Best MMA Movies for Inspiration Reviewed & Rated
Most martial artists would prefer to be up and moving than lounging on a couch watching a movie. The human body cannot stay in perpetual motion, however. Even the most active martial artist has to take a break at some point but that does not mean that they have to entirely disengage from their favorite pastime.
Some branches of martial arts have more movies attributed to them than others, but nearly every branch has at least a few good movies showcasing its strengths. MMA is no exception. Hollywood has taken a real shine to MMA in the last decade or so and elements of the style can be seen in everything from Captain America movies to joke action sequences in comedies. That being said, not all MMA movies are created equal. The best MMA movies inspire their viewers and reignite their passion for the sport while connecting it to more than just the next workout or the next match.
- Takedown: The DNA of GSP
- Deeply Engaging
- Highly Informative
- Compelling Story
- Excellent Acting
- The Hammer
- Incredibly Inspiring
- Based on a True Story
This list has sorted out those movies that use MMA as a prop for a wider story. Every title on this list, be it a documentary or a fictional story, uses MMA as its key feature. They cover everything from the careers of actual MMA fighters to stories that explore the way MMA touches on themes like honor and family, personal responsibility and social pressures. Some of the actors are big in Hollywood. Others are not actors at all but real-life MMA fighters and those who support them. Whether the film is a documentary, a drama, or a comedy, however, they all share one thing – these ten movies will get their viewers amped up and ready to get back in the ring.
10 Best MMA Movies
1. Takedown: The DNA of GSP
Rating: Not Rated
IMDB Score: 7.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 4/5
- Deeply Engaging
- Highly Informative
- High Levels of Profanity and Blood
Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton play estranged brothers who take two different paths to the same MMA prize fight. They play the sons of a retired boxer, Paddy Conlon who is both a returned Catholic and a recovering alcoholic. Hardy plays Tommy, the younger son who ran away with his mother when Paddy's drunken violence became too much. Edgerton plays the elder son, Brendan, a public school teacher who can't keep his head above water between his low pay and his daughter's medical bills.
The movie follows their paths to the Sparta prize fight as well as the struggles they each face - or are running from - in their personal lives that led them to the ring in the first place.
Genre: Drama and Sport
IMDB Score: 8.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 7.3/10
- Strong Themes
- MMA is Not a Prop
- Excellent Acting
- Falls Into MMA Tropes
3. The Hammer
The Hammer is a biopic sports drama based on the life of MMA legend Matt Hammill. It chronicles the struggles he faced as a child born deaf to a family who could hear. The film follows Hammill, portrayed by Russell Harvard, as he is introduced first to the world of wrestling and later to MMA.
It is not your typical feel-good film where everything goes perfectly for the protagonist. The producers tried to make it as close to the fighter's life as they could without ruining the flow of the movie. It is his struggles that make his story and his ultimate success so inspiring for those in and outside the world of MMA.
Genre: Drama and Sport Biography
IMDB Score: 7.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 7.7/10
- Incredibly Inspiring
- Based on a True Story
- Stars Deaf Actors
- Some Issues with Accuracy
Directed by Robert Raphael Goodman, Choke follows Rickson Gracie, hid friends, and his family as Gracie prepares for the Vale Tudo Freestyle Fighting Championship in Tokyo. The film was released in 1999 to largely positive reviews, though every fighter has his critics and Gracie's boisterous personality has won him more than most. Whether the viewer is a Gracie fan or simply a fan of MMA in general, however, they are almost guaranteed to find Gracie's dedication and passion inspiring.
Rating: Not Rated
IMDB Score: 7.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 8.5/10
- Real Footage
- Up Close and Personal with Rickson Gracie
- Very Choppy Narration Style
Ejiofor plays Mike Terry, the owner and operator of a martial arts school. A fluke situation late one evening leads him down a rabbit hole of lies, deceit, and betrayal. Making his way out of this rabbit hole pits his honor and beliefs against paying off his debts and giving his wife the life she wants. Pressure mounts from every side and Mike is forced into a high-stakes martial arts competition that puts everything he believes in at risk.
Genre: Sports and Drama
IMDB Score: 6.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 6.3/10
- Love for Martial Arts is Clear
- Strong Central Cast
- Strong Themes
- Melodramatic at Times
This 2011 documentary follows a group of young men from southern Louisiana as they train and fight their way into the ranks of professional MMA fighters. The film uses real footage of their struggles to highlight both their failures and achievements while trying to explore what can motivate someone to put themselves through such pain and pressure for the right to call themselves a professional MMA fighter.
