Can you believe we watch ninja movies for 60 years already and a few generations have been raised on them. This tribute dedicated to teens born in XXI and who hadn’t got a chance to experience the Ninja Mania. If some know who Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris and Jackie Chan are but not so many can understand parents who just couldn’t get enough of deadly assassins in the best ninja movies of 80s and 90s.

Let’s dig into the ninja movies history…

There are a couple of things that pop up in your head when you asked about the Japanese cinema. The old and strong classic film, Godzilla, and masterpieces of Akira Kurosawa. But the one you will never forget – Ninjas!

toshiro mifune ninjaHaving a long history and a special place in the Japanese movies industry, good ninja movies were produced since 1950s. But the genre itself became popular since the 1980s when made it to the West, and gained a huge number of fans.

Over the time, we’ve seen some of the best, as well as the worst hollywood ninja movies, and this is the reason why opinions are so different when people start discussing Ninjas.

The first Japanese ninja film made it to the big screen in 1957, where Ninja was portrayed in a faithful and realistic manner. The character was played by Toshiro Mifune, who by that time, made his place in the Japanese cinema. Later The Shinobi no Mono had seven sequels!

Other Asian countries joined the Ninja Mania in the early 1970s. In places like Hong Kong, the image of a Ninja was, perhaps, slightly more colorful than in Japan.

Eric Van LustbaderOn the contrast with 60s and 70s, the 80s was a turning point. Eric Van Lustbader released his novel The Ninja, which sparked a massive interest of the American audience. But it never made it to the movie as Enter the Ninja was released by the Cannon Pictures and became a blockbuster, resulting in the massive popularity of the best ninja movies.

This Ninja Mania swept the western world and everyone just couldn’t get enough of deadly assassins in fact. The public obsession first began with Revenge of the Ninja movie starring Sho Kosugi who became an overnight sensation and a superstar.

American audience demanded more and more, and indeed, the 80s was the decade of unprecedented production of top ninja movies. Some turned out as wonderful classics, others, not so much.

The Ninja theme was on fire, and the Golden Age was about to come! The production companies were racing each other in trying to invent yet another unique story, for a great ninja movie.

At the same time, the Ninja theme broke off the screen, making it to almost everything else. That included a wide variety of comic books, novels, toys and games, as well as TV series.

Godfrey Ho’s era

Godfrey HoOne director, in particular, stands out from the ordinary. The greatest Godfrey Ho, a person behind the Ninja Boom of the 1980s and a master of his style. From 1980 to 1990 he created over 80 movies, and released the latest one in 1999.

Looking at his movies today, you can say, that they are one of those ‘seriously funny’ productions.

If there was a person fitting perfectly into the ‘go against the flow’ description at that time and place, it was Ho. He managed to make each of his movies with ninjas unpredictable and unique. His style rips the rule book to pieces. Even the soundtracks were often stolen from recognisable bands or other films’ scores.

The way Ho mixed different pieces of stories into a final film was quite outstanding and very funny. Fans still wonder, how did he come up with an idea of using period footage as ‘back story’ or claim that unrelated characters were the same person, younger and older, again with flashbacks.

The editing in his movies was quite ingenious, as he would, for instance, carefully connect some scenes from two movies, by a ‘water mark’, like a newspaper headline, and make his characters correspond with each other in seemingly different productions.

He could chop scenes together that had similar backdrops and have characters from two good ninja movies appear to ‘talk’ to one another across the scene.

When Narnarland.com (whose Ho archives are unrivalled) asked him why he kept splicing the same ninjas into so many films, he replied “because they are on a kind of mission so the mission can be in this movie or another one”.

Indeed, the very nature of a ninja is full of mystery and hidden missions, therefore one can’t argue if his logic was true or not.

NinjaBefore Ho became a producer of low budget ninja movies, he gained experience in shooting, editing, dubbing and directing in the biggest and the best studios in Honk Kong, working in harsh conditions.

