The Samurai genre is loved by many. We all love watching these warriors of the past slashing through all hardships and challenges with their swords, often recognized as the symbol of the samurai. If the west has cowboys, then the Japanese have these mighty swordsmen. The genre is vast and covers centuries of warfare, politics, and pages of Japanese history.
And because of such vastness, we had a lot of samurai movies over the years. We listed down the very best that this genre had to offer in this list. From the golden years of the 50s & 60s to modern films of the 2000s, we have it all. It’s time for you to appreciate the Code of Bushido by watching these 50 best samurai films of all time!
Rashomon is a brilliant internationally hit samurai movie of the 50s. The film starts with a priest, a woodcutter, and another person taking refuge from the rain inside a structure named Rashomon. The priest and the woodcutter start narrating the story of a murder of a samurai to the man.
A bandit murdered the samurai and raped his wife, but this story is told from the perspectives of the bandit, the wife, the dead samurai, and the woodcutter, and all the perspectives counter each other. The film is regarded as one of the most influential films of all time and is also the reason Oscars came up with the “Best Foreign film” category.
The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (1945)
The Japanese general Yoshitune Minato has been betrayed by his brother, the Shogun Yoritomo, and Yoritomo’s men are out to arrest Yoshitune. But the general is assisted by six loyal samurais, and they now must cross the border to get out of this country!
Dressed as monks, Yoshitune and his men are trying their best not to get captured and find a way to get past the border guards. Considered by many a cinematic masterpiece, this samurai film is a must-watch!
Gate of Hell (1953)
Gate of Hell is the story of a Samurai’s stubborn love. In the film, the court lady Kesa poses as the queen during a coup, allowing the real queen to flee away. The loyal samurai Moritoh lets Kesa stay with him until the coup is eventually crushed.
But Moritoh foolishly falls in love with Kesa and now wishes to marry her no matter what. Kesa is, unfortunately, married and loyal to her husband, but this won’t stop Moritoh from trying his best, or even worst!
In Japan, the word ‘ran’ means riot, and this Akira Kurosawa’s classic truly depicts it. The warlord Hidetori Ichimonji decides to retire and divide his kingdom equally among his three sons.
But with great power comes great greed, and Hitetori’s first two sons have waged war against their father. It’s war, and it’s now up to the youngest son to save the warlord from this mess. Ran is an amazing samurai drama that samurai fans will love!
The Hidden Fortress (1958)
Tahei and Matashichi are two peasants blinded by greed and are now unknowingly helping General Rokurota Makabe and Princess Yuki in escaping from enemy territory.
Why? Princess Yuki is carrying a large amount of gold with her, and the peasants have been promised a good part of it when they reach their destination. But the journey isn’t easy and is filled with trouble. The Hidden Fortress is an extremely enjoyable adventure film filled with plenty of action and humor.
Heaven And Earth (1990)
Heaven and Earth is the story of two samurai warlords, Kagetora and Takeda, who are completely different from each other, just like heaven and earth. One is brutal, extreme, and wants to conquer. The other is fair, calming, in love with someone, and just wants to defend what he owns.
These two engage in massive battles all over the country, and one day will have to win over the other. Heaven and Earth is a spectacular samurai film and has some of the best battle scenes you’ll see.
Legend OfThe Eight Samurai (1983)
A long-dead princess sents eight Magic Crystal Balls to protect her descendants. The crystal balls are taken by four warriors who will now help fugitive Princess Shizu defeat the evil queen who has been alive for 100 years by bathing with blood.
The princess’s entire family is killed, and only the eight samurai can save her. This film is filled with lots of swords, blood, sorcery, monsters, and many other fantasy elements that one will enjoy.
Throne of Blood (1957)
This film is an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Friends and Generals Washizu and Miki encounter a mystical spirit that tells them about their future. The prophecy turns out to be true, and Washizu becomes the Great Lord of the northern garrison while Miki becomes the fortress commander.
Washizu’s wife, Asaji, tells her husband not to wait for the future. They start plotting their Lord’s and Miki’s assassination. But their plan backfires, and Washizu will now have to face the consequences. Throne of Blood is a cult classic historical drama, and its timeless plot is still talked about.
