Cinema’s 40 Greatest Fight Scenes (Part 1 of 2)

Movie history is filled with fighting. From mortal enemies locked in perilous combat to giant armies clashing swords in ancient lands, fight scenes are some of the most memorable pieces of cinema ever created. These showdowns are often the climaxes of epic narratives that put everything on the line in one final battle. The style, acting, choreography, story, and characterization on display in cinema’s best fights make these scenes some of the best examples of the power of film.

Whether they are the result of amazing stunt work, a piece of well-loved fiction brought to stunning life, or an absurdist moment in a comedy, everyone has his or her own favorite fights. But what are the greatest of all time?

These are the 40 fight scenes that are unmatched in the execution, delivering thrills and burning themselves into the memories of audiences everywhere. Combined, these make up some of the most cheer-inducing, shocking, and thrilling moments ever put on film.

A few rules for this list. A qualifying fight can involve fists, knives, swords, or any other type of close contact weapon. Should a fight mostly involve guns, it cannot be on the list. Stay tuned for Cinema’s Greatest Shootouts coming soon!

Read Part 2 for #20 to #1! For Cinema’s 30 Greatest Chase Scenes, read Part 1 and Part 2.

40. Mickey’s Big Match – Snatch

An entire film of interweaving plot threads, stolen diamonds, and general criminal activity all culminates in a bare knuckle boxing match. In over their heads, Turkish and Tommy recruit Pikey bareknuckle boxer Mickey to throw a match in order to square their debts with terrifying mobster Bricktop. Mickey is supposed to go down in the Fifth Round. The only problem is, Mickey is uncontrollable and can knock a man out with a single punch. Backed by a rollicking soundtrack by Oasis, this is a rollercoaster match that has more in common with a back alley brawl than any legal championship bout. Slam cuts, speed ramping, and a twist ending make this one of director Guy Ritchie’s greatest scenes.

Best Moment: Mickey gets hit so hard the film shows him sinking into deep dark water. Of course, he gets right back up and knocks his opponent out in one punch.

39. Sing vs. Axe Gang & The Beast – Kung Fu Hustle

After an entire film of comedic and over-the-top kung fu action, unexpected hero Sing embraces his inner hero to face The Beast, an unbeatable monster in the form of an old man. Like all of Kung Fu Hustle, this is a battle that deftly mixes the comedic with the brutally thrilling. Sing is the only man who can defeat The Axe Gang and the uncontrollable killer who has taken over. Using Looney Tunes-like CGI, this apartment complex battle takes fantastic martial arts choreography and enhances it with flight, speed, and spectacular supernatural feats that make this an incredibly satisfying ending to one of the most unique kung fu films in years.

Best Moment: With The Beast still coming back from attack after attack, Sing pulls out the mythic Buddha Palm technique that he learned from a little book as a kid. It’s super effective.

38. Championship Fight – Rocky

All those training montages and character growth have led to this: Rocky Balboa is finally about to fight World Champion Apollo Creed for the title. These two combatants beat the stuffing out of each other for round after round, with Rocky surprising the talented yet cocky Apollo with his training and tenacity. Of course, Rocky winning or losing is not what is at stake here. Rather, it is him believing in himself and embracing who he could be. All he wants is to go the distance with Apollo, a feat no boxer has ever accomplished. That’s the true victory.

Best Moment: As the bell rings, Rocky has accomplished the only thing he wanted from the fight: going the distance with Apollo Creed. But it isn’t the decision that matters in the end, it’s being with Adrian.

37. Underground Boxing Match – Sherlock Holmes

While Robert Downey, Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes had already shown off his considerable fighting skills earlier in Guy Ritchie’s movie, it had its greatest moment when the unparalleled detective decided to pass some time in an underground boxing match. Fighting a brute considerably larger than himself, Holmes shows off his love for both fighting and getting beat up. But when past love Irene Adler makes an appearance in the crowd, Holmes decides to put an abrupt end to his bout. Putting his lightning-fast deduction skills to use, the detective creates the perfect finishing combo on his opponent, then executes.

Best Moment: After calculated his opponent’s every move, Holmes unleashes a flurry of blows that leaves the audience stunned and completely silent.

