It is extremely hard to rank movie fight scenes in a definitive way. Truth is, their effectiveness depends entirely on the viewer’s visceral reaction, on how well the fight produces that feeling of “holy shit, what’s next?”
Some are closer to mind-blowing acts of athleticism, where you’re just impressed the actors got through it all alive, pulling off what amounts to an epic, bloody dance scene. Others have an element of feral violence that imitates what you might feel watching a real fight; that fear that someone’s going off in a fatal way, that death is definitely on the table.
So yeah, every single list like this will be different. For this definitive ranking, I opted to go for the combo of great fight choreography and violence that feels just a little too real—as well as the scenes that fall in between, like some of the best moments in the Bourne films. So there are no giant monster battles (unless The Rock and Vin Diesel count), just somewhat real characters getting hurt for our entertainment.
Hear us out here: The first pair of Matrix movies do not suck that bad. The greatest movie fight scenes are probably in the first, but Neo taking on Smith and his clones was eminently watchable when Reloaded was out in 2003. The CGI has become ridiculously obvious since then, but it’s still plenty of fun. The most iconic, and possibly parodied scenes is the one of Neo dodging in slow motion
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Great fight scenes just come with superhero movies but most are too over-the-top to be truly believable. In this scene we’re reminded that Cap is an enhanced human, and not completely invulnerable. The way it began was incredible as well, with everyone acting civil, until the sh*t really hit the fan as Steve Rogers went to town on the HYDRA agents.
Russell Crowe has progressed through more and more mature, perhaps sedate roles over time. He hasn’t gone the Liam Neeson route of taking on whoever regardless of age. So it might be easy to forget that Crowe could pull off a battle between Gladiators in memorably ferocious style. Taking on gladiators in an arena, check!, tigers? check! the emperor himself while injured? double check!
Kill Bill movies are binge-worthy for the fight scenes alone. They’re bloody yet have the same almost dance-like feel as Crouching Tiger. Watch this on repeat and then see if you’re still able to breathe at the end. In all honesty, Tarantino was a master of the epic movie fight scene.
Director Park Chan-wook’s ultraviolent revenge tale throws away the book on quick-cut, fast-moving sparring and leaping and with the Hallway Fight pulls of a single tracking shot of an exhausting battle between one man and a group of thugs. There’s no clean fight dancing here, just rage, fear, and blood. It’s about three-and-a-half-minutes long, and you’ll hold your breath the entire damn time.