Making a movie is a tough process. There are so many variables and moving parts that if one thing goes wrong, it can spoil the entire production. It’s such an intricate balancing act that it’s a wonder that most movies make it to theaters, let alone manage to be any good whatsoever. This is especially true of action movies, with the required choreography and stunts adding extra layers of complexity for the filmmakers to deal with. For every great action movie, there are a handful of bad ones that somehow fell short, whether it’s with the acting, scripting, budget or any number of other factors.
Despite all this, there’s rarely a movie released that’s 100% bad. Some even manage to contain great sequences that stand proud and unburnt amidst the dumpster fire that is the rest of the film. Obviously, movie quality is subjective, and we’re not here to spoil anyone’s personal preferences. With that in mind, we’ve collected the 15 Best Fight Scenes From Terrible Action Movies and presented them in no particular order.
15. Wife strife – Total Recall (2012)
Were people crying out for a remake of Total Recall? In America, no, as the poor domestic totals showed, but the film was largely saved by the overseas market. The movie was a half remake of the Paul Verhoeven original and a half adaptation of the Phillip K. Dick novel. It was critically mauled in the press and has largely been forgotten by the moviegoing public.
The one area the film did deliver on, however, was action. Some of the sequences are well executed and worthy of a watch. The best sequence comes after a larger action scene where Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) has just wiped out a room full of UFB (United Federation of Britain) police officers. Shocked and traumatised, Quaid returns home to hug his wife, Lori (Kate Beckinsale), who starts to hug him a little too tightly. It becomes apparent Lori is trying to kill him as well, and the two have a furious close quarters fight around their home. Lori busts out some impressively athletic moves (including the rarely-seen but seriously effective crotch slide) and Quaid tries desperately to keep her at bay. Had the film had more moments of this quality perhaps it’d be talked about more instead of thrown on the ever-growing heap of forgettable remakes.
14. Samurai showdown – Sucker Punch (2011)
Zack Snyder needs a good script. Whilst directors in general can’t work their magic on nothing, Snyder especially has proven that he needs the framework of a good story on which to pin his over-the-top visual style. Nowhere is this more apparent than in 2011’s Sucker Punch, which he co-wrote and directed. When it came out, it was criticized for being all style and no substance. The movie has started to be reconsidered by some, but the majority of people still regard it as his worst film by a wide margin.
At one point in the story, Babydoll (Emily Browning) finds herself in a fantasy world and told to defend herself against gigantic samurai demon creatures. Never a slouch in the visuals department, Snyder creates some cool imagery that amps up the tension of the comparatively tiny Babydoll against the huge samurai. When Babydoll gets booted through a monastery door and flies back about a hundred feet, it’s clear we’re operating on anime rules. It’s an awesome looking sequence that’s over too quickly, but wins on sheer spectacle. Special shout-out goes to the other samurai that brought a rocket launcher and a minigun to a sword fight and still managed to lose.
13. First person firefight – Doom (2005)
Based on the iconic video game series, Doom came out in 2005 to a small and perplexed audience. Despite having the awesomeness of Karl Urban and the nuclear-hot charisma of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in its favor, the movie managed to be utterly generic, disappointed fans of the series and forcing its way into the box-office bomb column.
Towards the end of the movie, things perk up. We’re treated to a short sequence where we look through the eyes Staff Sgt. Grimm (Urban) in a first person view, an affectionate homage to the games it’s based on. Grimm blasts zombies and demons, all scored with a remixed version of the classic Doom theme “At Doom’s Gate” performed by wailing electric guitars, before ending up taking on a vicious and toothy “Pinky” demon with a convenient chainsaw. It’s a thick slice of schlock that has a sense of fun that’s missing from the movie up until that point.
12. Forest ambush – Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
“Compromised” is probably the best word to describe Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven. When the film was released in 2005, it was met with mixed to negative reviews. Ridley Scott blamed himself for being too invested in preview audiences’ feedback as well as not fighting Fox when they wanted him to gouge out a massive 45 minutes from the movie. The subpar version that played in theaters clearly irked Scott, and he supervised a director’s cut which was released on DVD the next year. The extended version received critical acclaim and is widely considered one of the best and most significantly different director’s cuts ever.