The film received generally positive reviews upon its release and has continued to generate buzz as new generations of fighters are introduced to it. If the film has one criticism it is that the filmmakers did not look deeply enough and an air of superficiality invades the film. This criticism is not universal, however, and the movie is an incredible testament to the passion MMA can inspire.
Rating: Not Rated
IMDB Score: 6.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 6.4/10
- Real Footage
- Deeply Inspiring
- Accurately Portrays MMA
- A Little Superficial
7. Blood and Bone
Michael Jai White plays Isiah Bone, a former convict who makes his way to Los Angeles after being released from prison. Bone quickly finds his way to the underground fight scene and strikes a deal with a fight promoter named Pinball. The two strike up a friendship as they work together, Bone in the ring and Pinball promoting him. It isn't long before they catch the attention of a local mob boss named James. He and Bone had crossed paths the first night Bones stepped into a fight, but the mob boss had paid him n attention until Bone made a name for himself.
Critics of the film call the plot predictable and, to be fair, they have something of a point. James wants Bone to fight for him in a match set up to impress The Consortium, a cabal of rich men who own and organize all the underground fighting in Los Angeles. Bone finds himself unable to say no, even though he and James have unfinished business that James isn't aware of until it's too late.
It's hard to avoid melodrama when a plot involves revenge violence, hitmen, babies born in secret, and one man's quest to avenge his fallen friend. It was true of Shakespeare's work and it is true here. Blood and Bone cuts the melodrama - at one point literally - with fast-paced and gorgeously choreographed fight sequences that showcase Michael Jai White's talent and make viewers want to jump back into the ring themselves before the movie is over.
Genre: Drama and Action
IMDB Score: 6.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 7.4/10
- Michael Jai White is an Excellent Actor
- Highly Stylized
- Intense Martial Arts Sequences
- A Bit Melodramatic
8. Never Back Down
But this movie has so much more to offer than that.
Sean Faris plays Jake Tyler, a former football star who is uprooted from his home in Iowa and moved to Orlando, Florida so that his single mother can help his younger brother pursue a career in professional tennis. Jake doesn't have a chance to make a name for himself at his new school before a video from his old school begins to circulate, showing Jake brawling before a game with a member of the opposing team.
This video lands him an invitation to a party thrown by Ryan McCarthy and his girlfriend, Baja Miller (played by Amber Heard). Jake soon discovers that the party is a cover for an underground street fighting circuit and Ryan is the sadistic reigning champion. Despite his best intentions not to fight, Jake is pulled into it when Ryan taunts Jake over the death of Jake's father, who died while driving drunk with Jake in the car.
So far this is all standard teen-angst plotting. Someone with a little time on their hands could even make the argument that it's the same general opening as the movie Footloose - the original, not the remake. But this is the point in the movie where MMA fans will be happy to know that things take a more unique turn.
Jake is soundly beaten by Ryan. It is at this point that Max, another classmate and a practitioner of MMA, approaches Jake and befriends him. He takes Jake to his MMA instructor, Jean Roqua (played by Djimon Hounsou). Roqua quickly makes it clear that MMA is not the low-brow street fighting that Ryan and many other people mistake it for. It is a system all its own and it demands dedication and respect. It should not be misused and is not intended for the kind of sadism that Ryan and his fighters exhibit.
The rest of the movie is a bit predictable but it is Djimon Hounsou's performance as Jean Roqua that really makes this movie stand out. His dedication to MMA and the respect he demands for his chosen martial arts style is a little awe-inspiring and is sure to charge up any MMA fighter in the audience.
Rating: PG-13 (Unrated Version Also Available)
IMDB Score: 6.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 4.4/10
- Good View of MMA
- MMA Fighting is Legitimate
- Early Role for a few Big Names
- A Bit Cheesy
9. Here Comes the Boom
Kevin James, best known as either the title character on King of Queens or as Paul Blart in the Paul Blart movie franchise, plays the role of Scott Voss. Voss is a former Division I collegiate wrestler who now works as a biology teacher in a failing high school. In a move taken directly from headlines, his school opts to save money by canceling the music program. This movie not only takes away a critical part of his students' education but endangers the job of his friend Marty, played by the ever-recognizable Henry Winkler.