In a young age, he was assisting to the director Chang Cheh, worked at the Shaw Brothers Studio, together with John Woo. It was back then, at the Shaw Brothers Studio where he met his future partner Joseph Lai. They started both ASSO Asia Film.

Ho wanted to create his own independent studio, but he knew it was nearly impossible to compete against the big Studios, like Golden Harvest or the Shaws, taking already all the profit in the business.

He then discovered the potential in introducing Hong Kong movies into the international scene. It was a risky move, of which many directors were skeptical, but Ho took his chance and did just that.

More than 115 different 80s ninja movies were released by Ho, which is truly an impressive number. Each contained the word Ninja, somewhere in the title. Some of the movies were re-released under different names, and the exact number of his movies is unknown.

Godfrey’s last ninja film was Manhattan Chase in 1999. Since 2010 he teaches at the Hong Kong Film Academy.

The story of Godfrey Ho is as mysterious as ninjas portrayed in his movies. Whether you laughing at his movies or not, he left a tremendous legacy of the Ninja movie genre.

Sam Firstenberg and Canon Films era

Sam FirstenbergBorn in Poland to a Jewish family, and growing up in Jerusalem, Sam Firstenberg moved to the USA in 1972. He focused on the independent cinema, directed 22 films, after graduating from the Loyola Marymount University in 1980.

During his life, he managed to produce some big hits, that later became classics. Best ninja movies such as Revenge of the Ninja with Sho Kosugi, American Ninja series with Michael Dudikoff, and American Samurai with David Bradley and Mark Dacascos are the ones.

In his career, he mostly worked with the Cannon Films Studio, known for producing low budget B-movies from 1967 to 1994.

Menahem Golan and Yoram GlobusIn the early days, Cannon Films started as a small studio but had hit serious financial difficulties in 1979 and was sold to Firstenberg’s cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus for $500,000.

They became remembered for the Death Wish sequels with Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris action films. But most of all people know them for igniting a worldwide ninja mania with an anthology series which consisted of Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja, and Ninja III: The Domination all starring Sho Kosugi, as well as producing the first two American Ninja films.

Deadly Shades of Ninja

80s ninjaAs we all know ninja can wear Black, White, Red, Gold, Silver, Yellow, Blue and even Pink. They can fight Mafia, Shaolin, Cobra, Black Ops, Monsters, and even Vampires. Ninjas are not just humans, they are Robots, Mutants, Terminators, Zombies and even Turtles.

They are known under different names such as Shinobi, Kamui, Goemon, Condor, and Shadow. Ninja has an ability to change the appearance and become American or Afro Ninja in the Dragon’s Den. They can become destroyers, protectors or heroes of the East.

Remember, you should never challenge the lethal ninja in the octagon, as super ninja always strikes back without a shadow of a tear, so you better pray for death in the Castle of Owls during the shadow hunters apocalypse.

No matter how bad the situation is, a ninja will always find a way out of it. That is a fundamental principle of a ninja.

Ninja can improve anything, as he comes out of nowhere and goes nowhere. Ninjas can, and will, happen to anyone at any time.

60 Best Ninja Movies You Must Watch

Ninja a Band of Assassins

Ninja, a Band of Assassins

Release Date: 1962
Director: Satsuo Yamamoto
Starring: Raizo Ichikawa, Shiho Fujimura

In Shinobi no mono ninja film Raizo Ichikawa plays a legendary bandit hero named Goemon operates during the reign of Oda Nobunaga, the man who nearly conquered all of Japan during the 16th century.

Ninjas here are not just lone hunters of death but are an organized team led by an inscrutable man whose real goals and machinations are a bit hard to follow, but who cares.

Ninja, a Band of Assassins movie is rather enjoyable for its shedding of light on mysterious spies in the shadows, and I have to say, they are not always wear black for their operations.

Film look rather dated, but it is a good chance to feel the spirit of classic ninja movies and take a break from current superhero fuzz.

