Violence is a funny thing. Few of us actually enjoy participating in it, but most of us will at some point thoroughly enjoy watching it in a movie. Ah, the magical catharsis of cinema!
The movies are replete with scenes of battle. Fight scenes are the meat and potatoes of the action genre, and most thrillers will either end on one or throw a couple in somewhere. Picking only ten was always going to leave this list with a whole heap of contenders unfairly cast aside, but there’s no way I’m going to sit here and write fifty of these bastards.
So here are my favourite ten. For the sake of making the choice easier, I’ve left out battle scenes between entire armies. Perhaps another time. Please feel free to add your own top ten, if you have one, or simply chastise me for omitting your single favourite. Maybe we can settle it outside.
10. John Smith v Jane Smith
Mr & Mrs Smith (2005)
After five (or six) years of a slowly stagnating marriage, John and Jane Smith discover that not only are they both secret super-assassins, apparently using the marriage as cover, but they are also each others’ next target. Possibly the most contrived set-up in this top ten, but who cares? The resulting gun-play, fist-fight and kitchen utensil carnage as the Smiths (the couple, not the popular 80s band) do bloody battle in their big, suburban house is great fun.
Probably Jennifer Aniston’s favourite movie scene ever, as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie convincingly beat the crap out of each other. I wonder if they’re like this in front of the kids.
And the winner is: There’s make-up sex. Everyone’s a winner with make-up sex!
9. Channel 4 News Team v Evening News Team v Channel 2 News Team v Public News Team v Spanish Language News Team
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy ( 2004)
Legendary news anchor Ron Burgundy and his team are out on the town, on their way to cheer themselves up by shopping for suits, when they find themselves confronted by several rival teams, all looking to take each other down. In the world of syndicated news broadcasting it’s best to be armed. Clubs, chains, machetes, hand grenades and even tridents can be the divide between life and death. Just don’t touch the hair or the face.
Featuring more cameo appearances than an entire season of Saturday Night Live, the news team street fight proves that even clueless, musky-smelling morons can be heroes.
And the winner is: Burgundy and his Channel 4 News Team are gonna straight up murder your ass.
8. King Arthur v The Black Knight
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
During his noble quest for the Holy Grail King Arthur encounters the dread Black Knight, guarding a bridge (or a small plank of wood over a pathetic stream). Refusing to allow the King past, a mighty battle ensues. Well, mighty-ish. Actually, it’s just silly.
Arthur severs the Knight’s arms, only to be told that it’s just a scratch as the undeterred Knight then resorts to kicking the King’s ankles. Even having both his legs lobbed off doesn’t dampen this warrior’s ire and Arthur eventually gives up and leaves the wriggling torso of his foe behind, crossing the plank to cries of, ‘Come back here you yellow bastard! I’ll bite your legs off!’
And the winner is: Arthur, of course, although the Black Knight is having none of it. ‘Let’s call it a draw’. Loony.
7. Ripley v Alien Queen
A classic bitch-fight and one of those David and Goliath moments when you know you should put your money on the smallest. Having escaped and nuked the planet LV421, with all its nasty little xenomorphs, Ripley returns to her ship to find a very pissed Queen has hitched a ride and is looking for a rumble. Never one to shy away from an invitation, Ripley grabs a mechanical power loader and gets busy.
Limited by the effects of the time, much of the action is seen only at head height, but it’s still one if the coolest, and most original, brawls in cinema.
And the winner is: I’ll give you three guesses, and since there’s only two participants, if it takes you three guesses you’re a moron.
6. Léon v Half the NYPD
Having seriously pissed off both the Mafia and a corrupt New York cop in his quest to avenge the murder of 12-year-old Mathilda’s entire family, hitman Léon and the girl find themselves besieged in a hotel room with half the city’s police force trying to find a way in. Luc Besson’s perfectly choreographed scene sees the wily Italian allow a group of officers into the room, only to shut the door behind them and take them all out, unseen.
When the door reopens, the next group of hapless cops find themselves face-to-face with the slippery assassin, as he hangs upside down in the doorway. Inspired!
And the winner is: In this particular round, Léon. But give the guy a break, there’s a lot of people out there.
5. Neo and Trinity v A Small Army
The Matrix (1999)
Keanu Reeves may not be the greatest actor in the world, but at least he looks good running in slow motion with a machine gun. And Neo and Trinity may have stupid names, and rarely crack a smile, but when it comes to tearing up a building lobby full of security guards and a SWAT team, they don’t even have to take off their cumbersome long coats or remove their sunglasses indoors. Oh, to be so cool.
With lots of slow-motion gunfire, running up walls and picking up M16 rifles while performing cartwheels, this was one of the most refreshingly executed fight scenes for years.
And the winner is: Never underestimate people who dress only in black. Neo and Trinity don’t even get a scratch on their sunglasses.
4. George Nada v Frank Armitage
They Live (1988)
After discovering that the American elite are all aliens in disguise, controlling a docile population with consumerism and subliminal messages, Nada is understandably keen to share his revelation with someone. Unfortunately, the aliens can only be seen with special sunglasses and George’s co-worker Frank isn’t feeling particularly co-operative. Cue a hilarious, brutal, six-minute brawl in a back alley as George and Frank bludgeon each other to bloody pulps.
And the winner is: Let’s just say Frank ends up wearing the damn glasses.
3. Indiana Jones v Big Nazi Guy
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
He’s already been through the mill and has a gruelling truck chase to come, but first our intrepid archaeologist has to deal with the imposing Nazi mechanic who stands between him and the Ark-carrying plane. Tired, dusty and visibly fed-up with throwing punches, Jones proceeds to get the shit kicked out of him.
Clearly not a student of Eastern combat philosophy, Jones is a brawler and has no qualms about using wrenches and a little arm-biting in an attempt to overcome the German behemoth. All to no avail. Not even a sudden flurry of professorial jaw-socking is going to slow down this Teutonic brute.
And the winner is: Indiana Jones, with no small help from a whirring propeller blade. Look out, behind yo…never mind.
2. Yu Shu Lien v Jen Yu
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Ang Lee’s sumptuous epic features a whole bunch of fantastic fight scenes, but the greatest is the lengthy dust-up between Michelle Yeoh’s noble Yu Shu Lien and Zhang Ziyi’s angry young Jen Yu. Jen is armed with the indestructible sword, Green Destiny, and Shu Lien breaks an insane array of different weapons against the sword in an attempt to defeat the petulant child.
The breathtaking scene is so beautifully choreographed it’s more akin to a dance than a battle. And, let’s face it, there’s nothing sexier than watching two graceful women locked in passionate combat. Or is that just me? Whoops.
And the winner is: Jen does a runner eventually, so we’ll give it to Shu Lien by default. Yay!
1. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn v Darth Maul
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999)
This is what we turned up for. The single greatest lightsaber fight in the entire franchise. Having sat through two hours of trade disputes, Natalie Portman’s clown make-up, petulant little Anakin’s feeble attempts to endear himself to us, and Jar Jar Bloody Binks, die hard Star Wars fans were treated to this triple-header between Jedi and Sith.
Horny badass Darth Maul takes on two Jedi with the aid of his indescribably cool double-ended sabre. The glowy blades whirl around like the original trilogy’s fight scenes on fast forward. This was the moment when cool got a little bit cooler. Magic!
And the winner is: Having dispatched Jedi Master Qui-Gon, Darth Maul gets his ass handed to him by a mere apprentice. Fail!