My 10 Favorite Movie Fight Scenes
Fight scenes in movies can make or break the entire film. There can be good fights in bad films, but bad fights usually break a good movie. I got to thinking of what fight scenes I like best, regardless of the quality of movie they take place in. I wanted to share the fights that resonated with me the most. There are many more fights that I love, and maybe even some “better” fights. But these are the ones I kept coming back to, and they all have something unique or special about them that make them stand out. That is why this piece isn’t called “The Best” fights, just my favorites.
So, here we go!
10. Happy Gilmore – Happy Gilmore vs. Bob Barker
9. The Karate Kid – Daniel vs. Johnny
I think this is the first ever fight I saw that made me genuinely nervous of the outcome when I was a kid. All the other fights I knew the “good guy” was going to win. This was one where I really wasn’t sure. The Karate Kid isn’t a movie I rewatch often but the times that I have rewatched it, the climax of the fight still works for me every time. It isn’t just a physical fight; it is personal and emotional for Daniel. Most of the fights on this list will be personal and emotional, but usually a scheduled, structured fight (karate tournament, boxing match, UFC fight etc) has something a bit clinical to it, and you can shake hands or bump fists after and be good. This had the personal aspect of an impromptu fight, in a structured setting, so it was almost like this fight shouldn’t have been allowed. But that is what makes it memorable for me, and still an effective climax 32 years later.
8. X2: X-Men United – Wolverine vs. Everybody in the X-Mansion
I am unapologetic when it comes to my love for Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine in the X-Men franchise. The franchise and the character have had its ups and downs, but there is no better guilty pleasure than watching Wolverine ruthlessly slash through regular humans like butter. He has had around 7 movies to showcase this, but none better than in X2: X-Men United when William Stryker and his team attempt to infiltrate the X-Mansion. If you have to leave one mutant behind to protect the children living there, the one who is "best at what he does" is a good choice. The action is well coordinated and Hugh portrays Wolverine’s bezerker fury as best as he’s allowed in a PG-13 movie. Not to mention he has two of the most badass lines in action movie history. (“You picked the wrong house, bub”, and “You want to shoot me? SHOOT ME!” I mean, come on.)
It perfectly portrays what Wolverine is – the reluctant hero. He wants to make sure all the students are safe but at the same time won’t accept any help because he needs to be alone. The fight ends with him escaping with 3 students because they won’t leave him behind, which is surprising to the ultimate loner, but defines him perfectly. The stunts are incredible, and there is something about seeing a plainly dressed dude take out dozens of armed soldiers by himself that just screams cool.
7. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest – Jack vs. Will vs. Norrington
I don’t know why I always remember this fight. But it might be my favorite moment of the entire franchise. Dead Man’s Chest is a confusing and convoluted sequel to the excellent Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of The Black Pearl. It does nothing but set up part 3. That still isn’t an excuse when films like Back to the Future Part 2 and The Empire Strikes Back exist though.
However, as mentioned in the opening paragraph, there are good moments in bad movies. This is most definitely one of those moments. If you haven’t seen the film in a while, go watch this part out of context. Don’t worry about how they got on the island; don’t worry about why they are fighting, just take in the fight itself. The choreography is stunning; their footsteps are in sync with the score. Every sword clank is rhythmic and intentional. It is tight and convincing. It is also so….much…fun… Three way fight scenes are rare. We’ve seen 2 on 1 before, and we always see 1 on 1. But 1 on 1 on 1 can be disastrous, this one, however, works. Just being on the beach and climbing through the abandoned building might be good enough, but they don’t stop there. They add another dimension to the fight in the form of a gigantic hamster wheel. So you have physicality, height, speed, trickery and two opponents. They are no longer fighting on one plane like Robin Hood of old, but they have to fight up and down and sideways and backways and all the other ways Willy Wonka mentions. It is a spectacle to behold, and it unfortunately is hurt by everything else surrounding it. When I battle through watching the sequels, this is always a welcome part, and it hasn’t lost any of its charm in rewatches.
6. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – Darth Vader vs. Those Poor Rebels
Rogue One in and of itself was a massive experiment. Would the “regular” movie goer care about Star Wars films that aren’t about the Skywalkers? Turns out – yes they do; but not without help. They announced long before the movie was released that Darth Vader would be featured. But in a movie about the Death Star we thought he’d be in one scene, overseeing the building of it. I don’t think anyone expected the secret scene that they snuck in end of the movie.
The Rebels managed to steal the plans – and beamed them aboard the Tantive IV. In a last ditch effort, Lord Vader tries to stop them getting that disc – by killing every last one of them. He almost succeeds too, and the fight that ensues is pretty one sided. If I had to name it, I would call it “Fury of a Sith Lord”. It is something I never knew I wanted to see until I saw it. Afterward, I wondered how I lived so long without that in my life! This fight restored Darth Vader to the scary super villain he was once known for.
I used the word “fight” earlier, and that may not be fair. It is really just lightsaber practice for Darth Vader, but the Rebels try to shoot back, so I guess it can be classified as that. A few days later, he has a very boring and lackluster fight with Obi-Wan Kenobi, so I guess this really tired him out.
5. Raiders of the Lost Ark – Indiana Jones vs. The Big Bald Nazi
Of course a fight from Raiders of the Lost Ark is on the list! But it’s not that fight. That doesn’t count. It’s a great scene, one of the best of the movie. But it isn’t a great fight. It ended before it started. For those who forget what I am talking about, there is a scene in the movie which a guy draws a sword with the intent of dueling Indiana Jones. Indy looks at him, pulls his gun out and shoots the guy instead. The story goes that there was an elaborate sword fight coordinated but Harrison Ford had the flu and didn’t want to do the fight so he improvised. Spielberg liked it so much he kept it in the final cut.
