Punch Up: 7 Of The Best Brawls in Cinema

There’s nothing better than seeing good dust-up on the cinema screen. It has been part of the language of film for years and has evolved from simple set pieces and slapstick to lavish fast-paced montages, packed with action, stunts and effects.

Being a standard trope of cinema, there are many fight scenes throughout history – I’d estimate over 60% of all films probably contain a fight scene of some description, so it’s all about what makes them stand out and pack a punch!

Looking at just melee fights, using just fists or basic weaponry, we’ve chosen some of the best brawls in cinema history. Full of twists and turns, these action-packed fights are full of adrenaline-pumping intensity and all brought something new to the table by redefined our ideas of what makes an entertaining fight.

1. From Russia With Love (1964) – The Train Brawl

The second James Bond film starring Sean Connery, From Russia With Love is considered to be one of the best, and it kickstarted the franchise back in the 60s, providing the infamous exotic locations, glamorous women, hardboiled henchmen and cold-war espionage that became the Bond films’ calling cards.

Late in the film, Bond comes face to face with bruiser Red Grant (Robert Shaw) for a final showdown on a train and they battle through the compartments of the carriage, in a struggle to the death. Throwing each other against walls, with props flying everywhere and fists being thrown all over the screen, it’s a great action sequence. A real first in the fast staccato editing style which adds a realistic and immediate feel, this scrap set the benchmark going forward and is one older cinema fight that has stood the test of time.

2. Convoy (1978) – Bar Brawl

Convoy is a classic 70’s film and an oft forgotten cult-classic. It stars Kris Kristofferson and Ali McGraw and was released at the height of the CB radio craze. It tells the tale of an ever-growing convoy on the run through various states being pursued by the law.

Near the beginning of the film, a racist police officer (played by Ernest Borgnine) starts picking on a black character called Spider Mike, who is minding his own business in a truck-stop diner. What ensues is one of the most over the top, but brilliantly entertaining brawsl this era of Hollywood. Packed with stunts, breaking glass and silly one-liners, it’s a real treat to watch, and shows a fight doesn’t have to be too serious to be thoroughly entertaining. Featuring Sam Peckinpah‘s trademark slow motion cuts, this bar fight revels in it’s own chaos.

3. Project A (1983) – Restaurant Brawl

When it comes to fighting on film, martial arts movies are up at the top, particularly the Hong Kong cinema of the 1970’s and 80’s which introduced us to masters of Kung Fu like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan.

A good example is Project A, a Chan directed action comedy film, set in the 19th century Hong Kong that blended over the top comedy (ala Chan’s hero Buster Keaton) with the spectacular action of fast paced kung fu fighting. 

In this scene, Jackie and Biao Yuen‘s rival teams have a dispute in a bar that escalates into an all-out comical fight with everyone in the bar getting involved. Packed with slapstick comedy, amazing stunts, fast-paced kicks and the use of undercranking, this is one brawl to behold!  

4. The Matrix (1998) – Neo Brawls with Mr Smith

Everything that needs to be said about The Matrix has perhaps been said, it revolutionised so many filmmaking techniques and ideas upon its release, that it has since become elevatd to the status of ‘legendary’.

During the showdown between Neo and Mr Smith, following the initial gun firing, we are treated to a masterful stunt-filled fight of epic proportions. Utilising all kinds of special effects, we get to see glorious fights whilst flying through the air. Utilising some of the techniques developed by martial arts films throughout the years, this fight is truly magnificent to watch and pushed the action genre forwards with its fresh approach and ideas.

5. The Bourne Identity (2002) – Pen Brawls with Knife

The Matt Damon led Bourne Trilogy gave birth to a completely new style of action film, and has influenced many films since it’s release. With a realistic setting and it’s handheld, shaky cinematography it completely upgraded the action genre with something gritty and realistic.

This fight scene from The Bourne Identity pits pen against knife and is a particular treat. With its frenetic pace, brutal and sloppy, yet meticulous action stylings, the fast-paced editing delivers something that feels real and puts you in the room at the centre of the clash.

6. The Transporter (2002) – Frank Brawls with Room Full of Thugs

Jason Statham kicking some butt. What’s not to love? Released in the same year as The Bourne Identity, The Transporter helped introduce a new style of frenetic brutal brawling that felt realistic, but maintained a humorous action-movie appeal.

This fight moves from a parked bus into the garage which allows the combatants to take advantage of a variety of different weapons as well as the seemingly innocuous surroundings. With the combination of various martial arts styles, this brawl is one you’ll want to watch again and again..

7. Oldboy (2003)

Oldboy is a neo-noir action thriller from South Korea and plays as a dramatic tale of vengeance for its lead character Oh Dae-su. A stunning film that won the Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes festival, it is highly recommended.

It also gives us a fantastic fight scene, that truly does something different. It’s nasty and brutal and involves all kinds of weapons as Oh takes on over twenty gang members in a long corridor shot. It is filmed on one long tracking shot, almost like a side-scrolling, beat ’em up video game. It delivers something visually striking and reminds us perhaps of classics such as Double Dragon or Streets of Rage. A visual treat and truly something unique. The Spike Lee remake is also worth a watch.

There we have it, our 7 Best Brawls in Cinema History.

Did we miss your favourite one out? Then let us know and tell us in the comments below. Make sure to check out the other posts right here on moremovies and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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David Roberts
Dave is a digital content creator, web and software developer and keen filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @drobertsdigital.