Total Recall

Total Recall: The 20 Greatest Fights Scenes Ever

RT picks the 20 greatest fist fights of all time.

by | April 17, 2008 | Comments

This week, The Forbidden Kingdom, the long-awaited pairing of Jackie Chan and Jet Li, hits theaters. These two action legends have participated in many a fight over the years, so we figured it was a good time to count down some of the greatest movie brawls of all time.

With so many noteworthy celluloid scuffles to choose from, we felt we had to lay down some ground rules: no weapons allowed, and we’re looking for relatively even matches; we’ll cover the greatest beatdowns another time. These clips are often not for the squeamish, and some contain a good deal of profanity, so we’ve tagged those as NSFW. Without further ado, here are 20 of the greatest fight scenes of all time!

20. Road House (1989) 37%

Patrick Swayze vs. Ben Gazzara’s thugs
One of the most surreal entertainments ever cast out for mainstream consumption, Road House stars Patrick Swayze plays an NYU philosophy grad (!) who becomes a nationally-recognized bouncer (!!).This delirious camp classic features several over-the-top fight scenes; in this one, Swayze is joined by Sam Elliot (who’s sort of a Scottie Pippen to Swayze’s Michael Jordan in the bouncer game), and together, they tangle with the goons of the town’s evil plutocrat (Ben Gazzara) while the late, great Jeff Healy rocks out.

19. From Russia With Love (1963) 97%

Sean Connery vs. Robert Shaw
The James Bond movies have no shortage of memorable throwdowns (like this visceral battle on a stairwell in Casino Royale). One of the finest examples of 007’s superior hand skills is on display in this gritty, down-and-dirty fight from From Russia with Love. After setting off a smokescreen, Bond lays a hurting on SPECTRE assassin Red Grant in the closed quarters of a train cabin; the result is as vicious as anything in the Connery Bond films.

18. Bridget Jones's Diary (2001) 80%

Colin Firth vs. Hugh Grant
Though it’s one of the quintessential chick flicks of the last decade, Bridget Jones’s Diary takes time out from its titular character’s battles with her own self-esteem to feature a pretty brutal fight between two of her suitors. Colin Firth and Hugh Grant each land some devastating blows and kicks to the gut before soaring through a pane of glass. In addition, it’s almost certainly the greatest fight scene to feature “It’s Raining Men” on the soundtrack.

17. 2 Days in the Valley (1996) 62%

Charlize Theron vs. Teri Hatcher
Once Pulp Fiction hit, dozens of moderately budgeted, labyrinthine-plotted thrillers filled multiplexes, doing what they could to stand out. 2 Days in the Valley sets itself apart in a number of ways, not least of which is a hotel room-destroying donnybrook between Teri Hatcher and Charlize Theron. After trading some serious disses, our heroines trade punches and kicks, breaking a lot of glass in the process.

16. The Karate Kid (1984) 89%

Ralph Macchio vs. William Zabka
Repeat after me: “You’re the best/around/ nothin’s ever gonna keep you dowwwwnn!” The climactic fight in The Karate Kid may not feature the hyperkinetic athleticism of others on this list, but it’s one of the most iconic battles of 1980s cinema, as Daniel LaRusso finally overcomes those leg-sweeping Kobra Kai baddies who’ve been tormenting him. It also features some of the best dialogue ever, most notably, “Put him in a bodybag! YEEAAAHHH!”

15. Evil Dead 2 (1987) 95%

Bruce Campbell vs. his own right hand
We’re not sure if Bruce Campbell is religious, but his character should have heeded these words from the Gospel of Matthew: “If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee.” In a scene that brings new meaning to the term mano a mano, Campbell receives a thorough thrashing from his own possessed hand; his solution to this bizarre problem results in the kind of perverse hilarity fans of the Evil Dead series have come to treasure.

14. Night and the City (1950) 81%

Gegorius the Great vs. The Strangler
When Jules Dassin‘s classic noir Night and the City was first released, venerable New York Times scribe Bosley Crowther described it thusly: “If any more cruel, repulsive picture of human brutishness than this is ever screened, this writer has no desire to see it.” He was referring to this, a savage wrestling match between an aging Greco-Roman master and a thuggish upstart. Two-bit hustler Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) hopes to make a killing in the wrestling business, but his dreams slip away when two of the fighters duke it out behind closed doors out of mutual animosity. It’s coldly, heartlessly rendered scene, so tense and bone-rattling that subsequent decades haven’t dulled its impact.

