It’s always annoying to see a movie that had the potential to be something great turn out to be terrible. It’s happened across Hollywood history where movies have great directors, a top cast, and all the right ingredients, but something goes wrong and it ends up letting you down. Sometimes, it’s just not as good as it could have been, other times it’s downright horrible. It continues today, especially in the blockbuster era and, more than once, a trailer has built up something as an epic film only for the final product to be a mess. It’s sad, but true, and just about every filmgoer has felt the bitterness of realizing they wasted money and hours of their life to something so terrible.
But every now and then, something odd happens. One can be watching a movie that’s bad or even terrible, wishing it was over and then something occurs. A sequence that suddenly elevates the entire movie to a new degree. Something so out of left field in how it’s so wonderful that you can’t believe it’s the same film. It’s amazing to see it happen, a sequence that simultaneously just works perfectly and is a shame it’s stuck in such a poor movie. So many examples abound, but several stand above the others. Here are fifteen action scenes that are so much better than the rest of the film they’re in. It goes to show how sometimes even a turd film can have a shining jewel in it.
15. The Trinity vs Doomsday – Batman v Superman
It says a lot that this film has not one, but two entries on this list. As the dream encounter meant to kick off a DC Cinematic Universe, it’s been derided for its darkness, its storyline, and some rough acting. But it at least went all out for its fantastic climax as Lex Luthor (Jessie Eisenberg) creates the murderous Doomsday and sets him after Superman (Henry Cavill). Battering him down, Doomsday attacks Metropolis while Batman (Ben Affleck) tries to stop him, but gets his butt handed to him too. Doomsday lets out an energy blast to finish Batman off, but intercepting it is Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) in full costume with her glorious theme song player behind her. At last, the three greatest comic book characters of DC are together on screen and prepared for an epic battle. It’s a tremendous one as they use real teamwork, with Wonder Woman slashing Doomsday’s leg while Superman attacks with punches and heat vision letting Batman do his thing with his own awesome weapons. A priceless moment is Wonder Woman taking a hard punch…and she smiles as if she’s having the time of her life. Watching her use her glowing lasso is also terrific because of its iconic nature in Wonder Woman’s origin. It ends with Superman sacrificing himself to pierce Doomsday with a Kryptonite spear creating a stunning ending to the battle. Say whatever you want about the movie, but seeing the Trinity of DC on screen together was a fantastic sight.
14. Battling Through History – X-Men Origins Wolverine
Easily the worst of the X-Men franchise, this 2009 solo movie had such promise by delving into the background of the clawed mutant. But a bad storyline and odd incorporations (like the horrific early version of Deadpool) ended up sinking it. Which is a shame as the opening scene is one of the best of any comic book movie and most other films. After killing his father with his bone claws, a young Logan is met by half-brother Victor, who tells him they’ll always look out for each other. They race into the forest and when they emerge, they’re now Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber. It’s the American Civil War, and they charge at rebel lines, taking bullets, but continuing onward. A cannonball knocks Logan back as it suddenly shifts to the trenches of World War I, the two fighting back to back against enemies. Another shift brings us to D-Day as they charge an outpost in Normandy. It finally ends up in Vietnam and it’s clear by now that while Logan is feeling weary of all this combat, Victor is becoming more ruthless and harsh. It’s an excellent sequence showing how Logan is bravely drawn to combat while also revealing the dark side of Sabretooth. Too bad the rest of the movie couldn’t live up to this one scene.
13. Hallway Battle – Equilibrium
Before his rise as Batman and Oscar-winning actor, Christian Bale starred in this 2002 movie. It’s a rough mix of various other dystopian sci-fi films like The Matrix, Blade Runner, and more as Bale plays the agent of a government that suppresses emotions. When a dying puppy awakens feelings in him (seriously), Bale begins to rebel and take on his evil establishment. Playing so tightly wound doesn’t do Bale favors although the idea of his character being an expert in “gun kata” is unique. It builds up to him facing off against the big baddie behind all this and then marching into a hallway packed with masked gunmen. Here, the movie really cuts loose as Bale goes on the attack, firing off dual pistols with incredible skill to take guys down. Leaping and firing, it’s totally over the top, but in a good way, complete with stuff like how his sleeves eject new gun cartridges and the fact he’s such an amazing blur in action. The movie itself is a poor rip-off of better flicks, but this sequence shines and showcases the great star Bale would become.
