Fight scenes have been part and parcel of movies since the dawn of celluloid. There’s just something primal about watching a fight unfold, something anyone can understand on a basic genetic level.
While it certainly does get your juices flowing, there is so much more to a silver screen skirmish than simply cheap thrills. A truly memorable cinematic scuffle is much like performance art – it needs to evoke emotion, tell a transcendent story and entertain at the same time, all through precise body movements and carefully choreography. These are just some of the few fight scenes that we feel stood out in the gore-strewn annals of film history.
The Bride vs. Gogo Yubari & The Crazy 88s (Kill Bill Vol. 1)
Plenty of stylish altercations made our jaw drop in Quentin Tarantino’s dual-volume revenge fantasy but the one that really took our breath away were The Bride’s back-to-back fights in The House of Blue Leaves that left the joint very much blood red. First up was her appetizing encounter with deadly O-Renn Ishii protégé, Gogo Yubari. When that epic fracas is done with we immediately move on the main course, a frenzied battle royal with the Crazy 88s. Limbs hacked off, multiple decapitations, eyes gouged out and even a giggly schoolgirl assassin wielding a Chinese meteor hammer for good measure – all wrapped in effortlessly cool retro-pastiche wrapping paper.
Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed (Rocky)
This is exactly what we mean about a fight that told a great story. This bout between a Philly nobody and the heavyweight champion of the world was a pugilistic inspiration. Sure, we all know that Rocky lost this match but that wasn’t the point was it? Here was a supposed bum who stood a snowball’s chance of lasting ten seconds with the great Apollo Creed. Here was a man who unendingly had to claw and inch his way to respect. That he did. Rocky took a beating but went the distance only to show us that sometimes, the refusal to give up is a victory in itself.
Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back)
The climatic lightsaber duel between the menacing Vader and young Skywalker showed just how committed Episode IV was embracing its own darkness. This wasn’t the most technically accomplished sequence in the franchise nor was it the most slickly choreographed but what made it iconic was its emotional resonance. Like a Greek tragedy in space, Luke’s mortal enemy turns out to be his father. Not only that, he learns this shocking revelation after his hand was sliced off mid-battle mind you. But rather than join the Dark Side and have his father’s sins visited upon him, Luke instead chooses to plunge heroically into almost-certain death. Poetic stuff.
Bruce Lee vs. Han (Enter The Dragon)
Released just six days after Bruce Lee’s passing, Enter The Dragon understandably opened with a lot of hype. Hollywood’s first kung-fu flick would go on to surpass unimaginable expectations and leave grieving fans with many fantastic fights to remember the martial-arts legend by. The most unforgettable was this ingenious, beautiful battle in a surreal house of mirrors against villainous Shaolin crime-boss Han. The fight left you on the edge of your seat, tense with Bruce’s uncertainty about which apparition was real and which were just reflections. Note that the first entry in this list would not have been possible if not for the barriers Lee broke with this film.
Neo vs. Agent Smith (The Matrix)
By now bullet-time has become passé but the film that originated the technique certainly cannot be blamed by its overuse by copycats. When The Matrix came out it was revolutionary and this battle between Neo (“I know kung-fu”) and firewall incarnate Agent Smith in a virtual subway station exemplifies why we were (and still are) so enamoured by this movie. As choreographed by the legendary Yuen Woo-Ping and digitally crafted by the Wachowski Brothers (now Wachowski brother and sister), this gravity-eschewing cyber-punk brawl was so original and so imbued with dazzling flair that it blew our brains to smithereens. 12 years on, it’s none of its impact.
Daniel-san crane kicks Cobra Kai Dojo (The Karate Kid), Nada vs. Frank (They Live), Epic Hallway Fight (Oldboy), Tony Jaa commits genocide with his fists (The Protector), Edward Norton vs. Himself (Fight Club) , Jean Claude Van Damme vs. Bolo Yeung (Bloodsport), Ash vs. Ash’s Hand (Evil Dead 2), Bruce Lee vs. Chuck Norris (Way of the Dragon)