What is the most recognizable historical warrior that is repeatably used in movies? We’ve seen movies about the samurai, the vikings, the Spartans, but there’s one that continues to stand out. That would be the black-cladded assassins/spies of feudal Japan known as the ninja. Historically, their looks don’t exactly match what Hollywood makes them out to be. Yes, they were used as assassins by the daimyos of Japan. However, there are very few documented records of the ninjas dressing up all in black and being the stealthy assassins Hollywood has made them out to be. I mean, if there were, then I guess those ninjas weren’t doing their jobs right. In reality, the ninjas acted as spies who disguised themselves as farmers, entertainers, priests, basically anything that would get them close to their targets.
Hollywood has the essence of the ninjas correct, but they popularized the black-cladded shadow warriors that we tend to associate the ninja as. To be fair, that’s what Hollywood does. They’ll tweak some historical facts if it means making something more entertaining. If it didn’t work, they wouldn’t be doing it. For me, I’ve always loved watching ninjas in movies. I think it’s because they’re warriors of multiple skill sets, but they’re always fun to watch. So, I’ve decided to breakdown the top five movies about ninjas that I love the most. I’ll be looking at the ninja movies that are bit more modern, since I haven’t had the chance to check out the older ones. The older they are, the harder they are to find, just like the ninjas themselves.
Here are the top five movies about ninjas.
5. The Wolverine (2013)
Okay, now I know that Wolverine himself is not a ninja. However, he’s one of the few superheroes who have crossed paths with ninjas and lived to tell the tale. Wolverine’s journey to Japan had him cross blades with a deadly ninja clan, and guess what? They kicked the snot out of him. If it weren’t for his advanced healing factor, he surely would have died right away. We all love Wolverine and he’s not the kind of superhero to tangle with, but when he fought those ninjas, it was super fun to watch. When ninjas can take one of the toughest superheroes of all time, you know they’re true warriors.
4. Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2019)
Speaking of superheroes, which one best represents a ninja? Without a doubt, the best hero is the Batman. Dressed in black, check. Uses stealth to fight his enemies, check. Has small batarangs that he uses as shuriken-like weapons, check. What else is there? Well, he’s no assassin, but aside from that, Batman best represents what a superhero ninja would be like.
Oh, but he’s not alone. While Batman is the popular face of DC Comics, there are more “superheroes” that fit the ninja description. They may not technically be superheroes, but they’ve made a name for themselves in the comic, cartoon, and movie worlds. That would be the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The implication is in the name and if you take one look at them, they sure live up to it. Their headbands, their weapons, their fighting styles, it all comes together to create the most creative version of a ninja.
So those superheroes best represent the ninja, and how awesome would it be to have them fight together. Well, the 2019 direct-to-video animated movie, Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, gives us a very fun ride and shows us what superhero ninjas are like when they fight together. And yes, they even take on the supervillain ninjas, both Shredder and his Foot Clan, along with Ra’s Al Ghul and his League of Assassins. If you want to see the best representation of superhero ninjas kicking butt, this is it.
3. Beverly Hills Ninja (1997)
Who says every ninja movie has to be about killing? Can anyone see comedy legend Chris Farley as a ninja? Well, Beverly Hills Ninja can (sorta) prove you wrong. Chris Farley acts just as you would expect him to as a ninja. He’s clumsy, loud, and still very large, not the ideal ninja. However, he uses the art of disguise, stealth, and even extraordinary martial arts skills to take down a counterfeiting operation. Heck, he even takes down more guys than Robin Shou, aka the first live-action Liu Kang. Sure, a lot of his victories were because of dumb luck and his clumsiness actually helped him at times, but that’s Chris Farley comedy for you. Beverly Hills Ninja was a unique take on the ninja genre, giving us a hilarious parody of what ninjas are all about.
2. Ninja Assassin (2009)
If you want a ninja movie that really flexes the typical interpretation of ninjas, check out Ninja Assassin. This 2009 action flick takes place in modern day, but it displays the ninjas at their very best. We get to see the main protagonist Raizo go through the extremely brutal training methods of the ninja and operate as an assassin in the modern world. The kicker is that he’s on the run from his own clan and uses his skills to battle his fellow ninjas.
The film gets about as bloody as it can possibly be, but what’s cool about it is that it stays true to the ninja lore. The movie shows them as assassins, disciplined warriors, and gives us a taste of how they used their weapons. Raizo frequently uses the kyoketsu-shoge, a rope-and-blade weapon (his version was a chain) that acted as his main weapon. Any action movie can be bloody, but if it perfectly shows the use of ninja weapons, then it can call itself a ninja movie.
1. Ninja 2: Shadow of a Tear (2013)
If you love action movies, but never heard of Scott Adkins, you’re missing out. One of his best leading roles is Casey Bowman in the Ninja movies. Now I haven’t seen the first, but the second one is like watching a ninja commando at work. Adkins fits the role perfectly because he’s a legitimate martial artist in real life and practices the art of ninjutsu. So not only does he go around kicking bad guys, he also make use of his ninjutsu skills. He’s adept at using bladed weapons, improvised weapons, homemade explosive weapons, and the art of stealth. It even shows a more realistic take on how ninjutsu is being kept alive in modern-day Japan. There are dojos with dedicated teachers and disciplined students who keep the ancient art alive. With the brilliant skills of Scott Adkins, he just makes it a blast to watch.
So what are your thoughts, ninja movie fans? Are there any ninja movies you think I missed? Honestly, I can’t get enough of watching ninjas in movies, so I’ll check out any ninja movie I can.