Epic Samurai Movies (The 11 Best To Watch)

Japanese samurai movies chanbara

These are some of the best samurai movies you can watch and they are all Japanese movies as they are the best in the genre.

I’ve been a huge fan of samurai movies (and Japanese culture in general) for the past 25+ years now, and have watched all the movies listed here, and more.

‘Chanbara’ translates from Japanese to ‘sword fighting’ which is apt for samurai cinema. The samurai movies are all period set movies from when the samurai were around.

From the epic classic Japanese samurai movies of the ’50s to the more recent modern ones.

The list is in no particular order except number one which is the classic samurai movie that’s a must-watch and my personal favourite.

After spending several months travelling around Japan and writing travel guides for the places visited I decided to write articles about Japanese culture, books, movies, and more so if you’re planning a trip to Japan or are just interested in Japan, then these will all give a good insight into the Japanese way of life.

Note: This post contains affiliate links to Amazon where you can watch some of the movies.


Seven Samurai (1954)

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Like I said this is my all-time favourite and the best samurai movie of all time in my opinion.

The legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa directed Seven Samurai as well as many other samurai movies on this list.

It’s set in 1586 in feudal Japan where a farming village is continuously under attack from bandits. They hire seven samurai to protect them and their harvest.

It’s a long movie and grainy but it’s worth it (for the fight scenes at the end especially).

Great character development as well.

It’s a great samurai movie showing some old Japanese culture as well.

Watch Seven Samurai here.

Seven Samurai trailer:


Harakiri (1962)


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Harakiri (Seppuku) is set in the early 17th century during the Edo period.

It’s about a warrior who has no master and who wishes to commit ritual suicide at the House of Li samurai clan due to events with his family.

First, he recalls his story in the courtyard of what happened with his family.

It’s a slow story but builds up to an absolutely epic battle scene in the end.

Watch Harakiri here.

Harakiri trailer:


13 Assassins (2010)

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This movie is based on historical events set in 1844 where twelve samurai and a hunter plan to kill an evil warlord.

This is a modern remake of the 1963 version of the same name but I like this one better. As usual great sword fights throughout.

It’s a great modern samurai movie.

Watch 13 Assassins here.

13 Assassins trailer:


Throne of Blood (1957)


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This is based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, but call it the samurai version. It’s set in feudal Japan.

A spirit predicts two samurai warriors futures and when the beginning part becomes true he plans to fulfil the final part of the prophecy by killing his master and taking his place.

Watch Throne of Blood here.

Throne of Blood trailer:


Yojimbo (1961)

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Yojimbo is again a movie about a masterless samurai (they’re called ronin I should point out at this point).

The samurai shows up in a quiet village and sets about becoming the bodyguard for two rival businessmen and then plays both sides against each other.

Massive gang fights ensue.

Watch Yojimbo here.

Yojimbo trailer:


The Hidden Fortress (1958)


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With a war going on 2 poor men try to profit from it, and when they find 2 people hiding in a fortress (man and a woman) they have no idea they are secretly a princess and a general in disguise.

They agree to help them for gold and it’s rather funny to see the princess and general pretending to be normal people.

The general has some great battle scenes.

Interesting fact: George Lucas took some of the ideas for Star Wars from The Hidden Fortress.

Watch The Hidden Fortress here.

The Hidden Fortress trailer:


Sanjuro (1962)

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This is a sequel to the previously mentioned Yojimbo and is very humorous for a samurai movie and a hell of a lot of action.

Again in a smilier mean to many samurai movies it follows a lone samurai who ends up teaching wannabe samurai who want to confront their corrupt lords.

Want a funny samurai movie? This is the one to watch.

Watch Sanjuro here.

Sanjuro trailer:


Samurai Rebellion (1967)

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This one is set in the 18th century where the local lords command a father to give his wife and son (who is the heir to the family) to them.

The wife and son don’t obey and launch a rebellion against the rulers.

Great as a connection story of a family in love that fights an unjust system. You really root for this family.

I wish I could tell you how it goes but you will have to see for yourself.

Easily one of the best samurai movies.

Watch Samurai Rebellion here.

Samurai Rebellion trailer:


Ran (1985)


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Epic. Epic. Epic. This is one of director Akira Kurosawa’s later in life best movies (of previous Seven Samurai fame and others on this list).

It’s partly taken from Shakespeare’s “King Lear”.

An elderly lord gives up his power to his three sons who then end up fighting each other for full control.

The battle scenes in this are truly massive and a must-see.

Watch Ran here.

Ran trailer:


Kagemusha (1980)


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Another one of Akira Kurosawa’s later films.