In Kagemusha, a man who has nothing suddenly gets everything. A Medieval warlord dies, and now a replacement needs to be found. A poor thief who is happy with his life is chosen to impersonate him.
But living up to a warlord’s role is not an easy task, and our protagonist tries his best to fit in as the new warlord during the kingdom’s hard times. The movie is filled with colors, making it one of Akira Kurosawa’s most beautiful films!
A Samurai is filled with guilt after he witnessed the massacre of an entire village and was unable to stop it. Now, he is on a quest to prevent another similar massacre from taking place.
Along with a man and a woman loyal to him, our protagonist faces physical and mental trials and fights tough battles as he tries to save a village full of peasants and atone for his past mistakes. Goyokin is a fun movie with a well-established plot, awesome fights, and a main cast you will get behind.
Sanjuro, a wandering samurai, enters a town ruled by not one but two criminal groups. Luckily, both gangs hate each other, and the village is divided into two. Sanjiru, with his wit, is now playing the gangs against each other to free the village.
In his way is the cunning son of a gangster, Unosuke. Who will outsmart whom? Watch this witty yet thrilling film to find out.
Sanjuro is back! And now he is trying to stop an evil plan from taking place. The superintendent of a clan has designed a crafty plan to take over the entire clan. He is responsible for all the corrupt actions that are taking place within the clan, which even involve the killings of the innocent.
It’s now the job of our witty Samurai to save the clan from this misery. The movie involves everything you want from a Samurai Movie!
The Tale of Zatoichi (1962)
Meet Zatoichi! A blind, calming, well-mannered man who heals people with massages. There is no chance he could be a strong samurai who can cut people down in a blink of an eye. It turns out that he actually is!
Hating the fact that he is regarded as an outlaw, our protagonist becomes a mercenary swordsman to fight for justice. Watch the adventures of our blind but incredibly powerful samurai in this first of six Zatoichi films.
The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (2003)
Meet an all-new Zatoichi! The blind man who loves to gamble and earns by giving massages is back. The incredible swordsman is out again to cut people down in the blink of an eye.
This blind incredible samurai ends up in a town filled with evil gangs and other incredible samurais, and there he meets two women who want to avenge their parents. Watch Zatoichi clash swords in violent battles in this spectacular samurai movie!
13 Assasins (2010)
Samurai Shinzaemon Shinada and his group of 13 swordsmen take on the job of assassinating the evil lord Naritsugu Matsudaira. But the job is not going to be easy as the lord’s cunning samurai Hanbei Kitou finds out about Shinada’s plan.
The assassinating job turns into a suicide mission as the 13 samurai will now have to go through Naritsugu’s 200 men before getting to him. 13 assassins is a must-watch violent film, and you will hate Naritsugu to his core.
Machibuse is a film revolving around a nameless ronin who accepts a task he is not aware of. The ronin waits at an inn on a mountain pass, and there he meets several characters. He soon realizes that his task is to help a gang in stealing a Shogunate”s gold.
The gang orders him to kill everyone at the inn, but the ronin doesn’t want to take innocent lives. He also found out the gold was a false trap. The ronin is now standing at a crossroads, and he has to take the correct way. This film will make you sit on the edge of your seat as the story unfolds!
The 47 Ronin (1941)
The 47 Ronin is a samurai movie of the 40s based on a true story. Lord Asano is forced to commit seppuku by the Shogunate after he tries to kill Lord Kira.
Lord Asano’s 47 Samurais, banished from the land, are out to kill Kira and avenge their lord. The 47 Ronin is a 4-hour Japanese classic that fans of the samurai genre must watch!
Master Spearman (1960)
In The Master Swordsman, a retired samurai gets a last-second reprieve from committing seppuku. After this, the samurai lives a life full of peace and happiness with his new wife.
After a few years, the samurai is asked to commit seppuku by his own brother, who states that the samurai is a disgrace to their family name. The samurai refuses as he is enjoying his this life more than the code of bushido. This is a beautiful film and much different than your average violent samurai movie.
Red Beard (1965)
A young doctor Noboru Yasumoto always wanted to work as the Shogun’s physician. But much to his displeasure, he is hired to work under a strict hot-headed doctor known as the Red Beard. Red Beard treats the abused and underprivileged in his clinic.
