Evenly-matched fight scenes are how movies create the most tension and suspense. Audiences are used to watching the protagonist fight two or more opponents with vigour, neither gaining an advantage over the other, until that final moment when the protagonist manages to unlock a hidden power/realize what's at stake/remember a promise to their dead beloved.
You know the drill; it's just not as entertaining if the good guys are always the ones who end up on top, after stomping out the bad guys like bugs.
However, we all love a good stomp battle every now and then. Whether it's to show someone's power, make a villain truly terrifying, or just for sheer cinematic excitement, there's a cathartic joy to seeing one character completely go to town on their enemy, and end up with nary a scratch.
Here are the 15 Most Crushing Defeats In Movie History.
16 Neo vs Agent Smith
The Agents spend the majority of the first The Matrix movie as unstoppable killing machines, vastly superior to the protagonists in every way, except perhaps in the trench-coat department.
Neo is told by Morpheus in an early scene that the Agents killed every single person who’s ever fought them, and pretty much the only option is to run.
Of course, when you’re the fulfilment of an ancient prophecy with infinite coding powers, the rules fly out the window. After an almost evenly-matched fight with Agent Smith just one scene prior, the ending of The Matrix has Neo gunned down.
This manages to awaken his power and he proceeds to annihilate his former opponent with only one hand and a patented Keanu Reeves look of bemusement. It’s a stark contrast to the Neo of a few seconds prior; now the One, Agent Smith becomes nothing more than a digital mosquito to be swatted, as Neo blows him up from the inside.
15 Batman vs Bane
Anyone who’s ever heard of Bane probably knew this was coming, since it’s by far his most famous moment. The Joker may have been Batman’s most persistent adversary, but he never received a dramatic page spread of himself breaking Batman’s spine, so Bane has that going for him.
Tom Hardy’s hilariously-voiced Bane in The Dark Knight Rises has a similar first showing, with all of Batman’s toys and martial arts training unable to land so much as a scratch. It’s not that he can’t hit is opponent; it’s just that every single blow bounces off a wall of rage, and probably a lot of steroids.
Eventually, bruised and battered, Batman is reduced to wild swings that amount to nothing. This leads to Bane breaking both Batman's spine and spirit in one fell swoop.
Sure, Batman sort of bounces up in this version, but that’s film for you. They weren’t exactly going to go full-Adam West and slap "KRRR-ACK" on the screen.
14 River Tam vs Reavers
As with all good villains, the Reavers from Firefly (and later Serenity) are built up as the Verse’ greatest threat before we ever even meet them. In fact, we never even see a Reaver close up until the movie, after which we sorta wish we hadn’t. They're the fringe-territory lunatics who cut themselves for fun and wear human skin as a trophy.
We get to pit an entire ship full of Reavers against the crew of Serenity. Holed up in a tunnel and fighting for their lives, it’s only after Simon is shot that River Tam leaps into action. That is, River Tam: the frail, mentally-ill waif with puppy-dog eyes, who spends most of her time hiding in a corner because a bunch of evil scientists messed up her brain.
We don’t actually see the entire fight, though we do get an extended shot of her spinning like a whirlwind and slicing down every attacker who gets close. Cue the doors opening to River, standing atop a mountain of corpses with a jagged knife in one hand and an axe in the other.
13 Maximus vs Commodus
Commodus from Gladiator is the type of villain who you really wanted to see receive a brutal beat-down. Maybe we can put it down to Joaquin Phoenix’s amazing ability to sneer on-camera, but after seeing him abuse people under his rule and creep on his own sister, it's time for payback.
The end of the movie graciously obliges, pitting Maximus against Commodus in the arena, with the odds stacked heavily in the latter’s favour. Maximus is exhausted, beaten and wounded to the point of death, making this one of the most one-sided fights ever.
That is, one-sided against Commodus, who really should’ve planned this better. Though not too shabby in the sword department, he gets in a nick against his vastly more skilled opponent before being brutally disarmed and humiliated in front of the people of Rome.
His glorious spectacle not going quite as planned, Commodus commands one of his guards to give him a sword, a request that goes unheard due to his abysmal public approval rating. Cue one final bare-handed beat-down before Commodus gets satisfyingly shanked to death.
12 The Ents vs Isengard
We don’t know if Middle-Earth has a concept of Karma, but something similar was probably running through Saruman’s mind when he saw what was happening outside his tower's window in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
It’s a testament to how much Saruman changed throughout the trilogy, as he completely forgets that his neighbouring forest is full of massive, sentient trees, who would become enraged if he chopped down and burned entire acres of their friends.
