In the ever- shifting and evolving realm of film and television, it’s comforting to know that one thing will always remain constant:
People beating each other up = entertainment
…and it’s not as if there’s anything wrong with that. The essence of drama is conflict after all, and the payoff of conflict is confrontation. Whether it be guns, swords, lightsabers or bare fists, audiences love a good beatdown, and in honor of this being Fight Week here at MRFH, we’ve compiled the ten best altercations ever committed to celluloid, rated completely arbitrarily according to however we feel like it.
10. The Matrix: Agent Smith vs. Neo
We’re gonna go ahead and Applaud Kyle for his review of The Matrix for fight week, and back up everything he said about this subterrestrial slugfest. While there are a myriad of scenes from this game changer that could have made it into this list, we’ve chosen the subway duel between Hugo Weaving and Keanu Reeves just for the sheer technique and panache that went into choreographing this four and a half minute kung fu gem. This one also gets bonus points for having no cgi assistance, unlike the characters’ later bouts in the sequels. Say it with me: “My name…is Neo.”
9. The Forbidden Kingdom: Lu Yan vs. The Silent Monk
We feel it’s only fitting that the first two entries into this list were choreographed by movie kung fu legend Yuen Wo Ping, but out of the hundred or so of movies he’s directed or choreographed, this one gets special recognition on this list for its participants. Jackie Chan and Jet Li are recognized worldwide as masters of their craft, and it’s amazing to us that the two were never paired in a film before this 2008 Chinese mythological fairy tale. When their two characters meet, they battle with the kind of grace and agility only Li and Chan can pull off. They even manage to work in homages to their past films. Chan attacks with Drunken Boxing and Li counters with Shaolin style, hearkening back to their previous works Legend of Drunken Master and Once upon a Time in China respectively. Coincidentally, in both these films Li and Chan portrayed Chinese folk hero Wong Fei Hung.
8. King Kong: Kong vs. Three T-Rexes
With the possible exception of anyone getting between Heather and her coffee in the morning, we don’t think anyone has been more danger-prone than Naomi Watts’ Anne Darrow as she navigates the certainty of death that is Skull Island. After dealing with the scariest natives ever, giant crocodiles and monstrous insects, she’s forced to contend with three tyrannosaurs that are apparently not that hungry but looking for something to tide them over until they can make it to Denny’s for the Moons Over My Hammy. Luckily, Anne has a clingy stalker in the form of a two ton, thirty foot tall gorilla who kills T-rexes like it ain’t no thing. Kong knocks out the first two and then rips apart the jaw of the third, ensuring he won’t be making it to the audition for Jurassic Park 4.
7. Happy Gilmore: Happy vs. Bob Barker
The perfect film for anyone who’s ever dreamt of watching Adam Sandler getting mercilessly pummeled by an aging Game show host, Happy Gilmore raised the bar for violence on golf courses, to which we can only say amen. Can you tell us you wouldn’t be more inclined to actually watch golf if there was a better chance a fight might break out? When Happy throws the first punch, what could have been an unfunny abuse of an aging American treasure instead becomes a hilarious beatdown as Bob gets up and answers back with a flurry of eleven straight unanswered punches. Final count: Happy gets off one sucker punch, one tackle and a headbutt. Barker gets in a staggering 17 punches, one choke, and a kick to the head for the coup de’ grace.
6. They Live: Nada vs. Frank
The fistfight so legendary it was even spoofed in an episode of South Park, this one makes the list for it’s brutality and sheer length. Roddy Piper’s George Nada is a construction worker who discovers that aliens have surreptitiously taken over the world and make up almost all of the upper classes, keeping humanity in line via subliminal messages that can only be seen with special sunglasses. Keith David’s Frank Armitage is a friend who thinks his buddy is basically losing his mind. When Nada tries to get Frank to try on the sunglasses, what ensues is one of the most brutal (and hilarious) examples of fisticuffs in film. The two proceed to beat the crap out of each other for a whopping six minutes, which just go on and on.
5. Rocky 2: Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed
Some may wonder why we decided to omit the fight from the first movie in favor of the sequel’s title bout. Ultimately the fight in the first movie was incidental to the plot. Even Rocky himself said he never expected to win. In the second movie more was hinging on the outcome. Apollo was fighting for his pride; Rocky, a future for himself and his family. So in the climactic fight, both fighters stepped it up a notch. The result was a truly cinematic battle from start to the knuckle-biting finish as both fighters struggled to get up off the canvas in the last round. When Apollo dropped and Rocky was named the new champion, that part of our brains that causes us to root for the underdog cheered out loud.
4. Monty Python and the Holy Grail: Arthur vs. The Black Knight
In this pantheon of cinematic bloodshed and violence, none are quite so violent and bloody as this entry, and certainly none are so startlingly hilarious. Though the ensuing years may have brought a certain kitsch and cheese factor as geeks endlessly quote this film into oblivion, it can’t take away from the first time you witnessed this scene and struggled for breath from laughing as hard as you could, as Arthur methodically slices the Black Knight into a quadraplegic. The Black Knight in turn, quite simply refuses to admit defeat even as he rapidly runs out of limbs. “None shall pass” indeed.
3. The Empire Strikes Back: Darth Vader vs. Luke Skywalker
It doesn’t get more personal than this “good versus evil” grudge match. To Luke, this dark towering figure was the man who killed his father and tortured his friends. To Vader, this was a chance to turn a powerful enemy to the Dark Side and secure his own power base. To the audience, it was the lightsaber fight they’d been waiting for. Oh, it was on. We cheered as Luke escaped the carbonite freezer and held his own against the dark lord in a pretty spectacular duel, only to realize with dawning horror that Vader had been basically playing with Luke, who was officially in WAY over his head. One dismemberment plus a paternal revelation later, and Luke was falling down an access shaft with his tail between his legs. It completely shook the viewer’s expectations of what could happen in a Star Wars movie. The bad guy had won, at least until the next film.
2. The Princess Bride: Westley vs. Inigo Montoya
It was the scene that woke up the guys in the audience and made them realize this was more than just a sappy period piece. As they fiercely battled while carrying on a casual conversation about fencing styles, Cary Elwes and Mandy Patinkin crossed rapiers with astonishing grace and style. This scene is all the more amazing due to the fact that apart from a couple of acrobatic flips, the action was done by the actors themselves, who spent hours training in preparation. The duel offers up some much-needed action and thrills, more than any tongue-in-cheek fairy tale really has any right to claim. Oh heck, we’ll just say it: Without this scene, The Princess Bride would be just another chick flick.
1. The Karate Kid: Daniel Laruso vs. Johnny Lawrence
Yes, there are fights on this list that were better choreographed, more emotionally resonant, more brutal, even more iconic, but in terms of sheer exuberance over the underdog coming into his own, you can’t do better than Daniel-san’s grueling victory at the All-Valley Karate Championship. As Daniel lies in the locker room, the victim of an illegal leg-kick, and Miyagi asserts that there’s no longer a need to fight, both he and the audience are of one accord: “Screw that! Karate Johnny in the face!” From Daniel limping into the ring as the dramatic music rises, to Johnny’s reaction to Kreese’s ruthlessness, to the final sweet chin music to the tune of a crane technique, Karate Kid delivered a truly iconic, and extremely satisfying final fight. For an added feeling of glee when watching this fight, pretend Daniel is actually crane-kicking all of the Karate Kid sequels after 2. Puts a smile on my face every time.