Yep, a top whatever number list. This is by no means definitive, as I’m sure there are plenty of films out there I haven’t seen that potentially have fight scenes better than what is listed here. However, I do consider myself to have enough knowledge and experience with action scenes throughout the years to make a list like this.
Now, when I mean top fight scenes, this does not include any that involves projectiles. No guns, no shurikens, no lasers, none of that bullshit. These fights have to mainly involve hands, fists, knives, swords, etc. I mean, theoretically, I suppose you could throw a knife and call that a projectile, but there are also action scenes where someone rips another guy’s arm off and beats him to death with it and throws it at someone, thus making a dismembered arm a projectile. For all you know, someone could slice limbs off and karate kick those limbs at their opponents while the limbs are still in mid-air from being sliced off. There’s always a way to bend/break the rule. Regardless, I’ll do my best to stick with those standards. Sorry John Wick fans.
First, some runners up:
Basically anything from The Empire Strikes Back and onwards, they put on some pretty damn great sword duels. Though I did find the one in The Force Awakens to be lacking (along with the rest of the movie). Honestly, out of all of them, my favorite is the battle from Empire Strikes Back, and here’s why. They fight like samurai in that film, while in the prequel trilogy they’re more like circus acrobats, showing off just for the sake of showing off. But it’s not just the grounding (ie providing some semblance of realism in a sci-fi fantasy film) that makes it good, let alone the choreography. It’s also the story the fight tells, how Luke shows that he definitely has potential to be a great jedi and is capable of besting Vader, but is inexperienced and too emotional, while Vader has complete control over his emotions and knows exactly what he’s doing and what he’s involved in. And this is all told as the fight progresses, Luke starting off with some confidence, knowing that he is scared, but believes this must be done. And he demonstrates that he is capable of challenging Vader, besting him in brief instances, only for Vader to turn the tables by using his force powers on Luke to show how out of his depth he really is, and wears him down until he is cornered. The changing of the scenery matches with all this as well, the red lights demonstrating the fear Luke has and the aura of Vader’s reputation, to the bright tunnel showing that Luke has confidence amidst the darkness, to things darkening and running out of color to show that it really is hopeless for Luke. And throughout all this, we eventually realize Vader is testing Luke, leading up to the twist that brings to light Vader’s true motivation, and provides more depth and an intriguing backstory for Luke. A combination of story and choreography truly makes it a fight to remember, while the rest are fun just for the spectacle rather than the depth. That being said, just about all my entries are more for the spectacle than anything else, so consider me a hypocrite when it comes to the other entries.
This film has a couple fairly decent fight scenes, but the one that stood out was the absolutely classic Street Fighter parody fight. I swear, this is a better Street Fighter film than any of the live action films just because of this scene. Yeah, it’s goofy and cheesy as hell, but at least it’s accurate to the games goddamnit!
Way of the Dragon and Fists of Fury
I respect the Bruce Lee vs. Chuck Norris fight more than I enjoyed it. Fists of Fury, on the other hand, had much better fights, but none that I thought stood out enough for this list. But don’t worry, Bruce Lee won’t be excluded from this list. I’m going to include what I consider to be his best work. Stay tuned.
Come on, it’s a WWF fight put onto film. Plus it goes on forever, which adds to the humor of it all. This fight had to be brought up just because.
Probably never heard of this movie have ya? Honestly, I’d almost recommend it, except that this fight does the one thing I fucking hate in any fight scene ever. Having the good guy receive one hell of a one-sided beat down, only occasionally getting in a hit or two, before shrugging it all off and beating the bad guy to death in a quarter of the entire fight time. It’s bullshit, but I can’t help but admire the amount of work and effort that must’ve gone into this. Hate it too much to like it, but enjoyed the first 3/4ths to much to ignore it.
Scott Adkins, this guy is never going to get a fair shot in Hollywood because Hollywood is run by hacks, pedophiles, molesters, left-wing nuts, and just plain old-fashioned cocksuckers. Thankfully that won’t stop Adkins from outputting decent martial arts films. Personally, I think his best film is Ninja II (the first Ninja film isn’t all that great, though it is worth watching just to see a central character from that film get offed pretty damn fast in the sequel, to the point where it just becomes fucking hilarious after all the effort made to save said individual’s life in the first film). But this movie Special Forces contains what is arguably his best fight.
Well, that’s enough of the warm-up, time for the actual films. Don’t consider the ordering definitive.
Actual Top 20 List
#20 Universal Soldier: Regeneration
Jeanne Claude Van Damme vs. Dolph Lundgren. A sequel that’s better than the original, and on a lower budget too. In fact, Scott Adkins would go on to star in the sequel to this one, which also isn’t a half-bad movie in of itself. What makes this fight stand out is seeing how much power these two have behind their punches, smashing through walls left and right, falling several stories to the ground, and having a gnarly ending. And it all works because we know that these are super soldiers, stronger, faster, and more durable than the average soldier. Basically something you would hope for in a Dragon Ball movie (you know, before those freaks got so strong they didn’t even wince at bullets).
