Fight scenes are one of the main reasons action fans love heading to their local theaters, and for some folks, a fight scene can make or break an action movie. It’s tough to define what exactly makes a great fight scene, such as cool choreography, epic music or loud explosions. I would argue that the best fight scenes show you some of the characteristics of the combatants. As a case in point, here are the top 10 fight scenes that reveal key personality traits of the main characters.
10. Rocky – Rocky vs. Apollo Creed
At the climax of most action movies, the hero’s goal is to win a long, grueling fight against his opponent. This isn’t the case with Rocky, which features the best boxing match ever put on film. What makes this fight special is the scene after the final bell. At this point, Rocky doesn’t care about the result of his fight; in fact, while Apollo Creed is anxiously waiting to hear the announcement of the winner, Rocky is shouting Adrian’s name and trying to find her. Rocky’s big fight is truly memorable because the point for him wasn’t to win, but to prove his worth as a competitive fighter before settling down with his loved one.
9. Raiders Of The Lost Ark – Indiana Jones vs. The Swordsman
This one might take the award for being the shortest fight scene in movie history, but Indiana’s way of cutting to the chase is a reason why it’s also one of the best moments in the film. Rather than taking the time to engage in a prolonged fight with this swordsman, as the audience is expecting, Indiana uses the weapons at his disposal to quickly dispatch his opponent and continue on his way. The way he doesn’t hesitate as he makes his move, and turns away without a second look, perfectly captures Indiana’s personality – a man who doesn’t waste any time to get the job done.
8. The Avengers – Avengers vs. Chitauri
This scene is the one of the best examples of how a team should fight as a unit. There are several moments that showcase the different strengths of each hero and how they play off each other, such as when Iron Man lands next to Captain America and uses his shield to deflect energy beams at the attacking Chitauri. This moment showcases just how intelligent Iron Man is – after briefly seeing the shield in action during earlier fights, he’s able to figure out ways to leverage its unique qualities on the battlefield at a moment’s notice. From Captain America’s leadership to the Hulk’s secret method of controlling his anger, each of the heroes has a chance to show why they’re worthy of being an Avenger.
7. Aliens – Ripley vs. The Alien Queen
The next time you watch this classic fight scene, remember that Ripley had been plagued throughout the film by nightmares of her encounter with the alien creature in the previous movie. By the time she suits up for this climactic fight against the Alien Queen, Ripley has overcome this fear. However, Ripley is doing so much more than simply facing her fear. She literally has to face off against something worse: the Mother of her nightmares! Because of this, when Ripley utters one of the most quotable lines in movie history, her character arch makes it all the more triumphant.
6. 300 – Spartans vs. Persians
It’s hard to pick just one fight scene to talk about in 300, but the first confrontation at the Hot Gates actually shows us the hardened resolve of the Spartans after hearing about the army’s legendary fighting prowess during the film’s opening narration. As the Persians send wave after wave of soldiers, the Spartans use a rhythmic technique of forming a wall with their shields before pushing back and stabbing with their spears. This tactic brilliantly conveys the strict discipline of the Spartans in what seems like a no-win situation. We get to witness the courage of a fighting force against overwhelming odds, with some blood, guts and pulse-pounding music thrown in on the side.
5. The Dark Knight Rises – Batman vs. Bane
I’m going to cheat a little with this one by talking about both of the fights between Batman and Bane that take place in The Dark Knight Rises. These fights share some subtle action beats that reveal how Batman changes as a character between the two showdowns. For example, in both fights Batman is knocked down to the bottom of a set of stairs, but the way he recovers from these falls are markedly different. The first time Bane knocks him down, Batman staggers up the stairs as he tries to recover, which reveals how tired and out of shape he is against this stronger opponent. In their rematch, there is a similar shot where Batman falls to the bottom of a set of stairs, but instead of staggering up, Batman leaps up and quickly regains his composure to continue fighting Bane. This shot serves as a visual cue that Batman is back in shape and ready to literally rise to the challenge. Subtle beats like this make these fights stand out from the flashier combat typical of superhero movies.
4. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – Good vs. Bad vs. Ugly
Unlike most fight scenes, this famous shootout is all about building anticipation for a brief, intense moment of violence. During this build-up, the scene sums up the personalities of each of the characters by focusing on their facial expressions. Blondie looks at the other gunslingers with a hard-to-read squint that personifies the fact that it’s nearly impossible to guess his intentions. Angel Eyes has a worried look on his face as he glances between the other two men, clearly not at ease because he is not in full control of the situation. Finally there’s Tuco’s bulging eyes, which reflect the way he watches and plays off the action of others in an effort to side with whichever party will come out on top. Complemented by some great cinematography, an awesome location and an epic soundtrack, the final standoff between the three titular characters of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is one of the best shootouts in the Western genre.
3. Return of the Jedi – Luke vs. Darth Vader
This lightsaber battle between Luke and Darth Vader isn’t just the final showdown of Return of the Jedi; it’s also the climax of the entire Star Wars saga. It’s the ultimate clash between the philosophies of the Light and Dark sides of the Force as Luke has to physically best Darth Vader without giving into the temptation of killing him. The defining moment is when Luke looks with a shocked expression at Darth Vader’s robotic arm before turning towards his own artificial limb. This glance hammers home that there are key similarities between these combatants and reminds the audience just how close Luke is to turning to the Dark side.
2. The Matrix – Neo vs. Agent Smith
When you look past the awesome bullet-time and 360-degree camera angles, this fight scene is all about Neo letting go of his former life and accepting his destiny as The One who will save humanity. The suit-wearing Agent Smith is a symbol for everything that Neo used to contend with – corporate culture in his day job and government bodies in his night job. At the start of this fight, he starts to believe that he can stand up to these controlling structures. It’s important to emphasize that he is only “beginning” to believe, as Morpheus states. With Agent Smith continuing to beat him down, it isn’t until he defiantly says his new name that he has truly shed his identity as “Mr. Anderson” in an effort to become the hero that will bring down the Matrix. Just as Neo begins to believe in breaking the laws of the Matrix, the audience also begins to believe that he can live up to the expectations placed on him by Morpheus.
1. Raid: The Redemption – The Brothers vs. The Mad Dog
This brutal fight takes the top spot because it works on so many levels. Along with being the ultimate confrontation against crime for hero cop Rama, it’s the physical expression of a philosophical confrontation between Andi and The Mad Dog. Throughout the film, Andi butts heads with The Mad Dog over the best way to run a criminal empire. The Mad Dog prefers blunt force, which is emphasized through his quick decisions to kill cops throughout the film. Andi, on the other hand, prefers subtle tact, such as bribing cops rather than killing them. This dispute plays out in this no-holds barred fight as we find out if Andi’s method of working with cops is enough to stop The Mad Dog’s vicious attacks.
There are more awesome fight scenes out there beyond these 10, and many of them do a better job of revealing personality traits than scenes of dialogue. What do your favorite fight scenes tell you about their combating characters?
Anthony Popiel loves hearing and seeing stories in any artistic medium. Rather than simply saying that something is good or bad, he prefers to investigate the ideas and messages that stories communicate both subtly and overtly. He hopes to retire to The Shire one day and find somewhere quiet where he can finish his book. Follow him on Twitter @aapopiel.