Total Recall

Total Recall: RT's Favorite Gunfights

We revisit our favorite scenes of bullets and carnage.

by | October 12, 2009 | Comments

We at Rotten Tomatoes abhor violence — in the real world, anyway. However,
expertly-staged gunplay is one of the reasons we love going to the movies —
there’s nothing like the catharsis of cinematic shootouts. Thus, we’ve compiled
a list of our favorite movie gunfights — scenes that left our ears ringing and
our pulses quickened. However, these are just our faves (spoilers, language, and some mild violence abound obviously!) — this list is by no
means definitive. RT users, chime in — what are your favorites?


The Fifth Element

It’s probably in Bruce Willis’s contract that if he gets cast as the
reluctant hero, he’s obligated to kick serious ass at least once
throughout the proceedings. Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element is such a
strange cocktail of sci-fi, slapstick, and dramatic intrigue that it’s
hard to predict just what form said Willis asskickery would take. So it
occurs in the second-half and is so worth the wait: rubbery monsters
storm an opera house, the singer gets assassinated, and Willis, without
a gun at first, is in charge of saving a flamboyant Chris Tucker and a
mob of libertines. It’s an exhilarating firefight, replete with Besson’s
kinetic camerawork juxtaposed with Willis’s steely no-nonsense.



Perhaps no style of film has romanticized gunfights more than the
Western — and the somewhat cartoonish, largely consequence-free nature
of classic Western violence made the genre ripe for revisionist (and
more emotionally resonant) fare such as 1993’s Tombstone, which
depicts the unfortunately eventful “retirement” of legendary Wild West
lawman Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell), whose feud with a band of outlaws led
by “Curly Bill” Brocious (Powers Boothe) illustrates the sad echo of
violence — even of the righteous variety — and the horrible toll it
takes on a man’s soul. This scene, which recreates the oft-fetishized
Battle at the O.K. Corral, serves up a generous helping of satisfying
Hollywood shootout action, while making clear the black regret and
terrible destruction that lies in its real-life wake.


Bonnie and Clyde

Not every memorable gunfight is a battle among equals. Like the
Battle of Little Bighorn, the Tyson-Spinks fight, and Super Bowl XX, the
climactic shootout in Bonnie and Clyde is famous for being
absurdly one-sided. Bank-robbing sweethearts Bonnie Parker (Faye
Dunaway) and Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) certainly knew how to handle
firearms, but caught flat-footed by heavily armed g-men while helping a
friend-turned snitch change a tire, they didn’t stand a chance. One of
the key works in the “New Hollywood” era of the late 1960s and early
1970s, Bonnie and Clyde ushered in a period of more intense
onscreen violence — and made its protagonists countercultural martyrs.



“Gun Kata” might sound like something a group of especially
precocious second graders might make up for a playground fight during
recess, but in the world of Kurt Wimmer’s (admittedly rather Matrix-esque)
2002 dystopian sci-fi action epic Equilibrium, it’s the name of
a fun-to-watch martial art that allows its masters to determine where
their opponents will stand, stab, or shoot at any given moment. One such
master is John Preston (Christian Bale), who rebels against the
emotion-outlawing government of Libria by colluding with an underground
resistance to help assassinate the shadowy leader known as Father.
Preston is found out — and Father is, of course, not who he seems —
but not even a building full of machine gun-wielding guards can prevent
Preston from kata-ing his way straight to Father’s inner sanctum,
delivering a slew of eye-popping deaths as he goes…and saving the best
for last.



