There's nothing better than the adrenaline-pumping action sequence or set piece to build momentum in your screenplay. Since the dawn of filmmaking, we've had great fight scenes captured for us to enjoy.
The best ones are like a roller coaster. Ups. Downs. and lots of twists and turns. In honor of John Wick's fifth anniversary this week, let's highlight the best action sequences that didn't have any guns in them. Just two combatants using their fists, knives, swords, or trash cans to beat the crap out of each other.
Each of these scenes also advances the plot in new and intriguing ways as well. So strap on your brass knuckles and let's beat some asses.
Before we jump into the main event, I wanted to peak at three honorable mentions.
First up, we have to herald John Wick 3. While the franchise holds some of the best gunfights in history, it also does so much for epic movie fisticuffs. This threequel's glass wall set piece is one of the most fun and violent action scenes of the franchise. I love how it builds on Wick's lore as a famous badass.
If you've read our take on underrated Soderbergh, then you know Haywire holds a very special place in my heart. Each scene in this movie has a ton of fun with a real-life action star, Gina Carano, beating people up.
But this hotel sequence serves as the best and most realistic fight I've seen in a film.
Rumble in the Bronx was the American introduction to Jackie Chan. While the movie contains lots of jaw-dropping maneuvers by the actor, I wanted to put a different one on this list.
If it were up to mean, Jackie might take all ten spots. But my editor rejected that idea. So here we are.
The Best Fight Scenes In Movies, Ranked
11. Gladiator (2000) - Maximus vs. Tigris of Gaul
Sir Ridley Scott is one of our greatest living directors and it is shameful he doesn't have an Academy Award for Best Director. We talk a lot about how cool scenes can be, but this fight services the story so well. It shows that Maximus has become even more powerful than the Emperor and also that he's only human.
10. The Transporter (2002) - Frank vs. Room Full of Thugs
This was my first Jason Statham movie. Somehow, it seems as if he hasn't aged since then. But this British badass showcases one of the coolest ideas ever as he uses oil to slip and slide his way into beating a room of thugs.
9. Eastern Promises (2005) - That Bathhouse Fight
Not enough people have enjoyed this dark and gritty Cronenberg classic. It's a movie about survival, and there's no better scene about the pure desire to fight to survive than this bathhouse encounter. This is about a man who wants to live and will do anything to make sure that happens. Even if it means fighting naked in a bathhouse. Because reasons.
8. They Live (1988) - That Brawl for the Sunglasses
The 1980s were defined by action films. Most of them were about blowing things up. But They Live was so close and personal. It made you confront the subliminal messages in your own life and when it came to one of the most famous fight scenes of all time, you have to obey and put it on the list. And to think it all starts with a conversation about glasses.
7. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) - That Epic Fight
I feel like when I was a kid there was much more crossover between foreign language films and American audiences. Maybe it's because Crouching Tiger got dubbed and thus was easier for mainstream audiences to digest, but I feel like when I saw it it had subtitles? Nevertheless, I love this scene because it takes the old and new guard and aligns them against one another.
6. The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) - Bathroom Fight
Jason Bourne kicks ass in the first two movies, but this scene from the third film raises the bar in terms of tension and choreography. This is the only fight I thought Bourne would lose. It's also the culmination of this threat who has haunted him for the whole story. Greengrass' editing and shooting style doesn't make this feel too shaky, either.
5. Captain America: The Winter Solider (2014) - The Elevator Fight
Marvel movies have gotten so huge that things rarely come down to fisticuffs. I was tempted to put the Endgame battle against Thanos, where Cap grabs and wields Thor's hammer, but I am still stunned by the mastery of this all-timer MCU scene. It was our first introduction to what the Russo brothers would imbue on the other films in the Marvel universe. It felt personal, the stakes felt real, and Cap never looked so cool kicking ass.
4. Legend of the Drunken Master (1994) - The Market Battle
What's the first Jackie Chan scene you saw that wowed you? Because I think this movie has three or four of them for me. It was hard to choose between this movie, Operation Condor, First Strike, Police Story, and Who Am I, but I am going here because of the sheer amount of jaw drops it instills. This market scene is quintessential Chan. There's an outrageous comedy element, incredible moves, and long takes that make everything look so real.
3. From Russia With Love (1964) - Bond vs. Red on the Train
Sean Connery's second James Bond movie expanded upon the success of the franchise's first film, Dr. No, and doubled-down on the exotic locations and complex Cold War plots. It also started a franchise staple future movies would use as a benchmark: Bond having a long, brutal, and inventive hand-to-hand fight. From Russia With Love's train brawl, with its then-"never-been-done-before" staccato editing style, coupled with the raw fighting style of its two combatants, gave the movie a jarring jolt and audiences one of the most iconic action scenes in all of movie history. It's still the bar to which all future Bond movie fights would measure themselves against, with Spectre making the most obvious attempt to match it.
2. The Raid 2 (2014) - Kitchen Fight
Look, no action or fight list is complete without The Raid 2. Everything in this movie is built to excite. So when you get into the movie's epic and iconic kitchen fight scene, you know shit is about to hit the fan. The Raid movies always make the most of their surroundings and have inspired every fight scene that came after them.
1. Oldboy (2003) - The Hallway Fight
You'll never hold a hammer the same way again.
Oldboy is a contemplative, slow-burn revenge drama, where a guy eats an octopus and... I don't want to give away the ending, but it's nasty. And shocking. There are so many disturbing and weird things that happen in this film, and yet the standout is this legendary oner where a guy takes on 20-plus people with a hammer.
What's next? How to choreograph a fight scene!
Fight scenes might be some of the most exciting to watch, but they're also some of the most complicated to shoot. Capturing a fight for a film requires a lot of carefully executed techniques in order to make it exhilarating, realistic, and safe for all involved.
So learn and do it right!