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The 10 best movie fight scenes of 2021
Featuring not one but two fights that take place on a bus.
The holiday season is a time for people to come together — a time for peace. So, naturally, we at SYFY WIRE are deciding to celebrate by looking back at the past year of movies and highlighting some of the best fight scenes of the year.
There were plenty of great duels and throw-downs in 2021, though before we get to the main event, let’s lay down some ground rules. Not every action scene is a “fight” scene. It’s not an exact science, but there should really be one party battling another. (And, ideally, both parties are named. A hero fighting an army of goons is a fight scene, but a hero versus the villain is even better.)
For example, the magnetized car chase in F9 is sweet, but it’s not a fight. For this list, we’re trying to limit the entries to just sequences that are primarily about one thing and one thing only: Somebody trying to punch somebody else real good until the other person can’t punch back anymore.
Isn’t the cinema grand?
**SPOILER WARNING! There are some spoilers in this list.**
The Bridge Fight in Black Widow
Black Widow never gets the flack that Hawkeye does even though neither of them has superpowers. Hawkeye gets a bad rap, but part of that is because he uses a bow and arrow to fight from a distance while Natasha just throws her non-superpowered self right into a fight. She’s one of the best fighters in the world and yet, almost every time we see her fighting an Avengers villain, she’s the underdog. That makes it a rush to see her first encounter with Taskmaster, who is basically her, plus the abilities of every other top-level “normal” fighter in the MCU. She’s fighting somebody who is on her power level, just slightly better, and those stakes — not to mention the added challenge of keeping the vials of brainwash antidote out of Taskmaster's hands — show us a Black Widow who is operating at her real human peak.
The Bus Fight in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings
Most action movies tend to have their action set pieces get bigger and bigger as the movie (or franchise) goes on, especially the MCU. The thing is, as cool as it is to see Shang-Chi cling on to a dragon and fight a Likecraftian monster, it’s perhaps too big. Now, some dudes fighting on a bus? There’s a decent chance that many of our readers have seen that happen. They’ve just never seen it like this. Shang-Chi’s first fight against Razorfist and some other Ten Rings goons uses the grounded location as a playground to do some wildly acrobatic stunts, and there are even some Speed vibes for good measure. (The scaffolding fight, which is also in the first half of the movie, is similarly successful.)
Kung Lao vs. Nitara in Mortal Kombat
Mortal Kombat was, if we’re being honest, a disappointment. The movie didn’t even get to the titular tournament, which led to most of the fights we did see feeling weirdly impromptu — and, crucially, not nearly as gory as you might’ve expected from the R-rated video game adaptation. There is one fight, however, that was a flawless victory. When Shang Tsung jumps the gun and attacks the Earthrealm fighters early, it’s Kung Lao who has the standout moment in his brief battle with the flying Nitara. The weirdly abbreviated nature of the other fights instead becomes this bout’s strength — it never was a proper duel but instead an abrupt vivisection via spinning hat.
The Bus Fight in Nobody
Bob Odenkirk’s seemingly blue-collar worker shows off his hidden John Wick side in Nobody’s show-stopping brawl aboard a bus, the second time this year that this particular kind of public transportation has been used as a boxing ring. Written by John Wick scribe Derek Kolstad, Nobody asks “what if a Bourne or John Wick-type retreated to suburban life?'' The answer is revealed with brutal and well-choreographed fisticuffs as Odenkirk violently unleashes his unique set of skills on five punks who won’t leave him alone. In a blur of right hooks and arm bars, Odenkirk takes out his combatants, but what makes the fight extra memorable is how he gets just as good as he gives. Part of Nobody’s charm is how it invests a certain degree of realism in its main character being good in a fight, but not always perfect, Action Movie Hero good at fights; he gets hit, a lot, and it hurts. Even better, not all of his punches connect and he has to deal with the consequences of missed blows when he’s outnumbered. It’s in those moments where this fight truly shines, as we see the character have to improvise action-y solves and use his surroundings to level his opponents with the type of gritty, street-level heroism worth cheering on in a movie theater.
Duncan Idaho vs. the Sardaukar in Dune
Though there are moments of levity in Denis Villeneuve’s incredible adaptation of the first half of Dune, it’s a pretty serious movie. Jason Mamoa’s Duncan Idaho is pretty much the only character who appears to be having any fun, and it’s this intentional tonal discrepancy that makes his dying takedown of more than a dozen Sardaukar so thrilling. We’ve been told Sardaukar, the Emperor’s elite troops, are unstoppable, and in an earlier scene a handful of them demolished a group of Atreides soldiers, who are already among the best fighters in the galaxy. But, here’s Duncan Idaho, fighting like a demon. Whatever force of charisma allowed him to be such a personality in an arid world also allowed him to will himself back to life and cut down his foes.
