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100 Great Movie Action Scenes: Best Fight Sequences

100 Essential Action Scenes, Part Five: One vs. Many Fights

You know an action hero is the baddest of badasses when he or she walks in and the room goes silent. The drug lord’s bodyguards, the mastermind’s henchmen, or even the foolhardy pack of drunkards outside a roadside bar stand at attention, ready for a challenge. It’s just one person. This shouldn’t be too hard. Seconds later, they’re on the ground nursing bruises, or worse, stumps where their arms and legs used to be. The One vs. Many Fight is the chance for the hero to prove his or her karate-chopping/sword-wielding/gun-toting mettle. It’s an entrance that says, “Don’t fuck with me.”

51. Fong Sai-Yuk II (1993)
Blindfolded alleyway of death

Released only six months after the original, the 1993 follow-up to Fong Sai-yuk sees Jet Li reprise his role as one of China’s most famous folk heroes. The film sees the eponymous hero join the secret (and fictitious) Red Flower Society, which aims to free China of the Manchurian rule. Towards the end of the film, Sai-yuk discovers his godfather, society leader Chan Ka-lok (Adam Cheung), is the secret brother of the Qianlong Emperor and has been overthrown by his deputy, Yu Chun-hoi (Ji Chunhua). Upon finding out his mother (Josephine Siao) and godfather are being held captive by Chun-hoi, Sai-yuk goes to rescue them despite recovering from severe wounds to his legs and arms. An alleyway littered by falling autumnal leaves sets a peaceful scene that preludes a brutal yet visually stunning battle, as Sai-yuk fights against 100 rebel society members while blindfolded. Differentiating from his previous mischievous nature, this battle echoes a turning point for the young hero who puts loyalty and nobility on the line. The way Sai-yuk adheres to his fellow “brothers” to stand down rather than confront him shows that he is not totally cold-hearted in his rescue and given his previous wounds. This scene also shows off Li’s impressive swordplay skills—something that is revisited almost ten years later in Zhang Yimou’s 2002 wuxia epic, Hero. (Katie Wong)

52. X2 (2003)
Wolverine goes berserk

If there is a single movie you had to point someone towards to show when the comic book movie began to be taken “seriously,” it would be X2. If you were to have to point out one moment in the movie when everything changed, of the two that stand out (the other will be covered later in this feature), it would be Wolverine plunging his claws into a black ops soldier and nailing him to a fridge. The sounds of metal piercing through flesh and Hugh Jackman’s berserker rage scream are the cues that this ain’t your granddaddies comic book movie. A corrupt government agent who wants to wipe out mutants is raiding the Xavier school, and Wolverine is the last line of defense in protecting these kids. Watching Wolverine use stealth and unhinged violence to take out a whole team of black-ops agents against director Bryan Singer’s dark compositions was the kind of expertly edited attack scene that nerds had only previously seen played out with action figures in their bedrooms. With X2, those same nerds got to see Wolverine jump off the top of a staircase and simultaneously impale two guys a floor below him. Comic book movies are here to stay, and it’s all thanks to Wolverine stabbing a guy against a fridge. (JJ Perkins)

53. The Grandmaster (2013)
Pain in the rain

Ip Man (Tony Leung) is a legendary figure in the martial arts world. He is the man who trained Bruce Lee, and his exploits have spawned plenty of films recently. Wong Kar-Wai introduces the warrior in a free-for-all battle against a crowd of hostile Northerners. Wing Chun—Ip Man’s fighting method of choice—is simplistic to the eye, but its appeal lies in the power the wielder can inflict by relying on the momentum of the entire body. One kick from Ip is enough to send a man hurling through a crowd, taking down eight men in the process. Despite being outnumbered almost two dozen times over, this exhibition isn’t a legitimate test for Ip Man, it’s more like a display of his technique. Grandmaster choreographer Yuen Woo-ping arranged the scene, and this is one of those instances when kung fu appears like ballet, where each move is graceful in its ease and execution. The falling raindrops only add to the sheer visual splendor. In the time it takes for one drop to fall down the brim of Ip’s hat, he has bested several men. He’s just that good. (Colin Biggs)

