After a year full of superhero epics and high powered action flicks, take a look back at the ten best, most kick ass action scenes and sequences of the year.
There is something so satisfying about watching a thoughtfully-choreographed, well-executed, fantastically shot action scene. Regardless of your reasons for seeing the newest superhero movies, spy thrillers, or heist movies, it’s undeniable that the action scenes themselves are an essential component to the experience. As studios continue to make more and more of these movies, they face the reemerging challenge to find new ways to frame and compose action scenes and sequences.
Despite a huge surplus of action scenes this year, there were some bright spots shining among the rest. We broke down the ten best of the year that challenged and changed the way we’re used to seeing these scenes. Some are impressive in their simplicity — select scenes shot in a single take or in one location. Others are striking in their ambitious scope, positioning huge set pieces as the backdrop of essential scenes in the story. Check out the full list of the year’s best action scenes below!
If you enjoyed Daredevil‘s hallway fight scene, which used stunt doubles and clever cinematography to appear as though it was shot in a single take, then you’ll love Atomic Blonde‘s stairwell scene.
Between the action on the stairs and in the actual apartment, this fight scene goes on for about six solid minutes of non-stop, brutal action. By the end of it, Lorraine can hardly stand, having just taken on four guys on her own. But for all the hits she takes, she delivers just that many more.
The epic quality of this fight comes not only from the cinematography, but from the intense hand-to-hand combat that feels so damn real. Charlize Theron put in work to be able to do this movie, and she truly shines in this action scene that deserves to be right up there with all the male-led classics.
No Man’s Land
Even though the movie ends with Diana killing the literal god of war, it is this moment that sticks out as the most. Diana emerging from the trenches of a muddy WW1 battlefield to save a town who others have deemed too unimportant to save is one in which we not only understand Diana’s bravery, but the depths of her compassion and the strength of her will. It’s a powerful moment that defines who she is and what she believes, and likewise redefines what we ourselves think about heroes and acts of heroism.
But it’s also a powerful moment in what it represents. For the first time, we saw a female superhero on screen valued not for how she looked in a tight leather outfit, but for how she responded in the face in danger, to being told no, to having her worldview tested. This scene positioned Diana as a symbol of hope, power and strength — in this film for what she did, and for so many in audience for what she represents. It’s not just one of the most iconic scenes this year, but one of the most iconic of any comic book superhero movie ever made.
Hugh Jackman burst onto our screens as the grizzled, grumpy but lovable character in 2000’s X-Men. Since then, he’s been in ensemble X-men movies and solo Wolverine films of varying degrees of quality and depth, but it’s in his last on-screen outing as Wolverine in this year’s Logan that we were finally able to get the Wolverine — as a character and as a film — that we’ve deserved to have all along.
The hard-R rating likewise allowed us to see Wolverine at his most violent and most realistic.The limo scene in the beginning of the film is vicious and bloody, showcasing a man who’s fearless, ruthless and equipped with adamantium covered foot-long claws in his fists. What begins with a group of gangbangers kicking the prone form of Logan ends with a deluge of blood and guts. We see Wolverine maul people like some kind of deranged animal — stabbing them through the heart, carving their chests and stomachs wide open, and slicing off fingers and limbs and heads. It’s a brutal, intense scene, one that sticks out for its fight choreography and the way in which it sets the tone for the rest of the film.
‘John Wick 2’
David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, the directors of John Wick 2, began their careers as stunt coordinators — and it shows in their approach to action scenes. Rather than employing quick cuts, tight shots and shaky handcam that’s currently popular, Leitch and Stahelski use wide angles and steady shots — their intention obviously being that they want you see the entire scope and sequence of the action on the screen.
And what fantastic action it is. This four-minute scene features Keanu Reeves — who deserves all the accolades for the way in which he dedicates himself to this and every action scene in both films — taking down an army of antagonists using a variety of guns and hand-to-hand combat. The action sequences in this scene are as raw as they are realistic, and Leitch and Stahelski use the space, the lighting and Keanu Reeves himself in a way that might almost be described as beautiful. It’s a standout scene not just for its action, but for the way in which it reminds us action scenes can be both exciting to watch and not require us to turn off our brains as we’re watching them.
You just can’t kill Jon Hamm, can you? Buddy takes a lot of hits in Baby Driver — both physically and emotionally — but you don’t see how truly tough he is until that final showdown between him and Baby.
After being shot several times, Buddy hijacks a cop car and goes after Baby, killing Doc in the process. Baby gets the jump on him, using more than one car to drive Buddy over the edge — literally. The entirety of Baby Driver is a music lover’s dream, but this final scene’s crescendo is assisted by the choice of song (“Brighton Rock” by Queen), which is a callback to an earlier conversation these two former teammates once shared.
