Fighting is a cinema staple at this point and no action-adventure would be complete without one. We love the fluid, expert fighting of modern spy movies, the magic of kung fu wire work, the brawling of aging adventure movies. They’re all exciting donnybrooks that make us want to double down on our martial arts training. But even if we talk about learning how to fight and how and where to punch someone, we know that some things should probably stay in the movies. They do them way better anyway. Here are the best movie fight scenes of all time.
Snatch – The Pikey One-Punch Fight Ender
One-punching someone has become Hollywood shorthand for being a badass. We’ve seen Sherlock Holmes, Jason Bourne, Schwarzenegger, and any number of action stars do it, but the best we’ve ever seen was Brad Pitt’s Pikey. In only one scene, we get the ultimate characterization of Mickey O’Neil, a guy who won’t be bullied into submission, who can take multiple hits and pop right back up, and who sees his commitments (or at least the way he interprets them) through to the end.
Add on that Guy Ritchie is pretty much the only director who could handle a sequence like this, with perfect command over the energy of the scene and how to best convey it to the audience. Mickey pops in and out of frame while Gorgeous George lumbers through each shot. And the sound work when Mickey lands his one punch is jarring, screeching, quick, and echoing, exactly how we’d imagine getting hit like that feels.
John Wick – Nightclub Shootout
John Wick has a special place in our hearts, mostly because it’s easily one of the most honest movies we’ve ever seen. At no point does it try to pass itself off as art house cinema or over-write the plot. It’s a simple revenge story with great action and doesn’t pretend it has something to say. The best example of what John Wick has to offer comes during the shootout at the nightclub. It opens with some excellent, brutal stealth, but once John’s cover is blown, he switches gears to smooth gunfighting and chews through dozens of guys on his way to Theon Greyjoy.
For us, what really elevates this scene is the setting. The color palette is unlike anything anyone’s experimenting with these days. Flashing lights and neon pour out of the screen, bringing the club to vibrant life. Instead of the claustrophobic fights of the Bourne franchise, John Wick fights his way through a more open space, starting in a bath house, moving to the main club floor and padded VIP type section, and ending on a busy city street. The soundtrack changes with each location change, as does the lighting, making it one of the most visually and sonically compelling fights we’ve ever seen.
Oldboy – Hallway Escape
Consider this a minor spoiler alert.
This fight scene comes after Dae-Su is first abducted and spends years punching a solid concrete wall. A man spending a decade and a half eating gruel, getting drugged, and punching a wall is harsh enough to start a movie, and the fight that comes when it’s time for him to escape follows that harshness. It’s not a slick, parrying, flowing bit of combat. It’s a dozen or so guys trying to wail on an aging prisoner using whatever weapon anyone can lay their hands on.
It’s also a scene that acknowledges the toll fighting can take on the body. Not just in injuries, but in physical exhaustion and fear. Dae-Su’s attackers are constantly trying to psyche themselves up to attack the guy who keeps bone-breaking his way to the elevator. Add in that no one gets knocked out and instead stay on the floor groaning and rolling around and you get something that’s probably a lot closer to a normal street fight.
The Raid – Hallway Knife Fight
This one goes right under the scene from Oldboy because they’re similar in setting and motivation, though different enough in execution, if you’ll pardon the pun. Our favorite thing about this fight is how it blends two separate genre tropes. The first is the fluidity of the kung fu. Rama moves from combatant to combatant with practiced skill. Each move flows into the next, even when Rama’s on the receiving end, and it’s a pleasure to watch him work his way down the hallway during his escape.
The other half of the blend is the grisly violence of the fight. Most kung fu fighting that we’ve seen, while quick and hard hitting, tends to shy away from blood. The Raid goes right for it, giving Rama a police club and a combat knife, with the latter getting a lot more use. He shreds his opponents up pretty well and there’s more than one fatal hit thrown in there. Mixing in such gruesome violence is a great way to communicate the desperation of the officers as they make their way out of the building and we appreciate injecting some intelligence into its inclusion.
Snowpiercer – Tunnel Battle
Snowpiercer by itself is a movie worth watching. Built on top of a fairly simple story structure (a man leads a rebellion against the oppressors) is one of the most creative settings we’ve ever seen. As the group of rebels makes their way from the back of the train to the front, they encounter every strata of their society. From their own humble beginnings in the slums to the middle class hair salons and clubs to the absurd luxury of the first few cars.
