Gun fights have been a staple of action movies for decades, and require an artistry all their own to be successful. Some movies and characters are built entirely around gun fights; it’s what we buy the ticket for.
All kinds of actors and all kinds of filmmakers have brought us memorable gun fights over the years, and for this list we’re looking at the best of the best. We’re not including warfare sequences; these are the more intimate or focused gun fights between a few gun-savvy characters, or between a few gun-savvy characters and many, many more nameless, hapless mooks.
From Western shootouts to brutal mob confrontations to super-powered, one-man-army killing sprees, these are the 15 Best Movie Gun Fights of All Time!
The highway shootout perhaps best captures Deadpool’s fourth-wall-breaking action style. After crashing into his targets’ SUV and getting them all brutally killed in a rolling car wreck, more goons show up and surround the car on the highway. He’s clearly out gunned, but Deadpool wouldn’t be Deadpool without teasing the bad guys with infantile puns before killing them.
Deadpool's unique ability to rapidly heal from gunshot wounds makes for several laugh out loud moments. He even makes his misses funny, and more than makes up them. He shoots a grenade in a merc’s hand taking out two at once with bullet number 5. Then he wastes 3 and 2 on a merc who shot him “right up main street”. Thankfully the last three chumps all line up behind a van, leading to a jumping spinning three-for-one triple head shot to cap off the hysterical firefight.
“I’m touching myself tonight!”
The plot of this Clive Owen action flick is undoubtedly ridiculous but it has wildly inventive and fun gun fights all the same. Clive Owen’s Mr. Smith unexpectedly becomes the custodian of a newborn being hunted down by Paul Giamatti and his band of assassins. There are some truly ludicrous shootouts in the move: there’s the gun fight at the beginning during the delivery, and there’s the scene where Smith guns down the assassins one by one, mid-coitus with Monica Belucci. There’s also the fight in the warehouse where Mr. Smith sets up Rube Goldberg-esque machine gun traps.
Perhaps the most fun and memorable fight is where Mr. Smith escapes his hideout while holding the baby under one arm all the way. Mr. Smith doesn’t stop moving throughout the entire fight. He flips over a table for cover on both sides and seems totally immune to automatic fire. He even takes out one goon by shooting a heavy metal file cabinet that slides right into his head. The last stunt has him rappelling down a stairwell and mowing down the assassins in one continuous spread, all while holding the baby. Let's not forget to mention the perfect soundtrack choice in Ace of Spades by Motorhead.
Paul Giamatti’s quote really sums it up at the end: “Do we really suck or is this guy really that good?!”
John Woo’s filmography includes some of the best gun fights in action cinema in Hong Kong or anywhere. Even if you narrowed it down to just one film like Hard Boiled, it would be almost impossible to pick the best one. However, the tense close quarters staging, brutal kills and explosions in the two person hospital shooting gallery is arguably the most memorable and impressive of all.
Tony Leung Chiu-wai’s Alan finally gives up his cover in the Hong Kong mob to join Chow Yun-fat’s Inspector Tequila in evacuating the maternity ward of Maple Group Hospital. They’re also fighting their way to the hidden arsenal of gangster Johnny Wong played by Anthony Wong. Dozens of gunmen lie in wait for Alan and Tequila, but they expertly dispatch each goon that busts through a door or window or elevator. It’s like Hong Kong action whack-a-mole, with shotguns! The crowning shot of the whole sequence includes a nearly three minute long continuous tracking shot that follows Alan and Tequila through multiple hospital floors and clearing out numerous gangsters.
Do not mess with John Wick, and god help you if you mess with John Wick’s dog.
The formerly retired underworld assassin goes on a revenge spree and tracks the man responsible for his misery to the Red Circle night club. We’d seen Wick’s ruthless efficiency and unparalleled killing skills already in the movie. But the sequence in the Red Circle was a whole new level of massacre.
The scene almost doesn’t qualify as a shootout for most of the duration because Wick is the only one firing bullets most of the time. He doesn’t give any of the guards in the club a chance. That’s not to say that the scene is lacking in excitement or great action. Wick pins guards against walls and immobilizes them, taking the opportunities to nail other guards as they emerge before executing the one in his grasp and moving on. The way he mixes gunshots into his martial arts is truly scary to Alfie Allen’s Iosef.
Wick gets waylaid by Kirill after running out of bullets, but his sympathetic mission and totally believable lethality left an impression on audiences and the bad guys.
We had a few demonstrations of the futuristic cyborg assassin’s power in the first half of Terminator. Kyle Reece tried to warn the LAPD that Sarah Connor wasn’t safe at the police station; none of them were.
The Terminator gave infiltration one go before it became clear the officer wouldn’t let him inside.
“I’ll be back.”