36. Title Fight – Cinderella Man

James Braddock has battled back from poverty and all the odds to not only save his family during The Great Depression, but to fight for the World Championship of Boxing. Now, he faces a man who has killed two people in the ring, Max Baer. Not only has Braddock returned from numerous injuries and years out of the ring, but he has faced countless critics saying he doesn’t stand a chance against Baer. Battling through Baer’s endless taunts and superior reach, Braddock pounds away at his opponent for every round. Best of all, star Russell Crowe insisted on the punches being a real as possible, making audiences feeling every blow these two boxers land on one another.

Best Moment: With his back literally on the ropes, Braddock remembers the footage of the man who was killed in the ring. Propelled by his love for his family, Braddock battles back and wins the match and championship.

35. Battle of Hong Kong Bay – Pacific Rim

As if Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rimcouldn’t get any more frantic and overwhelming, two giant Kaiju suddenly attack Hong Kong, forcing a battle royale with the world’s remaining Jaegers. This is a humongous spectacle that features death, citywide destruction, bank-busting CGI, wonky logic, and eye-rolling line readings. So really, it’s exactly what director Guillermo Del Toro wanted. Faced with two immense Kaiju, veteran Jaegers Cherno Alpha, Crimson Typhoon, and Striker Eureka are all taken out of commission, forcing untested Gypsy Danger to take on the monsters alone. EMP waves, giant guns, insane swords, and a Swiss Army knife-like monster all make this a bombastic fight that borders on the mind-numbing, yet still exciting.

Best Moment: Wading into the middle of Hong Kong, Gypsy Danger drags along a giant freighter, swinging the ship into Otachi’s head like a giant baseball bat.

34. Marquis of Queensbury Rules – The Quiet Man

After giving up a life of fighting, John Wayne’s Sean Thornton is finally forced to brawl with his wife’s brother for the sake of her honor. What follows is a mad but good natured fistfight that gets the entire population of a sleepy Irish town brawling for the love of it. While Sean’s decision to fight is the culmination of his character arc and the story as a whole, this fistfight is far more fun and light than most on this list. Townsfolk place bets on the outcome, bystanders fight for the love of it, and priests shirk their duties to root on the combatants. This is John Wayne at his most charismatic and swaggering, throwing a punch like no other star can.

Best Moment: After punching each other silly through town, the two combatants find themselves in front of the local bar. Putting a pause on their match, they stop in for a drink. Of course, that’s only the end of round one.

33. Penance in the Ring – Raging Bull

After a violent boxing career and personal life, Jake LaMotta must defend his title against longtime rival Sugar Ray Robinson. But this isn’t a thrilling slugfest. No, this is a brutal beatdown that plays out like LaMotta’s penance for a lifetime of sin. Known for absorbing countless punches in the ring, LaMotta takes haymakers left and right with his back against the ropes and his arms down by his sides. Blood splatters the crowd and the world grows dim. By the end, the fight is stopped, with LaMotta a bloody pulp, left with his title belt, and partway to redemption.

Best Moment: Beaten to a pulp, LaMotta still rubs his one point of pride in his rival’s face. “Hey, Ray. You never got me down, Ray. You never got me down.”

32. Take ‘Em to Church – Iron Man 3

In the culmination of his nonstop tinkering and unhealthy invention, Tony Stark unleashes his 40 alternate Iron Man armors in the “House Party Protocol” in order to take on Aldrich Killian and his Extremis-powered forces. Powered by JARVIS, the dozens of Iron Man armors fight on their own and also support Tony in his fight to stop Killian and save Pepper. Faced with an enemy who can superheat himself and cut through armor like butter, Tony jumps from suit to suit, ditching at the last moment and staying on his toes to best his deadly opponent. Unlike the previous two Iron Man finales, this one blows the doors off.

Best Moment: The reveals of Tony’s dozens of armors, all swooping in and ready to take on the Armored Avenger’s enemies, is truly a sight to behold, and a great culmination to his character arc.

31. Kitchen Brutality – The Raid 2

In a film filled with chaotic and brutal hand-to-hand battles, this is the ultimate boss fight. After making his way through numerous goons and hitmen, Rama is forced to battle an elite assassin in a brightly lit, stark white kitchen that is soon wrecked and covered in blood. By this point in the film, Rama is shown as an unstoppable force that bowls over common opponents, but the assassin he faces here is every bit his equal. Their fight is a story in itself, spanning from duels that test one another’s reaction time to sloppy shots at one another with wine bottles to finally a fatal duel with claw-like daggers. Best of all, the two actors do almost all of their own stunts, making this an up-close and brutal showdown.