12. First-Person – Doom
Video game movies have a very poor track record and Doom is one of the worst offenders. The classic game helped revolutionize first-person shooters, a must-play for the genre, and did great work kicking off a franchise. The movie version was a total disaster despite starring Dwayne Johnson and Karl Urban who were handed a loud and horrible script. Like many such attempts at an adaptation, it failed to capture the feel of the game and how it worked while robbing fans of some of the more thrilling aspects. All that said, a sequence near the end was hailed as sheer brilliance as Urban’s character is on his own, grabbing a gun, finally shifting the movie into first-person view. He marches down a hallway, blasting away demonic creatures, the music score rocking out, and for a few moments, it really is like the game brought to life. It only lasts a short time, but it captures the feel of the threats, the danger, and the terror of having to shoot demonic baddies. It was a notable box office bomb (even the Rock puts it down today), but for a few minutes, this was a video game adaptation that actually worked.
11. Zombie Trenches – Sucker Punch
Zack Snyder’s 2011 movie appears a classic case of a film that looked so great in trailers, but fell apart on screen. A truly bizarre story of how a woman in an asylum somehow flips through fantasy worlds through dance, it was hard to get into and while lavish in its visuals, felt lacking in many ways. That said, Snyder was smart to make the action scenes notable with its fantastic female cast. The best may be the sequence set in the trenches of World War I as the ladies (Emily Browning, Jamie Chung, Vanessa Hudgens, Jena Malone and Abbie Cornish) do battle against soldiers who are zombies. It is a thrilling sequence as they slash guys with swords, blast everyone away with guns, and prance around in hot outfits just enhance the effect. The steampunk vibe also helps, giving it an exotic air and Snyder is able to handle the action well. The movie may be a mess, but watching a pack of hot ladies kicking major ass in such a wild setting can’t be wrong no matter what film it’s put in.
10. The Title Fight – Aliens vs Predator
Since the 1990 comic book series, fans have dreamed of the clash of the two sci-fi properties. The Xenomorphs, a collection of massive, insect aliens with acid for blood and dual jawed mouths facing off against the Yutja, master hunters who use stealth technology to be invisible to hunt before they strike seemed like it was going to be a classic to watch. At long last, in 2004, this movie brought the two together for a clash. However, it was a letdown with the classic mistake of putting too much emphasis on the humans who stumble onto an Arctic temple used by the Predators to harvest the Aliens for hunting. While it’s fun watching each alien side whittle the humans down, it ignores what fans paid to see. But finally, a Predator comes face-to-face with a large Alien and the fight is spectacular. The two hulking creatures go at it, trading savage blows, the Alien getting in shots with its barbed tail and claws while the Predator strikes with its own weapons. The Predator then grabs the Alien by the tail to send it hurling across the chamber and there is a nice bit of how the Alien is hidden from the Predator’s infared scanner. The scene is short, but well worth it.
9. Achilles vs Hector – Troy
Wolfgang Petersen’s take on the epic Trojan War has a top-notch cast and a huge budget, but suffers from an uneven script and way too much camp. The ingredients are there, but don’t come together even though Brad Pitt looks terrific as Achilles (despite the awful accent). The best scene of the film isn’t any of the epic battles of these two giant armies though. It’s when Achilles learns his good friend and cousin was killed by Hector (Eric Bana), the prince of Troy. Wanting revenge, Achilles rides out alone to the gates of the city and calls Hector out. Achilles has been shown to be a fantastic fighter who wins battles in seconds so he has the advantage. Hector knows he’ll lose, but is determined to do his best nonetheless. They start off clashing with spears before moving onto swords and Petersen shoots the sequence in a great manner with close-ups to enhance the action and uses the sun well in framing the fight. Pitt and Bana are both in great shape and believable as they clash. Achilles fights confidently while Hector gets in a few good shots himself. A great bit is when Hector trips over a rock, but Achilles lets him get up, not wanting such a cheap victory. It ends with him finally killing Hector before the horrified eyes of his family and friends. Ultimately, this one-on-one conflict is a far better clash than anything else the “epic” film offers.
