/Answers: The Best Movie Gunfights Of All Time

Every week in /Answers, we attempt to answer a new pop culture-related question. This week's edition asks "What is your favorite movie gunfight of all time?" As always, we have submissions from the /Film writing crew and podcast team.

If you'd like to share your favorite movie gunfight, please send your thoughts to slashfilmpitches@gmail.com for a chance to be featured on the site. Find our choices below!

David Chen: Equilibrium

Okay, so Equilibrium is a movie that is super cheesy, low budget, and has aged poorly. But I already wrote about my love of Hard Boiled elsewhere, so let me just say this: I love the creativity of Equilibrium. While the idea of gun-kata may seem silly to some, I appreciate that Kurt Wimmer's insane mind came up with the idea of dancing/posing while shooting people, and that he followed that basic idea through to its logical conclusion.

The final scene in the movie is an intense duel between Christian Bale and Angus McFadyen, but what I appreciate about it is it doesn't actually have that much shooting. It's just two guys, each trying really hard to prevent the other guy from shooting him in the face. The novelty of such a scene is already impressive, but even though the premise of the shootout is fundamentally silly, I still find it to be hypnotic and well executed sequence.

Peter Sciretta: Hard Boiled

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a fan of the long take. In fact, I've already written about two other long-takes in previous /Answers (Favorite Long Takes and Favorite Action scenes). This time, I am choosing the hospital shootout scene from John Woo's seminal 1992 film Hard Boiled. Yes, David Chen featured this as his favorite action scene of all time and now I'm featuring it as my favorite movie gunfight. Like David, I remember the first time I ever saw this scene play on my DVD player, with my mouth hanging open in disbelief at the choreography and pure spectacle on display.

One reason long-takes are now trendy is because they are much easier to accomplish in the age of digital cameras. Back in the day, film was expensive and shooting a reel was burning money. Lighting a scene for film exposure was also far more difficult, and film cameras were a lot heavier than today's digital counterparts. This makes the insanity of this scene all the more impressive.

The hospital shootout in Hard Boiled lasts nearly three minutes and features a ton of effects, including heavy gunfire, explosions, bullets blowing holes in the set, fire, and blood splatters, all of which was accomplished practically during shooting. Imagine being the on-set explosives guy who has to ready all the squids for this sequence! The scene is so masterfully choreographed and features Woo's signature slow motion style. So many films have tried to top this sequence and no one has managed it.

Christopher Stipp: Heat

There's something ominous in the atmosphere before the guns even come out and the Battle of North Hollywood begins.

Director Michael Mann, in choreographing the most tense 13 minutes you could ever watch, was able to balance the weight of making one of the most thrilling shootouts ever put to celluloid with making the action on the screen feel like there are real world stakes involved. Sure, you have stakes in other movies where guns determine the dramatic arc of whether good guys win or bad guys lose, but here, in this moment, everyone loses. There are no winners here and that's part of this scene's never ending allure. To see the deflation of the crew looking to take down a bank and the lives that are taken on both sides just illustrates why Heat continues to be a reference quality representation of how we both worship wanton violence in other movies and, in cases like this, stand in stark black and white about what real cops and robbers can do to one another.

One thing that I truly find remarkable about this scene is just how quiet it is. Leading up to the first shot being taken, there is a minimal amount of score in the background. It's muted, very light and very tense, almost like white noise. But once Val Kilmer takes aim and squeezes the trigger, that music stops and it's all about the ambient sounds of a true gun battle. The sounds of machine gun and shotgun fire, punctuated by screeching tires and screaming, followed by fits of silence...it's all so eerie. The soundscape comes alive and only elevates the scene's resonance long after it's done.

Ethan Anderton: Hot Fuzz

It's not easy to craft an action sequence that is simultaneously exciting and hilarious, but Edgar Wright does it all the time. What's most impressive about Hot Fuzz is that he creates an awesome gunfight that is chock full of plenty of bullets, but doesn't actually have a body count. In fact, most of the Neighborhood Watch Alliance isn't even taken out by gunfire in the extended final fight in Sanford that spans several settings, but by various other weapons and items, like flower pots and bear traps. Since the climax actually spans so much time and so many locations, I've narrowed this down to the initial gunfight with Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and the rest of the townspeople, which is chock full of brilliant callbacks to other jokes that were so carefully set up throughout the rest of the movie.

john wick

Jacob Hall: John Wick

John Wick doesn't beat around the bush. His quest to avenge the death of his dog at the hands of Russian mobsters (and work out some serious emotional issues on the way) is littered with dozens of corpses, but you will never see him waste the time of his allies and his enemies. This is an antihero whose combat style is defined by its pure, ruthless efficiency – he aims for the head because it's the fastest way to take an opponent down before he moves on the next henchman. John's body count is the not the result of pure excess, but rather the result of a professional getting the job done without wasting any unnecessary energy or ammunition. Any additional blood, sweat, and tears spent on just looking cool could get him killed.

