Best Action Scenes in TV and Film
January 10, 2019 3:31 PM   Subscribe

What are your favorites?

I work in the creative industry and I'm always trying to learn when it comes to storytelling/storyboarding. Action is definitely not one of my strongest areas, and I'd like to start doing some studies to improve my skills in that realm (this was also recently inspired by Spiderman: Into the Spider Verse, which I absolutely love and which I thought raised the bar for animation/great superhero movies in general).

To that end, what are your favorite action scenes in film or tv (other creative media welcome, too)? I'm thinking stuff that really blew your mind, felt really fresh, or just felt deeply satisfying.

Any suggestions across a wide spectrum are welcome--I can think of amazing stuff in Spiderverse, but also some really smart, comedic Jackie Chan action bits. Not limited to fight/battle scenes.
posted by sprezzy to Media & Arts (67 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
LOTR escape/chase from Moria
posted by Freedomboy at 3:35 PM on January 10 [4 favorites]

The scene beginning with the line "Francie doesn't like coffee ice cream" at the very end of season 2 of Alias before the show went entirely off the rails.
posted by Smearcase at 3:37 PM on January 10 [4 favorites]

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) has a number of them; it's a fun, stylish, underrated (IMHO) movie. And speaking of another Henry Cavill movie, the newest Mission Impossible (Fallout) has a very cool bathroom fight scene with him, Tom Cruise, and a third guy that got a lot of chatter/attention.
posted by lovableiago at 3:39 PM on January 10 [3 favorites]

If you're looking for a pure fight scene: the hallway fight from Daredevil's first season. The bad guys get back up after going down; the hero slows down and gets visibly tired; the actual action goes in and out of the single hallway that's the visual focus of the fight.
posted by blithers at 3:42 PM on January 10 [12 favorites]

This car chase in Ronin is deeply satisfying to me.
posted by ftm at 3:48 PM on January 10 [6 favorites]

A couple of random suggestions, at least vivid enough to leap to mind: Domino's scenes (cw: some extreme violence) in Deadpool 2 come to mind as action scenes tightly integrated with a character concept and all set up as refutations/counterpoints to her introduction. The brief cease fire in Children of Men comes to mind as a moving pause in an action scene.
posted by Wobbuffet at 3:58 PM on January 10 [4 favorites]

Does the entirety of Mad Max: Fury Road count? This breakdown of the how it used centre framing and eye tracing (in contrast to the "chaos cinema" approach) connected a lot of my thoughts about modern action films.
posted by Paragon at 4:08 PM on January 10 [18 favorites]

There's some great fight/chase scenes in District B13 and B13 Ultimatum; this parkour chase is a favorite bit.
posted by epersonae at 4:10 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]

If you're talking about pure action, then this won't count, but a sequence I really like is the border scene in Sicario. The action is only about 9 seconds, but it's brilliant in the way it ratchets up the tension so you're holding your breath by the end.

Here's a video dedicated entirely to breaking the sequence down so you can study it.
posted by bluecore at 4:13 PM on January 10 [4 favorites]

The opening scenes of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The booby-traps, the bag of sand, the golden idol, the rolling rock, the whip-trapeze thing, grabbing the hat, "throw me the whip", the little airplane, snakes. It is masterfully done. I especially like how thoroughly it establishes Indy's character development without him having more than a dozen or so lines of dialogue.

Here's a deeper dive into it.

Some embarrassing number of decades ago, I took my mom to see Raiders in theatrical release. She hardly ever went out to the movies. After the first scenes rolled, she leaned over to me and said: "Starts out kind of slow, doesn't it."
posted by rekrap at 4:17 PM on January 10 [10 favorites]

Unfortunately I’m on mobile, so I can’t link well, but some satisfying to me action scenes:
-The fight scene from Old Boy
-bathroom fight in the newest mission impossible
-many a fight from The Last Airbender (series. not the movie.)
-Ip Man
posted by buttonedup at 4:23 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]

Friends of mine who are gun people say that the action scenes in John Wick and the sequel are amazing and that Keanu has real skills with the guns.
posted by Weeping_angel at 4:35 PM on January 10 [6 favorites]

Most of the fights in The Bourne Identity are fantastic. The sequels immediately veer into crazy-camera nonsense, visually that is.

This one is a favorite.
posted by panhopticon at 4:54 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]

The plane crash scene from the first Incredibles movie.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:18 PM on January 10 [4 favorites]

The sauna fight scene in Eastern Promises - there's something so visceral about having to fight naked, especially when your opponents are clothed.
posted by aspersioncast at 5:26 PM on January 10 [6 favorites]

In film, my award for technical excellence goes to the car chase/spinning hotel fight from Inception, and my award for artistic excellence goes to the brutal fistfight in They Live!

