Once upon a time, Bruce Lee, Jim Kelly, and John Saxon visited a crime boss’ private island to compete in a fighting tournament and it was awesome. The 1973 movie Enter the Dragon is basically the prototype for the fighting games like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter. And when those fighting games became popular, they inspired their own movies that either tried to emulate Enter the Dragon or do something completely new.
The ‘90s gave us the cheesy live-action fighting game movies from Hollywood and the animated movies from Japan. There have been several live-action Mortal Kombat movies as well as a few animated ones. There have also been multiple Street Fighter movies, four attempts at Tekken, a trilogy of Fatal Fury films, and more.
Are most of them bad? Yes. But did we pick our 10 favorite fighting game movies anyway? You bet. Here are our picks:
10. ART OF FIGHTING (1993)
The Art of Fighting series is mostly defined by the twist that the first game’s final boss is the main character’s father and the second game’s final boss is a younger incarnation of the villain from Fatal Fury. Take away those aspects and you’re left with a rather lowkey storyline for a fighting game where a teenage girl is kidnapped by a mobster and is rescued by her brother and her boyfriend.
Wait, the way I wrote that sounds gross. Her brother and her boyfriend are two different people. Well, except in Capcom, where Dan Hibiki is literally both of them merged into one character. Huh. Does that mean Dan dates his own sister…?
In the 45-minute Art of Fighting movie about Ryo and Robert, who are like chiller and dopier versions of Ryu and Ken, we watch as the duo gets sucked into a plot about stolen diamonds, martial arts criminals, and angry police lieutenants. It doesn’t take itself seriously and it’s a fine, breezy watch.
Ryo’s incorrect hair color kind of irks me, though.
9. STREET FIGHTER ALPHA: THE ANIMATION (1999)
This movie suffers from the same problem as Fatal Fury: The Motion Picture. It features a cast of heroes from a fighting game taking on a villain created for the movie instead of the villains we actually give a shit about. But the movie does also have some brief but awesome cameos (Kim Kaphwan and Geese Howard from Fatal Fury and Dan Hibiki and Akuma from Street Fighter Alpha) to brighten up a less-than-stellar plot.
Street Fighter Alpha: The Animation does at least get by because the original characters play up Ryu’s whole fear about being overcome by “the Dark Hadou.” This leads to some cool animations where Evil Ryu looks like a mindless, shambling zombie but also an unstoppable fighting machine.
The movie’s main storyline is about a kid named Shun who claims that he’s Ryu’s long-lost brother. He too is a fighter cursed with an inner dark side, which is used as a red herring to suggest that Shun’s father (and presumably Ryu’s father) is actually Akuma. That ends up being bupkis and Shun is just linked to some scheme by a mad scientist or whatever.
Probably the funniest thing about this movie is the directors’ infatuation with Chun-Li’s midsection. She’s wearing her form-fitting Street Fighter Alpha costume and there are dozens upon dozens of random close-ups to her lower torso from the front and back. If this were a drinking game, it would kill you.
8. FATAL FURY 2: THE NEW BATTLE (1993)
Of the Fatal Fury movie trilogy, this one is easily the best, even if it makes all the good guys seem like a bunch of overly-serious crybabies. The basic story is that after having avenged his father’s death, Terry hits rock bottom, dusts himself off, and comes out the other end stronger. Good, good. Going Rocky III is the perfect direction for a follow-up.
The problem is that Terry comes off as a bit of a whiner and the other heroes try way too hard to vilify the movie’s main antagonist, who hasn’t actually done anything that terrible. Krauser shows up one day, challenges Terry to a fight, wins, and says, “Okay, when you get better, train and fight me again.” Krauser isn’t trying to take over the world or murder orphans or whatever. He’s just a dude with huge shoulder armor who wants a good fight.
But everyone acts like Krauser’s the absolute worst. Terry starts drinking and falls to pieces while his buddies hope to get revenge. What a bunch of jerks.
While a fun romp, the worst thing about this sequel is how they redesigned Krauser. Gone is his mustache and forehead scar for the sake of making him seem younger. Kind of a bullshit move, considering he’s supposed to be the half-brother to middle-aged Geese Howard.
7. TEKKEN: THE MOTION PICTURE (1998)
This hour-long anime is almost great but just can’t stick the landing. It runs into the same problem as Mortal Kombat: Annihilation where the game series tells a specific overall story but the movie cuts corners to tell the same story. Tekken: The Motion Picture covers the first Tekken while setting up Tekken 3 and skipping Tekken 2 completely.
It means that everything’s well and good until the confusing and rushed finale. Otherwise, the movie is a fine use of the Enter the Dragon formula. Heihachi Mishima has a special island fighting tournament and the entrants include his vengeful son, a couple of cops investigating the situation, a gigantic robot, an angry Native American girl, two feuding assassin sisters, and a bunch of awesome characters who only get about three full frames of appearances each. Really would have liked to see something from Paul, King, and Yoshimitsu, though.
