Shootouts are an action staple that has long been with film. These intense and violent scenes can be anything from the highlights of an action movie to the punctuation on a dramatic tale. Over the years, these quintessential pieces of action have changed and grown in many ways and can be interpreted through many different lenses, leading to their longevity in moviemaking.
While gun violence is a serious and important subject in real life, shootouts are almost their own entity when done right in movies. By no means should a real world shooting be taken lightly. But the scenes examined in this countdown are meant to be looked at as action sequences built to thrill and entertain.
That being said, this two-part look at the Top 30 shootouts in movies is a look at these thrilling action scenes that span decades. From Old West showdowns to chaotic modern blockbusters, these scenes are some of the best action pieces from the history of film.
For #15 to #1, read Part 2 of The 30 Best Movie Shootouts!
30. Double Pistols – True Grit
Crusty old lawman Rooster Cogburn confronts four outlaws in a meadow clearing on horseback by himself. Calling back to a duel he had won before, Rooster puts his reins in his mouth and charges them with two pistols. It’s a bold and foolish move, but it also shows why Rooster was enlisted to find the outlaw in question – he has true grit. Both the John Wayne and Jeff Bridges versions have great versions of the scene, but the new one has better cinematography and style. Then again, the original has The Duke himself.
Best Moment: After his horse is shot, Rooster is at the mercy of the last outlaw standing, but Ranger LaBoeuf take a shot from far away to save him. The wait is interminable to see if he actually hit his mark.
29. The Way of the Gun
After a lengthy kidnapping and paternity ordeal, criminals Parker and Longbaugh are drawn into an ambush at a Mexican brothel over a load of cash. The two gunmen have a massive shootout with loads of henchmen underneath a blazing hot sun in a courtyard. While Parker and Longbaugh are armed and wearing Kevlar, they still takes some serious injuries, including landing on broken glass and taking several nasty hits. The whole scene feels more grounded and rough thanks to the lack of score and the stark lighting as plenty of henchman get taken down one by one. There’s a reason why this scene is praised while the rest of the movie has been forgotten.
Best Moment: Parker and Longbaugh trap a henchman behind a column by firing literally dozens of rounds all around him, then even more into him when he appears.
28. This Can’t End Well – Reservoir Dogs
After all sorts of double crosses and distrust, the plot of bank robbers holing up after a botched robbery comes to a head when the last three standing hold each other at gunpoint. Joe kicks it all off by pointing a gun at the injured Mr. Orange, who he believes is an undercover cop. But his friend Mr. White points his gun back at Joe, in turn causing Joe’s son Nice Guy Eddie to hold a gun to Mr. White. It seems like nothing can end well, and after a lot of yelling and swearing, everyone fires, sending them all down in a fiery blaze.
Best Moment: All four people get shot, ending Reservoir Dogs in the only way that it can end – with everyone dead or dying. While the timing of the squibs may have caused people to speculate about a secret shooter, it was really just a mistake.
27. “Happy Trails, Hans” – Die Hard
After fighting through a dozen terrorists, cop John McClane is battered, bloody, and exhausted. But he still needs to save his wife Holly from criminal Hans Gruber and one last henchman in the fiery heights of Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles. But when John has no choice but to toss his machinegun aside when Holly is held at gunpoint, it seems like all hope is lost. But McClane is a great hero because of his quick wits. He taped a pistol to his back, pulling it out at the last second to get the drop on the henchman and Hans, making this an incredibly satisfying and thrilling end to one of the greatest action films of all time.
Best Moment: Hans grabs Holly as he falls out the window, forcing one last desperate save and Hans’ 30 story plummet. “Oh, I hope that’s not a hostage.”
26. Cocaine-Fueled Craze – Scarface
Having reached the pinnacle of success in the crime world, Tony Montana’s world comes crumbling down, culminating in his enemies coming for him in his giant, gaudy, extremely ‘80s mansion. High off a literal mountain of cocaine and toting a grenade-launcher-equipped M-16, Tony takes on a horde of goons, with the copious amount of drugs running through his system helping him withstand multiple gunshot wounds. All the while, Tony yells threats in that horrible accent of his while firing round after round into hordes of thugs until his shot point blank in the back with a shotgun. Judging by how many people idolize this movie, this is how a lot of people want to go out.
Best Moment: That’s easy. “Say hello to my little friend!” Cue giant explosion.
25. Candyland Massacre – Django Unchained
After a lengthy journey to rescue his wife from plantation owner Calvin Candy, Django’s plan to rescue her from slavery falls to pieces, starting with the death of his partner and friend King Schultz and quickly escalating into a massive shootout in “Candyland.” Django’s kills countless men until he’s completely surrounded and his wife is taken at gunpoint. It’s a brutal and drawn-out gun battle, ending in countless bodies and blood spraying every wall. The sharp stacco of gunfire and massive blood spray coming from every shot makes this an intense and brutal scene from start to finish. The lack of payoff this late into the movie from the film’s a wonky four-act structure and overall tone-deafness of the movie keep it from ranking higher.
Best Moment: Django kicks off his war by diving backward onto a target through a door and shooting a guard, followed by several more men coming through the door.
24. Gun Kata Showdown – Equilibrium
Easily the highlight of this hit-and-miss sci-fi film, Cleric John Preston (Christian Bale) begins all-out war against the totalitarian government that he had served unquestioningly for so long. And the best way to take the government down is by going straight for Vice-Counsel DuPont, who is surrounded by the best soldiers in the country. But Preston is an elite assassin, trained in the (dubious) art of gun kata, which combines martial arts with marksmanship. Preston takes out dozens of guards with his two specialized machine pistols, flipping between bullets and not taking a scratch in the process and eventually leading to a one-on-one showdown with DuPont.