In a roundabout way, Tony Montana embodies the perseverance of the
human spirit. With a veritable army invading his house, he doesn’t stop
shooting (or swearing, for that matter), unloading round after round
from his machine gun despite facing the prospect of certain death.
Forget chewing the scenery — as the iconic drug lord, Al Pacino gobbles
it up, spits it out, and goes back for seconds. Not that that’s a bad
thing; if a scene requires an actor to shout “Say hello to my leetle
friend!” while discharging a grenade launcher, it’s preferable to have
someone who can deliver such a line with panache. Tony’s downfall might
have been inevitable, but if you’re gonna go down, it’s best to go down



Future California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger plows through an
army that’s only slightly smaller than the population of the Golden
State in Commando. As John Matrix (Best. Name. Ever),
Ah-nold is on the trail of Bennett, a former member of his elite
commando unit, who’s made the suicidal mistake of kidnapping Matrix’s
daughter. Matrix is remarkably calm while he’s mowing down Bennett’s
henchmen; later, he provides some priceless stress-management advice to
his nemesis: “Let off some steam, Bennett.” (The mansion where the
climactic shootout takes place is probably in need of repairs — it’s the
same place where Axel Foley took down Victor Maitland in Beverly
Hills Cop


Shoot ‘Em Up

American audiences have become so inured to the sights and sounds of
gunfights in the movies that sometimes, the only thing to do is give in
to the mind-numbing goofiness of it all and let loose with 86 minutes of
rock ’em, sock ’em barrels-blazin’ action — like, for instance, 2007’s
Shoot ‘Em Up, in which the mysterious, seemingly indestructible
Mr. Smith (Clive Owen) has an ammo-loaded custody battle over a baby who
is the unlikely target of a gang of thugs led by the madly sputtering
Hertz (Paul Giamatti). As per its title, the movie is stacked with
shootouts, but our favorite is this warehouse slaughter, which finds
Smith sending Hertz’s goons to their doom via a series of artfully
arranged, string-triggered guns that would have made Jim Henson proud.
(Actually, probably not, but they’re still pretty awesome.)


The Good, The Bad,
and the Ugly

Clint Eastwood has been involved in a lot of memorable shootouts over
the years, from Dirty Harry to last year’s Grand Torino.
But nothing can top the final scene in The Good, the Bad, and the
, in which the Man With No Name (Eastwood) stares down his
arch-nemesis Sentenza (Lee Van Cleef) and his occasional ally Tuco (Eli
Wallach). The Mexican standoff scene has been imitated in countless
films, but no one’s come close to duplicating it; Sergio Leone’s extreme
close-ups and Ennio Morricone’s thrillingly bombastic scoring make for a
scene that makes up in tension what it lacks in pure firepower.



Every time we think we’ve seen the absolute ultimate in highly
stylized, adrenaline-goosing cinematic action, technology — and a
director with an eye for unforgettable set pieces — comes long to prove
us wrong. Such was the case with 2008’s Wanted, which found
director Timur Bekmambetov turning the Mark Millar comic into a sleek,
giddy celebration of ridiculously over the top film violence. Wanted
overflows with gunplay, but for our money, the movie’s sweetest ride is
this opening shootout/high-speed chase, which pits the Fox (Angelina
Jolie) against an assassin named Cross (Thomas Kretschmann) in a battle
involving loads of high-tech weaponry, some remarkable acrobatic feats,
one sweet sports car, and, yes, curving bullets. Where’s that sequel?



Often, movie gunplay is used as a method of releasing tension in a
story, giving audiences a visceral thrill while pausing the serious
business of exposition and setting characters more or less free on the
canvas. In other cases, however, gunfights are actually used to increase
tension — and this interminable, nail-biting standoff between an LAPD
squad led by Lieutenant Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) and the crew of master
thief Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro), from Michael Mann’s 1995 action
classic Heat, is a perfect example, mainly because it all feels
so real — a messy blend of screaming
chaos and spooky, unnatural silence depicted in this scene.


The Wild Bunch

Pike Bishop (William Holden) sums up director Sam Peckinpah’s modus
operandi for The Wild Bunch thusly: “If they move, kill ’em.”
Peckinpah was a master of exhilarating, fatalistic onscreen violence,
and The Wild Bunch is probably his greatest work — as well as
his most controversial (because of the level of violence, the MPAA
threatened the film with an X rating). The Bunch is a gang of outlaws
who know their way of life is closing in on them — and don’t take well
to being betrayed by a corrupt warlord. The Bunch’s last stand is one of
the bloodiest scenes in movie history, and the film exerted a powerful
influence on everyone from John Woo to Quentin Tarantino.


