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. It had a mixed reception but it was a financial success and since then, it was considered a cult film.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Sam Firstenberg|
|Produced by||Yoram Globus|
|Written by||Paul De Mielche (screenplay)|
Gideon Amir (story)
Avi Kleinberger (story)
James R. Silke (uncredited)
|Music by||Michael Linn|
|Edited by||Andy Horvitch|
|Distributed by||Cannon Film Distributors|
|August 30, 1985|
|Box office||$10,499,694 (Domestic)|
Private Joe Armstrong (Michael Dudikoff) is conscripted into the U.S. Army by a judge, as an alternative to prison. 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 a third soldier, Charley Madison (Phil Brock), sneak Joe off the base. They are caught during dinner by Sergeant Rinaldo, who is in the middle of a business 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 the purpose of dropping off supplies. Black Star ninjas ambush Joe, who 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, wiping out the bike; thinking Joe dead, the driver 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 by the ninjas-for-hire, but escapes with the aid of Ortega's servant Shinyuki (John Fujioka). Joe 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. The Black Star Master infiltrates the stockade that night, slaughters the on-duty MPs and then tries to kill Joe as well. But Joe's would-be-assassin 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 in the bizarre goings-on.
Only Jackson, Charlie, and Patricia believe that Joe is innocent of the charges he now faces. They tell Patricia's father 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 the Colonel himself is Ortega's accomplice. Colonel Hickock orders Rinaldo to finish off Joe; but then the Black Star Master steals into the Colonel's residence and 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 and the Black Star training camp, 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, Colonel Hickock leads his own assault on the Ortega manor, both to rescue his daughter and to tie up loose ends - in other words, wipe out anything that might connect him to Ortega's weapon-jacking. Ortega flees by helicopter with Patricia as his hostage, after gunning down her father. Joe, however, infiltrates Ortega's chopper; he and Patricia jump to safety just before Jackson shoots down the helicopter, killing Ortega.
- Michael Dudikoff as Pvt. Joe Armstrong
- Steve James as Cpl. Curtis Jackson
- Judie Aronson as Patricia Hickock
- Guich Koock as Col. William T. Hickock
- John Fujioka as Shinyuki
- Don Stewart as Victor Ortega
- John LaMotta as MSG Rinaldo (as John La Motta)
- Tadashi Yamashita as Black Star Ninja
- Phil Brock as Pvt. Charley Madison
Originally the studio wanted Chuck Norris to star. Some sources stated he didn’t want to have to cover up his face. Michael Dudikoff was cast but had no martial arts experience but he was already very athletic. Fight choreographer Mike Stone, who was an accomplished Martial Arts expert assured the producers that he would pick up the moves.
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 American Ninja 2: The Confrontation and Avenging Force.
American Ninja received a mixed reception with critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 0% based on 6 reviews, with an average rating of 2.6/10.  On Metacritic the film has a weighted average score of 20 out of 100, based on 5 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".
- 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)
- American Ninja at Box Office Mojo
- Moore, David J. "AMERICAN NINJA RETROSPECTIVE". KungFuMagazine.
- Kogan, Rick (1985-09-03). "'Ninja' Has The Fights, But No Fire". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2010-09-04.
- "'American Ninja' an Embarrassment". Sun Sentinel. Fort Lauderdale. 1985-09-02. Retrieved 2010-09-04.
- Blowen, Michael (August 31, 1985). "'AMERICAN NINJA' OFFERS GRATUITOUS VIOLENCE". The Boston Globe.
- "American Ninja (1985)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved April 4, 2020.
- "American Ninja (1985) reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved April 4, 2020.