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?