If there’s one unequivocal positive about action films, it’s the adrenaline rush it injects into viewers as we sit on the couch munching popcorn. While directors such as Michael Bay have diluted the lot with mindless plots and exhausting action sequences, there are plenty of quality action films out there worthy of your time.
While a strong story can vault an average fight scene into greatness simply by capitalizing on our emotions, some stand on their own with expert choreography and devastating finishing blows. Sometimes it’s enough to digest even the sourest of films, but it needs to be something special to pull that off. There’s something primal and conclusive about two combatants squaring off in a test of physical and mental strength. Other times it’s a single fighter against dozens upon dozens of henchmen, and that’s fun too. There are no rules—well, for the most part—in these fights. It’s a battle of endurance and technical prowess.
Bruce Lee said it best when he explained the nature of fighting: “When you fight, if it is a real fight, use every tool that you have, use your whole body. Use your fists, your legs, your fingers, your head if you have to, and hit them in every vulnerable spot, the balls, the eyes etc. to win.”
With that in mind, this list will countdown the 15 best fight scenes in film and what makes them so entertaining. There’s a little bit of everything here, whether it’s a one-on-one battle or a one versus all brawl. Just sit back, play your favourite action movie and enjoy. Oh, you’re also invited to yell at me for not adding your favourite fight scenes, too.
15. Lu Yan vs. The Silent Monk, The Forbidden Kingdom
Since I was a child I had dreamed of Jet Li taking on Jackie Chan. The two most successful martial artists in film duking it out for our enjoyment had to happen at one point… and it finally did with the release of The Forbidden Kingdom. While the movie as a whole is forgettable, the fight scene between Lu Yan and The Silent Monk justified the price of admission alone. The fight lasted several minutes and had the two of them trading blows as they ran up walls and unloaded their best spin kicks and chops. Finishing the tilt without a clear winner was the right move, too.
14. Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed, Rocky
Who needs defense when you can absorb a stream of punches in the face? While Rocky doesn’t display much technical skills in this bout, it’s an entertaining watch. Much of the 10-minute fight is spent watching Rocky get his butt whooped and being pushed to his limit. But he persists, unloading a barrage of well-timed shots on a befuddled Apollo Creed in the later rounds. While he loses the match via split decision, Rocky fought for self-respect and set in motion the events of later films. It’s the defining moment of his career, proving that winning isn’t always everything if you learn from your low points.
13. 300 vs. Xerxes’ Minions, 300
“This is where we hold them! This is where we fight! This is where they die! Remember this day, men, for it will be yours for all time,” King Leonidas roars as a wall of Xerxes’ minions close the distance between them. Heavily outnumbered, the Spartans utilize their strategic battle formations to methodically pick them apart, making each strike a calculated one. Leonidas then decides to go lone wolf and just spanks his attackers in a series of slow motion deaths. The cherry on top is the Spartans forcing the rest of the minions off a cliff by corning them to the edge. This is why you need some brain to go with that brawn.
12. Jason Bourne vs. Desh Bouksani, The Bourne Ultimatum
Jason Bourne vs. Desh Bouksani is just a memorable fight scene. I barely had to revisit it to refresh my memory, in fact. It’s a tense scene that extends past the hand-to-hand combat. Watching Bourne leap across an alleyway from several storeys high and into another apartment is thrilling, especially with the camera firmly placed behind his shoulder as he emerges through the window. When he finally confronts Desh, the fight incorporates plenty of household items including shavers and hand towels. The climax is when the two are fighting in a half-sized bathroom and must utilize little space to deal some damage.
11. Neo vs. Merovingian’s Henchmen, The Matrix Reloaded
This fight scene would have been the showcase of most action films, but not in The Matrix Reloaded. While it’s true it doesn’t quite match the high-octane, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it pace of the Neo vs. Agent Smiths fight, this battle is unequivocally one of the highlights of this sequel. It starts off with Neo asking his companions to flee so he can fight a handful of weapon experts on his own. And he lets them know he doesn’t rock shades and a trench coat without reason as he stops a wall of bullets in mid-air. At this point these guys know they’re pretty much screwed but off they go, choosing their weapons of choice and attacking Neo without hesitation. What ensues is Neo making a fool of his attackers and even wielding a blade as if he were an Olympic swordsman.
10. Blade vs. Deacon Frost, Blade
I had debated whether this fight scene deserved a spot on the list. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great sequence, but does it really deserve being named one of the best fight scenes ever? Then I remembered an important detail: the finishing move. You see, the two initially engage in a sword fight while throwing in the occasional spin kick. It’s fun, and it ends with blade slicing off Deacon Frost’s arm before splitting him in half. But Frost uses his crazy blood powers to connect himself whole again. They then continue to showcase an impressive array of kung fu moves. And then we have the finale. Hoo baby, the finale. Blade injects Frost with an abundance of needles filled with a special serum and saves one more just so he can set up this legendary one-liner: “Some mother[expletive] are always trying to ice skate up hill.” So does he follow that up with? Well, by roundhouse kicking the needle straight into Frost’s forehead for the explosion kill, of course.
9. Harry Hart vs. Churchgoers, Kingsman: The Secret Service
I had wanted to avoid adding newer films to this list, but I couldn’t help myself with this fight scene from Kingsman: The Secret Service. If you haven’t watched the film yet, please avoid reading this so you can enjoy it for yourself. Seriously, it’s that good. What makes it so entertaining is that it is essentially a series of one-on-one battles that last a few seconds each. But the total package is a dark, comedic and controversial kill-fest inside a locked church—of all places. People get their necks snapped, eyes impaled, faces shot and everything in between. And we’re talking both men and women. Harry Hart just goes ballistic and stands out as the most skilled among the crowd, unleashing his full arsenal of deadly combat techniques to obliterate all in his path.