In literature, my favorite action scene is the massacre of the filibusters in Blood Meridian.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 5:55 PM on January 10 [4 favorites]

From The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, an action scene worthy of a James Bond movie only instead featuring dwarves, elves, orcs, rapids, barrels, axes, archers and 1 hobbit.
posted by forthright at 5:59 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]

I was going to mention the fight scene at the end of Alias S2 but Smearcase beat me to it. It's a great fight sequence but it's also one of the rare scenes where the action actually means something and there's a lot of emotional consequences at stake. I've shown it people out of context before because it's that good.
posted by darksong at 6:03 PM on January 10

From Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee's fight scene, in and out of a shopping cart.
posted by Oyéah at 6:04 PM on January 10

Lots of the fight scenes in Seven Samurai, though the climactic fight in the rain is the big one. A chunk of clip here.

The Deadpool opening scene comes to mind in recent movies.
posted by gudrun at 6:06 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]

The bank robbery shootout in Heat is a classic. (The shooting starts just after here. Apparently the weapons handling and tactics are pretty realistic.)

There are some great battle sequences in the Lord of the Rings films... Helm's Deep, Minas Tirith, Moria, Ride of the Rohirrim, and so on.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 6:06 PM on January 10 [4 favorites]

It's enough of a pure action movie that the scenes have blurred together a bit, but Dredd -- Urban, not Stallone -- is a nigh-on perfect action movie.

Stairway fight in Atomic Blonde.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 6:33 PM on January 10 [8 favorites]

I was really impressed by the action scenes in BBC’s Bodyguard. Here’s the sniper scene and there were a few others that had me riveted.
posted by rdnnyc at 6:36 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]

Anime: Motoko Kusanagi vs Stealth Tank [NSFW] (nudity, cyborg gore) from the original 1995 Ghost in the Shell film.
posted by glonous keming at 7:13 PM on January 10 [3 favorites]

For really long takes, the car scene in Children of Men and the drug raid in True Detective Season One are rightfully ironic.
posted by Candleman at 7:17 PM on January 10 [5 favorites]

The parkour chase at the beginning of Casino Royale.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 7:33 PM on January 10 [7 favorites]

The postman fight in 'three days of the condor'.

The first Martian attack in Spielberg's 'war of the worlds'.
posted by j_curiouser at 7:38 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]

I LOVE the first two scenes in Baby Driver. The getaway from the first heist is a great action sequence and having everything set to music is pretty novel. There is also a TON of attention to detail and great little bits of acting.

The 2nd scene isn't really an action scene but it's a great tracking shot and packs a TON of detail (much of which foreshadows the plot which I realized after multiple viewings) into a couple of minutes worth of our protagonist getting coffee.

2nd'ing The Incredibles but I really like the sequence on the tropical island from when the robot parrot sounds the alarm and the kids first successfully use their powers to subdue some bad guys to when their parents show up and show them how the pros handle henchmen.

I really enjoyed this video Every Frame a Painting: Jackie Chan - How To Do Action Comedy from this recent Jackie Chan thread on the blue. It does a great job of explaining how Chan's Chinese movies shoot action scenes differently and why that contributes to those movies being much better.
posted by VTX at 7:40 PM on January 10 [5 favorites]

The car (/motorcycle/fire truck/zombie police cars/18-wheeler) chase from Terminator 3 is pretty epic.
Also the recent indie scifi 'Upgrade' has amazing fight scenes where the hero is filmed with a gopro/steadicam attached to his body so the perspective is constantly changing.
Also, Hardcore Henry, the whole thing...action movie as first-person shooter.
posted by sexyrobot at 8:02 PM on January 10

Most of the fight scenes in The Raid and The Raid 2.
posted by chazlarson at 8:09 PM on January 10 [6 favorites]

It's kinda hokey at the same time, but the first scene in the cel-shaded cgi version of Appleseed?
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 8:12 PM on January 10

I especially like the elevator fight scene in Captain America:Winter Soldier, from the moment he gets into the elevator until the end.
posted by Tabitha Someday at 8:21 PM on January 10 [7 favorites]

I love the part in Fast & Furious 6 where Dom catches Letty. Totally improbable, but still wow IMHO :)
posted by Calzephyr at 8:45 PM on January 10

Look to anime! Sakuga videos are a great way to see a compilation of impressive animation. It's a great way to figure out what series to check out in more detail!
posted by SometimesChartreuse at 9:04 PM on January 10

I think the 2015 Korean film Assassination is going to be remembered not as a great "foreign" film, but as one of the great action films of all time, period. 1930's Korean doomed freedom fighters battling their Japanese colonial overlords. There are SO MANY excellent, gripping scenes in this movie. For instance, I think they do the Pulp-style truck chase better than the original Indiana Jones movie. It goes on and off streaming services regularly, but honestly, I would pay the $3 or whatever Amazon wants to watch it if you haven't already. You want to study action movies? Here is a whole master class in one go.
posted by seasparrow at 9:40 PM on January 10

There is a parkour chase scene in Casino Royale that was pretty awesome. There is a funny/memorable fight scene in Jack Reacher where Tom Cruise fights two baddies in a bathroom/hallway and they end up in a pile and Tom Cruise hits one guy in the head using the other guy's head.
posted by emd3737 at 9:43 PM on January 10

The opening chase scene that we get dropped into in The Road Warrior.