The Performative Masculinity Fight in The Suicide Squad
Okay, so this isn’t a traditional fight, but all the elements are there, just in a different way. Peacemaker and Bloodsport are competing with one another and there is a lot of violence. It just so happens that they’re not directing it at each other and instead are in a deadly game of one-upmanship to see which one can kill the most militiamen and do it in the coolest way. While other sequences in The Suicide Squad are more ridiculous (the gory death of the decoy squad that opens the movie) and some are more brutal (Rick Flagg’s fight with Peacemaker), this silly duel splits the difference. The winner of this show-off show-down is unclear, but Sol Soria’s rebels are certainly the losers.
Spider-Man vs. Green Goblin in Spider-Man: No Way Home
Sure, it was cool to see three different Spider-Men team up to take on a bunch of their greatest foes at once. But, that was more fist-pumping fan-service than it was a proper fight sequence, what with them quipping and web-slinging around the Statue of Liberty. There was a lot going on. Now, on the other hand, when Green Goblin slams poor Peter Parker through floor after floor of an apartment building? That's a real fight — not CGI (or at least not much) but just ugly, brute force. Plus, it had Willem Dafoe showing once more just how fearsome he can become on a dime.
The Last Duel in The Last Duel
Honor and integrity, and the way either can be wielded like physical implements or manipulated into psychological warfare, come to a literal and bloody manifestation in the grueling final act of Ridley Scott’s underseen and underrated medieval drama, The Last Duel.
The lengths men will go to protect their good names by dodging responsibility for the unspeakable bad things they do is one of the driving tensions of Last Duel, a movie centered on the real-life circumstances surrounding France’s last government-approved duel to the death. When the brave Marguerite (Jamie Comer) reveals that she has been raped by the manipulative nobleman Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver), Marguerite’s insufferable husband, Jean (Matt Damon), must defend her honor by challenging his former friend to a duel on horseback with lances. That climactic battle is as bloody and grueling as it is high stakes: If Jean is defeated, then Marguerite will be punished and burned alive. For Jean, if he loses, it’s more another chip on his prideful shoulder than failing to save the life and protect the honor of his wife. The emotional wounds run just as deep as the physical ones, as Last Duel boils over into a vicious, pride-fueled brawl that delivers one of the most satisfying (and graphic) finishing moves in movie history.
Ikarus vs. Makkari, Thena, and Phastos in Eternals
All throughout Eternals, we’ve been hearing about how Ikarus is the strongest Eternal (give or take Gilgamesh, who is already dead.) As powerful as these other Celestial-created beings are, they can’t really hope to compete with Ikarus and his Superman-esque powers. That’s part of what makes the ending fight, when Makkari, Thena, and Phastos need to try to hold him off long enough for Sersi to save the day, so gripping. We’ve heard (and seen) how unbeatable Ikarus is, and even when we know the stakes are about delay not defeat, we can feel just how hard and borderline hopeless this fight is. Throw in the way the movie portrays Makkari’s abilities — arguably the most kinetic depiction of super-speed in film — and you’ve got a thrilling fight. Our heroes are not just battling their former friend; they’re fighting against inevitability — and winning.
The Hong Kong Fight in Godzilla vs. Kong
These fights are not ranked in any particular order, except for this one, which is No. 1. Of course this has to be the best fight — "vs" is right there in the title. Godzilla vs. Kong had to do one thing to be successful, and that was to have Godzilla fight King Kong. And, oh boy do they fight. Their first encounter, where the extremely outmatched Kong needs to leap from aircraft carriers to cargo ships to avoid the semi-aquatic Godzilla, is a fitting Round One, but it’s their neon-lit rematch in Hong Kong that takes the cake. Kong, who has a dope axe now, gets to use his tools in an environment that favors him, climbing up skyscrapers and waiting for the right moment to strike. That’s great, but there’s something so primal about Kong, who notched a win in Round Two by using his cunning, get utterly demolished by Godzilla when he goes full beast mode. Kong may be the Eighth Wonder of the World, but when Godzilla charges around on four limbs and plows into skyscrapers in his savage pursuit of Kong, he shows why he is the King of the Monsters. It’s the only correct outcome, but Godzilla vs. Kong still makes this kaiju-sized fight, lopsided as it is, the clash of the titans to beat.