8. Dragon Attack – D-War
This Korean epic had a very long and complicated production and its storyline does show it. A strange mix of ancient myth and modern times, it follows a young woman who finds out she’s the reincarnation of a princess who has to defend humanity from an army using evil dragons. It’s even more complex than that on screen and the muddling story and poor performances didn’t win critics over. But the movie did go all out for this key sequence as the Atrox Army invades Los Angeles where the army is waiting. It’s a fantastic clash as the modern weaponry takes on dragons who breathe fire and soldiers riding dinosaur-like creatures that blast fireballs. The special effects are better than the rest of the film as the producers go all out at least for this one scene. The movie is otherwise forgettable, but this scene is a reason it was a major hit in its native land.
7. The Masters Meet – The Forbidden Kingdom
This 2007 movie has a fair storyline of a Chinese fable hunting the Monkey King of Legend. But it suffers from putting a modern-day white kid into the storyline; the classic case of “whitewashing” Asian culture and that harms it. The juvenile humor and clashing of cultures does little favors to the film either. However, it does deserve attention for the showdown martial arts fans have waited years for: Jackie Chan vs Jet Li. For five minutes, these icons of the genre go at it in a great fight scene in a temple and while some wire work is shown, it’s mostly the two men famous for doing their own stunts. It’s great in showing how their styles work, too. Li is all business and is incredibly fast, but still pushes his fighting style. Chan works in more comedic elements with a “drunken master” approach, but shows his own terrific skill that’s made him an international box office star. It wisely ends in a draw and the two characters end up becoming allies. But this battle elevates an otherwise forgettable film by showing two of the greatest action stars ever going at it and the fans are the true winners.
6. Chicago Chase – Jupiter Ascending
The Wachowskis’ sci-fi epic was supposed to be the new Matrix, but instead it was a colossal bomb. The story was a bizarre mix of politics, economics, and nutty sci-fi stuff (e.g. bees engineered to recognize royalty) and too hard to get into. The chemistry of Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis was horrible, and Eddie Redmayne’s ludicrous performance inspired demands his Oscar be revoked. However, the movie does boast a fantastic scene early on when Caine (Tatum) tries to take Jupiter (Kunis) to his spaceship. They’re attacked by alien bounty hunters and are soon on a thrilling chase through Chicago. Using his sky-skates, Caine carries Jupiter over bridges before they’re able to take control of an alien ship. They’re soon flying about, dodging the alien ships as they blast at nearby Chicago icons like the Willis Tower and other landmarks. Michael Giacchino’s musical score helps amp up the excitement and the 5-minute sequence is excellent with its special effects.
5. Four Against Forty – The Three Musketeers
The 2011 version of the classic novel is bad. Paul W.S. Anderson offered a crazy mix with Orlando Bloom as the villain, Milla Jovovich as a hot assassin, and battles of airships (again, another forgettable movie). However, the opening sticks close to the text as young d’Artagnan (Logan Lerman) meets with Athos (Matthew Macfayden), Porthos (Ray Stevenson), and Aramis (Luke Evans) and challenges each to a duel. It’s interrupted by the arrival of a pack of soldiers with d’Artangnan leaping in to attack. The Musketeers soon join in and what follows is a brilliantly choreographed sequence as they battle the soldiers. A great bit is a tracking shot of Athos cutting down nine guys without breaking stride while Porthos doesn’t use his sword, but just anything at hand to knock guys down. Aiding is the gorgeous musical score by Paul Haslinger that echoes the epic battle and Anderson films it all perfectly. The movie is a wild take on the classic, but this scene just captures the Musketeers wonderfully.
4. Warehouse Assault – Batman v Superman
It’s funny to think on how fans complained the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman would ruin the DC Movies…and now it’s regarded as one of the best things about it. Affleck showcased an older, but strong Dark Knight who pushes himself and truly believes he’s doing his best to help humanity from a dangerous Superman. While their clash was rough in many ways, it’s actually the following action scene that’s the best in the film. As Superman recovers, Batman goes to rescue Martha Kent (Diane Lane), held hostage by Russians in a warehouse. Entering from the floor below, Batman faces this squad of thugs and the sequence that follows is spectacular.
