Kung Fu Panda doing a high kick with a red sunset behind him

All ‘Kung Fu Panda’ Movies Ranked

Kung Fu Panda is beloved simply for giving us Jack Black as a Panda who desperately wants to be taken seriously as a kung fu warrior. On top of that, the franchise has so much heart, soul, and wisdom to share with us, plus fun action sequences and silly jokes that land with audiences of all ages.

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2008’s Kung Fu Panda introduced us to a world inhabited by anthropomorphized animals and steeped in Chinese culture. Here the practice of kung fu enables wielders to use magic-like powers to bring peace, or destruction, to the country. The film has a stellar voice cast which, along with Black, includes Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogan, and David Cross, with Ian McShane voicing the villainous Tai Lung.

The first movie was a huge success for DreamWorks raking in just over $632 million worldwide and spawning the franchise. So how do the other films in the franchise stack up? Here they all are, ranked from pretty OK to the very best.

4. Kung Fu Panda 4 (2024)

Po and Zhen in Kung Fu Panda 4
(DreamWorks Animation)

The most recent Kung Fu Panda film has to sit in last place for a number of reasons. Though we all love to hear from Black once again (and his rendition of “…Baby One More Time” in the credits is peak Black) the film overall just didn’t land the same punches as the first three. For starters, the Furious Five are missing for the most part, which already places it out of step with the other films, and the new characters in the form of Zhen (Awkwafina) and The Chameleon (Viola Davis) just aren’t fleshed out enough, making them feel a little bland.

The movie isn’t all bad; it’s still a fun romp with Black playing the wonderfully charming Po once again. This film serves as somewhat of a finale for the character, though, with Po now having to relinquish his role as Dragon Warrior and pass it on to someone new so he can ascend to become the spiritual leader for the Valley of Peace. It follows many of the tropes we have seen in the last three films and doesn’t offer anything new. Still, it’s an enjoyable way to spend a few hours. The film did well enough at the box office that further films are definitely still in the cards.

3. Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016)

Po the panda balancing 6 baby pandas in his arms and leg in Kung Fu Panda 3
(DreamWorks Animation)

By no means a weak film, the third installment does a great job of continuing Po’s journey centering on family and responsibility. Shifu wants Po to take over his role as master of the Jade Palace which means overseeing the training for the Furious Five. Po learns that he is ill-equipped for this and begins to doubt his abilities, that is until his biological father (Bryan Cranston) shows up which is very useful as a new villain has emerged that can only be defeated by the power of chi, a power passed down through the Panda colonies. Po must head to his original homeland to learn this skill, but not everything is smooth sailing.

The third film is a great addition to the franchise and gives us some of the best quotes from all the films about self-acceptance, overcoming limitations, and also on the topic of family. Throughout the films, Po’s adoptive father and biological father struggle with the new dynamic, but they soon come to realize that it’s not about pushing one out but making more room. “Having you in Po’s life doesn’t mean less for me, it means more for Po.” We love non-traditional family representation!

2. Kung Fu Panda (2008)

Characters pose in Kung Fu Panda (2008)
(DreamWorks Animation)

The first Kung Fu Panda movie was released in theaters in 2008, with Jack Black voicing Po, a large panda with a goose for a father (James Hong). Po works in a noodle shop but dreams of becoming a mighty kung fu warrior. When Master Oogway holds a tournament to determine the new Dragon Warrior from Master Shi Fu’s students, the Furious Five, Po crashes the event (literally) and is determined by Oogway to be the new Dragon Warrior, much to Shifu’s horror. Po must then train and Shifu must learn to teach a new type of student as the Valley of Peace is threatened by a powerful foe.

The first film particularly revolves around overcoming prejudice, both external and internal, and understanding that we all have our own unique strengths, just because we don’t look like the ideal version of something does not mean we are unfit to do it. That is the realization that both Po and Shifu come to, discovering that we all have the potential for greatness, we may just need to find our own path to it. It was a wonderful beginning to the franchise, introducing us to the world in all its glory, and with such a brilliant ending. All we have to say about this film: skadoosh.

1. Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)

Characters pose in Kung Fu Panda 2
(DreamWorks Animation)

It’s not often that a sequel can top the original, but this one sure did, joining the DreamWorks Hall of Fame that includes Shrek 2 and How to Train Your Dragon 2. Kung Fu Panda 2 took what made the first film great and ran with it bringing us an even more beautiful sequel, rich in emotion and storytelling with stunning and vivid animation design.

Here, the villain, Lord Shen (voiced by the fantastic Gary Oldman), and Po serve as mirrors of one another. Where one’s trauma serves to push them towards destruction, the other harnesses their trauma to seek inner peace. As the wise old soothsayer explains, “Your story might not have a happy beginning, but that does not make you who you are.” Po allows the pain to be a part of who he is without it overwhelming him, accepting it and living with it. We also have to love the beautiful friendship between Po and Tigress, who shows that, just because she is a strong and stoic warrior does not mean she is unfeeling. “The strong do care.” Overall, a fantastic animated film and our favorite by far.

What do you think? Do you agree with our list? Let us know!

(featured image: DreamWorks Animation)


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Author
Laura Pollacco
Laura Pollacco (she/her) is a contributing writer here at The Mary Sue, having written for digital media since 2022 and has a keen interest in all things Marvel, Lord of the Rings, and anime. She has worked for various publications including We Got This Covered, but much of her work can be found gracing the pages of print and online publications in Japan, where she resides. Outside of writing she treads the boards as an actor, is a portrait and documentary photographer, and takes the little free time left to explore Japan.