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Atomic Blonde is the best action movie of the year, thanks in part to a late skirmish between Charlize Theron’s Cold War spy and a collection of weapon-wielding villains that Yahoo Movies is ready to declare the single greatest fight scene in American film history.
It’s no surprise that a collaboration between Theron and director David Leitch (co-helmer of John Wick, and the man spearheading next year’s Deadpool 2) would result in such a peerless beat-’em-up masterpiece. But it did get us thinking about the other domestic contenders that have delivered the finest in hand-to-hand combat, regardless of the specific genre in which they operate. While conceding that this list would look different if we also included overseas martial-arts classics (or gun-centric showstoppers), we hereby present our rundown of the top ten cinematic fight scenes that were Made in the U.S.A.
(Note: Many of the below clips are very NSFW, and also contain spoilers)
10. The Matrix
Keanu Reeves’ Neo finally proves that he’s “The One” during his climactic clash with Hugo Weaving’s Agent Smith in the Wachowskis‘ influential 1999 film, which expertly blends sharp kung-fu choreography, thrilling wire-work, and cutting-edge special effects.
His later bouts against Clubber Lang (Mr. T) and Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) may feature more superhuman blows, but no fight in the history of the (still-ongoing) Rocky franchise has ever quite lived up to the one that closes 1976’s original film, between Sylvester Stallone’s Italian Stallion and Carl Weathers’ Apollo Creed. It’s an epic conclusion to one of sports cinema’s top underdog tales.
8. Kill Bill
Though it’s largely a battle fought with swords rather than fists, we’re still going to include Uma Thurman’s awesome confrontation with Gogo (the girl with the deadly ball and chain) and her Crazy 88s gang. It’s a pure, unadulterated samurai spectacular, and even gorier in the unrated Japanese cut found below.
7. Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning
Most mainstream movie fans probably don’t know that the Universal Soldier franchise was given fresh, fantastic new life by director John Hyams, first with 2009’s Regeneration, and then with 2012’s Day of Reckoning. Both feature Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, but the latter’s apex comes courtesy of co-star Scott Adkins — the reigning king of direct-to-video action — via his sporting goods store throwdown against Andrei Arlovski’s genetically enhanced foe.
6. Road House
As everyone knows, there’s no man more fearsome than a bar bouncer. And no film pays greater tribute to that all-American hero than Road House. Patrick Swayze’s 1989 cult classic delivers the outrageous action goods, and climaxes with a waterside scuffle of flying kicks, thunderous punches, and a finishing move of over-the-top ferocity.
5. Eastern Promises
David Cronenberg (Scanners, The Fly) is primarily known as the master of body-horror cinema, yet for his 2007 crime drama Eastern Promises, he stages a superlative bathhouse scuffle between a couple of would-be assassins and Viggo Mortensen’s Russian mobster — who takes on his adversaries, in brutal fashion, while completely nude.
4. They Live
John Carpenter staged the longest fight scene in cinema history with They Live, pitting “Rowdy” Roddy Piper’s hero against Keith David’s adversary (and eventual friend) for over six straight minutes. Replete with amusingly contentious banter throughout, their back-alley fisticuffs remain the stuff of legend — and were even parodied by South Park.
3. Raging Bull
Robert De Niro won a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of real-life boxer Jake LaMotta in Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull (1980). Among its many virtues, it features cinema’s best in-ring match, between LaMotta and Sugar Ray Robinson. Shot in black-and-white, and in a manner so up-close-and-personal you can almost feel the spray of sweat and blood on your eyes, it’s pre-eminent pugilistic carnage.
2. Enter the Dragon
Bruce Lee’s fight-scene credentials are second-to-none, and even though most of his greatest works were produced overseas, his Enter the Dragon match against O’Hara — the man who drove his character’s sister to kill herself — is still an amazing example of unconventional choreography (note the fitful flow of the bout), amazing athleticism, and concussive forcefulness.
1. Atomic Blonde
Some will think it premature to crown Atomic Blonde’s stairwell scene as American cinema’s greatest-ever fight. We’ll just assume those people have yet to actually watch it — because those who have undoubtedly recognize its brilliance. Charlize Theron gives as well as she gets while slugging it out with numerous enemies during this protracted extravaganza (shot in unbroken minutes-long takes, and eventually extending into a lengthy car-chase sequence), which is as technically impressive as it is viscerally potent. Action cinema doesn’t get any better than this.
‘Atomic Blonde’ Instant Commentary: Director David Leitch Narrates Movie’s Craziest Car Stunt:
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