Here we are at the top 15 movie shootouts in film history! After counting down through many classic showdowns in film, we arrive at the cream of the crop. These are not only amazing shootouts, but the action, choreography, acting, cinematography, and scripting for these scenes are examples of how great moving making can be in general, not just in action, western, or crime films.
These pieces include cops vs criminals, criminals vs criminals, and all other configuration of deadly people shooting at one another. Altogether, these scenes show off both the best of films from across the decades. These are meant to thrill, shock, and excite in all manner of configurations and surpass even the highest of expectations.
Have your own favorite shootouts? Let me know in the comments section below. For numbers 30 through 16, read Part 1 of The 30 Best Movie Shootouts
15. Old West Revenge – Open Range
Yes, this is a movie centered on the conflict between open range cattlemen and a land baron. But this final shootout is among the best! Cattlemen Boss (Robert Duvall) and Charley (Kevin Costner) confront land baron Percy and his enforcers in a small western town after their friends and killed, leading to a wild and brutal showdown. As a modern Western, Open Range is more down to Earth and gritty than its predecessors. There are few quick deaths bursts of gunfire punctuate the combatants’ silent maneuvering on one another. The push and pull between both sides, with the townsfolk forced to eventually choose their allegiances, and the moral decisions made by many adds so much to this already well-crafted shootout.
Best Moment: When the two heroes confront the killers, Charley wastes no time in getting down to business. He shoots the man who killed his friend right in the face in the middle of town. Then all hell breaks loose.
14. Misfire – Unforgiven
Aging outlaw William Munny (Clint Eastwood) takes on a bounty hunting job to get needed cash, but it ends in the brutal death of his friend Ned at the hands of the remorseless sheriff “Little” Bill Daggett. But while Daggett has gathered a posse to hunt down Munny, the outlaw decides to get his revenge and confront the entire gang in a saloon. While bullets fly and lives are taken, this is not a shootout that relies on being a quickdraw.
Best Moment: With Bill on the ground helpless, Munny has him dead to rights. When Bill says he didn’t deserve this, Munny simply replies “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.”
13. “I’ll Be Back” – The Terminator
It’s the T-800 versus an entire police station when The Terminator goes right after target Sarah Conner as she’s giving a statement to the cops. Of course, being a killing machine from the future that’s dual wielding machineguns, he’s more than enough for his heavily armed opposition. The great thing about this shootout isn’t the suspense in who will win, it’s clear that The Terminator can take every bullet the police owns. It’s the terror in his unstoppable path through the station. Not only is Sarah defenseless, but protector Kyle Reese is handcuffed. How can they possibly survive? This is more a horror scene than an action sequence.
Best Moment: This scene did start with one of the most quoted lines in cinema history. Credit where credit is due.
12. Motel Shootout – No Country for Old Men
Llewelyn Moss is confronted by assassin Anton Chigurh in a motel, who is after the two million dollars he stole, and both men viciously attack one another over the money. While plenty of bullets fly and that infamous cattle gun is at the ready, this shootout is all about the tension, as both men seem incredibly vulnerable and rely on hiding in the darkness to gain the advantage. By the end, both Moss and Chigurh are bloodied and full of holes and the audience is left gasping for breath. Most interestingly, they never come completely face to face, and never do again in the film.
Best Moment: Moss waits in his motel room in the dark as he realizes someone outside is coming for him. The quiet steps and tension is broken by the lock on his door hitting him square in the chest – shot out by a cattle gun.
11. Bar Shootout – Desperado
Walking the fine line between funny and thrilling, the bar shootout in Desperado may just be director Robert Rodriguez’ finest piece of film making. The man known only as El Mariachi ends up fighting a bar full of goons in his search for the man that killed the woman he loves. Using his signature guitar case full of guns, El Mariachi manages to take out a bar full of automatic weapon-wielding murderers in style, dual weilding pistols all the way as he leaps through the air and runs along bar tops.
Best Moment: Mariachi and one last assassin face off by scrambling over a series of empty guns in a tense and funny finale to the shootout.
10. Riding into the Sunset – Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid
After having fun and robbing to their hearts’ content in Bolivia, things fall apart for Butch and Sundance. While the woman they both love leaves, it’s when the Bolivian army finally catches up with them in a hacienda that things have finally hit rock bottom for the cowboy duo. It’s clear from very early on that the protagonists are outmatched as more and more soldiers pour into the area, slowly surrounding and wounding the pair. It’s a desperate shootout filled with tension, but the drama is from the inevitability of it all.
Best Moment: Butch and Sundance go out in one last blaze of glory. The decision to freeze frame the two friends instead of showing their deaths solidifies them as legends instead of mortal men.
9. Old West Violence – The Wild Bunch
Another Western with themes of the Wild West ending and heroes becoming a relic of their time, director Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch is easily one of the most violent Westerns in cinema history. And it’s this final shootout that solidifies it as such. When one of their own is killed by Mexican Federales, this group of outlaws confronts and kills the general in front of hundreds of his men out of spite. Clearly overwhelmed by the sheer numbers, they decide to take out as many of them as they can. This includes the use of an early machine gun and the death of hundreds, including The Wild Bunch themselves.
Best Moment: This entire scene is one long bloody piece of madness and violence. Strap in and get ready for insanity.
8. Three on One – Once Upon a Time in the West
Using his trademark juxtaposition of quiet buildup and sudden violence, director Sergio Leone starts off Once Upon a Time in the West in true style. The film starts with literally 10 minutes of silence as three hard-looking cowboys await someone at a train station. When the train finally arrives, one man (Charles Bronson) steps off, ominously playing a harmonica. It’s clear that the three are waiting to kill him, stating that they are one horse short. He replies that they brought “Two too many.” People are about to die.
