The summer movie season is upon us, dear readers, and with it comes the inevitable flux of the genre that has conquered Hollywood, the box office, and popular culture; superhero movies! We’ve already had “Glass” in January and “Captain Marvel” in March, and this weekend will see the wide release of DC’s “Shazam!”, with “Avengers: Endgame”, “Dark Phoenix”, “Spider-Man: Far From Home”, and “Joker” all set to make landfall throughout the year. A genre that was once exclusively in the wheelhouse of nerds and dweebs and looked down upon by everyone else now rules the box office roost year after year with no end in sight. Those of us who fell into the former category twenty years ago have little to complain about now!
With the rise of comic book movies to what they are today, they’ve also made huge leaps forward when it comes to delivering real and stunning action, especially in the fighting department. So much so that KFK just had to do a rundown of the Top 10 Best Superhero Movie Fights. The thing is though, superhero films have become so omnipresent, there’s just too many for just a Top 10. Not only are there incredible clashes of costumed titans that pre-date those on the original list, there have also been an equal number since then to raise the bar for this genre’s capacity to amaze and astound. And that can only mean one thing…it’s TIME for another KFK countdown…So buckle up your utility belts and keep your capes fastened tight, readers – here (in descending order) is KFK’s rundown of Top 10 Superhero Movie Fights! (Part 2)
- Battle in Metropolis — Superman II (1980)
- Ship Battle — Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
- Ghost Fight — Doctor Strange (2016)
- No Man’s Land — Wonder Woman (2017)
- Battle in K’un-Lun — Iron Fist: Season Two (2018)
- Ozymandias vs The Comedian — Watchmen (2009)
- Submarine Fight — Aquaman (2018)
- Forest Battle — Logan (2017)
- Blade vs Nomak — Blade II (2002)
Today’s generation would certainly be hard-pressed to believe that there was a time in this world when there was really only one big screen superhero franchise in town – that being of course, Christopher Reeve’s “Superman” movies of the late 70’s and early to mid 80’s. They’d be equally astonished to learn that Kal-El’s epic battle with General Zod and his Kryptonian allies, Ursa and Non, was the only major comic book fight sequence around.
Such was the case if you were a child of the 80’s and early 90’s, but that was all part of the magical package that made “Superman II” so special. The idea of the Man of Steel facing not one, but three enemies with the same powers as him was about as big as any filmmaker could possibly go at the time with a superhero battle. And sure, Superman’s epic clash with General Zod in 2013’s “Man of Steel” is about a thousand times bigger in scope and scale. But, back then, this truly felt like seeing the comics come to life before our very eyes – the whole sequence kicking off with Terrence Stamp’s immortal line “Kneel Before Zod!”
Superhero action didn’t come any bigger than this back in 1981, and for the longest time, you simply didn’t see fight sequences in comic book movies done this well or this memorably. Whether you’re watching the theatrical version or “The Donner Cut” that finally debuted in 2006, the battle in Metropolis was the height of what superhero movies could aspire to, action-sequence wise for years to come, and just one of many attributes that make “Superman II” the best of the Christopher Reeve series!
Widely regarded as the best film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, 2014’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” definitely raised the bar for its title character, in more ways than one. And yes, the action is definitely among them. In fact, Cap received such a leap forward in that arena in “The Winter Soldier”, that it was a real toss up deciding whether the opening set piece or the superb elevator battle later in the film (which Chris Evans himself recently described as his most favorite scene he’d ever done as the character) was its most shining achievement.
In the end, however, Cap’s siege of a captured S.H.I.E.L.D. vessel takes that trophy, for a few reasons. First, with the film as a whole showing how much Steve Rogers has begun to adapt to the modern world he’s woken up into, after seventy years on ice, his fighting skills have clearly seen a commensurate upgrade. In keeping with the 40’s setting, Steve’s fighting skills were much more basic in “Captain America: The First Avenger”. However, he’s clearly had the chance to familiarize himself with a wide range of martial arts disciplines since being thawed out, and wow, does it show in how he dispatches one enemy after another with throws, kicks, flips, and of course, his trusty shield. But Steve also has to go one-on-one with the sinister Batroc the Leaper, as well, with none other than UFC legend Georges St-Pierre assuming the role, with he and Chris Evans capping off this battle on the high seas with a bang. A fabulous kick off to a fantastic FU-perhero adventure, the opening battle of “The Winter Soldier” is a comic book smackdown we won’t be forgetting anytime soon. Be sure to also check out KFK’s in-depth interview with Amy Johnston, who served as Scarlett Johansson’s stunt double on “The Winter Soldier”!
