What a year 2016’s been for lovers of action, stunt work and martial arts! We’ve already rolled fast into 2017 and will be doing the necessary prep for all the action-thrills, fun and excitement hitting theatres near you soon from every corner of the globe. There are most certainly some major martial arts adventure treats to keep your eyes peeled for this year!
Before unleashing our Most Anticipated Martial Arts Movies 2017 list however, we must also accord recognition to the dynamic masterpieces that action filmmakers have gone out of their way to craft for us in 2016. Please bear in mind that there might just be the odd flick on here that we have seen while you may not have (just yet). So, without further ado, here are our Top 10 Martial Arts Movies of 2016! in descending order…
- “The Hurt Business“
- “Street Fighter: Resurrection”
- “Never Back Down: No Surrender”
- “Super Bodyguard”
- “Assassin’s Creed“
- “Daredevil: Season Two”
- “Boyka: Undisputed 4“
That one of the best martial arts films of 2016 is an MMA documentary should tell you all you need to know about just how good a film “The Hurt Business” is. Filmmaker Vlad Yudin pulls back the curtain on the MMA world, interviewing fighters past and present, uncovering a world of warriors battling challenges outside the cage that are just as potent as anything they encounter within The Octagon. Engagingly narrated by Kevin Costner, a who’s who of MMA legends, from Bas Rutten to Rorion Gracie to Ronda Rousey are interviewed, along with more recent champs like Rashad Evans and Jon Jones. In a gripping, emotional narrative spotlighting single mothers and fighters battling severe depression, we see just how special each of these men and women are -that their duels in the cage just scratch the surface of what’s going on in their private lives. If you love MMA, “The Hurt Business” will give you a whole new appreciation of what it means to be a fighter.
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Gamers, doesn’t it feel wonderful to actually expect that an upcoming video game adaptation will be good? After 2014’s “Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist”, a lot of frowns are certainly upside down for what Joey Ansah and Christian Howard have cooked up for the “Street Fighter” universe. If “Resurrection” isn’t quite as impactful as “Assassin’s Fist” was, it’s only due to the comparative brevity of the follow-up, but there’s certainly no complaining to be had when Charlie Nash fires off a Sonic Boom, along with Laura Matsuda and Decapre making their live-action debuts. By the end of “Resurrection”, you’ll be primed and ready for the upcoming “Street Fighter: World Warrior”, and with Silvio Simac donning the cap of M. Bison, we can certainly make an educated guess about what day of the week the leader of Shadaloo will make his grand entrance!
Like its title character, the Bollywood smash hit “Sultan” has as big a heart as you’ll ever find. Salman Khan plays a wrestler who learns the importance of humility after his rise to fame and fortune ends up costing him dearly, before getting a chance to climb back to the top in an important upcoming MMA-tournament. Everybody loves to see a champion get a shot at a comeback, and “Sultan” wraps it up in a gripping story about one man discovering the dangers of a bombastic, uncontrolled ego and the importance of putting loved ones before fame, fortune and glory. Marrese Crump and Marko Zaror each make their respective Bollywood debuts as opponents our hero faces in the cage and after seeing them face off, it won’t be hard to guess how “Sultan” became the fourth-highest grossing Bollywood movie ever made!
Don’t let the frankly lacklustre trailer fool you – “Eliminators” is a taut, suspense-filled, thoroughly enjoyable action thriller. Scott Adkins steps into a classic man-hiding-from-his-past role as a former special agent who ends up with his face all over the British news cycle and finds himself and his daughter with a big target on their backs. WWE’s Wade Barrett gives one of the year’s best villainous performances as the sadistic assassin sent to track our hero down and under the action direction of Tim Man of “Ninja II” and “Undisputed 4”, he and Scott deliver some dynamic, powerful fight sequences amid their cat-and-mouse game. “Eliminators” also brings in a vicious big baddie with a surprisingly understandable grudge against our hero and the film as a whole is elevated significantly by the end. Suspenseful and action-stacked, “Eliminators” emerges as one of WWE Films best flicks!
This Bollywood action-fest romance doesn’t come without a blemish here or there, and it’s mainly in the form of a twenty-minute sequence in Bangkok that hews a little too closely to “Ong Bak”. However, that aside, audiences are treated to an overall thoroughly fun meeting of “The Karate Kid” and “The Raid” in “Baaghi”, and Tiger Shroff owns every moment of the film from the instant he steps in front of the camera. Bollywood is gradually putting the spotlight on India’s ancient martial art Kalaripayattu and Tiger delivers some of the most amazing action of the year, with the help of plenty of top drawer stunt fighters and genuine Kalaripayattu Guru; Shifuji Shaurya Bharadwaj in the role of both mentor and fight choreographer. Warts and all, “Baaghi” delivers the goods on Kalari-driven action and puts both Tiger and the upcoming “Baaghi 2” firmly on our Bollywood martial arts radar, so do check this one out!
Michael Jai White returns to the director’s chair for the third chapter of the “Never Back Down” series, along with reprising the role of MMA champ Case Walker and delivers possibly the year’s most intellectual martial arts film. Case is a man who’s always got his thinking cap on and both he and the film prod their weaknesses of their opponents to make their strengths lose their potency. A straight up MMA brawl between Michael Jai White and the world’s biggest Aussie, Nathan Jones, would’ve been good enough on its own, but Case comes to the fight with the mindset of a world class chess player and with a little subterfuge and button pushing, delivers one of the most satisfying endings in a good long while. A mind is a terrible thing to waste, and “Never Back Down: No Surrender” doesn’t dare to!
