5. Casino Royale: James Bond vs Various Goons
James Bond has always had some impressive fights scenes, but Casino Royale was the gritty “reboot” after the silliness of the Pierce Brosnan years, and the fight scenes are fittingly visceral. The staircase fight isn’t the most elaborate fight in 007 history – it’s not on top of a moving train or underwater or anything fun like that. But it’s brutal, it’s fast-moving and features some great acting by Daniel Craig as he mercilessly strangles “Generic Goon #2”. One of many moments in the film where it was clear just how un-touchy-feely this Bond was.
It’s another fight where the hero is outnumbered but still manages to triumph, and there’s a woman who only stands around looking helpless half the time rather than the whole time. She even joins in towards the end.
4. Shaun of the Dead: Survivors vs John
And now for something completely different…. This fight warrants a mention not because of its elegance or brutality, but because of its comedy brilliance. To the opening strains of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” (“toniiight I’m gonna have myself a real good time….”), our heroes stand poised with pool cues as zombie pub landlord John stumbles towards them. As the music kicks in, they start battering the old man with the cues in time to the music.
There is something just genius about an old zombie man being beaten up to the accompaniment of Freddie Mercury’s enthusiastic vocals. Top moment comes when heroine Liz batters him with a fire extinguisher on the line “Woah woah woah woah woah explode!” before unleashing a barrage of CO2 in his face. Definitely the best comedy British zombie fight scene ever.
3. Kill Bill Vol 1: The Bride vs The Crazy 88
If other fights seem difficult to win, try being Uma Thurman as she takes on 88 masked psychopaths. Still only recently revived from a coma, she somehow manages to take them all on and win. There is swordfighting, ninja skills, removing appendages with one swift grab, and a few handily-placed axes. And one comedy moment, where a not-so-crazy 88er looks scared and backs away, only to receive a merciful fling into a nearby pool instead of death.
Unusually for Tarantino, it’s not all soundtracked – the first few minutes you can hear nothing but the swishing of sounds and cries of pain. Not unusually for Tarantino, it’s absolutely soaked in blood and gore – not one for watching in front of your 4-year-old (and I speak from experience). There are two versions of this scene floating about – one in full color and the other fading from black and white to color. Both are pretty cool.
2. Enter the Dragon:Lee vs Han
Another seminal fighting-based movie, with marital arts taking center stage in Bruce Lee‘s final film (released posthumously). The ending is particularly classic, with Bruce taking on the villain in a hall of mirrors, being swiped at from every angle by a bladed hand. Lee’s character (also called Lee) is disorientated at first and then smashes the mirrors and impales Han on his own spear. It’s just an example of a master at work, with every move precise and targeted. Unlike some of the modern action sequences, it’s not about effects and showy moves, it’s just lightning-quick skill. All the more poignant for being so soon before his death.
1. Fight Club: “Jack” vs himself
But for the ultimate fighting movie, where there is fight scene upon fight scene you can’t get better than 1999’s Fight Club. Superficially about men beating each other up, it carried a much deeper meaning and a clever plot twist at the end that skewed the rest of the film. It’s tough to choose one fight scene from such a violence-ridden film but for sheer originality, the prize has to go to Edward Norton for beating himself up in front of his boss, when his boss is trying to fire him. Not only is it surreal and unusual, it’s also incredibly brutal – Edward Norton’s unnamed character (often referred to as “Jack”) shows himself no mercy as he smashes himself through glass shelves and tables, all the time begging for mercy from his bewildered looking manager. A modern classic.