11. Shaolin vs. Ninja (1983)
This is the best Robert Tai film by far and it is just a nonstop kung fu battle between the Japanese and their ninja and the Shaolin Monks. It stars Tai regular Alexander Lo and personally, this film is the most fun out of everything on this list.
There are ninjas, shaolin monks, and then they fight. What else do you need if the action delivers and it definitely delivers in this one. This is the film that me start saying, “Praise be Buddha.”
12. Ninja III: The Domination (1984)
“He’s the ultimate killer, she’s the perfect weapon” . A telephone linewoman who also teaches aerobics gets possessed by an evil ninja who has just died, kind of like Chucky from Child’s Play. The Evil spirit uses her body to kill the people he wants to get revenge on. Only person can help her and defeat the evil ninja and that’s the good ninja played by Sho Kosugi.
There is simply one reason to absolutely love this movie and that’s because of the line, “Only a ninja can destroy a ninja.” It has been changed up and used in other things as, “Only a ninja can kill a ninja.” The female lead starred in the popular Breakin’ films for Cannon, so naturally they thought she would be perfect for a ninja film. It’s basically ninjas meet The Exorcist, but it’s fast paced and delivers on decent martial arts action.
13. Ninja vs. Shaolin Guards (1984)
A group of four Shaolin monks go on a mission to get the Golden Sutra to Tibet when their teacher is murdered. The new Shaolin leader accuses them of stealing the Sutra and puts a bounty on them, leading to them being hunted down by various bad guys; including gangsters, a guy with a bow and arrow, some type of undead people in clown makeup, ninjas, and finally the villainous monk.
For having ninja in the title this one doesn’t deliver much in the ninja category, featuring an opening training sequence with the evil monk’s ninjas and one fight scene between the ninjas and the monks. The film delivers on good fight scenes, with there being around nine fight scenes in this one. The weirdest part of the film involves the night fight scene in what appears to be a graveyard, with the monks battling the dead dressed up like clowns. It’s very strange.
The major issue I have with this film is the comedy, there is just too much, it’s totally absurd at times, and it doesn’t fit with the tone of the movie. It’s like they were trying to copy ninjas and Jackie Chan comedy, just doesn’t work for me.
14. Pray for Death (1985)
“The Master Ninja is Back” . This is another Cannon Films production involving ninjas starring Sho Kosugi. It also features appearances from both of his sons, Kane and Shane Kosugi.
The story involves a man who is secretly in a ninja clan who decides to move to America because that is where his wife is from. They purchase a restaurant that is also being used as a mob drop off location. When a drop goes wrong and some jewels go missing, the mob goes after his family forcing him to don the ninja garb and fight.
The film has its and moments and there is more than enough ninjas and action to please most fans of the genre, however it is much weaker than all of the previous ninja films that Kosugi appeared in. The main problem with this film is that the enemies and main villain aren’t as menacing as his previous foes, those being other ninjas.
In this one, the main villain is just a mid level thug who he should have been able to kill just as easily as the others, yet he ends up in a near fifteen minute battle with him and barely survives. The point is that this thug is not on the same level skill wise as Kosugi’s ninja. It would be like having Barney Fife take on Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon and Fife nearly beats him. It wouldn’t make sense.
Other than that Kosugi is great and there are a decent amount of good scenes with him, notably the opening fight sequence, a flashback fight sequence, and the ceremonial scene where he readies himself and makes a sword.
15. Gymkata (1985)
“For Glory, For Nation, For Survival: Let the Game Begin!” . A champion gymnast is sent by the United States to compete and win a brutal and sadistic game, in order to install a space satellite monitoring station in that country. The gymnast must combine his acrobatic skills with karate to win this game and defeat some ninja along the way.
This is a guilty pleasure movie because it’s considered one of the worst ever made and yet it is a cult hit. The main actor, Olympic gold medalist Kurt Thomas, was nominated for a Razzie for the worst new star. Maxim magazine has it ranked as the 17th worst movie ever made, though after looking at their list I’m not sure they are qualified to make that distinction . The list doesn’t contain any films before 1965 and there isn’t ne single Ed Wood film on the list.
16. American Ninja (1985)
“The deadliest art of the Orient is now in the hands of an American” . An American soldier stationed in the Philippines must take on a group of ninjas and learns that he was trained in the ways of ninjitsu as a child.
This was another ninja movie produced by Cannon Films and sort of made Michael Dudikoff a star after appearing as the main character. The film was popular enough that it spawned four sequels, not all starring Dudikoff. While the martial arts is fairly weak in this, it does have somewhere near a hundred deaths in the movie.
17. Ninja: The Final Duel (1986)
A ninja clan seeks retribution toward the Shaolin monks when a ninja commits suicide after he tries to kill the Shaolin abbot. The honks get assistance from a powerful monk, two Hare Krishna’s and a monk from Harlem.
This has pretty much everything you could ask for in a crazy ninja movie. It has a long ninja training sequence featuring flips, kicks, board and ice breaking, acrobatics, element light skill, a water spider assault unit that features the ninjas disappearing and the spiders being able to fly, the iron tiger vlaw tree climb, ninja rock climbing, and ninjas digging holes and burrowing.
The shaolin also have a training sequence where the main character monk must face the swastika challenge, where the group of monks lie in swastika form and then get up and battle him.
It features a ton of action and plenty of good fight scenes and this is a must see for fans of the crazy ninja films. This was a 12 hour Taiwanese television show that was edited to the film’s running time. There is also a sequel that continues the story.
18. Sakura Killers (1987)
A pair of random ninja attacks in the United States leads to some stolen tapes that are apparently of grave importance in order to send one white guy and his black sidekick to Taiwan to figure out what’s going on. Oh, and Chuck Connors is in this and he gets too shotgun a pair of ninjas.
The story is extremely flimsy and totally not probable; the pair of good guys must learn the ways of the ninja in order to defeat the baddies. Apparently there’s a seven day crash course that instantly makes you a master that I wasn’t aware. Besides that, the fights are very well done. They have a nice ninja training sequence for the good guys and the bad guys, and then there are several nice fight scenes in the movie.
19. Legend of the Shadowy Ninja: The Ninja Dragon (1990)
You would think that aliens, yakuza, and ninjas thrown together coming from Japan would probably be an awesome mix. Maybe now it would be cool with all of the crazy shit coming out of Japan, but this looks like a bad TV movie.
The quality is shit. There is enough mindless violence, but it’s not on par with the current movies or even somewhat older ones like Battle Royale.
20. Lethal Ninja (1992)
“Meet the CIA’s deadliest weapon” . A CIA guy who also happens to be a ninja looks to go kick some ass when his wife is kidnapped by an evil Nazi scientist and his group of ninjas. What he doesn’t know is that our main character is not just in the CIA, he’s also a ninja himself. He also has a black Eddie Murphy lookalike sidekick that is a ninja.
This is low budget schlock at its best or worst, you make the call. The one thing that totally kicks ass in this film is a scene involving ninjas on killer roller-skates. I know, right now you’re saying, “Did he just fucking say roller-skate?” Yes I did. And they are super deadly with blades on them. There is also an ending scene involving the good guy duo fighting the bad guys on a really high piece of machinery, with the bad guys falling off.
All the works cited can be found here.
Author Bio: Raul J. Vantassle is a jazz musician whose key strokes move about the page creating an explosion of formlessness to form, or just total bullshit. His heroes include John Waters, Robert Crumb, Charles Bukowski, and the Cobra Commander. His Knowledge of film goes across the board but he specializes in Asian and cult cinema. He may be the filthiest person alive. You can visit his blog here.