The Terminator came back alright - with a machine gun and a shotgun. After crashing through the front door with a car, the Terminator murders plenty of tired cops with cold efficiency, tracking them through walls and clearing offices and hallways. Even after the station officers break out their own machine guns, they can do nothing but distract the Terminator. After all, the cops are merely obstacles to the Terminator in his search for Sarah Connor.
Reece seizes the chaos to escape with Sarah but she and the audience are left to wonder what could possibly stop something so implacable and lethal.
It was a dream come true for mob movie fans when Robert De Niro and Al Pacino starred together on opposite sides of the law in Michael Mann’s 1995 Heat. DeNiro plays career heister Neil McCauley and Pacino plays Lieutenant Vincent Hanna. Both men are consummate professionals struggling with their personal lives.
They eventually come face to face with gun barrels between them as De Niro is making a getaway form a bank heist. The robbery goes off without a hitch but Pacino and crew surround their getaway car prompting Val Kilmer to open fire on the cops. In seconds the entire Los Angeles downtown street is echoing with automatic gunfire. Hundreds of panicked civilians are running through the streets as Pacino tries to catch up with De Niro.
The fight is eerily realistic in part because each of the actors underwent months of weapons training to prepare for the parts. Deniro ultimately escapes but the fight still ends with a heroic shot from Pacino. He scores a head shot on one of the robbers, neutralizing him while he had a child hostage under his arm.
Paul Newman and Robert Redford make one of the most lovable pairs of outlaws ever in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. When a high profile train robbery goes wrong Newman and Redford lead bounty hunters and authorities on a chase all across the Southwest. They eventually end up in Bolivia and try to go straight, but they’re too recognizable.
In the climax of the film, they get caught with a stolen payroll in a small town and a whole contingent of the Bolivian army comes in to apprehend them. Paul Newman tries to lift some extra belts of ammo off a mule while Redford provides cover. Newman falls from a shot. Redford, as Sundance, lives up to his name and steps right into the open, dancing in place and nailing soldiers left and right with his dual six shooters.
But there are far too many soldiers and not enough bullets. Resigned to their fate, Newman and Redford agree that Australia should be their next destination before charging out from a building in a blaze of glory.
Alex Murphy became a pretty expensive pet project of OCP when they rebuilt him as a cyborg “Robocop." At first he seemed to have no memory of humanity left in him. He had been reprogrammed to follow the three directives: serving the public trust, protecting the innocent, and upholding the law.
Eventually he discovers his previous life, including the criminal gang who murdered him, led by Clarence Boddicker. It’s not an official investigation. Robocop goes alone to confront Boddicker and comes upon an extensive drug operation protected by illegally armed thugs. They laugh at his formal invitation to surrender. He marches forward, effortlessly eliminating each gunman with trick shots from his heavy automatic pistol.
Boddicker tries to get away, but Robocop can’t seem to run out of glass windows to throw him through. He finally reveals that he’s working for Dick Jones of OCP and Robocop arrests him. It’s a chilling development on Murphy’s journey back to himself and his own sense of justice.
An all-star cast puts on one of the most famous real world gun fights in the history of the Western Frontier. The Brothers Earp, Wyatt (Kurt Russell), Virgil (Sam Elliot) and Morgan (Bill Paxton) are joined by Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer) in defending the town of Tombstone Arizona from a band of outlaws called the Cowboys.
The Cowboys include some famous names themselves. “Curly Bill” Brocious (Powers Boothe) leads the gang along with Billy Clanton (Thomas Hayden Church). With the town’s Marshall murdered and Curly Bill escaping justice, Virgil issues an edict to ban all weapons within the town’s borders. Of course, the Cowboys aren’t giving up their guns without a fight.
The shootout at the OK Corral is expertly staged with the lawmen placing fast strategic shots to bring down the Cowboys. The mayhem reaches a few peaks, such as when Doc spooks a horse to get a clear shot, and when one of the Cowboys sprays bullets from a studio right next to the lawmen. Not to mention Doc’s dandy gotcha shot when he appears to be empty.
Dr. King Schultz had spent the first half of Django Unchained training Django as a bounty hunter. The latter turns out to be a natural quickdraw and deadeye but Django has to stay his hand when they infiltrate Candyland. The sadistic plantation owner Calvin Candie has Django’s wife Broomhilda as a house slave, but to even get an invitation to Candyland, King and Django have to pose as Mandingo slavers themselves.
The savvier-than-he-appears "Uncle Tom" Stephen exposes their scheme. Calvin forces them to pay $12,000 dollars on the spot for Broomhilda but Dr. Schultz just can’t stand that smug cruel smirk on Calvin’s face any longer. He shoots Calvin in the heart, gets himself blown away and then Django starts shooting every white man holding a gun in sight.
