Throughout cinema history there have always been fights, be it one on one or big groups in epic showdowns. As awesome as those moments of combat can be, sometimes they just can’t compare to having one person taking on many at once, whether it be with guns, hand to hand, or even a fridge (you’ll see).
To see someone with their back against the wall, reaching deep down and doing their absolute all to survive can be truly thrilling. With a heads up for a spoiler or two, we’ve drawn up a Top Ten that looks at some (there are so many good ones!) standout moments where we witnessed one face many. We’ve included videos of the scenes themselves, so yes, there be some violence ahead…
• BLADE (2008) – Blade vs. Clubbing Vamps
Starting our list – and the only horror-based entry – is one of the first successful comic book movies to hit our screens and kick off the superhero movie resurgence. A relatively unknown vampire hunter at the time (outside comic book circles), Blade hit the screens and deviated far from previous comic book movies drastically. Flaunting lots of blood and the occasional f-bomb meant that they could really let loose and show a graphic take on the superhero genre – years before Deadpool. Our scene in question is actually right at the start of the film. A couple are driving around looking for a nightclub to party the night away. Unbeknownst to the man, the girl he’s with is actually a vampire luring him to a feeding frenzy. Once there, he discovers that he is in fact the main course. As he tries to scurry away, he meets our hero. Cue Wesley Snipes showing off his martial arts skills as he takes on a whole club of bloodthirsty vamps with his modified shotgun, metal spikes and even a sword. It’s an awesome sequence, and brandishes VFX that hold up pretty well by today’s standards. This film would also be the first Marvel superhero movie with an African-American lead… which everyone would seemingly forget when Black Panther would hit the screen some 20 years later.
• KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2014) – Harry vs. Churchgoers
This entry sees Colin Firth playing Harry, who in this scene kills many, many people in some of the most gruesome, violent ways possible. After their mission brings the Kingsmen to a church in search of the film’s antagonist, played by Sam L. Jackson, Harry sees no sign of him and is ready to walk out. That’s when the villain decides to activate a signal that drives everyone in the church to mindlessly kill. Harry begins shooting people left, right and centre. Once he runs out of bullets, he resorts to stabbing and blowing people up. This insane scene is made all the better with the brilliant use of Lynard Skynard’s “Free Bird”.
• THE MATRIX RELOADED (2003) – Neo vs. Smiths
1999 brought us the sensational sci-fi flick The Matrix. Written and directed by the Wachowski siblings, it delivered a layered, fast-paced adrenaline rush that was filled with amazing visuals and even more amazing fight choreography. The film had Keanu Reeves playing Neo, the Chosen One, who would go on to take on Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) in an effort to save humanity. Fast forward to 2003 for the follow-up, The Matrix Reloaded, with bigger action scenes, bigger stunts and more fights. After finishing up a meeting with the Oracle, Neo notices Agent Smith walking towards him in a scene reminiscent of a John Woo film. With a confused look on his face, he engages Smith in conversation. More Smiths begin to appear and Neo is soon surrounded by eight of them. Without warning, lead Smith tries to take over his body, which Neo manages to resist, before an all-out fight breaks out. Our hero seems to hold is own quite well but then more, more and more Smiths appear. Our hero does eventually do a runner (or a… flyer?) as the Smiths swarm, but we are treated to one hell of a battle before that happens. Sure, at times the graphics don’t look all that great, but the phenomenal fight choreography more than makes up for it.
• KISS OF THE DRAGON (2001) – Jet Li vs Dojo
Although legendary Kung Fu artist Jet Li has had many great fights over his extensive career, I have chosen to go with 2001’s Kiss of the Dragon. After tracking down the film’s antagonist, our hero, Liu, starts to make his way toward him. First, he’ll have to make his way through security, which he quickly does with ease. After doing away with a few of those goons, he spots a big group heading towards him with firearms. Knowing he can’t take them easily, he seeks refuge behind a door and locks it. He then turns around to see… a full class of roughly 20 black belt students. Dammit. Armed with batons, they ready themselves and our hero readies himself for battle. What takes place is a master in his element, taking on foes with little issue and wreaking havoc along the way. This fight scene really shows this Wushu master in his prime, his speed and agility unmatched as he easily beats down the entire dojo. The standout is when he takes on 3 opponents at once all with batons. One slip up with this choreography would have easily meant a painful wallop.
• KILL BILL: VOL. 1 (2003) – The Bride vs. The Crazy 88
Quentin Tarantino has delivered some outstanding films. From his take on the classic whodunnit (Reservoir Dogs) to a spaghetti western (Django Unchained). In 2003 he delivered his love letter to the 70’s style Kung Fu movies with the two-part masterpiece Kill Bill. Uma Thurman portrays the Bride, a member of a team of assassins who one day decide to betray her. After she is beaten severely, shot in the head and left for dead, she is hospitalised in a coma. She miraculously awakens four years later and decides to seek vengeance on the five people who were involved. Number 1 on her list: O-Ren Ishi (Lucy Liu), who she track down to a Japanese sushi bar. As she is about to exact her revenge, a number of motorcycles are heard pulling up. There isn’t really 88 of them, but there is a good 40 at least. No matter. She absolutely destroys them in the most violent and graphic way; cutting off arms and legs, decapitating heads and even slicing one opponent right down the middle. So bloody was the scene that the Motion Picture Association of America told Tarantino that if he was to avoid the dread NC-17 rating, a bulk of the scene had to be in black and white. Stylistically, it still works a bloody treat.
