In Japanese history, samurai were trained warriors who abided by codes of honor, whereas ninjas lurked in the shadows and employed more dishonorable tactics like stealth, espionage, and assassination.
The lore that's infused with mystery and secrecy has turned ninjas into one of the most intriguing character types in pop culture, primarily showing up in martial arts movies—but not always!
Ninjas are defined by their ninjutsu, which traditionally refers to their martial training and abilities. More recently, ninjutsu has taken on a fantasy spin, injecting ninjas with superpowers like invisibility, shapeshifting, or even straight-up magic.
From classic films about someone's struggle for survival to more recent films featuring modern takes on mysterious figures, here are my picks for the best ninja movies worth checking out.
12. American Ninja 5 (1993)
Directed by Bob Bralver
Starring David Bradley, Lee Reyes, Anne Dupont
Action, Comedy, Romance (1h 42m)
Let's start this list with a film that's been panned, but is actually pretty good if you're just in the mood for an easy, shut-your-brain-off watch: the American martial arts film American Ninja 5.
American Ninja 5 stars David Bradley as Joe, the American Ninja. When Master Tetsu puts him in charge of his grand-nephew Hiro (played by Lee Reyes), he ends up babysitting this kid who has no interest in ninja stuff.
However, Hiro is the last of the true ninjas and must embrace his identity by learning the ways of the ninja. Several mishaps end up forcing Hiro to accept the truth, especially when the enemy sends ninjas after them.
11. Azumi (2003)
Directed by Ryūhei Kitamura
Starring Aya Ueto, Kenji Kohashi, Hiroki Narimiya
Action, Adventure, Drama (2h 8m)
The Japanese film Azumi is a live-action adaptation of the manga of the same name. Set in feudal Japan, it follows the story of an orphan girl named Azumi (played by Aya Ueto), raised and trained to be a ninja.
To become full-fledged ninja assassins, this band of ninjas (including Azumi) are ordered to pair up with their closest friend and fight to the death. This not only makes the survivors prove their skills and abilities, but also prepares them to kill anyone no matter who they are.
In the wake of that, they get a mission to assassinate the three remaining allies of the enemies of the Tokugawa Shogunate. However, tensions arise as the young ninjas let their emotions get the best of them.
10. Ninja (2009)
Directed by Isaac Florentine
Starring Scott Adkins, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Mika Hijii
Action, Thriller (1h 26m)
Ninja is a martial arts film that follows the story of Casey Bowman (played by Scott Adkins), who's tasked with guarding a valuable chest from the hands of a former dojo student Masazuka (played by Tsuyoshi Ihara), who's now an assassin for an organized crime syndicate.
The chest in question—known as Yoroi Bitsu—contains the suit and weapons of an ancient ninja, which Casey dons as he prepares for his final bout with Masazuka to save Namiko (played by Mika Hijii).
While the film doesn't totally lean into its ninja-themed story, it still features some well-choreographed fight scenes performed by Adkins and Ihara, who are both actual martial artists in real life!
9. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman
Starring Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner
Action, Adventure, Comedy (1h 41m)
For many, the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will always be the best, but the reboots are each good in their own ways. In the 2014 film, the Ninja Turtles were buffed up and made to look more grimy.
The story still follows the typical TMNT storyline: the Turtles are products of genetic mutation—along with their father Master Splinter—and now work as vigilantes who protect their beloved New York City from Shredder and his Foot Clan.
The film also stars Megan Fox as April O'Neil, a reporter who happens to have a deep connection with the anthropomorphic ninjas.
8. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (2023)
Directed by Jeff Rowe and Kyler Spears
Starring Micah Abbey, Shamon Brown Jr., Nicolas Cantu
Animation, Action, Adventure (1h 39m)
Here we have another reboot of TMNT that features a different take on the origin story of the Turtles. This time, there are several other species that are affected by the mutagen like them. Those other mutants, however, want to dominate humanity.
Whereas the 2014 reboot made the Ninja Turtles more mature, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem animated movie gives them a friendlier look that's perfect for its coming-of-age theme.
7. Snake Eyes (2021)
Directed by Robert Schwentke
Starring Henry Golding, Andrew Koji, Haruka Abe
Action, Adventure, Crime (2h 1m)
Snake Eyes (also known as Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins) is the origin story for the titular character Snake Eyes, played by Henry Golding. Snake Eyes is one of the original members of the G.I. Joe team, which was based on Hasbro's toy franchise of the same name.
The film centers on Snake Eyes before he becomes part of the band of elite soldiers. Here, he's commissioned to acquire a sacred jewel from a ninja society in exchange for his father's killer.
