Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Best Action Scenes of All Time

My good friend, and action film authority, Sean, recently requested that we do an entry on the "Best Action Scenes of All Time". This request is, to say the very least, daunting. His off the cuff suggestions are strong, citing scenes from Aliens, Predator, The Fugitive (actually, this one is a little suspect), Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (which gets extra points for the "Duel of the Fates" soundtrack), Gangs of New York, and Last of the Mohicans. 

I am overwhelmed with the stream of memories coming to me now as I revisit the first time I saw each if these. A tear comes to my eye as I think back on my love affair with the final scene of Last of the Mohicans. And my fingers clench into tight fists as I think about the intensity of the opening scene in Gangs of New York and the disappointment of the last scene in the same film. My god, has it been so long? 

While I don't think I have the authority to assert what are and are not the best action scenes of all time, I will gladly share with you my top three. My list will be incomplete and, as such and as always, I would love to hear you're suggestions. Okay, here we go:

1. Last of the Mohicans (1992) - This movie makes my top three without a doubt. But which action scene to choose is a bit more difficult. Three candidates come to mind. First, the scene where Nathaniel covers the runner with his expert sniper skills from the ramparts of Fort William Henry. Holy shit! I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about it! Second, the scene where the British are ambushed in the valley and Nathaniel tears apart the huron who is about to kill Cora Munro. And third, the final scene where Nathaniel and Chingachgook run up the mountain killing huron after huron without loosing stride, culminating in Chingachgook ending Magua with his war club, the likes of which has never been replicated in ANY other movie. 

Now that I think about it, Sean hit it on the nose. The final scene is by far the most epic. What makes it so amazing? The truth is, there are a number of things that make this scene the best action scene of all time. First of all, this is the final scene in the movie. By this point, we have developed a strong bond with the protagonists. We've just scene Uncas disgraced by Magua, and we are fired up. The location that they chose or this scene is amazing. We are talking about these awesome cliffs with menacing walls towering overhead. And finally, the soundtrack of this movie is freaking legendary. It sets its meat hooks firmly in your shoulder blades and drags you along an emotional roller coaster, climaxing in an orchestral explosions of violins and long rifles.... give me a minute....

2. The Matrix (1999) - You've heard it from me before. I love this movie. Despite the garbage that the original matrix has spawned, we must always remember that this film was a behemoth. The scene I have in mind is the one where Neo and Trinity walk into the building where Morpheus is being held strapped to the teeth with munitions. Neo is wearing a trenchcoat and some kickass boots, and Trinity has that cold look reflecting in her mirrored sunglasses. Neo goes left, Trinity goes right, and hell follows with them both. 

Once again, the badassery of this scene is enhanced by a soundtrack which sent me on a downward Techno spiral for years. But this was also one of the first scenes where we saw Neo really showing his stuff. He has accepted that he is not the One, and in accepting that fact, is able to fulfill his true potential. This man can now do one-handed cartwheels while firing an assault rifle and avoiding more bullets than I care to think about at the same time. Also, Trinity does her now signature running off the wall move, which I have since tried to duplicate more than once... and failed. Finally, this scene wraps up in a very N64 Goldeneye kind of way. Havoc has been wreaked and the elevator music plays on. 

3. Aliens (1986) - It's a tough call, but I think my third place goes to Ripley fighting the queen alien in the hangar with the mechwarrior outfit. I think it is her, "all right, let's do this thing" attitude which does it for me. It's like she says to herself, "There is only one way that this is going to end well. And that's if I use this mechwarrior to totally $%*& up this beast." And that's exactly what she does. Amazing. I also really like how the alien takes a step back to size Ripley up before attacking. Aliens are notoriously intelligent and even more deadly, what with their rapid-fire death tongue, super-strength, and acid blood. But when Ripley gets into that machine, the alien takes a step back. Even the queen has to pay some respect.

Aside from that, the thing that has always really inspired me about the Alien movies (well, the first two), is how in the end, it always ends up being Ripley against the beast. It's not as if she is the most qualified person to handle it. It's just that everyone else is dead and if she wants to live, she needs to kill the alien. Simple as that. This is a survival story more than anything, and Sigourney Weaver is freaking amazing at making you believe that she is at the point of utter desperation. Every time I watch this scene, I believe it could go the other way. She got lucky getting the alien's head in the mechwarrior death grip. and that tail could have gotten her at anytime. But in the end she wins out because, when all is said and done, Ripley does not want to die.

Man, I feel like I just passed a stone or two. What do you think? 


G.H. said...

I think part of what makes Last of the Mohicans great is that it's got a little bit of that Western-style revenge thing going on. Hawkeye and Uncas's buddies (The Camerons, and yes, they're monument is the stars you, Miss, gaze upon) are brutally murdered, they rip Munro's heart out so he can see how black it is before he dies, they call their women "dogs", and then he beats Uncas. In a just world, someone has to take this man down. That it's this stoic old dude who is bound to vanish away, the last of a generation, as the crazy colonial world starts yelling about taxes and canals and crap like that...well, it's more poignant and stuff. He also disposes of Magua with ruthless efficiency -- something which is just not common in epic fight scenes. There's something to be said for novelty.

Lonnie Mollo said...

maybe only because it's pretty fresh in my mind, but the last 5-7 minutes of "Redbelt" come to mind for me. It has Chiwetel Ejiofor as a Jui Jitsu blackbelt breezing through a stream of guys and ends with a great escape just seconds before being choked out.

G.H. said...

Waynes World 2: Mike Myers fending off Christopher Walken with a guitar in a perfect riff on The Graduate.

Keanu Banderas said...

That's a damned fine list. Damned fine. I can't say I disagree with a single entry. However, with so many amazing action movies out there, I feel it necessary to recognize a few honorable mentions:

The battle of Stirling in Braveheart. This scene left me awestruck by its sheer magnitude and realistic grit. Limbs are getting lopped off every which way you turn, guys are taking daggers in the eye, and of course, the largest 'full moon' ever to be caught on camera kicks the whole thing off. The blue war paint and the inspiring opening speech didn't hurt either.

The sword duel between Indigo Montoya and The Dread Pirate Roberts in The Princess Bride. Casey and I reenacted this scene countless times as children and I imagine we weren't the only ones to do so. To this day this remains one of the best choreographed sword fights on the books and contains some great banter. I made a conscience effort to use my left hand more after seeing what potential for swashbuckling trickery could be achieved with the change of sword hands.

THere are many more that deserve mention, but these two came to mind quickly.

Brandon said...

I agree wholeheartedly with the choice of movies listed and the scenes within. i might only add since this list contains both what has been described originally as "action/thrillers" and "action/period pieces" the end scene of legends of the fall. i mean is there any other way to be badass as when tristan goes down fighting a grizzly to the death and an old indian sage narrates with "he died a good death". roll credits. goosebumps and jealousy prevail as i can only hope an indian sage will preside over my funeral in the same manner.
also the end scene of and there will be blood. where after daniel plainview bludgeons to death the charlatan priest and claims to his butler, "I am finished". come to think of it, any daniel day lewis end scene would probably be a suitable option for this title.