Orlando Bloom’s Balian joins his father Godfrey (Liam Neeson) and a motley crew of warriors in the forest. Godfrey’s nephew (
Jaime Lannister a young Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) shows up on horseback with a bunch of men to take Balian in for the murder of a priest. Godfrey refuses and soon the warriors are ambushed. What follows is an awesome and violent battle (even more violent and bloody in the director’s cut) that has all the Crusades-era action you’d ever want. The best part is the double-tough German knight that doesn’t let a little thing like a crossbow bolt to the throat get in the way of destroying his enemies. It’s a quality scene that deserved a better film, which it thankfully got — eventually.
11. Battling Gunn – Rocky V (1990)
If you shouted “Rocky V sucks!” in a crowded place, apart from being told that you’re upsetting the children and escorted away, you wouldn’t find many people that would disagree with you. It’s regarded as the weakest entry of the series and showed all the fatigue and desperation of a punch-drunk boxer ready for the knockout blow.
Retired boxer Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) has taken a young fighter by the name of Tommy “Machine” Gunn (Tommy Morrison) under his wing and trained him personally. Despite becoming a top contender under Rocky’s tutelage, Gunn grows resentful of living in Balboa’s shadow and soon strikes out on his own with manager Duke (Tony Burton). Gunn wins the heavyweight title but is unfavorably compared to Rocky again and called a “paper champion”. Gunn eventually challenges Rocky to a fight, which the Italian Stallion only accepts when things gets personal. Rocky stipulates that it’s an unofficial street fight.
The pair square off outside with a small crowd around them, and overall, it’s a really well-choreographed sequence. The punches have some real oomph to them and the personal stakes are well defined. Plus, having the climactic fight taking place outside of a boxing ring was a first for the series. After a tough battle and some inspiration from the dearly departed Mickey, Rocky rallies and knocks Gunn silly as the triumphant theme plays. With Gunn out of the picture, Rocky advances on Duke. Duke threatens to sue Rocky if he touches him, which leads to Balboa considering it for a moment, before knocking Duke down as well. “Sue me for what?” Rocky quips as the scene ends.
10. Ant men – Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
After years and years in development hell, the long delayed fourth Indiana Jones adventure, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, was eventually made and released almost 20 years after Last Crusade. Although initial reviews were positive, the general consensus now seems to be that perhaps the franchise would have been better off in a museum. That’s not stopping Disney from trying again though, as the next Indy adventure is due out in 2019.
Kingdom of the Crystal Skull drew a lot of heat for its uninspired story and weak action. However, things take a turn for the better when Indy (Harrison Ford) takes on Russian brute Dovchenko (Igor Jijikine). The fight is very reminiscent of Indy’s scrap with the Nazi mechanic in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Indy finds himself even more outmatched this time around thanks to his advanced age. The addition of the swarming flesh-eating ants is a nice touch, and it leads to one of the series’ nastier deaths. It’s a solid and impactful fistfight that throws the flat and lifeless action scenes before itinto sharp contrast. Here’s hoping Indy 5 keeps this scene in mind when it comes to planning the action beats.
9. Greased fighting – The Transporter (2002)
Whilst he’d appeared in several Guy Ritchie films prior, The Transporter was the movie that introduced Jason Statham as the angry, bald, human wrecking ball we all know and love today. The Stath plays Frank Martin, an ex-Special Forces badass who makes a living by reliably transporting things for the criminal underworld, be they drugs, people or fists to faces. The movie got mediocre to bad write-ups, most of them criticizing the weak story. That sound you just heard is the critics missing the point so hard it made an audible “whoosh” noise.
The standout sequence in The Transporter occurs when Frank finds himself at a bus garage, surrounded by bad dudes. Stath wastes no time in getting shirtless, and soon finds himself kicking ass and not even bothering with the names. He fights his way out of a bus onto the garage floor. He’s heavily outnumbered, so he decides to even the odds with some nearby drums of oil. The bad guys struggle to stay on their feet as Frank wrestles with them, and he soon decides to grease himself up to evade capture and slides around the floor. It’s a great fight that’s both innovative and fun in equal measures. The rest of the film has a hard time topping it, but it’s one of Stath’s best fight scenes in a long and fruitful career of kicking people in the head.
