Our Favorite Action Scenes

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.

Angie Han: Haywire - Hotel Attack

Look, picking a single favorite action scene out of the entire history of cinema is an impossible task. I already hate myself for all the ones I didn't go with, including a bunch of those that my colleagues have named here. But I'll give a shoutout to one that puts a smile on my face every time I think about it — which is often: the hotel fight in HaywireGina Carano may not be the world's best actress, but she is a great fighter and a mesmerizing onscreen presence. While Steven Soderbergh makes the most of her talents throughout the entire movie, which is designed to let her brawl as much as possible and emote as little as possible, she never shines brighter than she does here.

Carano's mano-a-mano matchup with Michael Fassbender feels different from most movie fight scenes, because it feels real. There's no fancy wirework or green-screen trickery here. The use of stunt doubles seems to be minimal. There isn't even a soundtrack, and barely any dialogue — mostly, we just hear the just the grunts and slaps of two people going at it as hard as they possibly can. It's ugly. It's messy. It looks painful as hell. And it's an awe-inspiring reminder of what the human body can do.

It's also, it should be said, kind of hot. Not just because it's two attractive people tussling in a bedroom, but because of the raw, intense physicality of the entire sequence. I know we're talking action scenes this week in honor of John Wick: Chapter 2, but let me tell you — this weekend's other big release, Fifty Shades Darker, could probably learn a thing or two from Haywire as well.

Blake Harris: Kill Bill Vol. 1 - Showdown at the House of the Blue Leaves

Is there anything better than watching Uma Thurman shred her way through the Crazy 88s? Those maniacal minions—masked, in suits, carrying swords—who move as one, with the apprehensive grace of an Octopus, while attempting to thwart our hero from the vengeance she so richly deserves. Like most Quentin Tarantino scenes (action or otherwise), this one sizzles with a lethal balance of savagery, subtlety, and eccentricity; delivering, ultimately, a wonderful sort of larger-than-life authenticity.

Jeff Cannata: Mad Max: Fury Road - Any 10 Minutes

Wow, this is a tough one. There have been so many legendary, spectacular action sequences in cinema history. I could spend an entire other article debating just which movie shootout is the most exciting, or which chase scene is the most thrilling, or which martial arts sequence is my favorite — hell, I'd have a hard time even picking my favorite fight just from Jackie Chan's films!  But since this question casts such a wide net, I started to form different criteria. Broadly speaking, great action sequences aren't simply about the choreography or set pieces,  they are about emotion. They are about storytelling, and stakes, and character. To that end, my mind immediately went to the Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the iconic under-the-truck chase sequence. It still holds up as one of the most incredible action set pieces in motion picture history.

But no, that's not my pick.  Because I started to think about more recent history and I realized what is truly my favorite action sequence... what was something that utterly gobsmacked me, but also drew me into the characters more... and it is ANY TEN MINUTES IN MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. That's right; I don't even care which ten minutes you pick. Grab any 10-minute stretch in that movie, and it will be full of more character-defining action, thrill, excitement, and emotion than almost anything that came before it.

The film was a revelation to me when I saw it. The ability to still completely dazzle our modern jaded sensibilities on a visceral level, and also tell a compelling, provocative story almost entirely through action. Mad Max: Fury Road proves that you can build an entire film out of action sequences — eye-popping, pulse-pounding action sequences — and still be grounded in character and emotion. Max gagged and bound to the front of a buggy, tearing through the desert, motorcycle-mounted attackers leaping over a caravan making its escape, fisticuffs atop vehicles speeding through the sand, men on freaking poles bending, swooping, and snatching human beings from moving cars — I'll take any one of those moments, thank you. Mad Max: Fury Road is an action masterpiece.

Ethan Anderton: The Raid 2: Berandal - The Final Fight

One of my favorite experiences from attending the Sundance Film Festival over the past seven years was being present for the world premiere of The Raid 2: Berandal. This isn't the kind of movie you normally see at Sundance, which is part of what made it so refreshing in the middle of the festival. Combine that with a packed house at the largest theater at the festival, and you have one of the most exhilarating theater going experiences I've had. People were actually catching their breath and releasing tension in their bodies between action scenes. I've never experienced anything like it.

When it came time to pick my favorite action scene for this week, The Raid 2 shot right to the forefront of my mind. Honestly, I could have picked any fight scene from this movie, because it has some of the best action that the big screen has ever seen. But there's nothing that's quite as brutal, extensive and impressive as the final fight between Iko Uwais and Cecep Arif Rahman in a white, pristine kitchen that gets busted up and covered in blood.

This fight is relentless, exhausting and perfectly executed, both in fighting choreography and in cinematography. The camera moves expertly around the kitchen, moving fluidly with the actors for every carefully planned punch, kick, and stab. From the tense lead-up to the actual fight at the beginning to all the fast-moving blows throughout that give a little room to breathe, it's no wonder it took director Gareth Evans six weeks to plan the fight and eight days to shoot it for a final tally of 195 incredible action shots.

If you've somehow never seen The Raid: Redemption, or this sequel where the above scene comes from, do yourself a favor and take the time to enjoy every bone-crunching, blood-spurting minute of both of them. After that, come back and find out which action scenes director Gareth Evans counts as his top five action scenes. Now if we could just get The Raid 3 ready to go, that would be great.

Jacob Hall: From Russia With Love - Train Fight

No matter how extravagant they may get, every movie action scene ultimately boils down to one basic idea: more than one person enters a room, only one person leaves. This core concept, the root of all cinematic action, has never been more pure than the train fight in From Russia With Love. Sean Connery's James Bond and Robert Shaw's Donald "Red" Grant both enter a train compartment. Only Agent 007 leaves.

The scene works for a number of reasons, but what's most surprising about this 1963 brawl is its cruelty. The decades have transformed James Bond into a comic book character, a charming, wisecracking superhero. But From Russia With Love does a remarkable job of reminding us that underneath those magnificent suits and debonair charms is a man who kills people for a living and he's really good at it. It helps that director Terence Young slowly builds to this inevitable confrontation, establishing Grant as Bond's equal in every possible way before isolating them in that tiny room and letting them fight to the death. Bond does not win the fight because he's the action hero and pop culture icon who has to win – Bond wins the fight because he fights dirty, punches below the belt, and isn't above taking every "unfair" advantage he can to subdue his opponent. It's gnarly and nasty and disturbing, made all the more effective by Connery's air of dry professionalism as he strangles the life out of Grant.

Other James Bond movies have delivered bigger and more spectacular action, and the recent Daniel Craig movies have seen a return to the tone of the early films, where Bond is just as frightening as he is fun. Yet, no amount of pyrotechnics or destruction can top two exceptional actors playing two dangerous men engaging in a life-or-death struggle that truly feels like it can go either way. A half century later, From Russia With Love is still a visceral experience. You don't realize you're holding your breath until Grant slumps to the ground. Only then do you exhale.

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What Is Your Favorite Action Scene?

What do you think of our picks? What is your favorite action scene in a film or tv series? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!