54. The Matrix Reloaded (2003
Blade leapers

Unlike a one-on-one fight where the strength of the antagonist proves to be the challenge for our hero, a one-on-many fight gives the upper-hand to our protagonist despite the number of villains he or she must face. For Neo, now a master of sorts, gone are the days of discovering that he can outmaneuver a single bullet. Now with one swoop of his hand, he can drop a whole slew of bullets like marbles. Where one-on-one fights showcase the drama and emotion between opponents, one-on-many fights are designed more for their action. Such is the case with the Chateau fight in The Matrix Reloaded. With Yuen Woo-ping (Drunken MasterKill Bill) hired by the Wachowskis to choreograph the full fight sequence, one can’t stop themselves from getting overly exhausted by the flips, upward flying kicks, and fast fist work that made the legendary director into a Western cultural phenomenon. In five minutes the scene captures the height of Neo’s power with such skill and fast-paced precision. Say all you want about the sequels to the sci-fi classic, but fight scenes like this make them all worthwhile to the trilogy as a whole. (Christopher Clemente)

55. Blade (1998)

It’s a sad reality, but there are no adult comic book films anymore. The teenage boys won, and there is very little us action fans can do about it. The ‘90s were the apotheosis for a dark, stylish comic-based or inspired thrillers, and Blade ranks as one of the best. As soon as the movie opens, it’s time for the kiddies to go to bed. A rowdy vixen (Traci Lords) lures her oblivious male companion (Kenny Johnson) into a transfixing underground party. The steel walls vibrate with the pulse of late ‘90s techno (courtesy of a New Order remix), sexy bodies writhe on the dance floor in a strobe-lit haze, and our ready-to-party john bobs along for the ride…until the sprinklers rain down showers of blood. It’s literally a vampire rave, and our poor schmuck is part of the refreshments. That’s when Wesley Snipes makes his entrance as the titular hero—a leather-clad one-man army wielding a mean sword. Director Steven Norrington and cinematographer Theo van de Sande contrast his all-black attire with the mosh pit of dripping red baddies. It’s an entrance that carries a hushed calm before erupting into the kind of amped, frenetic action that’s now paradoxically timeless in how ‘90s it is. Blade cuts a swath through the crowd, dispatching as many bloodsuckers as he can, including Traci Lords’ cocky succubus. What starts evocatively and even erotically gives way to a pulse-pounding scene full of hacked limbs and charred bodies. The cool factor is high enough that any teenage spectators should be able to shake off the icky grown-up stuff preceding it. Once Blade gets to slicing and dicing, it’s clear that violence always trumps eroticism in the comic book world. (Shane Ramirez)

56. John Wick (2014)
Home invasion

John Wick was one of the single greatest things to happen to humanity last year, and this scene (well, every scene to be honest) was a big help in that. It completely realizes the mythology behind John Wick by enforcing it. Michael Nyqvist’s Russian mob boss Viggo refers to Wick by his assassin nickname of “Babayega”—the Boogeyman. Wick was called that not because he was the Boogeyman, but because he was the man you sent to kill the Boogeyman. David Leitch and Chad Stahelski film the scene—where various henchmen come to kill Wick in his home – in crisp and smooth long takes to pump up the wow-factor of their choreography. Reeves dismantles multiple guys at a time like he’s playing a violent game of Jenga, pulling it off with the grace of a ballerina and the brutality of, well, John Wick. The directors make the handgun a natural extension of the body in closed-quartered fistfights and still have room for a lot of amazing headshots. John Wick is the most definitive Keanu Reeves action film, and this scene has a big say as to why. (Dylan Griffin)

