The 12 Funniest On-Screen Punches

By  · Published on February 23rd, 2012

by David Christopher Bell

So I was watching the film The Descendants, and I couldn’t help but to laugh my ass off when the grandfather points to Nick Krause’s dumb-ass character and says “I’m going to hit you.” – Then, without any room for discussion he proves to be a man of his word.

It got me thinking about some of the other great comedic punches out there, and soon enough I was assigning my wonder into list form.

Violence and comedy together at last!

12. Independence Day – Welcome to Earth

Weirdly enough, while this hit is meant to be funny in the first place, I don’t think people find it funny in that way. It’s obviously a joke written in, but the real joke is that it exists in the film as a fairly big plot point.

Writer 1: So how are we going to get the alien to Area 51?

Writer 2: What if Will Smith captures it and brings it there?

Writer 1: How the hell is Will Smith going to capture a giant exoskeletoned alien?

Writer 2: Um… Well he can punch it and say something funny.

Writer 1: That’s brilliant! It can be funny, AND we don’t have to do our jobs! Hey is there any Sparks left in the cooler?

I know I know – Sparks didn’t exist when ID4 was written but if they didn’t have to write sense then neither do I.

Don’t get me wrong – I love this film, but not for its realism or plot consistency. And this moment is one of the best – it’s almost like the film is spoofing itself.

11. Groundhog Day – Bill Murray Does What We All Wanted To Do

This is probably the least surprising punch on this list, as we spend most of the time preceding it wondering just when it will happen. Obviously Bill Murray is the absolute best in the world, but I have to give much props to Stephen Tobolowsky for giving us a amazingly punch-worthy performance up until this part.

Seriously… every movement and word from this guy just stinks of irritant. You just want to punch his stupid face off his body and then kick it down the street into the slushy gutter like a soccer ball.

Fun fact about this scene is that the town they shot this movie in, Woodstock Illinois, has since set up two plaques not only marking the corner in which this scene was shot – “Ned’s Corner” as it is called – but also actually marking the very place where Bill Murray stepped in the puddle.

10. Slap Shot – The Hanson Brothers Make Their Debut

Okay, this is kind of a series of punches but whatever; this film is fantastic. It tells the tale of Paul Newman kicking the hell out of people on ice, how can it not be excellent? It’s probably my favorite of his films, and it’s certainly my favorite sports film of all time.

Throughout the first part of this film we get introduced to the Hanson Brothers, who appear to be complete children in every way – going so far as to bring model trains with them on away games. The one thing that is certain about them is that they are very eager to get started after spending so long on the bench, and when they do finally get their chance they prove to be surprisingly brutal to the point of completely throwing out any semblance of actual hockey playing. They go after everyone, including refs, fans, and even the friggin’ keyboard player. Soon enough the entire team models their playing style after this trio, making for some great hockey.

9. Tropic Thunder – Video Chat Punch

I never saw the MTV movie awards or anything Les Grossman-style besides this film – so I have to admit that the novelty never really wore off for me. I love this character so much because it makes me like Tom Cruise, and I want to like Tom Cruise. He may be a tad loony and is probably a real ass to meet but he knows how to entertain and he’s been doing it forever so more power to the crazy dude. Honestly I never knew such a foul-mouthed character was even in him, so I was very delighted to see this.

The punch is amazing for two reasons – the first is the obvious joke that he is so pissed at this director that he gets a key grip to punch him, and of course the key grip has no doubts about it. The second thing is just how painful the punch really looks – it’s a hell of a punch, you can actually feel it when it happens. Such a flinch-inducing act is extra hilarious when the actual attacker is doing it out of indifference, delivering it after a bland shrug and apology for just following orders.

8. The Way Of The Gun – Ryan Phillippe vs. Sarah Silverman

This is just… the best opening scene of a film. It’s totally independent from the rest of the story but it also establishes our two main characters so well without them even really saying or doing much of anything. Silverman clearly owns the scene with her amazing trash talk, that is, up until Phillippe delivers the winning blow… the only blow actually… and shuts her right up.

It’s funny because it’s the last thing we expect to come from this situation – especially when they get their asses handed to them by the crowd afterward. We expect something cool or badass to happen but instead we get something arguably better. It establishes these guys perfectly as both tough guys and jackasses. Also it’s not as if they aren’t being fair – after all if anyone deserves to be punched in that scene it’s clearly Silverman’s character.

7. Dumb And Dumber – “Get Off The Phone.”

Right through the glass! First off lets hear it for Mike Starr, the character actor who has no doubt played his fair share of Joes and Als. In fact, this guy has had almost 200 roles at this point, so yeah – congrats. The other guy, the punch receiver or as credited “Anxious Man at Phone” is Fred Stroller, another industry regular – mostly appearing on television.

