The fascination with fighting is something seemingly embedded in the human genome. Whether it’s an epic MMA bout, a grueling boxing match, or even just a fistfight in the streets, we as a species can’t help but watch and feel the exhilaration of battle as it unfolds. So naturally, the movie industry has produced quite a few films on the subject of fighting. If you’re looking for some of the best fighting movies of all time, we’ve gathered a mix of martial arts, boxing, karate, and everything in between.
If you’re looking to expand beyond just combat sports though, we’ve also gathered some of the best sports movies of all time that you should check out.
Where high school drama meets fighting movie, you’ll be sure to find Never Back Down sitting mostly alone in this unusual genre. The story follows a frustrated and conflicted teenager named Jake Tyler (Sean Faris) as he arrives at a new school. Of course, it takes an interesting turn when he is lured into an underground fighting club. Naturally, he ends up with a personal nemesis that he can only truly defeat through the training of a veteran of mixed martial arts.
Director: Jeff Wadlow
Main Cast: Sean Faris, Djimon Hounsou, Amber Heard
Runtime: 113 minutes
IMDb Rating: 6.6
If you’re looking for an ’80s action movie with more of a focus on fighting, Bloodsport may just be what you’re looking for. Army Captain Frank Dux goes completely AWOL and travels to Hong Kong to become the champion of a secret martial arts contest. The fights are brutal and there’s no guarantee of survival within any of these fights. As Jean-Claude Van Damme’s breakout role, this movie is a great way to dig into the action star’s roots.
Director: Newt Arnold
Main Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Donald Gibb, Leah Avres
Runtime: 92 minutes
IMDb Rating: 6.8
In one of the best David Fincher movies (based on Chuck Palahniuk’s novel), some young and aggravated men decide the best way to solve their problems is to kick the crap out of each other and reject social standards. Other than causing social unrest in the frustrated young men of society (despite the story’s moral resolution in the end), the movie has some great writing and an awesome twist ending. In one of Brad Pitt’s best performances, he is somehow charming, disgusting, sexy, and terrifying all at once, commenting on the social expectations and outlooks of young men in a sometimes very meta way.
Director: David Fincher
Main Cast: Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Meat Loaf
Runtime: 139 minutes
IMDb Rating: 8.8
Though not your typical boxing movie, Real Steel has all of the elements of a great one but with the flair of a sci-fi movie. For starters, it has Hugh Jackman as a struggling ex-boxer who just so happens to stumble upon some undiscovered talent. If this is starting to sound a lot like every other underdog boxing movie, you’re almost right. The main difference with Real Steel is that the undiscovered talent is actually an old, discarded robot. So if you’re looking for a robot fighting movie, this one should be at the top of your list for sure. You can also check out more action movies on Netflix for similar films.
Director: Shawn Levy
Main Cast: Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lilly, Dakota Goyo
Runtime: 127 minutes
IMDb Rating: 7.1
Widely considered one of the best movies of 1973 and one of the best martial arts movies of all time, Enter The Dragon is the best Bruce Lee movie of all time. It’s also the last complete film he appeared in before his death that same year. With aesthetic cues taken from the James Bond franchise and with the blaxploitation movement just getting started, Lee teams up with James Minton Kelly and John Saxon to take on a criminal empire. Academics have since interpreted the film to be an allegory of post-colonial Asia, but if that’s above your head just sit back and enjoy the gorgeously choreographed fight scenes and sleazy 70’s charm.
Director: Robert Clouse
Main Cast: Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly
Runtime: 102 minutes
IMDb Rating: 7.7
Winner of four Oscars from actor/director Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby is about a veteran boxing trainer named Frankie (Clint Eastwood) who has devoted his life to the ring at the expense of virtually everything else in his life. When Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) walks into his gym demanding a trainer, Frankie refuses on the grounds he doesn’t think much of women boxing. She won’t take no for an answer, however, and as Frankie trains her into a viable fighter, the two develop an emotional bond that will shape them for the rest of their lives.
Director: Clint Eastwood
Main Cast: Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman
Runtime: 132 minutes
IMDb Rating: 8.1
Though not quite as intense as UFC fights or other forms of mixed martial arts, karate was huge in the 80s and beyond. The Karate Kid was a large part of that and has influenced the fighting genre even years beyond. It’s one of the most iconic films that has influenced movies and TVs well beyond its less than satisfactory sequels. It has even spurred a cult following of the Netflix series, Cobra Kai, which is worth checking out if you were a diehard fan of the original movie.
Director: John G. Avildsen
Main Cast: Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, Elisabeth Shue
Runtime: 126 minutes
IMDb Rating: 7.3
Based on the true story of Micky Ward, The Fighter is all about a young boxer struggling to escape the shadow of his older half-sibling. His older brother, Dicky (Christian Bale), who has fallen from greatness due to drugs and crime takes Micky (Mark Wahlberg) on as his student to help him achieve his dreams of greatness. The juxtaposition of a great fighter as he falls from grace while his younger brother rises through the ranks is a classic story, but the actors in the film make it seem like something entirely unique.
Director: David O. Russell
Main Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams
Runtime: 116 minutes
IMDb Rating: 7.8
One of the best Kung Fu movies that employ a liberal usage of the “Wire-Fu” film aesthetic, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a timeless feature from Ang Lee that redefines the sub-genre. A young and aristocratic woman named Jen (Ziyi Zhang) works to overthrow the oppression of society by denying her arranged marriage, choosing a life of crime on the run in the throes of true love with another. Meanwhile, a highly skilled and trained swordmaster named Yu (Michelle Yeoh), devoted to justice and honor, realizes she has let her life pass her by without experiencing her own true love story. This was one of the most highly acclaimed films of its time, winning four Oscars and captivating audiences worldwide.
Director: Ang Lee
Main Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Ziyi Zhang
Runtime: 120 minutes
IMDb Rating: 7.8
Similar to The Fighter, Warrior is the story of two brothers. When a former marine, Tommy Riordan, returns to his hometown in Pittsburgh, he enlists his recovered alcoholic father to train him for the largest MMA tournament in history. As Tommy makes his way toward the title prize, his estranged brother, a former MMA fighter also decides to join the competition. Naturally, the two end up on a collision course with each other and are forced to confront the things that tore them apart.
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Main Cast: Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, Joel Edgerton
Runtime: 140 minutes
IMDb Rating: 8.2
If you’re looking for a kung fu movie that is a bit more traditional than a lot of MMA-related films of today, Ip Man is one of the best fighting movies of all time. It should also be noted that IP Man was in fact a real person and he was actually the original trainer of Bruce Lee. All in all, this film has some of the greatest fight scenes you’ll find and is an essential watch for just about everyone.
Director: Wilson Yip
Main Cast: Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Siu-Wong Fan
Runtime: 106 minutes
IMDb Rating: 8.0
Written by and starring Sylvester Stallone, Rocky is the rough and tough underdog boxer story that movie fans have endlessly appreciated since its conception. Rocky is a little-known boxer and local resident of Philadelphia, but when he is randomly chosen to fight the heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), he must overcome physical and emotional obstacles never thought possible. Beautifully written, this film does more than tell a great sports story, it’s a story of victory in a personal sense when you can defy the odds and prove everyone wrong. While this film is entirely fictional, it does feature some similar elements as the greatest boxing matches of all time,
Director: John G Avildsen
Main Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young
Runtime: 120 minutes
IMDb Rating: 8.1