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Who doesn’t love a good fight scene? Whether its a romp between two bad-ass individuals who play by their own rules or an oriental chap finding himself in a new and foreign land, fight scenes caught on camera have been a staple of cinema since it first hit popularity in the 20’s. It is one of the elements of film that’s deeply rooted in the idea of, as film scholars would put it, “Cinema of Attractions.”
Don’t worry, I won’t go all academic on you, just slightly-academic. To borrow from this paper, revolves around the fact that there are movies that base themselves on the “ability to show something.” What this means simply is that there are movies that are made solely to show us awesome things and make us go “WOW.” And that concludes my academic lesson. Now back to the good part!
So, part of these awesome things that we get to see are action sequences. Action sequences could be chases, wars/battles/skirmishes (from biggest to smallest), fights and a lot of other things. So for this post, I’ll be focusing on fights, where one guy fights another guy, or one guy fights a few guys… Well, you get the point.
I think its about time I put them in the spotlight and count down my top 10 favorite fight scenes. I’m not gonna claim that these are the best, just that these fights are the ones I enjoyed the most. Also to clarify, I’m not including group battles here but more of individuals, so no war or huge battle scenes here. Well, buckle up, enjoy the ride, and watch out for *SPOILERS*, because here we go!
10 ) The fight in the market from Shanghai Knights
I love Jackie Chan. This guy is a master at his craft, and for him to shoot, choreograph and act out this scene, at the age of 49 is unbelievable for me. The man has an incredible eye for using the scenery around him to supplement the action, and he knows how to use a fight scene to develop characters and progress the story. He paced this fight scene perfectly with a lot of comedy, a lot of stunts and yet never to the point of going overboard.
With so many elements going on in the scene, he did a masterful job of showings its progress. From beginning to end, you know where he is, where he came from, and to some extent, where he’s going. It doesn’t jump around to random locations and it all feels very fluid. That’s the mark of a truly great fight scene and a truly great filmmaker. Not to mention, his homage to Singin’ in the Rain was a divine addition to this scene, and is the moment that makes this fight into one of my all-time favorites.
9 ) Deveraux vs. Scott from Universal Soldier: Regeneration
I never thought I’d like a Jean-Claude Van Damme film. Ever. That was, until I saw this masterpiece of violence. Universal Soldier: Regeneration is the 3rd installment of the Universal Soldier franchise, taking place several years after the last two films took place. The breakout performer of this movie has to be Mixed Martial-Arts fighter Andrei Arlovski, who brings some amazing skills and executes some amazing fight choreography in this film.
But even though his fights were much better technically, it was the fight between the Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren that takes the cake. These guys are obviously past their prime, so they can’t so the stunts and tricks that they used to. So how do you make the fight scene more epic? You have them throw each other through walls, furniture, and make sure that the only time they go through a door, they obliterate it. This fight scene is so gritty, with the building falling apart around them, that you forget how old these guys are. Its just a marvel how much damage they put each other through, and for that, it gets my seal of approval.
8 ) Bruce Lee vs. Chuck Norris from Way of the Dragon and Bruce Lee vs. Bob Wall in Enter the Dragon
I couldn’t decide which one I liked better so I decided to put both of these iconic fight scenes up at number 8. Now, if ever there are any of you who are thinking: “Bruce Lee is only in number 8, he’s a legend, more so than all the other guys!”, allow me to explain. Yes, Bruce Lee is a legend, and in fact, both his fights make it this far because of his athleticism (he’s so fast and strong, its almost unbelievable), and his incredible screen presence. The guy has an icy stare that magnetizes you and his aptitude is beyond compare.
That being said, both of these fights prove very little challenge for him. The outcome is never really in question, so the action lacks a sense of drama. But that aside, these fights are damned good. His form is impeccable and he’s friggin’ invincible. If you have never seen these fights before, I’m glad I got to show them to you because these iconic scenes shouldn’t be forgotten.
7 ) Spiderman and Green Goblin vs. Sand Man and Venom
Okay, yes the third movie was horrible. I’ll be the first to agree with that. But I have to admit, this scene was friggin’ awesome. Their teamwork was pretty cool (much better than any team fighting I saw from either the X-Men or the Fantastic 4), and they really used their powers to help each other in the fight against what are essentially two individually stronger villains. This made for a fun and thrilling climax, and no matter what anyone says, this is one of my favorites for sheer awesomeness.
6 ) Obi Wan vs. Anakin from Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
I was one of the haters of the new trilogy, for the longest time. But when I got to watch Star Wars Episode 3 again, I realized how good it was on its own. It finally had great character development, the scope of it was pretty epic, the tragedy was really strong, and for the first time all-series long, we got a fight worth gawking at. I’ll admit it was fun seeing Yoda whip out his lightsaber at the end of Ep. 2, but that was just a CG-gasm where he kept on twirling around like the blades of a helicopter. Anakin vs. Obi-Wan on the other hand was the fight scene I had been expecting since Ep. 1. They went from location to location matching each other every step, relying more on swordplay than acrobatics.
Whereas the Ep. 1 final fight with Darth Maul was contained inside that reactor, and really was all about Darth Maul leaping around like a gymnast, and every other lightsaber fight took place in one location (for the most part), this one took them from a mining control room, where their fight causes the whole building to erupt and then the fight on a river of molten lava, but not before fighting on the rigging of the mining building. I mean, damn, talk about epic. The choreography was great and the way the fight ended was fitting. The most interesting thing about this fight is that, just by watching the fight alone, you get a sense as to who these guys are. Their characters are carried in their strikes and parries, and in the way they choose to fight, they’re very similar (owing to the fact that Obi-Wan trained Anakin), but they also have moments of very different movements. All in all, it was a fantastic fight.