Best Moment: Rama delivers a triple kick to the assassin’s body, followed up by a spinning kick to the back of the head. It may not finish the fight, but the blazing speed and choreography is unforgettable.

30. Brothers Battle – Warrior

Estranged brothers Tommy and Brendan have fought their way through all sorts of mixed martial arts competitors to come to the final match in the Sparta Championship. The prize is $5 million, but their future as a family is what is truly at stake. While Tommy is a bulldozer of a fighter, Brendan is a technician, leading to a major clash of styles that puts Brendan on his heels. While Brendan may not want to hurt his brother, Tommy is more than happy to oblige. With no clear outcome in store by this point in the film, either man could win, so this is truly a fight that puts audiences on the edge of their seats. But best of all, this is an extremely emotional brawl that twists your heart the whole way through.

Best Moment: Despite having a dislocated arm, Tommy refuses to tap out when Brendan puts him in a chokehold. It’s only when Brendan tell him how much he loves him that Tommy taps out. Reconciliation, and tears, come flooding in.

29. Duel of the Fates – Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

It’s one of the few good scenes in Phantom Menace, or the prequel Star Warsfilms as a whole. While armies clash over the fate of Naboo, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn duel Darth Maul, who represents the startling rebirth of the Sith. But two on one may not be enough when Maul unleashes his double-bladed lightsaber, allowing him to take on Master and Padawan at the same time. Back by John Williams’ fabulous “Duel of the Fates” score, this is a truly epic lightsaber duel that ranks among the greatest moments of the series. It’s thrilling, perfectly choreographed, and leaves a lasting impact on the series’ story.

Best Moment: With Qui-Gon killed as Obi-Wan looks hopelessly on, the Padawan unleashes his fury in a blindingly fast serious of attacks, showing off an aggressive and thrilling form of lightsaber combat never seen on screen before.

28. Bathhouse Brawl – Eastern Promises

This is most definitely the fight on this list guaranteed to make you squirm. That’s what happens when you mix knives and nudity. Russian mobster Nikolai Luzhin (Viggo Mortensen) is ambushed by two hitmen while relaxing in a bathhouse. Naturally, Nikolai is naked. And since these hitmen prefer to use knives, this becomes a brutal and bloody affair. While Nikolai is outnumbered and in constant peril, he manages to kill both men by the end while left and bloody and broken mess. Not for the faint of heart, this is still a jaw-dropping battle that will be burned into your brain.

Best Moment: Crawling over the body of a hitman he stabbed in the chest, Nikolai is choked out by his seemingly-dead foe. What comes next is terrible.

27. News Team Fight – Anchorman

Easily the most outlandish scene in a comedy film known for its ridiculousness, Ron Burgandy and his news team crewmembers engage in an impromptu war with their rival San Diego news teams in a back alley. With news teams pouring in and delivering their own channel-related catchphrases, this battle is bananas before it even begins. Then, news reporters from across San Diego attack one another with knives, clubs, horses, nets, and, of course, a trident. This bilingual bloodfest is one for the ages!

Best Moment: Things take a turn for the severe and disgusting when Frank Prichard gets his right arm chopped off with an axe. He did not see that coming.

26. Wolverine vs Lady Deathstrike – X2: X-Men United

After seeking out the answers to his mysterious past, Wolverine is not only confronted with the lab where he was changed forever, but with Lady Deathstrike, the weapon William Striker believes is superior to Wolverine. Wolvering and Deathstrike, both possesses advanced healing factors and adamantium claws, tear at one another, looking to take their opponent down with more and more vicious strikes. Any one of these attacks would take out a different opponent, but these two only come back for more. As part of the climax of X2, this also serves as one of Wolverine’s biggest moments in the film series.

Best Moment: With countless strikes and even electrocution not keeping Deathstrike down, Wolverine fills his opponent with liquid hot adamantium, solidifying inside her for a permanent end.

