From high-octane car chases to visceral shootouts, there are a bunch of different ways to thrill audiences in an action movie. One of the most fun aspects of the genre is fight choreography. If it’s staged, shot, and edited just right, brutal hand-to-hand combat can make for some intense action sequences.

There are a bunch of different ways to choreograph a fight scene – like Bruce Lee’s real-life martial arts prowess or Quentin Tarantino’s in-camera editing – and these action movies exemplify the very best of on-screen fisticuffs.

10 Ip Man (2008)

There aren’t a lot of biopics that fall into the martial arts genre, but Ip Man is a prime example of both. The great Donnie Yen stars as Ip Man himself, the legendary Wing Chun grandmaster who taught Bruce Lee how to fight.

What sets Ip Man apart from other martial arts movies is its focus on character, but it doesn’t skimp on the fight scenes. In one sequence, Yen singlehandedly fights off 10 black belts.

9 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

One of the most renowned and influential works of world cinema, Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is notable for its delightfully unrealistic fight choreography. The movie’s gloriously cinematic fight scenes have martial artists floating through trees with the lightness of a ballerina.

At the 73rd Academy Awards, Crouching Tiger’s 10 Oscar nods set a record for the most nominations for a non-English-language movie. It has some of the most stunning visuals in action cinema, courtesy of cinematographer Peter Pau.


8 Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003)

Inspired by the classics of the martial arts genre – particularly the blood-drenched productions of the Shaw Brothers’ studio – Quentin Tarantino made his stamp as an action director in his fourth film, Kill Bill. Uma Thurman stars as the Bride, an ex-assassin who seeks vengeance against the former colleagues who left her for dead.

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Every fight scene in Kill Bill, especially the House of Blue Leaves massacre in Volume 1, was meticulously crafted. Tarantino choreographed the fight scenes and all the mid-action cuts on the page before shooting.

7 Hard Times (1975)

Set at the height of the Great Depression, Walter Hill’s gritty, stylish directorial debut Hard Times stars Charles Bronson as Chaney, a bare-knuckle boxer who rises through the underground fighting scene with the help of a hustler named Speed, played by James Coburn.

The movie is filled with relentless, hard-hitting fistfights – especially after Chaney encounters Street, a rival fighter with a similarly unbeatable reputation, played by Nick Dimitri.

6 Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)

Harking back to the pulpy adventure serials they grew up on, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas brought a delightfully old-school vision to action cinema in 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. Ice-cool adventurer Indiana Jones is the quintessential Harrison Ford character and he got an unforgettable introduction in Raiders.

Thanks to Spielberg’s sharp direction, Ben Burtt’s exaggerated, old-timey sound effects, and the impeccable work of a stunt team led by Ford’s stunt double Vic Armstrong, Raiders’ fight scenes are endlessly riveting.

5 John Wick (2014)

Mixing meticulously staged hand-to-hand combat with John Woo-style “gun fu,” Chad Stahelski and David Leitch’s hard-R hitman thriller John Wick launched an unlikely blockbuster franchise in 2014.

Keanu Reeves doing the majority of his own stunts meant that the editor wasn’t beholden to cutting on stunt doubles and could linger on takes for longer than the average Hollywood action movie. As a result, John Wick’s action scenes are much more immediate and visceral. The fights have the kind of clarity that gets lost when editors have to cut between stars and their stunt doubles.

4 Drunken Master (1978)

Jackie Chan is one of the most prominent stars in action cinema, because he combines his prowess as a master martial artist with Buster Keaton-esque physical comedy. His 1978 hit Drunken Master has a wholly unique premise, as Chan plays a fighter whose abilities peak when he’s intoxicated.

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The story of a fighter who needs to get drunk to fight made for the perfect action comedy, because the joke engine of the comedy is driven by action. The fights are masterfully choreographed and performed by experts, but it has a slapstick approach. As usual, Chan’s stunt work is impeccable.

3 Oldboy (2003)

Park Chan-wook’s neo-noir revenge thriller Oldboy is a must-see for fans of fight choreography for its iconic hallway sequence alone. The story at large follows a falsely imprisoned man’s attempts to figure out who got him locked up, but in one particularly brutal scene, he takes on a legion of henchmen alone in a hallway.

The whole melee is shot in a single long take tracking back and forth through the hallway. The fight doesn’t end because Dae-su manages to kill all the bad guys; they all just become too exhausted to keep getting back up, which is much more realistic.

2 Fist Of Fury (1972)

Pretty much every Bruce Lee movie has great fight scenes. Fans of fight choreography won’t be disappointed by Enter the Dragon or Way of the Dragon or even the incomplete Game of Death. But arguably the greatest movie in the Lee canon is 1972’s Fist of Fury.

The movie opens with Lee returning to his hometown for the funeral of his late master, but quickly becomes a rollicking revenge movie when he suspects foul play from a rival academy.

1 The Raid (2011)

With the masterfully simplistic premise of an elite squad infiltrating a high-rise controlled by a drug kingpin, Gareth Evans kept the focus of The Raid solely on the action. There’s no exposition or unnecessary subplots, just an all-out war between cops and crooks.

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The fight scenes in The Raid showcase the Indonesian martial art of Pencak Silat, with a cast led by actors like Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian who double as skilled martial artists.

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