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There Was ... A Mighty Duel: Our Favorite Physical Film Fights

By The Pajiba Staff | Seriously Random Lists | February 29, 2012 | Comments ()


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There's something very satisfying about a well-executed cinematic fight. From the most meticulously choreographed pas de deux, to the most ungainly brawl, we love them all. Is it the heightened sound? A vicarious sadistic thrill? A pure adrenaline rush? Whatever it may be, a truly great fight scene can pound our pulse, itch our palms and leave us wanting more. Here are our favorite kicks, throws and karate chops. So throw down your gauntlets and put up you dukes for our favorite Physical Film Fights.

The Bourne Ultimatum: See, this is what I love about Jason Bourne: He's a thinker, who can kick your ass into your throat and make you choke on your own poop. I know many of you have issues with the Greengrassian shaky cam, but I love it when it's used well, and I think it's used perfectly in this scene starting at about 1:14 from The Bourne Ultimatum. The quick edits and shaky-cam give the illusion of chaos, but even in the midst of it, Bourne is cool, calm, collected. And the man is like the MacGyver of fight scenes: He'll use whatever is at his disposal. A library book? Sure! He'll just beat the shit out of this bad guy with it. A towel? Why not? First, he'll use it to block punches, then to throw it around his neck and chock the sumbitch out. And he does it all with a casual flair, barely breaking a sweat even after he has his head thrown threw a TV screen. -- Dustin Rowles



Bridget Jones's Diary: In the words of Bridget's friend Tom (that's Gaius Baltar to you sci-fi nerds), this is a fight, a real fight. As Tom, a Greek chorus of waiters, Bridget and company look on, Colin Firth and Hugh Grant make total asses of themselves. Are the punches well-timed? No. Any well-executed kicks? Not a one. There are two good blows, an excellent window smash and that cheap sh*t with the trashcan lid but, for the most part, this is probably what two posh blokes would look like if they attempted a street fight: A well-dressed disaster. In an interview, Firth once complained that he and Grant had to eat nothing but spinach in order to be in excellent fighting trim for this scene while Renée gorged herself on burgers and ice cream. Suck it up, Firth. The "It's Raining Men" soundtrack, the polite apologies in the restaurant and Mark Darcy's fumbling of "Happy Birthday" perfectly convey the tongue-in-cheek tone of both the book and the movie. They tried to up the ante in Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason by reenacting this fight in a fountain. Because, OMG, now the handsome actors are wet! Much like everything about that sequel, it missed the mark. This? This is romantic comedy perfection. You think nice boys don't fight like that? Yes they f*cking do. -- Joanna Robinson


Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: There are a lot of different things people look for in a good fight scene, and many of those things won't be found in this one. But it doesn't matter, because it's still one of the greatest ever, from one of my favorite movies of all time. In this pivotal scene where Butch has to battle the giant, menacing Harvey Logan for control of the gang, Butch demonstrates that there's more to a great fight than who's got the better punch. The moment is great for three reasons: 1) because while you should never bring a gun to a knife fight, you should never underestimate Butch Cassidy during one either; 2) because sometimes it's better to fight smart (and dirty) than to fight fair; and 3) because it's Paul goddamn Newman, and that's really all you should need. The scene is quintessential Newman, clever, ruggedly handsome, and funny. Sundance (Robert Redford) stands by and watches, slyly confident yet ready for anything. It's one of the shortest fights you'll ever see, but it's also one of the most enjoyable. And when Newman wryly thanks the obsequious Flat Nose Curry at the end ("Thank you, Flat Nose -- that's what sustained me in my time of trouble"), it makes the whole affair that much more fun. Best of all? Cassidy never even loses his hat. That's how you know a man's not to be trifled with. -- TK


