Who doesn’t love a great fight? Sometimes an epic brawl can singlehandedly save a movie. You might even see some of those on this list. By delving into this mere topic, fights may actually break out. Please remember this top ten isn’t law, but my own personal opinion of what the greatest movie fights are.
There’s a lot of factors that went into this. The build up to the fight. The emotion. How it was made. What the story and character dynamics were. The spectacle. The iconic moments. I took all these elements into consideration, but at the end of the day, I went with what I simply enjoyed the most. All I can do is give you my reasoning. Some of these you’ll agree with. Some of them will make you angry as hell.
Two important ground rules before we get rolling:
1. Only one fight per franchise.
2. Only one-on-one fights were included.
So before everyone gets their undies in a bunch, stuff like the Kingsman church brawl and the end of Kill Bill Vol. 1 were not eligible. Get over it.
Alright, I think that’s enough preambles. Let’s just dive in, baby! I present to you my…
Top 10 Greatest Movie Fights!
(spoilers for all the fights mentioned)
Honorable Mention: Happy Gilmore Vs. Bob Barker (Happy Gilmore)
The Setting: A Golf Course
I’m heartbroken this didn’t make the final cut, but at least I have an excuse to mention it. This fight is one of the funniest scenes I’ve ever seen in my life.
Instead of punching the Red Lobster Guy who continuously berates Happy, he ends up decking Bob Barker. First of all, the sound effects are amazing. This is also a legitimately well-staged bout. The intensity on Barker’s face and the controlled punches are beautiful. Barker is incredible.
From there, it just gets looney. Happy tries to swipe Barker with his club. They roll down a hill. Then you get the Happy head butt which leads to one of the most iconic comedic lines of the nineties: “The price is wrong bitch.”
Back when the MTV Movie Awards were cool, this won Best Fight. Well deserved.
10. Max Rockatansky Vs. Blaster (Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome)
The Setting: The Bartertown Thunderdome
“Two men enter. One man leaves.”
Anyone who’s seen the Mad Max movies knows Beyond Thunderdome is the weirdest one of them all, but this fight is easily the best part of the entire movie.
After all his supplies are ransacked, Max wanders into Bartertown, a warped society that relies solely on methane from pig feces. Yes. You read that correctly. While Bartertown is run by Aunty Entity (played surprisingly well by Tina Turner), she’s at constant odds with Master, a little person who controls the entire methane supply. While Master is no physical threat, he controls Blaster, who looks like Goro’s younger brother. Aunty Entity makes a deal with Max – defeat Blaster in Thunderdome, and she’ll give him whatever he needs to continue wandering the wasteland.
This fight makes the list for how bizarre it is. Max and Blaster are put in a domed cage that looks like an evil version of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. The music plays it up too. The ramp up to the fight is almost the best part, with Dr. Dealgood playing ringmaster. I’m hoping Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster takes a lot of cues from this guy in Thor: Ragnarok.
The two fighters are strapped to harnesses with deadly weapons hanging everywhere. It’s awesome. We see them use mallets, spears and even bats with nails!
The only reason this comes in at the bottom is because the chainsaw fizzles out. Come on! You can’t tease a chainsaw and then not use it! Aside from that, it’s a grimy, down and dirty fight that leaves you totally satisfied.
9. Lee Vs. Han (Enter the Dragon)
The Setting: Han’s Dojo
There’s no way a Best Fight list would be complete without a Bruce Lee entry. First of all, if you haven’t seen Enter the Dragon, for the love of Raiden, please do. It’s legendary.
This is of course the final fight between Lee and the movie’s primary antagonist, Han. One of the best parts about this fight is how they tease the mirrors and claws throughout the movie.
The fight begins, and on face value, it’s just a damn good fight. The intensity is all over the place. The fight sounds are quick and crisp. Han gains an advantage with the Vega claws, but even when Lee gets struck, he licks his own blood. Bad ass.
As the fight goes on, another intricate layer is added: the room of mirrors. This is pure tension. Lee slowly maneuvers around the room, as we see little glimpses of him pop up within the mirrors. It’s gut-wrenching.
The only reason this fight falls low is because the mirror gimmick goes on a bit long. Eventually, Lee just breaks all the damn mirrors. It ends with a bang though, as Han gets impaled on his own spear. Beautiful.
It’s a great fight, honoring the great legend that is Bruce Lee.
8. Superman Vs. General Zod (Man of Steel)
The Setting: Metropolis
“Seriously, Dan! You have this garbage as one of the greatest movie fights of all time! YOU SUCK!” (everyone on the internet).
