How can you reinvent a scene that's become so ubiquitous everyone does it the same?
When a protagonist had a gun, it used to mean something. Now, it kind of feels like a tired way out of a scene. Gunfighting in movies is not anything new. It came to prominence during westerns and now it feels like every movie that comes out has one of these scenes.
But what are the best gunfighting scenes of all time?
What are the ones that stand out for doing something different? They're not just about bullets flying but have character development, thrills, and reinventing what we've seen before.
I made a list of some of the scenes I love in these movies and compiled some lessons to go along with them.
Let's jump in.
What’s the Best Gun Fight in a Movie (And What Can We Learn From Them)
Writing fight scenes is something you're going to have to do time and time again. Some screenwriters are amazing at them. I don't think I'm one of them. But I do think that acting writing is a learned skill that you can develop and polish over time.
Each one of these scenes needs to build like any other. There are takes, a beginning, a middle, and an end.
And we need to see characters change and become someone interesting throughout.
There's also the element of filmmaking. What does a director or writer do to make these scenes more engaging or make them feel different than the average scenes we see day in and out at the cinema?
1. The Matrix (1999): Lobby scene
The lobby scene in The Matrix is a classic example of a well-choreographed gunfight. It features the film's hero, Neo, and his allies, Trinity and Morpheus, taking on a horde of security guards in a sleek and stylish display of gunplay. The scene is notable for its use of slow motion, multiple camera angles, and innovative use of props and set design to create a visually stunning spectacle.
Lesson: The scene shows how careful planning and execution can result in an impressive display of firepower. It also emphasizes the importance of teamwork and coordination in achieving a shared goal.
We see this as the beginning of Neo becoming "the one" as he does amazing things he previously did not think he could.
2. Heat (1995): The climactic shootout
Heat has a climax that is widely regarded as one of the most realistic and intense depictions of a gun battle in movie history. The scene features a tense exchange of gunfire between two skilled and determined groups, each trying to gain the upper hand. It is steeped in realism.
Lesson: The scene demonstrates the importance of training and preparation in a gunfight. Both groups in Heat are highly skilled and trained, and the fight is more of a chess match than a brute-force shootout. It also highlights the importance of cover and positioning in a gunfight, as each group tries to gain an advantage over the other.
When shooting it, the cast went through realistic weapons training. They used real bullets to shoot into the cop cars, so the effects looked real later. It changed the way audiences felt about the gang in the movie.
3. John Wick (2014): The nightclub
John Wick is a modern classic of the action genre, featuring a wealth of well-executed gun fights throughout. However, one scene that stands out is the "nightclub" sequence, in which John Wick (Keanu Reeves) takes on a group of heavily armed thugs in a crowded club.
Lesson: The scene shows the importance of staying calm and focused under pressure. Wick is able to keep his cool and take out his targets with precise, controlled movements, despite the chaos and confusion around him. It also highlights the importance of situational awareness, as Wick can use his surroundings to his advantage.
When it comes to filmmaking, this is a showcase in lighting and choreography. It's solid gun-fun with strobing lights, neon, and even a few long takes that make even this ridiculous scenario feel real and visceral. This is also where we get real proof that Wick is living up to his name.
4. The Wild Bunch (1969): The final shootout
The ending gunfight in The Wild Bunch is a brutal and chaotic depiction of violence, featuring a group of aging outlaws facing off against an army of Mexican soldiers. It is so violent and shocking that audiences were taken aback by this revisionist western that framed the genre in a new light.
Lesson: The scene highlights the dangers of overconfidence and underestimating one's opponent. The outlaws in The Wild Bunch are seasoned veterans of the gunfight, but they are ultimately outmatched by their opponents' superior numbers and firepower.
It also emphasizes the importance of knowing when to retreat and regroup, as the outlaws' refusal to do so ultimately leads to their downfall.
These guys were antiheroes and are framed as such for the audience. but this is their last shot at redemption, so it makes the violence feel like a culmination of their characters. Like if they survive, they'll leave it all behind.
The Best Gun Fight in Any Movie (In My Opinion)
Everyone has a favorite one of these scenes, and mine comes in the John Woo masterpiece, Hard Boiled. It's probably one of the greatest action movies ever made,
The gunfight at the end of the movie is widely regarded as one of the most intense and well-executed shootouts in movie history. And I didn't think there was only one lesson to take from it, so I took the liberty of listing a few below.
Build tension: The gunfight at the end of the movie is the culmination of the film's intense build-up of tension. Throughout the film, Woo uses a variety of techniques - such as fast-paced editing, close-up shots of guns, and sweeping camera movements - to create a sense of urgency and danger. By the time the final gunfight begins, the audience is fully invested in the outcome and on the edge of their seats.
Use space and setting creatively: The gunfight takes place in a hospital, which adds an extra layer of tension and danger to the scene. Woo uses the hospital setting to great effect, using the narrow hallways and cramped rooms to create a sense of claustrophobia and disorientation. He also uses various medical instruments and equipment as props, adding to the visceral nature of the violence.
Use choreography and cinematography to enhance the action: The gunfight in Hard Boiled is incredibly well-choreographed, with the actors performing complex and highly stylized movements that are both visually stunning and emotionally impactful. Woo uses a variety of camera techniques - such as slow-motion, quick cuts, and tracking shots - to capture the action from different angles and emphasize the drama of the moment.
Balance action with character development: While the gunfight is undoubtedly the centerpiece of the scene, Woo does not neglect character development in the process. Throughout the scene, he weaves in moments of dialogue and interaction between the characters, which serve to deepen our understanding of their motivations and relationships.
These lessons can be applied to any action sequence and can help elevate the impact and emotional resonance of the scene. So take them with you and make the best movie possible.
Summing Up The Best Gun Fights in a Movie and Their Lessons
Overall, these examples demonstrate that a well-executed gunfight scene in a movie requires careful planning, coordination, and execution, as well as an understanding of the tactical considerations involved. While the specific techniques and strategies used in these scenes may not be applicable in real-life situations, the principles behind them - such as the importance of cover, positioning, and situational awareness - can be useful to keep in mind in any high-stakes situation.
Let me know what your favorites are in the comments.
Thank you for writing this Article, I've been talking about Hard Boiled since i first saw it over 20 years ago in highschool. There is no doubt in my mind that "John Wick's" name is a nod to "John Woo"
Very excited to note that John Woo is re-entering the american market with a new film staring Joel Kinnemen (underrated actor, please see "The Killing" show). I believe the film is rumored to have no dialog.
February 24, 2023 at 1:28PM