These are some of the best samurai movies you can watch and they are all Japanese samurai movies as they are the best in the genre.
First of all, you may be wondering what a ‘backpacking’ website has to do with samurai movies? Well, I’ve been a huge fan of samurai movies since I went to film college when I saw them for the first time, and for the past 25+ years have watched all the movies listed here, and more.
I always recommend to other travelers to watch movies about the places they intend to travel to before going to understand the place better, which is why I do articles like this, especially as my Japan guides are some of my most popular.
Before I spent several months traveling in Japan I decided to re-watch loads of these Japanese samurai movies to get me in the mood to travel there.
As far as these samurai movies go they will help you in getting to know part of the Japanese history of feudal times with the samurai and also the historical samurai places to visit in Japan when there. In fact, they give a good insight even today into part of the Japanese psyche.
Basically, these Japanese samurai movies will not only entertain you with epic sword fights but also educate you on part of Japan’s history.
They are all movies from the period when the samurai were around. From the epic classics of Japanese samurai films of the ’50s to the more recent modern samurai movies.
Quick fact: Samurai movies in Japan are called Chanbara cinema which translates from Japanese to ‘sword fighting’. Quite an apt name!
The list is in no particular order except number one which is the best samurai movie that’s a must-watch and my personal favorite.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links to Amazon where you can watch or buy some of these samurai movies. I get a small commission if you do so at no extra cost to you.
Seven Samurai (1954)
This is my all-time favorite and one of the best Japanese samurai movies 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 film and visually grainy, which shows its age, but it’s worth it, for the fight scenes at the end especially. Seven Samurai has been on the list of many film critics as one of the most influential movies in Japanese cinema.
Great character development as well.
It’s a great samurai movie that also shows some old Japanese culture.
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.
This could even be described as an anti-samurai movie in some way. It’s easily one of the best samurai movies and another of my favorites.
13 Assassins (2010)
This movie is based on historical events set in 1844 in Japan where twelve samurai and a hunter plan to kill an evil warlord after being recruited to do so by someone from the government.
This is about how they go about their attempted assassination.
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 one of the greatest modern samurai movies.
Throne of Blood (1957)
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 fulfill the final part of the prophecy by killing his master and taking his place.
As far as Japanese samurai movies go this is a lot of fun!
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.
A massive gang fight ensues with epic samurai sword fighting!
The Hidden Fortress (1958)
With a war going on 2 poor men try to profit from it, and when they find 2 people hiding in a fortress (a 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.
This is a sequel to the previously mentioned Yojimbo and is very humorous for a samurai movie and there is a hell of a lot of action.
Again in a similar way to many samurai movies it follows a lone samurai who ends up teaching a wannabe samurai who wants to confront their corrupt lords.
Want a funny samurai movie? This is the one to watch.
Samurai Rebellion (1967)
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. All I’ll say is that the final fight is one of the best in samurai movies history.
Easily one of the best samurai movies.
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.
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.
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.
The Best Samurai Movies List:
Seven Samurai 1954
13 assassins 2010
Throne of blood 1957
The hidden fortress 1958
Samurai rebellion 1967
Mifune: The Last Samurai (2015)
Shogun TV Series (1980)
Ok, this isn’t a samurai movie but there is a lot of samurai stuff happening.
It’s about an English sea captain who gets shipwrecked in Japan. In the culture shock, he has to integrate into the samurai culture in order to survive.
You will learn a lot about the samurai from this.
One more extra:
Samurai Champloo (2005)
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 their help.
It’s great fun to watch with a bit of dark comedy in it and the Samurai Champloo characters develop as the episodes 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.
The Best Japanese Samurai Movies
So that’s the choice of my favorite samurai movies and as you have seen 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 samurai 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 as 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
This post will also explain the last stand of the samurai in their last epic fights.
If you liked this article about the best Japanese samurai movies and chanbara cinema a share would be cool!