If I had to pick two things that I just can’t get enough of in films, it would have to be a good underdog story and gratuitous physical violence. It is only natural then that I would build a humble list of some of my favorite moments in cinema where the two are combined.
When I think about what makes a fight particularly one-sided, it actually has less to do with the amount of people that the hero is up against and more about the hero’s strengths, or rather lack thereof. But then there’s always going to be an ‘awesome’ factor to think about, because when it is all said and done the hero usually triumphs against the odds – so the means in which they do such a thing is very important to me; being badass certainly has its merits, but in most cases, being creative is far more impressive.
12. Sherlock Holmes vs. Dredger
As a fan of the original Sherlock Holmes books I find it funny when people give this movie shit for its ‘out of character’ fight scenes. While we all know the character of Holmes to be some delicate funny hat-wearing man who solves puzzles while puffing on a pipe, this popularized image is actually far from the man in the original books. In fact, the Guy Ritchie version – while not perfect – is far closer to the anti-social, rollie-smoking cocaine-addict pack rat who had no qualms about throwing a fist or two that exists in the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle version.
This particular fight against a rather imposing Frenchman is especially fun due to the trial and error it takes both Holmes and Watson to eventually take him out – a cattle prod doesn’t stop him, a gun fails as well. In the end it takes the sheer strength of both heroes engaging in a two-man strangulation that eventually does Dredger in for good – and that’s only after the second time around. The first time around goes less well.
Best moment: When Dredger barrels Holmes like he’s freaking Donkey Kong.
11. Westley vs. Fezzik in The Princess Bride
Again with the little guy versus the big guy – and like before, this ends in a less-fatal strangulation. Look, we all know why this scene is awesome – we’ve seen our hero Westley take on the Cliffs of Insanity and show bad ass mercy toward Inigo Montoya, on top of this we’ve no doubt fallen in love with Andre the Giant’s brutally statured yet good natured Fezzik by this point – so neither of these people can die and surely they would normally get along, but they still must fight. When they do, it’s as silly, brutal, and as polite as we hoped it to be.
Anybody want a peanut?
10. Neo vs. Agent Smiths in The Matrix Reloaded
We all knew this fight was coming the moment we discover that Agent Smith has the power to replicate himself – and of course we knew that Neo could handle it. I think what we didn’t expect to see was how silly the whole ordeal ends up being – but when you think about it, why wouldn’t it be? There is really no way to have one character fight scores upon scores of doppelgangers of Hugo Weaving and have it not look stupid-hilarious.
I think the mistake is seeing this scene as anything intended to be a dramatic moment – but rather a joyous moment in cinema where we are allowed to watch Keanu Reeves literally walk on people before getting pig-piled.
9. Mani vs. Thieves in The Brotherhood Of The Wolf
Oh Mani. This blank faced Native American badass is too awesome for words – no, literally he is too awesome to speak in most of the scenes in this film. He just stares at you and processes your every move before slamming you without ever breaking a sweat. His introductory fight against roughly a half-dozen men with sticks doesn’t make any effort to hide the kind of kick-assery we’re about to be subjected to for the remainder of the film. Not to mention that he’s wearing a goddamned tricorne and ninja-style face covering trench coat the whole damn time he’s schooling these ruffians.
Seriously how can one guy be more awesome? Not only does he lay hands like a pro but also looks Matrix-cool the entire time!
8. V vs. Creedy’s Men in V For Vendetta
Oh it’s such a satisfying scene! Watching V not only have his revenge, but actually getting to carry it out through such a vicious choking out is a perfect finale to the sharp carnage he has just inflicted to the futilely-armed room of men now bleeding out in the gutters around him. The best part is that on most days and with most people, Creedy would have been absolutely right in his assessment of the situation beforehand; more often than not firing a good ten rounds into a person will pretty much take care of things – but in this case, V had rage on his side. By far the greatest moment is when it’s all over, and V finally realizes that he’s not in the best shape.
7. The Bride vs. The Crazy 88s in Kill Bill Vol. 1
Violence. You know it’s going to be bad when the movie actually has to switch to black and white just to compensate for the copious gallons of human-juice that’s about to be spilled. Leave it to Quentin Tarantino to stick an all-yellow Uma Thurman in a Japanese dance hall and have her sword fight hoards of gang members dressed like The Lone Ranger. I’m honestly not even sure why they had to censor the red out of the scene; the whole thing looks like a Monty Python sketch to me. Fountains of blood aside, the scene really has more of a comedic feel to it than anything else – especially at the end when The Bride stands over a room wriggling with crying amputees and orders everyone to leave their limbs behind, as they now belong to her.