Voss' initial plan is to save the music program by raising the necessary $48,000 himself. He begins teaching as an instructor for adult citizenship classes where he meets Niko, a former MMA fighter. Niko introduces Voss to MMA fights on TV and, upon learning that the loser is awarded $10,000 in UFC fights, Voss sets out to become a UFC fighter and raise the money that much faster for his school.
The movie is rife with Kevin James' typical crude humor but there is heart underneath the relatively cheap laughs. The idea of a teacher going all-in to save his students, particularly when his job is not the one on the line, is something that can make nearly American choke up a little bit. When he chooses to pursue MMA as the means of saving his school's music program, it is just an added layer of interest that gives MMA the positive spin many fans want to see. James might not look like the typical MMA fighter and he might not win every match - after all, he's just trying to fight in enough matches to win the money for his school - but his heart and passion are in the right place.
Genre: Action and Comedy
IMDB Score: 6.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 4.9/10
- A List Cast
- Touching Story
- Lots of Humor
- Some Critics Found it Too Dry
10. The Philly Kid
Wes Chatham plays Dillon McGuire who was known as the "Philly Kid" during his high school wrestling days. The film opens on McGuire as he is paroled from a Louisiana state prison after serving ten years of a fifteen-year sentence for killing a cop. McGuire is innocent of the charge but his conviction and incarceration set the theme of the rest of the movie, namely that of one man's struggle against a corrupt system.
McGuire is pitted against this enemy time and again throughout the film, whether it's against the loan shark that is threatening his friend's life or the corrupt parole officer that is taking advantage of McGuire's relative lack of power. It's a struggle that just about anyone can relate to, whether they've experienced it first hand or fear being at the receiving end of corruption that they just cannot fight.
Despite the movie's reputation as a mediocre fight-fest, the fight scenes are interesting and engaging enough that MMA fans will be able to enjoy the technique and form almost as much as the rest of the film combined. It might not be the most inspiring film on this list but it certainly ranks as inspiring, especially for those who fight against the imbalance of the world in and out of the cage.
Genre: Action, Drama, and Sport
IMDB Score: 5.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 5.8/10
- Strong Message
- Good Direction and Acting
- Engaging Fight Sequences
- Highly Predictable
These might be the top ten MMA movies according to our criteria. That doesn’t mean there aren’t still inspiring MMA movies out there waiting to find a home with those passionate about the sport. Local libraries, IMDB, and Wikipedia are all great resources for anyone who wants to find more movies like the ones listed here or who wants to bring one of the movies on this list home so they can experience the inspiration over and over again. Movies, like books and plays, can inspire the human spirit to do amazing things. They can tell stories that make us want to jump up and change the world, whether it’s the whole world or just our own little corner of it. Harnessing that power is the true magic of the movies. When that magic is coupled with the discipline and power of martial arts, of MMA, the results can be spectacular.
Criteria Used to Evaluate the Best MMA Movies
Different things inspire different people. This is the reason that we wanted to include a variety of genres on this list ranging from documentaries to dramas to comedies. One person may find angst and strife motivational while others are more motivated by a more sweet-natured attempt at using MMA to better one’s life.
Documentaries are often the most inspirational sports movies on the market, due in large part to the fact that many people see them as blueprints for success. Or, if not blueprints, they are at least guarantees that it is possible to achieve the dream, whether the dream is winning a particular title or becoming a professional MMA fighter without having serious money or family lineage to back up one’s training. Documentaries are also an excellent way for people outside the MMA world to find their way into the complex and tightly-connected circle of MMA fighters and fans.
Pairing MMA with drama tropes is something Hollywood really seems to like. Most movies that feature MMA do so by connecting it with tragic backstories, limited personal resources, and a desire for a better life with few options to achieve it. Saying this is in no way a judgment on the MMA community. Yes, some fighters can relate to these tropes, but many others are not represented by these traits at all. MMA fighters come from a variety of backgrounds, just like any other group of athletes. Hollywood, however, tends to overlook this fact for the benefit of using angst to drive their stories. Luckily, some people are highly motivated by these kinds of stories because they put a bad guy in front of the athlete, one that can be taken down through properly applied skill.
Comedy and MMA may seem like strange bedfellows but it has been pulled off at least once, in the movie Here Comes the Boom. Movies that combine sports with comedy tend to do so following the template set by Happy Gilmore and Caddyshack, in which the sports are a key component but they serve to drive the protagonist on to other, unrelated goals. This isn’t meant to detract from the seriousness or self-contained goals of achieving MMA excellence. But it does help to motivate those who may not relate as well to the heavier themes that many MMA movies use.