But there is another fight later (on a day when Harrison was feeling better) that is worthy of being here. Indy has to fight a big bald Nazi before he can escape. It doesn’t look like a fair fight at all, but the way it’s coordinated is pure Spielberg. It has a bit of humor, a bit of heart, but still a scene taken seriously. Then Indy wins the way he wins every time – he outsmarts his opponent. For the 3 people who haven’t seen the film, I won’t spoil it, but it is called “The airplane fight” for a reason….
4. Rocky – Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed
You read the title, you saw the picture and "The Eye of The Tiger" is now blaring in your head isn’t it? Not only is a great fight, not only is it one of my favorite fights, but it is one of the most iconic fights ever!
This is another one like The Karate Kid. What makes the fight so intriguing is the emotion behind it. No one gives Rocky a chance. He’s not supposed to beat Apollo. He’s not even supposed to be in the same building. This would be like you fighting Conor McGregor in a UFC match. No one would give you the time of day, let alone a chance to win.
Each round is written, shot, and executed perfectly. You can almost feel every punch thrown. One would expect the climax of a boxing movie to be a boxing match. So that part wasn’t a surprise, but the film does such a good job slowly escalating the anticipation; with the result being one of the greatest boxing fights in movie history. It is so good that it earned Sylvester Stallone an Oscar.
3. Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith – Obi-Wan Kenobi vs Anakin Skywalker
Kenobi and Jinn vs Maul, Kenobi and Skywalker, then Master Yoda vs Dooku and Master Yoda vs Palpatine are all great fights. But there is one that sticks out above the rest. When Anakin becomes Darth Vader and goes to Mustafar – a most literal representation of what we think of as Hell – Obi-Wan follows to try and stop him. McGregor manages to inject emotion in a movie that is devoid of any convincing feelings. Adding that to the most fast paced, fierce, biggest, and most dangerous lightsaber fight ever seen, and you have a stunning sequence that redeems a mostly bad acted and lackluster movie thus far.
It’s hard for me to get through the prequels anymore now, but when all the lightsaber fights come on, I will stop whatever else I am doing and give them my full, undivided attention. When this particular fight comes on, I actually get sucked into it like I do the rest of the Saga. If you’ve only seen the prequels once and avoid them at all costs now, I don’t blame you. But do yourself a favor and seek this scene out whether it’s on YouTube or somewhere else, and just enjoy it for the spectacle that it is. You won’t regret it.
2. Old Boy – Hallway Fight
Old Boy is a weird, dark, disturbing visceral film. It is a South Korean film directed by Park Chan-wook (The Handmaiden). The surprises of the movie are worth discovering for yourself, but the basic barebones plot is that someone imprisons Oh Dae-su for 15 years with seemingly no reason at all then releases him…
Throughout the film, he begins to piece together why, and makes enemies. Things come to a head when he has to take on a slew of thugs in a small hallway. At this point, the weird turned into a perfectly choreographed spectacle that I could not believe I was watching. My jaw was on the floor (and pretty much stays there the rest of the movie after the twists of the plot are revealed) and while I've only seen the movie once, this scene stands out vividly in my head.
Spike Lee remade this film in 2013 with Josh Brolin. The best that I can say about it is that it is a thing that exists. If you want to experience this story (it’s not for everyone, but I recommend that you do) seek out the original.
If “Hallway fight” rings a bell, it’s probably because you’ve watched the Netflix show Daredevil. That series has a fight that pays homage to this. It is great in its own right, but the original is better.
Side note (with slight spoilers): If you’ve seen Kong: Skull Island, the scene where Kong eats the octopus is a tribute to this film as well. So chances are you’ve had some exposure to the impact of this film, even if you haven’t seen it.
Please go watch this movie; but if “nobody got time for that” as the kids say, at least take the time to watch the fight and see the brilliance of Chan-wook’s filmmaking.
1. Captain America: Civil War – Airport Fight
Are you really surprised? Maybe, if you thought it wouldn’t have beaten either of the Star Wars entries, but you can’t be surprised it made my list!
Hyperbole is used way too much on the internet. I am guilty of it as much as anyone else. But this is truly the best superhero fight scene ever. During its run I would have paid full IMAX price for the whole movie, just to watch this scene again. It is a culmination of the twelve movies that came before it, and for a lot of us, a whole lifetime of knowing and loving these characters. That is why it is so devastating! They made it so the audience would love each and every one of these characters, you don’t want to see them fight each other! It is like watching your parents fight!
The scene has everything – heart, humor, and spectacle. It tells a story in and of itself, who goes after who, who is hesitant, etc. It is done incredibly well. Everyone gets their own moment of triumph and of devastation. I don’t know if there will ever be another fight scene that resonates with me as much as this – that affects me and sticks with me as much as this one. If anything were to come close, it would have to be Luke Skywalker having a proper lightsaber fight in The Last Jedi or the currently untitled Episode IX.
Some other (of my favorite, not "the best") fights worth mentioning: Most of the fights in the Bourne franchise, Hulk v Hulkbuster in Avengers: Age of Ultron, the gun fight in The Matrix, several fights in John Wick and the entirety of Free Fire (which is one big fight that I quite liked). What are some of your favorites? Feel free to comment or tweet me, @Iceman525.