Matt Peterworth from Austin, TX has his own blog TooDarnLoud, but felt compelled to write a list for Scene-Stealers when he was thinking about the most intense movie moments. He writes: “Some of the most intense scenes I could think of were in action movies, but they weren’t always the most action-packed scene from that movie. Which led me to ponder what are the most action-packed scenes and what makes them so great?
“The first characteristic is that it had to be memorable. ‘Terminator 2,’ while being a great action flick, didn’t have any one particular scene stick in my memory. The action scene also had to have emotional gravity, where we feel like we have a personal stake in what happens on screen. I also gave extra points to creativity and if the ending was unpredictable,” he says. Related list: Another reader contributed this list of Top 10 Fight Scenes as well. If you have a Top 10 list you’d like to contribute, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Here’s Matt again:
10. Casino Royale (2006) – Free-running chase scene (watch here)
While not exceptionally emotional, the free-running chase scene near the beginning of the “Casino Royale” remake was one of the first memorable scenes that came to mind. Having to outsmart and outwork his target, the new James Bond stopped at nothing to get what he was after. This scene in particular convinced me Daniel Craig was worthy of the James Bond role.
9. Rocky II (1979) – The last fight (watch here)
The first “Rocky” was great, but it lacked two things: Rocky winning at the end, and “Eye of the Tiger.” “Rocky II” at least solved one of those problems, and it added an even more dramatic finish than the first movie, as both fighters go down and struggle to get up by the 10 count. Precisely because you don’t know who, if either, will stand up to win the fight, it elevates the intensity and makes it a memorable (and one of the best) action scenes. Maybe if it had “Eye of the Tiger” too (Sadly, in “Rocky III” only), it would have placed higher on the list!
8. Speed Racer (2008) – Casa Cristo 5000 Road Rally (watch here)
Say what you will about the rest of the movie, the Casa Cristo 5000 Road Rally in “Speed Racer” easily trumps any other car chase or racing scene in my opinion. I just wish they axed the childish hand-to-hand fight scene in the middle. Overall, it took an enormous creative effort to conceive and stitch together the special features of the cars, the locations, and the actual action between the cars and drivers. With the beautiful (and multiple) locations, the car choreography, the emotional weight of Speed’s brother dying on the same course, and what was at stake with winning or losing the race, the scene works for me even if other parts of the movie drag it down.
7. Ghostbusters (1984) – Gozer/Stay Puft fight scene
With a group of parapsychologists (all played by comedic actors) who discover a way to catch and contain ghosts, “Ghostbusters” is one of the most original and entertaining movies out there. The ending is especially original, as the Ghostbusters crew must defeat a 100-foot tall marshmallow man. Memorable and action-packed, the scene has you on the edge partially because you don’t know if ‘crossing the streams’ will work or not. Get your mind out of the gutter.
6. Aliens (1986) – Ripley vs. Alien Queen
The set-up of giant exosuit vs. powerful enemy has been played out in “Matrix Revolutions” and even re-used by James Cameron in Pandora. But there can be only one original, and the final fight in Aliens between Ripley and the Alien Queen set the bar ever so high. It also likely catapulted the sequel to being one of the few sequels considered better than the original. The emotional stakes are high, you have no idea what is going to happen, and it is the classic mano-a-mano fight scene between a human and the most lethal alien creature Hollywood has yet to imagine.
5. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003) – Battle for Pelennor Fields (watch here)
One of the most memorable battles in literature, the Battle for Pelennor Fields is one of several penultimate ending scenes to “Return of the King.” While those of us who read the books do know what happens, it is still an incredibly satisfying scene to watch. The advantage in the battle goes back and forth between Gondor and Mordor. The horsemen from Rohirrim arrive, Eowyn kills the lead Ringwraith, and finally the King returns, leading a ghost army that annihilates the entire Mordor army.
4. Kill Bill (2003) – Beatrix vs. the Crazy 88
This is an exceptional variant of the classic one-vs-many fight scene, taken to the extreme. Another movie released around the same time, “The Matrix Revolutions,” also included a similar scene with Neo vs. multiple Agent Smiths, but “Kill Bill” is the better film with better choreography. From the swordplay, to the empathy that the Bride endues in us (we want her to get her revenge), she takes out the entire Crazy 88 in style. Besides, Beatrix winds up winning in this scene, whereas Neo just runs (flies) away.
3. The Matrix (1999) – Neo vs. Agent Smith & the Lobby Scene
I couldn’t really pick between the best fight scenes in the original “Matrix.” Both scenes employ slow motion and sweeping camera angles, which added to the cool factor. In the first scene, Neo narrowly escapes Agent Smith in hand-to-hand combat in the subway station. In the second, the famous lobby scene offers the most bullets of any fight scene I’ve seen. Take your pick, but the edge probably goes to the one versus Agent Smith, as Neo is directly fighting his biggest opponent.
2. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005) – The final fight between Anakin and Obi-Wan (watch here)
The most anticipated fight scene in movie history, we just knew there had to be an Anakin vs. Obi-Wan fight to set up the Death Star encounter in “Episode IV.” And George Lucas didn’t disappoint. This scene led our heroes across a volcanic planet, from buildings to floating platforms. By far the best lightsaber duel in either trilogy, from a speed and action point of view, this scene was truly epic. But ultimately we all had to know the outcome, which is why this scene doesn’t get the top spot.
1. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) – Thunderdome scene (obviously)
As wildly imaginative as the fight scene from “Star Wars Episode III” was (it seemed Lucas was going out of his way to make the scene over the top), it still wasn’t as original as the Thunderdome concept. Set in a rather typical post-apocalypse world, whenever two people start to fight out in public, they are instead forced to fight in the Thunderdome – where two men enter and one man leaves. Add harnesses and weapons of all sorts, and you’ve got Mad Max and Blaster flying all over the place trying to kill each other. While not as technically choreographed as the other fight scenes that made this list, the originality of the story, and not knowing the ending, makes this the top action scene in my book.