Castle of Owls

Castle of Owls

Release Date: 1963
Director: Eiichi Kudo
Starring: Ryutaro Otomo, Minoru Oki

Castle of Owls is a movie adaptation of the 1959 ninja novel.

Plot: With war against Korea looming on the horizon, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, the ‘Taiko’ becomes the target of an assassination attempt to be carried out by the Iga Clan of ninja spies.

Master spy Juzo Tsuzura is assigned the task, but first he must defeat a former Iga spy who has become a traitor, and outwit the treacherous woman that is trying to seduce him.

Seventeen Ninja

Seventeen Ninja

Release Date: 1963
Director: Yasuto Hasegawa
Starring: Kotaro Satomi, Jushiro Konoe

Iga clan ninja are sent to infiltrate the impenetrable fortress where the youngest son of dying Shogun is preparing to storm Edo Castle and name himself Shogun by force of arms.

They have two ways: either steal the documents that will eventually give him lawful claim to rulership, or assassinate him.

But before they reach the castle walls, they meet a ruthless ninja hunter, who knows every ninja tactic and every one of the team thanks to his own spies within Edo Castle.

The mission turns into a total mayhem where Iga ninjas fall one by one. Don’t miss this one of the best Japanese ninja movies of 60s.

The Third Ninja

The Third Ninja

Release Date: 1964
Director: Toshikazu Kono
Starring: Kotaro Satomi, Koji Nanbara

The Third Ninja is another amazing Toei ninja film and a must have for any die-hard ninja fan. The film is of the same caliber as Seventeen Ninja and Ninja Hunt.

The story of this old ninja movie is based during the Warring States Period, where two mighty warlords Takeda Shingen and Oda Nobunaga struggle for absolute supremacy of Japan.

In an attempt to finish off his rival, Takeda sends his master ninja Chidoken to assassinate Oda Nobunaga. Meanwhile three Iga ninjas loyal to Nobunaga set out to intercept Chidoken.

70s

Shadow Hunters

Shadow Hunters

Release Date: 1972
Director: Toshio Masuda
Starring: Yujiro Ishihara, Ruriko Asaoka

This one of the great Japanese ninja films tells the story of Shadow Hunters, three cold-blooded assassins live in the aim of killing ninjas during the corrupt rule of the Tokugawa government!

A simple task becomes deadly when the three assassins are hired to ensure that a vital deed is safely delivered to Edo.

Along the way, double-agent, ninja and a female assassin have to team up to deliver a dirty deed of death to the Shadow Hunters.

Heroes of the East

Heroes of the East

Release Date: 1978
Director: Chia-Liang Liu
Starring: Gordon Liu, Yasuaki Kurata

Heroes of the East is fun, engaging, and tells the story about an arranged marriage between a proud Chinese man and a fiery Japanese woman.

This marriage leads to a variety of domestic squabbles, numerous cross-cultural misunderstandings, and a martial arts battle in the best traditions of Shaw Brothers.

There is a Gordon Liu versus Yasuaki Kurata climax fight, what a huge reason for old ninja movie fans to check it out.

80s

The Octagon

The Octagon

Release Date: 1980
Director: Eric Karson
Starring: Chuck Norris, Richard Norton

When it comes to ninja Chuck Norris is your man. The Octagon movie is well filmed but sluggish and only the last 20 minutes Chuck invades and lays a huge number of ninjas.

The final showdown between Chuck and the enforcer is more exciting than the one between Chuck and Tadashi Yamashita, who played Black Star Ninja in the American Ninja movie.

The Octagon is a pure joy for Norris enthusiasts only, and even good production design, cinematography, and music don’t help to make this a decent piece of entertainment in the era of 80s ninja movies.

Chuck, as always, looks better kicking ass as a formidable hero than acting. Some fans may say action is too brutal.

