Three Examples of What Makes a Movie Fight Scene Memorable

If you could say the movies do one thing well, it is fight scenes. Of course, an argument could be made that movies really don’t do fight scenes all that well at all. So many movie fights, so few that are memorable. What makes a fight scene memorable? Hard to say, but like pornography you know it when you see it.

“Oldboy”

This masterpiece of cinema comes from director Park Chan-wook and contains what many fans believe is the best fight scene ever. The reason for this belief is that “Oldboy” seeks to recreate the conventions of a fight scene. This is not to say that you’ve never seen anything like the fight scene in “Oldboy.”

If you are a lover of video games, you most certainly have. What makes this scene stand out is that it is shot as one continuous, side-moving tracking shot that bears greater similarity to what you see on a video game screen than a movie screen. The other thing that makes it such a great fight scene is you’ve got one guy with nothing but a hammer and himself taking on a massive gang of thugs and winning.

“Raging Bull”

The great fight scene in “Raging Bull” does not take place inside the ring, but outside a swanky New York nightclub. The element that lifts this fight scene to classic heights and invests it with the quality of being memorable is how it combines horror, shock, and humor. It may not be the greatest fight scene of them all, but it certainly ranks up there as one of the best fight scenes ever shot in black and white.

The spark that ignites the fight takes place inside the nightclub when Joe Pesci cracks a glass upside the head of Frank Vincent. The combatants are separated and Pesci escapes outside first so he can pull a surprise assault when Vincent emerges. You cannot deny that the image of Vincent reaching toward the camera while Pesci is furiously slamming a taxi door against his body is disturbing and violent, but there is a quality of glee with which Pesci is defending the honor of his brother that can quite easily make you laugh.

A decade later Pesci would give another beating to a character played by Vincent that ends in murder in “Goodfellas.” Martin Scorsese finally gave Vincent the chance for payback when he has Pesci’s character take a beating from Vincent’s character.

“They Live”

“They Live” is, hands down, the single greatest science fiction movie ever made. Many of those who don’t go with “Oldboy” consider this to be the most memorable fight scene in movie history. The unnamed character portrayed by pro wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper gets into an alley brawl with a guy who will eventually become his partner in revolution. The fight itself brings nothing much that is new to the game: fists fly, wooden 2-by-4’s smash through windows, the two characters roll around on the ground, Piper fakes losing the fight, and then comes back for more.

The thing that distinguishes the fight scene in “They Live” is the first punch is thrown at the 56 minute mark and it doesn’t end until the 61 minute mark after more than five continuous minutes with the camera trained on the fight. Another element of greatness includes the fact that the brawl is literally the result of one character’s refusal to put on a pair of sunglasses. By the time this great movie fight is over, Piper’s opponent must be wishing with all his might that Rowdy was not out of bubblegum.