Any discussion of action movies would be incomplete without mentioning Jackie Chan. It’s required by law. He isn’t the only action star, but his achievements and influence on the genre are undeniably significant. The producers of Chan’s first movie tried to turn him become the next Bruce Lee, but in the late 1970s, Chan found his own unique style by mixing comedy with imaginative choreography. He has never looked back. Chan is the action star, having appeared in films like “Wheels on Meals” (1984), “Armour of God II: Operation Condor” (1991), and “Rush Hour” (1998), all of which included some of the best battle scenes ever.
Throughout the late 1970s and early ’90s, fans would be hard-pressed to identify a Chan film that didn’t live up to expectations. Not only would a list of Chan’s best battle sequences include many diverse possibilities, but the process of deciding which one is the best can be challenging. To clarify, I’m just looking at films starring Chan in the lead role, thus if “Enter the Dragon” (1973) appeared 14 times, “Attack of the Kung Fu Girls” (1973) would be the only picture to make the top 5. (I kid).
15. The Foreigner (2017)
Does it make sense for me to commence this list with a 2017 film after saying that Chan’s best years were over before the new millennium began? Yes, I have. However, even though “The Foreigner” is Chan’s most recent film, it is still a worthy addition to this list. A terrorist strike kills Chan’s daughter, and his dark background resurfaces as he pursues vengeance on the perpetrators of the attack. While Pierce Brosnan plays a politician and a former IRA member, Chan’s character is relentless in his pursuit of those responsible.
It’s no surprise that Martin Campbell, the filmmaker of a number of blockbuster action films, manages to craft a gripping story that also packs an emotional hit. One of his most dramatic performances, Chan portrays an angry guy who is capable of unleashing hell, even if the script doesn’t allow for large, action-packed set pieces. When Cliff Martinez scores your action-loving heart with cathartic violence, it’s music to your ears.
14. Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow (1978)
It’s no surprise “Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow” is the oldest film on this list, but it’s still a worthy contender. However, despite the fact that its plot revolves around the beating and humiliation of an innocent young man, it is nonetheless a revolutionary film. First and foremost, it is the directorial debut of legendary Hong Kong filmmaker Yuen Woo-ping, who would go on to choreograph fights in several films, including “The Matrix” (1999), “Kill Bill” (2003), as well as numerous Hong Kong films.
To showcase Yuen’s choreography and Chan’s physicality, the bare-bones plot alternates between slapstick and cruelty. As Chan’s approach evolves to integrate animal effects and motions, the result is a seemingly effortless show of control and precision (to that point, stick with the international versions, as they trim a nasty little brawl between a cobra and a house cat). However, a humorous scenario in which Chan tries to keep a floor clean may be the film’s action highlight.
13. Mr. Nice Guy (1997)
“Who Am I?” was released in 1998. Mr. Nice Guy, starring Sammo Hung, may be Chan’s last guaranteed good time. “Police Story 4: First Strike” (1996) was originally planned as the fifth “Police Story,” and the Australian locales and English-language script are clearly influenced by that film. Celebrity chef Chan stars in this film in which crooks assume that evidence of their crimes has ended up in his hands. Chan makes a feast out of the chef and his friends when they try to take them down.
If you’re skeptical of my sincerity, “WhoAmI?” is a fun mix of casual excitement, hilarity, and the odd villain. After starring together in Chan’s manga-inspired “City Hunter” (1993), Richard Norton returns as the big evil, and he’s both a brilliant fighter and an excellent ham. In order to get there, there are some exciting setpieces, including a violent construction-site brawl.
12. The Young Master (1980)
A year after directing his first feature film, Chan returned to the big screen with a greater understanding of pace, character, and combat direction. While hunting for his brother in “The Young Master,” Chan’s character ends up being mistaken for an escaped convict. He’s thrown into a lot of conflicts, but he doesn’t need any training – he just needs to be inspired. They are happy to oblige, which results in a succession of setpieces that are, despite the odd comedic dress-up, grave affairs.
The film’s bookends provide the film’s biggest peaks, which are sprinkled throughout. An intricately choreographed dragon-like paper-lion dance is the film’s opening, while the film’s final battle is the one that audiences are most likely to anticipate to see on screen. For around 15 minutes or so, it takes place atop a hill with views in all directions. After a series of humiliating defeats, our hero Chan finally snaps and becomes unstoppable after taking a sip of bong water just before the final blow.
11. Police Story IV: First Strike (1996)
There’s no more Maggie Cheung in this installment of “Police Story,” but “First Strike” is still a lot of sun-drenched fun. During a mission to Ukraine, Chan’s Hong Kong police officer is entangled with the CIA and transported to Australia (by way of a Russian submarine). Stanley Tong is again in charge this time around! To be fair, the major action beats keep things interesting, and the general ridiculousness never interferes with the action.