Now THIS is different approach to take for a fight scene, superhero or otherwise, but it’s definitely one of the most creative! Stephen Strange, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, is still getting the hang of his abilities as a sorcerer, but he’s going to need them to hold off the assault of the bloodthirsty zealot Lucian, played by the great Scott Adkins. Just nabbing Scott as our hero’s opponent would be enough to elevate it to a memorable superhero smackdown (I’m the guy who cut the butchering of Deadpool in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” some slack on the basis that Scott was the one doing all those kicks and flips, don’t judge me!) However, “Doctor Strange” takes it up a notch by having them face-off while astral projecting, sending each other through walls and floors after each hit they take and deliver, hence the term “ghost fight”. You just have not lived until you’ve seen Scott Adkins deliver a 720-degree spinning kick while he and the man on the receiving end are each in non-corporeal form. As his name implies, Doctor Strange has always been an odd character among other superheroes, but his big screen debut arguably has a unique place in film history for having quite possibly the first martial arts battle between ghosts – seriously, how often have we seen THAT before?
It’s anything but shocking to see ladies headlining action movies in this day and age, and that trend has certainly made its mark on the superhero genre as well. However, there was a time when “Supergirl”, “Elektra”, and the 2004 abomination known as “Catwoman” were the only instances in time when superheroines went solo on the big screen, and spoiler alert, all three were….not good. Fast forward to summer 2017, and Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” didn’t just break that curse, it shattered it into a million pieces. Set a century before her show-stealing role in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”, Princess Diana of Themiscira, played by Gal Gadot, marches head first into the war torn patch of dirt known as No Man’s Land. And with her skills as an Amazonian warrior and the strength granted to her by Zeus himself, practically ends World War One single-handedly. Ms. Gadot clearly underwent a gruelling training regimen to bring Diana to life, and it really shows within her character’s splendid martial arts skills, along with the use of wire-fu and CGI to portray her strength as a Demi-Goddess, an influence carried over from another classic of comic book cinema we’ll see a little later on this very list. With a superhero battle this outstanding in her first solo outing, one can’t help but wait with baited breath for what next year’s “Wonder Woman 1984” has in store for us, but it’s a safe bet that it’ll be another Hall-of-Fame-worthy volume of superhero action!
Talk about an about face – after a less than grand debut in the first season of his eponymous Netflix series, Danny Rand absolutely roared back to life in the incredible second season of “Iron Fist”. There’s not a single element of the show that isn’t vastly improved upon from the first season to the second, especially when it comes to the action, a point the series wastes no time at all in making. As if a deliberately constructed testimony to that very point, the most memorable duel of season two doesn’t even involve the Iron Fist itself at all, instead focusing on the battle of two warriors determined to be the next man to inherit that power. Fight choreographer Clayton Barber described Danny Rand and Davos’ K’un Lun battle as a “24-hour fight” (in his in-depth interview with KFK, no less), and it shows, oh does it show. Forbidden to leave until one of them yields or dies, the shifting position of the sun and the amount of blood shed by both Danny and Davos makes clear just how long they’ve been at it by the end. And their duel may begin with both fighters at the top of their game, but by the end, any sense of technique or finesse has fallen by the wayside due to the sheer duration of the fight, everything now boiling down to who can endure and stay standing the longest. Danny had previously made the point “I earned it” when asked by Luke Cage where he gained the power of the Iron Fist in “The Defenders”, and his showdown with Davos in K’un Lun leaves any lingering doubt of that about as dead as a doornail!
If ever there was a filmmaker who knew how to deliver badass superhero action, it’s Zack Snyder. Long before The Dark Knight’s legendary warehouse fight in “Batman v Superman”, Mr. Snyder tackled the unfilmable graphic novel with 2009’s “Watchmen”, and while it’s not as relentlessly action-packed as the rest of his filmography, he kicked things off immediately with a brutal smackdown in the apartment of The Comedian, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan. We tend to take it for granted that superhero movies have stunning fight sequences today, but back in 2009, they were, by and large, still finding their footing when it came to delivering non-CGI action. Looking at his body of work, however, Zack Snyder has consistently shown himself to be ten years ahead of his time, and that’s no less true when it comes to action sequences. The opening fight of “Watchmen” is as finessed as anything in the “Blade” movies, which were the undisputed king of the hill at the time when it came to comic book action, and there’s even a nice little Easter Egg to Snyder’s previous film, 2007’s “300” right off the bat. Following the hordes of rampaging zombies in “Dawn of the Dead” and the mass battles of “300”, “Watchmen” marked Mr. Snyder’s first foray into showing the kind of magic he could work on superhero action, and contrary to The Comedian’s famous quote, that magic was anything but a joke!
Quick question – have you heard the term “lame” used as a descriptor of Aquaman lately? Neither have I. In his ultra-badass performance in the role, Jason Momoa embodies The King of Atlantis every bit as perfectly as Hugh Jackman did in his tenure as Wolverine. That’s actually a pretty fitting comparison, considering that director James Wan himself has sought to portray Arthur Curry as “DC’s Wolverine”, and with that aim, there are no more appropriate words to offer than, “Mission: Accomplished”! 2018’s “Aquaman” proved to be the undisputed King of the Holiday Season last year, kicking things off with a battle on the high seas with Arthur rescuing a submarine crew from a gang of thieving pirates. It also proves to be a pivotal moment in the story, as the death of the pirates’ leader leads directly into the birth of Aquaman’s sworn enemy, Black Manta, played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. Kicking the film off with the kind of high energy that Jason Momoa absolutely radiates, Arthur’s submarine smackdown is like a high seas version of the legendary warehouse brawl in “Batman v Superman”, and is every bit its equal as a superhero fight sequence. Of course, those of us who actually bothered to crack open an “Aquaman” comic back in the day already knew he was this much of a powerhouse, but that just makes it that much more gratifying to finally see the rest of the world catch up, to us. As the saying goes, better later than never! And FYI, you can take an even deeper-dive (no pun intended) into the making of “Aquaman” by checking out KFK’s, ahem, watershed exclusive interview with the film’s fight coordinator, Jon Valera!
