20. The Outsiders
19. The War of the Roses
Dark comedy? How about black hole comedy. That last, and final, altercation between Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner is, like the ones that preceded it, at times amusing, macabre and over-the-top. But that last, final gesture? Ouch.
18. Enter the Dragon
Wherein Bruce Lee makes himself a legend. For all time.
17. The Godfather
In addition to being quite gratifying (the bullying wifebeater Carlo getting slapped around by someone his own size), it’s also a nice bit of art imitating life—which is not typical for fight scenes. When Sonny, out of breath from the beating he’s just dished out, says “You touch my sister again I’ll kill ya”, it’s not merely a statement of fact, it’s masterful acting from James Caan. A lesser thespian would have shouted the lines, unable to resist this golden opportunity to grandstand. It’s likely that Caan’s restraint is partially or entirely due to the fact that he’d witnessed—and probably delivered—ass-kickings like this in his own life and didn’t need to talk the actorly talk because everyone knew he could walk the bare-knuckled walk.
16. Old Boy
Wherein Dae Su (the great Choi Min-Sik) drops the hammer, pun intended, on a bunch of hoods. Improbable, over-the-top, essential.
15. Eastern Promises
Because you’re never more vulnerable than when you’re naked. In public. In a steam bath. Being attacked by gangsters wielding curved knives.
14. Raiders of the Lost Ark
Indy fighting the big bald Nazi? Indy fighting a Nazi inside, on top of and underneath a moving vehicle? Yes, to both. But we all know which scene takes top billing. It is perfection, period, but knowing the story behind it makes it a million times better. Struggling with a case of dysentery, Harrison Ford squashed weeks of rehearsed sword play (the original scene was intended to be a sword vs. whip showcase) and allegedly said “Let’s just shoot the sucker.” It’s a shot still heard ‘round the world.
How to choose a single selection from the embarrassment of riches that is the James Bond filmography? Not possible, but 007’s dance of death with Odd Job is as agreeable an example of the violence cut with humor and quirky cleverness that these films specialized in. Also, too: Sean Connery.
A delicious palette cleanser, we can forever appreciate the sine qua non of campy superhero fight scenes, and what better arena than Adam West’s Batman, the ultimate in caped-crusading camp. This is the all-in Battle Royale (with cheese), a brawl that involves all the assorted players, because duh. And the capper, when our hero saves the cat from drowning with the winking send-off “Bon voyage pussy!”. Holy blissful extravagance, Batman!
Speaking of camp, does it get any better (e.g., worse) than Patrick Swayze? The movie is at once sui generis and meta, deeply aware—and proud—of its shamelessness. But most folks would agree, the final fight scene is a tour de force of semi-farce; it has so much homoerotic energy it almost services itself. Where in the earlier scuffles you can fear the mullets while simultaneously contemplating who is gayer: Swayze (RIP), the great Ben Gazzara (RIP!) or the dude with the pool cue. You know, the one who used to fuck guys like Dalton in prison (!!).