10 Stunt Choreographers Behind Some of Your Favorite Fight Scenes

A good fight scene should be like a story unto itself, one told through action, like an interpretive dance conveying grace, brutality, and economy of motion. Aside from a few exceptions, American movie fight scenes were often seen as an afterthought, or a means to an end, and generally consisted of wide, looping punches (or a “John Wayne” as they’re sometimes called): simple, raised-forearm blocks, and impractical body-dives that lead to wrestling matches with the combatants awkwardly jockeying for the top spot.

In Hong Kong in the 70s, studios like Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest were pioneering a different form of film-fighting, one derived from Asian martial arts. Instead of treating fight scenes as an afterthought, directors like Chang Cheh, and choreographers turned directors like Lau Kar Leung and Yuen Woo Ping, considered fight scenes an integral part of the story, and infused them with emotion, nobility, and valor, which, coupled with intricately-choreographed techniques honed to balletic perfection, created a style of film-fighting whose influence is felt to this day. Around the same time, an actor named Bruce Lee was making a name for himself in Hong Kong. Possessing an otherworldly charisma and athleticism, he had other ideas about the way fight scenes should be filmed, favoring realism and simplicity over long, drawn-out fights. Hollywood eventually took notice, and Lee’s film Enter the Dragon was released, completely changing the game.

Soon, American movie fight scenes were seasoned with karate/kung fu poses and “judo” chops, mostly at the behest of stars of the time like James Caan and Steve McQueen, who had been privately studying these trendy new Asian fighting arts. However, while they recognized the money-making potential in these films, they considered them silly, kept them at arm’s length, and relegated them to a new subgenre where names like Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Steven Seagal would flourish.

It wasn’t until the 90s, when former stunt performers Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan, and Yuen Biao ushered in the golden age of Hong Kong Cinema, that American studios really took notice. Since then, you’d be hard-pressed to find a fight scene that doesn’t take some inspiration from Hong Kong action cinema or a choreographer (or action director), who doesn’t attribute their influences to the films and performers of that era. It’s a direct result of this influence that, these days, a choreographer is considered just as significant as an editor or a cinematographer to the success of an action film. Here is a list of the choreographers behind some of your favorite fight scenes.


10 Yuen Woo-ping

One of the most influential fight choreographer/directors in Hong Kong cinema, Yuen Woo-ping was already a legend in the business when Hollywood came calling. He worked as a stuntman and fight choreographer for a few years before being offered his first directing gig in 1978 with Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow starring Jackie Chan and his father Yuen Siu-tien. Looking to separate himself from the violent and overly serious tone of colleagues like Chang Cheh’s films, Woo-ping applied a comedic tone to his films and fight choreography, and, with Chan’s help, gave birth to the martial arts comedy. He is the mastermind behind such classics of the era as Drunken Master, Magnificent Butcher, Tai Chi Master, and Fist of Legend.

Woo-ping began making strides in Hollywood, choreographing fight scenes for Lethal Weapon 4, but it wasn’t until The Wachowskis specifically hired him to choreograph the fighting for TheMatrix films that he became one of the most in-demand fight choreographers in Hollywood. Splitting his time between Hollywood and Asia, he continued to worked on such films as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Kill Bill: Volume 1, Kill Bill: Volume 2, Kung Fu Hustle, Unleashed, Fearless, and Ip Man 3, to name a few.

Related: Star Wars: Best Lightsaber Fight Scenes in the Movie Franchise, Ranked

9 Donnie Yen

If he had come along in the late 70s, martial artist, actor, director, fight choreographer, action director Donnie Yen would’ve undoubtedly been saddled with the often-misused moniker: The Next Bruce Lee. Yen got his first break in a starring role in Drunken Tai Chi. Displaying incredible martial arts ability, speed, agility, and an indomitable screen presence, Yen would quickly blaze a trail through the Hong Kong film industry that continues to this day. Since the late-80s, he has appeared in and often choreographed the fight scenes for such films as Once Upon a Time in China II, Iron Monkey, Hero, and Enter the Fat Dragon. Yen is credited with introducing mixed martial arts into Hong Kong fight choreography. His most famous role to date is that of legendary Wing Chun grandmaster, and Bruce Lee’s instructor Ip Man, in the Ip Man film series. In the early-2000s, Yen began appearing in choreographing fight scenes for Hollywood films, including Blade II, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Mulan, and John Wick 4.

8 Jeff Imada

One of the most prolific fight stuntmen/choreographers in Hollywood, Jeff Imada has performed stunts in over 100 films, and was the chief fight coordinator on the Matt Damon films The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. He got his start in the business by working as an extra while in college. His resume is vast, and includes such films as Blade Runner, Rambo: First Blood Part 2, Lethal Weapon, Fight Club, The Book of Eli, Furious 7, and many more. He is a favorite stunt coordinator of horror master John Carpenter and has worked on 10 of his films.

7 Brad Allen

Australian born martial artist, stunt performer, choreographer and actor, Brad Allen was the first non-Asian member of Jackie Chan’s stunt team. Beginning his martial arts training at the age of 10, Brad Allen trained in a variety of martial arts before landing work as a stunt performer on the film Drunken Master III. After brief appearances in the film’s Mr. Nice Guy and Who Am I, both starring Chan, Allen was invited to join Chan’s stunt team and would later become team captain.

Allen would eventually go on to work as a stunt performer/coordinator and fight choreographer for several Hollywood films including Shanghai Noon, Rush Hour 3, The Chronicles of Riddick, Avatar, Kickass, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Pacific Rim, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Solo: A Star Wars Story, and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Sadly, Allen died of an “unspecified illness,” at the age of 48.

