Undefended: Action Scenes of the 2000s

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is currently being hailed by critics as one of the greatest action movies ever made, and I recently used a sequence from the series’ Ghost Protocol to tackle the question of what makes for good cinematic action. As part of FilmFisher’s returning “Undefended” series, our writers were asked to name their top five action scenes of the new millennium thus far.

Evan Stewart

  1. At long last Howard Hughes films the Hell’s Angels dogfight. (The Aviator, 2004)
  2. Stevesie and Co. rescue the bond company stooge from pirates. (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, 2004)
  3. The attack on Jamestown (The New World, 2005)
  4. Jason Bourne jumps off a balcony and through a window. The cameraman follows. (The Bourne Ultimatum, 2007)
  5. John Wick stalks his prey from the bathhouse to the dance floor at the Red Circle Club (John Wick, 2014)

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Joel Bourgeois

  1. The “We’ll be like turkeys on Thanksgiving down there” car chase/gunfight from The Dark Knight (2008)
  2. Obi-Wan and Anakin’s duel on Mustafar, Revenge of the Sith (2005)
  3. The church scene from Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)
  4. Ethan Hunt vs. John Lark at the end of Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)
  5. Anton Chigurh chases Llewellyn Moss in the middle of the night on the border of Texas and Mexico (No Country For Old Men, 2007)

Joshua Gibbs

  1. Up the stairs in a war with an infant in Children of Men (2006)
  2. Jaguar Paw escapes being sacrificed in Apocalypto (2006)
  3. Twisty gunfight in the Guggenheim in The International (2009)
  4. The final shootout in The Way of the Gun (2000)
  5. Chase/ballet through the trees in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

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Robert Brown

  1. The Mines of Moria chamber fight (“They have a cave troll.”), then the chase (“to the bridge of Khazad-Dûm!”), then Balrog face-off (“You shall not pass!”) in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001).
  2. Another three-parter, the Geonosis arena battle(s) in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002), complete with monsters and men, comic relief and pathos, and every young boy’s wildest dream come true: hundreds of Jedi with lightsabers going into battle together.
  3. Jack Sparrow, Will Turner, and James Norrington sword-fighting on a runaway mill wheel in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006).
  4. With the help of only a feather, tiger villain Tai Lung escapes from an underground prison and defeats hundreds of rhino guards in Kung Fu Panda (2008).
  5. One last three-parter: Tom Cruise survives drowning, then survives a car chase and crash, then survives a motorcycle chase and crash in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015).

Robert Heckert

  1. Order of the Phoenix (2007) – Skill and virtue contend against Voldemort in the Ministry of Magic
  2. The LEGO Batman Movie (2017) intro – Batman mops the floor with his enemies to his own rap in one of the funniest and loneliest opening sequences
  3. Warrior (2011) – The finale when the octagon becomes a place of reconciliation
  4. The Matrix Revolutions (2003) – When they catch a glimpse of sunlight
  5. Return of the King (2003) – Ride of the Rohirrim. Obviously.

Sean Johnson

I offer no defense except to say that I feel like Inigo Montoya whenever someone mentions “Action” in conjunction with film (“You keep using that word…”).

  1. There Will Be Blood (2007) – well fire/H.W.’s injury
  2. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) – fight in the bamboo forest
  3. Mission: Impossible II (2000) – John Woo motorcycle fight
  4. The Revenant (2015) – attack on the fir camp
  5. Children of Men (2006) – apartment building continuous tracking scene

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Timothy Lawrence

  1. Spider-Man battles Doctor Octopus and stops a runaway train in Spider-Man 2 (2004).
  2. Dash first using the full extent of his powers to speed all over Nomanisan Island in The Incredibles (2004).
  3. The ten minute long William Tell Overture-accompanied train chase in The Lone Ranger (2013).
  4. The gloomily majestic monster brawl in Godzilla (2014) – culminating in the coolest “Godzilla breathing fire” scene you ever did see.
  5. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)’s Hitchcock-inspired opera house sequence.

Tom Upjohn

  1. The 1 vs. about 20 hallway fight scene – Oldboy (2003)
  2. Harry and Draco’s bathroom confrontation – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)
  3. The group’s first venture out of their barricaded room – Green Room (2015)
  4. Opening bank heist – The Dark Knight (2008)
  5. And, just to make sure everyone’s paying attention, the “Stress Relief” fire drill opening scene – The Office (2005-2013)

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William Connor Devlin

  1. That insane car-chase from Children of Men (2006). You know the one I’m talking about – with that incredible long tracking shot.
  2. The airplane rescue from Superman Returns (2006), which might be one of the best things Bryan Singer has ever directed.
  3. Maybe it would be overkill to say ALL of Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) (but hey, it’s not a wrong statement), so I’ll narrow it down to that final chase.
  4. My favorite Peter Jackson set piece is from King Kong (2005), where Kong fights several T-Rexes while Naomi Watts just tries not to get crushed.
  5. And for my dark horse pick, I’m going to go with the brawl between Christine and Mrs. Ganush from Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell (2009), because it’s delightfully mordant, super kinetic, and I’d be remiss to not put at least ONE horror film on this list!

Remind us of any we missed and share your own picks in the comments section below!

Timothy Lawrence

Timothy Lawrence attended the Torrey Honors Institute and studied screenwriting at BIOLA University. He writes essays and fiction, and enjoys reading books, watching films, and discussing both. He is especially fond of the works of the Coen Brothers and George Lucas.

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