Top 10 Fight Scenes

by Eric Melin on July 20, 2010

in Top 10s

Today’s Top 10 comes from L.A.-based Wayne Swab, who is an on-set technical guy in Hollywood about 12 to 16 hours a day. He’s one of our regulars here at Scene-Stealers, and we’re happy he took the time out of his busy schedule. In his words:

I figure since this is my favorite website (next to America’s Line) it was time for me to send up a top 10 and take the abuse/accolades that go with it. Momma always said, “If your gonna dish it out, you better be able to take it.” The other night I was watching AMC, when “Enter the Dragon” came on, causing me to ponder the top 10 fight scenes of all time. Immediately I had a few reservations, due to the fact that I haven’t watched blackbelt theater on Saturday mornings in a long, long time. So I will preface the list by saying I am most familiar with Western-made movies. Therefore I am sure to omit a few gems from Asian cinema, but the list must go on.

Honorable Mentions: “Braveheart” (1995) Irish and Scots vs. English, “Master of the Flying Guillotine” (1975) Two guys fight while standing on sticks, “They Live” (1988) “Rowdy” Roddy Piper vs. Keith David, “The Matrix” (1999) Mr. Smith vs. Neo in subway, “Ong-Bak” (2003) Tony Jaa, the single-shot crane scene in the restaurant.

10. The Karate Kid (1984) Daniel-san vs Cobra Kai

The feel-good movie of the 1980s has a lot going for it. It’s funny, inspirational, gets quoted more often than John F. Kennedy, has a finale song that sticks in your head for 20 years, and a climatic fight scene. In it, the bad boys of the Cobra Kai dojo take on high-school transfer student Daniel Larusso (Ralph Macchio) in the form of a tournament. On his way into the finals, Daniel has to get by more adversity than a Cuban coming to Florida. Not only is he fighting the returning champion and gets his shoulder badly beaten, the word comes down from the Cobra Kai master to “sweep the leg,” practically crippling him. Everyone thinks he won’t be able to continue, but with the help of an inspirational speech and a massage technique that would probably cost a few hundred dollars downtown, Danny is ready for the moment. Through it all, Danny prevails by using an untested technique: the dreaded “crane kick.” Usually in collegiate martial arts competition, an unchecked kick to the head would garner a point taken, or worse: disqualification. But not in the San Fernando Valley Championships of the 80s. It gets you the winner’s trophy and the respect of your enemies. Go Danny.

9. Enter the Dragon (1973) Bruce Lee vs. The Guards

Underneath Mr. Han’s island, there is human trafficking and heroin smuggling going on, but more importantly, Bruce Lee is loose and about to show every guard on payroll why he is Master Lee. More so a one-sided, technical showcase of weapon proficiency than anything else, this still makes the list because it is badass. First off, Lee captures a cobra and knocks it unconscious. Then when he wants to use the snake to distract the guards, he wakes it up by snapping it’s head, forcing it back into kill mode. Never seen that before. Once the alarm goes off, Lee finds a good spot and fights what seems like 100 guards. Using his hands, feet, wooden stash, nightsticks, and finally the nunchucks, Lee puts on a weapons clinic. Sensing that no one can stop him, they have to resort to the fake elevator trick. Gets ‘em every time.

heat 1995 shootout

8. Heat (1995) Shootout with De Niro and Company vs. The Cops

Embedding has been disabled, so click here or on the photo to watch the scene. And Downtown L.A. has never been the same. When this movie came out, it was before the days of DVDs. So me and every other guy in college owned this on VHS, and knew exactly where the gun fight was on the second VHS tape. The gunfight got worn out as much as Phoebe Cates coming out of the pool. As far as movies go, the set pieces in “Heat” are phenomenal. The only way to get the feeling of robbing a bank and shooting it out with the cops afterwards is to go do it.

