American Ninja

American Ninja is a 1985 American martial arts action film produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus's Cannon Films. Directed by Sam Firstenberg, who specialized in this genre in the 1980s, the film stars Michael Dudikoff in the title role, and is the first installment in the American Ninja franchise, followed by American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (1987). It had a mixed reception but it was a financial success and since then, it has been considered a cult film.

American Ninja
American Ninja.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySam Firstenberg
Written byPaul De Mielche (screenplay)
Gideon Amir (story)
Avi Kleinberger (story)
James R. Silke (uncredited)
Produced byYoram Globus
Menahem Golan
CinematographyHanania Baer
Edited byAndy Horvitch
Peter Lee-Thompson
Marcus Manton
Marcel Mindlin
Daniel Wetherbee
Music byMichael Linn
Distributed byCannon Film Distributors
Release date
  • August 30, 1985 (1985-08-30)
Running time
95 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1,000,000 (Estimated)
Box office$10,499,694 (Domestic)[1]


As an alternative to prison, young American Joe Armstrong (Michael Dudikoff) is conscripted into the U.S. Army by a judge. Joe ends up fighting off the Black Star Order of ninjas while stationed in the Philippines. He saves Patricia Hickock (Judie Aronson), daughter of Colonel William Hickock, Joe's commanding officer, from a kidnapping attempt. But because the rest of Joe's platoon is wiped out by the ninjas, Joe's popularity with his fellow GIs takes a nosedive, even as he is targeted for revenge by the Black Star Master Ninja (Tadashi Yamashita).

While performing chores on the base, Corporal Curtis Jackson (Steve James) goads Joe into a fight. Jackson proves no match for Joe's ninjitsu expertise, which greatly impresses him and their fellow soldiers. Shortly thereafter, Jackson discovers that Joe is an amnesiac; he remembers very little of his past, other than running with various street gangs and mastering a number of exotic martial arts. The grateful Patricia organizes a date for herself with Joe. Jackson and another soldier, Charley Madison (Phil Brock), sneak Joe off the base, but he and Patricia are caught during dinner by Sergeant Rinaldo, who is in the middle of a meeting with black marketeer Victor Ortega, whose payroll the sergeant is on. To get Joe out of the way, Rinaldo leads him to an abandoned warehouse, ostensibly for dropping off supplies. There, Joe is ambushed by ninjas, but defeats all of them. Then Joe's truck is stolen, and he gives chase using a motorcycle. The truck driver runs Joe off the road; thinking Joe dead, he brings the truck to Ortega.

Joe, however, hides under the truck and is brought to the heart of Ortega's operation, which encompasses the Black Star Ninja training camp. Ortega is paying the Black Star Order for weapons stolen from the Army, which he then resells to the highest bidder. Joe is discovered, but escapes with the aid of Ortega's servant Shinyuki (John Fujioka). He returns to the base, where he is promptly arrested by military police under Rinaldo's false accusation that he is fencing the arms. Jackson realizes that Joe has been set up, but his protests are wasted on Rinaldo. Black Star Master infiltrates the stockade that night, slaughters the on-duty MPs and then tries to kill Joe, but is thwarted by the sudden arrival of MP reinforcements, none of whom see the Black Star Master fleeing the scene. One of the dead MPs is found with a throwing star lodged in his head, which further implicates Joe.

Only Jackson, Charlie, and Patricia believe that Joe is innocent of the charges he now faces. They tell Hickock everything they know about the hijacking and murders, but he just scoffs at their story. After briskly dismissing them, Colonel Hickock meets Rinaldo in private, revealing that he is Ortega's accomplice as well. Hickock orders Rinaldo to finish off Joe; but then the Black Star Master kidnaps Patricia, since her father is becoming a less-than-reliable partner. Rinaldo attempts to run Joe off the road, only to be killed himself.

Joe returns to Ortega's mansion, where he is reunited with Shinyuki. It is revealed that Shinyuki, a former Japanese holdout soldier, adopted Joe at birth after the boy's parents died. He trained Joe in the ways of ninjitsu until the two were separated by a bomb blast; each has believed the other to be dead for years. Now Shinyuki completes Joe's training, and they launch a surprise attack on the Black Star camp. Shinyuki sacrifices his life to help Joe defeat the Black Star Master; meanwhile, Hickock leads his own assault on Ortega, both to rescue his daughter and to wipe out any evidence that connects him to Ortega's weapon-jacking. Ortega flees by helicopter with Patricia as his hostage, after gunning down her father. Joe, however, boards Ortega's chopper; he and Patricia jump to safety just before Jackson shoots down the helicopter, killing Ortega.




Originally the studio wanted Chuck Norris to star.[2] Some sources stated he didn’t want to have to cover up his face.[3][4] Michael Dudikoff was cast, but had no martial arts experience. He was, however, already very athletic. Fight choreographer Mike Stone, who was an accomplished Martial Arts expert assured the producers that he would pick up the moves.[5]


The film was originally called American Warrior and was released in UK cinemas under that title, but was changed to American Ninja for all other releases. The trailer (included on the DVD) contains the original title. In Germany, however, the film was released under the title American Fighter. It was also the first of three films pairing Michael Dudikoff and Steve James, the other two being Avenging Force (1986) and American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (1987).


Critical responseEdit

American Ninja received a mixed reception with critics.[6][7][8] On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 0% based on 6 reviews, with an average rating of 2.6/10.[9] On Metacritic the film has a weighted average score of 20 out of 100, based on 5 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[10]


Other mediaEdit

  • Lethal Ninja – 1992 (a semi-official entry from brothers Avi Lerner and Danny Lerner, the producers of American Ninja 2, 3, 4, and directed by American Ninja 4 director of photography Yossi "Joseph" Wein. Released as American Ninja 5: The Nostradamus Syndrome in South Africa.)
  • American Samurai – 1992 (not a sequel, but a similarly themed film from director Sam Firstenberg)

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ American Ninja at Box Office Mojo
  2. ^ Ninja Day 2020: Behind the scenes of Cannon's American Ninja
  3. ^ American Ninja (1985) IMDb
  4. ^ 10 Things You Didn’t Know about “American Ninja”
  5. ^ Moore, David J. "AMERICAN NINJA RETROSPECTIVE". KungFuMagazine.
  6. ^ Kogan, Rick (1985-09-03). "'Ninja' Has The Fights, But No Fire". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2010-09-04.
  7. ^ "'American Ninja' an Embarrassment". Sun Sentinel. Fort Lauderdale. 1985-09-02. Retrieved 2010-09-04.
  8. ^ Blowen, Michael (August 31, 1985). "'AMERICAN NINJA' OFFERS GRATUITOUS VIOLENCE". The Boston Globe.
  9. ^ "American Ninja (1985)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved April 4, 2020.
  10. ^ "American Ninja (1985) reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved April 4, 2020.

External linksEdit