A thief (Kagemusha) who looks like an aged warlord is taken by the clan to play that lord so other clans believe he is still in power, to avoid being overthrown.

The actual lord eventually dies and the thief is actually put in the real position of power.

He enjoys his new position until he ends up having to fight and compete against a rival clan.

Watch Kagemusha here.

Kagemusha trailer:

Mifune: The Last Samurai (2015)

This last one isn’t actually a samurai movie but a documentary about Toshiro Mifune, the classic actor in chanbara cinema who is in some of the movies listed here and worked with Akira Kurosawa on many movies.

He is the most famous samurai actor and this documentary takes a look at his life.

For any fans of Mifune and chanbara cinema then this is a must-watch documentary to see.

Watch Mifune: The Last Samurai here.

Mafune: The Last Samurai trailer:

The Best Samurai Movies List:

Seven Samurai 1954

Harakiri 1962

13 assassins 2010

Throne of blood 1957

Yojimbo 1961

The hidden fortress 1958

Sanjuro 1962

Samurai rebellion 1967

Ran 1985

Kagemusha 1980

Mifune: The Last Samurai (2015)

A little Bonus:

Samurai Champloo (2005)

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Ok, this isn’t a samurai movie, it’s an animated Japanese anime about an experienced samurai and a fighter who encounter a young girl who enlists there help.

It’s great fun to watch with a bit of dark comedy in it and the Samurai Champloo characters develop as the epidodes go on. Mugen from Samurai Champloo is seriously hilarious to watch.

It also has a great soundtrack to boot.

Don’t let the fact it’s anime put you off, it gives a good insight into life in feudal Japan and a hell of a lot of fun sword fights.

Trailer for Samurai Champloo:


The Best Samurai Movies

So that’s the choice of my favourite samurai movies and they are all Japanese samurai movies.

I could have included a bunch more but this is all you will need to get the best from the samurai movies genre.

I said “Japanese movies” in the title as these are all Japanese made. I find Hollywood samurai movies like The Last Samurai to be not so good in general.

Hell, in The Last Samurai they were basically trying to portray it was a white foreign guy who was saving the samurai.

If you’re visiting Japan or interested in learning about samurai tradition, or just love a good sword fight, then choose one or more of these for movies on samurai to watch.

Pro movie tip  Amazon Prime has a 30-day free trial, so you could watch a lot of these for free during that time.

If you want more movies about Japan then check out:

10 of the best movies to watch about Japan

10 of the best Japanese animation to watch .

This post will also explain about the last stand of the samurai in their last epic fights.

If you liked this article about the best samurai movies and chanbara cinema a share would be cool! 


14 thoughts on “Epic Samurai Movies (The 11 Best To Watch)”

  1. Not a bad list but have you seen any samurai movies by Yoji Yamada (director) like Twilight Samurai, The Hidden Blade and Love and Honor?

  2. Yes! I love the Twilight Samurai. Was trying to keep the list to just 10 movies though to give people searching for a good samurai movie the best choices (IMO). Was thinking in the future to make it 15 Japanese samurai movies!

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  5. Hi,
    Great list of great movies!
    I saw a very unusual Samurai movie a couple of years ago, but I cannot remember the name of the movie or the director of the film. This makes me sad, because I would like to see it again. I found it on YouTube, but I cannot remember the exact phrase I searched for when I found it. Believe me, I have tried all the possible combinations and have literally spent hours searching for it. Since you seem like a genuine fan of the samurai genre I hope that you might know which movie I search for.

    Plot: A gang of samurai guys, aged around 20-25 are leaving their village for Edo (I believe it was) where they should try to join the Shinsengumi. Among of these young samurai guys, there were one very skilled with the sword and he was skinny and tall and I believe he had red/orange hair, like an Afro hair cut style. This movie was a very low paced and genuine touch like Kurusawa and Kobayashi. This red/orange hair dude meets a girl and they fall in love with each other and unfortunately he dies in the end. Do you perhaps know the movie Im looking for?

  6. love your list, for years have looked for a jap. pre-1980 movie were opening scene is a man running through a bamboo forest amidst a barrage of arrows & gets 1 in his right arm. part of the film has a theater-like stage where even the dead can talk about their lives & the film will take you back in their personal histories. How they died & who they plotted against & killed. I think its about some powerful ‘Lord’s family & estate’ & just about everyone meets an untimely death. I wish I could remember the tile? I’d love to see it again!

  7. That’s a list to be proud of. I simply love Japanese cultures and traditions. The samurai culture is one of the most talked about things, and looks like there are some amazing movies have been made on this topic. I will have to watch a few of them for sure. Thanks for the update!

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