One of the most known actors in Hollywood - and probably the world - is the legend that was Bruce Lee. From the moment he stepped onto the screens of Hong Kong cinemas to his transition to movies in the United States, and even long after his tragic death, his name and legacy have not only impacted the entertainment industry but the world as a whole. And now, almost fifty years after his death, I think it’s time we celebrate his best films.
So many shows and movies have been inspired by him, like The Karate Kid series (and Cobra Kai), as with many other actors or actresses from the martial arts world, like Jackie Chan or Jet Li, but I don’t think anyone could quite beat the greatness that was Bruce Lee. If you’re looking for some of Bruce Lee’s best movies and how to watch them, look no further than here.
The Big Boss (1971)
The action drama, The Big Boss, stars Bruce Lee in one of his first major adult roles as a leading actor. The story tells of Lee’s character, Cheng Chao-an, a Chinese man who moves to Thailand for work, ending up in an ice factory, while also living with his adopted family there. As he works, he starts to find out that his job isn’t all it seems to be.
This was one of the first Bruce Lee films I ever saw, and I have to admit, I really enjoy the heck out of it. There’s something about Lee playing this naive man who didn’t really have any idea what was going on, but as soon as he finds out the truth, he goes badass and kicks everyone’s ass. He’s so primal in every sense of the word and The Big Boss is definitely one of his best martial arts performances, hands down.
Fist Of Fury (1972)
I bet you didn’t think you’d see a period drama on here, but Bruce Lee actually did end up doing one. Fist of Fury, taking place in the 1930s in colonial Shanghai, tells the story of a young man who is a martial arts student. When his master is murdered by the rivals at another dojo, he takes it upon himself to avenge him and take back his honor.
Bruce Lee’s character uses only his fists to take everyone down, hence the title, Fist of Fury. It’s a shame that Lee passed away so young, because we could have gotten so many more movies from him. He was so great here, and really brought that badassery that was needed to take everyone down. The movie itself is also a great commentary on the rivalry between the cultures of China and Japan.
The Kid (1950)
While Bruce Lee was known for many of his adult roles, he was in the film business for a long time, and one of his first starring roles ever was in The Kid. This action coming of age film tells the story of a young boy who’s lost his parents, and is influenced by many other outside figures in his life, including his uncle, thieves, and everything else in-between.
At such a young age, you could still tell how much skill Lee had as an actor. It felt like he was really putting his heart on his sleeve and shows just how much charisma this young man had. The story itself is entertaining as well, watching how so many outside forces can truly mold how a child grows up, and who he becomes.
The Way Of The Dragon (1972)
I feel like every Bruce Lee fan knows about The Way of the Dragon. This film, which Lee also wrote and directed, tells the story of Tang Lung, a young man who goes to Rome and has to try and defend his family from gangsters, while attempting to deal with the culture shock of a new world.
Let me just say that I could re-watch the Bruce Lee vs. Chuck Norris fight any day of the week, during any time. I mean, Chuck Norris is fantastic, as well, but watching these two fight is the best ever. While the movie itself is a lot of fun, especially Lee’s character, his fight choreography is really what sells it. That, with the beautiful Italian scenery and some fun character moments, is what makes The Way of the Dragon an excellent action movie to watch. Definitely one of the best movies on Amazon that you could rent right now.
While it’s not one of the best movies out there, Marlowe is a great showcase of Lee’s skills as a fighter. Marlowe is a neo-noir film, telling the story of a detective who is given the chance to go on one of the most mysterious cases yet, one that takes him down roads he never thought he would.
I’ll be honest, Marlowe is very predictable. However, the one shining light of this film is Bruce Lee’s supporting character, Winslow Wong, a mob enforcer who isn’t in the movie for super long, but makes a damn good impression when he completely destroys Marlowe’s office. If you don’t remember anything else from this movie, you’ll remember Lee’s fight sequence. And, it seemed that American audiences would as well, because this was the movie that introduced Lee to a lot of audiences here with his first U.S. movie cameo.
Enter The Dragon (1973)
In this martial arts action film, we see Bruce Lee be badass one last time before his tragic death. Enter the Dragon tells the story of a secret agent who ends up on an island fortress with one goal in mind - to succeed in a martial arts tournament and take down a supposed Opium trade happening in the same area.
Bruce Lee tragically passed away a month before this film’s release, making this movie even more significant as one of the last of his career. And, to be honest, it was one of his best. The villain was great, the cast was fantastic, and Lee’s performance was perfect in every sense of the word, creating a character who not only kicked ass, but who anyone could learn to love as he hacked his way through bad guys. It’s one of the most-known martial arts films out there, and for good reason.
Circle Of Iron (1978)
If you ever wanted to watch a martial arts film that is also a twist on the fantasy film genre, check out Circle of Iron. In this movie, we get the story of a martial artist who goes on an indescribable journey of action and magic when he follows someone who is delivering the Book of Knowledge to an evil wizard.
While Bruce Lee was gone before this film came out, he co-wrote the script, and looked at it as sort of an introduction to Eastern philosophy and how martial arts is seen across the world for Westerners. The movie itself is full of fun fights and a really cool story, and you can tell how much time Lee put into world-building and how much of a passion project it was. It’s a shame he never got to see it come to fruition.
Game Of Death (1978)
Another movie released posthumously, Bruce Lee was an important part of Game of Death. This action film tells the story of a martial arts star who is faced with one of the most horrible circumstances of all time - people are trying to kill him. In order to find out who it is, he fakes his death and goes undercover to solve the mystery.
Bruce Lee filmed some incomplete footage before his death, and that, paired with some movie magic from the producers, led to a pretty entertaining movie full of awesome fight scenes, a sweet romance, and a fun story. While it’s not the absolute best movie, you can tell that the producers of this film really wanted to adhere to Lee’s legacy and make sure the film was as good as it could get. If you haven’t seen it, be sure to check it out.
Honorable Mention: Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993)
In this biographical film, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story tells us about the famous man behind all these movies, and his rise to fame. It starts with his move to the United States, teaching as a martial arts instructor, and later becoming the big man in film that we all know him as today.
While Bruce Lee is not in this film, I’ve always really loved this biopic. I really think that the creators of Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story not only wanted to tell the story of Lee’s life but celebrate it in a way that hadn’t been done before. Jason Scott Lee did a fantastic job portraying the iconic hero, and as someone who hadn’t known that much about Lee besides his martial arts movies, it was very informative and enthralling from beginning to end about the life that Lee lived on a daily basis. Truly great, and if you’re a fan of Bruce Lee, I suggest you watch it, too.
Bruce Lee actually also was involved in two other big films, The Wrecking Crew and A Walk in the Spring Rain. He didn’t act in the films but worked as an action director for The Wrecking Crew and the fight choreographer for A Walk in the Spring Rain, so if the action and fight scenes look familiar, it was because of Lee.
While we’ll never get another Bruce Lee film, we can at least look back on his legacy in the industry and the impact he has made on not only movie-goers but fans of martial arts everywhere. And, if you’ve never seen a Bruce Lee movie, be sure to check out some of these awesome picks.
Big nerd and lover of Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire. Will forever hate season eight. Superhero and horror geek. And please don't debate me on The Last of Us 2, it was amazing!
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