One of the things you forget about this fight is that it’s on a very small scale. All of the rolling, dodging, meatshielding, misfires, hammer fans, flying wooden debris, and blood gushing on the walls happens within the main hall of the Candyland big house. It makes the fight unbearably tense and claustrophobic for Django even when he gets to dual wield to a remixed Tupac’s Untouchable.
Tony Montana was an unstable, violent guy, on top of being a drug kingpin. He did have one rule he wouldn’t break. He wouldn’t kill women and children as part of business. He sticks to his decision even if it means inviting the wrath of Alejandro Sosa, the top cocaine kingpin in the Americas.
On one particularly rough night of betrayals and murders, Tony is getting blasted off heaps of coke while an army of gunmen raid his mansion. All his henchmen are killed, until it’s just Tony locked in his office. He’s not going to let these guys just stroll on in and put him down. He’s got his M16 with an underslung grenade launcher ready to go.
“SAY ‘ELLO TO MY LIL’ FREN!”
Dozens of the gunmen fall as Tony rains fire from the top of the stairs. He’s so high on cocaine and so defiant that he continues to stand even after getting riddled with bullets, screaming at these cockroaches who think they can take Tony Montana. The whole fight is mesmerizing and operatic, including the double barreled back blast that finally sends Tony crashing into a watery grave.
Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado gives Antonio Banderas’ El Mariachi quite the introduction. We know from the beginning that he’s looking for a man named Bucho when he wanders into the Tarasco Bar in Mexico. It just so happens that they’ve been hearing stories about guitar cases filled with guns, not a moment ago. Of course, Mariachi’s got guns and grenades and spare clips in his case.
But that’s not the only place he’s got guns hidden away. He draws two pistols from his sleeves and riddles the guy holding him up. Turns out all the other patrons have automatic weapons and shotguns hidden under their tables. The gun fight is wildly entertaining for how silly it is. Bottles and tables explode all around Banderas while automatic fire seems to dodge around him. He dances across the bar placing kill shots all around him.
Everytime the fight seems to end on one humorous note it tops itself. Taking out the last thug by shooting a ceiling fan above his head and letting the blades smack him in the face wasn’t funny enough. So we get one last standoff where Banderas and Bucho’s henchmen fight over guns with empty clips before Banderas snaps his neck.
Westerns had been a heroic mythmaking genre in Hollywood since High Noon (1952) with Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly, and even before. Sam Peckinpaw’s The Wild Bunch was a big bloody rebuke to that classic style of the genre and has become just as influential since its premiere in 1969.
The film is based on the real life band of southwestern outlaws called the Wild Bunch, notable in that pretty much their entire membership were killed in gun fights with lawmen. At the climax of the movie Pike (William Holden) leads the Bunch to persuade the brutal General Mapache to release their friend Angel. When the General slits Angel’s throat instead, Pike guns him down and all hell breaks loose.
The blood and death and mayhem was unprecedented for the genre. Various characters take turns on the mounted machine gun before they succumb to so many bullet wounds. Women and children fight and die in the battle. None of the four of the Bunch who went to rescue Angel can outlast all of Mapache’s army. It’s a landmark gun fight of westerns that still holds up.
The Matrix introduced a whole new style of reality-bending action to gun fights. Arguably the most memorable fight of the whole trilogy, the lobby shootout is the first major hurtle Neo and Trinity have to clear on their mission to rescue Morpheus. The clock-punching security guards at the entrance were clearly not prepared for a dude with head to toe firearms under his coat.
Military personnel come pouring out of the corners to block the elevator and Neo and Trinity get to work, flipping, kicking and gunning them down. The timed exaggerated looks, the pulse-pounding percussive techno, and the way the judicious slo-mo shows us the lobby being demolished by gunfire all make the fight mesmerizing.
It’s extra impressive to think that all the destruction, gunshots and stunts were achieved with practical effects. The crew had to reassemble the lobby’s columns for every take, including replacing all the triggered bullet impact explosions.
Arguably the most iconic moment from all of Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns. Blondie, “The Good” (Clint Eastwood), Angel Eyes “The Bad” (Lee Van Cleef) and Tuco “The Ugly” (Elli Wallach) race and undermine each other on a treasure hunt for a $200,000 stash of Confederate Army gold buried in a graveyard.
The three eventually converge on the grave but each are so deadly and cagey that the only way to settle who gets the loot is a three-way duel. They take their places at triangular points around a stone circle in the center of the graveyard and stare each other down.
Few other scenes in cinema history derive so much nail-biting anticipation out of so little action. But it goes to show the power of the actors, the music and the cinematography in building up to a single quick draw. Eastwood, Van Cleef and Wallach all convey how their characters handle the tension in their small gestures while the camera switches between them. Ennio Morricone’s mythical music swells dramatically, setting the pace for the scene and drawing the audience in. It's beautiful, classic, gun fighting cinema!
Have you got some favorite movie gun fights that didn’t make the list? Praise them in the comments!