Dropping Logan into the middle of a forest with his trademark white tank top on is the most perfect setting you can possibly get for a Wolverine fight sequence, something that director James Mangold was clearly very keenly aware of in directing 2017’s “Logan”.
Emotions were already running high for audiences around the world with the knowledge that “Logan” would mark Hugh Jackman’s final performance in his signature role. It was even a part of the film’s marketing campaign, with the hashtag #OneLastTime. However, none of us could’ve realized just what an emotional tour de force “Logan” would prove to be, especially in its closing set piece. With his healing factor diminished due to his old age, and his body now succumbing to metal poisoning from his adamantium skeleton as a result, Logan is on his last legs, and both he and the audience know it.
With his body no longer able to shake off bullet wounds like it once could, Wolverine enters the final forest battle of “Logan” facing a degree of danger he’s never known before, but he doesn’t let that slow him down in the least. Wolverine’s final chop-happy rampage through hordes of enemies is like a bladed version of Tony Jaa‘s arm-and-leg-snap-athon against dozens of henchmen in “Tom Yum Goong”, which was exactly the fanboy fantasy I had dancing in my head going into “Logan”. Not only that, but the feral mutant X-23, played by Dafne Keen, stands by her father’s side in chopping down their enemies, which include Logan’s bloodthirsty mutant clone, X-24, and for those who still haven’t seen “Logan” (fix that!), spoiler warning, let’s just say the ending takes to heart Bruce Lee‘s advice on the importance of “emotional content”.
After seventeen glorious years in his most famous role, Hugh Jackman went into retirement with the ultimate, blood-soaked battle of mutants fans had waited years to see, and gave us an electrifying performance as Wolverine #OneLastTime. For a deeper inside scoop into the making of “Logan” you’ll want to check out KFK’s exclusive interview with the film’s uber-talented second unit director and Hall-of-Famer, Garrett Warren!
The impact of the “Blade” movies on superhero cinema cannot possibly be overstated. By the end of 1997, the entire genre was on life support, at best, but the debut of “Blade” the following year breathed new life into it and kept it alive long enough for “X-Men” and “Spider-Man” to kick it back into high gear. 2002’s “Blade II” kept The Nightwalker’s momentum going forward in a sequel that, in many respects, surpasses the original. It also ramped up the superb martial arts action of its predecessor while establishing itself as a template for superhero action for years to come by making use of what I like to call “The ‘Blade II’ Method”. Specifically, this methodology involves letting the actors and stunt people perform the action up to the capabilities of what a human can do, with CGI and wire-fu being used for anything that goes beyond that.
In Blade’s epic showdown with Nomak, we see both fighters performing massive leaps across the room, smashing each through concrete pillars, and other feats of superhuman strength. At the same time, however, it also incorporates a very human element by making extensive use of Wesley Snipes’ genuine martial arts skills, and the result is a spellbinding blend of practical and synthetic action that never leaves either element felling underutilized. Looking at where comic book movies are today, it’s amazing how much this approach to action has been put to use in superhero fight sequences, and “Blade II” overall, and we have his final face-off with Nomak especially, to thank for that. FYI – you can also find out more about the process of creating the innovative fight scenes of “Blade II” in our in-depth interview with the film’s assistant fight choreographer, KFK Hall-of-Famer, John Salvitti!
…and in at #1 is…
Prison Fight — Daredevil: Season Three (2018)
It’s testimony to how out and out enthralling the action sequences of “Daredevil” are when we can safely say that it runs circles around the action of probably three-quarters of its big-screen counterparts. From the start, a staple of the Marvel-Netflix series has been a blistering hallway battle captured in a single take, and for its third season, “Daredevil” ramps the insanity 5 X, placing our hero in the middle of a prison riot, with the action clocking in at an astonishing eleven minutes. As if that hadn’t already upped the stakes enough, Matt Murdock, played by Charlie Cox, is further imperiled by having to battle the slow-onset effects of a partial sedative injection.
You can see the influence of “The Raid” on the action of “Daredevil” in every season, but its hallway battles are where the show has really striven to consistently outperform itself. Rising to its high standards of powerfully visceral martial arts action, the prison brawl of season three is without a doubt among the crowning achievements of the superhero genre. Proof positive that small screen action can equal and even outdo anything on the big screen, “Daredevil” remains the benchmark for superhero television, and the prison brawl of season three is a shining example of why that is.