As 2019 continues apace, we look ahead with immense anticipation at all of the action-packed, martial arts-laden, big and small screen adventures that await us. And boy, there are some good ones in store this year. However, taking a look back at 2018, it’s also undeniable that we lovers of martial arts were treated to an absolutely incredible year with some seriously out-of-this-world action! From the many superhero movies and wire-driven wuxia adventures to the rougher, tougher, hard-hitting actioners that kept everything grounded in reality, there’s simply no denying that we had no shortage of standout, action-packed martial arts adventure thrill rides from the beginning of 2018 to the very end!
So, as we look ahead to 2019’s massive helping of more of that martial arts action we crave, let’s have a quick look back and countdown the best that 2018 had to offer. So buckle up and hold tight for a high-octane celluloid memory blast dear readers – here (in descending order) are KFK’s Top 10 Martial Arts Movies of 2018!
- Batman: Ninja
- Mission: Impossible – Fallout
- Creed II
- Iron Fist: Season Two
- “Accident Man”
- “Into the Badlands” – Season Three (part one)
- Daredevil: Season 3
The Dark Knight and his massive rogues gallery take a trip back to Feudal Japan in the anime adventure “Batman: Ninja”, and really, who isn’t amazed that it’s taken this long to see Batman in the very setting from which his skill set derives? However long overdue it may be, there’s no denying that “Batman: Ninja” was worth the wait with its stunning animation and the gorgeous makeover given to the Bat Family and their rouges gallery for the setting and time period. The animated action is also superb, with Batman and company put into some of the wildest action sequences we’ve yet seen them engage in, as only an anime can truly pull off. And far from homaging Batman’s ninja roots alone, the film also pays quite the tribute to the Kaiju genre in a climactic battle right out of “Pacific Rim”. Batman diving into the anime realm is a match made in heaven, and for both DC and anime fans, “Batman: Ninja” fully delivers on the promise of what that bonding can bring to life!
The DC Universe streaming service gets rolling with an outstanding opening salvo in the form of its inaugural streaming series, “Titans”. But make no mistake, DC fans, this isn’t your Daddy’s Teen Titans! With Larnell Stovall at the fight choreographer’s helm, “Titans” unleashes a literal shock and awe campain with fight sequences that are on a whole different level of intensity and raw savagery within the superhero genre. The series further separates itself from the pack with its dark and moody deconstruction of its central characters, with Dick Grayson wanting nothing more than to leave Robin in the past, but unable to ignore his conscience when Raven, Starfire, and Beast Boy need him. You’ll also never see Batman as outright vilified as he is here, while the cliffhanger ending will leave you checking the calendar for Season 2’s release date. When you can stand toe-to-toe with “Logan” for both F-bombs and R-rated action, you’re definitely taking your comic book property into more adult territory, and “Titans” unapologetically breaks the mold leaving you surprised yet intrigued for more!
In these nostalgic times we live in, filmmakers really love to take audiences on a trip back to the 80’s. In his action filmmaking debut, Leigh Whannell of the “Saw”, “Conjuring”, and “Insidious” franchises does just that with the cyberpunk, body horror action thriller “Upgrade”. Our hero, Grey, is left crippled for life after a gang attack that kills his wife, but he gets a chance at revenge after being paired with the experimental A.I. program “S.T.E.M.”, which gets him back on his feet and kicking butt. The abundant fight sequences of “Upgrade” are some of the most unique in years. When S.T.E.M. takes over, Grey turns into a human fighting machine, felling one enemy after another with the sharply articulated movements of a literal machine. Not content to just wow us with on a visceral level alone, Whannell also reaches back to his horror movie roots with a deliciously dark twist ending that completely recontextualizes the entire film preceding it. Both 80’s throwback and action thriller with a hefty dose of body horror and Robocop-inspired action, “Upgrade” is the sci-fi thriller that gave the summer movie season a major and defiant Upgrade indeed!