It’s like watching a segment from the Arkham Asylum video games brought to life as Batman uses a variety of gadgets to cut down his enemies all the while attacking from above. He then starts taking down the thugs left and right with truly brutal takedowns, smashing them through crates and against walls. It’s sheer brutality, showing the expert fighter Batman is and Zack Snyder actually films it beautifully to capture every moment. True, it ends with him shooting the leader, but for a few minutes, this is one of the most perfect renditions of Batman in action and one shining moment in the otherwise poor film.
3. The Highway Chase – The Matrix Reloaded
After changing the way action movies were made in 1999, The Matrix became an instant smash. Mixing gun battles and martial arts in a new way with groundbreaking effects, moviegoers were naturally eager to see what the follow-up would be. Sadly, it was a major letdown with techno-babble, too much talk on fate and destiny, and a baffling cliffhanger. The “Burly Brawl” where Neo takes on a hundred Agent Smiths was good, but marred by how obviously CGI animated it was. But much better was the scene where Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss) hit the highway to get away from some baddies. It’s a risk as Agents possess cops and other drivers to make things worse.
The Wachowskis went all out for this sequence, even building a massive full-scale highway set to use and smashing up real cars. It’s an excellent sequence with the intangible Ghost Twins fighting the duo inside a car as Agents leap from car to car to attack. Trinity gets on a motorcycle off a truck for some thrills and Morpheus takes out the Twins with a sword and an Uzi. It ends with a typical massive truck crash and explosion, but it showcases how the sequel did have some good stuff to it despite it being bogged under its own weight.
2. The Train Chase – The Lone Ranger
This 2013 Disney film was an infamous box office bomb with its insane budget of $225 million wasted on a bad storyline and a way too long running time. Casting Johnny Depp as Tonto was a bad move and too much of a distraction and coupled with a terrible plot, the movie was a flop. Yet, those who waded through the dragging movie were rewarded with a masterful climax. Villain Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson) and bandit Butch Cavendish (William Fitchner) are embarking on their plot to use a train full of silver to buy out a major railroad. Tonto steals the train and starts to take off, an Army patrol firing on it in the meantime.
Suddenly, the whinny of a horse causes everyone to look up to see the Ranger (Arnie Hammer) astride Silver on top of a building, twirling a lasso. The soundtrack begins to blast the William Tell Overture, and for ten glorious minutes, the movie is everything it should be. The Ranger gives chase to the train with Silver riding atop the cars and Tonto goes on a running chase with the baddies. It includes the Ranger riding Silver through a train car firing his gun, while Tonto hops from train to train to stop the baddies. It all culminates in the Ranger using a single silver bullet to save Tonto’s life and then the train crashes over a bridge with Cole crushed under it. The music helps and it’s a shame that the rest of the movie couldn’t live up to its amazing finale.
1. The Lightsaber Duel – The Phantom Menace
This movie does have defenders, especially after so many years. Many point to how it deepens the saga although others still insist it’s wretched acting with a bad screenplay. But one thing everyone can agree on is obvious: the lightsaber duel is a thing of utter beauty. As they lead the Queen through a hanger, Jedi Qui-Gon (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) are ready for the attack of the various droids. Then, a pair of metal doors open and John William’s now iconic Duel of the Fates begins as Darth Maul (Ray Park) stands in the entrance. They face off, shrugging off robes as Maul activates his double-edged lightsaber and the fight is on. We’ve never seen Jedi and Sith in their prime go at it and this is fantastic as lightsabers flash and clash and all three leap and hop about to smash at each other to enhance the experience.
Not only is it a great fight, but it also shows the Force in various ways when the trio are separated by laser walls. Jedi Master Qui-Gon kneels in meditation; Obi-Wan is excited, but ready; and Maul paces like a caged animal to show the impatience of the Dark Side. It culminates with Maul killing Qui-Gon then getting sliced in half by Obi-Wan. Whatever else one feels about Episode I, it gave one of the greatest scenes in Star Wars history and this scene is why it deserves to be remembered more.