Brilliant opening to one of my favorite action movies of all time.
posted by Sphinx at 10:56 PM on January 10

Original Transformers G1 movie; the animated one - Dinobots destroying Devastator; segues into Prime rolling into Autobot city (previously unforeseen combat prowess : Wikipedia); then fighting Megatron.

YMMV; the movie itself did have quite an entourage of voice work - Nimoy, Wells, Scatman Crothers, Casey Kasem, Lowe, Blu... All hand drawn animation cells to boot.
posted by Afghan Stan at 11:05 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]

Came to find the unstoppable Jackie Chan in anything... anything....
Was not disappointed.
And for your pleasure.
posted by TrishaU at 12:19 AM on January 11

I'm fond of the first fight in 'Blade', at the blood rave, because it's so well timed.

There's a great single-shot fight scene with Tony Jaa in Tom-Yum-Goong/The Protector/Warrior King

You should definitely take a look at Mob Psycho 100 (especially later in the series)
posted by BinaryApe at 1:25 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]

Uh... the Matrix!

Also, pretty much the whole of the Long Kiss Goodnight.

And the shootout in Heat, as mentioned above. OMG.
posted by ZipRibbons at 2:28 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]

So many good choices in this thread!

As well as the above mentioned 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' opening scene, the 'Temple of Doom' opening scene is wonderful too (whisper it, perhaps better?).

I fully second the restaurant fight in 'Warrior King' and the single take street battle towards the end of 'Children of Men' and would add the bit earlier in the film where the car is ambushed -- really brutal and it comes out of nowhere.

The blindfolded alley fight in 'The Legend of Fong Sai-Yuk 2' -- any Jet Li from the early 90s is likely to have a couple of fantastic scenes.

Other personal faves include the car chase in 'Lupin III'. Really Miyazaki has so many great action scenes, amazing pacing and they don't rely on violence which a lot of action obviously tends towards; the final rescue scene in 'Kiki's Delivery Service' where she rides a janitors broom, the bit in Ponyo where Sosuke's mother is driving to outrun the tidal wave.

Also Pixar have a bunch of great action scenes in their films, the 'Toy Story' films and 'The Incredibles' are the obvious ones but the climax of 'Bugs Life' is fab too.
posted by tomp at 2:30 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]

Yimou Zhang's Curse of the Golden Flower has a few extended, beautiful, thrilling extended fight scenes.

The Hallway fight scene in Oldboy

I LOVED the Tunnel/Train fight scene in Snowpiercer

Call me hokey but I always loved the opening dance club scene in Blade with all that late 90s techno music.

Great suggestions above, too! This is a great question!
posted by Dressed to Kill at 4:50 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]

Stairway fight in Atomic Blonde.


Also, pretty much the whole of the Long Kiss Goodnight.


my award for technical excellence goes to the car chase/spinning hotel fight from Inception

I showed Inception to my teenage daughter recently as she had never seen it, and man, this scene holds up. It's really mind boggling how they pulled it off.

Do you want an example of how not to do it? I'm going to be pilloried for saying this, but the first fight scene in Pacific Rim. Why do I say the first fight scene? Because it was edited so badly it made me turn the movie off and I didn't bother finishing it.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:52 AM on January 11

The 'Danny Boy' shootout in Miller's Crossing
posted by Chenko at 4:54 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]

Patrick Dempsey made running away from people feel very compelling in Running.
Seconding Baby Driver and Jackie Chan.
posted by Buddy_Boy at 5:03 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]

Children of Men has two long singlecut shots, the car attack and the fight in the refugee camp. Both are excellent.
posted by Meatbomb at 5:09 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]

Niles Crane ironing his trousers. Seriously. Tension, escalation, resolution. I think it's an outstanding piece of storytelling
posted by runincircles at 5:40 AM on January 11

If guns blazing mayhem is something you’d be interested, you can’t get more shootem up than pretty much the entire John Woo film Hard Boiled. Chow Yun Fat is pretty much the definition of gun movie 90s cool. The Killer, too (for the apartment scene where the cop and the killer keep their guns on each other while the blind woman keeps moving between them is cheesy, but well done).
posted by Ghidorah at 7:03 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]

For me, the best Indiana Jones action sequence is the truck chase from Raiders. Just stunning stuff, perfectly filmed, building throughout, fantastic music, it's got it all. Spielberg is an expert at this stuff.

