The Shortlist: Best Movie Fights

5.) Enter The Dragon (Robert Clouse, 1973)

I recently wrote a capsule review of this one for the site but didn’t really have the chance to go in-depth on the action sequences. It’s a colourful and fast paced kung fu spy movie (I likened it to a Chinese James Bond) and as such is packed with awesome fights. There are several enjoyable set-pieces but none so accomplished as the seven minute fight finale between Lee (Bruce Lee) and Han (Shih Kien), who is running an underground heroin smuggling organization. The fight starts in Han’s mini-museum of death but the ante is soon upped when Han runs into a house of mirrors and begins playing tricks on his opponent. Lee smashes out all of the mirrors leaving his opponent bare – it’s more a battle of wits, this one, but still contains one of the best villain deaths I can think of. Lee extends a kick right into Han’s heart and sends him flying across the room onto a protruding spike. As Bond would say: “I think he got the point.”

4.) They Live (John Carpenter, 1988)

Perhaps Carpenter’s most underrated film, this smart sci-fi satire is best remembered for an epic smackdown between Nada (ex-WWE wrestler Roddy Piper) and Frank (all-round legend Keith David). Nada is trying to convince Frank to wear a pair of glasses that reveal people for what they really are – aliens. For seemingly no reason – other than it being the 80s – the two men decide to settle their differences in a five minute wrestling match. It’s one of those fight scenes where you really feel every punch, such is the genius of the choreography and camerawork. Carpenter’s camera circles the action but is always on the opposite side of a punch, so we focus on the recoil, and the cutting rate is smartly kept to a minimum. We’re really allowed to observe these two men just kicking each other black and blue, and as they play dirtier and dirtier it just gets more exciting. What rewards here is the simplicity and brutality of the fight, but the mullets and tight purple tops add camp value that, somehow, makes it even better…

3.) The Matrix (Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, 1999)

Much imitated but never bettered, the Wachowski’s sci-fi masterpiece may not be wholly original in terms of plot but the groundbreaking action sequences and special effects still impress today. Slow-motion has become a gimmicky clichĂ© in action cinema (in fairness, it was made really popular by John Woo) but here it is used to complement the fights, allowing the camera to expand around and explore the choreography, rather than stylize it fetishistically (enter Zack Snyder). This is never better exemplified than in the final fight between Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) which starts off with a high-speed charge of bullets but evolves into an awesome fist fight. More than anything the sound design makes this scene so great – we all love the OTT punching effects but here there’s also the speed of the punches piercing the air and the crunching of wood under the weight of the battle. It’s still an awesome scene watched silent but the sound makes this fight even more intense and memorable. Played in 5.1 it’s unbeatable.

2.) Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg, 2007)

Eastern Promises Bathhouse Fight Scene by salasaladiny
As a whole Cronenberg’s latest can’t hold a candle to the searing revenge drama A History Of Violence (2005), but it does showcase a masterpiece of controlled violence in the form of a knife fight in a Turkish bath. Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen) is a complex character whose ruthlessness we never doubt, but is confirmed in this unflinchingly realistic set-piece – there’s no rhythm or sense of choreography, just an intense flurry of violence which leaves our protagonist scarred and bleeding. He’s stabbed and slashed several times but retains humanity and feels the pain. He shakes when he stands and falters when defending an attack, but still manages to dispatch his assassins through sheer determination. It’s a bloody and bone crunching fight sequence, admirable in its brutality and restraint – there are very few punches thrown and the violence is not sensationalized. Carefully cut, it’s all over in two minutes. Unlike many movie characters these guys can’t take a hundred punches – they’d be dead by then, and that makes it all the more exciting…

1.) Wheels On Meals (Sammo Hung, 1984)

My favourite Jackie Chan film also includes his best fight scene, against black belt kickboxing legend Benny Urquidez (who also appeared against John Cusack in the criminally underrated Grosse Pointe Blank, 1997). Urquidez is nicknamed The Jet and a brief shot in this set-piece shows you why – a super-speed roundhouse kick over a candelabra blows out all the flames in a breathtaking ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ moment. Urquidez remained undefeated in his 27-year career but found a formidable match in Chan. The men are markedly different physically – Urquidez short, stocky and well built, and Chan slim and flexible, but that makes for a more varied and exciting fight. Their face off is lighting paced and soon you begin to wonder whether the blood and bruises are real… the sweat certainly is. The fight lasts between 5-6 minutes and features some truly jaw-dropping moves from both men. At their physical peak in a dazzlingly directed film, Chan and Urquidez knock it out of the park with the best fight scene in cinema history. YouTube it. Now.