The scene works so well because of how the movie has built to it. The train’s world has been wonderfully fleshed out, with the rebels already having encountered some truly horrifying stuff before, so when we finally get to this car’s occupants, who can only be described as (because they are) hooded, black leather clad, axe wielding maniacs, it’s unexpected, but not necessarily a surprise. The violence that ensues is another great microcosm of the train. The rebels are panicked, jumpy, and untrained, while the maniacs zealously work through the front ranks of their attackers.
Anchorman – Newscaster Back Alley Brawl
Most of the fights on this list are serious, polished encounters. They’re parts of the movie where we learn more about the characters, there’s some sort of emotional payoff, or are the climax of the movie (or at least one of the minor arcs). For Anchorman, none of that applies. The whole scene is one big punchline. It works completely separately from the major conflict of the movie and happens only because someone thought it’d be a funny change of pace. If all the other fights on this list are moments of great tension, catharsis, or character building, the newscaster brawl is a moment where everyone collectively decided movies take fights a little too seriously.
The Bourne Trilogy – Pen Fight, Magazine Fight, and Desh
For our Bourne picks, we can blend the first two fights together, since we like them both for the same reason: improvised weaponry. Both fights have Bourne going up against guys with traditional weapons, be they guns, knives, or their own hands. The setup is fairly standard, but where other action movies have the hero either disarm or steal the weapon from their attacker, Bourne arms himself with whatever’s nearby and they end up being the things that really turn the fight in his favor. Repeated stabbings from the pen and a couple good hits around the head from a rolled up magazine do a lot to wear someone down.
But even more than that is the entire fight with Desh. It’s easily the most brutal, exhausting fight of the whole series and incorporates everything we love about the series. The chase sequence leading up to it is awesome. Since it blends slow suspense with heart-pounding speed, the stunts are exactly what we’d want from a Bourne movie, and the fight takes everything that came before and perfects it. Magazine | Desh
The Matrix – Neo vs Mr. Smith in the Subway
There’s no better scene in The Matrix to show exactly what we like about it than this one. The ever threatening Mr. Smith, Keanu Reeves greatest role besides Ted Theodore Logan, Morpheus constant philosophizing, and stellar kung fu. It’s quick, it’s stylized, it’s tinted green, what more could you possibly want? Some sweet stunts in a subway station? Fine have some of those too.
Wire fu actually makes sense in The Matrix. If the Matrix is basically a video game and characters in video games are always jumping higher or moving different than people do and can in real life, then all those wire assisted movements actually work. The wire fu isn’t the Wachowskis using something because they think it’s cool. It’s them reconciling their fictional story and super powers with real life. That might have been obvious to some of you, but we didn’t think that hard about it until just now. We just thought the fight was fun.
Batman v Superman – Batman Saves Superman’s Mom
For all the things it did wrong, Batman v Superman got Batman right (except for all the murdering). With Batfleck, we got to see the world’s greatest detective glide around in a woven, grayscale, short eared suit, tossing futuristic gadgets and taking guys down efficiently. He finally looked and moved the way the comics and Arkham games have told us he should.
Because of that, for the first time on the big screen, we got to see why people are scared of Batman. The Nolan trilogy is good, but the closest we got to seeing why people would fear a Christian Bale Batman was when he was picking the sewer gang apart with Catwoman. Anytime Batman’s onscreen in Snyder’s movie (aside from when he’s fighting Doomsday), we get a glimpse into why Gotham’s crime rate is on a fearful downward trend.
Warrior – Tommy vs. Mad Dog
One of the more common movie fight tropes we’ve noticed is the one where the hero of the movie will stand back, let his or her opponent tire themselves out, then win the fight in a few quick, hard moves. In cheesier movies, the hero will have some quip about being done or it being their turn or some tables turning. This scene in Warrior absolutely doesn’t follow that trope. Mad Dog’s still overly confident and mouthy, but Tommy opens up his time in the ring with a fierce kick to the chest and doesn’t let up until Mad Dog’s hanging limply by the lower ropes. It’s quick, savage, and one of the best examples of MMA on the big screen.
It doesn’t rely on quick cuts and shaky cam to convey the energy of the fight. Most of the shots hold long, are fairly steady, and give a good view of the action. The camera’s point of view is outside the ring, giving us a spectator’s perspective and helping remind us that neither one of these guys is someone we’d want to fight.
Ip Man – 10 vs. 1
One of the reasons we like Ip Man so much is how the fighting strikes a perfect balance between choreographed pulled punches and real world weight. That’s why this fight sticks out in our mind. Until here, the movie’s made no secret that Yip Man is the greatest martial artist in the city, but most of his fights have had him voluntarily playing defender. That changes in the 10 vs. 1.