8. Wong Fei Hung vs. John, The Legend of the Drunken Master
Part of what makes this fight scene so entertaining is that you know Wong Fei Hung got blitzed right before the showdown. What a badass. His unorthodox fighting style is completely untethered here as he unloads of flurry of unpredictable strikes at John. He seems to defy the laws of gravity as he drunkenly but methodically stumbles around firing off head-butts and lightning speed kicks. John is really over his head when Fei Hung “Hulkasizes” and dishes out some serious whoop-ass in the form of spinning back fists and biting attacks. He finishes it all off by picking up John over his shoulders and launching him backward into a pile of boxes.
7. Danny the Dog vs. Pit Fighters, Unleashed
Scouring several lists of this sort, I noticed a distinct lack of Danny the Dog. This is a shame, because the moment he is unchained after feverishly defending himself for minutes as pit fighters beat him senseless is one of Jet Li’s best fight scenes. When he finally does go on the offensive against four other fighters, he mercilessly dismantles them one by one. Even when all hope appears lost as he’s hung upside down and absorbs a flurry of punches and kicks, he slithers his way out and utilizes weapons thrown in the pit by onlookers. One poor soul finishes on the receiving end of a sledgehammer and gets his arms broken.
6. Tang Lung vs. Colt, The Way of the Dragon
Shame on you if you thought I’d exclude Bruce Lee from this list. His tilt against Colt, played by Chuck Norris, is just too entertaining to exclude here. Rather than having the two of them unleash a flurry of attacks at a blinding pace, this fight is slower and allows the viewers to absorb every drop of martial arts goodness. Things really take a turn when Tang Lung grabs a handful of Colt’s chest hair and rips it off. Colt barely flinches, and the two step back to regroup before entering the final act. It is here when Lung allows Colt to go on the offensive and evade his attacks while his opponent tires himself out. Seizing the moment, Lung unloads a series of kicks and punches before breaking Colt’s arm and leg, rendering him an easy target. But Lung shows no mercy, breaking his neck for the finishing move.
5. Neo vs. Agent Smiths, The Matrix Reloaded
I’ve long preferred one-on-one fight sequences over one overpowered individual battling a mind-boggling amount of baddies. It’s entertaining, no doubt, but there’s something definitive about two combatants fighting to the end. Still, Neo vs. Agent Smiths is one of the best fight scenes in film. It truly encapsulates the limitless potential of Neo’s power when you consider that a single Agent Smith would demolish anybody else in The Matrix. It’s a lengthy and well-choreographed fight sequence that somehow raises the bar when Neo decides to play whack-a-mole with a steel pipe. The special effects are little outdated in this day and age, but that’s a minor detail as you watch Neo dismantle hundreds of Agent Smiths.
4. The Bride vs. Gogo Yubari and The Crazy 88, Kill Bill: Vol 1
This fight holds a special place in my heart because it truly has it all, whether you like one-on-one or group battles. There’s also lots of gore. Lots and lots of gore. The Crazy 88 are a group of elegantly dressed swordsmen who foolishly decide to take on Beatrix Kiddo as she wields her weapon of choice, a katana. What ensues is a remarkable loss of limbs, blood spraying in every direction and lots of fighting while standing on railings. I mean, what else do you want? Then she takes on Gogo Yubari, who starts liberally throwing around a morning star before The Bride grabs a table leg with nails protruding from the side and implants it in her head. Brutal.
3. Hector vs. Achilles, Troy
I’ll be honest, this fight scene made me sad. I was on Team Hector despite knowing full well what was going to happen. Still, it was a thrilling test of skill between the two combatants and seeing Achilles juke his way into close quarters showcased his incredible fighting prowess. While Hector puts on a good show, Achilles’ perfect form and technical skill proves to be too much for him handle as he eventually succumbs to his injuries. While predictable, the pounding of bongo drums providing the only background sound made this battle a tense one, and one of the best in movie history.
2. Kham vs. Everybody, The Protector
Kham breaks an obscene amount of bones in this fight scene—like, literally everybody except Kham has a broken arm, leg or neck in this clip. It starts off innocuous enough, with Kham simply shoving aside his opponents as they attempt to tackle him down. But when one of them catches him on the side with a knife, he loses it. He promptly reverses the bad guy’s knife thrust and plunges the blade in his chest. From there, it’s a series of back flips, knees to the face, chops to the throat and a copious amount of broken bones. Tony Jaa successfully made his mark on the action genre with this one.
1. Neo vs. Agent Smith, The Matrix
Neo squaring off against Agent Smith in the subway is one of the defining moments of The Matrix trilogy. After Trinity manages to escape without a millisecond to spare before Agent Smith unloads a bullet into the phone, Neo is faced with a dilemma: battle his pursuer or flee via the stairway behind him. Thankfully for viewers, he chose the former. This one-on-one battle has it all: guns, bullet dodging and copious amounts of kung fu. What truly makes it special, though, is the emotion it injects into the viewer. Up until this point in the film, Agents are avoided like the plague. But as Morpheus says as he watches on in utter amazement, Neo “is starting to believe.” The odds might be stacked against him, but Neo battles Agent Smith in what is the greatest fight scene in film.
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