The Omaha Beach invasion from Saving Private Ryan is an honorable mention because it’s been on several lists already. It deserves a place, though, because during the first 25 minutes of the movie, no one munched popcorn, no one rattle candy wrappers. Everyone just sat with their mouths and eyes wide. Grown men started screaming at the screen, “Yes! Shoot back!” Moviegoers bought ticket after ticket and left after this scene was finished (then returned for the final 25 minutes).
Okay, okay, boxing fights never look like this. In terms of realism, all the Rocky films are idiotic. But face it, you’d rather watch something like this than a real boxing match in which the fighters land a few punches per round and someone wins on points.
This is by far the most violent of all the Rocky fights, and it will make you laugh out loud at how much abuse and brain damage Rocky is taking. And yet, you cheer for him, and love it when he knocks Drago out. You find yourself wanting more and more punches and sound effects. It’s a guilty pleasure.
This one is a bit of a cheat, since there are two scenes in question in this film, but this lister always fast-forwards and watches them back-to-back.
There are few films out there that try to capture man-to-man fighting in a realistic fashion, but this one does well, as the two stars are highly trained in Sayoc Kali, a Filipino knife fighting martial art that stresses extreme close quarters. Most fights don’t last more than a minute or two, after which one or both men are chopped to pieces.
The choreography is based on fast-paced, vicious killing blows that the opponents have to fend off one after another, all with knives. What makes it work is that they actually score brutal hits on each other throughout, until by the end, they’re both streaming blood and in obvious pain.
Still the finest movie based on a very thin source, a single, lyric poem by Kipling. The whole story, thus, was written by someone else, with Kipling’s poem more inspiration than basis. Sam Jaffe should have won an Oscar for his portrayal of Gunga Din, a bhisti, or water-bearer, who wants to be a soldier and bugler with the Brits.
They treat him like garbage throughout the film, and yet, at the end, right before the Thuggees ambush the whole British army and then tie the lead actors’ faces to bags of hot ashes, Gunga Din, already badly wounded, crawls up to the top of a parapet and sounds a bugle alarm to warn the army. The army fans out and ambushes the ambushers, and Gunga Din is shot dead.
The Marx Brothers are probably the finest comedy team in film history. They still appeal to the public today! At theater screenings of their films, you’ll still see college students, high schoolers, little kids, old people, watching and laughing.
And of all their slapstick brilliancies, the idea of filling a stateroom on board a cruise liner with so many people that it becomes like a cartoon has to take the top prize of their work.
It starts out innocuously, which is the key to the fun. It’s Groucho’s room, and he’s supposed to be staying alone. But out pop Chico and Harpo and Allan Jones, stowaways, and they proceed to order food. Then every serviceperson on board comes in to help out with whatever he or she does, until at last, Kitty Carlisle opens the door, and they all spew out into the hall like a Bugs Bunny stunt. Groucho is cracking jokes the whole time.
William Friedkin took the infamous “crabwalk” scene out of the final product because test screenings scared people so much that they got up and ran out of the theaters, or talked about the scene throughout the rest of the film. Friedkin thought it took some of the impact away from the actual exorcism sequence that comes later, but he should have left the scene in. The exorcism is pure phantasmagoria. By the time you get to it, you’re virtually desensitized to the fear of the Devil, because how many times can you have the pants scared off you?
Yet, the exorcism fills you with a morbid fascination, and horror that has been distilled, as you watch a demon cast down from Heaven with Satan’s other minions, Pazuzu, duke it out with two servants of God.
The film will have you saying to yourself, “There is no way this can be really happening in this movie. It can’t make good on all this build-up.” And it does. Both priests die, the demon flees, and the room is nearly brought down on them.
And while we’re talking of William Friedkin, he was known before The Exorcist as a guy who could film a good car chase. When Bullitt came out in 1968, Friedkin figured he could top the chase scene in it, and actually pulled it off, in this lister’s opinion. The Bullitt chase is a definite must-see, if you haven’t, but it lacks the hair-raising, jump-from-your-seat thrills of the chase between Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle and the Frenchman on the El-train in Brooklyn.
