The 10 Best Movies With Samurai, Ranked

There's something uniquely compelling about Japanese samurai. Here are the best samurai movies worth checking out.
The 10 Best Movies With Samurai, Ranked

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Since the dawn of time, mankind has told stories around campfires about monsters and evils—and the key character in many of those stories was a warrior sent to defeat said evils.

That heroic warrior archetype has appeared in all kinds of forms over the centuries, including knights, cowboys, and soldiers. But in traditional Japanese cinema, that character was the samurai.

Samurai movies are usually set between the 12th and 19th centuries, featuring the classical protagonist who carries a sword and tries to do good. With katana in hand, these warriors would do battle against the malevolent forces that plagued their towns.

Here are my picks for the best movies with samurai. Expect to see a lot of movies by the legendary Akira Kurosawa on this list.

Fun fact: Many classic Western movies were inspired by samurai movies and their fascination with moral dichotomies. Some Westerns even lifted entire plots directly from Japanese films!

10. Onibaba (1964)

Trailer for Onibaba (1964)

"Jidaigeki" movies were very popular back in the days of classical Japanese cinema. These were essentially period piece films, and many of them involved plenty of samurai action.

Written and directed by legendary Japanese filmmaker Kaneto Shindo, Onibaba follows the story of a poverty-stricken mother and her daughter-in-law after they've killed a samurai.

While you could arguably say that every movie on this list is "jidaigeki," this one really highlights the period aspect more than the rest.

9. The Sword of the Beast (1965)

Trailer for The Sword of the Beast (1965)

The Sword of the Beast is set in 1857, back towards the end of the samurai era. In fact, this film has a beautifully symbolic touch with its samurai protagonist hunted by—and on the run from—the law.

Gennosuke (Mikijiro Hira) is a fugitive who's killed a counselor in his clan. In an attempt to support himself while on the lam, he becomes embroiled in a plot to steal gold from the shogun's mountain.

However, he meets another samurai who has the same plan. What results is one of the greatest yet lesser-known samurai movies of all time that's still a wonderful watch today.

8. Yojimbo (1961)

Trailer for Yojimbo (1961)

The first of the Akira Kurosawa movies on this list is Yojimbo, a classic film of the samurai genre.

Yojimbo follows a "ronin" (i.e. a samurai without a master) who has no name. Although he's nameless, he masquerades as a bodyguard for two competing immoral businessmen.

Under the name Sanjuro Kuwabatake, he pits the two rivals against each other and slowly causes both of their downfalls.

Yojimbo eventually got a sequel that was also co-written, produced, directed, and edited by Akira Kurosawa. Now that's a man with a vision!

7. Rashomon (1950)

Trailer for Rashomon (1950)

Rashomon isn't just one of the best movies about samurai—it's one of the greatest Japanese films ever made, and it was so good that it introduced Japanese cinema to much of the world.

The plot of this film centers on four different witnesses to a rape and murder, all of whom have their own perspectives on what they saw.

While Rashomon doesn't have as much emphasis on the idea of a samurai as Kurosawa's later works, it's an important watch. It looks at the nature of memory and truth, causing us to question how we interpret reality through our subjective senses and fallible perception.

6. Throne of Blood (1957)

Trailer for Throne of Blood (1957)

In Throne of Blood, two samurai warriors are on their way back from a battle encounter. Along the way, they meet a witch who gives them a fateful prediction of things to come.

Inspired by the prophesy and encouraged by his wife, Washizu (Toshiro Mifune) pursues the idea of becoming Lord of the Northern Garrison—and heads down a path that changes his life forever.

Throne of Blood is a dramatic interpretation of Shakespeare's Macbeth, and it's executed well enough to be one of cinema's greats.

5. The Hidden Fortress (1958)

Trailer for The Hidden Fortress (1958)

The Hidden Fortress is one of Akira Kurosawa's lesser-known movies, but not due to a lack of quality or impact.

The story follows two treacherous, opportunistic peasants who attempt to profit from a local tribal dispute. They promise to take a man and woman to safety away from battle (in exchange for gold, of course).

However, what they don't know is that they're actually escorting the General and Princess to safety...

Fun fact: George Lucas famously cited The Hidden Fortress as a big influence on his Star Wars saga!

4. Ran (1985)

Trailer for Ran (1985)

Ran is another film where Akira Kurosawa reinvented Shakespeare. Almost three decades after he reimagined Macbeth with The Hidden Fortress, his interest in the Elizabethan playwright hadn't waned.

However, this time, he took on King Lear and adapted it into Ran, a fantastic piece that looks at the effects of disharmony in the family after a king tries to divide his kingdom between his three sons.

In Ran, you can clearly see that Kurosawa nearly had a career as a painter. This movie might be one of the most exquisitely filmed of all time, let alone one of the best samurai movies ever made.

3. Sanjuro (1962)

Trailer for Sanjuro (1962)

Eponymously named after the enigmatic Sanjuro, this sequel to Yojimbo follows the jaded character as he helps a young and naïve band of renegade samurai defeat forces of evil.

Noticing their inexperience, Sanjuro educates them on the worldly politics that govern the clan they're part of.

Sanjuro improves upon its predecessor as it drips with suspense while mixing in darkly comic moments. There's heaps of action as well, with Sanjuro displaying his competence with a sword several times.

Years later, Sergio Leone took notice and based the first two films of his Man With No Name Trilogy on Yojimbo and Sanjuro.

2. Harakiri (1962)

Trailer for Harakiri (1962)

Tsugumo Hanshiro (Tatsuya Nakadai) is an aged samurai who's well past his prime. He approaches the feudal lord who governs his district and he asks for a place where he can commit suicide. Intrigued yet?

Directed by legendary filmmaker Masaki Kobayashi, Harakiri is one of the most interesting and thought-provoking films ever made. In case you needed more convincing, this film is ranked as the fourth best film of all time on Letterbox's list of Top 250 movies!

In fact, it would easily be the very best film to top our list of best samurai movies if it weren't for one particularly influential film...

1. Seven Samurai (1954)

Trailer for Seven Samurai (1954)

There can only be one choice for best samurai movie of all time: Akira Kurosawa's magnum opus Seven Samurai.

When a group of seven warriors find themselves as the only salvation standing between an army of bandits and a small village, they decide they must do what's right to defend the defenseless.

Seven Samurai is a story about all the things that are important in life: passion, honor, courage, and dying for a noble cause.

It went on to spawn countless imitators, most notably John Sturges's Western film The Magnificent Seven (1960). However, without question, the original Seven Samurai will always remain on top—not only among the best movies about samurai, but the best movies of all time.