The Killer

Few directors can match John Woo when it comes to staging balletic
onscreen violence. Woo’s oeuvre contains so many outrageously kinetic
set pieces that it’s difficult to choose just one. If pressed, we’d have
to go with the climactic shootout in The Killer, which is kind
of like the video for Prince’s “When Doves Cry” crossed with the finale
of Scarface. Woo’s Hong Kong films may be insanely bloody, but
what makes them resonate beyond their explosive energy are his deeply
moral characters; in The Killer, a hit man (Chow Yun-Fat) and a
cop (Danny Lee Sau-Yin) team up to protect a blind woman (Sally Yeh)
from the Triads. The extreme loyalty that binds this unlikely trio (and
the fact that they make their last stand in a church) lends heft to one
of the bloodiest shootouts in movie history.


Hot Fuzz

Director Edgar Wright and actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have
established themselves as the go-to guys for sharp, satirical commentary
on movies and pop culture with their imaginative BBC series Spaced
and their sendup of zombie movies, Shaun of the Dead. And with
a resume like that, they had high expectations to meet with their take
on buddy-cop action flicks, Hot Fuzz. Boy did they deliver!
Utilizing the same tongue-in-cheek humor and a conspiracy theory-themed
script, Hot Fuzz turns Pegg and Frost into the unlikeliest
action heroes since (Good) Will Hunting brought down the CIA and became
People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive. In the film’s climactic battle,
Pegg and Frost grab as many guns as they can carry and waltz through the
middle of their village-turned-cult headquarters, unloading buckets of
lead on everyone from the pub owners to the town priest and making for a
kinetic shootout sequence that would have done Michael Bay proud. It’s a
difficult task to walk the line between brutal and hilarious, but Hot
manages to do it with incredible panache – there are few
scenes in cinema capable of amping your adrenaline levels and making you
laugh all at once quite the same way this one does.


The International

The International‘s premise – namely that banks are
surreptitiously involved in acts of terrorism – is decidedly farfetched,
but it worked well enough to provide fodder for an action-packed,
globe-trotting conspiracy thriller. In fact, even if the story did leave
you scracthing your head a bit, one might argue that the film’s exotic
locales and explosive action at least merit a viewing. Architecture
figures heavily into the plot, and in one sequence in particular, the
Guggenheim Museum in New York plays host to one of the most interesting
and exciting gunfights in recent memory. Of course, they couldn’t really
allow Clive Owen and his pals blast the place to bits, so director Tom
Tykwer built a life-sized replica of the museum’s interior for the
occasion, complete with spiraling walkway. And thank goodness he did –
instead of a muted assassination sequence, we get 10 minutes of pure
destructive carnage that remind us fine art is a small price to pay for
a bit of fun with firearms.


The Matrix

Like an enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a mystery, nestled
within The Matrix’s mind-altering concept and moody atmosphere is quite
possibly modern cinema’s greatest gunfight. The movie holds many rewards
for the philosophical cineaste, but for those who are content with just
kung-fu and gunplay, the Wachowski present you…the lobby scene. Neo
and Trinity (Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss, respectively) enter a
building filled with bad guys, their trench coats lined with all manner
of firearms, and proceed to decimate everyone and everything on site
with bullets, judo chops, somersaults, and judicious use of awesome slo-mo.
Some movies try too hard to be cool; this one justifies all its
posturing and preening, and then some.

Trigger finger still itchy? Check out the rest of our Total Recall archives!

Finally, here’s a guy working hard honing his firearm technique — Don Knotts in The Shakiest Gun in the West:

Written by Tim Ryan, Jeff Giles, Ryan Fujitani, and Alex Vo.

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