Top Ten Ninja Films


by | November 16, 2008 | Comments

Top Ten Ninja Films

It was in the early eighties that the Ninja movie really reached its peak in the west, although it had been a fully fledged part of Japanese movie lore since the early sixties. Thus when it comes to discussing Ninja movies, adjectives like ‘the best’ are somewhat moot, since some of the most enjoyable Ninja movies are also quite rightly claimed to be the most terrible movies of all time, in a very special eighties kind of way.

Those who know their Ninja movies know that films like Ninja Terminator (85) have so much more to offer than you’d expect, as does Ninja III: The Domination (84), about an aerobics instructor possessed by an evil Ninja. But what even constitutes a Ninja movie – does it have to be all about Ninjas – or does it just have to have a high Ninja ‘factor’. Is someone who is a trained martial arts assassin a Ninja? Or do they have to wear the pyjamas and carry shuriken (throwing stars) and smoke bombs to qualify? We’ve gone for a happy medium, covering all aspects of the Ninja movie, from the farce, the so bad it’s good, the actually quite good and the stone cold classic. So all those lovers of movies like Blazing Ninja, To Catch A Ninja, Bionic Ninja, Pray For Death and Full Metal Ninja, please have patience. And just this once, throw the Tomatometer out the window. Critical reaction has no baring on what makes Ninja goodness.

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10. Shinobi No Mono (1962)

Shinobi No Mono is generally considered the film that popularised the Ninja on the big screen. It is also the film that Roald Dahl watched to get inspiration when writing the screenplay of You Only Live Twice. Known in english as ‘The Ninjas’, this is the film that can be used as an introduction to the newbies. It has several staples of the genre, including skulking about, poison, throwing things at people, lethal sword work and ‘the code’ of the Ninja. It’s also in black and white and features fairly ‘broad’ acting, but if you come to the Ninja film with good acting in mind, take a step to the left and check out Kurosawa movies that give you martial arts and good acting.


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9. You Only Live Twice (69%)

Obviously this is stretching it a bit, but when you finish off your movie with a gigantic Ninja battle (albeit with submachine guns), you make the grade. Quite possibly the most well known Full Ninja Moment of all time appears in this James Bond classic – the ‘thread of poison’. A stealthy Ninja attempt to kill Sean Connery with a gooey trickle of poison that spools down a string of cotton goes wrong – our hero turns away and his beautiful bride Aki takes the taste – of death..


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8. The Octagon (20%)

Chuck Norris, Lee Van Cleef – and Ninjas! This is a variant of the Ninja movie where the hero must face Ninja hordes, rather than being part of them himself. This features a pre-Missing In Action Norris, with expected acting skills. Rather hazy and complex in its plotting, this features the rarest of film devices – a Chuck Norris voice over! Requires tequila for full enjoyment. Rounded out by cheesy magazine style photography and excellent fight scenes, this is a must for the perverse.

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7. Enter the Ninja (1981)

Have to have at least one film that features Sho Kasugi, the lord of all Ninja actors. He starred in Ninja III: Domination, Pray for Death, Revenge of the Ninja and Rage of Honour. He was also in Blind Fury. He’ll be in the new Ninja Assassin as Lord Oznu, which is pretty much like getting Charlton Heston in the Planet of the Apes Remake (although hopefully the movie will be better – certainly will have more Ninjas). Enter the Ninja is of course a play on Enter the Dragon, but bears little resemblance in plot or production value. It starred hairy Italian actor Franco Nero (yup!) in the title role.

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6. The Super Ninja (1982)

When it comes to the ‘so bad it’s good’ category, The Super Ninja comes close to providing you with everything you’ve ever wanted in terribleness. Also known as Five Elements Ninja, it’s directed by Kuo-Ren Wu and stars Alexander Lou. Combining elements from bad porn, bad gangster movies, and of course, bad ninja movies, the plot beggars belief in both continuity and logic as five evil ninjas and a host of bad guys ranging from corrupt cops to er… ninjas must eventually bow down before the superior Ninja skills of The Super Ninja.”


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5. American Ninja (0%)

Produced by the Cannon Group, who seemed to provide almost every single B-grade action movie for the 80’s (including a few A-Grade ones), American Ninja stars another variant of the Ninja format – the ‘white’ Ninja. Starring the rather impressively named Michael Dudikoff this translation of the Eric Van Lustbader novel (the names just get better and better) it shows that a ‘foreign devil’ can train well enough to defeat the ordinary Ninja – in this case, Joe Armstrong (name, again!) has to rescue his girlfriend from an evil overlord and his private Ninja army. It spawned four sequels!


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4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (46%)

Somewhere between The Muppets and Jackie Chan, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are of course genetically mutated amphibians with specialties in different Ninja weaponry. All of which they’ve learned from their kind master, Splinter, a giant rat. It all made perfect sense as a somewhat ground breaking (and hip) 80’s comic book created by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastmen – and the animated TV show became so big they had to make a live action film – complete with gigantic foam suits for the actors playing the Turtles named after Italian Renaissance painters. Spawned sequels (like The Secret of the Ooze) that didn’t quite have the charm of this loveable film. Look out for a ‘hybrid’ remake coming soon.


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3. Beverly Hills Ninja (15%)

We can go as far as Chris Farley’s masterpiece when describing the entire ‘rainbow’ of Ninja movies, but that’s about it. In this end of farce movies, you’ll also find such ‘classics’ as Ninja Cheerleaders (starring George Takei). Farley’s physical comedy is used to full effect. The fullest expression of both the White Ninja and the Orphan Ninja Raised By Ninjas to Wreak Ninja Vengeance Upon Other Ninjas. Also hilarious, and intentionally so.


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2. Ninja Scroll (100%)

One of the finest (quite literally) Anime films ever made, Ninja Scroll takes us into the violent and gory world of the Ninja-for-hire. Rated an MA in Australia on release, this film took us into ancient Japan where government intrigues are exacerbated by the presence of demons (almost always the way, isn’t it?). A band of mercenaries lead by a super-skilled ex-Ninja must battle their enemies and the people that hired them to save themselves (and Japan). Exquisite visuals, fast-paced action and a story with wide appeal makes this a top notch Ninja movie and a great introduction to what good Anime is all about.


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1. Azumi (43%)

We’ll finish on a ‘straight’ Ninja movie that takes us back into ancient Japan and features some of the toughest training sequences for the Ninja that there is. Ten trainees go in – only five are permitted out. Tough love indeed. But it’s the kind of heart-to-stone moment required for the true Ninja, and the waifish yet lethal Azumi will use her deadly skills to assassinate warlords to restore peace to Tokugawa-period Japan. A bit ‘live action Anime’ (actually based on a Manga comic), this features high production values and fight sequences of astonishing complexity and bloodthirstyness. Ninjatainment of the highest order.

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