The Greatest Ninjas In Pop Culture History

15 of the memorable ninjas on the big screen and small.

Ninja Band Of Assassins
Happy International Ninja Day! Without nobles and samurai warriors, our friends the ninjas wouldn’t exist. Rural farmers and peasants couldn’t fight back against oppressive samurai due to a lack of armor and weapons, so they used the advantage of their environment and modified farm tools instead. Using guerrilla warfare and unorthodox skills they shaped the foundation of ninjitsu. Their tactics and skills were so famed that feudal lords employed ninjas to carry out acts that honorable samurai would not do in the 15th century including espionage, assassinations, sabotage, and infiltration. The age of the ninja ended in the 17th century, but their legend lives on.
Here are the best ninjas from movies and TV!

Who? Goemon Ishikawa

Where? Ninja, a Band of Assassins (1962)

If you’re looking for a more sophisticated ninja movie, then look no further. Ninja, a Band of Assassins is a seminal entry in the genre which depicts ninjas in a more realistic image compared to subsequent films that leaned heavily on action and theatrics. The story is essentially about a warlord with ambitions to unite the Shogunate under his rule. This isn’t in the best interests of two warring clans, though, both of whom want the prestige of assassinating him. The film follows Goeman, a fuck boy who is charged with the killing the warlord after he gets caught having an affair with his commander’s wife. This one contains more soap opera than your average ninja opus, but once the action gets going it really hits the sweet spot. – Kieran


The Octagon

Who? Kyo the Enforcer

Where? The Octagon (1980)

Chuck Norris was a dominating force through the 1980s, and while his acting was enough to make wooden blocks look like master thespians his fighting was better. Roundhouse kicks and facial hair were his biggest strengths, and they found their greatest challenge in this classic Cannon Films wannabe. He works through nameless ninjas like soft butter, but he hits a real threat in the masked and menacing Kyo the Enforcer. That’s Richard Norton beneath the metal face plate, a bad-ass in his own right, and after seeing him dispatch numerous guys earlier he finally meets his grueling end in Chuck. – Rob


Elektra

Who? Elektra

Where? Daredevil (1981 comic book, and later in movies and television)

The most iconic woman ninja of all time, once lover and friend of Matt Murdock aka Daredevil, and deadliest hired assassin, Elektra is no laughing matter. Trained by the same man that taught Murdock everything he knows, Elektra can hold Daredevil to a stalemate and maybe even beat him depending on the circumstances. After her death, she was resurrected by her sworn enemy The Hand and became an unstoppable force of nature. The past two decades have been kind as her character has had numerous movie, and television appearances. – Carl


Snake Eyes

Who? Snake Eyes

Where? G.I Joe (1982 toys, cartoons, movies)

Snake Eyes might be the only character to start off as an action figure on this, but anyone familiar with G.I Joe knows that Snake Eyes is one of the most popular characters of both the toy line and series. Trained by the Arashikage Clan, and adopted by his master as a child, he quickly learned the ways of the ninja. Snake Eyes is a master of all things ninjitsu and the only one who can fight COBRA’s Storm Shadow as an equal. After the death of his master at the presumed hands of Storm Shadow, he took a vow of silence which just makes him that much cooler. – Carl


Revenge Of The Ninja

Who? Cho Osaki

Where? Revenge of the Ninja (1983)

After his family gets murdered, a ninja flees to America with his son. He wants to escape his violent heritage and give the boy a good life. Upon arriving in the US, he opens a doll store with the aim of living the American Dream. Unfortunately, he must return to his ninja ways when his drug-dealing friend messes with his family and needs put in his place. Thus, the ninja is reawakened and justice is served Cannon-style. This movie marked Sam Firstenberg’s debut as an action director, and he went on to helm some of terrific low-budget gems afterwards. – Kieran


The Master

Who? The Master

Where? The Master (1984-1984)

This short-lived television show actually gave viewers three ninjas for the price of one — more if you count the faceless fodder who we see dispatched each week. Lee Van Cleef plays the title ninja, though, and while it’s clearly a much younger stunt double whenever he dons the mask he’s still a hoot. He has a young trainee (played by Timothy Van Patton of the Hollywood Van Pattens) and faces off each week against a super ninja named Okasa brought to dramatic life by the man, the myth, the legend, Sho Kosugi. It’s cheesy fun along the lines of The A-Team, and it’s worth seeking out for fans of ninjas and 80s TV shows. – Rob


Who? Goro Yamada

Where? Ninja III: The Domination (1984)