We like to forget the Matrix sequels exist, but in Reloaded (number 2), the part of the film from the stairway fight through to the highway chase is some really amazing film making. They built a whole stretch of real highway for that scene! It's the only part of the movie that I bother watching.

No one has mentioned John Woo yet? I think? Hard Boiled is my personal fave, although The Killer has some great staging in a few places. But the restaurant hallway shootout in Hard Boiled is justifiable famous. The hospital shootout at the end is pretty amazing too.

Speaking of Chow Yun Fat, there's some pretty well-done action in the Replacement Killers as well.
posted by dellsolace at 7:03 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]

Ha! Ghidorah beat me to John Woo. But for gun-type action, you really need to study some of his work. It's amazing.
posted by dellsolace at 7:05 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]

the staircase fight in Tom Yum Goong
the clinic fight in Never Say Never Again
the debris storm in Gravity
Dan Dority fights the Captain on Deadwood
the car chase in To Live and Die in L.A.
sneaking through the train station in Carlito's Way
helicopter scene in Darkman
posted by heatvision at 8:40 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]

The car chase scene from The French Connection. Great background on how it was shot.
posted by Vek at 8:45 AM on January 11 [4 favorites]

The on-foot chase scene in Tell No One.
posted by this roof at 9:04 AM on January 11

The frying pan scene in the underrated Night Watch.
posted by rhizome at 9:57 AM on January 11

The opening one-shot in Strange Days.
posted by humboldt32 at 10:55 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]

With all of the wonderful suggestions here, I am gobsmacked not to see a mention of The Chase from Bullitt. Here's more.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 11:56 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]

I also really like the first action sequence in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. There are a lot of good fight scenes in that movie but I really dig how literally runs around the ship's deck taking baddies out while barely breaking stride. Really good momentum and flow kinda similar to The Matrix's lobby shootout scene.
posted by VTX at 12:09 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]

Das Boot - Emergency Dive

Les Misérables (2012) - The Final Battle.

Waterloo - Charge of the Scots Greys (from 1m 47s to 4m 56s), which includes a beautifully-shot shout-out.
posted by Morfil Ffyrnig at 5:45 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]

Since Bourne has already come up, Doug Liman's Edge of Tomorrow has a bunch of pretty stellar action sequences - the Beach Scene gets brought up a lot.

Also District 9 has several pretty amazing action sequences.
posted by aspersioncast at 5:50 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]

Such an awesome thread! And Spiderman is a GREAT freaking movie bursting with creativity.

Check out Genndy Tartakovsky's work in Star Wars: Clone Wars. He's got really distinct pacing.

You can also see his influence in the final fight of Iron Man 2. Note the 30-second build up of tension before the shooting starts. Love that.

In a totally different style, I love this practice bout between One Punch Man and his student Genos. Awesome power of attacks vs. One Punch Man's personality is hilarious.

The Raid and its sequel have many great, creative fight scenes, although the violence has a touch of torture porn that turns me off. Here's one.

Ong Bak's first proper fight scene is so, so good and satisfying.

I've always liked James Cameron's action scenes. They're slower, you can feel the weight of the punches, and you always know where the actors are in space. The final fight in Avatar is some good fightin'. And OMG this scene from Terminator 2 - iconic!

I also really liked this fight scene from Batman vs. Superman where Batman saves Superman's mother. Even though the movie's dumb and the scene turns Batman into a murderer, all the lines of movement are creative and clear.

And the big throne room lightsaber battle in Last Jedi is also pretty great - it kicks off with a big surprise, and then an intense, stylish battle.

The common thread with all of these fight/action scenes is they're paced deliberately enough for me as the viewer to understand. And most of them (Batman excepted) are rooted in character.

Movies with crappy action scenes I hate: the Taken movies, most anything directed by Michael Bay.
posted by boghead at 6:16 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]

Dramatic answer: the fight scene from the start of season 2 of Hannibal. It follows one of the famous strategies for crafting a good fight scene, in that the fight should reflect the emotional interplay of the characters (Jack angry, full of rage, and betrayed; Hannibal coldly calculating and precise).

Comedic answer: The "Mr. Roboto" scene from season 2 of Chuck. Chuck had famously good music choices, and this is no exception.
posted by The Notorious B.F.G. at 10:44 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]

I thought of a couple more:

The Time in a Bottle scene from X-Men: Days of Future Past relies a lot on it's VFX but it does a great job of showing a character's super power that we normally just see as a blur.

Along the same lines I think the way they translated Domino's powers (she's lucky!) to the big screen in Deadpool 2 were interesting and fresh.
posted by VTX at 6:30 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]

These are all fantastic! I have plenty to go through, thanks so much for all the suggestions!
posted by sprezzy at 9:51 AM on January 14

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