He chops the trees down anyway, and we get perhaps the most cathartic scene of the series, where Treebeard leads an army of Ents on Isengard and trashes the place in short order.
The orcs try to fight back, but are mostly trodden on and washed away by the release of the dam. In just a few short, glorious minutes, Saruman’s entire operation is dismantled, his followers crushed and his war assets swept away.
It’s like Treadbeard says: “A wizard should know better!”
11 Hulk vs Loki
Perhaps it’s so satisfying because we’ve had to sit through two movies of Loki grinning and sneering like a creep, and it really was time for his long overdue smackdown. By the end of the movie he’d killed Phil Coulson, brainwashed Hawkeye, and opened a portal in the sky to invade Earth.
He finds himself at the top of Stark tower, faced with an angrier-than-usual Hulk. Credit where credit is due: Loki isn’t as cowed by this as you think. He meets it with a deliciously hubris-filled speech, which makes it all the more satisfying when Hulk grabs him by the leg, tosses him around like a sock in a washing machine and leaves him beaten and broken in a small crater.
It’s visceral, painful and just a magnificent piece of cinematography, if you’re into that sort of thing.
10 Indiana Jones vs The Swordsman
Indiana Jones and the Swordsman is one the most well-known fights in cinematic history, and it’s over in a second.
Well, a few seconds if you count all the sword flourishes. Behind the scenes information has suggested that Raiders of the Lost Ark was meant to contain a full sword fight between Indiana Jones and the Arab Swordsman, with no real connection to the plot. It wasn’t to be, however, as Harrison Ford became sick from food poisoning, which made filming an intense sword fight impossible.
Instead, we got the truest definition of "never bring a sword to a gunfight," as someone does indeed bring a sword to a gunfight, and it goes…poorly. The Swordsman emerges from the crowd, spinning his scimitar like a tornado. Indy gives him an exasperated look before nonchalantly pulling out his gun, and… the rest is history.
Strangely, the crowd seem totally okay with it-- apparently nobody else liked the Swordsman very much.
9 Darth Vader vs Rebel Soliders
On the flip side of the good guy/bad guy coin, there’s the Darth Vader scene in Rogue One. Even if you hated everything else about the movie, there’s a good chance that Darth Vader’s hallway rampage had you clutching the armrests.
Despite having an entire trilogy behind him, this is still Vader as we’ve never seen him: using the force creatively, hacking his way through Rebel soldiers like they were rice paper and truly showing us that he’s an unstoppable monster. We know from the moment we see that red lightsaber that everyone in the hallways is dead, as if they weren’t already doomed by canon.
It’s easy to forget, but original trilogy Darth Vader never killed anyone with his lightsaber (except if you count Obi-Wan… which is iffy), and hardly killed anyone. He was a terrifying presence, but mostly commanded screen-time through intimidation.
The ending of Rogue One shows us in gory detail why he was so feared, as he butchers one soldier after another, barely even breaking his stride... and then you remember that he did the same thing twenty years ago, with a group of children.
8 Future Sentinels vs X-Men
Blink, Warpath, Iceman, Colossus, and Sunspot; all of them end up dead, without taking out a single Sentinels. The fight is short and brutal, with all of the good guys gone, and only saved via a nifty bit of mental time travel.
The final time we see these future Sentinels is the raid in China, where the aforementioned team now have Storm, Magneto, and Bishop fighting alongside them. This time the Sentinels number in the hundreds, possibly even thousands, and it’s another slaughter-fest.
Storm is impaled, Bishop is blown up, Warpath has his face burned off, Colossus is literally torn apart, and Sunspot ends up on the wrong end of a triple-shiv, as does Blink.
Once again, it’s only a time-travel switcheroo that stops the franchise from being brutally snuffed out right there.
7 Princess Fiona vs the Merrymen
You probably forgot about this one, what with it back in the mists of 2001, but there was a time when Shrek was a fresh and new concept. There was also that scene where Princess Fiona randomly took apart an entire company of annoying, singing Merrymen.
Where did a princess learn The Matrix-style kung-fu? Apparently it doesn’t even matter. "Saved" by French Robin Hood and stashed in a tree while he sings about how he’s going to murder Shrek, Fiona decides enough is enough and swings into action, unleashing a very powerful fly kick that knocks the prince of thieves out cold.