Friedkin had a stunt driver do the job, while he got in the back seat, wrapped himself in a bed mattress and filmed it from the inside with a hand-held camera. Then they filmed enough car passes and crashes from the outside to edit it all together and what came out the other end is a slam-bang mash-up. The car barely misses little old ladies, bounces up high over curbs, plows through newspaper kiosks, sideswipes other cars, and all the while the tension remains steadily mounting because the train has no obstacles; it may easily get away.
No, this lister is not some zit-faced fanboy padding a list just to get The Lord of the Rings on it. The movies are fantastic (yes, Virginia, that is a pun), and the Battle of Helm’s Deep is worthy of this list, but to keep things interesting, only this scene from the trilogy is listed.
It uses all available technology in filmmaking up to that point, and shows how a full-scale, classical formation battle really would have played out. All the right notes are hit, drama, action, the big climax (the Ride of the Rohirrim), heroism, villainy, the calm after the storm, etc. The editing is the real stand-out.
This should be placed as high as it is for the monumental difficulty in filming a martial art scene. The choreography has to be done with an eye toward realism, or else it looks too much like a dance (viz. The Matrix). This whole sequence lasts about 20 minutes, and took over 2 months to film.
Chan directed this part of the film, and claims that each day’s worth of shooting would produce about 5 seconds of usable footage. His character enters a steel mill to rescue a friend. Every bad guy in the world comes down on top of him, first an Aussie with a giant chain, then four henchmen with poles, pipes, meathooks, falling barrels, then the two, main bad guys. It just gets better and better.
Finally Chan can’t beat the last man, Ken Lo (his real-life bodyguard at the time), without a little help from 100% wood alcohol (no, you cannot drink it, so don’t try). What follows manages to top all that comes before it. You find yourself staring with an open mouth, wondering how the heck much longer it can go on, but go on it does.
There was never a more violent scene in all of film, until Saving Private Ryan, than the finale of The Wild Bunch. Sam Peckinpah set out to film what gunfights really look and sound like, and given the censorship of 1969, it’s marvelous how much he gets away with.
More blanks were fired in this scene than live rounds were fired during the entire Mexican Revolution.
Four members of The Wild Bunch consign themselves to possible death and walk right into the thick of the bad guys to demand one of their friends returned. One of the bad guys sneers and cuts the hostage’s throat, just to spite them. He didn’t think they’d have the insane guts to start a fight with a hundred or more Mexican soldiers all at once, but by God they do.
Scores of men are gunned down in an orgiastic bloodbath, with small arms, grenades, and a WWI Maxim machine gun. William Holden blows a woman away point-blank with a shotgun (then calls her a vulgar name). Mexican children armed with rifles are gunned down by Ward Bond. Ernest Borgnine uses another woman as a human shield until she and 4 or 5 bad guys are riddled with bullets. Blood and chunks of brick are flying everywhere.
Then Warren Oates gets on the Maxim, and you can’t believe it could get any worse but it does. Ten times worse.
It may well remain forever and ever the grandest, most epic scene in film, because today you can use computers to do anything without any risk of death. In the 1950s you had to hire some really crazy action junkies to do the stunts. This was staged by the one and only Yakima Canutt, the greatest stuntman ever.
It’s somewhat unrealistic in that horses are not going to pull a chariot 9 times around a racetrack if each circuit is about half a mile. They’ll drop dead from exhaustion first, or stop and refuse to go.
This scene took 3 months to film, not counting the 3 months Charlton Heston had to take off when he broke both his arms. That scene is in the film. When his chariot rolls over another chariot at high speed and throws him forward out of his car onto the harnesses, both his elbows snapped backward. The scene then cuts to Heston climbing back into the chariot with the reins. That was 3 months later, after his arms had healed well enough for him to finish.
Moviegoers sat and talked about the scene throughout the rest of the film, and bought more tickets to go back in when the race began again.
There are conflicting reports over whether an extra actually died. The rumor is that a particular extra is required to be run over by a chariot, and though a dummy was intended for this, a stuntman got too close at one point and fell in front of one as it passed. he was trampled and then run over, and this is in the final print. Or so the rumor says.