6. King Kong vs. Three Tyrannosaurus Rexes
What I love about this fight is that every moment when you think things can’t get worse, they inevitably do – first it’s one Rex, then two, and before you know it poor Kong is being snapped at by three hungry Tyrannosaurus Rexes as they snarl for his lady morsel of food. If that isn’t bad enough, the group all end up plummeting into a hanging battle as our damsel in distress dangles over inescapable ingestion. The final blow comes about in a moment of utter brutality when Kong literally crushes his final opponent’s skull. When all is said and done, retrospectively this whole ordeal seemed rather childish considering that they are all fighting over a meal that’s proportionately the size of a soft taco.
5. Dutch vs. The Predator
The Predator is just about the most badass villain you can have in a film – partly because he’s a giant claw-faced alien, but mainly because he has an almost Klingon sense of honor when it comes to fighting. What I mean by this is that if he respects his opponent he will take them on face to scary, scary face. This is what happens in the first film, but only after Dutch literally uses all of the Predator’s techniques against him – such as invisibility, projectiles, and tree dwelling. It’s his fighting spirit that finally makes the gloves come off, so to speak, as The Predator removes his weapons and mask and takes on Arnie alien-to-man. To this day, this character is the only one that I hold in my mind as a serious threat to any Schwarzenegger character out there, and I’m including The Terminator.
I bet there is some kind of clever transition to be made here, but I’m going to take the lazy route.
4. T-800 vs. T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day
The thing about the T-1000 is that it runs on a whole different level than our hero character. When you watch the first Terminator film you get to see how a trained solder handles the T-800 robot – by running his ass off. That’s really all you can do: shoot and run and hope that you find some convenient way to crush or blow the thing up. Then we have this film – Terminator 2 – and the same applies for the T-1000 villain: run and shoot and hope. But the catch is that the one doing all the running and shooting this time around is that very same model from the first one, this model which seemed indestructible before is running for it’s goddamn life in the second film. And when they are finally cornered and forced to fight – you see exactly why the T-800 has avoided this very situation; the T-1000 is a steamroller.
3. Indiana Jones vs. The Big Bald Nazi in Raiders of the Lost Ark
The world is already pretty tough on Indiana Jones to begin with – but then you have a scene like this. He just escaped from a room full of what is literally his biggest fear and now all he really wants to do is bounce this Nazi camp and out of nowhere this giant bald dude just strolls out of a hut and immediately starts pounding on him like there’s candy inside. Who the hell is this guy anyway? Why is he half dressed and why does he enjoy punching so much? Luckily he enjoys it so much that he completely forgets his surroundings, and if it weren’t for that it seems like there wasn’t much hope for our hero otherwise. It’s hard to even classify it as a fight, up until the end it’s more of an ass kicking.
Speaking of ass kicking…
2. ‘Jack’ vs. Tyler Durden in Fight Club
This is pretty much as one-sided as a fight can get, considering that our nameless narrator of the film is actually fighting himself. The scene is both cruel and hilarious as we watch the beating not just from the character’s perspective but also from the perspective of the security cameras, which show the sad truth of the matter. There is also one of the funniest moments of ass-handing-to when Tyler grabs at Jack only to get a single shoe, which he examines momentarily before wielding it like a club. The cherry, naturally, is the fact that the receiver of the beating is not wearing any pants. This whole ordeal seems hopeless in the end, as Tyler throws his opponent/himself down a flight of stairs. How do you even defend yourself from yourself? Luckily, in the end the narrator does find a way – a really, really desperate way.
1. Dae-su Oh vs. A Hallway Filled With Dudes in Oldboy
Okay. Best fight scene – you know what? Best action scene, ever. I know that it’s hard to find one scene and actually label it as the ‘best’ of anything – but for me, this really is it. First off, it’s one single three minute long shot, secondly the entire buildup actually comes to a freaking punch line at the end when Dae-su Oh finds himself grinning madly at an elevator full of thugs, who are clearly going to end up like the wailing bunch behind him. But mostly what makes this scene the best ever for me is that it is the only instant in a movie where one person takes on many and I actually believe it. When you see The Bride or Neo take on hoards of enemies it’s sure entertaining, but nothing about it actually reflects reality in the least, and deep down you just don’t really care about what you are seeing. The real reason for this is that most action scenes escalate in order to keep the audience interested – however this scene does the opposite, which is actually how you’d expect it to go in real life. As the hero takes on more and more people he becomes more and more fatigued, as does those he fights. In the end it’s almost awkward in that there is no resolving final blow, no witty lines – he just slowly limps away, hammer in hand. Oh yeah – the hammer… actually I think the hammer is probably what makes this scene the best… I mean… it’s a hammer. He’s hitting people with a freaking hammer.
So I’m almost certain that for every one I listed here there are ten I did not – after all, action and fight scenes are pretty much built on the idea that to every fight there is an underdog. I’d like to hear what ones I missed. Honestly I would.