I thought about using the words ‘top’ or ‘best’ but I haven’t watched every fight scene in the world so I don’t have enough info to rate them so I went with the safer ‘favourite’. Now I think a good fight scene is about balance between two elements: the factors in the actual fight such as the characters and the choreography and the factors outside of the fight such as the premise and stakes of the fight. Now most of the factors I just mentioned are pretty self explanatory but I’d like to explain the character factor a bit. As with all stories, I need to care about the characters in order for the fight to have any significance. This factor actually ties in with the premise of the fight, the reasons the characters are fighting is as important as the fight itself. Is it for love? Revenge? Survival? The fate of the world?
Another important aspect of the character factor is the presence of a sense of danger. The hero needs to be challenged, it needs to feel like he could lose and die at any moment. If that’s not there then the fight scene holds no tension because there’s nothing on the line. This was what I felt was the chief problem with the fight scenes in the second and third Matrix movie. You’ve created a situation (from the first Matrix) where Neo is basically Jesus and can’t be harmed by anything then you put him in fights against opponents that are barely challenges to me. I know he’s not going to die so the fight feels hollow. Okay now that I’ve given you a lecture that you didn’t ask for let the games begin! FIGHT!
First off we have a fight scene that isn’t even really a fight scene because it’s so short.
Indiana Jones vs The Arab Swordsman (Raiders of the Lost Ark)
This was just a really great piece of humour in the movie and this scene has been ripped off countless times. The swordsman does the typical self-masturbation act of twirling his sword around letting you know how much he’s going to kick you ass and Indie decides he has better things to do and shows why even the best sword in the world means nothing against a guy.
Luke Skywalker vs Darth Vader (Return of the Jedi)
This is one of my favourite fight scenes of all time. Yes, the choreography isn’t great but it was the 80’s and that’s really the only fault in this fight. It shows just how much Luke has progressed from the wide-eyed dreamer in the first movie who’s longing to take his place in the universe, to a young Jedi Padawan learning the ways of the force from Yoda to a Jedi Knight going toe-to-toe with arguably one of the best villains in film history. Luke is at first hesitant to fight Vader but when Vader threatens Leia, he bursts into a surge of rage and takes Vader on with everything he has. John Williams score for this scene is absolutely amazing and adds as much to the fight as the actual blows. The fate of the galaxy, Luke’s soul and his relationship with his father hang in the balance. This fight scene has everything!
John Wick vs a bunch of assassins (John Wick)
Every fight scene is this movie is amazing but the one that really stands out for me is the first one in Wick’s home. The place where this fight shines is in its choreography and the camerawork by the directors. The way this scene is shot is absolutely amazing. The directors are former stuntmen so they understand what it takes to bring an action sequence to life on film. Keanu Reeves is also just such a dedicated performer when it comes to action sequences. You can see the amount of time he’s taken learning how to expertly execute the choreography. The use of guns in this scene and throughout the entire movie is breathtaking. Whenever Wick fires a gun it feels like an extension of his fist, he uses them in close combat and doesn’t just save them for long range kills. A problem that you can get when a fight is too well choreographed is that it starts to feel like a dance and there isn’t a sense of struggle anymore. This is never a problem in this movie, Wick is a trained assassin so he kills and moves with the skill of one but he’s still a human being and shows moments of struggle and weakness. This ensures that a sense of danger is always present throughout this fight scene.
Daniel LaRusso vs Johnny Lawrence (The Karate Kid)
Yes, the crane kick! This movie is filled with lots of great scenes and lines but that crane kick at the end is probably the best of them. Sure this fight is between a bunch of teenage karate amatuers so the choreography isn’t going to groundbreaking but this is another one of those movies where the situation around the actual fight makes the fight itself classic. The stakes might not seem that high but think back to when you were a teenager and when you had a bully and how much you would have loved to stand up for yourself and get some respect. That’s what this fight scene is all about. It also has one of the best movie mentors ever in the form of Mr MIyagi. The scene is such a great payoff because we see Daniel struggling to perfect the crane kick earlier in the movie and in pure desperation he has to pull something amazing out of the hat to win this fight. It’s just an amazingly iconic moment in movie fight history.
Achilles vs Hector (Troy)
This is the fight scene with probably the most equally matched opponents in this list. In the build up to this fight we’re shown that Achilles is a killing machine without any equal. Hector also proves that he’s a great warrior so you always get the sense that when the two meet up, it’s going to be a clash of the titans. I love the ebb and flow in this fight. There’s an overwhelming sense that Achilles will probably win but Hector has a few moments where he pushes Achilles to the limit and nearly comes out on top. So the sense of danger in the scene is ever present because you can’t ever really say who’s going to win until the last moment. The fight is beautifully choreographed but has a real sense of unpredictability to it. These are two master warriors so they aren’t just reacting to each other but also using their ingenuity and skill to do something that will catch the other off guard and lead to a win. It also has some amazing dialogue in the lead up to the fight, I love how arrogant Achilles is. “You won’t have eyes tonight. You won’t have ears or a tongue. You will wander the underworld blind, deaf and dumb and all the dead will know, this is Hector – the fool who thought he killed Achilles.”
Neo vs Agent Smith (The Matrix)
I don’t have a favourite fight scene but if I did, it would probably be this one. It has everything: a clear sense of danger, amazing choreography, high stakes and characters we care about. I love the moment in the beginning of this fight when Neo thinks about running away from Smith but he stays because as Morpheus so eloquently says, “He’s beginning to believe!”. This fight scene is visually a masterpiece and really shows off the talent of The Wachowski’s. The shots are steady and focused and free of unnecessary editing; so you can actually see everything that’s happening. As the fight goes on you can see that Neo great spirit but he’s clearly outclassed by Smith but he keeps fighting. It’s that spirit that makes this fight so entertaining. You fear for Neo, you know that he could lose at any moment but you want him to keep going.
So those are my favourite fight scenes. Are there any that you would have wanted to see me mention? Please leave a comment below.