Top 7 Ninja Movies from the 1980s

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.”

Ninja III: The Domination (1984)
“He’s the ultimate killer, she’s the perfect weapon” [8]. 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.

Enter the Ninja (1981)

“Warriors of a lost martial art! Hired assassins …human killing machines!” [5]. Even though there were a few before it, this was essentially the film that led to the American ninja explosion. Franco Nero plays a man that was trained as a ninja and heads to the Philippines to visit a friend who runs a farm and ends up having to use his skills to battle local thugs and a former ninja rival (Sho Kosugi). The originally was supposed to star Mike stone, but they weren’t satisfied with his acting and replaced him with Nero and kept stone on to do the stunts. Nero had no martial arts training, so all of the martial arts were performed by Stone. This was the first in an unofficial trilogy, which also included Revenge of the Ninja and Ninja III: The Domination.

Pray for Death (1985)

“The Master Ninja is Back” [9]. 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.

Challenge of the Lady Ninja (1982)
A woman spends 17 years training in the ways of the ninja so that she can return to China and avenge her father’s death. Once she gets there, she gathers together a team of girls and trains them to become ninjas. After 17 years, you would think the people that killed her father would be dead already but apparently not. There’s crazy action and wire fu, including multiple training sequences where she trains to become a ninja and where she stretches and tortures her new girls. There is one big training sequence where she takes on multiple ninja and they surround her with shield lit on fire.

Ninja in the Dragon’s Den (1982)
This is a Hong Kong production that features a ninja and Chinese martial artist teaming up to take on a powerful sorcerer. This was Cory Yuen’s first film as a director and he delivers on the action, also normally serving action choreographer as well. He directed several Jet Li films and has done multiple American films including The Transporter. The film’s stars are Conan Lee and Hiroyuki Sanada. Lee was a credible action star in Hong Kong, appearing in Tiger on the Beat and is also featured in Gymkata. Sanada has had a long and successful career and played samurai and ninja, starring in Twilight Samurai and 47 Ronin.

Chinese Super Ninjas (1982)
This was the first Chang Cheh movie that no longer featured the venom mob, with most of them “jockeying for space” and three returning to Taiwan to make films [6]. Cheh found a new star in Tien-Chi Cheng, who plays Shao Tien-Hao. Two rival martial arts schools have a competition when Chief Hong challenges Yuan Zeng. Hong brings in a Japanese samurai to be one of the competitors, who ends up being defeated by one of Zeng’s students. The samurai in defeat commits suicide and has a letter sent back to Japan asking to be avenged. The five element ninjas show up and challenge the clan; consisting of gold, wood, water, fire, and earth. Not knowing of their ninja tricks, the group murdered. A female ninja infiltrates the rest of the clan and helps the ninja get in. All but one is killed and he escapes. He seeks a new master who teaches him the ninja tricks and is joined by his other students to get revenge.

This is quite possibly Chang Cheh’s most violent and bloody film, which is one reason what this film is so popular and in the realm of a cult classic. The ninja costumes and different weapons used stand out. Add to that the story of the hero creating techniques and weapons in order to defeat them makes it quite memorable. The action and fight choreography is outstanding, especially the last twenty or so minutes for the final battle. 

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