But Buddy is hard to kill, remember? He escapes his car right before it topples over, then takes away one of Babys’ most prized possessions. Debora gets a couple good swings in there, which earns the movie some bonus points, before Baby aims a gun at Buddy’s kneecap and sends him to a fiery death. It’s poignant and final, and you know that although Baby won, he also kind of lost, too. There’s a certain poetry in that.
‘The Fate of the Furious’
If you’re going into the theater to watch a Fast and Furious film, then you know to expect fast cars and at least one awesomely absurd and completely outlandish action scene. This year’s Fate of the Furious was no exception. Each film in this action franchise has sought to outdo the previous one in terms of its climactic action scenes. Having apparently exhausted the use of every single type of car, the last two films used a tank, then a plane in their climactic scenes.
The Fate of the Furious decided it needed to use a submarine. We’re treated to a high speed chase across the frozen wasteland of the Arctic in which The Rock, Michelle Rodriguez and associated crew are being run down by a submarine that bursts from underneath the frozen-over water. It’s a scene that’s as fun and exciting as it is ridiculous, which is basically also the best way to describe this entire franchise. The only thing we’re left wondering is — where will the franchise go next? My money (and my dearest hope) is into space, with Vin Diesel and his crew forced to outrun an honest to god spaceship.
It’s not exactly a spoiler that Superman returns. What might be a spoiler is just what happens once he does, so consider this your official spoiler warning.
Unfortunately for the Justice League, when Superman is resurrected, he is confused and understandably angry. Fortunately for the movie going audience, what ensues is an epic action scene that highlights exactly why Superman is such a badass in the first place. First, he easily holds off an attack from Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Cyborg at the same time. Then, when Barry Allen — the “fastest man alive” — attempts to run behind him to help them, Superman’s gaze tracks him at superspeed and he throws off the three other heroes and fights Barry at superspeed. A bunch of other hype moments happen as well — Wonder Woman and Superman exchanging headbutts, Superman asking Batman if he bleeds — but it’s that moment with the Flash that had every audience each of the three times I watched the film gasping and yelling and whooping out loud. It’s a moment that alone is basically worth the price of admission, and puts this scene on this year’s list.
The whole dang movie
Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is arguably the most ambitious film on this list; in regards to its sheer size and scope, Dunkirk is almost unrivaled. The film, which follows the evacuation of Allied forces from the beaches of Dunkirk during World War II, takes the action scenes and sequences we are accustomed to seeing play out in twenty minutes and extends them to the full two hour run time.
The film is composed of three intertwined and overlapping war scenes, impressively staged and choreographed, that keep a tense and tight grasp on the audience’s attention. The set pieces themselves vary in size, making it all the more impressive to watch Nolan pull them off. That he was able to create such powerful and realistic action scenes on an immense scale is a rare feat that should not go unrecognized.
‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’
Opening monster fight
The Guardians of the Galaxy are known for two things: their rag-tag team dynamic and their love for music. After a three year hiatus, the sequel put those two elements front and center at the very beginning of the film. The team prepares to fight an inter-dimensional space monster and once the battle begins, the focus turns to Baby Groot. He turns on Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky” and starts dancing while the rest of the guardians fight the monster, entirely out of focus.
The unique choice to pull the focus away from the fight itself and to the more comedic, charming side of the guardian’s dynamic reflects the franchises’ commitment to framing what would normally be prototypical action scenes in new and exciting ways. By showing the fight from Groot’s point of view, the audience is able to get a more unique perspective while still taking in the size and scope of the action scene itself.
We’ve seen Thor and the Hulk fight alongside one another before, but we had never seen them fight against each other. That’s just what Taikia Waititi did with Thor: Ragnarok. Not only did Waititi rejuvenate the Thor franchise with added fun and flair, but he gave us one of the most memorable action scenes in the franchise history.
The surprise of pairing Thor against the Hulk broke up the normal rhythm of the movie and brought an unexpected playfulness to the dynamic. The actual fight itself is almost at treat to watch – since there’s no real risk that either the Thor or the Hulk will perish, audiences get to enjoy the fun in watching two friends duke it out in a battle of skill and power. The use of the gladiator ring is an exciting set piece and helps amp up the atmosphere and audience dynamic. Since the subtle arc in Thor: Ragnarok is about Thor learning and developing more of his powers, this match-up provides an excellent bit of foreshadowing that compliments the final fight scene in the film perfectly.