Noboru thinks he is a much better doctor than the far more experienced Red Beard. But his perspective changes as he gets to know Red Beard better and Noboru treats a 12-year-old abused girl. Red Beard is a very powerful philosophical samurai movie.
Gonza the Spearman (1996)
In the Tokagawa Period of Japan lived a very charming man named Gonza. Gonza always wanted to perform the tea ceremony for the lord of his clan. He gets a chance to do so to celebrate the birth of an heir to the lord, but he will have to compete with another handsome and cunning guy, Bannojo, to do so.
Things take a tragic turn, and Gonza is now being blamed for adulting. What happened, and how will Gonza face this? Watch Gonza the Spearman to find out!
Revenge of a Kabuki Actor (1963)
A Kabuki Actor that goes by the name Yukinojo is hungry for revenge. He wants to ruin the life of the three men who caused the death of his parents.
And he is going to fulfill his goals no matter what! But revenge is not going to be easy, as he is being hunted by a Samurai too. Watch the film to know whether our protagonist was able to cast his vengeance!
Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo (1970)
Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo is the story of two iconic samurais fighting on different sides but having the same goal. Zatoichi is out to destroy the gang that is ruling over a small village. The leader of the gang has hired Yojimbo as his bodyguard.
However, Zatoichi is a secret agent of the shogunate and takes down the gang from the inside. The movie is entertaining, and the duo of Zatoichi and Yojimbo will be loved by all.
The Seven Samurai (1954)
The farmers from a village request a veteran samurai to protect the village from trouble-giving bandits. Six other samurai accompany him to fight with the bandits, and all they ask in exchange is three meals a day.
The seven samurais also teach the villagers how to defend themselves. With nicely done comedy, action sequences, and philosophical elements, Seven Samurai is just another of Araki Kurosawa’s incredible films.
Everyone loves peace, don’t they? But peace in old Japan leads to thousands of Samurais losing their jobs because of no wars. Living a life of poverty, a samurai named Hanshiro Tsugumo wishes to commit Harakiri, suicide by self-disembowelment, in a Lord’s castle.
His wish is granted, but then he learns of the tragic death of another Samurai who was forced to commit seppuku. Harakiri is a film revolving around the Samurai code of Death before Dishonour!
In Chusingura, a young lord is tricked into committing seppuku. The 47 samurai loyal to him are ordered not to seek revenge. Wanting justice, the samurais want to avenge their lord and reclaim honor in his name.
Chushingura revolves around this conflict of obligation vs. oath. Considered by the Japanese as a national epic, the film is worth watching for its pleasing cinematography, atmosphere, and characters alone!
Shogun Assasin (1980)
A senile shogun wants to kill everyone who may become a threat to him. That involved a great samurai warrior who once served the shogun honorably. The shogun’s ninjas are unsuccessful in killing the samurai warrior, but they kill his wife.
The Samurai is now driven with a vengeance for his wife and swears to kill the shogun. Shogun Assasin is an amazing movie revolving around this Samurai and his journey to avenge his love, while he carries a child with him.
Samurai Wolf (1966)
Samurai wolf revolves around the adventurous life of a wandering ronin, who rarely takes a bath and dresses all dirty, Kiba Ôkaminosuki. His life takes a completely new turn when he meets a gorgeous blind woman.
According to her, this cheapskate swordsman is his last hope to save a deal with a vicious shogun and wants his help. The movie is full of sword fights, action, plot-twist, and dark humor!
Samurai Assassin (1965)
A group of assassins is on a mission to assassinate a feudal lord. But the assassins think there are some traitors among them. Their suspects are Niiro and his best friend, Kurihara.
Niiro always wanted to become a samurai because that’s what his father wants. Niiro now has to give proof of his innocence. Samurai Assasin is a wonderful samurai movie with fast-paced fights and a nice screenplay.
After The Rain (1999)
‘After the Rain’ is the story of a great samurai with no master, Ihei Misawa. Ihei and his wife are stuck at a country inn due to heavy rainfall. Their jolly spirit and generous nature bring happiness to other residents of the inn. There, Ihei’s sword skills are appreciated by Feudal Lord, who hires Ihei as an instructor for his men.
