In honor of John Wick: Chapter 2, which hits theaters this week, we are taking a look at our favorite action scenes from movies and television history. But this isn’t just about us, it’s also about you. What did we get right? What did we get wrong? What is your favorite action scene? Leave your picks in the comments below!
/Answers is a weekly feature where all of the /Film writers and podcasters attempt to answer a pop culture related question. Last week, in honor of the Super Bowl, we answered: “What is your favorite sports movie?”
Jack Giroux: Aliens – Rescue Mission
(Note: we couldn’t find a clip of the scene described below, so above is a different clip from Aliens that represents some of the same qualities.)
Total chaos shot with absolute clarity. James Cameron‘s set pieces rarely ever cause confusion, so that’s a given, but the sense of horror is what I adore about this sequence. Even cutting from Hudson (Bill Paxton) making another wisecrack to the shot of some doomed marines and an unsettling piece of music from the late James Horner — which makes the world sound like it’s turning upside down — gets under my skin.
The rescue mission get progressively worse as the stakes rise. The marines are told not to use bullets or grenades, are in an unknown, beautifully designed and eerie environment, and have no clue what they’re up against. They do, as Hudson says, get their asses kicked, and it’s equally thrilling and horrifying.
Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver) genuinely terrified reaction to the chestburster, Lieutenant Gorman’s (William Hope) futile instructions, the haunting sound of the multiple signals, and the hero taking charge when others are left confused and afraid by what they’re seeing, it’s one terrific moment after another in this action scene.
Peter Sciretta: Children of Men – Car Attack
I’ve always been a huge fan of long-take tracking shots, which seem to have become more popular in the last few years. The truck sequence from Raiders of the Lost Ark might have been my favorite action sequence as a child, but as an adult, I feel the pull towards Alfonso Cuarón’s one-shot action sequences in Gravity and Children of Men.
The opening sequence in Gravity is so thrilling and masterfully done. I nearly had a panic attack watching this movie, but in the back of my head, this sequence probably loses points for not being an actual one-shot sequence. Thus, I think my favorite action scene of all time might be the one-shot car sequence from Children of Men. The sequence does such a masterful job of putting us as an audience in this confined space with our protagonists in the midst of the action. We truly feel the danger all around us. And yes, the one-shot sequence at the end of the film is also amazing.
As for my favorite non-one-take action sequence, that would probably go to Tom Cruise scaling the Burj Khalifa from Brad Bird‘s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, which was so breathtaking and thrilling in IMAX 70mm.
Devindra Hardawar: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – Michelle Yeoh vs. Zhang Ziyi
I’ll be honest, choosing a single favorite action scene is incredibly tough for me. I’ve been infatuated with action cinema since I was a kid, and I have countless fights/chases/set pieces burned into my brain at this point. But if I had to pick one, I’d have to go with the epic showdown between Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (a film I also count among my top 5). This fight has it all: Wonderful choreography from the great Woo-Ping Yuen; talented performers who actually know what they’re doing; and a director and cinematographer who know precisely how to shoot this elaborate dance.
Most importantly, though, this fight scene tells us something about the characters. Shu Lien (Yeoh) desperately wants to save Jen (Ziyi), but the young girl’s hubris keeps getting in the way. They’re not only fighting for their lives; they’re fighting for their friendship. Pretty much every action scene in Crouching Tiger is imbued with some sort of deeper meaning, but this one in particular just breaks my heart every time I see it. (And it’s worth noting that CT:HD has several of the greatest fight scenes ever put to film: How can you forget Jen’s tea house throwdown? Or Li Mu Bai’s (Chow-Yun Fat) first encounter with Jen, where he tests her skill with a twig? Or their floating fight among bamboo trees? It’s a practically perfect film.)
Christopher Stipp: The Crow – Final Fight
You can go substance over style, but we’re talking action sequence so style it is. One of the most enduring action sequences that have lingered with me long since having seen it was in The Crow as it nears its final act. If we were to conduct a post-mortem and unpack all the things going on in this scene you’ve got a lot to chew on: how Brandon Lee’s untimely demise was because of a gun blast gone wrong, the heavy use of comic book bravado, the self-awareness in this scene of how obnoxious grand pronouncements sound to everyone else in the room, a dope track by My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult playing in the background before it just stops immediately, sword play, the head shots, and one of the best one-liners ever uttered before he disposes of Skank:
It’s not a good day to be a bad guy…
A good fight scene seems to be as specific to one person’s taste a perfume, but the work that fight choreographer Jeff Imada put into this scene is just sumptuous. It’s not high art, but the chills it induces when I watch this, again and again — it gets me every single time.
David Chen: Hard Boiled – Hospital Shootout
If you are writing a piece about the best action scenes of all time and your answer is not “The hospital shootout from Hard Boiled,” then your argument is invalid. The first time I watched this thing, I was in awe. My jaw was on the floor. How could this movie have delivered massive action set pieces like the warehouse scene from earlier in the film, only to make them look like a weak preamble to one of the most ambitious action scenes ever.
This is the most John Woo scene that John Woo ever John Woo-ed. There’s copious slow-motion, incredible gunplay, explosions galore, innocent bystanders constantly imperiled, and of course, a baby peeing out a fire on Chow Yun-Fat’s body. Even though the stakes in his films are epic and Shakespearean, Woo is ultimately just trying to be a consummate entertainer. And of course, the scene goes on forever. I get exhausted just watching it, let alone imagining how they filmed this madness. It’s an action scene bar that virtually no action movies have risen to since.