13. Happy Gilmore (1996) 61%

Adam Sandler vs. Bob Barker
Adam Sandler has spent his career playing characters consumed by volcanic rage. In Happy Gilmore, Sandler is in rare form as an ex-hockey-enforcer-turned-pro-golfer, dispensing towering drives and brutal beatdowns with equal enthusiasm. In one of the most gloriously stoopid fights in recent cinema, The Price is Right host Bob Barker goads our hero into a brawl at a celebrity pro/am tournament by talking trash about his golf game — and proceeds to lay the smack down on the hapless Happy.

12. Game of Death (1979) 46%

Bruce Lee vs. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
In Bruce Lee‘s ill-fated final film, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar demonstrated his abilities extended far beyond the sky hook. “Extend” is the operative word here; as the sunlight-averse Hakim, Abdul-Jabbar has a distinct reach advantage on the diminutive action legend. Fortunately for Lee, he’s got an arsenal of moves at his disposal. It’s an eerie, hypnotic duel, and one of the quieter entries on this noisy list.

11. Charlie's Angels (2000) 68%

The Angels vs. Crispin Glover
As George McFly in Back to the Future, Crispin Glover proved he could go toe-to-toe with almost anyone when he felled Biff with some well-placed blows to the jaw. But he’s no match for Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu, and Drew Barrymore, who, after dodging swords and bullets, use some innovative teamwork to merge into one mean crime-fighting machine. This hyper-stylized brawl has a kicky (pun intended), gravity-defying energy courtesy of legendary fight choreographer Yuen Woo Ping.

10. The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) 92%

Bourne vs. Desh
How did Jason Bourne obtain his sick fighting skills? It’s one of the questions that torments our hero throughout the Bourne series. However, one thing’s for sure: however he got them, he sure knows how to employ them. Bourne’s hand-to-hand proclivities are perhaps best showcased in The Bourne Ultimatum, as J.B. jumps off a roof through a window to throw down with the guy sent to kill him; he then proceeds to demonstrate a new definition of “book smart” and a nifty trick with a hand towel.

9. The Transporter (2002) 54%

Jason Staham vs. everybody in the bus depot
It’s the age-old complaint of action-phobes: “Why do the bad guys just stand around while the hero wrecks shop? Why don’t they all go at him at once?” In the case of The Transporter, a score of goons try just that — and it still doesn’t work! Trapped in a bus depot, the ever-enterprising Jason Statham uses just about everything at his disposal, from barrels of oil to the bad guys themselves. He even displays how a long-sleeve shirt can be used to keep multiple attackers at bay.

8. Snatch (2000) 74%

Brad Pitt vs. Elwin “Chopper” David
Forget Fight ClubSnatch features Brad Pitt‘s onscreen pugilistic pinnacle. Pitt plays the thickly-brogued bare-knuckle brawler Mickey O’Neil, a knockout artist so skilled — and so undisciplined — that he can’t bring himself to throw a fight, even with fortunes and lives on the line. Director Guy Ritchie‘s stylistic trademarks — super slow-mo, gonzo sound effects, a thumping soundtrack — are all on display, as O’Neil absorbs a staggering amount of punishment before landing the final blow.

7. They Live (1988) 85%

“Rowdy” Roddy Piper vs. Keith David
In They Live, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and Keith David beat the stuffing out of each other for five minutes. We’re talking suplexes, head-butts, knees to the groin; in other words, the works. Why, you ask? Well, Piper wants David to wear a pair of sunglasses that will help him understand the truth about an alien conspiracy to destroy humanity. You see, these guys are friends. I mean, if the stakes were that high, you’d resort to such extreme measures too, right? What are friends for?

6. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) 95%

Indiana Jones vs. the big, bald Nazi
Try as he might, Indiana Jones can’t seem to avoid engaging in fracases on or near moving vehicles. In The Last Crusade, he dispatched multiple villains on a careening tank, and in this imbroglio from Raiders of the Lost Ark, he has to dodge both flying fists and merciless propellers. Indy just wants to fly to safety, but he’s coaxed into battle by a much larger opponent; the result is probably the most memorable fight from the Indiana Jones series. Plus, who doesn’t love seeing some Nazis get their just desserts?

5. Fist of Legend (1994) 100%

Jet Li vs. Billy Chow
Long before Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (a project he turned down), wushu master Jet Li was making historical martial arts films that were epic in scope and dazzling in their fight choreography. While Hero and the Once Upon a Time in China series established Li as a global star, aficionados point to Fist of Legend as his finest effort. A loose remake of Bruce Lee‘s legendary Fists of Fury, Legend finds Li embarking on a mission to avenge the death of his master amidst the turbulent times of the second Sino-Japanese War. The final battle in Fist of Legend features some of the most amazing flying kicks, lightning-fast punches, and statue and bench destruction ever committed to film (heck, even Jet’s slaps are potent).