The rest of it…..well. The acting was almost out of an Ed Wood film. Al Pacino has never been more erratic (“88 Minutes”), Tom Sizemore looks like he had just beaten up Heidi Fleiss throughout the entire picture, Val Kilmer was sleepwalking, and I’m still trying to figure out why Hank Azaria was in this at all. But the gun fights are fucking awesome! I am a huge Michael Mann fan, and even though he lets me down sometimes, I will always give him a chance. Because when he is good, he’s one of the best!

7. The Warriors (1979) Warriors vs. Baseball Furies

This scene is totally badass, and I’ve been wrestling where it should show up. It’s tight as a drum, has a killer soundtrack, the setup is excellent and the fighting is almost perfect. So why is it number 7? The editing. Directed by Walter Hill, shot by Andrew Laszlo, “The Warriors” is a masterpiece. But we are talking about the greatest fight scenes of all time, so it falls to number 7 in this company.

Getting separated from the rest of the gang by police in the subway, Swan, Cowboy, Ajax and Snow make it outside only to find themselves surrounded by the Baseball Furies. Armed with bats, dressed like Yankees and wearing war paint, the Furies are an intimidating group. So the Warriors take off and a foot chase leads all members into the park. The Warriors strategically split up, leaving Cowboy and Ajax running point. When Cowboy tells Ajax he can’t run anymore, it is music to Ajax’s ears. “Good! I’m sick of running from these wimps!” Cowboy goes down early, leaving three warriors against nine Furies. Surrounded by evil clowns carrying baseball bats, Ajax beats up one and takes his bat. Swan and Snow return to do the same, then all members go down like glass joes. You could say that they went down too easy, but they are getting hit with baseball bats. Every hit is a K.O. shot. The scene is slick, gets your adrenaline pumping, and makes you wish Walter Hill made a 3-hour movie.

6. Hard Times (1975) Bronson vs. Street

A movie about bare-knuckled brawling down in New Orleans during the depression, this movie was shot and looks exactly like it sounds. Minimalistic style and barebones filmmaking, Walter Hill’s directorial debut comes at you like a right cross. All of the fights are as raw as they come. Chuck Bronson is a fighter who basically lives on nothing, traveling the south looking for action. He and James Coburn hook up and start making some decent money together. But after Bronson runs out of competition, they bring in Street from Chicago. The final fight is a tough piece of filmmaking with no soundtrack. They fight in silence with the natural buzz of the closed warehouse as audio backdrop. With the only witnesses heavily invested in the outcome, Bronson and Street go at it with jabs, crosses, elbows, knees, bear-hugs and kicks. It lasts about as long as a cigarette, and you’ll be able to hear a pin drop where ever you watch it.

5. Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003) The Bride vs. The Crazy 88s and Gogo Yubari

The Bride vs. the Crazy 88s was good enough to have made this list on it’s own, or at least garner an honorable mention. But not only is the opening of the fight badass, then we get part 2 where she fights Gogo. The morning star is such an underused and underrated weapon. So after she cuts off the feet of every living enemy, Gogo comes out and gives her all she can handle. And when you really look at the picture as a whole, Gogo is really the only opponent that could have killed the Bride. The choreography combined with the cinematography, makes this fight suspenseful, shocking and action packed all at the same time. It is the highlight of Vol. 1.

4. The Wild Bunch (1969) Gatling Gun Fight

The film that changed the way violence would forever be portrayed on celluloid. A movie with no heroes, only bad men who differ in their degrees of evil, Sam Peckinpah‘s “The Wild Bunch” inspired a generation of filmmakers. And the final shootout set the tone for the 70s. Here was a director, who was about to be run out of Hollywood, and the only thing he did was shoot the deadliest, most violent gunfight ever made. And it was fought by career criminals who had killed innocents throughout the picture. They claimed they were going back to retrieve their friend and right a wrong. But they all knew what they were doing. It was a self-imposed death sentence they knew had to be upheld because of their lifestyles. Too many people had died and they were just sick of looking into the mirror. Pistols, rifles, shotguns and the aforementioned Gatling gun destroyed every living thing that hot morning. And they weren’t going to have it any other way.