But Ihei is then treated with disrespect by the lord’s jealous men. Not being a usual samurai movie, This final screenplay of Araki Kurosawa would leave you with a smile on your face and a good feeling in your heart!
A town filled with crime and corruption needs some cleaning. Enters the newly appointed magistrate, the charismatic samurai, Koheita Mochizuki.
Pretending to be an alcoholic and nicknamed “playboy”, our magistrate is serious about his work. Watch the film and enjoy Koheita fighting with mobs and slashing criminals in this fun but violent samurai movie, Dora-heita!
This film is the Japanese interpretation of the Oscar-winning movie, Unforgiven. In the late 1800s, the assassin Jubee Kamata promised his dead wife that he will never hold a sword ever again.
Now, living on small farmland, he gets to know that the new government has been troubling the local population. To save them, he has no choice but to break his promise and pick up his sword. Fans of the original work would also enjoy this remake.
The masterless samurai Izo Okada desperately wants to get rid of his poor financial condition. Finding nothing else, he is forced to join hands with a ruthless leader, Takechi, and his clan.
Using Izo as a puppet for killings, The leader tries to make Izo into a mindless murderer. Someone will have to stop Takechi and Izo is the perfect man for the job. The movie is brutal and philosophical and has a deeply ironic ending.
Red Lion (1969)
A poor servant turned into an amazing swordsman disguises himself as an imperial army officer by wearing a “red lion’s mane.”
He returns to his village after ten years with a mission – defeating the imperial army and putting an end to the village’s years of suffering. It is a very powerful film based around the hero, Red Lion!
In 1853, four US warships arrived in Japan. Here comes a mysterious but deadly ronin named Hachiro Kiyokawa, who is stuck between the Liberal Shogun and the rest of the empire.
And from there on, he puts himself continuously in danger while others follow him. The film is not your usual traditional samurai movie but is a political thriller involving a lot of twists and turns.
The Satan’s Sword Trilogy (1960)
Satan Sword is a spectacular samurai trilogy. Samurai fans would love all three films. The story starts with Ryunosuke Tsuke, a samurai who kills just because he loves to kill. He is being hunted by Hyoma, the brother of a samurai Ryunosuke killed.
The series is filled with blood, violence, brutality, and complete madness. Are you ready to watch one of the most physical and psychological sword fights you will ever see?
Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji (1955)
Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji is a movie about the adventures of a great samurai warrior and his two servants. They are traveling to Edo, and on their way, they meet different types of people and witness grave crimes.
They do what every samurai warrior would do – fight injustice and save the innocent! Show this movie to make anyone a fan of the samurai genre.
Samurai Fiction (1998)
The cunning thief Kazamatsuri has stolen the most precious sword of the clan. Heishro, Shintaro, and Tadasuke are on a mission to get the sword back. Kazamatsuri kills one of Heishro’s friends, and now Heishro adds murdering Kazamatsuri to his to-do list.
Enters an older samurai who tries to stop Heishro from persuading revenge, but he also falls into the conflict. Samurai Fiction has brilliant characters, an excellent plot, and a perfect presentation, making it one of the best samurai movies!
The Hidden Blade (2004)
The Hidden Blade tells the tale of Munezo, a samurai living with low esteem because of the failures of his father. The two most important figures in this story are his maid, Kie, and his old friend, Yaichro.
He wants to marry Kie but can’t because of their castes. And Yaichro is fighting against him to get the secret of the Hidden Blade. The Hidden Blade is a samurai movie about impossible love and friends turned enemies.
Samurai Rebellion (1967)
The old samurai Isaburo Sasahara has retired and is now enjoying a life of peace. The peace doesn’t last forever, and the Shogun offers Isaburo’s son the hand of his mistress, Ichi. Ichi and the son fell in love with each other and even gave birth to a daughter.
But the shogun now wants Ichi back! Now it’s Isaburo’s decision whether to accept the shogun’s demands or fight against this injustice. Samurai Rebellion is a film about resolve and justice.
Two ronin, a former samurai, Genta, and a farmer, Takahashi, found themselves amid a local clan’s chaos. Genta’s old master is killed by a group of seven assassins and he is out for revenge. Takahashi just wants some good looks in the clan and is tasked to hunt down the seven assassins.