4. Drunken Master II (1994) 84%

Jackie Chan vs. Ken Lo
Combining unimpeachable martial arts technique with the slapstick comedy and death-defying stuntwork of silent clown Buster Keaton, Jackie Chan changed the face of action cinema. Chan’s filmography is rich with potent fight scenes, but the final battle in The Legend of Drunken Master may be his apex. As a master of “drunken boxing” — so named because inebriation helps loosen the body and lessen pain — Chan attempts to thwart the smuggling of priceless artifacts out of China. It all culminates in a climactic battle royale in a steel factory — a sequence of astonishing dexterity and grace that combines full tilt punches and kicks with maniacal physical comedy.

3. The Matrix (1999) 88%

Neo vs. Agent Smith
Technically influential and viscerally exhilarating, The Matrix‘s subway fight raised the bar for action cinema — and convinced a bunch of people to run out and buy DVD players. With its time-freezing camera effects and Hong Kong-derived fight choreography (courtesy of master Yuen Woo Ping), this duel between Keanu Reeves and Hugo Weaving brought the movie’s philosophical, what-is-reality musings to a full tilt climax.

2. The Protector (2005) 53%

Tony Jaa vs. everybody
As an attempt to sell Tony Jaa to American audiences, The Protector didn’t quite pan out. But it contains a scene of such crazed genius and technical mastery that it warrants the #2 spot on this list. As Jaa ascends the circular staircase of a hotel, he brings the pain to scores of opponents, twisting arms, breaking glass, and throwing people off balconies. It’s all captured in a stunning five-minute tracking shot (it’s the Russian Ark of action sequences) that seems like it’s getting winded just keeping up.

1. Rocky (1976) 91%

Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed
Here it is — the most influential and iconic bout in the history of Hollywood. Rocky’s battle with Apollo Creed has been reworked in countless ways across numerous genres; it’s evoked in virtually every scrappy-underdog tale. However, none have been quite able to match the original for spine-tingling tension. Even its over-familiarity (it plays on Jumbotrons in sports arenas virtually every night) hasn’t dulled its impact; in addition to being breathlessly exciting and dramatically potent, it doesn’t end quite the way you’d expect.

