From bare-knuckle brawls to climactic battles, fight scenes are a key component of the action genre. The best fights scenes are chaotic and gritty and make us want to double down on our combat training. Suffice to say I have never been in a fight and claim no expertise in filming a fight scene!
Regardless, a quality action sequence should always have great production, originality and emotion. These three things are the basics. Some fans would argue a fight scene must be as realistic as possible, but I disagree. There are some amazing battle sequences in sci-fi movies, none of which are realistic. Take for instance the lightsaber battles in Star Wars or the action scenes in the Planet of the Apes reboot series.
Suspension of belief is everything in films. So with that said, let’s take a look at some of the best fight scenes in movie history.
When Agent Smith says “Mr Anderson,”, you know there’s trouble. The Matrix is an all-time great and one of the most influential films of the sci-fi genre. Unfortunately, the Wachowski’s struggled to deliver the same impact in the sequels. But, the original was a cultural milestone and so far ahead of its time. It’s been fifteen years since the film came out and its influence is still being felt in modern cinema. The climactic fight scene between Neo and Agent Smith is just one of the many highlights in The Matrix.
The original Rocky is by far the best in the series. It deserved all the praise it received when it was released in 1976. This fight scene is an epic conclusion to one of the most iconic sports films. I still haven’t quite got “ADRIAN!” out of my head.
Although I’m not the biggest fan of Kill Bill, I still had to include The Bride’s gory confrontation with Gogo and her Crazy 88’s gang. As violent and ridiculous as it may be, this action sequence is pure unadulterated entertainment.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Crouching, Tiger Hidden Dragon shows you don’t need blood and gore for a great fight scene. This film has brilliant martial arts sequences throughout, as well as a great story and a pulsating musical score. Also, in case you didn’t know, it’s the highest-grossing foreign-language film in American history.
This bathhouse fight between Viggo Mortensen’s Russian mobster and a couple of hitmen is as brutal as it gets. David Cronenberg directed Eastern Promises, released in 2007. Cronenberg never ceases to amaze me with the level of violence and horror in his movies. If you think Quentin Tarantino overdoes it with the blood, then this scene may give you a new perspective.
When you’re up against four nutty criminals, with a very particular set of skills, most people would leg it. And that’s exactly what the hero in The Raid tries to do, but all doors are locked, so he has no choice but to fight. There are so many heart-pounding fight scenes in The Raid, but this sequence takes the crown as best of the bunch.
The action in John Wick is kinetic. Given the martial arts and shoot-outs, it might be hard to believe Keanu Reaves did most of his own stunts. To prepare for the film, he spent three months in intensive training, learning how to fight and use weapons. The result of his work is a peerless action movie.
Some will say its premature to include Atomic Blond‘s stairwell scene in this list, but it’s the greatest movie fight I’ve had the pleasure of watching. Period. Charlize Theron takes on her enemies in a sequence that appears as if it was shot in one long take. It’s technically impressive and flat-out insane. This stairwell scene is so visceral, you wouldn’t think it took four days to film. Director David Leitch said: “It involved using a lot of old-school camera tricks—pans, wipes, body-crossings—that allowed us editorially to have breaks, to choose between takes..” This show-stopping ‘one take’ fight scene is action cinema at its best.