Other than Kazuya being pissed at everything, the best scenes are the over-the-top ones. When Jack does crazy robot stuff, when dinosaurs show up and start eating people, and that memorable sequence where Heihachi catches a hatchet with his mouth and then shatters it with his jaw.
6. STREET FIGHTER (1994)
I know this movie is just a GI Joe script with Street Fighter names pasted over it. I know it’s a cheesefest of dopey ideas and Belgian accents. I’ve long accepted that. Thing is, the movie is still a total blast to watch. What it lacks in faithfulness to the source material, it makes up for with pure camp and ham.
The 16 characters from Super Street Fighter II are represented here, except Fei Long is replaced with the forgettable Captain Sawada. How ironic that the movie star character isn’t even in the movie!
In general, the movie features some head-scratching depictions of classic Street Fighter characters. All-American Guile is played by Jean Claude Van Damme, Charlie Nash and Blanka are the same character, Dee Jay is an evil hacker, Ryu and Ken are comedic conmen, and Dhalsim is a frumpy scientist.
It’s Raul Julia’s M. Bison who keeps this guilty pleasure afloat. He’s to Street Fighter what Frank Langella’s Skeletor was to Masters of the Universe. He gives 110% and his performance is easily the best reason to watch this movie. It’s truly a wonder to behold.
The movie is infamous for inspiring a fighting game based on it, but you know what nobody ever talks about? The Double Dragon movie also had a fighting game based on it made by Technos and released on the Neo Geo. And Double Dragon wasn’t even a one-on-one fighter to begin with!
Anyway, if you intend to sit back and watch Street Fighter, make sure to add in the RiffTrax commentary.
5. DOA: DEAD OR ALIVE (2006)
Enter the Dragon meets Charlie’s Angels is a heck of a concept, but DOA: Dead or Alive is so confidently tongue-in-cheek that it succeeds as an action comedy that’s way better than it has any right to be. Part of why it works is that Dead or Alive has never had much of an overarching storyline, but is more defined by the individual characters (plus, you know, all the cheesecake). Enough of those characters appear in what’s your regular “fighting tournament on a mysterious island” setup.
The whole thing moves with such energy that it’s easy to get sucked in. It’s the opposite of the live-action Tekken movie, where even though the film features accurate versions of all the characters, everything is so drab and lifeless that you just can’t wait for it to be over. In DOA, the combatants spend their downtime playing cartoony action volleyball with Fake Dennis Rodman on commentary, while in Tekken everyone mopes about dystopian capitalism.
Other than Helena’s character being “important dead guy’s daughter,” most of the main characters are charismatic enough to keep your attention during the 3% of the movie when fights aren’t happening. It must suck for Ninja Gaiden fans that Hayabusa is depicted as a total dweeb, but he at least gets to do some cool stuff here and there.
The movie also has Kevin Nash playing a character based on Hollywood Hogan and he’s so likeable that I’m genuinely bummed that he peaces out about halfway into the movie. Luckily, the movie is entertaining enough that I didn’t even notice until after it was over. It helps that during that time, we get more of Eric Roberts, his amazing hair, and his special sunglasses that turn him into the ultimate martial arts master.
Spoiler alert, but the secret to defeating him is, get this, removing his sunglasses!
4. MORTAL KOMBAT LEGENDS: SCORPION’S REVENGE (2020)
It took a while, but Warner Bros. Animation is on fire these days. After that Batman vs. TMNT movie and Teen Titans Go vs. Teen Titans, the studio appears to be hitting more than they miss. That’s exactly the kind of team needed to put together the latest animated Mortal Kombat movie.
This is the umpteenth retelling of the first game’s story. Not only does it have to compete with the first live-action movie, but also the events of Mortal Kombat 9, which depicts the tournament in cutscene format. Fortunately, Scorpion’s Revenge has a few tricks up its sleeve. First, it puts Scorpion in the forefront as the protagonist. He was barely a character in the original movie and the game just had him kill Sub-Zero and feel bad about it for the rest of the story mode. Now he feels like a character in a crossover, making a mark on the original story instead of being put in the sidelines.
We also have the wonderful stunt casting of Joel McHale as Johnny Cage. More importantly, Jennifer Carpenter plays Sonya Blade, which is such a step up from Ronda Rousey’s voice acting in Mortal Kombat 11.
This cartoon has a very hard R when it comes to violence. From the very beginning, Scorpion’s origins are gruesome and grisly. Once Jax is introduced, it doesn’t take long until we realize, “Oh, that’s how they’re dealing with THAT plot point in this continuity.” Then there’s a surprise villain death late in the movie that not only comes as a shocking development, but it’s so graphic and nasty that you can’t help but be taken aback.