Snake Eyes veers away from the popular backstory of Snake Eyes as we know him, yet still retains several key pieces of information (like his relationship with Black Shadow and Scarlett, plus his connection to the ninjas of Arashikage Clan).
6. Road to Ninja: Naruto the Movie (2012)
Directed by Hayato Date
Starring Junko Takeuchi, Chie Nakamura, Toshiyuki Morikawa
Animation, Action, Adventure (1h 49m)
When it comes to ninjas, you can't ignore the impact and influence of Masashi Kishimoto's Naruto manga, which was adapted into an anime series and several spin-off anime movies.
Of those movies, we're going with Road to Ninja: Naruto the Movie, which follows the story of Naruto and Sakura as they're caught in a genjutsu (an illusory technique) that seemingly sends them to an alternate timeline.
The film changes the canonical timeline in several ways, from the different personalities of the Konoha 11 to the fact that Kushina and Minato are alive. Plus, there's the badass, epic entrance of the Akatsuki who are actually on the side of the heroes this time!
5. Ninja Assassin (2009)
Directed by James McTeigue
Starring Rain, Rick Yune, Naomie Harris
Action, Thriller (1h 39m)
Ninja Assassin takes place in the modern world, except there's a shadowy underbelly with ninjas hired as assassins for huge sums of money. It revolves around the character of Raizo (played by South Korean actor Rain), a trained ninja who's next to lead the Ozunu Clan.
But instead of becoming the clan head, he becomes a fugitive who's hunted by his fellow ninjas, which floods the screen with all sorts of action-packed fights and deaths.
4. Ninja Scroll (1993)
Directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri
Starring Kōichi Yamadera, Emi Shinohara, Takeshi Aono
Animation, Action, Adventure (1h 34m)
Ninja Scroll is a classic anime film written and directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri (creator of Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust) in conjunction with Madhouse working on the animation.
Set in feudal Japan, the Toyotomi Shogun of the Dark is plotting to overthrow the Tokugawa Shogunate.
Caught up in the political feud is Jubei Kibagami, a former ninja. Unfortunately, he has no way out except to defeat his enemies, including ninjas who possess supernatural powers.
Ninja Scroll is for adults with its dark and bloody atmosphere and mature themes. Despite the brutality and savagery in the film, it's regarded as one of the best anime films of its time.
3. Blackfox (2019)
Directed by Keisuke Shinohara and Kazuya Nomura
Starring Ayaka Nanase, Haruka Tomatsu, You Taichi
Animation, Action, Adventure (1h 30m)
6.1 on IMDb — N/A on RT
Don't confuse Blackfox with Black Fox: Age of the Ninja, which is a live-action adaptation that came out in the same year. Blackfox is the anime version and delivers a significantly better experience.
Blackfox is more than just a ninja story. It blends sci-fi and mecha with a revenge plot that's packed with action, all set in the modern world. We follow Rikka Isurugi, a descendant of a family of ninjas, who was trained by her grandfather from a young age to become a ninja herself.
However, when one fateful night leaves her father and grandfather dead, she vows to avenge them and hunt down their murderers. Aiding her are the three robotic AI drones created by her roboticist father.
2. Last Ninja: Red Shadow (2019)
Directed by Yoshitaka Yamaguchi
Starring Yūki Ashida, Kanichirō Satō, Mayu Yamaguchi
Action (1h 28m)
6.2 on IMDb — N/A on RT
Last Ninja: Red Shadow is set during the latter years of the samurai era when the Japanese government was in political turmoil.
It follows the story of a wandering, low-ranking ninja named Ryu (played by Kanichirō Satō), who's enlisted by the Satsuma Clan to bring their princess back home. However, this high-paying job gets him caught up in the problems brewing within the government.
Last Ninja: Red Shadow is the first half of a two-parter, concluding with Last Ninja: Blue Shadow. In the second film, the story shifts its focus to the character of Sho (played by Yuki Kosei), the fellow ninja Ryu encounters in the first film.
1. Shinobi: Heart Under Blade (2005)
Directed by Ten Shimoyama
Starring Yukie Nakama, Joe Odagiri, Tomoka Kurotani
Action, Drama, Fantasy (1h 47m)
Shinobi: Heart Under Blade is a well-crafted ninja story with an interesting plot and characters fitted into a Romeo and Juliet-inspired story, and it's packed with action, drama, and fantasy.
The film centers on two lovers, Kouga Gennosuke (played by Joe Odagiri) and Oboro (played by Yukie Nakama), who come from rival clans Koga and Iga, the two most-known ninja clans in Japanese history.
As in many romance tales, no one can come between their relationship, not even their respective clans who hate each other. Adding to the conflict is the Tokugawa Shogunate, led by Tokugawa Ieyasu who views both clans as a threat to his reign and wants the ninja clans destroyed.