Best Moment: Preston and DuPont fight in an up-close shootout, with both men using their skills to prevent a kill shot. But Preston eventually gets the upper hand and scores a decisive blow for the revolution.
23. Apartment Chaos – Leon
Corrupt Detective Stansfield (Gary Oldman) brings everyone he can (“EVERYONE!!!”) in a raid on hitman Leon Montana’s (Jean Reno) apartment to kill him and Mathilda (Natalie Portman), the young girl he is protecting. But dozens of heavily armed SWAT members are outclassed by the deadly Leon. But Leon’s prioriy is Mathilda, who he puts everything on the line to save. The brutal violence and practical effects make this scene feel more real and intense than any CGI-heavy modern action sequence, ratcheting up the tension and desperation as the two leads try to escape. The scene’s tragic end makes Leona far better movie.
Best Moment: No spoilers if you haven’t seen it yet. “This is from Mathilda.”
22. Through the Ceiling – Boondock Saints
In their first outing to take out as many criminals as possible, brothers Connor and Murphy MacMannus crash through the ceiling of a Russian mob meeting after fighting with each other in an air vent. It’s not according to plan, but thanks to some handy rope, they make the most of the situation, spinning around upside down and eventually jumping down to take out every criminal in the room. This being the MacMannus Brothers’ first attack in their war on crime, their victory is just as much a result of dumb luck as it is their tenacity in taking out as many criminals as possible. But it’s a lot easier than the shootouts they’ve seen in movies before.
Best Moment: Detective Smecker’s investigation cuts back to the MacMannus brothers executing the mob boss they were after, setting off their ritualistic killings of criminals throughout Boston.
21. Motel Finale – LA Confidential
Rival detectives Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) and Bud White (Russell Crowe) are wrapped up in a conspiracy in ’50s Hollywood that leads them to a tangled web of police corruption. Holed up in an abandoned motel, the two are surrounded by dozens of cops looking to kill them to keep the truth from coming out. Here, it’s all about keeping their enemies out positioned and out of the motel in order to stay alive.
Best Moment: Bud breaks through the floor and crawls underneath the motel, getting the drop on multiple men who never see him coming.
20. Artistic Bloodshed – Road to Perdition
Compared to the other entries on this list, the climactic shootout in Road to Perdition is far more artistic than action-packed. After being betrayed by the mob he works for, gunman Michael Sullivan, Sr. (Tom Hanks) fights to save his son after the rest of his family has been killed. It culminates in Sullivan gunning down mob boss Rooney’s entourage during a rainy night as he steps out of the darkness with Thompson sub machine guns , with only a soft piano score audible. It’s a beautiful and cinematic piece of film, highlighting the dramatic nature of it all, rather than the action.
Best Moment: When finally face to face with Sullivan, Rooney says he’s glad that it was him that finally killed him. The last machine gun burst is loud and violent.
19. Teahouse Madness – Hard Boiled
Set in the tranquility of a teahouse, Detective Tequila (Chow Yun Fat) and his partner get into a gun fight when attempting the arrest of gun smugglers. This is the stuff that made director John Woo’s career – lots of bullets, lots of style, and lots of people flying through the air. It’s the kind of shootout where no one needs to reload and a single bullet can cause massive explosions, but the style and intensity of it all makes this into one of the classic action sequences of the ‘90s.
Best Moment: Clearly, it’s the part where Tequila slides down a stair banner firing two guns at once. You can’t beat that.
18. Car & Gun vs Bad Guys – John Wick
John Wick has some of the best choreography and pulse-pounding action of any movie of the last decade. It’s also chock full of shootout sequences that deftly blend a sense of realism with slick movie action. The result is something that is simultaneously thrilling and shocking. The finale is incredibly unique, with previously-retired hit man John Wick (Keanu Reeves) trying to finishing his bloody campaign against a Russian mob. Here, he confronts the mob boss and the last of his henchman when he chases them down in a car. But rather than get out and get into a firefight, Wick stays in his car, spinning around at high speeds as he fires his gun out of the windows and slams into his targets. It’s bot thrilling and incredibly original.
Best Moment: Wick backs his car into a henchman. When the target rolls over the roof, he fires his pistol up and through him multiple times.
17. Harmonica vs. Frank – Once Upon a Time in the West
The culmination of a three-hour Western epic, where the mysterious Harmonica confronts Frank, the ruthless man he has been pursuing throughout the film. After train battles and multiple shootouts, it comes down to two men confronting one another face-to-face in the wild. Like Leone’s other Westerns, this one is all about the buildup, with Ennio Morricone’s score ratcheting up the tension as these two men stare one another down. While we don’t know why Harmonica has vowed to kill Frank (yet), it’s clear that the showdown is filled with anger and years of pursuit. The fast and brutal end is satisfying in the scope of the enormous Once Upon a Time in the West.
Best Moment: After being shot, the dying Frank realizes the reason why Harmonica has been pursuing him all this time and the audience is shown in flashback the cause of this epic showdown without any words needed to explain.
16. Storming the Lobby – The Matrix
It’s the scene that sparked a generation of homages and spoofs and gave way to far too many people buying trench coats. On their way to rescuing Morpheus, Neo and Trinity get into a massive shootout win a very green, very stone-covered lobby with security guards and SWAT members. They may be outnumbered, but their mastery over physics through understanding The Matrix means they are far more powerful than their enemies. Filled with automatic weapons, shotguns, flips, kicks, and lots of slow motion, this was a scene that changed how action movies were done in the early 2000s.
Best Moment: Pick a flip, slow-mo, and gunshot combination. Any of them are gold in this sequence.