Debating the best action films in a given era is always tricky, because there are so many sub-categories.
There are crime and cop films, Kung Fu movies, action comedies, war stories, and more that could all be described as being, primarily, action films. What’s easier than narrowing these down or parsing through sub-categories, however, is forgetting the films and focusing on the sequences.
To that end, this is my list of the best action sequences we’ve seen in film this century (so far).
The Fight In The Hall in Oldboy
Speaking broadly, Oldboy is one of the better action movies period. But the legendary hallway fight in the movie is particularly brilliant.
If you haven’t seen it before, basically our hero faces a dim, cramped, crowded hallway full of enemies and elects to rampage his way through it armed with nothing but a hammer. It’s actually not the prettiest group fight scene in terms of choreography, but it feels more realistic than some others, in that sometimes he’s completely overcome or hidden from view.
It’s also been written up as one of the best one-shot action scenes ever.
Home Defense in John Wick
I’d argue that the John Wick franchise is the best thing to happen to the action genre this decade, if not this century so far.
Unfortunately that makes it difficult to pick just one action scene from the two movies (and putting two on this list would feel a tad dramatic). There’s an argument to be made for Wick (Keanu Reeves) shooting up a club full of bad guys, or going toe-to-toe with a rival assassin (played by Common) in John Wick 2. But I’m going with the first scene in which we really saw his talents.
His defense of his own home as it’s being invaded early in the first film is just a remarkable sequence that’s part gunfight, part martial arts.
The Parkour Chase in Casino Royale
Casino Royale has been called a lot of things. It was first and foremost the debut of Daniel Craig as James Bond, and something of a reset for the 007 franchise.
It’s been listed as one of the best gambling movies of all time, the argument being that its poker scenes are the most memorable in the movie. Some have also called it one of if not the best Bond movie of all time.
Certainly, however, it’s also among the best action films we’ve seen so far this century, and the parkour chase early on is one of the most incredible sequences in any Bond movie.
Bourne & Desh in The Bourne Ultimatum
I mentioned John Wick going toe-to-toe with a rival assassin. It’s a great set of fights, and it seems likely to have been inspired by Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) battling his own rival, Desh (Joey Ansah) in The Bourne Ultimatum.
It was one of the most brutal, high-stakes, man-to-man fights I’ve ever seen in a movie.
The Tumbling Hall in Inception
The tumbling hall scene in Inception is confusing and almost physically unsettling, but undeniably clever.
It’s tough to explain but if you don’t know the film, multiple characters are in a “shared dream” state while strapped into a van and sedated. When that van tumbles down a slope, throwing gravity into flux for the passengers, the gravity in their dream goes all out of whack, leading to two characters having a fight in a hallway that’s basically tumbling over on itself.
The fight itself isn’t the best, but it’s such an original scene it makes the list.
The Nazi Takedown in Kung Fury
Listen, you have to have a sense of humor to love martial arts and action movies, and Kung Fury embraced that side of things beautifully.
This site has written about it before as the ultimate parody of 1980’s Kung Fu cop films, and that’s about the best way to put it. One sequence in particular, when the titular hero basically stands his ground fending off waves of Nazi attackers with video game-like moves for what feels like 20 minutes, deserves mention as both the perfect spoof and a surprisingly creative scene.
The Rainy Courtyard in Hero
This is a weird but absolutely gorgeous scene. And I’m not going to explain it in that much detail.
It’s Jet Li versus Donnie Yen in a rainy courtyard, essentially thinking their way through their fight (which we get to see). Jet Li uses a sword, Donnie Yen a bladed spear, and we’re basically treated to a Matrix-meets-Crouching Tiger style of choreography.
It’s one of the most artistic one-on-one fight sequences ever.
Shaw & Toretto in Furious 7
This is a completely ridiculous fight scene that starts with two muscle cars speeding toward each other and essentially have a head-on collision. But hey, you’re watching a Fast & Furious moving – you’re not there for realistic scenes, you’re there for fun.
What follows is as awesome as it is absurd. Jason Statham and Vin Diesel get out from their respective cars, pick up scraps of metal and heavy tools, and essentially have a rugged, street-style sword fight. It’s like a kid who mixes and matches toys, action figures, and weapons staging little fights for himself grew up to direct a movie, and it’s wildly entertaining.
The Crazy 88 in Kill Bill Vol. 1
There’s a type of scene in martial arts and Kung Fu movies that we’ve seen over and over again. We’ve seen it in The Matrix Reloaded, when the crew actually had to animate parts of a fight between Neo and an endless wave of Mr. Smiths; we saw it in IP Man with IP Man versus 10 black belts. Well, this scene in Kill Bill Vol. 1 may be the best example of this type of scene. Watching The Bride (Uma Thurman) dismantle the Crazy 88
The Duel in Troy
People have their issues with Troy, sometimes concerning historical accuracy – which is kind of crazy given that it’s a film based on a poem describing a myth.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to deny that the film has some brilliant fighting sequences, the best of which is a duel between Achilles (Brad Pitt) and Hector (Eric Bana). One review called it the undisputed shining moment of the film, and I can’t do much better than that description. Everything from the characters’ outfits to the camera work to the rhythmic drumming in the background perfectly surrounds one of the best-choreographed fights we’ve seen on a screen in decades.