I imagine this will be the most controversial fight on here. I get it. Not only is this a huge CGI-fest, but it also became the focal point for all the Man of Steel controversy to follow.
Here’s the bottom-line: If you love Man of Steel, you understand why this makes the list. If not, there’s no way I’m going to convince you.
The way it begins beautifully sums up General Zod’s character:
“I exist only to protect Krypton. That is the sole purpose for which I was born. And every action I take, no matter violent or how cruel, is for the greater good of my people. And now…I have no people. My soul. That is what you have taken from me!”
In that moment, you realize General Zod is just a victim of Krypton’s artificial society. He was only doing what he was born to do. Protect Krypton. Even after General Zod kills thousands of people, you almost feel bad for him. That’s a great villain. Even the way Superman looks at him gleans sympathy. Unfortunately, it’s undercut by Superman’s “You’re a monster” line. That should have been cut.
As far as the fight goes, you can say what you want, but it’s a spectacle to behold. This is Zack Snyder at his best. Yes, it’s CGI overload, but damn it if it doesn’t look epic as hell. I really felt like I was watching two Gods fight. The Hans Zimmer score is outstanding. You even get great lines such as, “Where did you train? On a farm!” Excellent.
Then we get that ending. Superman has no choice. He has to kill Zod. It destroys him, and Henry Cavill lets out a visceral scream for the ages. The quiet Zimmer score plays out as Lois comforts him. It’s perfect. It’s one of my favorite superhero scenes of all time. Powerful.
At the end of the day, this is just a personal preference for what I look for in superhero movies. I prefer this over a dancing Doctor Strange cape, but whatever. To each his own.
7. Rama Vs. The Assassin (The Raid 2)
The Setting: A Really Nice Kitchen
As far as pure fight mechanics go this is probably the greatest movie fight of all time. The only reason it’s not higher is because even though I like this movie, it didn’t blow me away. I just wasn’t that into the characters. Even in this last fight, Rama fights someone who isn’t all that important to the plot. Nevertheless, this gets in on pure, bare bones martial arts.
As the two fighters slowly get into position, you feel like you’re about to witness something special. From there, I really don’t have much else to say. If you’ve seen this fight, you know it speaks for itself. Harsh. Brutal. Violent. Completely and utterly bonkers. I could watch it ten times in a row.
I also love the way it ends. Right before the final kill, notice how the two fighters get in close, almost like they hug each other at how awesome a fight they just had. The music ramps up beautifully and then it just ends. Rama rips a blade into the Assassin’s neck, turns, and pulls the blade out. We’re done here.
6. Batman Vs. Bane (Part I) (The Dark Knight Rises)
The Setting: Below Gotham City
Much like Man of Steel, this movie also has its haters. While you could argue this isn’t much of a fight, that doesn’t matter. It makes the list for one reason: Bane’s dialogue. This is some of the greatest villain dialogue ever spoken in a motion picture.
Everything Bane says is riveting, very Darth Vader-esque. Everything from “Peace has cost you your strength. Victory has defeated to you” to Bane’s menacing monologue about living in darkness fits the character like a glove. On that monologue, listen to the way Tom Hardy delivers that last word (“blinding”) as he grabs Batman’s throat. It’s movie villainy at its finest.
Aside from the dialogue though, it’s how the fight is constructed. It drives me up the wall when people complain this fight is bad because it isn’t staged well, or Batman’s martial arts skills aren’t adequately reflected. Blah. Blah. Blah. Cry me a river. That’s the point! This fight is supposed to be raw and messy. Batman is out of shape. The Rocky III comparisons are dead on. Batman is undisciplined, which Bane even references when he says “You fight like a young man.”
The whole idea here is seeing Batman at his lowest point. As we watch him try and use all his Batman tricks like smoke bombs and the darkness, Bane is twenty steps ahead of him. Batman looks pathetic. Again, that’s the point. And just from a brutality standpoint, it’s difficult to watch Batman get slaughtered. All of Batman’s screaming and grunting are feeble.
Despite all that, Batman still gets in one great verbal shot at Bane:
“You were excommunicated by a gang of psychopaths.”
Watch Tom Hardy’s eyes there. Bane gets pissed. It’s enough to make him stop punching Batman for just a second, right before he completely unloads. Outstanding. This movie proves once again that Tom Hardy is the greatest eye actor of all time.
Then there’s the end where you get two OMFG moments. The decision not to have music was a great call, until it seeps in at the very end when Bane breaks Batman’s back. Then it all ends with Bane nonchalantly tossing away Batman’s cracked mask.
You can throw the plot hole BS and nit-pick complaints all you want at this movie, but I’ll defend this sequence every day of the week.