Enter the Ninja

Enter the Ninja

Release Date: 1981
Director: Menahem Golan
Starring: Franco Nero, Sho Kosugi

Enter the Ninja starts with the amazing dialogue and action scene where Nero completing his ninja fight in the final showdown against multiple skilled ninjas, including Sho Kosugi.

The middle fans can enjoy some decent martial arts sequences despite the fact that Nero is not a martial artist. If the movie could bring Sho Kosugi earlier the story could be better.

Enter the Ninja is still a very good ninja movie with decent action scenes. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great start to the Cannon Ninja Trilogy.

Ninja Strikes Back

Ninja Strikes Back

Release Date: 1982
Director: Bruce Le, Joseph Velasco
Starring: Bruce Le, Jang Lee Hwang

Producers have done a great job turning a cheap material into a very good ninja movies starring Bruce Le. This is a perfect example of Bruceploitation with fantastic elements of the best action movies of 80s.

Bruce Le and Hwang Jang Lee play a pair of criminals living in Rome, but when a drug deal goes wrong, Bruce goes to prison and comes out a changed man.

When you have Hwang Jang Lee and Bolo Yeung in one movie you can’t ask for more than fierce and gory battles in the breathtaking locations.

When it comes to ninja fights they are loaded with disappearing tricks, cart wheels and backflips. It’s hard to complain as this flick has so much to offer.

Five Element Ninjas

Release Date: 1982
Director: Cheh Chang
Starring: Tien-Chi Cheng, Tien Hsiang Lung

Ninja in the Dragon’s Den

Release Date: 1982
Director: Corey Yuen
Starring: Hiroyuki Sanada, Conan Lee

The Ninja Wars

Release Date: 1982
Director: Kosei Saito
Starring: Hiroyuki Sanada, Noriko Watanabe

Revenge of the Ninja

Release Date: 1983
Director: Sam Firstenberg
Starring: Sho Kosugi, Keith Vitali

Shaolin vs. Ninja

Release Date: 1983
Director: Robert Tai
Starring: Alexander Lou, William Yen

Ninja III: The Domination

Release Date: 1984
Director: Sam Firstenberg
Starring: Sho Kosugi, Lucinda Dickey

Ninja Thunderbolt

Release Date: 1984
Director: Ming Chin, Godfrey Ho
Starring: Richard Harrison, Yasuaki Kurata

The Master

Release Date: 1984
Director: Michael Sloan
Starring: Lee Van Cleef, Sho Kosugi

Ninja vs. Shaolin Guard

Release Date: 1984
Director: Mai Chen Jsai
Starring: Fei Chan, Shun Chien

Mafia vs. Ninja

Release Date: 1985
Director: Robert Tai
Starring: Alexander Lou, Philip So

American Ninja

Release Date: 1985
Director: Sam Firstenberg
Starring: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James

Pray for Death

Release Date: 1985
Director: Sam Firstenberg
Starring: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James

Ninja Terminator

Release Date: 1985
Director: Godfrey Ho
Starring: Richard Harrison, Jang Lee Hwang

Nine Deaths of the Ninja

Release Date: 1985
Director: Emmett Alston
Starring: Sho Kosugi, Brent Huff

Gymkata

Release Date: 1985
Director: Robert Clouse
Starring: Kurt Thomas, Richard Norton

Golden Ninja Warrior

Release Date: 1986
Director: Joseph Lai, Godfrey Ho
Starring: Donald Owen, Huei-Chie Yang

Ninja Protector

Release Date: 1986
Director: Godfrey Ho
Starring: Richard Harrison, David Bowles

The Super Ninja

Release Date: 1986
Director: Kuo-Ren Wu
Starring: Alexander Lou, Eugene Thomas

Ninja Destroyer

Release Date: 1986
Director: Godfrey Ho
Starring: Na Yen Na, Luck Apichart

Ninja Hunt

Release Date: 1986
Director: Joseph Lai, Godfrey Ho
Starring: Richard Harrison, Stuart Smith

