Liam Neeson – the movies’ greatest martial arts actor?

Liam Neeson in Star Wars

So I was watching Taken again yesterday. It’s a cracking movie – you can always tell when an action film isn’t as dumb as the others when it gets described as a ‘thriller’ or an ‘action-thriller’.

In it, Liam Neeson plays a retired CIA agent whose teenage daughter gets abducted while in Paris. He has 96 hours to track her down before she disappears forever. Now, it owes an awful lot to the Bourne movies, from its gritty fights and its European locations to its camerawork and stunt scenes. But it definitely stands by itself as a film intended for grown-ups, and Neeson’s fantastic and the director lets him have some great moments to himself.

It also deserves a lot of credit for portraying the world of prostitution and trafficking in women as the horrific, miserable, squalid thing it is, rather than the usual glamourous Pretty Woman-esque view.

But it suddenly got me thinking. When exactly did Liam Neeson become the West’s greatest martial arts action star? Okay, he started off in Hollywood doing Dark Man, so it’s not like he was a stranger to action films. But over the last decade or so, he’s become a real martial arts star who is also a great actor at the same time. That’s pretty rare: in fact, he may be the movies’ greatest martial arts actor. What do you think?

After the jump, some of Liam’s recent fight scenes to prove my point – at least as far as the fighting’s concerned.

From Taken:

From Star Wars Episode 1:

From Batman Begins:

From Rob Roy, arguably the best sword fight in movie history:




  • He was also Gawain in Excalibur and had a fight scene in that too. Can’t find it on YouTube though…

  • My isn’t he nimble for such a big guy? I think your theory possibly correct Mr Rob. But good as the Roby Roy fight is, I probably prefer the swordfighting in first Pirates of Caribbean film.
    You have just reminded me that Darkman is brilliant and I should watch it again.

  • stu-n

    Hmm. He isn’t the first name I’d think of when asked about martial arts actors, but those clips are pretty good. You always have the suspicion of trickery of some kind when it comes to Star Wars or Batman films, though.
    My first thought as a competitor would be Chow Yun Fat — serious martial artist, and the man can really act. But I’ve asked my favourite forum of genre-crazed intellectual snobs, so we’ll see what they come up with.

  • I did say “in the West” IIRC. Chow Yun Fat’s acting in Bulletproof Monk wasn’t exactly brilliant, but Couching Tiger, etc, obviously much better.

  • And I realise reading Stu-n’s comment that I actually rather obviously now very little about martial arts and acting. I think am probably the only person in the world who hated Crouching Tiger.

  • MediumRob

    “And I realise reading Stu-n’s comment that I actually rather obviously now very little about martial arts and acting. I think am probably the only person in the world who hated Crouching Tiger.”
    I hated it, too, as did most Hong Kong cinema-goers: it’s somewhat slower paced compared with their usual fare…

  • I could even know.
    Oh glad I am not the only one. Spouse and I couldn’t for the life of us see what the fuss was about. But then I always found the Water Margin really silly too.

  • tom

    [it’s not in the Sun so it can’t be true] mmmm ! Now don’t get me wrong he is a great actor and I sure I have seen just all of his movies..yes he very good in his action movies..but to class him with such greats in the martial arts to like of Bruce lee, chuck norris, Vandam,Chow yun fat, Jet-li, hell even Steven Segal not to take away from anyone acting,but I am sure that these people have years of training and have earned there status in the martial arts before acting.. I dont see any of this for the actor Liam Neeson to say he is the greats of all time that a big cup to fill…??

  • MediumRob

    My point was that he was the West’s greatest martial arts actor. The others are indeed great martial artists, obviously far more skilled than Neeson, but are they better actors? No.

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