5. Arthur Vs. Robert’s Subconscious (Inception)
The Setting: Arthur’s Dream, the Hallway
For those who don’t know the ArcLight Cinema in Los Angeles, there’s one theater they have called the Dome where the screen is sort of circular. Inception is the first and last movie I ever saw there. After I watched it, I vowed never to see a movie in there again. I want my only memory to be that movie, specifically this fight sequence.
I’ve never been more impressed visually by a sequence than this one. Watching Joseph Gordon-Levitt fight a guy while walking on a ceiling is still one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in a movie theater.
This fight takes place in Arthur’s dream, but of course in Nolan’s beautiful world, the dream below them (or above them?) affects what’s happening, as Yusuf’s car flips down a hill in the first dream layer.
The only reason this isn’t higher is because the fight is criminally short. The way it ends though is smooth, and the ultimate exclamation point:
If you want a new appreciation for how Nolan pulled this off, I strongly recommend watching CineFix’s “Art of a Scene.” Even if you’re a Nolan hater, there’s no way you don’t get some level of appreciation for how this masterpiece came to fruition.
4. Daniel LaRusso Vs. Johnny Lawrence (The Karate Kid)
The Setting: The All-Valley Karate Tournament
Of course this fight had to make the cut. You could even say it’s the best around. Sorry. The Karate Kid really is a brilliant movie, and this is where it all comes to a head.
The build-up is almost just as important. Throughout the movie, Mr. Miyagi has taught Daniel just about everything there is no know about life. The biggest theme of all though is balance. Finding balance. As Daniel lies on the bench with his injured leg, Miyagi tells him there’s nothing left to prove. What makes this such a good screenplay though is that Daniel ends up teaching Miyagi the same lessons he taught him. He won’t find balance if he can’t fight Johnny Lawrence, win or lose. Miyagi agrees.
“Daniel LaRusso’s going to fight? Daniel LaRusso’s going to fight!”
The fight itself is pretty good. It’s just a great back and forth between two teenagers who really hate each other. The reason this makes the upper half of the list though is because of all the iconic moments:
“Sweep the leg!”
“Get him a body bag!”
Over thirty years later, those lines are still parodied and referenced to this day.
It all ends with one of the most inspirational moments ever in a motion picture. You know it’s coming. The score is a masterpiece. Here it comes…
The crane kick.
3. Frank Dux Vs. Chong Li (Bloodsport)
The Setting: The Kumite
I’m not going to sit here and tell you Bloodsport is this incredible masterpiece in filmmaking, but it has stuck with me for a long time. Yes, it’s the ultimate in 80’s cheesemo, but it’s just so damn good at it. The set-up is simple: the best fighters in the world gather for an underground tournament (the Kumite) that takes place once every five years. There are no rules. People even die.
You have Jean-Claude Van Damme at the top of his game battling the ultimate movie villain in Chong Li, played by Bolo Yeung, who’s also in Enter in the Dragon. We know when the Kumite starts that these two are going to fight in the final match. The entire film builds to this moment, squeezing in every ounce of hype possible. It’s glorious.
In the fight right before, we see Chong Li at his most menacing when he kills a guy. As everyone offers a moment of silence for the fighter, Chong Li points to Dux and screams “You are next!” This is during the moment of silence! What a scumbag.
Then the fight begins. The ring is even set up differently. There’s still dried blood on it. Chong Li wears the piece of Ray Jackson’s Harley Davidson shirt on his leg, Dux’s friend who Li slaughtered earlier in the tournament. And if that weren’t enough, right before the fight begins, Chong Li gets in one last line of movie villainy:
“You break my record. Now I break you. Like I break you friend.”
It’s on. The music. The martial arts. Of course, Chong Li has to resort to cheating. Dux goes blind. He remembers back to his earlier training though where he actually fought blind.
Then, at the very end, Dux humiliates Chong Li by making him say “matte,” which means to submit. This movie leaves no stone unturned between their rivalry, and this final masterpiece of a fight is the culmination.
I love Bloodsport. If they ever remake it, I’ll go crazy.
2. Rocky Balboa Vs. Ivan Drago (Rocky IV)
The Setting: Russia
We all knew a Rocky fight was coming. The question is which one would it be. I want to make this clear – the original Rocky is obviously the better movie. No question. From a writing/filmmaking standpoint, that first fight between Rocky and Apollo Creed means more. The reason I picked this one though is because from a pure entertainment standpoint, it doesn’t get much better than this fight. When I think of movie fights, this is always the first image that comes to mind. There is just so much to unpack here, it’s ridiculous. I’m sure 95% of the boxing here is illegal, but I don’t care.
