Action film junkies know that there is nothing better than a well-choreographed, properly edited gun battle. When the bullets are flying, things are breaking, and people are dropping faster than stock market points, you can’t help but be exhilarated and entertained by such blast-a-second carnage.
Now before I make this list, I want to make it clear that I don’t advocate violence. Many of the movies on this list use violence as a way to express the filmmaker’s own thoughts and feelings. The danger of a list like this is that by taking the scenes out of the film’s context, people may think we are praising violence, which is not the case.
These scenes are just damn awesome. So let’s load up and fire away!
10) The End – Scarface
As Tony Montana (Al Pacino) watches his legacy crumble around him, he decides to go out in a blaze of glory. As gangsters infiltrate his house, he blasts his way through all of them, beginning with his now famous phrase, “Say hello to my little friend!” Director Brian De Palma is an expert at filming action, and this scene is the filmmaker at his finest. The final shot is undoubtedly haunting.
9) Final Shootout – The Wild Bunch
The evolution of the action genre owes much to Sam Peckinpah, whose tenacity to use violence as poetry culminated in arguably his best set piece. This shootout moves to an editing rhythm that gets more frantic and confused as it goes on to mimic how the characters feel. It’s a brilliantly pieced together scene with an exponentially high body count that shows no mercy for anyone involved.
8) Bar Fight – Desperado
Robert Rodriguez’s first big budget film sees the filmmaker at his most stylistic. Not only is the pacing incredibly fluid, Antonio Banderas does some of the coolest moves any protagonist has pulled off using two guns. It’s almost like he’s dancing with two spring-mounted pistols shooting out of his suit sleeves.
7) The Hangar – Bad Boys
Before Michael Bay stopped caring about crafting a good film, he showed promise as one of Hollywood’s top action directors. Nowhere was this more evident than in his criminally underrated debut and best film, Bad Boys. Packed with so many great scenes as well as the chemistry between Martin Lawrence and Will Smith, the film’s climactic shootout is a free for all between Miami PD and a group of terrorists led by French actor Tcheky Karyo. It’s a magnificent shootout which culminates into a massive explosion followed by a car chase.
6) The Beach – Saving Private Ryan
Nobody watches Saving Private Ryan to get excited. In a historical context, Spielberg wanted to depict war as accurately as possible. Up to this point, very few movies had dared to get this up close and personal to the soldiers who were being shot, blown up, drowned, and brutally disemboweled. So unlike the other films on this list, the beach scene is not one that we watch to have fun. But it nevertheless deserves a place on this list for the masterful choreography, staging, and editing that went in to making this scene as shocking and horrifying as it was meant to be.
5) Skank’s Demise – The Crow
Because the hotel lobby sequence in The Matrix borrowed so much from Alex Proyas and Brandon Lee, I decided to put the source instead of the more popular scene on this list. In this scene, Eric Draven comes face to face with criminal kingpin Top Dollar (Michael Wincott) and his entire mafia family. To get to the one he wants, Draven shoots, stabs, and martial arts his way to Skank. It’s a glorious scene that oozes style, slow motion, and an exciting industrial metal soundtrack. Classic 90s action.
4) Police Station Shootout – The Terminator
James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger gained official celebrity status with the success of this incredible sci-fi epic. Few scenes are as iconic or as memorable as Arnold driving a truck into a police station and proceeding to take out everyone in the building with a shotgun and an assault rifle. It’s made all the more intense because the T-800 is unkillable, and Sarah Connor is just steps away from being at the receiving end of its wrath.
3) Pretty much every scene – Die Hard
John McTiernan’s Die Hard is arguably the greatest action movie ever made, and for so many reasons. But on a pure killing standpoint, the gun battles in Die Hard are so frequent that it’s hard to narrow it down to one scene.
2) The Hospital – Hard Boiled
John Woo is one of the greatest action filmmakers of all time. From A Better Tomorrow to The Killer to Face/Off, Woo set a new standard for gun fights and no reloading – seriously, these guys have unlimited ammo in their pistols. In his masterpiece, Hard Boiled, the final battle takes place in a hospital. This scene features a body count of at least two hundred, men jumping through glass windows like air, and some of the coolest, most stylishly choreographed action film moves to date. Not to mention the scene is 20 minutes long.
1) The Heist – Heat
The first half of the film builds up to this seminal bank heist. When it happens, the scene completely delivers. Building tension from the minute Robert De Niro steps into the bank, the sequence ends up with the cops and the robbers firing at each other right in the middle of downtown Los Angeles. The choreography, the shots, the editing, the acting, the tension, and the suspense. All of it adds up to not only the best gun battle I have seen onscreen, but one of the best action scenes of all time. Period. If you are a fan of Batman, Christopher Nolan has gone on record saying Michael Mann’s Heat and this particular action sequence was a direct influence on The Dark Knight.