Fans who are unfamiliar with her legacy in the world of martial arts might be reading this and wondering: who exactly is Cynthia Rothrock? Understanding her influence in the industry of film, however, first takes understanding her influence as a person. The name Cynthia Rothrock might sound like a foreign language to some American viewers but in the realm of Martial Arts, whether movie-based or real, she is a star. In modern movies, with the exception of Tom Cruise, it is rare for actors and actresses to actually perform their own stunts. Rothrock, a real-life ninja, and Kung-Fu wizard, is a little different.
While she is debatably one of the most influential and iconic women in action movie history, her rock star status is rooted in her successes as a master martial artist. At the early age of 13, Rothrock began her pursuit of becoming the world-class athlete, expert, and leader she is today. A black-belted in various different fields of East Asian practices, including Korean as well as classic and contemporary Chinese disciplines, Rothrock’s path to stardom as a legionary prodigy started long before hitting the big screens and will continue forevermore. For those who want to get a little taste of what Cynthia Rothrock movies are all about, here are her 11 all-time great films to watch before she takes your screen by storm with her masterful fight scenes in Cobra Kai.
Updated May 13, 2023: If you enjoy watching movies with martial arts, especially ones with Cynthia Rothrock, you’ll be happy to know this article has been updated with additional content by Darren Gigool.
11 No Surrender 2: Raging Thunder
Action-packed and thrilling to its core, No Retreat, No Surrender 2: Raging Thunder (1987) stars Cynthia Rothrock alongside Loren Avedon and Max Thayer. Scott Wylde (Avedon) travels to Cambodia to rescue his kidnapped fiancée, Sulin (Patra Wanthivanond), from dangerous crime lord Ty (Hwang Jang Lee). Teaming with fellow martial artist Terry (Rothrock) and skilled fighter Mac Jarvis (Thayer), the trio embarks on a high-stakes mission to save Sulin from the claws of the criminal mastermind.
A cult classic, that’s the status that was given to the film due to Cynthia Rothrock’s role as Terry in No Retreat, No Surrender 2: Raging Thunder at the time. She showcases her martial arts prowess and ability to hold her own alongside her male counterparts. The film elevates its popularity among fans and cements Rothrock’s status as a martial arts icon with her inclusion in the movie.
Intense and well-choreographed fight scenes characterize No Retreat, No Surrender 2: Raging Thunder. Cynthia Rothrock battles in numerous fights, highlighting her exceptional martial arts skills and athleticism. Action-packed sequences capture the attention and admiration of viewers with Rothrock’s talent for delivering powerful and convincing performances. Showcasing the skill and dedication of actors and filmmakers, the film’s climactic fight scenes stand as a testament to the thrilling martial arts experience such films can provide.
10 Angel of Fury
Cynthia Rothrock’s epic role in Angel of Fury earned her place on the pedestal of martial arts and movie critics alike. Suitable to its name, the film centers around Rothrock’s character, Nancy Bolan, who, after being widowed and brutally raped, sets out on a vendetta for revenge and takes viewers on an emotional but action-packed journey. Her voyage may lead Bolan into some trouble, but it let Rothrock show off her super-star warrior skills. To watch her movement as she fights her way through each scene is to witness iconic greatness in the making.
9 Righting Wrongs
Righting Wrongs, a late-80s Hong Kong action movie directed by Corey Yuen, is another production responsible for putting Rothrock on the map. Namely, in Chinese cinema. With martial arts being rooted in this region of Eastern Asia, it is only natural for her talent to thrive among the audience who knows it best. She’s just that good. Anyone who disagrees will change their mind after watching this daring, deft demonstration of her aptitude.
The entire movie is packed with unbelievable martial arts displays. Rothrock’s career reaches its peak in terms of fight choreography with gravity-defying stunts and intricate fight sequences. Showcasing her astounding agility, flexibility, and strength. Action in this film is bound to enthrall martial arts film and action cinema enthusiasts.
A more modern film, Mercenaries, an American-made 2014 thriller directed by Christopher Ray, is a great showcase of Rothrock’s adaptability and unwavering awesomeness. Centered around a highly-skilled, A-team of female freedom fighters, the film features heavy sequences of action-packed scenes while also driving the contemporary movement for women’s empowerment forward. With Rothrock considered a trailblazer in this department, her rebellious role in this epic narrative of feminism and fatale fits no less than perfect.
As Mona, the tough and seasoned team leader, Rothrock’s character guides her fellow mercenaries through their hazardous mission. Infusing Mona with her signature ferocity and martial arts expertise, Rothrock creates a formidable and unforgettable character. Leading the team, Rothrock asserts her screen presence and displays her remarkable fighting abilities.