Any ninja who massacres a golf course full of khaki-clad morons deserves a spot on any list. In Yamada’s reign of terror in this movie is nothing short of high art, as he also lifts a golf buggy with his bare hands, slices some cops, and destroys a helicopter. This all happens within the opening 10 minutes of the movie as well. He can also possess people. Need I say more? – Kieran


Tmnt

Who? Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo

Where? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1984 comics, games, cartoons, movies)

No matter what version of the turtles you grew up on when someone says name a ninja or ninjas in pop culture you will most likely think of these 4 guys. They are easy to love and easy to identify with because who doesn’t like a good slice of NY pizza. Each one represents an archetype, and often times your favorite will be the one you relate to the most whether it be Leonardo the cool-headed leader, Raphael the hot head, Donatello the brains, or Michelangelo the goofball. To top it all off their dad and master is a giant rat named Master Splinter. – Carl


American Ninja

Who? Private Joe Armstrong

Where? American Ninja (1985)

Michael Dudikoff will never get the credit he deserves as an action stud, but back in the 80’s he was second only to Chuck Norris as Cannon Films’ master of martial arts. The first American Ninja is his finest hour and one of the most fun films the studio produced during its heyday. In this one, he plays an American soldier and ninja who must conquer mercenaries in the Philippines before his ultimate showdown with an evil ninja. The movie was following by three sequels of mixed quality, but they’re all fun in their own way. – Kieran


Scorpion

Who? Scorpion

Where? Mortal Kombat (1992 game, and later in movies)

“Get over here!” Sometime in your life you have probably said or had someone quote Scorpion in your life, and you probably didn’t even realize it. Despite starting off as video game character, Scorpion has dominated pop culture as the go-to ninja character at comic-cons and is often seen as the face of Mortal Kombat. Scorpion is a resurrected ninja hellbent on reviving his slain clan and killing an enemy cryomancer trained in the ninja arts, and he’s known for his chained spear and hellfire powers. – Carl


Jubei Kibagami

Who? Jubei Kibagami

Where? Ninja Scroll (1993)

Easily one of the most stylish and nonchalant ninjas on the list is Jubei Kibagami, vagabond ninja and protagonist of one of the most iconic animated films of all time, Ninja Scroll. Jubei captures the wandering warrior archetype that would go on to influence other famous animated characters. – Carl


Naruto Newshot

Who? Naruto Uzumaki

Where? Naruto (1997)

Manga and anime have had a big jump in popularity in the U.S the past decade, and one of the main reasons is Naruto. With over 500 episodes, 72 volumes of manga, and an ongoing sequel Naruto is the face of the next generation of Ninja in pop culture. Naruto Uzumaki is known for harnessing the power of the ninetails beast, unleashing his famous Rasengan ninjutsu, and saving the Leaf Village. – Carl


Ninja Shadow Of A Tear

Who? Casey Bowman

Where? Ninja (2009), Ninja: Shadow of a Tear (2013)

Scott Adkins is a bad-ass in every lead role, but he’s at his best collaborating with director Isaac Florentine. The first film introduces him as a talented Westerner training in the way of Ninjutsu, and it’s good stuff. The sequel, though, is where it’s at. We get an old school plot — he must avenge his wife’s murder! — and Adkins goes up against the legendary Sho Kosugi’s son Kane after slicing and dicing his way through dozens of masked ninjas. It’s pretty goddamn glorious. – Rob


Raizo

Who? Raizo

Where? Ninja Assassin (2009)

Starring South Korean Idol Rain, Ninja Assassin has a special place in my heart, mostly because the protagonist would make even Batman blush. Taken in by the Ozuna clan as a child, Razio is taught to be a merciless ninja assassin, and due to the death of one his friends he realizes his clan is evil and defects. What transpires in Ninja Assassin can only be described as one man vs an army as Raizo takes down his whole clan and master. My favorite scene is one of the bloodiest as Raizo barely completes his first assassination in a men’s bathroom. Ninja Assassin was Hollywood’s attempt to revive ninjas in movies, and the results speak for themselves. – Carl


Alien Vs Ninja

Who? A forest full of ninjas!

Where? Alien vs. Ninja (2010)

This low-budget Japanese flick is exactly what the name implies as a bevy of ninjas head into the forest to combat an army of murderous aliens who’ve crash-landed and started killing the locals. Effects are a mix of CG and practical, and the action is nutty fun. Male and female ninjas alike go to town on the creatures with heavy losses on both sides, but the ninjas reign supreme because they’re motherfucking ninjas. – Rob