In honor of Atomic Blonde, check out 10 other incredible fight scenes from this century.
Atomic Blonde, the new spy thriller starring Charlize Theron from the director of John Wick, features some spectacular fight sequences that serve as high points in the film. In one particular scene, crafted to appear as one long take, Theron fights off several enemies on a staircase. The scene plays out with almost no dialogue or score, leaving the audience in awe as they listen to the grunts, gasps, punches, and kicks of the hand-to-hand combat.
The strength of the choreography in this fight scene stands out and has become a trademark of director David Leitch, who worked as a stunt actor and coordinator for more than 20 years. Atomic Blonde inspired us to check out ten of the best fight scenes from this century.
Note: Several of these scenes contain spoilers and may be NSFW.
‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ (2000)
It’s impossible to overlook Ang Lee’s film Couching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The movie is full of incredible fight sequences, but it’s the one between Michelle Yeoh and Ziyi Zhang that stands out. The scene operates on multiple levels – it’s not just a fantastic fight scene, but also one that underscores the emotional drama of the story. The added use of wire work gives the scene a gracefulness that is not customarily seen in today’s gritty, realistic fight sequences. Ang Lee films the scene in a way that imbues it with a sort of grandeur that it might lack otherwise.
‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ (2001)
The 2001 romantic comedy starring Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth, and Hugh Grant probably doesn’t jump to mind when considering the best fight scenes of the century. Unlike some of the other examples on this list, the fight in Bridget Jones’s Diary is not between two trained professionals; the characters are amateurs and that’s part of the charm. The fight works because it comes from such an earnest place and feels right at home in this offbeat, screwball dramedy.
‘Kill Bill: Vol. 1’ (2003)
Quentin Tarantino is, of course, no stranger to violence. His first two feature films, Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, were evidence enough of that. But with his 2001 film Kill Bill: Vol 1, he styled that violence in a more significant way. Tarantino intended Kill Bill to be a homage to the martial arts and samurai films that he had grown up loving.
The scene at the end of Kill Bill: Vol 1 displays some truly phenomenal choreography that is not just thrilling, but also contributes to the clever, tongue-in-cheek attitude of the film. Uma Thurman’s performance combined with the work of her stunt double, Zoe Bell is a remarkable combination that still impresses.
‘Old Boy’ (2003)
Park Chan-wook’s Old Boy features a really stunning one-take fight sequence that’s completely contained within a single hallway. The audience watches as a single man takes on an entire hallway full of enemy combatants. Filmed from the side as if inside the wall, the audience watches the scene play out without a single cut.
The fight is choreographed with impressive skill, creating a landscape of bodies with a constant rise and fall in energy. The scene demonstrates Chan-wook’s skill as a director and his eye for discovering unique ways of shooting scenes.
‘Spider-Man 2’ (2004)
Thirteen years after its initial release, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 is still a shining example of what a truly great superhero film can accomplish. The fight scene between Spider-Man and Doc Ock epitomizes this. It’s an impressive combination of well-choreographed, hand-to-hand fighting set against impressive set pieces.
Using a speeding metro train as a location for the fight gives the scene a strong sense of location and creates a compelling set of circumstances that enhance the tension. Unlike a lot of superhero fight scenes that are edited beyond comprehension, Raimi succeeds in making sense of the action. It’s an impressive feat that holds up even now.
‘Casino Royale’ (2006)
There is no shortage of impressive fight scenes throughout the James Bond films, but the staircase fight scene in Daniel Craig’s debut Casino Royale is one of the more noteworthy examples. The fight takes place in a tight, enclosed stairwell making the hand-to-hand combat more difficult and impressive.
The film increases the thrill of the scene by throwing Eva Greene, Casino Royale’s Bond Girl into the mix as well. The scene begins by putting her in harms way, defenseless to the attackers. But in the end, she helps Bond by knocking a gun out of the attacker’s hand. The scene bears a strong resemblance to the stairwell fight scene in Atomic Blonde; though not nearly as long Charlize Theron’s fight, Craig’s Casino Royale scene is similarly staged with tense hand-to-hand fighting.
‘Eastern Promises’ (2007)
David Cronenberg’s 2007 film Eastern Promises, starring Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts, is a dark crime drama about a Russian mob family living in London. In perhaps the most memorable scene in the movie, Viggo Mortensen is attacked while completely naked in a bathhouse. He is forced to fend off his attackers in a damp, steamy, and slick room.
It’s an incredibly tense scene that puts the film’s protagonist in a nearly impossible position. By placing him in a position of complete vulnerability, Cronenberg heightens the payoff when Mortensen finally defeats his attackers.
‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ (2014)
The sheer size and scope of the church scene in Matthew Vaughn’s 2014 film earns it a spot on this list. Colin Firth takes on an entire church full of combatants until he’s the only one left standing. The scene is extremely violent which might be tough for some viewers, but it’s an expertly choreographed scene that uses a variety of different props to make the scene more entertaining for the audience and more challenging for the Firth’s character.
‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ (2015)
George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road might be the best action movie of the decade (or even the century!), but the movie does not have much hand-to-hand combat. Instead, Miller uses some really phenomenal car chases and practical effects to wow the audience.
However, the fight scene between Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy demonstrates the film’s versatility in depicting action and tension on both a large and intimate scale. The narrative significance of the duel between the two characters heightens the pressure of the scene, making what might have been a forgettable moment into a pivotal turning point in the film. The way Miller uses the scene to demonstrate the characters’ strengths and weaknesses is masterful.
There are several things to celebrate in Ryan Coogler’s 2015 film Creed, a spinoff and sequel hybrid to the Rocky franchise, but chief among them may be the one-take fight scene. Boxing is famously one of the favorite sports to be used in movies; Scorsese’s Raging Bull is commonly cited as one of the greatest movies of all time and the success of the Rocky franchise is evidence along of audience’s love for boxing movies.
With Creed, Coogler finds a way to keep the genre fresh, shooting the scene in one-take to enhance the audience’s role in the scene; rather than see the fight from afar Coogler places the camera in the midst of the action. It’s an inventive choice that pays off, making Creed one of the most successful reboots in recent memory.