Cinema News and Reviews for the Rest of Us

Top 10 Actions Scenes Of All Time

The action scene is a cornerstone of cinema spectacle, a playground for directors to pull out their favorite visual tricks and wow their audiences in ways never before accomplished.  This list is made with an eye for how the scenes changed the game for action sequences, as well as how incredibly they’re put together.

You might notice that some of your favorite ‘shootouts’ aren’t on the list.  Well, I’m planning another list of the Top 10 Shootouts ever put to film, so this is comprised of scenes not as focused on balletic gunplay.

10.  ‘Children of Men’ – Through the Siege

Rarely has an action scene contained such brutality and yet such emotive power.  The temporary ceasefire as the pregnant girl is taken from the besieged apartment complex is a world-class cinematic grace note.

9.  ‘Kill Bill: Volume 1’ – The Crazy 88

One of sweetest movie treats is watching Quentin Tarantino throw caution to the wind and just go 100% balls out.  The Bride’s slaughter and dismemberment of 88 Yakuza gangsters is the greatest and bloodiest example of that.

8.  ‘Tron’ – Light Cycle Race

Modern viewers jaded by the leaps in special effects made since this one’s release may groan at the dated visuals.  But this digital death race is still as exciting as they come and expertly crafted, and it changed the way computer effects were used in film.

7.  ‘Come and See’ – Forest Bombardment

Elem Klimov’s visceral World War II masterpiece captures the unbearable psychological strain of war.  This scene of artillery raining on a boy soldier in the forest gives you as much of that strain as cinematically possible, from the brain-rattling explosions to the ringing in your ears to the terrifying inability to even see your opponent much less fight it.

6.  ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ – Chase Through the Bazaar

Many cite the rolling boulder escape as the action highpoint here, but for me it’s this exciting chase through the sandy streets as Indiana desperately tries to rescue Marion.  It also features the greatest one-sided duel ever (sword does not equal pistol).

5.  ‘Battleship Potemkin’ – Odessa Steps

The sequence that spawned so many imitators, Eisenstein redefined what an action scene could be by crafting this riveting and powerful vision about the brutal force of oppression.  It pioneered visceral filmmaking in a big, big way.

4.  ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ – The Battle of Hoth

The Star Wars franchise is loaded with memorable action sequences, but my vote goes to the one featuring one of the most menacing machines in science fiction cinema; the lumbering AT-AT.  Their slow, hulking pace only makes them more terrifying, and the scene is made more powerful by the fact that it’s a battle our loveable rebels cannot and will not win.

3.  ‘Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers’ – Battle of Helm’s Deep

Weta Digital’s rise as the premier visual effects house really came about here, where they assisted Peter Jackson in putting together the greatest epic-sized battle ever seen in a film.  The final clash in ‘Return of the King’ may have been bigger, but it didn’t pack the same punch as this dark, dirty, exhilarating grudge match.

2.  ‘Ben Hur’ – The Chariot Race

Even 50 years late, this one is still amazing.  One of the classic mano-a-mano duels in cinematic history, and we’ve rarely rooted for someone as hard as we’re rooting for Charelton Hester as he battles his nemesis before the cheering throngs of bloodthirsty ancient Rome.  Grand spectacle of the highest order.

1.  ‘Saving Private Ryan’ – Storming the Beach

After more than decade of imitators trying in vain to match its unparalleled visceral impact, some might forget just how stirring and groundbreaking this sequence was when it was released in 1997.  The truth is that it’s still the best of its kind.  War has never been brought to such realistic, horrifying life as Spielberg managed with his virtuoso depiction of the Normandy landing.  Shaking cameras.  Blood raining on the lens.  The panic-inducing wail of bullets as they bounce of metal and slice through flesh.  They’ve been done since but they’ve never been done anywhere near as well.  This is the greatest dramatization of war ever committed to celluloid.


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