At some point during the late 50s and early 60s, Hollywood figured out that Ninja was the perfect vehicle for thrilling, action-packed movies. Their subversive and deceptive nature, as well as their famed acrobatic fighting style and skillful use of deadly weaponry, meant that Ninja films rarely ran out of excitement and drama.
And while the Ninja movie genre peaked during the 1980s, some of the best Ninja films were made during the 1990’s action movie heyday. Below you will find movies that introduced audiences to exciting new franchises, and others who concluded decade-spanning sagas.
For many, watching Ninja movies represents a guilty pleasure. For others, Ninja movies are nothing short of genuine cinematographic joy. And while some Ninja movies are outright terrible, others can be considered objective cinematic masterpieces.
Join us today as we pay tribute to this timeless genre with our choice of
The Best Ninja Movies Made In The 90s.
Owl’s Castle (1999)
Owl’s Castle, originally titled Fukurō no Shiro in Japan, is a different beast than the other entries on the list.
To start, this is a period piece set in the Azuchi–Momoyama period, nearing the end of the fabled Sengoku. This is a revenge tale, except this time it is the Ninja seeking revenge from those who did them wrong.
The story is as follows: when famed military powerhouse Nobunaga Oda rose to power, he soon learned to fear the deadly reach of the Ninja clans that populated feudal Japan. As a result, he had them nearly wiped out from existence. Unfortunately, for him, some survived and vowed to avenge their legacy.
What follows is a violent Ninja romp, steeped in history, court drama, and intrigue. There are plenty of typical Ninja battles, but surprisingly there’s also plenty of CGI enhanced Wuxia-style choreography.
The film also features a beautiful and haunting score of traditional music heightened by modern touches. Owl’s castle is not for everyone, but if its crazy mixture of old and new sensibilities clicks with you, I can almost guarantee that it’s going to click hard.
Ninja Scroll (1993)
The next movie on our list of best Ninja movies is not live-action, but rather animated.
Directed by the masterful Yoshiaki Kawajiri and inspired by the works of Japanese author Futaro Yamada, Ninja Scroll tells the story of a wandering swordsman named Jubei Kibagami as he becomes caught up in a violent and dangerous conspiracy to overthrow the Tokugawa Shogunate.
Ninja Scroll was released in 1993 to critical acclaim and would go on to change the filmmaking landscape in much the same way as other classic animated films of the time such as Akira and Ghost in the Shell.
The movie has a superb script that is brought to life thanks to razor-sharp animation, memorable characters, and stylized ultraviolence.
Ninja Scroll is not only one of the best Ninja films released in the 1990s, it is one of the best-animated films ever released and deserves a spot on this list as much as any other.
The Haunted (1995)
Written and directed by J.F Lawton, of Pretty Woman and Under Siege fame, The Haunted is one of the 90s most memorable Ninja movies; at least for me.
The Haunted tells the tale of an American businessman named Paul Racine, played by a young Christopher Lambert, as he visits Japan and meets a beautiful woman in Tokyo, played by Joan Chen, only to witness her murder soon after.
The perpetrators of this brutal crime are a group of ruthless Ninja assassins known as the Makatos and led by a dangerous man called Kinjo. Once they realize that Paul witness the woman’s assassination, the Makatos led by Kinjo make it their mission to hunt and kill our American hero.
The movie then plays like typical action/thriller fare for the time: bloody battle scenes, moderate nudity, and memorable tension throughout.
American Ninja 4: The Annihilation (1990)
The premise here is simple: Brad Norris and three of his Delta Force commandos are captured in an African rainforest by a deadly Ninja squad.
A desperate rescue mission is set up and led by Sean Davidson and Carl Brackston. However, they also end up getting captured. Now, the entire weight of their fate falls on one man, the now-retired American Ninja, Joe Armstrong.
American Ninja 4: The Annihilation is a rescue adventure through and through. We get tons of the same dazzling Ninja action we are accustomed to getting from this cult-favorite series, new locations, new sleeker choreography, and bigger explosions than ever before.
Finally, and perhaps the reason why I personally hold this film so highly, we get to see three of the ’80s most memorable action stars reunite for this quintessentially 90s Ninja film. And, even though the plot does hit some rather dark turns, most of the fun is still chock full of fun and frenetic action.
American Ninja 5 (1993)
Speaking of action, the final movie on our list of the top 5 90s Ninja movies is one of the most over-the-top action-packed entries on this list.
American Ninja V is the fifth sequel to the ultra-successful action-adventure saga American Ninja that began in 1985. Directed by Bobby Jean Leonard and written by John Bryant Hedberg, American Ninja V follows David Bradley in the titular role as he goes on a mission to find and rescue the daughter of an important scientist.
All of the American Ninja movies are known for their action-paced sequences which border on the absurd, high-flying Ninja choreography and insane stunts.
All of the movies in the saga deserve a spot on our list, but American Ninja V managed to come out on top thanks in large part to its gripping story and atmospheric score.
Honorable Mention (For The Kids)
3 Ninjas (1992)
This is not a traditional blood and violence ninja move but if you were a kid in the 90s this may have been your first ninja flick, and a perfect pick if you have any younger viewers.
3 Ninjas came out when I was 8 years old, and it rocked my world. Here was everything I could want in a movie: likable characters, comedy, action, and kick-ass martial arts.
Directed by Jon Turteltaub and written by Kenny Kim, 3 Ninjas starred Victor Wong of Big Trouble in Little China fame, and Michael Treanor, Max Elliott Slade, and Chad Power as the titular Ninjas.
The movie follows 12, 11, and 8-year-old brothers as they attempt to thwart the nefarious plans of a criminal gang that was being targeted by their FBI agent’s dad. The boys are able to do this because they have been trained by their Japanese grandfather in the ancient art of Ninjutsu.
While the movie was critically panned at its release, it was positively received by fans around the world, generating a cult following, and spawned 3 sequels which all deserve a spot on this list.