All of Chan’s fighting prowess is on full show. We’ve never seen Chan do anything like this before, from the early snowbound brawls to an underwater bout interrupted by a ravenous (and funny) shark. As an example of Chan’s brilliance when using a ladder, he interrupts a memorial service with the hopes of merely speaking with the visitors. Instead, the visitors attack him. “Police Story IV,” like “Supercop,” ditches the heaviness of the previous two films in the series in favor of lighthearted fun.
10. Crime Story (1993)
Chan’s career is dominated by comedic roles in which he gets to show off his kicking and screaming skills, but he has also appeared in dramatic roles. One such example is “Crime Story.”. It’s almost like a “Police Story” picture without the laughs. Even though Chan is a cop, a rule-breaker, and a ruthless enforcer of justice, this time he’s only interested in getting the job done and not getting involved in any romantic shenanigans or frivolous action beats. There are some who won’t follow him down this path, but Chan more than holds up as an actor while still providing some of the best action sequences in the business.
When a Chinese CEO is kidnapped, Hong Kong police officer Chan Ka-Kui is sent to investigate the case. Gunfights, scuffles, and fast-paced automobile chases follow, but the focus is firmly on the drama. Some may find that strange, yet it works. This film has a deeper emotional tone than other Hong Kong action films since Chan’s cop is traumatized by the bloodshed. Director Kirk Wong has created a truly gripping thriller, and I can guarantee that it will be worth your while.
9. Police Story 2 (1988)
In “Police Story 2,” the story and characters from the original film are retold. In addition to being the target of the first film’s villains, Chan’s character is also the subject of a new threat involving a series of explosions. However, the second half of the picture largely forgoes action in favor of character development and plot, which contributes to the film’s perceived lower quality, yet it works and provides a few laughs. And when the action does begin, it’s devastating.
After some scum kidnap Chan’s woman and force him to unleash hell, a restaurant brawl and a scorching playground brawl whet the appetite for what was to come. It’s no exaggeration to say that the pyrotechnics go off in a factory full of them. Ten minutes of Chan against various baddies, featuring fights, stunts, and a prank that left Cheung with scalp sutures, are featured in this film. In the end, everything goes up in flames with the help of various types of fireworks and explosives.
8. Drunken Master (1978)
“Drunken Master” is a follow-up to “Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow,” which was released just seven months before to “Drunken Master.” Chan is once again thrust into a flurry of turmoil as the action moves at breakneck speed. The bad guy beats him after a long and difficult training session, but not before he loses to his aunt and a villain infamous for his “Devil’s Kick.”
The film’s portrayal of Wong Fei-hung, a character admired and widely adapted, is innovative. Chan was the first to properly poke fun at the character of the real-life physician-slash-martial artist in more than a hundred films. A zany, obnoxious, and occasionally belligerent Wong is shown by Chan, and this serves the picture well by providing a distinct character arc and personality.
7. Mr. Canton and Lady Rose (1989)
“Mr. Canton and Lady Rose” doesn’t have a lot of action, but don’t let that put you off. “Miracles,” “Black Dragon,” and “The Canton Godfather” are just a few of the many titles the picture has been released under. When Chan buys a rose from an elderly woman, his fortunes suddenly improves. The film is a loose replica of Frank Capra’s “Pocketful of Miracles” (1961). In the end, he rises to the top of the thugs’ organization, but his attempts to rein them in lead to a slew of misadventures.
In spite of the film’s focus on comedy, romance, and generosity, there’s still plenty of action. There are a number of close-quarters brawls and beatdowns throughout the film, but the third act battle in a rope factory is a standout, including stunning acrobatics and stunning beatdowns. For all of its action, Chan’s film portrays 1930s Hong Kong as no other director has before, thanks to the film’s stunning period detail shots, fluid camerawork, and impeccably crafted production design. Didn’t I mention Anita Mui as the film’s female protagonist?
6. Rumble in the Bronx (1995)
Rumble in the Bronx is a shamelessly amusing blast, even if I receive a lot of flak for it. Channing Tatum and director Stanley Tong are just having fun and showing off Chan’s incredible physical abilities and the stunning mountain surroundings outside of New York City in this film. In addition to the fact that this picture introduced Chan to the American public, it also has a lot of crazy and insane action chops to back it up.
Chan portrays a tourist in “NYC” who is confronted by gangs and chaos in the neighborhood. Only to learn the hard way that you can use anything at your disposal as a weapon when confronted by him. Comedic styling does not interfere with the action, which is frequent and rapid and a lot of fun despite its exaggeration. Even before a large hovercraft approaches ashore, threatening to run over a youngster, and finally gets gutted by an extraordinarily inventive maneuver..