The occupying Japanese forces are making Chinese martial artists fight Japanese black belts for extra food, a practice that’s barbaric to begin with, but Yip Man doesn’t enter the fight until he sees what the sadistic Japanese officer is doing to people he perceives as dishonorable. Once he does, Yip Man tears through the black belts and turns what he’d used primarily as a defensive style into a full body weapon.
It’s an awesome moment of character building for our hero, because we finally get to see what he’s capable of and what would push him to fight like that. It isn’t until straight up war crimes start that Yip Man starts busting some skulls and we admire his restraint, because if we were that good at Wing Chun, fighting is how we would walk down the street.
The Departed – Fighting Italians in the Convenience Store
There’s some old world, brutal charm to the convenience store fight. The basic premise of this scene, “A hot headed Irish gangster snaps and takes out two slicked up Italians,” is a phrase that could have been said any time between 1840 and Whitey Bulger’s arrest. So when Billy Costigan breaks his wrist on an Italian’s jaw, what you’re actually watching is a century and a half old ritual unfold in front of an unfortunate shop-owning immigrant.
It’s also worth mentioning that this fight’s more grounded in reality. Most people think their fists are solid weapons of forged steel when, in reality, they’re more like glass flowers. If you punch slightly wrong, you’re going to be spending weeks in a cast and The Departed is one of the few movies that actually acknowledges it.
Fight Club – I Want You to Hit Me
Of all the fights on this list, this has to be the clumsiest. The first punch thrown doesn’t land where it should, it looks like a flailing close handed slap, and it comes close on the heels of him basically begging to not have to do it. But it’s that inexperience and reluctance that builds one of the central conceits of the movie. These are the things the men in Fight Club have to overcome if they’re going to feel fulfilled.
This is also the turning point for what enables the end of the movie. If the Narrator had gotten a handle on himself right here, then maybe all the stuff Tyler Durden planned wouldn’t have happened. Because it’s probably safe to say that Tyler isn’t as right as he thinks he is, considering Project Mayhem is basically domestic terrorism. And while some might agree that the philosophical foundation of Fight Club and Project Mayhem are sound, there aren’t many who’d defend domestic terrorism.
Star Wars Episode 1 – Darth Maul Lightsaber Truel
This was the lightsaber fight that revolutionized lightsaber fights. Before this, most fights didn’t have much beyond a couple guys swinging glowing sticks at each other. The original trilogy ratcheted up the action as they went, but the prequels kind of rule. At least when Darth Maul is involved. Everyone’s flipping around with multi-colored weapons through some of the better looking green screens of the prequel era.
Beyond looking cool, the fight is a great example of the difference between Jedi Master and Padawan. Where Qui-Gon waits patiently for the fight to resume during the light barrier scene, Obi-Wan paces impatiently, itching for his next shot at the Sith. Much the same way Darth Maul waits for his next chance to cut apart his Jedi attackers. It’s a profound sort of moment you wouldn’t expect in a movie with Episode 1’s reputation and it reminds you that George Lucas’s success wasn’t a fluke, even if it did go to his head.
Fury – Tiger Tank Ambush
Where other movies romanticize the Second World War as a heroic, noble fight with a few dirty spots, Fury revels in the mud and misery of a fading barbaric conflict. Desperation has set in on both sides, with the German army attempting to bleed the invaders dry and the Allies resigned to the fact that they’re going to have to take this brutal fight all the way to Berlin.
This fight makes the list because, despite it not being hand to hand combat, it’s a showdown, same as any other entry on this list. The facial expressions of the tank commanders and Fury’s crew prove as much. Everyone has the jittery, anxious energy of someone in a life or death situation, with the American tank commanders doing everything they can to keep their crews calm and fighting. Each shell that ricochets off the Tiger’s armor reinforces the feeling that no one’s going to make it out of this fight alive, and each reloading of the Shermans’ cannons pounds home how futile their struggle really is.
Captain America – Civil War – Iron Man vs. Captain America in Siberia
As entertaining as the Marvel movies are, they’ve never really escaped the standard action hero trope of “always winning.” The Avengers will always pull together. Gomorrah will always bail out Star Lord. Jeff Bridges and Nazis will always get beat up.
That’s why Civil War was on a whole other level. The fight at the end of Civil War is easily one of the emotionally intense fights in the MCU. You better believe Tony Stark was fighting with the full intention of killing the Winter Soldier. There wasn’t going to be a moment where the repulsors were charging up but Tony decides he just couldn’t do it. If he got the chance to kill, he would take it.
