The Most Complete Fighter: The Films of Scott Adkins, Ranked

Contributing Writer


20 years ago today, Teddy Chan’s The Accidental Spy hit theaters. Within star Jackie Chan’s illustrious filmography, the film is usually considered a minor entry, but it’s momentous for an entirely different reason: it marks the film debut of English martial artist and actor Scott Adkins (Stephen Tung Wai’s Extreme Challenge was technically filmed first, but Accidental Spy had the earlier world premiere). Although Adkins’ role is of the in-the-background, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it variety, this early instance of getting-one’s-foot-in-the-door proved to be historic, as it kicked off the film career of one of contemporary cinema’s greatest screen fighters. In the years immediately following this debut, the actor slowly but surely worked his way into the spotlight, demonstrating his physical prowess on the sidelines until his role in 2006’s Undisputed II: Last Man Standing, which jump-started the Adkins cult in earnest. Although he technically plays the villain in that film, Adkins is the one who commands the screen as Russian prison fighting champion Yuri Boyka.

In that film—as well as the two, even better sequels—we see the Adkins appeal distilled into its purest form: insane athleticism that mixes the fleet-footed acrobatics of Hong Kong greats like Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao, and Jet Li with the ’80s hard-body aesthetic of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. In many ways, Adkins is comparable to Jean-Claude Van Damme, who also married muscles with martial arts. That said, whereas Van Damme seems to split the difference between beauty-in-motion and beauty-in-stasis—between dynamic physicality and the static, sculptural grandeur of the bodybuilder’s pose—Adkins’ stardom has primarily revolved around a workmanlike doing: ambitious stunts, complex choreography, a headlong rush into brute force movement.

A workman’s dedication characterizes Adkins’ career as a whole, which, despite never quite achieving mainstream recognition, has nonetheless thrived on the direct-to-video (DTV) circuit. He starred in five films in 2020, and four the year before. Also in 2020, he debuted a YouTube series titled “The Art of Action,” in which he interviews various icons of the action genre—past guests have included Cynthia Rothrock, Chad Stahelski, and Dolph Lundgren—to the delight and edification of fans worldwide. As not just a world-class action star but an advocate for and teacher of “the art of action,” Adkins has become an invaluable presence not just onscreen but in the action community more generally.

It is toward appreciating the breadth of Adkins’ filmography that this piece has been conceived. This introduction has focused heavily on Adkins and his specific appeal; having done this, I will, for the rest of the article, consider more holistically the films in which the actor has starred. With this goal in mind, I wanted to offer a few clarifications before diving in:

  1. All titles featured in the ranking are films in which Adkins plays a leading role (i.e., not those instances of false advertising in which the guy’s face is blazoned across promo materials despite appearing only in a few scenes). Calling anything else a “Scott Adkins film” would’ve felt disingenuous, although some of the omissions (e.g., Wolf Warrior) only narrowly missed being included.
  2. Ross Boyask’s Pure Vengeance might very well have fit the requirements, but because it doesn’t seem to be available for public viewing, I unfortunately had to disqualify it as well.
  3. The ranking is not based on the quality of Scott Adkins’ performance in these films, but the quality of the films overall (which, granted, often owes a lot to Adkins). 

And now, without further ado, I present to you the films of Scott Adkins, ranked:

31. Legendary

“I’ve seen enough shaky camerawork to last me a lifetime.”

It’s funny that this cheekily self-referential line (Adkins, along with sundry fighter/stuntmen peers, have been known to bristle at obscurantist filmmaking that masks the extent of their skills) appears in a film where the actor tussles just once, and sans any display of martial arts prowess. In fact, Adkins is cast completely and amusingly against-type, playing the role of the environmentalist pacifist who seeks to capture rare creatures alive for the purposes of research and preservation. Expanding one’s horizons is all well and good, but the territory into which he’s “expanded” feels triter and more constricting than anything he’s done before. A knockoff of every other Jurassic Park knockoff that came before it, Legendary has not one inspired bone in its anemic body, which comprises mainly a rehash of trite roles (the trigger-happy gun for hire! The kindred environmentalist spirit and love interest! The young protégé! The silver-tongued businessman!), plodding plot beats, and shoddy CGI that feels “bad” in the worst way possible—i.e., lacking the surreal zaniness of a Brett Leonard or Tsui Hark picture, simply the eye-sore of failed Hollywood photorealism.

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