5. Dragons Forever (1988)
Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao make up the Holy Trinity, at the risk of sounding blasphemous. Their second biggest success as a movie partnership is “Dragons Forever,” in which all three of them shine as brilliant martial artists with incredibly engaging on-screen personas. There is a chemical company that is doing bad things and the three individuals who get together to stop them: a lawyer, a weapons dealer, and an inventor.
For 90 minutes, the three actors get to show off their technical prowess while also engaging in comedic exchanges, romantic pursuits, and the occasional politically incorrect comment – after all, this was the 1980s! It’s a four-year rematch with Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, who beat them in “Wheels on Meals” four years earlier. Incredibly, Yuen Wah, the cigar-smoking boss, isn’t the only star of this show, as he strikes with a perfect economy of motion and has a greater handle on stairways than you ever could.
4. Police Story III: Supercop (1992)
Not only does the franchise move its headquarters from Hong Kong to the mainland, but it also adds a number of new features. Since Chan’s previous films, women have always served as a prop or a punchline. In “Supercop,” he finally has the guts to let a woman be a badass. Michelle Yeoh joins the operation and shows that she is every bit the fighter and action star that everyone expects her to be in this film. She’s also got a knack for humorous banter, so the two of them together are a hoot.
As the two go undercover to break down a drug lord’s business, the movie offers the anticipated mix of combat and stunts, and it all feels grander as a result. Stanley Tong is in charge of directing the film, and he seems more at ease with the flamboyant spectacle than the gritty details of the battle scenes. Even though some of the battle scenes are edited to look a little stiffer, the overall effect is still a wildly entertaining movie. A highlight for everyone involved is the grand finale with trains, motorcycles, and helicopters, but Chan lets Yeoh’s stunt prowess shine brightest during this sequence. with the exception of 2011’s “Kung Fu Panda 2”)
3. Project A (1983)
In “Project A” and its sequel, “Project A 2,” Chan defied expectations by including pirates in a Hong Kong martial arts film (1987). A Coast Guard Cadet turned Police Officer turned Rogue Hero, he portrays Dragon Ma, who discovers a corrupt police agency conspiring with pirates. That’s not going to stand, so Ma enlists the help of Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung, both of whom are always welcome. With this picture, the three gifted pals have more screen time than they had in their beloved “Lucky Stars” trilogy, which didn’t make it on this list due to their lack of screen time and the amount of objectively poor comedy.
There are multiple battle scenes in the film, but what really stands out are the set pieces and stunts. Whether he’s dangling from a clocktower like Harold Lloyd or chasing after a bicycle like Buster Keaton, Chan is constantly putting himself in perilous and comical circumstances. When he finally hit the ground after that clocktower fall, he almost broke his neck. Cutting Island, the 1995 film, is not what you’re looking at here.
2. Drunken Master II (1994)
While most of Chan’s films from the 1980s and 1990s were action flicks set in the present day, this follow-up to his 1978 classic is a period piece. In “Drunken Master II,” Chan reprises his role as the rambunctious son of a respectable man, and his antics get his family into problems this time around, too. A British gang tries to sneak Chinese artifacts out of the country, and Chan’s Wong Fei-hung is pitted against them, as is his father, who is continually disappointed.
With three iconic setpieces interspersed with smaller bursts of joy, the action never stops being fantastic, brutal, and stunning. When Chan and Lau Kar-leung first meet, they are forced to battle stooped over in limited spaces as they fight beneath a train and a platform. Later, they join forces for a storied teahouse brawl in which they take on dozens of gangsters with every bench, chair, and pole they can find. After Chan’s final bout with Ken Lo, a top-five match on Chan’s resume, he is beaten, bloodied, and nearly bursting with wrath as he drinks rage-inducing booze.
1. Police Story (1985)
However, “Police Story” is still the apex of Chan and spectacular stunts. Chan had already demonstrated an interest in this style before to 1985. Even Michael Bay and Sylvester Stallone were inspired by the opening shantytown montage, which they used in their respective films “Bad Boys II” (1993) and “Tango & Cash” (1989). The first 20 minutes of this film have more stunning visuals and scientific marvels about the human body than the entirety of most other films. Eighty minutes remain in the game.
A police officer is pushed to the limit by villains who are outplaying the legal system, and his efforts to bring them down result in both chuckles and wince-inducing violence. An extensively orchestrated home invasion is followed by an even more intricately staged vehicle attack, both of which have excellent comedy choreography. It’s hard to imagine a better ending than the one in the mall, with Chan managing multiple phone calls. With Bill Tung, Maggie Cheung, and Brigitte Lin rounding out the cast, this is the best Jackie Chan film among the many that have come before it.