Articles & Notes, Ideas & Personal creations — August 20, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Opinion: 90’s “Kickboxing movies” better than today’s “MMA movies”

Although I’ve been a martial arts practitioner for only a short period of time, the love for martial arts has stick with me, and it slowly moved on to the movies.

I am still a huge fan of the mostly forgotten “kickboxing movies” of the late 80s-mid 90s, that used to be quite popular among the fans of the genre.

In the late 90s the “kickboxing movies” have died, letting the mixed martial arts take center stage.

If we combine the money spent on these movies then and now, several interesting factors come up.

In particular – the kickboxing movies of the past used to made for less money, and they stood the test of time better than most of the mixed martial arts movies that are being released today.

There is no point going back decades, as we can start off from the late 80s, and go up to 2000s.

In 1988, Jean-Claude Van Damme’s “Bloodsport” was released, which became a hit, and later a classic, cult martial arts film. Bloodsport was made for roughly $1 million, and made $11,806 million.

Van Damme continued his success with “Kickboxer” a year later, following pretty much the same formula. Kickboxer (1989) was made for $1,500 million, grossing $14,697 million.

Today, both films are considered one of the better martial arts movies, and arguably among five best that Van Damme ever made.  Combined, “Bloodsport” and “Kickboxer” cost $2,600 million with a combined gross of roughly $26,500 million.

Comparing: Van Damme made “Lionheart” in 1990 for $6 million. The film earned roughly $24 million at the box office. That was a “kickboxing movie”.
In 2011, “Warrior” was made with Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte and Joel Edgerton. The film had a $25 million budget, and got nominated for an Oscar (Nolte, best supporting actor). At the box office the film earned only $23 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

In the early 90s, other martial artists-turned-action stars appeared in the spotlight, and the golden era of “kickboxing movies” began.

Independent companies started making stars out real-life martial artists like Don The Dragon Wilson, Gary Daniels, Daniel Bernhardt, Richard Norton, Matthias Hues and others.

Former kickboxing champion, actor, and documentary filmmaker, Ian Jacklin who has starred in some of the 90s kickboxing movies agrees that those were cheaply made films, which later helped pushing MMA to the center stage.

“The Karate movies I starred in back in the 90’s were mainly low, low budget films sometimes as little as a 100 grand,” Jacklin told BZFilm. “And you get what you pay for.”

Such films have rapidly gained love from the martial arts fans, and throughout the whole 90s, they dominated the niche market.

One of the greatest kick-boxing champions in the sport’s history Don “The Dragon” Wilson started making a name for himself in this niche market in 1989, doing films like “Bloodfist” in 1989, and “Bloodfist 2” in 1990.

According to IMDB, first “Bloodfist” starring Wilson and another martial arts expert Billy Blanks cost less than $100,000 and earned just under $2 million at the box office.  Second “Bloodfist” also starring Wilson had a bigger budget of $267,000 and again it earned around $1,300 million at the box office.

Director Richard Munchkin made several “kickboxing movies” in the 90s, and according to him most of those films did not have big budgets.

“I had no martial arts experience, but I did “Ring of Fire”, and it was a big hit for PM Entertainment, so I became the kick boxing guy, Munchkin said in his interview to BZFilm. “At that time it was “kick boxing”. I’m sure today it would be all MMA stuff. I was happy working with martial artists though.”

Munchkin directed Don The Dragon Wilson in “Ring of Fire”, “Ring of Fire 2”, and also made “Deadly Bet” with Jeff Wincott, and “Fists of Iron” with Sam Jones, Eric Lee, Michael Worth and Matthias Hues.

“All of those movies were made for less than half a million,” Munchkin told BZFilm.

“Ring of Fire 2″ may have been the most expensive one because Don Wilson’s salary would have gone up by then. The others were about $350,000 each,” Munchkin said.

Speaking of big budget martial arts films of the 90s, we can again refer to Jean-Claude Van Damme’s film, the “Quest”.

Being Van Damme’s directorial debut, the 1996 film had a $30 million budget, grossing out $57,400 million at the box office worldwide.

The “MMA movies”

The trend of “MMA movies” still continues, as there are more and more similar movies being released each year, some of them good, some of them bad, yet judging by the budgets – they are all more expensive than the 90s kickboxing movies. Take a look below (budget statistics based on IMDB, Box Office Mojo):

Title, Year type Stars Budget ($)
BloodFist (1989) kickboxing movie Don Dragon Wilson, Billy Blanks less than $100,000
BloodFist 2 (1990) kickboxing movie Don Dragon Wilson, Maurice Smith $267,000
Ring of Fire (1991) kickboxing movie Don Dragon Wilson, Gary Daniels about $350,000
Ring of Fire 2 (1993) kickboxing movie Don Dragon Wilson, Ian Jacklin, Evan Lurie under $500,000
Undisputed 2 (2006) MMA movie Michael Jai White, Scott Adkins $5 million
Undisputed 3 (2010) MMA movie Scott Adkins, Marko Zaror $3 million
Never Back Down (2008) MMA movie Djimon Hounsou, Sean Faris $20 million

While I brought up the better ones of the “mma movies”, such as “Undisputed 2” and “Undisputed 3”, which are already cult films, there are others, which will be soon forgotten.

Among them are: Beatdown (2010, $1 million), Death Warrior (2009, $3 million), Circle of Pain (2010, $1 million), The Philly Kid (2012, $5 million) and so many more.

There are of course some, that deserve attention of the genre fans. One of such is “Blood and Bone” starring Michael Jai White, which was made for $3,700 million, and it stood out among the similar movies.

Another example would be “Bare Knuckles” with Martin Kove, which being a rip-off of the “Million Dollar Baby”, turned out to be a good little film, made for as little as $600,000.

The point here is that today, the MMA movies in my opinion do not bring as much excitement as the “kickboxing movies” brought us in the 90s.

Partially it is because the real-life MMA fighters in movies cannot act at all. Another reason is that the style of directing the fight scenes has changed, it is not as entertaining as it used to be.

I express my hope that in the future, the quality of MMA movies would improve, since the “kickboxing movies” are hardly ever coming back.

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