The irony is not lost on us that we would be blogging a "Top 5 Bruce Lee Movies" list out to our readers, when in fact, there are really only five Bruce Lee movies in his entire career due to his tragic passing in 1973. Yet, even though Bruce Lee only left us a fistful of movies, those movies have left an indelible impression of us--inspiring an entire generation of martial arts enthusiasts to go out and train, learn, study, and practice martial arts. Lee developed his own system before his tragic passing--Jeet Kune Do--and today it one of the most widely studied martial art systems in the world. Lee, his grace, swagger, and style has also inspired generations of filmmaker includes the likes of Quentin Tarantino, who paid homage to Lee and his film film, Game of Death, by adoring his lead actress, Uma Thurman, in a replica Bruce Lee Game of Death yellow suit, identical to the one Lee wears when he fights the likes of Kareem Abdual-Jabbar in Game of Death.
What follows are our favorite Bruce Lee movies in the order of Best to Least-Liked:
ENTER THE DRAGON (1973)
Quite possibly, arguably, at least, the film that had just as much of an influence and impact on the pop culture of the early/mid '70s as Star Wars (1977), Robert Clouse's Enter The Dragon is considered to be greatest martial arts film of all time. In fact, it's considered such a landmark in movie history, that in 2004, the film was entered into the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress. Lee is sent to an island by the British intelligence to assist in an undercover mission to thwart a bit of drug trafficking and prostitution. Lee competes in the annual martial arts tournament on the island, and through his investigation he comes head-to-head with the man behind it all Han in a incredible final showdown sequence which occurs in a room of mirrors.
FISTS OF FURY aka THE BIG BOSS (1971)
Shot in Hong Kong, and made at a time just before Lee shot to fame in the United States, Fists of Fury aka The Big Boss finds Lee, as "Cheng-Chao" imported into Thailand where he stands up to a ruthless leader of a crime syndicate which is cousin just happens to be involved in. Many equate Lee's performance, not just as a martial artist, but as an actor, as being at its best in Fists of Fury aka The Big Boss. There are several martial arts sequences in the film that will leave your jaw hanging. One, a big fight at a ice house, where workers are attempting to smuggle drugs in giant blocks of ice. Lee shows up and shuts it down. Another, the big finale fight sequence, which occurs on the lawn of the leader of the crime syndicate, Hsiao Chuin, after he's discovered that he has killed Lee's entire family. Lee serves justice the only way he knows how.
CHINESE CONNECTION aka FISTS OF FURY (1971)
Ironically, released in the USA under the title The Chinese Connection, in Hong Kong the film is known under the name Fists of Fury. In Connection, Lee stands up for racial equality as a student in China who must fight for the honor of his people when outsiders force themselves in.
GAME OF DEATH (1978)
Originally shot in 1972, but not completed due to Lee's tragic death, Game of Death was not released until 1978. The film would've marked Bruce Lee's debut as a feature film director, in fact, before Lee passed away he shot over 100 minutes of footage on top of what was used in the final film. It was on the passing of Lee, that Enter the Dragon director Robert Clouse, who was a close friend of Lee's, came in after being hired by producer Raymond Chow to complete the film by shooting additional scenes that featured a Bruce Lee fake. Without foregoing any discussion about the narrative of Game of Death, what makes Game of Death impressive, is that it functions as a sort of Mortal Kombat live-action fight movie. Most of the movie is Lee fighting people like Karem Abdual-Jabbar and Chuck Norris. As a pure document that captures the essence of Bruce Lee the martial arts, Game of Death is wonderful. As a film, it fails, and the fake Bruce Lee added in really is noticeable.
Not a Bruce Lee movie, per say, but a film that features a movie-stealing cameo by Lee. Marlowe, directed by Paul Bogart, and starring James Garner, Carroll O'Connor, Sharon Farrell, and Rita Moreno, features Bruce Lee as a infiltrator who busts us Marlowe's office, destroying everything in site. Lee is such a bad ass in Marlowe, that he managed to jump in the air and in mid-air kick out the light above him. It's really the movie that introduced Lee to mainstream audiences, even though, he was certainly well-known to kids and teenagers in the mid/late '60s from his work on the television series The Green Hornet.