25. The Hunt is On – Predator

With almost his entire team slaughtered by an invisible alien hunter, Dutch (Arnold Schwarzeneggar) is forced to confront the Predator one-on-one with only his fists and makeshift weapons at his disposal. Both combatants ready for the final battle, with Dutch forging makeshift traps, spears, a bow and arrow, and torches, while the Predator collects his trophies from the bodies of victims. Dutch is definitely outgunned, so this is a battle of wits, rather than brawn. Masking his body heat with mud and luring the Predator into numerous traps, our hero finally beats the alien warrior.

Best Moment: Not to be outdone, the Predator sets a self-destruct timer that triggers a massive mushroom cloud explosion. In the ashy aftermath, Dutch stands triumphant, but shellshocked.

24. Hammer Down the Hallway – Oldboy

On his terrible quest for revenge against the man who locked him away for decades, Oh Dae-Su finds himself confronted by dozens of men in a tiny hallway while only armed with a claw hammer. Of course, Dae-Su is more than happy to start fighting after being locked away. Smashing through criminals, Dae-Su is beaten with pipes and even stabbed in the back, but he just keeps fighting. Panting and bloodied, the hero eventually beats his enemies to the point where they give up. But what makes this fight truly spectacular is the fact that it is filmed in one continuous short, tracking Dae-Su’s progress down the hall like a side-scrolling videogame.

Best Moment: Stabbed in the back and lying motionless on the ground, the fight seems finished for Dae-Du. But he comes roaring back, smashing toes with his hammer and flailing like a Wildman.

23. Rotating Hallway – Inception

An unexpected rollover in a van causes the second level of dreams to suddenly lose gravity and then start rotating (it makes sense if you’ve watched the movie, kinda). With his fellow thieves unconscious, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has to fight numerous assassins while floating in zero gravity, then running and crawling along the walls and ceiling of a dizzily rotating hallway. It’s a stunning visual effect that is made all the more amazing because it was done practically, with the actors actually battling through a real hallway made to spin 360 degrees. In a film full of mind-boggling effects, this is easily one of the most iconic images of Inception.

Best Moment: The moment the hall starts rotating. That’s when things get nuts.

22. The Lightning Struck Tower – Beauty and the Beast

Brutish hunter Gaston storms The Beast’s castle, intent on killing the “monster” and leaving no one standing in his way of taking Belle as his wife. While his army of townsfolk fights the animated furniture below, Gaston ambushes the morose Beast in his tower. Heartbroken over the loss of Belle, Beast puts up little fight and is ready to die until he sees the woman he loves return. The two combatants battle across the tower roof in a downpour backed by dazzling green lightning, with the evil Gaston mocking The Beast and threatening Belle. It all leads to Beast choosing the spare Gaston, only to be fatally stabbed. The Beast’s death, rebirth, and his happy ending with Belle all make this one of the most emotionally effecting fights of all time.

Best Moment: Struck by how Gaston pleads for his life in the same way that Belle’s father did, The Beast spare him out of his newfound compassion.

21. One Against Ten – Ip Man

As a Chinese man living under oppression during the Japanese invasion of 1937, Ip Man and his family are barely scraping by. Working in a coal mine, Ip discovers an arena where Chinese men fight against Japanese black belts for bags of rice. While Ip does not initially fight, he demands he be pitted against 10 black belt masters at the same time when he learns of the Chinese men ruthlessly killed in the arena. What seems like suicide turns into a breathtaking display of skill propelled by anger, as Ip ploughs through all 10 men. Delivering lightning-fast strikes to chests and faces, Ip disposes of each man in extremely efficient but devastating form. It’s stunning and cheerworthy.

Best Moment: Sending a man to the floor, Ip delivers what must surely be 30 punches in five seconds, pummeling his foe into mush and scaring the hell out of the black belts who are still standing.

Read Part Two for #20 to #1, with sword fights, boxing matches, and all-out war!

2 thoughts on “Cinema’s 40 Greatest Fight Scenes (Part 1 of 2)

  1. Pingback: The 30 Greatest Sci-Fi Movies (Part 1 of 2) – Crisis on Infinite Thoughts

  2. Pingback: Cinema’s 40 Greatest Fight Scenes (Part 2 of 2) – Crisis on Infinite Thoughts

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