57The Raid 2 (2014)
Bathroom stall brawl

The Raid: Redemption had some of the most incredible martial arts fight sequences to reach the Western world in decades. That film found Rama (Iko Uwais) destroying baddies one by one up infinite floors of a heavily guarded tower. In The Raid II: Berandal, director Gareth Evans demonstrates the full range of his style in not just one but several impossibly awesome one vs. many fights. A prison brawl in the mud highlights the spectrum of color that was missing from the original. When Rama enters the enemy compound, Uwais makes use of cars, bars, and of all things, water jugs to deal the most damage. And in the film’s opening bathroom stall brawl, arguably its best, the tension is so high that the screws literally rattle off the hinges. Evans is a director who knows how to make a long take count, with the camera refusing to cut or lag behind as Uwais moves at his most fast and furious. Even in that bathroom stall, Evans finds huge movement and kinetic energy to match the anger and volume carrying through the fight. He jumps to breathtaking overhead views of the narrow corridor or cuts rapidly to a backbreaking look at a baddie bent over a stall. The Raid II wasn’t just more of the same; it was the original multiplied. (Brian Welk)

58. Kill Bill Vol. I (2003)
The Bride vs. the Crazy 88’s

Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill films are love letters to kung-fu films and westerns, and as the climax to the first film, he takes the familiar trope of the lone hero facing off against impossible odds and dials the volume up to 11, creating one of the most over-the-top and well-executed one vs. many fight scenes in film history. The ensuing fight between the Bride (Uma Bride) and eighty-eight separate opponents is a master class in action choreography, as Tarantino makes the action believable yet entertaining and easy to follow. He also (mostly) avoids the old “the rest watch while the hero battles one or two opponents at a time” technique, using both slow motion and the full breadth of the set (sending the Bride to different places in the room throughout the battle) to constantly reorient the setting and keep the viewers’ eye moving. The end result is as intricately and elegantly constructed as a complicated dance routine, yet spattered with blood and scored to the clanging of swords and the sick slice of blade on flesh. (Austin Gorton)

59. The Raid: Redemption (2011)
Two for one brawl

The Raid: Redemption is, by and large, an exhausting film. The incredibly tight pace combined with the unrelentingly brutal action makes viewing the film in one sitting a fairly draining experience, often leaving viewers as weary and worn out as the combatants of the film themselves. Of all the many fight scenes that The Raid has to offer, none is more draining than the final, bloody confrontation between Mad Dog (Yaya Ruhian) and heroes Rama (Iko Uwais) and Andi (Donny Alamsyah), an incredibly hard-hitting two-on-one battle. What works about the scene is how it brings both the brutality of the film and the exhaustion of both the fighters and the audience to a head. By at least halfway through the fight, that weariness takes over, the style and skill in the Silat moves begin to die away, and a desperate struggle to survive takes over the combatants. Fancy moves and throws are replaced by frantic grapples and improvisation, as the fighters grow more and more frenzied and uncoordinated until eventually, we aren’t watching a fight scene as much as we are watching three animals in a frenzied struggle for survival. Most audience members will become overwhelmed by the prolonged, violent sequence and go into a kind of trance, their minds burned out by the cacophony of grunts and punching sound effects. By the end of the fight, the fighters and audience members are running on autopilot, and when it’s finally over, all anyone can do is breathe and try and regain themselves. (Thomas O’Connor)

60. Oldboy (2003)
A hammer and a hallway

Hammers have made some very memorable appearances in movies over the years, used by the likes of Ramona Flowers (Scott Pilgrim), Beetlejuice, Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein (Casino), the Driver (Drive), Calvin Candie (Django Unchained), Annie Wilkes (Misery), and of course in Park Chan-Wook’s visceral Oldboy, an offbeat story of punishment and vengeance. Oldboy follows Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik), a husband and father who one day, for reasons unknown, finds himself locked up in a prison cell with no idea of what crime he committed. After 15 long years, he’s mysteriously let out of his cell, not knowing why or by whom. What follows is the grisliest, most jaw-dropping scene of the South Korean film, in which the vengeful Korean businessman rips through a hallway of bad guys, armed only with a claw hammer, and whacks, bashes, and wallops everyone in sight. Park’s camera tracks along the narrow corridor in a smooth, three-and-a-half minute unbroken take. But what makes the scene stand out is the consistent licking Dae-su takes as he battles dozens of aggressors, reinforcing the famous tagline: “There is nothing more dangerous than a man with nothing to lose.” (Ricky D)

PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | PART 4 | PART 5  
PART 6 | PART 7 | PART 8 | PART 9 | PART 10

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