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The 16 best fighting movies of all time

Does your favorite fighting movie make the list?

Fight Club press image
FlixPix / Alamy

It may sound a bit barbaric, but it’s undeniable that human beings love to watch one another fight. The magic of the movies allows us to enjoy that pleasure safely in the knowledge that, at least most of the time, no one actually got hurt. On the big screen, fighting takes a wide variety of different forms. Sometimes it’s boxing, sometimes it’s kung fu, and sometimes it’s much more street-level, down-and-dirty battling. All of these styles of fighting can be done well, and many of them have made it into some great action movies over the years.

For this list, though, we’ve narrowed down the focus specifically so that the films involve some form of combat sport. We’ve also gathered some of the best sports movies of all time that you should check out if you’re looking for something a little broader. For now, though, check out this list of the best fighting movies ever made.

Never Back Down (2008)

Never Back Down
39 %
pg-13 115m
Genre Drama, Action
Stars Sean Faris, Amber Heard, Cam Gigandet
Directed by Jeff Wadlow
There aren’t very many fighting movies that are also set in high school, but Never Back Down sits at that unusual intersection. The story follows a frustrated and conflicted teenager named Jake Tyler (Sean Faris) as he arrives at a new school. Of course, the movie takes an interesting turn when he is lured into an underground fighting club and ends up with a personal nemesis that he can only defeat with help from a veteran of mixed martial arts.

Bloodsport (1988)

29 %
r 92m
Genre Action, Drama
Stars Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bolo Yeung, Donald Gibb
Directed by Newt Arnold
If you’re looking for an ’80s action movie with more of a focus on fighting, Bloodsport may fit the bill perfectly. 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 anytime two people square up. Bloodsport was one of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s breakout roles, and this movie is a great way to dig into the action star’s larger filmography.

Fight Club (1999)

Fight Club
66 %
Genre Drama
Stars Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Helena Bonham Carter
Directed by David Fincher

Fight Club is certainly one of the best David Fincher movies. Based on Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, the film follows some young, aggravated men who decide the best way to solve their problems is to kick the crap out of each other. Thanks to a famous twist ending, Fight Club is remembered as one of the best movies of the ’90s, and it also features 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.

Real Steel (2011)

Real Steel
56 %
Genre Action, Science Fiction, Drama
Stars Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Evangeline Lilly
Directed by Shawn Levy
Though not your typical boxing movie, Real Steel has all of the elements of a great one but with some added flair from its sci-fi elements. The movie stars Hugh Jackman as a struggling ex-boxer who just so happens to stumble upon some undiscovered talent that he is determined to harness. 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 that he wants to whip into fighting shape.

Enter the Dragon (1973)

Enter the Dragon
83 %
r 102m
Genre Action
Stars Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly
Directed by Robert Clouse
Widely considered one of the best movies of 1973 and one of the best martial arts movies of all time, Enter The Dragon is also the best Bruce Lee movie of all time, and 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 ’70s charm.

Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Million Dollar Baby
86 %
Genre Drama
Stars Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman
Directed by Clint Eastwood

Winner of four Oscars, Million Dollar Baby certainly ranks among the best Clint Eastwood movies. The movie 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 turns her into a viable fighter, the two develop an emotional bond that will shape them for the rest of their lives.

The Karate Kid (1984)

The Karate Kid
60 %
pg 126m
Genre Action, Family, Drama
Stars Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, Elisabeth Shue
Directed by John G. Avildsen
Though not quite as intense as UFC fights or other forms of mixed martial arts, karate remains one of the most popular fighting forms in the US. The Karate Kid was a large part of that and has continued to influence the world of fighting movies even decades later. It has even spurred a hugely popular Netflix series, Cobra Kai, which is worth checking out if you were a diehard fan of the original movie.

The Fighter (2010)

The Fighter
79 %
Genre Drama
Stars Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams
Directed by David O. Russell

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 falling 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.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
94 %
pg-13 120m
Genre Adventure, Drama, Action, Romance
Stars Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi
Directed by Ang Lee
One of the best Kung Fu movies, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a timeless feature from Ang Lee that changed what kung fu movies could be. In the film, 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 and love instead. 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 when it was first released.

Warrior (2011)

71 %
pg-13 140m
Genre Drama, Action
Stars Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Jennifer Morrison
Directed by Gavin O'Connor
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.

Ip Man (2008)

Ip Man
59 %
Genre Drama, Action, History
Stars Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Lynn Hung
Directed by Wilson Yip
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 likely to fit the bill perfectly. It should also be noted that the 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 most fans of big-screen fighting.

Rocky (1976)

70 %
pg 120m
Genre Drama
Stars Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young
Directed by John G. Avildsen
Written by and starring Sylvester Stallone, Rocky is the rough and tough underdog boxer story that still feels fresh more than 40 years after its release. Rocky is a little-known boxer and Philadelphia local who is randomly chosen to fight the heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). To prepare for the fight, he must overcome physical and emotional obstacles he never thought he could tackel. Beautifully written, this film does more than tell a great sports story. It’s a story of personal victory and perhaps the quintessential example of a character defying insanely long odds. While this film is entirely fictional, it does feature some overlap with the greatest boxing matches of all time,

Creed (2015)

Genre Drama, Action
Stars Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson
Directed by Ryan Coogler
Rocky is the kind of triumph that probably should never have been sequelized. When it was, though, it turned into one of the great sports franchises in the history of filmed entertainment. When it came time to reboot it, we can only be grateful that Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan were the team taking over. The first Creed is a genuine triumph, filled with incredible fight choreography and genuinely moving moments, especially from Sly Stallone, who slides into the role of the mentor with delicacy and ease.
Creed - Official Trailer [HD]

The Wrestler (2008)

The Wrestler
Genre Drama, Romance
Stars Mickey Rourke, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Telling the story of a long past-his-prime wrestler who tries to settle down and leave the ring behind, The Wrestler is a movie that’s totally unafraid of showing how bruising professional wrestling can be. Not many movies take the antics of these athletes and entertainers seriously, but The Wrestler offers a genuinely moving portrait of a man who doesn’t know how to separate who he is as a person from who he is in the ring.

Raging Bull (1980)

Raging Bull
Genre Drama, History
Stars Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Cathy Moriarty
Directed by Martin Scorsese

One of Robert De Niro’s definitive performances also happens to be a great boxing movie. Telling the story of a middleweight boxer who finds success in the ring, even as he struggles to express himself outside of it, Raging Bull is really an examination of the ways masculinity and anger can destroy your life if you let it. Raging Bull is not always an easy movie to watch, but every moment set in the ring is a genuinely wonderful piece of filmmaking, and up there with the best stuff Martin Scorsese has ever done.

Southpaw (2015)

Genre Action, Drama
Stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker
Directed by Antoine Fuqua

The plot of Southpaw is pretty conventional, but the performance of Jake Gyllenhaal in the role of Billy Hope is what makes the film memorable. Gyllenhaal excellently portrays the struggles of a man who is trying to keep his head above the water both inside of the ring and outside of it. Marital distress is one of the main themes in the movie.

Editors' Recommendations

Movie images and data from:
Jacob Kienlen
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Jacob Kienlen was a culture writer for The Manual. Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, he has considered the Northwest his…
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