Cobra Kai is the TV show everyone is talking about. What started as a fun little web television series based on The Karate Kid and broadcast on YouTube has become essential viewing on Netflix. Blending comedy and drama with high kicks and high nostalgia, part of the show’s success stems from the fact it offers a fresh perspective on the adventures of Daniel LaRusso et al.
Cobra Kai is as much the story of Johnny Lawrence, LaRusso’s old foe from all those years ago, and the struggles he has endured in the years since. But this only tells half the story, and while there are two seasons and 20 episodes to enjoy, with a third series on the way, that’s not nearly enough for fans’ liking, and many are looking for films that share some of Cobra Kai’s DNA and are available to watch on Netflix right now.
10 Never Back Down
A modern-day take on The Karate Kid formula, Never Back Down may lack originality, but it more than makes up for it in sheer, brutal MMA action. The plot centers around Jake (Sean Faris), a teen rebel who becomes embroiled in an underground fight club at his new high school.
Things take a sinister turn, however, when he becomes a target of sadistic local martial arts champion, Ryan (Cam Gigandet), building to one almighty showdown. A surprisingly authentic effort, Faris gained 15 pounds of muscle for the film and even broke a bone in his back during one of his fight scenes.
9 Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story
Written and directed by Rob Cohen, who went on to make the first Fast and Furious movie, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story is not so much a biopic, but rather a celebration of the Bruce Lee legend. Largely based on the book, Bruce Lee: The Man Only I Knew, by his wife Linda Lee Cadwell, as well as interviews with friends and family, it charts his rise from martial arts teacher in Hong Kong to Hollywood movie icon.
Jason Scott Lee shines as the man himself, while Cohen imbues the film’s hero-worship narrative with a sense of mysticism and includes some eye-catching fight choreography. It’s a colorful and creative kung-fu film.
Joel Edgerton tore his MCL while Tom Hardy suffered broken ribs, a broken toe, and a broken finger in the process of making Warrior. It was all worth it though, with the pair taking center stage as two estranged brothers who set themselves on a collision course for one another after entering a mixed martial arts tournament.
A no-holds-barred Rocky-style tale, Warrior’s true strength lies in the fact that the drama of the action inside the Octagon is more than matched by the emotional drama unfolding out of it, with Nick Nolte on scene-stealing form as the pair’s reformed alcoholic dad.
7 Sudden Death
Director Peter Hyams and Jean-Claude Van Damme had already scored one big hit together with Timecop before they reteamed for this entertaining take on the Die Hard formula. Van Damme plays Darren McCord (his name even sounds like a riff on John McClane), an ex-fireman who uncovers a deadly hostage plot involving the Vice President during the seventh game of the NHL Stanley Cup finals.
It’s up to McCord and his impressive array of high kicks to save the day and prevent Powers Boothe’s brilliant bad guy Joshua Foss from getting away. Big, dumb, and lots of fun, Sudden Death is peak JCVD.
Not to be confused with the Russell Crowe swords-and-sandals epic, this Gladiator centers around the world of illegal underground boxing and an intriguing face-off between two young fighters. In one corner, there’s the protagonist, Tommy Riley, played by James Marshall of Twin Peaks fame, a shy high schooler boxing to pay off his father’s gambling debts.
In the other, there’s Cuba Gooding Jr.’s Abraham Lincoln Haines, a boxer just striving for a better life. Exploited by Brian Dennehy’s unscrupulous boxing promoter, Jimmy Horn, there are twists and turns aplenty in a film that blends social commentary alongside exciting, Rocky-style fight scenes.
5 Creed II
While Creed established Michael B. Jordan as the rightful heir to Rocky Balboa’s throne, it wasn’t until the sequel that fans saw Adonis really flex his muscles. Much like Cobra Kai, Creed II blends old and new with a plot that sees Adonis out for revenge in the ring against Viktor Drago, the dead-eyed Russian fighter and son of former Soviet golden boy, Ivan Drago.
Most know the history, but to the uninformed: Ivan took the life of Apollo Creed, Adonis’s dad, during a fatal fight that featured in Rocky IV. It’s a thrilling and infinitely more nuanced chapter in the boxing saga.
4 The Fighter
Christian Bale won an Oscar for his performance in The Fighter. He plays Dicky Eklund, a once-famous boxer turned addict who still dreams of returning to the ring. While Bale’s performance is electric, the film belongs to Mark Wahlberg as protagonist Micky Ward, the downtrodden younger brother who, after years of toil, is given a shot at greatness.
Based on the true-life exploits of the Eklund-Ward family, Bale lost weight to better resemble Eklund, while Wahlberg underwent years of boxing training, even receiving guidance from fight legend Manny Pacquaio to ensure that his performance was authentic as possible. It all paid off.
No Retreat, No Surrender may have represented Van Damme’s first major film role of any note, but it was Bloodsport that announced him as a bona fide star. The kind of movie that inspired a whole generation of kids to take up martial arts, one can almost imagine a thousand real-life Daniel LaRussos and Johnny Lawrences heading to their local dojo after watching this Cannon Films epic.
A classic of the genre, Bloodsport sees Van Damme step into the shoes of Frank Dux for a story supposedly based on his real-life experience of leaving the army to compete in a potentially fatal martial arts tournament, known as the Kumite.
2 Ip Man
Ip Man may not be an obvious choice. It’s a period piece and strikingly different in tone to Cobra Kai. But make no mistake: this is a modern-day martial arts movie classic and a film that any true fight fan should tick off their list.
It stars the masterful Donnie Yen, arguably the best martial arts movie star on the planet today. It also boasts some of the best fight choreography to ever grace the big screen, chronicling the real-life story of the grandmaster who taught Bruce Lee everything he knew. It’s an exciting and surprisingly refreshing martial arts movie.
1 The Debt Collector
British up-and-comer Scott Adkins has been making some of the best martial arts movies around. Those with a stronger stomach may want to seek out Avengement, which is also on Netflix, but fans seeking a little more fun alongside the fisticuffs are better served by The Debt Collector.
It’s a simple enough premise: Adkins plays a classically-trained martial artist enlisted to work as a debt collector for the mob. Things soon escalate, leading to any number of memorable encounters, with a few enjoyable quips thrown in for good measure. A fun B-movie that deserves a bigger audience, The Debt Collector has already spawned a sequel.
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