Action and MMA most easily go hand-in-hand. MMA is action, after all. Most people who watch MMA do so because it gets their adrenaline pumping and their hearts racing in the same way that a car chase scene does. There is a downside to this simpatico, however. Most of the action movies that feature MMA use it as a seasoning rather than the main course, so to speak. The movies are not about MMA but the main characters may use MMA to fight opponents, often mixing in parkour just to move the fight around its location. Steve Rogers in Captain America: Winter Soldier is an excellent example of this. Rogers uses MMA-style fighting skills early on in the film. And though his style is not completely in sync with regulation MMA, it comes close enough to bring MMA to mind for many viewers, particularly those who are not close to the sport. This tendency to use MMA, or styles close enough to be mistaken as MMA, makes it hard to separate the movies who flavor their action sequences with MMA from those who focus solely on the style as a main driving force of the movie.
There are certain themes that run through nearly every martial arts movie subgenre and MMA movies are no exception. The themes are often intertwined so tightly that it is clear the filmmakers do not see them as separate themes at all but part of a whole. This perceived whole is usually the core of nearly every martial arts practice on earth. It is the rules that keep martial arts on track as sports or when applied in combat, primarily tools for good. It is what separates wanton violence from the practiced and intensive practice of martial arts. This core can be separated out into three distinct themes upon closer examination, however. The lines between them may be a little blurry, but arguments can be made for each theme to stand on its own which only strengthens the core they form when they are used together.
Most MMA movies fall into the “redemption” category. The protagonist either seeks redemption for himself or uses his skills to give redemption to someone else. Even MMA comedies like Here Comes the Boom fall into this category, as Voss seeks to redeem himself as a teacher who has lost his passion for educating. He does this by entering MMA fights to earn enough money for his school to keep its music program, thereby redeeming the general reputation of his school as well. Other movies take a heavier approach, the most notable being Blood and Bone. Bone seeks justice for his murdered friend but, in the process, grants redemption to the man’s wife who had fallen in with a bad crowd and becomes an addict after the death of her husband.
MMA films also like to use the theme of justice, documentaries included. Whether the justice is that of a fighter finally getting the title he has fought for, as it is in many documentaries, or the justice is for a murdered friend as in Blood and Bone, justice and martial arts pair well together. There is something about the drive and dedication needed to learn martial arts that makes it a perfect match for the idea of justice for the wronged.
It’s hard to say if honor is a theme in and of itself in MMA movies or if it just part of being a respected fighter. The only fighters who practice without honor are, invariably, the bad guys in martial arts movies. The audience understands, usually, without being told, that fighting without honor is essentially defiling the sport. Movies like Never Back Down take this a step further by involving an instructor who refuses to train fighters without honor. This character is a bit of a trope, it is true. But they are also one of the most effective ways to make sure the audience understands the need for honor when learning martial arts.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What ages are these movies acceptable for?
A: The “lightest” rating that this list offers is the PG rating of Here Comes the Boom. All of the movies feature a large amount of MMA fighting, a fair amount of blood, and most of them involve adult themes such as sex, drugs, or non-MMA violence. Parents and guardians are really the only ones who can decide if the movie is appropriate for someone under 18, but they are certainly not intended for anyone under the 13-16 minimum age range.
Q: Where can I find these movies?
A: All of the movies on this list are available on Amazon in multiple formats. Most of them can be streamed either through Amazon or through Goole Play and most can be found on DVD through Amazon or any site that offers second-hand DVDs such as eBay or Half Price Books.
Q: Do these movies have parental guides or content warnings?
A: All of these movies carry a content warning for violence and blood, though some of the movies do not limit that content to the MMA sequences. Some movies, like Blood and Bone, involve mentions of drug use, domestic violence, and abortion as well as revenge and mob violence. Sites like IMDb often have parental warning sections for those who want to know of anything specific that they may not want people under 18 to see.
Q: Are any of these movies based on true stories?
A: There are several documentaries featured on this list. They are all tagged with the genre “Documentary” to make them easier to spot.
Q: Are the soundtracks for these movies available?
A: Most of the fictitious movies on this list have official soundtracks that are available through music sites like Google Play or iTunes. Playlists for documentaries might be harder to track down, though fansites like Reddit and Tumblr may have playlists put together by dedicated fans of the documentaries or the fighters showcased in the documentary.