That’s why it’s not the airport fight taking up this spot. Watching all those heroes fly around and punch and quip was a ton of fun, but this fight was a character defining moment for three separate Marvel mainstays. This conflict is going to have rippling consequences across the MCU and we’re excited to see what changes.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – Indy vs. a Tank Full of Nazis
Bourne and Bond and Ip Man dodging and blocking with pinpoint accuracy loses some of the charm of older fight scenes. When Indiana Jones gets into it with a mob of Nazis or one big huge one, he’s not fighting like a fluid menace. It’s a brawl, with single hard hits and clumsy blocks. These are fights we might actually be able to win. Or at least survive.
Something else that’s lost in modern fight scenes is the physical humor. Spielberg injects quite a bit of slapstick into the nearly ten minute sequence and we can’t imagine Matt Damon or Daniel Craig pulling off some of the gags Indy does. If Bond killed three guys with one bullet, there absolutely wouldn’t be a comedic sound cue to accompany it.
And let’s talk about music too, because this is easily the most well scored fight scene on this list. Comedic cues, dangerous dips, and triumphant swells pull us through the whole ordeal. Other scenes make good use of music, but most of them just set the atmosphere. Williams’ work guides us through and amplify the action, drawing the audience even deeper into an already excellent fight.
Kill Bill – The Bride vs. The Crazy 88
This might be the Quentin Tarantioiest movie fight to ever be made. In fact, let’s just take a minute to list all the Tarantino things in it. Witty dialog, visual and auditory comedy, slamming zooms and hard cuts, extreme close-ups, an inexplicable amount of blood (do you know what your blood pressure would have to be to make that work), a film geek’s fawning over genres in his own industry, the perfect music, sweet camera tricks, the Wilhelm Scream. It’s all packed into a single scene. Nothing in Django or Inglorious Basterds or Pulp Fiction even comes close to this sort of Tarantino density. Good thing he didn’t know Christoph Waltz at the time or else our universe would’ve collapsed into the Tarantino Singularity.
Rocky II – Rocky vs. Apollo Creed
In Carl Weather’s second best role (obvious first best), he’s an excellent nemesis for the first two Rocky movies. He’s arrogant, he’s talented, and he knows exactly how to get in Rocky’s head. By using him as the antagonist for the first and second movies, there’s a cohesion to the movies that isn’t present in most series. The movies really feel like the first and second part of one really long movie rather than two separate installments.
The reason we like the rematch so much is similar to why we like that Rocky loses in the first movie. It’s a sort of true to life subversion of genre tropes. Where other movies get big triumphant finishing blows, with the hero landing an uppercut that completely lifts his opponent off the mat, Rocky’s big victory comes in simply lasting for all 15 rounds. He doesn’t get a definitive, slow motion knockout. He gets to keep standing at the end of the fight. Those everyman moments are why we keep coming back to the Rocky movies.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – Jen Steals the Green Destiny
CineFix already did a great job of breaking down what makes this fight scene great, and there’s no hope of us topping them. If you want an articulate, educated, extensive description of all the good stuff going on, we highly recommend their video. For us, we’ll make a short attempt at selling you on the action.
First off, this is probably the best looking kung fu fight scene we’ve ever seen. Two talented warriors fighting at the peak of their abilities and two talented actresses taking their craft very seriously. Like CineFix says, this is a great moment of characterization for the movie, where both women’s personalities and experiences inform their fighting style. The younger woman is energetic and cocky, while the older is more deliberate in her movements and clearly more experienced in combat. She works her way through every weapon in the room with equal mastery of all of them, never making a mistake. If there was anything we didn’t know about these women before the fight, we know it now.
Enter the Dragon – Bruce Lee Beats Up a Mob
In terms of movie fights, there’s no bigger name than Bruce Lee. He’s the man who showed that American audiences were receptive to kung fu, he has more motivational quotes than a sorority girl’s bedroom, and he might be the only guy to do bodily harm with a one inch punch. He’s more superhero than man at this point and he has the costume to prove it.
For our favorite Bruce Lee fight, we had to go with the classic scene from Enter the Dragon. Bruce Lee fights every man the drug lab can throw at him and breaks the lightest sweat a person can, and that might just be because drug labs can get a little toasty. And let’s be clear about our opinion of Bruce Lee. This is something he could have accomplished with or without a film and stunt crew. Before this scene, we weren’t even sure how nunchucks could be considered weapons. Also, Jackie Chan is in this fight.