These two fight against each other but eventually join forces as their goals are the same – kill the seven assassins. Kill! is a very smart, funny, fast-paced samurai movie loaded with action-packed sword fights.
Sword of the Beast (1965)
Sword of the Beast follows Gennosuke, who has the blood of one of his clan’s counselors in his hands. He is now being chased down by his former comrades. Losing all hope, he meets a master swordsman named Yamane.
Yamane is the only one who can save him, but how? Just go and watch Sword of the beast, a fascinating and violent samurai movie, to find out!
The Last Samurai (2003)
Here’s a great samurai movie that was not made in Japan – Edward Wick’s The Last Samurai. Tom Cruise plays an American military advisor on a mission to destroy the rebellious Samurais. The Samurais crush the American forces but spare Tom Cruise’s life to acknowledge his courage during battle.
Our protagonist starts learning the samurai culture and joins the samurais in the battle. The film has Tom Cruise fighting as full-fledged Samurai – is that not a good enough reason to watch it?
Three Outlaw Samurai (1964)
In Three Outlaw Samurai, a group of poor peasants kidnaps the daughter of their dictatorial magistrate. They will only return the daughter once their unfair taxes are reduced.
A wandering ronin, Shiba, and two deserters of the magistrate join the peasants in this battle against injustice. This film is one of the funniest samurai movies ever made!
Samurai Saga (1959)
Let’s add some romance to the violent world of Samurai! Samurai Saga follows a poet-cum-samurai with an incredibly large nose and an even larger heart. He is madly in love with a woman who doesn’t loves him back.
So, our protagonist decides to help another man win her by handing him his romantic poetry. Take a break from all the brutality, and watch this funny, romantic, and wholesome samurai film!
The Secret of the Urn (1966)
When Samanosuke is brutally attacked and loses an eye and an arm, he takes on a new identity – Tange Sazen, the disfigured samurai. He is now on a search for a stolen urn, which belongs to his clan.
Other than belonging to the clan’s history, Tange has some of his reasons too for getting the urn back. Watch the disfigured samurai as he slices through challenges in The Secret of the Urn.
The Sword of Doom (1966)
The Sword of Doom follows a psychopath samurai, Ryunosuke. He has no compassion in his heart and loves to kill. He trusts no one except his sword, the sword of doom. Ryunosuke promises a woman that he will spare her husband’s life in exchange for her virtue.
Ryunosuke breaks the promise, and now the woman’s brother-in-law is after Ryunosuke’s life. Watch the psycho samurai face vengeance in this underrated samurai flick.
Lady Snowblood (1973)
Lady Snowblood is a 2 part series following the life of a female assassin, Yuki. Yuki’s family has been wiped out, and her life’s only goal is to assassinate everyone involved. She has never witnessed love since the day she was born.
Yuki is a killing machine who will not stop until she avenges her family. Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill was inspired by Lady Snowblooad. This story of a girl’s retribution is a must-watch!
Shinsengumi: Assassins of Honor (1969)
Shinsengumi is a group of student fencers who are now converted into a group of assassins. Led by great samurai warrior Isami Kondo, this band of samurai is loyal to the shogunate. To all the Gintama fans reading this, yes, Shinsengumi was inspired by this movie.
Isami Kondo became Isao Kondo, Toshizo Hijikata became Toshihiro Hijikata, and Soji Okita became Sougo Okita. Shinsengumi is an awesome historical drama with solid sword fights that you can watch.
When the Last Sword is Drawn (2002)
A samurai named Kanichiro Yoshimura fails to provide for his family and has no choice but to go to the city to look for work. He joins the infamous clan Shinsengumi, and they make him do anything and everything for money.
So, is there anything Kanichiro would not do for money? Or he has no morals of his own? Find out in this philosophical movie – When the Last Sword is Drawn.
The Twilight Samurai (2002)
To end the list, we have the sweet story of the widowed samurai, Seibei Iguchi. Seibei is the head of his low-level samurai family, where he has to take care of his two lovely daughters and a senile mother.
Seibei’s already tense life gets tenser when his childhood love reappears in his life. Also, his clan needs his samurai skills more than ever now. How will one widowed samurai handle so much at the same time? The Twilight Samurai provides the answer to this question.
Also Read: 27 Historical Japanese Dramas That You Need To Watch