Revisiting Bruce Lee's Iconic 'Enter the Dragon' 50 Years Later

How has the film aged over the decades? We take a look back.

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Warner Bros.

The creator will go, but the works of the creator remain forever. When it comes to the topic of impact, Bruce Lee is undoubtedly a culturally significant icon who's masterfully artistry has managed to transcend multiple decades and generations. While we lost Lee far at the far too early age of 32, what he managed to achieve in those 32 years (and beyond) was nothing short of magnificent. Lee's last work to us was a film by the name Enter the Dragon, and guess what? It's celebrating its 50th anniversary today. Enter the Dragon remains one of those groundbreaking cult classics that you absolutely have to see in your lifetime along with The Godfather, Jaws, Pulp Fiction, and the likes of many others legendary movies that have been released over the course of time.

Enter the Dragon is perhaps Bruce Lee at his most masterful, his most battle-tested, his most confident—his prime. It was all of his years up to that point tied together to become one, and a sad glimpse of what we ended up missing out on. Some people are only meant to be on this planet for a short amount of time, and like we just said, the works of the creator remains forever. Join us for a look back at Enter the Dragon in celebration of year 50.

RELATED: The 28 Best Fight Scenes in Movies

What was 'Enter the Dragon' About?

Who Starred in the Film?

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Warner Bros.

Obviously we know Bruce Lee starred as the titular character Lee, but there was also the addition of John Saxon who portrayed a gambling addicted martial artist named Roper who was invited to Han Island. Then there was Jim Kelly's portrayal of William, another martial artist that got invited to Han Island as well. Ahna Capri, Shin Kien, Bob Wall, and Angela Mao Ying were a few of the other actors who made appearances in the film, and guess who else was in there but uncredited? A man by the name of Jackie Chan, who would go on to have his own success in Hollywood.

How Did 'Enter the Dragon' Perform at the Box Office?

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Warner Bros.

Time to start crunchin' the numbers. Upon it's original release, Enter the Dragon pulled $25 million (which would be $160 million today) at the box office. Each time the film was re-released throughout the 1970s, it would reach the top five in the box office. That in itself is super impressive because that means it was an older movie successfully competing and even surpassing the likes of the new releases coming out. Globally the numbers were quite sick as well with it selling out across Europe and becoming top ten in multiple different regions. In Japan, the movie went on to become the second highest-grossing film of 1974, bringing in a ton in box office revenue there as well.

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Warner Bros.

Those initial box office numbers calculated to be roughly $100 million big bucks ($600 million today). As for what's it generated in the 50 years since? That's currently sitting at about $2 billion. Simply put, this is a film that has some money, proving profitable not just in the era it was released in, but in the multiple eras that have followed.

What did the critics say at the time of its release?

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Warner Bros.

One of our favorite parts of doing these revisits are finding the actual reviews written during the time of its release—it's almost you're stepping into a time capsule. Variety published their review of Enter the Dragon on July 31st, 1973, which was eleven days after the passing of Bruce Lee. In it they said: "Film is rich in the atmosphere of the Orient, where it was lensed in its entirety, and brims with frequent encounters in the violent arts. There’s still enough novelty and excitement attached to films dealing with the martial arts to entice enthusiastic reception, even if there is nothing particularly unusual about the plot. Lee socks over a performance seldom equaled in action."

The review added: "Gilbert Hubbs’ fluid photography is interesting, as is art direction by James Wong Sun, and Lalo Schifrin’s strange music score is a strong asset. Whit."

What are the critics saying now?

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Warner Bros.

And it's certainly always interesting to compare those older reviews with some of the newer ones. Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian recently reviewed the film with a 2023 perspective saying: "Bruce Lee’s unique screen presence is even more arresting in non-fight mode in this martial arts classic, now re-released for its 50th anniversary." He goes on to add: "Lee’s absolute conviction in selling these lines is what earned him his army of fans: no martial arts star does anything like it today.

Jackie Chan approximates the ingredient of playfulness, although Lee is never joking – and it’s what still infuriates fans when they think about Lee not being allowed to play the lead in the 70s TV show Kung Fu that wound up starring David Carradine. Lee undoubtedly created the conditions in which Asian American stars could succeed in Hollywood."

Standout Fight Scenes

It wouldn't be a Bruce Lee film without some epic fight scenes. Here's a few of our favorites.

What is our take on 'Enter the Dragon?'

Our take? Bruce Lee was breathtakingly brilliant as always. As we said before—we believe Enter the Dragon to be Lee's absolute prime. The physicality of his fighting was as good as it had ever been, but with the wisdom that he didn't fully have ten years prior as a 22-year-old. Lee's acting had matured over the years as well, and while we agree that there was nothing over spectacular about the overall plot of the film, it didn't need to be because the star was Bruce Lee. You can't take your eyes off him during the fight scenes in particular because to this day, nobody fights like Bruce Lee dammit!

While we prefer watching older films without the modern technical updates of today (it allows the movies to keep their vintage component in our opinion), we must admit that the remaster adds a new layer—it almost makes it feel like you're seeing it again for the first time in a new light. The details are more crisp, and you pick up on things that you might have missed the first go-round or two.

In short, Enter the Dragon is classic, and will remain a classic until the end of time.

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