Commando: The final fight scene between John Matrix and Bennett is full of craptastic goodness and is entirely homoerotic to boot. Naturally, Bennett is all dressed up like a chain-mailed, leather-strutting Freddy Mercury and really wants to stick it to Matrix, not to mention shoot him in the balls. But alas, Matrix talks Bennett into throwing away the chickenshit gun and they have a good old fashioned knife fight for the ages. Vernon Wells really goes over the top as the crazy-eyed Bennett, and Ahnold looks like a burnt hot dog up against the boiler flames, but the "C'mon Bennett, let's party" coupled with the electrocution bit and the "Let off some steam Bennett" really hit the spot. Sadly, I probably watched this scene about one hundred times during my formative years, which probably severely affects my viewing tastes as an adult. Let's hear it for bad acting in 1980s action films! -- Agent Bedhead


The Craft: There are those who are of the belief that The Craft is not a good movie. And those people are entitled to their opinion. And their opinion is wrong. The Craft is amazing, angsty '90s girl magic, filled with wonder and humor and a bald, pock-scalped Christine Taylor. In the end, Fairuza Balk, at her fucking insane best, attacks Robin Tunney in a flying wall fight that rivals even Inception (argue with me about this -- I dare you). So, to all of you soulless haters, I bind you, Nancies, from doing harm. Harm against other people, and, you know, shut up. Shut up and listen to your jukebox filled with Connie Francis. -- Courtney Enlow


Eastern Promises: The amazing thing about Eastern Promises is how it tricks you into thinking it's more violent than it actually is. This is mainly because David Cronenberg is an absolute master at controlling the way sound and image contribute to atmosphere and at using small scenes of tension and release to create an aura of genuine horror. So much of the suspense in Eastern Promises comes from wincing in anticipation at what might happen, then slowly letting yourself breathe when it doesn't. As a result, the film's few bursts of violence are that much more startling, especially given Cronenberg's devotion to making them as realistic as possible. The film -- I promise -- has a lower body count than any recent slasher or horror flick you can probably name, but it's infinitely more unnerving. (The scene in which a character's throat is cut is as shocking for its intimacy as its timing.) The graphic centerpiece to the film is a fight in a steam bath in which Viggo Mortensen's Russian mobster fights a pair of enemies while naked. The set-up alone is riveting, and the fight itself is brutal, bloody, and one of the most gut-wrenching in modern movies. Eastern Promises is of the "guns for show, knives for a pro" school of fighting, and the shower brawl makes gruesome use of ordinary linoleum knives that reinforce the scene's plausibility even as they make it that much more horrifying. Cut together masterfully by longtime Cronenberg collaborator Ronald Sanders, the scene is quick, bracing, and unforgettable. -- Daniel Carlson


Eastern Promises Bathhouse Fight Scene by salasaladiny


Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn: I love blood and gore. Adore it. Can't get enough of it. Since the halcyon days of yesteryear when we'd watch staticky videotapes of teens receiving extreme abstinence-only education at the end of a kitchen knife or chainsaw or razor glove or a sleeping bag against a tree. The Evil Dead was a genuinely freaky and fun B-movie horror film. And then Sam Raimi realized that he could combine his horror sensibilities with exceptional slapstick, and Ashley J. Campbell was born. This scene right here -- this scene is art. It's like The Three Stooges versus The Three ... Extremes. After his hand becomes "demonically possessed," Bruce Campbell engages in a battle where he basically gets his ass kicked by his own hand. It's a sequence worthy of the black and white comedies of olde. But then things take an extra special turn when he decides to hack off his own hand with a chainsaw, freeing it to lunge around the room for more hate and violence. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a clip combining the hand battle with it's epic conclusion -- a shotgun showdown ending in a goregeyser that would make Johnny Depp's stomach blush. Raimi's slapstick/slasher mashup is astonishing. Who's laughing now? -- Brian Prisco