Best Moment: After a moment of tension, all four men draw their guns and the man only known as Harmonica shoots them all, taking a bullet in the process in one impeccably filmed shootout.
7. Train Station Steps – The Untouchables
Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) and George Stone (Andy Garcia), the last surviving members of The Untouchables, confront multiple gangsters at Union Station in order to arrest Al Capone’s accountant to build a case against the mob boss. It all plays out in slow motion as the cops and criminals get into a violent shootout with one another on the train station steps with multiple innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire. Most importantly, a baby in a carriage starts careening down the steps, with Ness and Stone trying to save the child, dodge gunfire, and catch the accountant all at the same time.
Best Moment: “You got him?” “I got him.”
6. Gunfight at the OK Corral – Tombstone
It may be a recreation of the most famous gunfight in history, but Tombstone’s Gunfight at the OK Corral is thrilling in its own right. Forced into a confrontation with the Cowboys, Sheriff Wyatt Earp, his brothers, and Doc Holliday end up in a wild close-up shootout with multiple outlaws. It’s not flashy, but it’s spectacularly filmed, giving it a more realistic and gritty feel than what might be expected from a big budget Hollywood Western. This is one of the all-time great Western shootouts.
Best Moment: While the gunfight is fantastically choreographed, it’s all about the tension-filled moments that lead up to the explosion of violence at the OK Corral that changes everything.
5. The Battle for Sanford – Hot Fuzz
Spoofing the very action films it adores, the climax of Hot Fuzz is simultaneously a hilarious sendup of shoot-outs and a thrilling action scene in and of itself. Here, constable Nicolas Angel (Simon Pegg) and PC Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) engage in an epic battle against the cabal that has been secretly killing innocents to keep the tiny countryside town of Sanford Gloucester under their control. While this epic battle is great on its own, the buildup within the narrative makes it even better, as the many elements of action film that have been debunked throughout the run of Hot Fuzz become wholly embraced by its heroes in the climax, including firing two guns while jumping through the air, spouting witty one-liners, taking part in high speed chases, and packing extreme amounts of weapons.
Best Moment: The entire shootout in the center of town is the culmination of foreshadowing early on, as Angel’s fight replicates the way he originally met everyone at the beginning.
4. Night Club Rampage – John Wick
The best shootout in a film full of awesome action scenes, this extended and brutal takedown of countless mob enforcers is the highlight of John Wick. Here, former assassin Wick is hot on the trail of the man who killed his dog (it’s a long story, but it works really well) when he finds him in a Russian nightclub. But his target is surrounded by protection and when he starts to get away, Wick starts laying waste to criminals throughout the club. It’s clear to see that Wick is a force of nature as he brutally and efficiently takes out dozens of people. But he’s also clearly human, struggling in hand-to-hand fights, reeling from being shot in his bullet-proof vest, and rallying to take out even more targets. The hypnotic blue and purple color scheme, intricate choreography, and efficient takedowns make this one of the best action sequences in modern film.
Best Moment: All of it. Just watch the whole thing.
3. Hospital Chaos – Hard Boiled
Easily the longest shootout on the list, the climax to John Woo’ Hard Boiled is 30 minutes long and filled with jaw-dropping action. Serving as both the film’s extended climax and a story unto itself, the scene sees Detective Tequila (Chow Yun Fat) and undercover cop Alan (Tony Leung) uncover the arsenal of Triad boss Johnny Wong. The catch? It’s hidden under a hospital filled with innocent people. Of course, it erupts into chaos once criminals storm the building, floors catch on fire, and the cops are tasked with both evacuating civilians while also taking down their criminal targets. It’s an enormous action sequences filled with brilliant shootouts and fight scenes that manage to top everything that came before in the humongous action story that is Hard Boiled.
Best Moment: Tequila and Alan fight through hallways on multiple floors, fighting criminals in one giant shootout all film in a single take!
2. Heist Gone Wrong – Heat
For most of Michael Mann’s Heat, the tale of cops and robbers is told in quiet undertones and small bursts of violence. But this is where all hell breaks loose. Criminal Neil McCauley (Robert DeNiro) and his gang rob a bank in downton L.A., only to be surrounded by Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) and the LAPD. Rather than lay down their guns or lock themselves in, the crew bursts out of the bank with machine guns at the ready. It turns the busy downtown street into a warzone as the tiny crew’s coordination causes a whole squadron of cops to run for their lives. Meanwhile, Hanna and his crew work to outflank the criminals and take them down after being on their tale for weeks. It’s an extremely intense and chaotic scene, filled with great characters, amazing camerawork, and perfect mood. This, and Heat as a whole, inspired The Dark Knight. And for good reason.
Best Moment: Hanna gets the drop on Michael, one of the robbers who has taken a child hostage as he runs through the street, and puts him down with a single well-timed bullet.
1. The Trio – The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly
The heart-stopping finale to an epic Western, the final shootout in The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly is all about the buildup, creating tension until it becomes unbearable. Here, The Man with No Name, Angel Eyes, and Tuco confront one another in the middle of a Civil War-era cemetery over the fate over $200,000 in gold buried in one of the graves. After nearly three epic hours that crisscross the United States and cause all three characters to form relationships and betray one another, pitting them against one another all at once means that the outcome could go any which way. As the combatants take their places, director Sergio Leone builds the tension to an unbearable degree as the men wait for one another to draw and take each other out, all while composer Ennio Morricone’s score blasts louder and louder. It’s a magnificent piece that tops off one of the greatest films of all time in spectacular fashion.
Best Moment: The three men finally draw on one another. If you’ve never seen it, I won’t spoil it for you here.
Honorable Mentions: Taxi Driver, High Noon, The Shootist, Shane, Witness