3. The Streetfighter (1974) Sonny Chiba vs. The Boat

With a woman kidnapped onboard, Sonny Chiba goes to rescue her. Another anti-hero who debt collects for the mob, Chiba rolls through the entire picture and you wonder why should you root for this guy. The simple reason: he’s badass! My biggest problem with Bruce Lee is that he always fought a bunch of guys, one at a time. Chiba fights a bunch of guys at the same time! And whenever Sonny Chiba hits somebody, something always happens to that person. Everyone Chiba fights on the boat either bleeds from their face, gets bones broken, teeth broken, falls off buildings, gets blades stuck in various body parts, vomits, or even has their throat ripped out of their neck. So if you are wondering where’s “Roadhouse,” on this list, I got your “Roadhouse” right here!

2. Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004) The Bride vs. Elle Driver

In Vol. 2, you have two smoking hot women fight to the death with samurai swords in a trailer. They manage to break through walls and bend the laws of physics by contorting their bodies every which way but loose. Add all that up and it’s a recipe for the greatest samurai sword fight ever caught on celluloid. And the payoff at the end of the fight is one that leaves you repulsed, shocked, not really sure if you agree with it. Never have I felt so bad for a villain before, who is left with a fate worse than immediate death.

1. The Warriors (1979) Warriors vs. Punks

Swan is alone, being tracked through the subway by a scout on rollerskates. He knows the scout is there, but he is biding time trying to think of a way out of this. Up comes Mercy. “Hey, you see that guy over there? He’s following you.” “I know he’s following me. And now he knows, I know it.” Up walk the remaining Warriors. 5 to be exact. The Warriors head into the bathroom. Inside, the door flies open.

The Punks spread out, each taking a closed stall. Armed with pipes, bicycle chains, clubs, knives, fists, baseball bats, tire irons, feet, and spray paint, the Warriors and The Punks are about to top this list and become the greatest fight scene ever made. It took them a week to shoot the scene, and it pays dividends. The best fight scene, in a movie dedicated to fight scenes, how “The Warriors” didn’t win an Academy Award is beyond me. Picture, Directing, Cinematography, James Remar for Best Supporting? Then again, when was the last time the best picture actually won Best Picture? “No Country for Old Men.” OK, so it happens once a decade.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers.com and writes the Screen Stealers column for The Pitch. He’s President of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jezza July 20, 2010 at 6:39 am

Sherlock Holmes (2009) Robert Downey Jr and that slo-mo boxing scene. I think the clip is called “We Ain’t Done Yet”.

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2 dustin.schirer July 20, 2010 at 7:24 am

Two words. Eastern Promises.

Seriously, anyone that can make a nude male on male fight scene look that heterosexual should win some sort of award.

VIGGO!

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3 Reed July 20, 2010 at 7:49 am

Well done, Wayne. I forgot how fantastic that Warriors bathroom fight is. Truly special.

Leaving They Live as an honorable mention must have been difficult. That scene just goes on and on and on, well past the point of ridiculousness, but that’s kind of the point. I can’t get enough of it.

I think what’s missing here are some top-notch sword fights. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon had a slew of them definitely worthy of mention (perhaps not as angry and intense as some of the work mentioned here, but downright elegant). And The Mark of Zorro (1940) absolutely deserves to be on this list. The scene between Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone is jaw-dropping.

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4 sean July 20, 2010 at 9:44 am

Great list, but I was upset to not see \My Bodyguard\ on here. The end fight scene is amazing & brings me back to my childhood. It is also a double feature fight- first between Ricky Linderman (Chuck’s Adam Baldwin) & Moody’s bodyguard Mike. Then the main event fight splits off from that fight between Clifford (Chris Makepeace) and Moody (matt Dillon). I remember the movie theater applauding once the fight started. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time.

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5 Pat July 20, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Any Which Way You Can

Philo Beddoe vs Jack Wilson=Awesome

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6 Hai July 20, 2010 at 11:37 pm

Good call on Viggo and Eastern Promises.

I’m just gonna throw this one out there… Bob Barker vs. Happy Gilmore.