First of all, the back drop of the fight can’t be ignored. As we all know, Rocky IV ended the Cold War. Kidding (but am I?). Having said that, it does add a layer of cultural significance that makes this particular Rocky movie uncommon.
The build up to this fight is like Frank Dux Vs. Chong Li on steroids (literally). Again, it’s a clichéd idea, but it works. Drago kills Apollo. Rocky feels responsible. He has to fight Drago. There’s no way in hell he can win.
After a nice moment between Rocky and Paulie, we get the whole Russian national anthem, as Drago is treated like a god. They greet each other in the ring. We get the iconic “I must break you” line and we’re off and running.
Out of all the fights on this list, this is by far the most entertaining. It leaves it all out on the field. It’s one of the rare times where you can’t go too over the top. The music. The montages. The split screens. The punching. Rocky gets bludgeoned.
You see the first two rounds in real time, which is usually a Rocky movie’s modus operandi. When you see how hard Rocky trains for this fight, it’s disheartening how badly he gets obliterated in the opening round. It’s not until the second round where Rocky actually cuts Ivan Drago. It’s the first time you see worry on Drago’s face.
It’s remarkable how much drama goes on during this fight. Not only are these guys beating the living daylights out of each other, but you also get the stare downs between the two wives. The politburo watches on and gets increasingly nervous. Not only that, but the Russian people actually start cheering for the American! This is 1985! And you know what the crazy part is? You kind of buy it.
It’s still all about the fight though. One of my favorite moments is right before the second to last round. Rocky and Drago have this intense stare down as the music syncs up beautifully. If you want a good running mix, go to iTunes and download the actual Rocky IV score, not the soundtrack. This version has the actual score music from the movie.
What cements this as one of the greatest fights in movie history though is the final round. First of all, they give Drago actual character development. Throughout the movie, he’s been this simple, overbearing guy who doesn’t say much, but he’s not going to be anyone’s puppet when he screams at the politburo: “I win for me. For me!” Awesome.
Even though we know Rocky is going to win at the end, the final round is intense as hell. The announcers say it best: “This is just a street fight.” The music builds up. We get the Adrian “You’re gonna do it!” cheer, as Rocky finally knocks Drago down.
To cap it all off, we get the big Rocky speech to close out the movie (“EVERYBODY CAN CHANGE!”). Is it a little cheesy? Yeah, but it’s also a pretty poignant speech that not only sums up the movie, but sums up what was happening in the world at that time. It’s not anything that united the world, but it was a nice little moment for Rocky, and a well delivered performance from Sylvester Stallone.
Rocky IV has its warts, but it’s the pure definition of a crowd-pleaser.
1. Luke Skywalker Vs. Darth Vader (Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back)
The Setting: Cloud City
Sorry I don’t have some big surprise winner, but if you’re going through this entire countdown and noticed there wasn’t a Star Wars entry yet, it stands to reason it would show up here. I could have gone with Return of the Jedi, or even a couple of the prequel bouts that are very strong, but obviously the iconic duel from The Empire Strikes Back between Luke and Vader takes the cake. Not only is it the most iconic fight there is, but it’s one of the more well regarded scenes in all of cinema.
I’m not going to sit here and write about the buildup. We all know what the buildup is. Luke runs off to face the man he thinks killed his father, but of course the fight ends with Luke learning something very different. That’s why this is #1. Anymore questions?
Other than that though, this is one of the most riveting scenes of all time. The way it begins. The location. The humming of the lightsabers. Everything. Luke shoots up the elevator. It’s dark. There’s smoke. Then we hear Vader breathing, immediately followed by one of my favorite Star Wars lines of all time:
“The force is with you young Skywalker. But you are not a Jedi yet.”
As great as the Bane dialogue is from earlier in the countdown, it pales in comparison to Vader: “All too easy.” “Impressive. Most impressive.” You even get Luke talking back to Vader at one-point: “You’ll find I’m full of surprises.” That’s another reason I love this fight. It begins with Vader toying with Luke, like Bill Belichick would a rookie quarterback. As the fight goes on though, Luke gets better. You notice Vader goes from holding his lightsaber with one hand to two. I love those little touches. Of course Vader absolutely annihilates him when he actually uses the force, but even before getting his hand sliced off, Luke gets in one good shot to the arm.
This is one of those movie discussions where there isn’t a whole lot more I can add. It’s hard to argue with this being the greatest movie fight of all time, especially when you factor in all the emotional weight.
It’s a classic duel between two iconic movie characters sword fighting on a catwalk in a city of clouds. It’s one of the reasons why many consider this the best Star Wars movie of all time, and by a bigger extension, the greatest film of all time.