Inception: Whether you believe the top keeps spinning at the end or not -- and whether or not that answer drives you crazy -- you must admit, Christopher Nolan's Inception is a fun ride. It's just cool, from its special effects to the snazzy clothes its stars sport. Key among them is Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as Arthur, who has his moment to shine two levels deep into the Inception plan he and a team of dream hijackers are both sleeping and fighting through. (I'm not about to try to explain Inception here; this ain't 2010.) As things go awry in the first dream level, Arthur finds himself fighting in his second-level dream's hotel without gravity. Thanks to some old-school filmmaking techniques -- no CGI, only giant, rotating sets -- JGL scurries, kicks and punches with alpomb as floors become walls become ceilings and so on. The stakes are high (Death! Or limbo! Or something!), and Hans Zimmer's score is pounding. It's nerve-wracking and exciting and amazing -- enough so to make you wonder if it could all really happen. One can dream. -- Sarah Carlson


Jurassic Park: It starts with our last surviving heroes, led by the intrepid paleontologist Alan Grant, running for their lives. They quickly become trapped between a rock (the fossils) and a hard place (the two oncoming and very hungry raptors). But before the darkest ending for a Steven Spielberg movie of all time can come, Jurassic Park's real hero, the Tyrannosaurs rex, bursts through an unfinished wall, instantly eliminating the most immediate threat! The second raptor vows revenge for the death of her BFF, but this tyrant lizard is queen of the jungle for a very good reason. Hurling the last raptor into the remains of one her own relatives, the T-rex unleashes a victory roar the planet hasn't heard for 65 million years, as the "When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth" banner falls ironically to her feet. The "fight" itself only lasts for all of 30 seconds, but it's deliciously satisfying after approximately 120 minutes of dino-on-human carnage. Spielberg was originally going to have Alan Grant save the day, but he changed his mind after shooting the every-child's-first-favorite-dinosaur scene. He knew right then that the movie needed more T-rex, and he's never been more right. -- Rob Payne


Kill Bill: Vol. 1: The most difficult part of this wasn't to figure out which movie I was going with, but rather which fight I was going to use from this movie. There are several excellent ones, but this fight sets the tone for the whole movie. You get a quick flashback as a set up and then head right into a fight with physics and sound effects straight out of a cartoon or cheesy kung-fu film. It tells you what you're going to be getting in the rest of the film, and lets you know right away that The Bride came here to kick ass and chew bubble gum and she is all out of bubble gum. While the battle at the end with Oren is a slow burn, this one explodes onto the screen to grab your attention immediately. And it's just fun watching these two women stumble through the house using anything and everything they can get their hands on to beat the shit out of each other. -- Genevieve Burgess


The Matrix: I think I've watched the last half of hour of The Matrix as many times as I've watched the last half hour of Return of the Jedi. Which is to say, enough times to be very glad that DVDs don't wear out the way VHS tapes used to considering I watched Jedi until the VCR smoked. The heart of that last half hour, in the middle of fight after fight, is the classic subway battle between Neo and Smith. Every part of this is perfection. The releasing tension as the victors reach the phone booth, as they dematerialize into the real world, and goddamn Trinity won't shut up long enough for Neo to get out as the audience tenses up with every rambling word as Smith possesses the hidden bum and in slow motion begins to draw and fire. And when that telephone explodes just as Trinity escapes, the entire film comes to a head with the simple choice of two directions. The empty stairs beckon escape into the light, as Smith steps out of the shadows. "He's beginning to believe," Morpheus intones with a mixture of disbelief and dawning hope. Neo and Smith face off for a long moment, punctuated by the rattling throwback to a dozen Eastwood standoffs. And as the fight erupts, echoing every dream of superhumans pummeling each other, there's the second layer running underneath. The acrobatic dance and smashing concrete are only the surface; the pretty gilding, the real action is underneath as Neo progresses from mastering the world, to mastering its demons, to finally mastering himself. -- Steven Lloyd Wilson


