/Answers: The Best Movie Gunfights of All Time

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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