The fight scene. Ever since I was a young lad I imagined myself being the hero kicking ass and saving the day.
Still, even as I daydream I imagine kicking people’s faces in–in one last heroic effort to save all the orphans of the world.
There’s not many things in life that are as inspiring as movie fight scenes.
In order to determine what qualifies as one of the best fight scenes of all time, I looked at four criteria:
- Did it change history? (At least, in terms of how fight scenes are filmed)
- Did it make me “feel” like shedding a man-tear?
- Was it so well choreographed it was believable?
- Did I feel like I could save the world while watching it?
The Best Fight Scenes of All Time:
Van Damme v. Bolo
It’s unlikely that there is one fight sequence I saw more than this during my junior high years. It seemed that it was always playing on some crappy local cable station or TBS. But watching Bloodsport is always a good investment of a Saturday for a growing pubescent boy.
19. Forbidden Kingdom
Jackie Chan v. Jet Li
Any All Time Best Fight Scenes list couldn’t exist without including Jackie Chan. Or Jet Li. So here, we bring you both. Imagine if they had pulled this together when they were 20 years younger.
18. Kill Bill Vol. II
The Bride v. Elle Driver
Although I suppose I didn’t have to, limiting myself to only one Kill Bill fight scene was extremely difficult. But I believe this one takes the bill for best fight scene from the two volumes.
17. Book of Eli
Have you ever had someone put their hand on you, and you told them to never do that again? You made a bit of a threat, but maybe your legs shook a little bit as you might have doubted if you could fulfill it.
Well, be inspired by Denzel Washington. “Put that hand on me again, you won’t get it back.” Most of the scene takes place in the dark, but the power of the moment resonates with any man that doesn’t want to be walked over again.
16. Phantom Menace
Darth Maul v. Obi-Won & Qui-Gon
A lot of people bash the Star Wars prequel trilogy for a number of reasons.
Here’s why I don’t: you finally get to see Jedi AT FULL POWER. Instead of whiny Luke Skywalker pushing people off sky boats with his laser sword we actually see some legit lightsaber fights. And-the music was great in the originals-but this best fight scene clip makes me think that John Williams only improved the music in the prequel trilogy.
A film that seems to have become well-known only after Christian Bale had Batman’s success. The creators of the movie made up an original fighting style called “Gun Kata” just for this. I haven’t included much gunplay in this list, but thought that the mashup of hand to hand and swordplay makes it worth it.
Maximus v. Commodus
This certainly isn’t the most advanced sword fighting or hand to hand combat on the list, but it might be the most moving best fight scene on the list. And the fact that the winner of the fight, Maximus, ever so briefly gets to become the Emperor.
13. Drunken Master II
I know I already included Jackie Chan once, but he really outdid himself as the Drunken Master. In order to Hulk-Out for this fight the Master must have used some industrial grade alcohol to get himself amped up. I’m not a big fan of Chan’s slapstick routines, but here with his incredible speed, you can’t deny that it results in him whooping serious ass.
25 to 1 Fight
“Long Takes” in film are a rarely used and often unnoticed show of mastery. Quinton Tarantino usually executes at least one in each of his films. They’re laborious, well-rehearsed, and take sometimes weeks of planning just to setup the camera work.
Imagine a 5 minute long take where every person has to get each line, each nuance, and each movement on camera and believable. That’s challenging.
Imagine doing this with a choreographed 25 on 1 fight scene.
This best fight scene will be remembered in a century just for that.
11. Rocky IV
Rocky v. Ivan Drago
Although this was made in an era where poor boxing was still accepted in a major motion picture, I’ve still got to hand it to Sylvester Stallone. He wanted to make the hits real. So real, he even went to the hospital because “Drago” punched him in the chest so hard it injured his heart. INJURED. HIS. HEART.
Ultimately, Rocky of course wins, wins our hearts, and single-handedly ends the Cold War. Thank you on-screen violence.
Gina Carano v Michael Fassbender
Steven Soderbergh lamented the fact that in some of women’s best fight scenes, they are given some sort of advantage. A come from behind attack, a weapon, element of surprise, etc. He wanted to make a film around a woman who isn’t defenseless, but completely on her on own can take out a man–and do it believably. So he hired Mixed Martial Artist Gina Carano and made her the star of Haywire.
Gina had ZERO acting experience and the movie suffers for it. Fortunately for you, you can watch the best fight scene below.
And make sure you look further down this list for Darker Than Amber. You’ll see a real connection between the two hotel fight scenes.