Oldboy: Several of my favorite films have one particular transcendent scene that immediately bowled me over and earned my rapt investment for whatever would follow. In Chan-Wook Park's visual tour de force Oldboy, it was that single-shot hallway fight sequence. There are many understandable reasons that the gritty Oldboy as a whole might not be your particular cup of tea, but I defy you to show me any fight clip from a film that so credibly represents the idea of one man beating superior numbers in hand-to-hand combat, a common cinematic trope that all too often comes across as completely ridiculous. Oh Dae-su is overmatched, exhausted, and injured, but put him in a confined space with a hammer, and you'll be amazed what 15 years of imprisoned determination brings out in him. After Jo Yeong-wook's tragic, deliberate musical score urges Oh Dae-su on the arduous slog down the corridor that leaves moaning, wounded enemies in his wake, you will want to know what happens next. The elevator punchline that follows might seem ridiculous, but at that point you're hooked and all too eager to buy what this movie is selling. -- C. Robert Dimitri


One Million Years B.C.: Well, it's a part of our history, as vividly carved into our collective past as the moon landing, so I'm going to pick the cave-cat fight scene from the 1966 kitsch classic One Million Years B.C. Raquel Welch, starring as Loana, the Queen of the Shell people, does battle with Nupondi, alpha-female of the Rock people. Tumak, the object of their affection, stares on dead-eyed and simple while the two beauties roll about in fur bikinis amidst the excited howls of a bunch of turned-on cavepeople. It's kind of like the very first Octagon fight, really. But it's not just the quick and sexy burn of flesh that grunts to us. No, we learn that a Mastodon tusk can be used as a humane restraint while also receiving an important moral lesson in the nature of mercy. This panting, gasping, heaving battle is an archetype now. Embedded deep in our DNA, it will in one form or another always return in the dreams of men, who are really all just a Tumak at heart. -- Michael Murray


The Princess Bride: While Inigo Montoya's eventual fight against Count Rugen is emotionally satisfying, this duel between Westley (aka the Man in Black) and our gloriously accented Spaniard is a visceral delight. Every time I watch it, my heart begins to race faster; though whether from the swashbuckling or Westley's infectious smirk, who can say? The verbal sparring is as sharp as the sword-strokes and the scoring is fantastic. But, perhaps what makes me happiest of all is just knowing how hard these boys worked to do all the expert (left and right-handed!) fencing themselves and the respect the two give each other. The whole scene is such a thing of beauty, I can sit and watch it again and again and again. -- Cindy Davis








Raiders of the Lost Ark: At first, this was incredibly difficult. There are so many astounding, amazing, artful fight scenes that I have loved for as long as I have been watching movies. The kind of scenes that, as a child, I immediately tried to recreate with my friends (my imaginary friends were much more willing to let me sweep the leg, though, leading to many pieces of beat up furniture and perhaps a broken lamp or three). Even now, when I see an amazing fight scene, be it all high-tech and glossy or naturalistic and impressively tough, I walk out of the theater feeling invigorated, wanting to kick some ass. So how to choose just one? But then I learned that this discussion included gun fights. While that could have frustratingly cast the net even wider (how does one compare and decide between Enter the Dragon, Rocky and Empire, let alone adding The Killer and Heat into the mix?), the decision actually became immediately simple. Everyone knows you never bring a knife to a gun fight, and the infamous ad-libbed Raiders scene shows us exactly why. The reason I love this briefest of fight scenes so much is because of its briefness, its simplicity and elegance. Thanks to Harrison Ford being sick and wanting to avoid a drawn-out battle scene, we instead get a succinct moment that shows us that fights needn't always be about brawn, brutality and balls but cleverness, ingenuity, wit. Used right, these weapons can win the day. So if and when that day comes for me and I find myself facing off against some enemy who wants nothing more than my quick and bloody death, this scene gives me hope. I'm unlikely to defeat this enemy of mine in pure hand-to-hand combat but, if I'm lucky, my smarts will give me an edge and I can walk away the victor. Of course, it'll help if I have a Smith and Wesson strapped to my side. -- Seth Freilich



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