When you combine this combat style with Keanu Reeves' pitch-perfect deadpan and the horrified reactions of his many enemies, you have something special: intense, outrageous, darkly hilarious, and simultaneously impossible and plausible (it helps that Reeves himself does the bulk of his own stunts and knows how to carry himself on screen). While John Wick and its sequel contain a number of great shootouts, the high-water mark remains the nightclub battle from the first movie, where John decimates a small army of bad guys, gets the crap beaten out of him, and keeps on moving. It's the purest encapsulation of what makes the action in these movies so special. John moves like such a professional and Reeves takes it all so seriously, that the insanity of the scene as a whole is balanced out. You buy it.

Jack Giroux: L.A. Confidential

Here's a shootout with character and spectacle in full force. Watching the light come in through the bullet holes and the faceless adversaries lurking in the dark make for some incredible images in Curtis Hanson's adaptation of James Elroy's novel. The Victory Motel scene is a contained action scene, but its effect is epic. Bud White (Russell Crowe) and Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) working together feels monumental.

The two cops grow tight enough where they don't even need to discuss their next moves. They're on the same page, finally, after being at each other's throats for two hours. They outmatched cops are always on the move and scrambling. They're in a shootout that never gives them more than a second or two to catch their breath. I've always loved this sequence's momentum, how Jerry Goldsmith's score plays alongside the loud gunfire, the great piece of levity before what looks like certain death ("He died in the line of duty, didn't he?"), and the payoff: Exley choosing to be a cop instead of another corrupt politician.

Hoai-Tran Bui: The Matrix

I've never been truly captivated by a good shootout. Give me a neo-wuxia martial arts fight scene any day – I find many shooting scenes to just be repetitive. Point, shoot and duck — then repeat, right? So it's no surprise that The Matrix, which combined elements from Hong Kong action thriller, cyberpunk anime and wuxia-lite martial arts would have the gun-crazy shootout that captured my attention.

Ironically, the best shootout scene in The Matrix is not the one that made it an iconic piece of pop culture history that was parodied and imitated a thousand times over. As groundbreaking as the real-time bullet scene was, it wasn't a proper shootout, even though it did look pretty nifty. Now the lobby scene — with its combination of Hong Kong cinema action stunts and the sheer number of bullets that was rained upon those marble floors — deserves to be on this list.

The scene was notable for using minimal CGI, and focusing on practical effects and stunt-work. It's a brilliantly paced scene, beginning on a pretty mundane note — Neo and his duffle bag going through a security checkpoint — and only becoming more and more spectacular as the scene goes on. The overcoat revealing an arsenary of guns; Trinity's entrance, guns blazing; the two of them throwing aside their weapons after the bullets have run out; and the utter destroyal of the exquisite marble lobby all make for one of the greatest shootouts in movie history — even if that scene, and The Matrix itself, was really just a composite of other great movies.

Ben Pearson: Tombstone

The gunfight at the O.K. Corral is the most famous shootout in the history of the Old West, but it certainly wasn't the slickest. As depicted in 1993's Tombstone – a film that went out of its way to capture the details as accurately as possible – the gunfight was a sloppy and chaotic mess, with its participants shooting wildly at each other. Any other movie might use this fight as its climax, but it's a testament to Tombstone's greatness that a scene as solid as this one serves as just another notch in the long-brewing feud between the Earp family and the notorious Cowboy gang. Stephen Lang's sniveling turn as Ike Clanton is especially wonderful here, as he throws up his hands in surrender before stumbling into a nearby building, breaking the windows, and firing indiscriminately at the Earp brothers and Val Kilmer's Doc Holliday. The whole thing is a cacophony of smoke, gunshots, blood, and glass shards. It's terrific.


What do you think of our picks? What is your favorite movie gun battle? Talk about it in the comments below or email your personal answer (a paragraph or more) to slashfilmpitches@gmail.com with the subject title "Favorite Movie Gun Battle." Our favorite responses will be featured on the site in a future post!

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