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7 Xavier July 21, 2010 at 2:28 pm

haha Hai that’s a good one, that fight is pretty awesome.
I’m also 100% behind Viggo in Eastern Promises, that was badass (no pun intended)

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8 wayne swab July 22, 2010 at 7:53 am

You guys are right, Eastern Promises was pretty badass, I dropped the ball on that scene. The best Cronenberg fight scene, although Dead Ringers was pretty trippy.

In the honorable mention category the Tony Jaa scene was from The Protector not Ong-Bak. The scene in Protector is great, but not good enough to warrant a rental alone.

Hai- “I don’t want a piece of you, I want the whole thing”

Sean- Part 1 of My Bodyguard was decent, but part 2 blew. And anytime Chris Makepeace shows his face in a film, the scene gets ruined. It’s the same rule of thumb as the wierdo from Christine, Back to School, Dressed to Kill. I could look the actor up, and tell you his name, but it’s not worth my time.

Pat- the fight in AWWYC in question is all about people getting to the fight to watch it, not the fight itself, correct? Besides the chimp stole the film. Maybe if the chimp fought another chimp, Faces of Death style, it might have made this list.

Jezza- you’re fucking with me right?

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9 sean July 22, 2010 at 8:43 am

Ha Ha- Love the Kieth Gordan reference. It is true, he is as annoying as Chris Makepeace. You know who else used to annoy me every time he popped up in a movie- Jonathan Brandis. But he is dead now & we can’t speak ill of the dead- or can we?

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10 MYTN July 25, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Hm, some worthy mentions would be Oldboy, Inception, Legend of the Drunken Master, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, The Princess Bride, and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla.

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11 Jezza July 26, 2010 at 7:04 am

wayne swab- I was serious about Sherlock Homes. Way more bad ass than over half of this list.

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12 Greg July 27, 2010 at 9:29 am

Great list. Perhaps someone has the chops to the up the ante with a Top 10 comedic fight scenes (Roadhouse, Anchorman, aforementioned Princess Bride, etc.). My friends over at Lawrence.com can put you on the trail of #1 for that list (sadly it’s only a complilation) — The Killing of Satan, http://www.lawrence.com/news/2010/may/16/killing-satan/

Cross-eyed staring contest, bitch-slapping snakes, more gold. Enjoy.

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13 Lair728 September 11, 2010 at 4:06 pm

Wayno!

Great list. :D

Two things come to mind; \Eastern Promises\ reminded me of Viggo chopping open orcs in the forest when Frodo goes missing; desperate fight, that.

One of my favs for technical difficulty, tho, is the shootout in John Woo’s \Hardcore\ inside the hospital – one long ass steady cam shot, no cuts, carrying a baby. :P

Lair/728

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14 MJ October 15, 2010 at 10:38 pm

I’ve always liked the fight scene in “Grosse Pointe Blank” between John Cusack and his real-life martial-arts coach, The Ghoul. Staging it to “Mirror in the Bathroom” really ups the kinetic factor.

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15 Scott October 20, 2010 at 1:30 pm

The Sword Thief/Escape scene from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is one of my favorite scenes in movies. I have even turned the movie off after that scene because it never gets topped the rest of the way in.

The last battle in Iron Monkey is also some great kung fu action.

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16 frenziedabeast November 25, 2010 at 3:39 am

this list suuuuuuuuuuuucks!!!

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17 Dan December 28, 2010 at 4:21 am

Sean Connery vs Robert Shaw in, “From Russia with love” check it out!

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18 mike March 21, 2011 at 11:28 am

What about Tom Beating Falconetti’s @ss on the merchant marine ship in \Rich Man Poor Man\ or beating Quayles butt in the motel room?

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19 Shane March 19, 2012 at 12:46 am

IP MAN O_o

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20 Bdub January 10, 2014 at 3:47 pm

Final fight between Lamotta and Sugar Ray Robinson in Raging Bull.

“I never went down, Ray.” Brutal.

Love the Gross Pointe Blank fight, MJ.

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