8. Neo vs. Agent Smith – The Matrix Revolutions (2003)
The Matrix sequels had an uphill struggle from the get-go. The original Matrix started as a sleeper hit and soon became a cultural phenomenon that changed how action movies were made. There was an incredible amount of hype for the follow-up adventures, and everyone was expecting the Wachowskis to knock it out of the park once again. So when the movies came out and didn’t cure several types of cancer and dispense free puppies with every viewing, opinion soured on them, and the series ended up disappointing its rabid fanbase for the most part.
The Matrix Revolutions ends with a final showdown between Neo (Keanu Reeves) and series antagonist Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving). Smith has taken over the Matrix and as a result, billions of copies of himself are currently populating it. However, the original Smith chooses to take Neo on whilst the rest of him watches. No-one can deny that the fight is epic in scale. The always impressive martial arts on display are just as awesome as they were in the series’ first entry and the lightning storm coupled with Don Davis’ portentous, operatic score really drives home the fact that this is the end of an epic story. The Wachowskis made no secret of their influences; the fight is clearly heavily inspired by shows like Dragonball Z. It doesn’t quite stick the landing, but it’s still an enjoyable brawl made all the better by Hugo Weaving’s monologuing.
7. Darth Mauled – Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)
No film has been raked over the coals more frequently or thoroughly than The Phantom Menace. Regardless of what you may think of the Star Wars prequel trilogy, it’s safe to say there are a lot of people angry and disappointed with how they turned out.
Whilst the podracing sequence earlier in the film injected some fun into proceedings, it’s the three-way fight between Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor), Qui-Gon (Liam Neeson) and Darth Maul (Ray Park) that’s the showstopper. Granted, it doesn’t make much sense story-wise — we know nothing about Darth Maul at this point and the moves are obviously choreographed to within an inch of their life — but that doesn’t stop it from being incredibly enjoyable. Ray Park’s martial arts mastery and John Williams’ fantastic “Duel of the Fates” score also help tremendously. You could play that piece whilst feeding your cat and it’d feel epic. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
6. Biker bar brawl – Daredevil (2003)
Years before he would don the Dark Knight‘s iconic cape and cowl, Ben Affleck starred as Marvel’s Man Without Fear, Daredevil. The film was received poorly, and most people consider it a low point in Affleck’s career, worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Gigli and Jersey Girl. The movie was a tonal mess, with cartoony elements like Colin Farrell’s Bullseye awkwardly clashing with the grittier and darker bits where Daredevil acts as judge, jury and executioner.
The movie under-delivered on story, but the action was pretty solid for the most part. The best sequence happens when Daredevil (Affleck) tracks wrongly acquitted criminal Jose Quesada (Paul Ben-Victor) to a biker bar and doles out some good old fashioned street justice, taking on the angry patrons of the joint. The scene is built around Daredevil’s unique, sonar-like way of seeing and is also a showcase for his athleticism and vicious use of his billy clubs. It’s a decent scene (though you may want to hit that mute button, given the prevalence of Nickelback) and the fight choreography is on point, with Hornhead displaying some seriously impressive moves. Also, Daredevil grinds down a railing using a biker as an impromptu skateboard. Awesome.
5. The staircase sequence – The Protector (2005)
The Protector aka Tom-Yum-Goong aka The Warrior King aka Thai Dragon aka Bone Snap Crazy Fun Time (not really) is a 2005 martial arts film starring Tony Jaa. The basic gist is that a man named Kham wants his elephants back. He finds out that they’ve been taken to a dining club that specializes in serving exotic animals and proceeds to go nuts on the club members. That’s about it. It certainly serves up some tasty action, but the story is rather threadbare and it was released to a mixed to poor reception from critics.
Despite hefty competition from a scene where Kham goes especially crazy and starts snapping bones like he’s made of sledgehammers, the one-take sequence where Kham ascends a staircase, taking out wave after wave of elephant kidnappers as he goes up the levels, takes the prize. It’s very video game-y in the best possible way, and in terms of the sheer skill, timing and stuntwork involved, it earns a place on this list. The overall lesson to be learned from this? Don’t mess with a man’s elephants if you want to keep your limbs bending the right way.
