Keanu Reeves stars in 47 Ronin as a half-breed warrior who is called upon to lead a group of 47 samurai whose master has been killed. The "leaderless samurai," or ronin, has been a popular character in Japanese films for decades, and has also been adapted numerous times in various forms by Hollywood. We've selected some of the best of both worlds for your enjoyment.
Seven Samurai (1954)
Regularly besieged by marauders, an isolated village on the verge of starvation recruits seven ronin to help them defend themselves. Akira Kurosawa's classic features rousing action, memorable characters, and a welcome sense of humor, as the villagers and the ronin learn about themselves and each other.
Unofficially inspired by Dashiell Hammett's novel Red Harvest, director Akira Kurosawa reunited with his great leading man Toshiro Mifune for this tale of a ronin who arrives in a very bad town and immediately begins playing one warring gang against another. A cunning and witty movie that has been widely imitated.
A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
The imitations started here, as Sergio Leone transplanted the story to the Old West and installed Clint Eastwood as "The Man With No Name," a redefined, laconic samurai in cowboy boots, fit for Western audiences.
Red Sun (1971)
Toshiro Mifune stars as a samurai who must team with the disreputable Charles Bronson when the double-crossing Alain Delon steals a precious sword. Set in the Old West, the movie is a strange and delightful clash of cultures, filled with unexpected action. Mifune and Bronson make for unlikely and combustible co-stars.
Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)
Producer Roger Corman had the idea for "The Seven Samurai in outer space." Instead of traditional ronin, we get a truck driver, alien clones, an assassin, a slaver, and other unsavory characters, but writer John Sayles provides witty dialogue and a brisk throughline. James Cameron, just 23, directed the visual effects.
Shogun Assassin (1980)
Stiched together in 1980 from two Japanese-language films released in 1972 as part of the "Lone Wolf and Cub" series, the movie followed the often bloody and outrageous adventures of a ronin and his infant son. Roger Corman says he "rather whimsically" decided to acquire and release the movie, which enjoyed tremendous word-of-mouth success in the U.S.
Last Man Standing (1996)
Writer/director Walter Hill boldly remade Yojimbo and set it in a small town in Texas during the Prohibition, suggesting both the Japanese original and the Spaghetti Western remake. Bruce Willis is the wily instigator of trouble between the two warring gangs, making use of a machine gun rather than a sword, in this bullets-and-blood action picture.
A tight and twisting thriller, directed by the great John Frankenheimer, the titular ronin are former intelligence agents who are adrift in the post-Cold War era of espionage. Motives are obscure and no one can be trusted, maybe not even your old friends. With Robert DeNiro, Jean Reno, Jonathan Pryce, Natasha McElhone, and Stellan Skarsgard.
Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)
As you might expect from indie maverick Jim Jarmusch, this is unlike any other ronin picture, which is one reason why it's such a great experience. Forest Whitaker is an assassin for the Mafia who endeavors to live his life as a samurai, even though he lives in modern-day New York City and is, to be kind, perhaps not all "there." He becomes a ronin when the mob bosses decide he should be erased, without really knowing what they're getting themselves into.
Kill Bill Vol. I and Vol. II (2003/2004)
Quentin Tarantino's action epic follows a nameless warrior (Uma Thurman) who seeks revenge against her former leader, Bill (David Carradine). It's a classic story of a leaderless samurai, allowing Tarantino to pay tribute to all manner of Asian action and Spaghetti Western movie tropes while introducing a few of his own.
13 Assassins (2010)
The prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike remade a 1963 ronin film with surprising restraint, but the results speak for themselves. It may be "conventional," but it's extremely well-made, featuring fluid, dynamic action sequences. The story is familiar, yet Miike's handling of the material makes it stand out.