One can’t hand out comparisons with George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” lightly, but by the end of “Mission: Impossible – Fallout”, you’ll be genuinely amazed that Tom Cruise’s infamous ankle injury was the worst mishap that befell him. Director Christopher McQuarrie delivers the most out-and-out incredible film in the “Mission: Impossible” series to date, and packs the film to the gills with car chases, helicopter battles, and daredevil stuntwork that is exactly what we all want out of every summer movie season. The film is also the most fight heavy of the franchise, and delivers amazing fist-to-fist smackdowns that rank among the finest that any spy thriller has ever offered. The bathroom brawl is especially show-stopping (complete with Henry Cavill’s shotgun-esque fist-cocking that became a gif before the film was even released) along with its climactic showdown on a mountain top. By the end of the 147 minute roller-coaster ride it takes the audience on, if there’s one thing that “Fallout” makes clear, it’s that delivering a summer blockbuster that’s this exhilarating is not an impossible mission afterall, huge kudos deserved.
Like The Italian Stallion himself, you just can’t keep the “Rocky” franchise down – that’s clear and equally true of his young boxing apprentice. Before 2018, the idea of Donnie stepping into the ring with the son of his father’s killer, Ivan Drago, would’ve sounded like a piece of fan fiction dreamed up on a message board. But lo and behold, not only is that premise real, but the execution is as great as we could’ve ever asked for. Rocky himself has basically transitioned into the role of Mickey, and it fits Sly like a glove. In fact, some of his best work in his signature role has come from his time out of the ring as a mentor. Donnie, meanwhile, makes the mistake of stepping into his fight with Viktor Drago blood boiling and head clouded, and like Rocky before him, learns to get his mind clear before letting his fists fly.
And boy, do the fists fly in “Creed II” in fight sequences that unite the down-to-the-wire crispness of the fights in the original “Creed” with the stunning, unrelenting brutality of Ivan’s battles with Rocky and Apollo in “Rocky IV”. And like all great “Rocky” films, it knows just when to tug at our heart strings during Donnie and Viktor’s climactic showdown. The “Rocky” canon has passed the torch onto a very worthy successor, and delivered some of the best boxing movie fights ever put to film in the process. On that note, be sure to check out KFK’s Top 10 Rocky movie fights, along with our revealing interview with cutman Jacob “Stitch” Duran on his role in the film, as well!
Danny Rand may not have made the greatest leap to live-action with Season One of Iron Fist but the Immortal Weapon of K’un-Lun absolutely roared back to life in Season Two! With a tighter script, an engaging villainous turn from Sacha Dhawan, and Finn Jones fully coming into his own in the title role, Season Two of “Iron Fist” is heads and tails above the first season like few sophomore seasons have ever managed to pull off.
Jessica Henwick steals the show once again with her performance as Colleen Wing, and proves to be the heart of “Iron Fist” for a second time. Best of all, the martial arts action that is the very essence of the character is as sharp and refined as we could want. And with so much of Season Two focused on Danny’s challenges without having the Iron Fist to fall back on, the drama and action here are some of the most emotionally rich and dynamically charged the Marvel-Netflix union has ever produced. Of course, a huge amount of credit for this has to go to fight choreographer Clayton Barber – so be sure to check out KFK’s deep dive interview with him!
2018’s most off-the-wall comic book movie also happens to be one of its most darkly enjoyable and thoroughly entertaining. Scott Adkins’ long in-development pet project sees him tackle the role of Mike Fallon, a tough-as-nails assassin who specializes in making his hits look like horrible turns of fate for the dearly departed. When his pregnant ex-girlfriend is killed by a pair of his own colleagues, Mike goes on the hunt for the man who ordered the hit, with plenty of amazing kung fu bang for your buck, and decidedly adult humour along the way. And make no mistake, “Accident Man” is very much a black comedy that absolutely excels in this endeavour. Joined by an ensemble cast that includes Ray Park, Tim Man, Michael Jai White, and Amy Johnston, under the direction of stunt veteran Jesse Johnson, “Accident Man” hits you with as much dark humour as it does blazing martial arts action, never leaving you wanting for either. Indeed, if there’s any “wanting” it leaves you with at all, it’s to join Mike Fallon again for “Accident Man 2”. Be sure to also check out KFK’s exclusive interview with Scott Adkins at last year’s Fighting Spirit Film Festival where he shares the genius behind making his pet project a reality.