4. Swords and sand – Conan the Barbarian (2011)
There are no shortage of criticisms you can level against 2011’s Conan the Barbarian remake, but Jason Momoa’s commitment to the role isn’t one of them. He did an insane amount of training, purposefully broke his nose for the part, and almost died whilst shooting several horseback sequences. It shows on screen too. Momoa’s trying, but even his bulging muscles couldn’t support the crushing weight of a poorly thought-out and executed remake, which ended up flopping at the box office.
Most of the action ended up being underwhelming, but the sand creature sequence is an unexpected highlight. Conan (Momoa) confronts Snake Cult leader Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) and challenges him to fight. However, Zym’s daughter Marique (Rose McGowan, rocking one of the weirdest hairdos this side of The Fifth Element) uses her dark magic to conjure warriors from the sand to fight Conan. It’s a cool sequence, with the creatures diving in and out of the sand beneath their feet and adding a unique element to what could have been a standard sword fight. When the battle turns into more of a chase, there are also some refreshingly old-school style stunts to enjoy too.
3. Axe fight – Bullet to the Head (2012)
Bullet to the Head was billed as a throwback to a bygone era of action filmmaking, starring Sylvester Stallone and marking the return of veteran director Walter Hill, the man behind The Warriors and 48 Hours. The end product wound up being disappointing, garnering mostly negative reviews from critics and audiences alike.
The film’s climax ends up being way cooler than it has any right to be. Jason Momoa’s Keegan (sorry Jason, you look dope as Aquaman though) confronts James “Bobo” Bonomo (Stallone) and the pair duke it out with axes. The ax handiwork by Momoa is especially impressive (yet another reason why we must stress we’re not making fun of him) and the sequence has a proper sense of impact and danger to it. Bobo gets the upper hand and spikes Keegan’s foot in addition to stabbing him with a knife. Keegan still isn’t done though, and is finally put down by Sung Kang’s Detective Kwon, who shoots him from offscreen. It’s an abrupt and weak final blow, but that doesn’t spoil the ax-swinging awesomeness of the fight that preceded it.
2. Blind fury – Bloodsport (1988)
Bloodsport is the movie that first showcased what Jean-Claude Van Damme could do; the moment he split-kicked his way into our hearts. Whilst it’s become a cult film since, Bloodsport isn’t exactly what you’d be able to call a good film with any degree of confidence. The movie centers around a martial arts tournament in which military man Frank Dux (Van Damme) competes to be the best. Standing in his way, however, is Chong Li (Bolo Yeung), a startlingly large man with the chest the size of an angry truck, who has a history of killing his opponents.
The final showdown pits Dux against Chong Li. Both men are fairly evenly matched before Chong Li reaches into his shorts and blinds Dux with a fistful of salt. Dux initially panics but soon remembers his blindfolded training. Dux catches what is sure to be the finishing blow and takes it to Chong Li, jumping over him with the signature JCVD full split. Dux eventually kicks Chong Li in the face multiple times, sending the big man crashing to the mat. Yes, it’s cheesy, yes, it’s dated, and yes, JCVD’s acting blind is unintentionally hilarious, but it’s still great. Both men are incredible athletes, and there’s always something to be said for cheaters getting their comeuppance.
1. Crossed blades – Die Another Day (2002)
The James Bond franchise has had its fair share of low points, but arguably the lowest of the low is Pierce Brosnan’s fourth and final outing as 007, 2002’s Die Another Day. Most audiences deemed that the series had gone too far with its ridiculous elements, which included an invisible car and a particularly terrible scene where Bond parasails on a tidal wave complete with awful PS1-quality CGI. The movie was so poorly received that the Bond makers went back to the drawing board entirely, eventually delivering the gritty reboot Casino Royale in 2006.
Hidden away amidst the suck is a legitimately great fight between Bond and diamond magnate Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens). What starts as an innocent fencing match turns into an all-out contest to see who has the biggest er…sword. The two fight all over the old Blades fencing club, trashing the establishment for the opportunity to get at the other man. Crucially, the sequence was done practically, which makes it stand out from the rest of the floaty CGI overkill action in the rest of the movie. The upping of the stakes is well done too, with bigger and nastier swords being grabbed each time. It’s a real shame Pierce Brosnan’s swansong wasn’t a better film, but we’ll always have the fencing sequence to remember him by.
What’s your favorite fight sequence that was dragging down by a terrible film? Let us know in the comments.