Little is known about the real Ninja of feudal Japan. Nevertheless, for decades the Ninja (also known as Shinobi) have been endlessly exploited in Western movies, books, comics, video games, and cartoons.
The peak of this Ninja obsession came about during the 80s during a time when CHEESE was the main ingredient in most Hollywood productions. As a result, if you grew up in the 80s you likely grew up watching “bad movies” about deadly Ninja warriors take on hordes of evil henchmen and displaying superhuman feats of agility and speed.
The thing is, while some of these Hollywood Ninja movies were admittedly bad, most of these movies were a great deal of fun and well worth your time if you give them a chance.
Here are my favorite Ninja Movies from the 80s:
The Octagon (1980)
The Octagon stars Chuck Norris as Scott James, a retired martial arts champion. When the woman he dates, played by the beautiful Kim Lankford, is killed by a gang of vicious Ninja, he embarks on an epic revenge adventure that involves a cult of assassins and international terrorism.
The film received favorable reviews upon its release in 1980 thanks in part to Norris’ gun-ho performance and its adequate-for-its-genre screenplay.
Enter The Ninja (1981)
After completing his Ninjutsu training in Japan, a Vietnam war veteran named Cole, aptly played by Franco Nero, visits his former comrade-in-arms Frank Lander and his wife, who own farmland in the Philippines.
Cole soon realizes that the Landers are being victimized by the villainous Charles Venarius, played with pompous authority by Christopher George.
Cole finds himself facing hordes of Ninja assassins trained by the Ninja Hasegawa, an old sparring partner of his. Enter The Ninja is credited by many with starting the Ninja-film craze of the early 80s.
Miami Connection (1987)
Miami Connection is the very definition of a hidden gem film. Originally released in 1987, the film received generally unfavorable reviews and remained unseen by mass audiences until its re-release to DVD in 2012 when Drafthouse Films realized they had a movie with the potential for massive cult following in their hands.
Miami Connection has everything you could ever hope for in a film from the 80s set in Miami: cocaine, bad music, cheesy dialogue, and Ninjas on bikes.
Pray For Death (1985)
Pray For Death came to us in 1985 under the direction of Gordon Hessler and starring the legendary martial artist Sho Kosugi, James Booth, and Norma Burton. The movie’s plot is pretty straightforward, but the stakes are sky-high.
Our main character, a retired Ninja-warrior, is married to an American woman who convinces him to relocate his family to the United States to start a new life. However, their dream is cut short by a ruthless gang of criminals who, due to the actions of a corrupt cop, come to believe the family is responsible for the theft of a priceless piece of jewelry.
Pray For Death is one of the finest Ninja films to have come out of the 80s.
American Ninja (1985)
No list of Ninja films would be complete without mentioning American Ninja. This iconic film, produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, was directed by Ninja-specialist Sam Firstenberg.
The film starred Michael Dudikoff as Private Joe Armstrong who, after being given the choice of either joining Spec Ops or going to jail, ends up in a fight to the death with a savage Ninja army. Joe must use everything at his disposal, including extensive martial arts training he has no memory of receiving, to rescue his girlfriend and defeat the bad guys.
If you have to pick just one Ninja movie from the 80s, American Ninja (its 4 sequels are also worth a watch) should be it.