
With an incredibly captivating story line and some of the best mixed martial arts fight scenes I’ve ever seen, this film is not to be missed by any martial arts film fans.
While headshot may not be Iko Uwais’ best film, it’s definitely got some pretty epic fight scenes throughout. It’s essentially a shoot-em-up, action film with plenty of intense martial arts nicely interspersed into the action.
The film revolves around a character named Ishmael, who waked up from an accident, unable to remember who he is or how he got there. As the film progress’, Ishmael’s past catches up with him, and with it, some juicy action scenes.
Headshot’s martial arts sequences are extremely intense, partly thanks to its’ cast of top martial arts stunt men and women, such as: Iko Uwais, Julie Estelle, Very Tri Yulisman, Sunny pang, Zack Lee n David Hendrawan.
With this talented crew, the action sequences are nothing short of epic, with flying kicks, flying triangles and pretty much all of the awesome hand-to-hand combat us martial arts fans like to see.
Although the storyline is somewhat unoriginal, Headshot is definitely a great way to spend a couple of hours indulging in some high-octane action.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny
This is the sequel to the original Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which was and still is, an absolute classic. Sword of Destiny features an almost completely new cast, with Michelle Yeoh one of the few people to reprise their role, as she returns as Yu Shu Lien.
Donnie Yen (Ip Man) joins the cast of the latest Crouching Tiger film, and you know any film with Yen is going to have some pretty awesome fight scenes. Even in Rogue One, Yen was able to display his insane abilities as a martial arts performer, so from the off set, you know Yen’s going to be in full force.
For me, the Sword of Destiny does feel like a bit of a big Hollywood remake, with an obviously larger budget. With this, somewhere along the line the film seems to have lost some of the grit and allure of the first.
Still though, the film is packed with action scenes definitely reminiscent of the original, and who could complain about that?
Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen
Yet another film on our list to feature Donnie Yen. This time, he puts his spin on the role of Chen Zhen, previously played by Bruce Lee and Jet Li.
Donnie Yen choreographed the fight scenes in the film, and has mentioned how he included the use of nunchaku and screaming in order to pay homage to Bruce Lee, which was a great touch.
Legend of the Fist picks up where Fist of Fury left of, with Chen Zhen donning a new superhero-like outfit, battling his way to prevent Japan from invading China. The film has a pretty interesting story and some ridiculously epic fight scenes that incorporate a variety of different martial arts elements.
Definitely a great watch, and a film that does justice to its’ predecessors.
Kung Fu Panda 1 & 2
I wasn’t sure whether or not to include this in the list, however the Kung Fu Panda movies are all pretty entertaining.
You can find the first two Kung Fu Panda movies on Netflix, both of which contain a ton of enjoyable, often funny animated fight scenes. The beauty of animation is that anything goes. You can have a panda, flying through the air and defeating evil warlords with a pinkie squish.
I understand that these films may not be to everyone’s taste, but they are a lot of fun and include some hilariously awesome martial arts scenes, even if they are slightly ridiculous.
If you’ve got kids, this is a great way to spend a couple of hours. The films will provide you with a fix of martial arts combat and keep the children entertained at the same time.
Honorable Mention: Ip Man: The Final Fight
First of all, this film doesn’t have any connection to the other Ip Man series I discussed earlier. Ip Man: The Final Fight is a stand alone film, aimed to more accurately portray the life of Ip Man.
Still though, there’s plenty of high quality Wing Chun scenes that are both choreographed and shot extremely well.
If you’ve seen all of the mainstream Ip Man films, then this is a great way to indulge in this legendary story until Ip Man 4 releases this year.
James is a martial arts fanatic who became National Judo Champion at the age of 12 and a member of the Great British Judo Team. Since then, James has studied various different disciplines such as BJJ, Muay Thai, Boxing and MMA. He spends his time blogging about different martial arts on his website MMA Stationbinging martial arts films and obsessing over the UFC.