If you want to see people get hurt, Yue Song has got the movie for you. “Super Bodyguard” marks his second outing as both director and leading man, and boy, does he put his cast through some major punishment. Of course, like Jackie Chan, he would never ask you to do anything he wouldn’t do himself and he most certainly takes as good as he gives. In the role of the villainous Jiang Li, former Shaolin disciple Shi Yan Neng is simply a beast, as always and makes a very compelling case that no Chinese remake of “The Raid” should ever be greenlit if he’s not playing its ‘Mad Dog’ equivalent. Indeed, on the basis of his performance behind and in front of the camera, Yue Song seems to be making an exceedingly persuasive bid to be allowed to take that project on himself! (Trust us when we say we’re not complaining.)
Well here’s one we didn’t see coming! It’s one thing for the year to end with just one very good video game adaptation (“Street Fighter: Resurrection”), but two…can this really be? When most of us are just content for a video game flick to faithfully translate the source material to live-action, “Assassin’s Creed” not only does exactly that, but wows you with scene after scene of outstanding martial arts action and insane parkour-driven stunt work right up there with “District B13” and “Mad Max: Fury Road”.
As hard as it may be for gamers to believe, 2016 may finally be the year where we’ve gotten to call time of death on the curse of the video game movie – good riddance to bad rubbish!
Two seasons in, the hit Netflix series “Daredevil” remains one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s greatest achievements. In addition to being a gripping legal drama, the series is also continuing to position itself as the ultimate 21st century ninja thriller, with the rival clans of The Chaste and The Hand going to all-out war with New York City as their battleground. The Punisher also makes his MCU debut with a pitch perfect performance by Jon Bernthal of “The Walking Dead” fame, while Vincent D’Onofrio makes a chilling return as The Kingpin and Elodie Yung makes a distant memory of the dreadful 2005 flop “Elektra”. Even Daredevil’s mask is improved upon and with the second episode’s spellbinding stairwell brawl, “Daredevil” is now two-for-two in delivering the first great fight sequence of the year. The ball’s in your court on March 17th, Iron Fist!
And coming in at #1 for the Best Martial Arts Movie of 2016 is…
Leave it to ‘The Most Complete Fighter in the World’ to deliver a knockout punch for the third time in a row! You can rest assured that the long wait for Boyka’s return to the ring has been totally worth it, but was there ever any doubt? Scott Adkins returns to his signature role and delivers his most convincing and emotional portrayal of Yuri Boyka yet. After inadvertently killing an opponent in the ring, Boyka comes to the aid of the fighter’s impoverished widow to free her from a life of indentured servitude to the Russian mob. This is a kinder, Boyka than we’ve ever seen before, one with an evolved moral compass willing to sacrifice everything for someone he’s unwillingly victimized. However, don’t think for a second that his newfound chivalry makes him any less of a beast in the ring, nope, this polarization only serves to heighten this adrenalin-soaked, heavy-hitting blast of TNT.
With astonishing fight sequences, orchestrated by the dynamite Tim Man (who gets his own skirmish with Boyka), along with an ending that’s as emotionally potent as it is unexpected.
The Undisputed series is that rare film franchise that keeps getting better with each chapter, and with this fourth incarnation remains the ‘undisputed’ greatest martial arts film series in the English-speaking world. Say it with us now – BOY-KA! BOY-KA! BOY-KA!
“Ip Man 3“
Given that this entry was released in December 2015, this is bending the rules a tiny bit. However, something that we lovers of Asian action are accustomed to is having to wait a little while longer after films in the Far East are released in their native territories (we’re all currently sitting in the waiting room for the Indonesian Silat thriller “Headshot”.) Such is the case with “Ip Man 3”, which the average Westerner didn’t have the chance to see until 2016 and with that in mind, we’d be remiss to not grant it some “Best of the Year” list recognition.
In any case, Donnie Yen does the role of the Grandmaster of Wing Chun and mentor to the legendary Bruce Lee proud once more and with this last chapter in Ip Man’s saga, this series clearly hasn’t run out of steam yet. Donnie’s battle with Mike Tyson most certainly warrants an inclusion on any annual “Best Fights” list, but the ‘release date purgatory’ that Asian action fans are intimately familiar with requires a little thinking outside the box!
“Avatar: The Last Airbender – Live Action Short Film”
2010’s “The Last Airbender” was the mother of all disappointments, but fortunately, fan films can always provide a good template for what a theoretical reboot might look like. YouTuber: Wakeuptoryan delivers a fun and exciting middle chapter between Nickelodeon’s hit series “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and its sequel “The Legend of Korra” that’s simply astounding in how much better it is than the awful 2010 film that “Avatar” fans have collectively burned out of their memory banks.
With a combination of excellent fight choreography and surprisingly solid visual effects work, these fellows do what a $150 million budget couldn’t and truly bring the Bending Arts to life in live-action, something only previously seen in the film’s teaser trailer below.
Well done, boys!
So, there you have it readers, our countdown of the Top 10 Martial Arts Movies of 2016! Let us know what your particular faves are and stay tuned as we’ll be counting down the Top 10 Movie Fights of last year followed by the Most Anticipated Martial Arts Movies of 2017…all coming soon!