We then get to watch her utterly annihilate the Merrymen with gravity-defying stunts, including a vertical tree run and multiple somersaults that cannot have been easy to pull off in those shoes.
It’s not even a pointless fight scene either, as it’s here that we learn there’s a lot more to Fiona than just the whiny damsel-in-distress.
6 Ivan Drago vs Apollo Creed
Rocky is one of those oddball franchises where you can never tell if the sequels are actually going to be any good.
Say what you will about Rocky IV, but it did give us one of the most bloody and visceral fights in the series, between Ivan Drago of the Soviet Union and Apollo Creed. The movie’s resident villain, Drago initially has his sights set on fighting Rocky, but Apollo steps up to the mark instead.
What follows is the closest thing the sport of boxing has to a massacre, as Drago begins taking one punch after another like they're stiff breezes. He then annihilates Apollo in two rounds, with an aggressive style that leaves no room for fighting back, leaving his opponent beaten and bloodied.
After it’s already over, Drago continues to strike until Apollo lies dead in the ring. This may be some kind of foul, but hey-- at least we know he’s evil.
4 The Bride vs the Crazy 88s
Kill Bill is all of Quentin Tarantino’s bizarre filmmaking quirks wrapped up in one movie (or two, as the case may be), complete with one gory fight scene after another.
This one comes straight after the Bride has defeated Gogo, an assassin with a spiked chain ball. Prooving the law of conservation of ninjutsu, the Bride is then set upon by an entire cadre of masked swordsmen called the Crazy 88s.
She’s completely surrounded. The music swells. And then she takes the lot of them apart like they are pre-schoolers with bubble wands.
It takes some fancy camera angles and a few improbable sword strikes-- one single slice from the Bride kills three people-- but a few somersaulting minutes later and the entire cadre is reduced to just a handful. Sure, there was probably some honor involved, but still, thirty against one is terrible odds.
3 Deadpool vs Colossus
The scene between Deadpool and Colossus is less of a fight and more of an embarrassment. Still, it’s a pretty crushing and humiliating defeat, as far as hero vs hero fights go.
Sent to intercept Deadpool and recruit him into the X-Men, Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead find the antihero on a bridge amidst a boatload of recently-created corpses. Not keen on being bundled off to the X-Mansion, Deadpool shows his tactical genius by trying to take down Colossus using only his fists.
When both of his fists are mangled and shattered, he goes for a spinning kick, as if that’ll somehow be the one that does the job.
To recap, Deadpool now has two shattered hands and a broken leg, though it doesn’t seem to do much to his spirit. At least, not until Colossus finally does something other than standing there with his arms folded, and smacks his hapless opponent twenty feet into the nearest car windshield. Fight over.
2 Rocky vs Clubber Lang
Of course, we couldn’t mention Rocky on this list and not include an actual Rocky fight. This time the fight is from Rocky III, aka "the one with the song everyone knows," and is between Rocky and Mr T's Clubber Lang.
Lang is the first person to defeat Rocky since Apollo Creed, and is mainly caused by Rocky slacking off on his training. It’s really not fun to watch, either; Rocky is clearly trying to coast by on everything that’s worked in the past.
Displaying a powerful, aggressive style that proves to be a perfect counter, Lang manages to wear down his opponent and eventually unleash one massive, slow-motion punch that knocks Rocky down for the count, securing Lang the title of world champion.
Cue the training montage, running on the beach, "Eye of the Tiger"-- Rocky eventually comes back stronger.
1 Preston vs Brandt
Equilibrium is an underrated masterpiece. Even if dystopia isn’t your thing, there’s still plenty of fun to be had from the fight scenes, which incorporate the use of "gun-kata," a combination of bullet prediction and a lot of flipping.
The main characters are also handy with bladed weapons, and an early scene shows our main character, Preston, sparring with his partner, Brandt. The fight is evenly-matched, but ends in Brandt’s favour.
Later, Preston’s government-overthrowing rampage brings him to the head office, where the glorious leader of the regime is guarded by Brandt. Preston’s former partner confidently steps forward and... two seconds later, his face is no longer attached to his head.
It takes all of two moves for Preston to dismantle and deface his former partner, with the sparring having been a clever ruse. Battles are one thing, surprise executions are quite another.
Can you think of any other noteworthy crushing movie defeats? Let us hear it in the comments!