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.
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.