Tag Cloud

james bond CNN marvel cinematic universe historical drama cartoon Travel Channel Universal Pictures GLAAD transformers 4/20 Instagram Live TV Cartoon Network spy thriller razzies Winners batman dreamworks singing competition 2016 First Look slashers TBS New York Comic Con a nightmare on elm street YouTube Red Box Office The Witch BBC One Britbox series Disney streaming service nature First Reviews witnail Awards Tour binge NBC richard e. Grant Comedy basketball cinemax 2020 Endgame festival President Sony Pictures indiana jones stop motion royal family kaiju mockumentary Amazon Studios MGM Film Festival politics nbcuniversal australia jamie lee curtis MCU book adaptation Women's History Month History nfl art house teaser A&E crime italian Hallmark WarnerMedia satire parents Marvel Television Election Reality Competition 2021 rotten south america marvel comics summer preview justice league canceled TV shows Fantasy Musicals elevated horror asian-american king arthur medical drama genre Teen MSNBC Black History Month Horror Pop TV Trivia Apple TV+ video on demand sequel Superheroe Western trailers Sundance TV Showtime travel Netflix sports See It Skip It RT History Song of Ice and Fire documentary Mary Poppins Returns festivals dexter Super Bowl Reality pirates of the caribbean Holiday joker spanish Toys ghosts TIFF Set visit Cannes Podcast BAFTA BBC kong game of thrones BET Awards ID trophy X-Men french Crunchyroll children's TV Biopics Peacock Apple blaxploitation HBO Go adventure facebook psycho Paramount Plus PaleyFest jurassic park independent FXX stoner BET Tags: Comedy crossover 71st Emmy Awards popular casting screenings japan dark Amazon Prime Oscar Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt 24 frames child's play TruTV Columbia Pictures legend OWN Star Wars Disney+ Disney Plus ESPN Tarantino Action Turner Classic Movies tv talk Fox Searchlight DC Universe comic book movie docudrama discovery best dceu suspense TV movies ViacomCBS Fargo MTV Disney Plus based on movie rt labs critics edition Tomatazos Walt Disney Pictures reboot sag awards new zealand Red Carpet fresh directors summer TV preview PBS FOX police drama sequels AMC video Lifetime romantic comedy DC Comics Ghostbusters natural history The Arrangement Logo TCA Amazon women Opinion zombies TCM Syfy YA cooking The CW universal monsters Alien worst mission: impossible Prime Video Tokyo Olympics TLC Brie Larson comic monster movies SXSW 2022 Paramount Pictures Captain marvel Hulu Best and Worst streamig FX on Hulu NBA theme song black comedy toronto Tumblr Black Mirror political drama Marathons emmy awards 99% Netflix Christmas movies saw critics Pirates Best Director Marvel Studios National Geographic talk show true crime TV Land Tubi green book Star Trek San Diego Comic-Con Lifetime Christmas movies Martial Arts cancelled finale Wes Anderson heist movie aliens serial killer Masterpiece superhero Pixar dc cancelled TV shows 45 zero dark thirty Superheroes unscripted Animation what to watch Holidays boxing Certified Fresh LGBT Rocky Mystery all-time Starz sopranos 007 BBC America Disney GoT spinoff Comic Book robots Avengers 94th Oscars Fall TV Oscars YouTube thriller Amazon Prime Video Binge Guide 1990s movies cancelled TV series RT21 new star wars movies Vudu quibi rt archives Legendary Mudbound Ovation football South by Southwest Film Festival scary LGBTQ Extras Pop summer TV Emmys name the review Mary poppins Summer Freeform Spectrum Originals stand-up comedy Schedule superman disaster Pride Month HBO rotten movies we love Kids & Family Character Guide christmas movies streaming movies laika Best Actress Nominations Quiz Spike Dark Horse Comics Watching Series indie television lord of the rings vampires godzilla Valentine's Day El Rey Acorn TV Premiere Dates HFPA Country docuseries anthology 73rd Emmy Awards rom-coms Hear Us Out king kong die hard scorecard streaming leaderboard 2017 Comedy Central comic books Universal japanese 21st Century Fox films sitcom cults Lucasfilm Lionsgate 90s Arrowverse Creative Arts Emmys ABC live action zombie Adult Swim latino book foreign Family news cops Best Actor Discovery Channel Film Comics on TV international scary movies TV renewals game show DirecTV feel good Paramount period drama OneApp vs. renewed TV shows E3 IFC Films Grammys chucky revenge Awards spain The Walking Dead 2018 harry potter award winner spider-verse Spring TV Writers Guild of America Television Academy high school blockbusters criterion mob cats FX Cosplay doctor who hispanic dogs biography Comic-Con@Home 2021 PlayStation Christmas adaptation twilight Sneak Peek E! The Walt Disney Company ABC Family YouTube Premium hollywood toy story Sundance Now DGA know your critic Paramount Network Calendar CBS Marvel deadpool IFC Best Picture animated Elton John canceled Trophy Talk Image Comics screen actors guild cars live event Sci-Fi free movies Anna Paquin ABC Signature fast and furious adenture TNT USA Rocketman Broadway TCA 2017 anime Hollywood Foreign Press Association Thanksgiving Trailer Year in Review SundanceTV rt labs Interview Shudder dragons Ellie Kemper Countdown Shondaland Exclusive Video TCA Winter 2020 technology Disney Channel obituary Turner ITV Nat Geo Nickelodeon CBS All Access documentaries Hallmark Christmas movies CW Seed movie supernatural action-comedy space 93rd Oscars diversity worst movies Sundance spider-man halloween spanish language venice 20th Century Fox 72 Emmy Awards Warner Bros. Heroines crime drama WGN Mary Tyler Moore scene in color ratings strong female leads Rock comic book movies biopic Mindy Kaling 2015 CMT classics VH1 Drama critic resources Epix remakes composers romance hispanic heritage month hidden camera Musical halloween tv NYCC HBO Max Music Baby Yoda target mcc new york science fiction Pacific Islander golden globe awards Fox News TV One Bravo 2019 reviews dramedy blockbuster comedies Focus Features cancelled television comiccon archives USA Network DC streaming service prank telelvision Neflix social media miniseries Video Games Classic Film VICE SXSW kids war The Academy AMC Plus Television Critics Association mutant Photos 79th Golden Globes Awards gangster APB concert comics Infographic breaking bad Academy Awards Stephen King Emmy Nominations Apple TV Plus Rom-Com GIFs The Purge psychological thriller Chilling Adventures of Sabrina posters Crackle Chernobyl wonder woman olympics SDCC American Society of Cinematographers Esquire versus slasher TCA Awards A24 VOD golden globes 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards crime thriller Food Network boxoffice Winter TV Funimation hist Polls and Games IMDb TV black debate obi wan werewolf aapi Pet Sematary young adult franchise