The Ultimate Ninja

Release Date: 1986
Director: Godfrey Ho
Starring: Stuart Smith, Bruce Baron

Challenge of the Ninja

Release Date: 1986
Director: Godfrey Ho
Starring: Stuart Smith, Bruce Baron

American Ninja 2: The Confrontation

Release Date: 1987
Director: Sam Firstenberg
Starring: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James

Ninja Commandments

Release Date: 1987
Director: Joseph Lai, Godfrey Ho
Starring: Richard Harrison, Dave Wheeler

Ninja Kill

Release Date: 1987
Director: Joseph Lai, Godfrey Ho
Starring: Richard Harrison, Stuart Smith

Cobra vs. Ninja

Release Date: 1987
Director: Joseph Lai, Godfrey Ho
Starring: Richard Harrison, Stuart Smith

Ninja: Silent Assassin

Release Date: 1987
Director: Godfrey Ho
Starring: Richard Harrison, Stuart Smith

Ninjas, Condors 13

Release Date: 1987
Director: Kuo-Ren Wu
Starring: Alexander Lou, Stuart Hugh

Sakura Killers

Release Date: 1987
Director: Wang Yu
Starring: Chuck Connors, Mike Kelly

White Phantom

Release Date: 1987
Director: Dusty Nelson
Starring: Jay Roberts Jr., Bo Svenson

Rage of Ninja

Release Date: 1988
Director: Godfrey Ho
Starring: Marko Ritchie, Mike Abbott

Ninja Academy

Release Date: 1989
Director: Nico Mastorakis
Starring: Will Egan, Gerald Okamura

American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt

Release Date: 1989
Director: Cedric Sundstrom
Starring: David Bradley, Steve James

Robot Ninja

Release Date: 1989
Director: J.R. Bookwalter
Starring: Michael Todd, Bogdan Pecic

90s

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Release Date: 1990
Director: Steve Barron
Starring: Elias Koteas, James Saito

Lethal Ninja

Release Date: 1992
Director: Yossi Wein
Starring: Ross Kettle, Norman Coombes

The Hunted

Release Date: 1995
Director: J.F. Lawton
Starring: Christopher Lambert, John Lone

Owl’s Castle

Release Date: 1999
Director: Masahiro Shinoda
Starring: Kiichi Nakai, Mayu Tsuruta

2000s

Shinobi

Release Date: 2005
Director: Ten Shimoyama
Starring: Yukie Nakama, Joe Odagiri

Kamui

Release Date: 2009
Director: Yoichi Sai
Starring: Kenichi Matsuyama, Koyuki

Goemon

Release Date: 2009
Director: Kazuaki Kiriya
Starring: Yosuke Eguchi, Takao Ohsawa

Ninja Assassin

Release Date: 2009
Director: James McTeigue
Starring: Rain, Rick Yune

Ninja

Release Date: 2009
Director: Isaac Florentine
Starring: Scott Adkins, Tsuyoshi Ihara

Afro Ninja

Release Date: 2009
Director: Mark Hicks
Starring: James Black, D.T. Carney

Ninjas vs. Vampires

Release Date: 2010
Director: Justin Timpane
Starring: Jay Saunders, Daniel Ross

Ninja Zombies

Release Date: 2011
Director: Noah Cooper
Starring: Michael Castro, Pamela Chan

Ninjas vs. Monsters

Release Date: 2012
Director: Justin Timpane
Starring: Daniel Ross, Cory Okouchi

Ninja: The Shadow of a Tear

Release Date: 2013
Director: Isaac Florentine
Starring: Scott Adkins, Kane Kosugi

Ninja Apocalypse

Release Date: 2014
Director: Lloyd Lee Barnett
Starring: Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Ernie Reyes Jr.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Release Date: 2014
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Starring: Megan Fox, Will Arnett

Zombie Ninjas vs Black Ops

Release Date: 2015
Director: Rody Claude
Starring: Adam T Perkins, Kira Caine