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7 best fight scenes in action movies, ranked

John Wick stands at the bottom of the stairs in John Wick: Chapter 4.

Fight scenes are the backbone of any action movie and come in all different shapes and sizes. Fight scenes can be loud, violent versions of controlled chaos, as evidenced in the John Wick movies. They can be smaller in scale and confined to one space, like the elevator sequence in Drive. Martial artists such as Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan proved that the elaborate choreography of hand-to-hand combat can be as graceful and poetic as a dance.

Whatever your preference is, fight scenes have a way of wowing the audience through brutal, visceral actions. Stunt teams and choreographers continue to raise the bar on what’s possible in an action movie. To honor these cinematic sequences, Digital Trends ranks the best fight scenes captured in action movies.

7. The one-take stairwell sequence in Atomic Blonde (2017)

Atomic Blonde | The 10-Minute Single Take Fight Scene in 4K HDR

David Leitch (Bullet Train) knows a thing or two about what it takes to stage a great fight scene. Leitch previously worked on The Matrix trilogy, John Wick, and Blade, so his résumé speaks for itself. Though he co-directed John Wick with Chad Stahelski, Leitch’s credited directorial debut is Atomic Blonde, an action thriller starring Charlize Thereon (Fast X) as a female spy tasked with destroying an espionage ring in Germany days before the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

The defining sequence in the film is the one-take fight scene in the stairwell of a Berlin apartment. Leitch told Insider that he decided to shoot it in one take after being impressed by videos from Theron’s training, which gave him the confidence to go through with the scene. It took two weeks to shoot, but the risk paid off as the stunning eight-minute sequence showcased Theron’s abilities as an action star and further cemented Leitch and his stunt team as among the best in Hollywood.

6. The Sacré Coeur stair fight in John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023)

John Wick 4 - Behind The Scenes | Making of Stair Fall Scene | Biggest Stair Fall Scene in Hollywood

Since its inception in 2014, the John Wick franchise has produced some of the most exciting fight sequences in action movie history, so much so that this article could easily have been dedicated to seven of the best fight scenes in those four films. That’s how good these sequences have been. Each movie continues to one-up itself as to what’s possible in fight choreography. In John Wick, the Red Circle Club sequence is the standout. In John Wick: Chapter 2, it’s the Hall of Mirrors. In John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, the knife fight became the lasting memory.

Those scenes were all built toward the stairway sequence in Paris in John Wick: Chapter 4. In the scene, John (The Matrix’s Keanu Reeves) must climb 200-plus steps to reach the final duel at Sacré Coeur. John disposes of every assassin in his way, yet when he reaches the top, he’s violently knocked off his feet, causing him to tumble down every stair back to the bottom. But John receives some help when Caine (Mulan‘s Donnie Yen), a blind assassin, teams up with John to reclimb the stairs, killing every obstacle in their path and cementing this as the best scene in Chapter 4.

5. The dojo fight in Fist of Fury (1972)

The Dojo Fight - Fist of Fury (2/7) Movie CLIP (1972) HD

Bruce Lee (Enter the Dragon) only takes up one spot on this list, but if his scenes took up all seven spots, would anyone have any arguments against it? I know I wouldn’t. Lee’s prowess in mixed martial arts was so integral that he’s still referenced as the most influential practitioners of all time despite having tragically passed away 50 years ago. Thanks to him, Enter the Dragon is easily one of the best martial arts films ever made.

However, I keep coming back to the dojo fight in Fist of Fury as his defining fight sequence. In the scene, Lee’s Chen Zhen crashes a Japanese dojo and ends up fighting every single member, all 20-plus of them, including their sensei. Politically, the fight symbolized the angst toward Japanese imperialism. Stylistically, it’s a master class in fight choreography, as Lee takes on two dozen fighters in seven minutes. The scene became a defining moment in shaping Lee’s legacy as a martial arts expert.

4. Neo vs. Agent Smith in the subway in The Matrix (1999)

The Matrix (8/9) Movie CLIP - Subway Fight (1999) HD

The battle between man and machine has become a piece of sacred sci-fi text that belongs in the same sentence as Star Wars and Blade Runner. While the stunts in The Matrix were created in the late ’90s, they remain some of the most intricately filmed and choreographed sequences ever captured. From the use of bullet time to the cyberpunk influence, The Matrix inspired a new generation of action filmmaking.

The perfect encapsulation of what makes The Matrix great is the fight sequence between Neo (John Wick’s Keanu Reeves) and Agent Smith (The Lord of the Rings’ Hugo Weaving). The highly choreographed fight sequence is as intricate as it is stunning. The use of wire fu was a game changer and the perfect ode to Hong Kong martial arts films that came before it. There have been better action films than The Matrix, but few have been more influential.

3. Bathhouse knife fight in Eastern Promises (2007)

A nude man fights another man in Eastern Promises.

Fending off two Chechen assassins is hard enough, but imagine trying to do it naked. Unfortunately for Viggo Mortenson (Captain Fantastic) and his character Nikolai Luzhin in David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promisesthis scenario becomes his reality. In the scene, two tall, bulky Chechen assassins enter a Turkish bathhouse looking to take out Kirill Semyonovich (Westworld’s Vincent Cassel). However, the assassins are tricked into believing that Nikolai is Kirill, and they attack the Russian mobster in the bathhouse with linoleum cutters.

Nikolai is forced to fend off the assassins with only a towel on, which quickly flies off as he blocks one of the stab attempts. The assassins severely injure Nikolai, as his blood drips across the bathroom tiles, but the Russian survives thanks to his sheer toughness and skill. The bloody fight is so jarring and memorable that Roger Ebert called it a “benchmark” for fights, and said it “sets the same kind of standard that The French Connection set for chases.” 

2. Jen Yu vs. Yu Shu Lien in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Jen vs. Shu Lien Sword Fight (Michelle Yeoh Fight Scene)

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a masterful martial arts film that is breathtaking to watch. The choreographed fight sequences play like a ballet, as the physicality and synchronized movements rival a beautiful dance. These sequences can be attributed to Yuen Woo-ping, the legendary martial arts choreographer and champion of Hong Kong cinema.

The scene that stands out in a movie full of intricate battles is the swordfight between Yu Shu Lien (Everything Everywhere All at Once’s Michelle Yeoh) and Jen Yu (Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ Zhang Ziyi). Yu Shu Lien is out to retrieve the sword known as The Green Destiny, which Jen possesses. The two battle in a jaw-dropping swordfigh, incorporating wire fu techniques and precise choreography to create a powerful example of peak action cinematography.

1. Rama vs. The Assassin in The Raid 2 (2014)

Two men fight in The Raid 2.
Sony Pictures Classics

Like the staircase sequence in John Wick: Chapter 4, The Raid franchise saves its most impressive fight for the end of the last film in the series, The Raid 2. After surviving a deadly car chase and a battle with siblings Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man, Rama (The Raid) faces his toughest challenge yet, a kitchen fight against the Assassin (Gundala’s Cecep Arif Rahman), a violent killer whose weapon of choice is a Karambit knife.

While many fight scenes in The Raid franchise are chaotic, with a lot of moving parts, the kitchen fight is smaller and more controlled. But the sequence is equally as impressive due to its high-level choreography. The white kitchen is soon stained with wine, broken glass, and blood as the foes fight to the death. The deadly battle is one of the best one-on-one combat scenes of the 21st century, cementing its place as one of the best in cinematic history.

Editors' Recommendations

Dan Girolamo
Dan is a passionate and multitalented content creator with experience in pop culture, entertainment, and sports. Throughout…
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