6 Iko Uwais

Born in Jakarta, Indonesia, martial artist, actor, stuntman, and fight choreographer Iko Uwais helped change the fight choreography game as both actor and fight-choreographer on Gareth Evans’ The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2: Berandal, and introduced the world to the Indonesian martial art Silat. Working in perfect synergy with Evans’ kinetic, vertigo-inducing camerawork, his style of screen-fighting, which manages to be both elegant and breathtakingly brutal, incorporates the environment in ways that owes much of its inspiration to the golden age of Hong Kong cinema, while ramping the visceral impact up to 100.

Over the course of three films, the first being Merantau, his style has become a new benchmark for the way fight scenes are filmed, and has positioned Uwais as one of the biggest action stars to come out of Indonesia since the days of Billy Chong. Since then, Uwais has appeared in and/or designed the choreography for such films as Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Beyond Skyline, Triple Threat, Mile 22, Wu Assassins, Fistful of Vengeance, and Snake Eyes. He currently has five films in development with Sylvester Stallone’s production company Balboa Productions and will next appear in The Expendables 4. Uwais is also, per Collider, set to design the fight choreography for the upcoming American remake of The Raid: Redemption.

5 Yayan Ruhan

Like Uwais, martial artist, actor, and fight choreographer Yayan Ruhan helped usher in a new era in film fighting with his contribution to Gareth Evans’ films Merantau, The Raid: Redemption, and The Raid 2: Berandal. His first break in film came in 2008, when he was asked by Evans to assist with the choreography for the film Merantau. He was also cast in the film as Eric. Since then, Ruhan has appeared in and/or helped design the choreography for such films as Yakuza Apocalypse: The Great War of the Underworld, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, and Skylines. Along with Uwais, Ruhan is set to design the fight choreography for the upcoming American remake of The Raid: Redemption.

4 Panna Rittikrai

Thai Martial artist, fight choreographer, director, screenwriter, and actor Panna Rittikrai is almost single-handily responsible for putting the Thai action film industry on the map. He got his start in the industry in Bangkok as a stuntman and a physical trainer tasked with teaching actors how to fight. He eventually formed his own stunt team, P.P.N. Stunt Team, and started making his own films, the first of which was Born to Fight in 1978. He went on to make over 50 low-budget action films, but it wasn’t until 2003’s Ong Bak, a film that he wrote and worked as fight choreographer on, that Rittikrai achieved worldwide notoriety.

Following the success of Ong Bak, Rittikrai’s gritty style of choreography, which mixed many forms of martial arts, with an emphasis on Muay Thai, and bone-crushing stunts, became in high demand, and he would go on to work as fight choreographer for several films, including Ong Bak 2, Ong Bak 3, Dynamite Warrior, Bangkok Knockout, and The Stunt. Sadly, Rittikrai died in 2014 of acute renal failure at the age of 53.

Related: These Are the Best One-on-One Fight Scenes in the MCU, Ranked

3 James Young

Heralding from a small town in England, martial artist, stuntman, and fight choreographer James Young was teaching martial arts when a friend, who was a stuntman, invited him along to train with him one day. He fell in love with it and, along with a few friends who had just started a stunt team called Thousand Pounds Action Company, began shooting short YouTube fight films for fun and practice. Eventually catching the eye of Hollywood, Young went on to work as a fight choreographer and/or fight coordinator for such films as Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, and Black Widow. He was, in fact, Sebastian Stan’s stunt double in The Winter Soldier and Civil War, and Robert Downey Jr’s stunt double in Civil War.

2 Chad Stahelski

Martial artist, stuntman, fight choreographer, director, and actor Chad Stahelski began his martial arts training in kickboxing before finding his way to the Inosanto Academy, where he would eventually rise to the rank of instructor. He briefly competed in mixed martial arts before a friend, who worked as a stuntman, invited him to an audition. From there, he worked as a stuntman on several films, including Bloodsport 2 and Bloodsport 3. In the 90s, he was cast as Brandon Lee’s stunt double in The Crow, and Keanu Reeves’ stunt double in The Matrix series of films, where he met Woo-ping, from whom he credits having learned Hong Kong action training.

Together with former stuntman turned director David Leitch, Stahelski founded 87Eleven Action Design, one of the top studios for fight choreography and stunt coordination in Hollywood, in 1997. His career continued to flourish, and he has since worked on such films as Van Helsing, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Iron Man 2, The Wolverine, and Deadpool 2. He has worked as second-unit director on Ninja Assassin, Birds of Prey, and Captain America: Civil War. After co-directing the hit film John Wick with Leitch, he was the sole director on the sequels John Wick: Chapter 2, John Wick 3: Parabellum, and the upcoming film, John Wick: Chapter 4. In 2017, per Syfy, he signed on to direct a reboot of the 1986 cult-classic film Highlander.

1 Jonathan Eusebio

A fan of martial arts films starring Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Sammo Hung since his childhood, Canadian-born martial artist, stuntman, stunt coordinator, fight choreographer, martial arts technical advisor, and actor Jonathan Eusebio began training in martial arts at a young age. Before getting into film, he was an instructor at the Inosanto Academy, in Marina del Rey, California, which is the school of legendary martial arts instructor, and close friend of Bruce Lee, Dan Inosanto. Eusebio’s credits include John Wick, The Avengers, The Bourne Identity, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Austin Powers: Goldmember. He is a member of 87Eleven Action Design.

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