Scorpion’s Revenge is a fantastic first chapter of what is hopefully a series of animated movies, but it does have its pacing issues. Scorpion being the protagonist may be a welcome change, but at times it does feel like a square peg being crammed into a round hole.
3. TEKKEN: BLOOD VENGEANCE (2011)
One of the best things about the Tekken series is the endings. While the cutscenes from the first couple games haven’t exactly aged well, these CGI epilogues have become a staple in nearly every installment. What better reward for your time and success than watching a rocking action sequence with Yoshimitsu and Bryan Fury killing each other in the jungle?
And so, to play to the series’ strengths, Bandai Entertainment released a Tekken movie that’s really just one big ending cutscene. It’s not canon, but it feels at home with the games.
Since Tekken’s main conflict is with two ruthless megalomaniacs (Heihachi and Kazuya) and a disgruntled nihilist (Jin), it’s hard to treat any of them as a real protagonist here. Instead, they go with Ling Xiaoyu, who is portrayed as the person who sees the good in Jin and wants him to see the light. She’s given a robotic BFF in Alisa Bosconovitch because Xiaoyu is kind of a tame character and needs someone with chainsaw arms and a jetpack to liven things up.
The first hour or so is good enough to keep your attention and its lightened up by a couple appearances by Tekken’s best character, Lee. But once it gets to the third act, it just becomes a completely awesome Heihachi vs. Kazuya vs. Jin fight, with Xiaoyu taking a backseat to watch all the crazy shit going on. It’s a full-on fireworks factory, as we not only see Devil forms of Kazuya and Jin but a very special final form for Heihachi that’s a true delight for Tekken fans.
2. STREET FIGHTER II: THE ANIMATED MOVIE (1994)
Let it be said that for someone who grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, finding a faithful cartoon adaptation of a video game property was not easy. Link and Simon Belmont were unlikable sexual harassers. Mega Man was a more annoying sidekick than Scrappy Doo. Mario and Luigi teamed up with Milli Vanilli. Power Team was…a thing. When we got an animated movie based on Street Fighter II, it was mind-blowing. This was a movie where the very first scene was Ryu tearing Sagat’s chest into a bloody gash thanks to a well-animated Shoryuken.
There’s a lot going on in this movie, but at the same time, nothing is going on. By this point, there were 17 characters in the various Street Fighter II games, and outside of a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Akuma cameo, it feels the need to include every single one of them. Some get minor roles, like Cammy and Dee Jay. Then there’s Zangief and Blanka, who fight each other for no reason other than for the sake of giving them something to do. Even Ryu vanishes for a huge chunk of the runtime.
Once everything funnels into the third act, this movie is great. And the earlier fight scenes are straight fire too, including the memorable Chun-Li vs. Vega brawl. Even though the movie already feels true to Street Fighter II, it’s even better when you realize that it’s all supposed to be a prequel to the game itself.
Or at least I hope so. Otherwise, all Sagat gets to do is get his ass kicked by Ryu and get chewed out by Bison.
1. MORTAL KOMBAT (1995)
The stars truly aligned for this one. Mortal Kombat Mania was at its peak, so it makes sense that this movie was a retelling of the first game’s story with added aspects from the second game, all while hyping up the arcade release of the third game. CGI was such a novelty in Hollywood in the ’90s that even if it looked primitive, it still looked cutting edge at the time. It was the perfect time to release this movie.
But Mortal Kombat isn’t perfect. Reptile is embarrassing. Scorpion and Sub-Zero being relegated to goons still stings. I still roll my eyes at the part towards the end where Sonya is suddenly the damsel in distress and Raiden flat-out verbally buries her by saying she couldn’t beat Shang Tsung in a million years. Otherwise, it’s the perfect storm of ‘90s action garbage.
There are so many over-the-top and charismatic performances here. Johnny Cage, Raiden, Shang Tsung, Kano, and even Goro are a blast to watch. All 10 characters from the original game are given something to do and, most importantly, they realize how uniquely weird the game’s story is and actually dive headfirst into it. The movie isn’t embarrassed to be a Mortal Kombat movie but handles itself well enough that we aren’t embarrassed to be watching a Mortal Kombat movie.
Even with a PG-13 rating, the movie was violent enough. Kano talked up seeing a pile of frozen guts in the wake of a Sub-Zero fight, Scorpion got his skull sliced apart with demon brain goo spewing all over the place, and Shang Tsung got impaled to death.
With the reboot being rated R, going for the gore could very well be the right route to go, but for the love of the Elder Gods, don’t forget to have FUN. All I’m saying is, if even Johnny Cage isn’t hamming it up, then what’s the point?