True, we’re at the third season’s interim of AMC’s “Into the Badlands” – the show taking the novel approach to hold off its last eight episodes until (the year following) release of its first eight. But wow, what an incredible first half season three is. Right from the start, “Into the Badlands” reminds viewers who’s boss when it comes to televised martial arts action, and it doesn’t let you forget for a second.
The scope and scale has only grown more expansive with every season, owing a lot to the show’s shooting location in the gorgeous mountain scenery of Ireland. The performances are once again great all round, with the engaging buddy duo of Daniel Wu and Nick Frost, and Emily Beecham’s cold and poised portrayal of the ruthless Widow.
Sherman Augustus is continuously captivating as the battle-hardened Nathaniel Moon, who almost steals the season near the end with a blood-drunk battle charge right out of “Saving Private Ryan”. And viewers are also finally treated to the fight that had to happen when M.K. uncovers a dark secret from Sunny’s past. We’re still waiting to see what the latter half of season three has in store, but it’s a foregone conclusion that the show’s dexterous newest addition, Lewis Tan, will be among its biggest highlights…
Boy, did we martial arts action aficionados get spoiled on Netflix last year! With three increasingly outstanding seasons to his name, The Man Without Fear continues to reign supreme as the king of all the Marvel-Netflix series. Even with the high standards set by the first two, season three is truly the best of the bunch. Matt Murdock is back in black, both figuratively and literally, and fights to bring down the Kingpin once and for all while battling his own inner demons, and a new deadly foe in the form of the vicious assassin, Bullseye.
The series continues to stand as the gold standard for how to do a contemporary ninja thriller with its absurdly amazing fight sequences, including the series’ most insane single-take hallway fight yet. And, for the first time, another battle elsewhere in the season rivals that set piece’s greatness with Daredevil’s “Predator”-esque first encounter with Bullseye.
Season three is also easily the most emotionally gripping of all the Marvel-Netflix shows, delving into the tragic backstory of Karen Page. And talk about hitting us in the feels, but Daredevil’s thunderous, heroic monologue in the finale is one of the best acted moments in ANY superhero property. With all but two of Marvel’s Netflix shows now cancelled, fans continue to hold out hope that they’ll make the move to the upcoming “Disney+” streaming service – definitely something to cross your fingers for. With its three superb seasons of action-packed, comic book greatness, “Daredevil” is truly “The Dark Knight” trilogy personified in a TV show!
…and in at #1 is…
It’s time to call it – for martial arts fans, Indonesia is officially the modern-day Hong Kong. Timo Tjahjanto’s “The Night Comes for Us” is as much of a fist-smashing bloodbath as you could ever lay eyes on, so anyone not comfortable with the sight of blood need not lay eyes on it. But for action geeks with appropriately strong stomachs, it’s simply nirvana to see two hours of Silat-driven mayhem when it’s done this well. Joe Taslim relishes the chance to headline the film in the role of a bad guy who becomes, well, less of a bad guy, while Iko Uwais goes on in for his first real villainous role.
However, Julie Estelle (aka ‘hammer girl’) gives a show stealing performance as the mysterious and highly formidable assassin known only as “Operator”, so much so that you can’t help but want to see her take the reins in a solo film. Indeed, if Tjahjanto’s recent social media activity is any indication, that may already be in the works!
With its exhilarating blend of horror movie violence, picture-perfect martial arts action, and surprisingly stirring emotional narrative, “The Night Comes for Us” grabs the trophy of 2018’s best martial arts film firmly with both hands!
So there we have it folks, our Top 10 Martial Arts Movies of 2018! Which on this list did you enjoy the most, what are you looking forward to see in 2019? (And yeah, we’re thinking you’ll soon be able to say “heeere’s Johnny!”) Let us know your thoughts in the comments below; Like, share and join in the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter & Instagram. (Stay tuned for more FU-Flix mayhem…more Top 10’s, giveaways and exclusive specials coming up for 2019, and subscribe for videos too!)