Getting that out of the way, great punch. It’s the way he leads the guy into the hit that does me in. Great movie too… I could actually go on and on about it but I’d rather use this space of Internet to remind/inform people that there is actually going to be a sequel to this film. No, not a shitty prequel but an actual, Farrelly Brothers directed sequel in the works planned to star Jim Carry and Jeff Daniels. If this actually happens the world will officially become a way happier place.

6. The Hangover – Mike Tyson’s Punch Out

Thanks to the film’s trailer this is probably the least surprising punch on this list, however it really is a good one, isn’t it? Mike Tyson punching Zach Galifianakis is certainly an alien visual to me – not something I’d expect to see in my lifetime until this film… Of course I never expected to see Mike Tyson singing to “In The Air Tonight” by Phil Collins either. Also while I don’t condone the words and deeds of either men, I never expected Mike Tyson to be included in a movie that later forbids Mel Gibson from being in its sequel. All those things are weird to me.

We all know how great the punch is, but what I think is interesting is that it took 30 takes to get it right. It makes sense; movie punching someone is very different than actually punching them, and Tyson no doubt has an instinctual habit of not missing his punches. In interviews Galifianakis has expressed just how terrifying being swung at by the champ was, and that he believed one accidentally-connected punch would no doubt kill him. While death is probably bad, if this unfortunate event had occurred it would have at least made for some really interesting headlines.

5. Fight Club – Right In The Ear

Hah! I love that one of the more memorable movie quotes out there is followed by awkward discussion and a sad punch to the ear. Brad Pitt’s wonderful reaction of annoyed pain and flabbergasted exclamation not only sells the punch, but is actually genuine to the extent that director David Fincher had secretly asked Edward Norton to deliver the strike to the ear.

It should be noted that in the original book the narrator actually gets him in the side of the neck, and to be honest I’m not sure which location is funnier. Both are horribly awkward places to hit someone that still probably hurt.

4. Due Date – Little Kid Stomach Punch

This is so wrong and so right at the same time. The kid did have it coming, but I mean… he’s also a kid. I love how concealed the punch is – it’s not an impulse hit but rather a discreet and calculated one. He’s clearly gauged how much force is needed to take this kid out and designed the punch to look innocent when observed peripherally. This added with the immediate verbal concern for the kid’s well-being makes this hilarious – it’s as if he’s a doctor giving a shot, asking if the kid’s okay afterward.

What I love about this scene is that according to Robert Downey Jr. he actually didn’t get nearly as much negative response from this scene as he did a later one where he spits directly in a dog’s face… which was another priceless moment from this film. Turns out that for audiences, Dog > Child – a formula that I kind of have to agree with.

3. Superbad – McLovin Attempts To Buy Alcohol

Perfect comedic timing right there. The film not only builds up the general search for alcohol, but the exact moments leading up to the buy as well. Any young drinker knows the fear of walking into a liquor store with deceitful intent, and the possibility of humiliation that comes with it. This film took that fear and punishment and threw it right out the window at the introduction of a complete out-of-left-field event. Like… this kid has a lot of fears during this scene, none of which is getting hit in the face.

Oh, and if you’re wondering who to thank, that would be stunt coordinator Tim Trella delivering the signature hit. Trella has been in the business for a while now, working on about 130 films that include Crank, Iron Man, xXx, and Titanic. If you ask me, hitting a teenager in the face has to be his best work.

2. Blazing Saddles – Horse Goes Down

First off that’s Alex Karras punching the horse, an act that has no doubt been on his demo reel since he was filmed doing it. I mean, if I had footage of me dressed like a cowboy punching out a horse I wouldn’t really have to do anything else for the rest of my life. That’s like climbing Everest or curing something. Good stunt too, I regret that I couldn’t find the name of the horse.

Ironically enough this scene that Roger Ebert specifically praised for its hilarity was actually disliked by the producers of the film, who asked that it be cut. Mel Brooks, having final cut, did no such thing. Good man, that Brooks.

1. The Wicker Man – Nicolas Cage Bear Attack

You know it’s the best thing in the world. Nicolas Cage… dressed as a bear… punching a woman in the face. I’m not even sure they intended that to be as funny as it was, and it was… really funny. Like… how did it get to that point? Watching the film the silly just kind of gradually escalates – first he starts punching women, then he gets a bear costume, then before you realize it he’s romping around in the woods like he’s seeking out a teddy bear picnic and wailing on some gal in the process. It’s genius.

So recently Cage stated in a webchat interview that he would totally reprise this role as a ghost in Japan. He probably was only as serious as the film is (not very) but I’m personally holding him to that. Wicker Man 2: Ghost Bear Japan needs to be a thing in my life that I can look forward to. I hereby make this list my own personal plea for Nicolas Cage to make such a movie – and if he doesn’t well… I think we all know what I’ll do.

More Things Collected Conveniently In List Form

Related Topics:

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.