#19 Rapid Fire
Poor Brandon Lee, dying before his time. At least he managed one decent fight scene that manages to strive towards that of Bruce Lee. Brandon Lee vs. Al Leong. The movie itself is just so-so. It’s a decent enough watch, so-bad-it’s-good at some points (Brandon Lee’s acting wasn’t as good as it would be in The Crow), but managed to keep me entertained.
The fights are fun, but as the film goes on, things start to get a bit monotonous. That being said, the finale at the apartment complex provided that extra “Ooomph!” to make it stand out from everything preceding it. Plus it’s great to see a martial arts flick with a woman who can kick ass, and is choreographed well enough to make it seem like she is capable of kicking ass, and not having too many of those bullshit fast cuts to cover up the fact that the girl isn’t capable of kicking ass like this. Although this sequence does raise 2 questions. 1.) Just how many minions does this villain have at his disposal, considering how many got offed prior to this scene? 2.) Why the fuck don’t these idiots take a hint? Seriously, doesn’t it ever get to the point where they have to start thinking, “Ok, we’re not capable of kicking this girl’s ass. You’re on your own boss.”? Made me a fan of Jeeja Yanin, who would go on to display more of her talent in Raging Phoenix among others.
#17 BKO: Bangkok Knockout
I’m not going to lie, this movie really isn’t that great. The story sucks all kinds of ass, and you’re not going to give a shit about any of the characters. The only thing that makes this film worth watching is all the fight scenes that are littered throughout this film. Seriously, the whole thing is basically non-stop fighting scenes. While they’re all fun in their own way, the stand-out fight is the cage fight. I’m amazed that this was pulled off without wire-work (or if there was wires involved, it was used pretty damn well because I couldn’t tell).
#16 Man of Tai Chi
Keanu Reeves, he knows what he’s doing when it comes to making martial arts films. This film delivers on providing bitchin’ martial arts fights. It does have its shares of issues however, mainly how dumb the villains get when it comes to handling this female cop who’s onto them. Plus they threw away their opportunity for what could’ve been the best fight in the last 20 years by having the protagonist Tiger Chen puss out on fighting Iko Uwais (that guy from The Raid films, more on that later). But despite that, there’s still some great fights, including the finale fight between Chen and Reeves. It’s the one fight that made me go, “Hey, Keanu’s still got it!” This was before John Wick came out for the record.
#15 Game of Death
Now this. This is Bruce Lee’s magnum opus. It would’ve put all his other films to shame if he completed it, but he didn’t. He died before he could finish it. Because of that, they scrapped what footage they could and put it into a piss-poor excuse for a Bruce Lee film. If you want to see this as it was originally intended (minus any footage Bruce Lee didn’t shoot), then go watch the documentary A Warrior’s Journey, which is a special feature on some editions of Way of the Dragon (not the 40th anniversary edition unfortunately), which is not only a solid documentary on the man, the myth, the legend, but also compiles all that footage Lee shot, and shows it the way Lee originally wanted. Bruce Lee facing off against 3 men, 1 on a different level of the tower Lee is climbing for the treasures at the top (sounds like inspiration for some videogames doesn’t it?). The highlight is the first fight, a nun-chuck fight. Don’t think I’ve seen that replicated in any other movie, save for a brief duration during the finale of Black Dynamite.
#14 Dragons Forever
Jackie Chan vs. Benny “The Jet” Urquidez. I’d say more, but I’m going to save that for a later entry below. Let’s just say this particular film is a bit special for Jackie Chan, as this would be the last film he would do with his pals Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. This was their swan song movie, and it didn’t disappoint.
#13 Special ID
Ah, Donnie Yen. No top fight list is complete without him showing up somewhere. This particular fight scene demonstrates the influence of mixed martial arts, UFC stuff, making its mark in films. The way they fight and the mixing of submission moves demonstrates a shift in martial arts films, though I don’t believe this shift caught too much weight. It showed signs early on with Flash Point (was tempted to add that, but decided on this one instead), and it matured greatly here. The MMA style looked more natural in this film.
#12 Ip Man
Yep, Donnie again. While this movie is good, I don’t hold it in as high of regard as most people seem to. That being said, the whole thing is worth watching just to get to this amazing fight in the middle section where Donnie takes on 10 men in a dojo. Easily the best moment in the movie.
The infamous long take that inspired all other long take fight sequences. One man against an army. Absolutely incredible sequence.