• BATMAN v SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016) – Batfleck vs Goons
Not a lot of good came from Man of Steel follow-up BvS. Rushing to introduce a new Batman and quickly attempting to set up the Justice League could have had a bit to do with it. One good thing, arguably, was the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman. He juggled the duality of the character extremely well; the complex man that is Bruce Wayne, as well as the grizzled vigilante of the Batman. After spending the bulk of the film trying to take on Superman, he realises that this alien is not the enemy (what’s in a name, huh?!) and chooses to help him and save his mother that has been kidnapped. He tracks her to an abandoned warehouse, where he goes on the offence quite heavily. The heavily armed guards outside are dispatched of quickly with this version’s Bat-jet. Once inside, the Dark Knight takes on around a dozen men, quickly doing away with the majority of the guns then laying down a vicious beat down on the thugs that leaves some of them dead. Mixing it up from the previous iterations and portraying Batman as a weathered hero, who has had many battles and clearly several losses, allowed Zack Snyder and co. to not go easy on the bad guys. It’s a kick-ass scene, with some brutal, and very welcome, real-world physics to the fighting style.
• RUMBLE IN THE BRONX (1995) – Jackie Chan vs. Bronx Thugs
Just like Jet Li, there were many choices for this actor, but I thought I’d go with the one that basically introduced Jackie Chan to Western cinema-goers. Keung is visiting from Hong Kong to attend his uncle’s wedding and is helping keep on an eye on his Uncle’s shop in the meantime. After a street gang turn up and terrorise a worker, trash and steal things, Keung decides to confront them at their hideout and challenges the leader, Tony, to a fair one-one-one fight. Tony does hold his own for a while, but Keung of course defeats him. Turns out the gang doesn’t like that. What follows is some of Chan’s finest work, perfectly showcasing his excellent Kung Fu skills and his brilliant use of surroundings. He uses everything from his bare hands, bottles, skis and even somehow a fridge (there it is) to beat down over a dozen gang members.
• OLDBOY (2003) – Dae-su Oh and hammer vs. Goons
The second film in South Korean director Park Chan-Wook’s thematic vengeance trilogy was one hell of a thought-provoking, visceral, psychological thriller. Our protagonist, the reprehensible Dae-Su (Choi Min-sik), is one day kidnapped and imprisoned by some unseen enemies. Through news reports seen on his only luxury, a television, he learns he has been framed for murdering his own wife. Shadowboxing and learning to fight are among the handful of activities he can undertake during the 15 years he is locked up in this room – until he inexplicably released, set free to seek vengeance on his captors. One very memorable moment finds our lead character back in the building he was kept in, only this time he’s facing a few people that want to rip him apart. Confronted by over a dozen men, knives and timber begin swinging every which way as they swarm our dude – who is armed with a claw hammer. Filmed as one continuous shot, this frantic, chaotic scene blew audiences away with its gritty action. If you somehow haven’t seen this one – do so. The whole film has an unnerving tension that keeps you guessing right up until that seriously messed-up final twist.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014) – Cap vs. Hydra Goons
By this point in the MCU, we had two other sequels to Iron Man and one sequel to Thor. those follow-ups were met with mixed reviews, not yet pushing Marvel to the pinnacle it’s held at now. That all changed when Joe and Anthony Russo came in to direct the sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger. Bringing with them a grounded politically charged thriller, the Russos really showed what could be done with these MCU films going forward. It had a great plot, tightly crafted fight scenes, and propelled the story in such a way that it would forever shape the future of the MCU. There are some great sequences (that freakin’ road/highway battle!), but I’ve decided to put the spotlight on the elevator scene. Cap’s in an elevator after a meeting doesn’t end well – and each floor he stops at finds more and more agents getting in. The mood shifts slightly. The tension builds. After first asking if anyone wishes to exit the lift, America’s ass proceeds to whip theirs. The stunt work is executed perfectly and each and every hit is intensified in these claustrophobic quarters.
• JOHN WICK (2014) – The Baba Yaga vs. Russian Mobsters
Now, the John Wick franchise could span multiple action-related Top Tens on their own. With a racked-up kill count of 299 people across the trilogy, it’s clear that Wick is more deadly than Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees combined. For this, we are going to focus on the nightclub scene from the first film. After his puppy is killed (say no more!) and his car is stolen, Mr Wick or Baba Yaga sets out to avenge. His search leads him to a night club where he stealthily gains access and quickly kills off a few guards. After making his way downstairs to a hidden bath house, he starts to tally up the kills. In just this scene alone, Mr Wick makes his way through almost 30 armed men with no more than a stab wound to show for it. Well-choreographed fighting styles blended mixed with tat visually gratifying Gun Fu technique means we are privy to a full-on, oh-so hectic scene. The nightclub setting adds welcome texture, as the darkness and hints of lighting almost make our Boogeyman seem like a ghost. The music deafening out the gunshots adds to the effect. The film would further put Keanu Reeves on the map as one of our greatest action stars in the last 20 years. Bring on Jack Wick 4.