5 ) 3-way fight + trading swords fight in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
One thing I always loved about Gore Verbinski’s Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy has always been the fight scenes. The films have always treated their action sequences with a lot of care, and hard work. From the first fight between Will and Jack in the first movie, what now seems a long time ago, up until the fights in the most recent installment, these fights have never failed to entertain and have created a standard by which a lot of sword fights should be judged against. None of these fights look like they took more effort than the sword fight between Norrington, Will and Jack over who would gain possession of the key to the Dead Man’s Chest.
These guys fight from a beach to an old mill, and even on top of the mill’s wheel, and it is captivating. Apart from the great choreography, physical jousting and verbal jousting to boot, this movie had amazing camera work. There’s one shot where the camera rotates with the wheel so we see the three men from a totally different perspective. I just love that there wasn’t too much computer imaging used in this fight, that authentic touch was a great addition to the film.
Apart from that amazing fight, we get glimpses of another, smaller yet just as entertaining battle where Elizabeth and the two comic-relief pirates, Pintel and Ragretti, fend off Davy Jones’ horde with two swords between the three of them. The fight ensues with them handing the two swords between the three of them and it was a lot of fun too. This was one of the most exciting sequences in the whole franchise, and its definitely my personal favorite.
4 ) Zero-Gravity Hallway fight in Inception
Allow me to get this out of the way, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and the other guys look great in this dream world, they look like walking-talking GQ ads. That being said, JGL beating those other guys in a smooth tie, long-sleeve, and vest, was definitely one part of why I liked this fight scene. But more than that, they shot it so well.
Again, I think the mark of most great fight scenes is that its done with stunts rather than CGI. This was one of those. They could have easily made these people fly around the room through some computer program, but instead, they built a revolving room as well as used two different cameras, one bolted to the floor, so that it had the perspective of the room, and another that was free to stay still, so that it followed the perspective of the shifting gravity of the guys fighting. The result is one of the most innovative fights I’ve ever seen. The choreography was excellent and made use of the environment, and it just looked utterly amazing. A+.
3 ) Riggs and Murtaugh vs. Wah Sing Ku Lethal Weapon 4
One of the biggest problems in film is shooting a fight scene where one person can actually fight and the other person can’t. If both people can fight, you get fights like Bruce Lee’s or Jackie Chan’s. If both can’t really fight, you get stuff like Rocky and Universal Soldier, which are great in their own rights. But if you pit one good fighter with a crappy one, it rarely ends well. So how would you shoot a film where the aged Mel Gibson and even more aged Danny Glover take on Jet Li in his prime? THIS IS HOW.
This in my opinion is the best Chinese Martial Arts vs. Brawling fight I’ve ever seen. The setting was perfect, the shots and cuts were great, and the whole scene made the fight really believable. At first glance, you’d think that Jet Li would beat both of them to hell and back, and that he’d only lose in an obvious effort to let them win. Though there are some movies where this is pretty evident, it isn’t in this fight. It really looks like their all fighting their hardest, and out of their own effort, the two old guys really are putting up a good fight.
It all works together perfectly. What else can I say?
2 ) Nightcrawler attacking the White House from X-Men 2
This is one if not the only exception to the CG rule. While I hate the fact that Nightcrawler is played by Alan Cumming, and consequently, his character was terrible after this scene, this opening sequence to X-2 is by far my single favorite scene out of any Marvel film. He uses his powers perfectly in sync with his fighting. The choreographers did a great job of having him punching then leaning into a kick, then he’d teleport and land that kick on someone else. Not to mention the use of his tail.
It is a far cry from Will.I.Am’s teleporting skills in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I think a huge reason why I loved this fight is because Nightcrawler is my favorite member of the X-Men. That being said, that first sequence made me happy because it summed up every reason why I think he’s so damned cool. Then he opened his mouth… I can let the rest of the movie slide away from memory, even the horrible sequel that followed, but I’ll be damned if I forget this piece of cinematic thrill any time soon.
1 ) Rooftop fight from Who Am I?
Are any of you surprised that Jackie Chan made it to my number one? If you are, you should probably watch a lot more Jackie Chan movies. I could actually do a top 10, hell, even a top 20 list of my favorite Jackie Chan fights, because he’s had so many. Technically, artistically, and any other category available, I would not know if I can put this fight at the top, since there are so many amazing fights throughout Jackie’s illustrious career, but I can say without a shadow of a doubt that this is my favorite.
As a kid, I saw Who Am I? so many times on TV that it was my introduction to Jackie Chan, and still my most watched movie of his. This fight scene lasts a whopping 8 minutes and finds Jackie facing off against two very capable opponents, namely, Muay Thai expert David Leong and Tae-Kwon-Do expert Ron Smoorenburg. Side note, there are some moments in the fight where Smoorenburg seems to get shorter, thats because his footspeed couldn’t match that of Jackie Chan’s so they had to bring in a stunt double. That’s right, Jackie Chan’s feet were too fast for a 4th Degree Black-belt in Tae-Kwon-Do who was 20 years younger than him.
As if you need any more reason to love this fight, Jackie Chan once again awesomely integrates moments of humor in this fight. The guy removing his jacket and tie, the ultimate kick battle, and the earring fiasco are all things you should look out for. He also composes a great fight in that it is integral to the story. In case you miss it, the relation to the story is that the black bag falls off the building, and now Jackie has to rush to retrieve it before the bad guy (who now has a momentous head start) does. Jackie always has a point with his fights, they’re never inserted into a fight for simple entertainment, they always tell a story.
So its only fitting that the greatest martial artist of our time, certainly of cinema, should get the top spot in this list. And there you have my top 10 fight scenes! Till next time!