#10 Wheels on Meals
Ah, and here’s the first time Jackie Chan fought against Benny “The Jet” Urquidez. Their first encounter so good, audiences demanded it happen again, which it did in Dragons Forever. This was also when Jackie Chan was teaming up with his two buddies and making several films with them, including Project A among others. But it’s the fight between Jackie Chan and Urquidez that makes this film stand out. Benny is a fucking beast. I swear, this guy moves as fast as Bruce Lee. Not to mention, in reality, Benny had gone undefeated in the kickboxing world. And Jackie Chan said something during post-production, jokingly of course, that he could probably whip Benny’s ass anytime he wanted just like he did in the film. Well, soon after that, Benny met Jackie outside, and challenged him, basically all like, “If you were being serious, try me out right here right now.” Jackie backed down, stating it was just a joke.
#9 Ip Man 2
I’m hesitant to put another Ip Man film on here. But screw it, I like this fight. Donnie Yen returns in the sequel in a finale that I consider to be better than that of the previous film. Fairly intense fight where Ip Man takes on someone who is clearly stronger than him.
#8 The Girl from Naked Eye
The movie itself, it’s not all that special. And if it wasn’t for this fight sequence, it would be forgettable. But it has this 4-on-1 fight near the end that is not only a long take, but it looks completely believable. This seriously looks like something that could be pulled off in real life. Everyone gets more and more exhausted and out of breath as the fight goes on, and the protagonist doesn’t get out of it easily. The protagonist gets the shit kicked out of him, and it shows. Yet he manages to overcome the odds. More believable than the Oldboy fight sequence, and quite possible the most realistic and grounded many-vs.-one fight sequence ever put on film. I guess it’s because it’s not that well-known that made me push it so high on the list, but it’s not like I couldn’t change my mind sometime down the line. It’s unfortunate that the main star, Jason Yee, hasn’t really been in anything else noteworthy, save for The Dark Knight Rises. He never really got to show off his martial arts skills in anything else that’s notable.
#7 The Legend of Drunken Master
Jackie Chan again (this will be the last one with him, I promise). This is my favorite film of his. It’s so good that there are 2 fights in this film that I think are equally good, so I couldn’t just pick one. Jackie vs. the axe gang, with awesome use of bamboo. And the finale fight, of course, include a portion where Jackie falls onto a giant bed of fiery coals that makes me cringe every time I see it. Oh, and the finale took several months to film. The quality shows.
#6 Tom Yum Goong (aka The Protector)
Finally, Tony Jaa makes an appearance. This was the film that made me a fan of his. Christ, several great fights in this film, I’d hate to only choose one. But I’ll only choose one, the long take going up several flights of stairs. Oh, and if you ever see this movie, be sure to see the Thai cut, the Tom Yum Goong version. Increases the length of some fight scenes and makes the film flow more naturally.
#5 The Man From Nowhere (aka Uncle)
A knife fight during the finale. Short and sweet. Not much else to say. Bin Won vs. Thanayong Wongtrakul.
#4 SPL: Killzone
Donnie Yen again, and this will also be the last one for him on this list. This time he faces off against Wu Jing. A knife against baton fight that has an unbelievable speed and pace to it. I don’t know of any other duo who could’ve pulled this off.
#3 Tiger on the Beat
The finale in this movie is the best finale I’ve ever seen in an action film ever. Can’t say the entire finale made this list because, well, guns and bullets are involved. However, there is one thing that manages to be better than the gunfights. A chainsaw duel with Conan Lee. This chainsaw duel makes the one in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and Motel Hell look like pillow fights by comparison.
No video for it, but here’s a link to a site that does: http://www.ebaumsworld.com/videos/a-movies-epic-chainsaw-fight/82993805/
#2 Ong Bak 2
The entire finale. Man, Tony Jaa doesn’t just do hand to hand combat and use different martial arts styles in a few situations, but also uses multiple types of weapons, and fight around and on top of an elephant. How can you not love this sequence?
#1 The Raid 2
There’s Iko Uwai again. This demonstrates why Tiger Chen should’ve fought against him in Man of Tai Chi. The last major fight scene in the film. Going from hand to hand fighting, until the villain realizes he can’t win in a fair fight, so then knives get involved and ratchet up the tension, along with the blood drops. Going up against Cecep Arif Rahman.
To close this out, I’m taking this discussion away from movie fights and towards a fight that matters, that affects all Internet users. December 14th, the FCC and that cocksucker Ajit Pai are going to vote to end Net Neutrality. This isn’t the first time the FCC threatened to destroy it, but it could be the last, if they succeed. Because if they fail to end net neutrality, they will try again 1-2 years after that, and if they fail, another 1-2 years after that, and on and on until it is repealed. So protest, go to battleforthenet.com, call your congressmen who likely won’t listen to you, do what you can to let your voice be heard even if big corporations like Verizon and Comcast will do everything they can to drown you out. This is something worth fighting for. Honestly, the best we can hope for is to delay, delay, delay, until someone like Kim Dotcom finishes creating some alternative to the Internet that will hopefully last just as long if not longer, until the whole process repeats again. Don’t let these assholes throttle and block without a fight.