The movie boasts of a robust all-female ensemble cast, encompassing Zoë Bell, Kristanna Loken, and Vivica A. Fox, who contribute their distinct performances to the movie. With masterfully choreographed fight scenes, the film becomes a thrilling and empowering experience for action cinema fans.
So cool they had to come up with a new word to describe the legendary role she plays in the Hong Kong film Undefeatable, Rothrock truly rocks the tough brand to a tee. A cult classic created by Chinese Director Godfrey Ho, this film is a centerpiece for Rothrock’s rise to stardom.
She delivers a powerful performance as Kristi Jones. Rothrock’s Jones exhibits extraordinary martial arts skills and exceptional acting. Handing out comprehensive beat downs to her adversaries, Jones remains tenacious in her pursuit of justice. Driven by her character’s desire to avenge her sister and seek retribution for her family, the movie presents an engaging and emotional narrative. For Cynthia Rothrock enthusiasts and martial arts cinema admirers, Undefeatable exemplifies the immense talent and fervor Rothrock contributes to every endeavor, so she can deliver a martial art spectacle for audiences.
6 Tiger Claws
Tiger Claws is a trilogy of novel tales about two cops, played by Cynthia Rothrock and action star Jalal Mehri, who navigate the dangerous world of crime together. With the kind of teamwork capable of moving mountains to prove, this dynamic duo royally established Rothrock’s ability up to par with her male counterparts. Speaking to the start of her acting career, however, this would neither be the first nor last time she would stand in the martial arts line next to men.
Back in Hong Kong, before the launch of her very first debut in Yes Ma’am, she auditioned for a part that was supposed to be played by a man; however, the producers, blown away by her lasting impression, opted to choose her instead. From there, it was history.
5 New York Ninja
Similar to Rothrock’s successes, the true brilliance of New York Ninja is all stinted behind the scenes — or story, rather. John Liu, the original curator of the plot, actually shot footage for this film back in 1984 but upon being horribly disappointed with the results, he canceled production altogether. It was not until about a year ago in 2021 that Vinegar Syndrome, National Film Preservation Foundation, took on the project of putting these spliced and unfinished archives back together again. Stitching might have been off here and there but based on the results, both in box office and critic reviews, this adaptation did Liu’s vision even better than justice.
4 Never Say Die
As far as action movies go, director Geoff Murphy certainly checked all the boxes with his 2017 martial arts mega-hit Never Say Die, also known as Outside the Law. Really honing her reputation as a lionhearted warrior with conviction, Cynthia Rothrock plays a retired soldier and government agent named Julie, who, as evidenced early on by her being the last one standing after a tragic ambush, is also a monster martial artist. Only suiting seeing as that is exactly who she is in real life.
3 China O’Brien
China O’Brien, directed by Robert Clouse, may very well be the most classic portrayal of Rothrock’s sensational athleticism and mastery over the arts. Starring alongside widely-cherished Hollywood celeb and highly-appraised Australian action choreographer, Richard Nixon, Rothrock proves her credentials as an all-time choice for the Karate Kid himself to pick as his sparring partner.
Ironically named China O’Brien, her character’s acrobatic ability to so gracefully, yet fiercely complement the brute force and sheer strength Nixon’s character demonstrates, makes each fight scene they share that much more riveting, exciting, and dynamic to watch. Not only do these franchise films allow Rothrock to strut her supernova skills as a fighter but they let her do it alongside a seasoned superstar.
2 Lady Dragon
American director David Worth wastes no time unveiling Rothrock’s blazing finesse in his 1990 blockbuster, Lady Dragon, opening up right into the action with an incredible brawl between her character, Kathy Gallagher, and an adversarial opponent. Before the first scene ends, viewers might very well assume Kathy to actually be able to spit fire. If you want to get a gauge for what Johnny and Miguel are talking about, this film, quite literally, would be a prime place to start.
1 Fast Getaway
Finally, Fast Getaway, directed by Spiro Rapatoz, immaculately captures the reason Cynthia Rothrock is reputably referred to as the “female” version of “Bruce Lee” and why she is held in the same respect as some of the most renowned martial arts legends to ever live. Going against the grain of her typical role as a super-human protagonist, the “Queen of Martial Arts” gets to reign as a super-human heavyweight champion in a different ball game and flaunt her stuff in a whole new light. Fans who thought she was impressive intact and intimidating in nature when she plays the classic hero will be in for a shocking surprise when they see how formidable and menacing she is as the villain.
Throughout her remarkable career, Cynthia Rothrock has significantly impacted the martial arts film genre. Consistently demonstrating her exceptional martial arts skills and the ability to portray strong, intelligent characters, she has become a trailblazer in the industry. Inspiring countless martial artists and filmmakers, Rothrock’s iconic status in action cinema is undisputed.
This story originally appeared on Movieweb