9. Way of the Dragon
Chuck Norris v. Bruce Lee
We owe it to ourselves to honor Bruce Lee with his own list of best fight scenes. We could certainly fill up half of this list with just him swinging weapons around. But we decided to go with this. I’ve heard it said that this is the only time in film history that two individuals of such great, REAL, martial arts talent were caught on film for a movie.
What’s also great is when as a kid my Dad said Chuck Norris could beat up Bruce Lee, and I could always point to this scene.
8. The Bourne Identity
There are so many incredible, well-choreographed Jason Bourne fight scenes that it only came down to one factor for me. That whenever I see a pen, and I think about fighting for my life and that of someone I love, I imagine Jason Bourne puncturing this assassin’s flesh repeatedly.
7. The Matrix
Neo v. Agent Smith
It’s hard to remember a time prior to 360 camera work in fight scenes. The Matrix makes the best fight scenes list because it brought a full-scale revolution to how fight scenes are imagined and filmed. Watching this for the first time made you believe that maybe even you could defy gravity.
In a lot of ways I think The Matrix’s influence has actually cheapened some future fight scenes because of the spectacle of it. But watching this again you’ll see that a lot of Keanu Reeves and Hugo Weaving’s strikes actually make contact. Not to mention that I’m pretty certain Hugo Weaving is not a martial artist. Impressive to say the least.
6. They Live
To me this is as near to real life as you are going to find. Two guys trying to fight fair. No groin kicks, nothing dirty on the ground. By the end their swinging glass and boards at each other.
(BTW–I don’t think there’s anything such as fair in a street fight unless it’s between friends. If you want more thoughts on this, you should definitely read what we have to say about How to Defend Yourself and How To Win A Bar Fight.)
5. Revenge of the Sith
Darth Vader v. Obi-Won & Palpatine v. Yoda
It’s hard to leave Mace Windu’s death scene out. And it’s even more difficult to leave out Yoda fighting Darth Old Guy in Episode II. But Episode III Revenge of the Sith has the best sword-fighting scene of all time.
And now let’s have a moment of silence for Yoda. The Jedi Master who lost both his fights on film.
An interesting side note: Art critic Camille Paglia claims “…the long finale of Revenge of the Sith has more inherent artistic value, emotional power, and global impact than anything by the artists you name. It’s because the art world has flat-lined and become an echo chamber of received opinion and toxic over-praise,” compared to any other piece of art over the past 30 years. You can see what she has to say about it in Vice here.
4. Ip Man
Wing Chun master chain punches and breaks numerous limbs on his way to victory. Wing Chun is actually one of the first martial forms Bruce Lee learned. Anyways–what’s important here is that the punches are so believable I wonder if they paid people to suffer real blows to the face in this incredible display of martial arts.
3. Darker Than Amber
Not that I’ve seen Haywire more than once, but this scene ALONE inspired Steven Soderbergh to create the film Haywire. He saw this one scene and felt the violence. He showed it to a friend, and they wondered together what it would be like to recreate this hotel room fight scene, but with a woman as the protagonist. This fight scene alone birthed one of the best fight scenes of all time that you see above.
It’s really that physical. And for Darker Than Amber to have been released in 1970, it was pretty genre defining.
That, and it’s got great music to save the world to.
2. Fist of Fury
Bruce Lee v. The Boss
Now this scene starts off slow, and the real talent doesn’t come in until about 5 minutes in. It’s actually 3 fight scenes in total, but it’s worth it.
What is mind-blowing to me about this scene is the use of jiu-jitsu. Some claim that Bruce Lee is the first person to “mix” martial arts–take the best of many forms–and bring this efficiency to a wide audience. And he does it in what might be his best choreographed fight scene.
1. The Man From Nowhere
A somewhat obscure Korean film in the Netflix universe, it’s hard to understand the absolute power of this scene without seeing the cruelty that leads up to it. To give a little bit of perspective, that rolling eyeball may have been harvested from the only person in the world the protagonist has to love. The daughter of a drug addict who was murdered earlier in the film.
I put this so high on the best fight scene list not only because of the power of the scene, and the clean choreography. But the hero takes damage as well, and uses stuff I’ve learned only in Jeet Kune Do. He uses multiple styles, and defends himself against numerous types of weapons including sticks, bats, knives, swords, and guns. He uses everything from breaking fingers to biting wrists to survive. His knife fighting/defense is something that a person in the real world can learn from. His use of a live person’s body to create space between him and his attackers is one of the more realistic-and advanced-techniques I’ve seen in a cinematic fight scene.