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Vulture Asks: What’s Your Favorite Movie Fight Scene?

Photo: Sony Pictures Classics

With ultimate beat-’em-up The Raid 2 currently in theaters, and the bruising action choreography in Captain America: The Winter Soldier so clearly expired by the original Raid’s killer fisticuffs, what better time to go over some classic examples of cinematic combat? Here at Vulture, we’ve been chatting about some of the greatest movie fight scenes of all time (which typically involve one-on-one battles and are not to be confused with general action scenes), and we’ll share some of our picks below before asking you to contribute, too. What’s your favorite movie fight scene?

They Live
What kind of list would this be without mentioning the back-alley brawl in They Live? Our hero, John Nada (wrestling legend Roddy Piper) spends a full six minutes beating the crap out of his buddy Frank Armitage (eternal “that guy” Keith David) in front of a Dumpster. Why? Well, he wants Frank to put on a special pair of sunglasses that will allow him to see the hidden subliminal messages that are subjugating humanity through advertising, of course. On one level, it’s utterly bizarre: The movie just stops for a very long period of time, so this fight scene can happen in full. And the fight should feel goofy, given what the dudes are fighting about. But Piper and David play it with such gravity and physical dexterity, and director John Carpenter holds the camera with such reverence, that you can’t help but be entranced. In a world of post-Bourne blenderized fight-scene editing, the steadiness and deliberate pace feel like something otherworldly. Just bask in this remarkable moment in fight choreography and PUT ON THE GLASSES! —Abraham Riesman

Bridget Jones’s Diary
The fight between Mark Darcy and Daniel Cleaver. No stunt coordinators. No elaborate choreography. Just a perfectly realized wimp brawl between two upper-middle-class Englishmen coming to awkward fisticuffs in front of a Greek restaurant. Air kicks. Clumsy swings. “It’s Raining Men” in the background. The fight ends quickly with both men facedown in the street, and Bridget, quite rightly, unimpressed. —Denise Martin

Enter the Dragon
There are few more satisfying celluloid smackdowns than the one Bruce Lee’s character delivers in the 1973 film Enter the Dragon to O’Hara, the goon who’d menaced his sister years ago and caused her to kill herself. What’s so satisfying about it is how entirely one-sided it is, O’Hara becoming a stand-in punching bag representing every bully we’ve ever dreamed of running into again after we’d gained the confidence, wisdom, or insane jeet kun do skills to do something about it. It’s also satisfying for other things: “Boards don’t hit back,” Lee’s famous line after O’Hara’s showoff-y board-breaking move; the three quick smacks to the brute’s ugly face before he has a chance to blink; the devastating kick to O’Hara’s nutsack; Lee’s cocky, “You are bad at this!” bounce before delivering a significant roundhouse to his opponent’s temple; and the trippy music that plays while Lee dispatches O’Hara — in slow motion, no less. O’Hara’s epitaph might well have read: “Here lies the worst martial artist in the history of martial arts movies.” —John Sellers

Friday the 13th VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan
I was going to go highbrow and pick something from The Grandmaster, because that’s been on my mind for months, or The Bourne Supremacy, which has been on my mind for a decade. But I had to go with something from my childhood. There is a moment in this 1989 slasher movie (in which, yes, Jason Vorhees hitches a ride to the Big Apple) where a character proves himself to be as dogged a fighter as any ever put up on the big screen. Julius, a young boxer, flees to a Manhattan rooftop in an attempt to escape Jason. Seeing he has no other choice, he starts to wail on the killer — taking him from one edge of the roof to the other. He goes nuts on the dude, apparently not noticing that Jason is wearing a hard plastic hockey mask and that it would probably behoove him to go for the body and not the face. So he goes at it, one punch after another, eventually getting so tired that he starts slipping on the rooftop. But no matter, he keeps going to town. Left, right, left, right, hands bloody. If any other person had been on the receiving end of those punches, they’d be in a coma by now. But not Jason. Because Jason … well, I don’t wanna ruin it for you. Just watch.Gilbert Cruz

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace
People like to shit on the Star Wars prequels to me, and every time, my response is the same, “What about that double lightsaber, though?” All of it — from the Galactic Senate drudgery to Jar Jar Binks — was worth it for that battle. It’s like a regular lightsaber … but double! And there’s that music. And there’s that part where they have to wait behind some force field door and Liam Neeson(s) meditates while Darth Maul, who was the cockiest freaking guy, prowls back and forth. And what about when Maul loses (spoiler?) and we see him fall down the pit, only to split in two in the next second!? What about that double lightsaber, though? —Jesse David Fox

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
So many fight scenes put the movie’s character development on pause, and once they’re under way, they never evolve — they’re like arcade games where the players keep jamming the same buttons over and over again. This powerhouse confrontation in Crouching Tiger thinks bigger than that: There’s actual acting going on (the expressions that flicker across the faces of Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi are priceless), the inventive action crescendoes wittily, and it’s a galvanizing movie moment. I still remember seeing this in the theater, and someone in the audience went “Oh shit!” when Zhang Ziyi challenges Michelle Yeoh at the top of the scene. Everyone laughed, but that’s because we were so goddamn excited to see what would happen. Even now, I can get wrapped up in it anew, since this battle royale is so evenly matched and wonderfully executed. —Kyle Buchanan

Vulture Asks: What’s Your Favorite Movie Fight?