My Top 10 Favorite Superhero Movie Fights (SPOILERS)
Some of the most anticipated scenes in any superhero movie are the giant, effects-driven combat scenes. The best ones continue the plot forward as well as highlight each character’s particular abilities and fighting skills and even contribute to individual character arcs. Below are 10 of my favorite fight scenes from my favorite superhero films in no particular order. Warning: Spoilers Ahead!
X-2: X-Men United (2003) Nightcrawler versus The Secret Service
Synopsis: Nightcrawler has been brainwashed by a chemical administered by William Stryker, who is out to annihilate the mutant population. Stryker has Nightcrawler attack the president in this opening scene, and he nearly succeeds, taking out several Secret Service members and teleporting from one end of the hall to the other before they even know they've been hit. He even manages to pin the president down at his desk, knife raised to strike before he is shot by an agent at the last minute, the bullet grazing his body and knocking him out of his trance as he escapes the assassination attempt that he unwillingly instigated.
Why It’s Great: This scene opens the movie with a stylish, well-choreographed fight by a mutant with a really cool look and an even cooler power. From his flapping trench coat, pointy tail and teeth, the blue mist he leaves behind, to the intercut slow motion and blink-of-the-eye speed of each strike really sets things off and introduces a fan favorite X-Men into its cinematic story. Mozart’s Requiem adds class and an epic tone to the scene, highlighting right off the bat that this movie is going to be much bigger than the first.
Even though you like what you are seeing, you ultimately don’t want Nightcrawler to win the fight as killing the president will only distance the prospect of any progress for mutant rights. Hardcore fans are confused at first, seeing one of the most loyal members of the X-Men attacking like a villain only to learn later that he was not in control of his actions. Nightcrawler spends the rest of the movie trying to make up for this unwilling crime, and it provides the opportunity to show his fighting skills without sacrificing his strong moral and religious values and timid character.
The X-Men stories are very politically-driven. So, setting an attack scene in one of the most secure buildings in the world illustrates a worst-case scenario that anti-mutant supporters are afraid of and gives the mutants themselves an even slimmer chance of securing their freedoms. So, not only is this a fun and memorable fight, but it sets up the conflict that continues the trials of the first movie while pointing towards the direction that society is heading in this one.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012): Batman vs. Bane on the City Steps
Synopsis: After freeing the city’s police from their underground prison, an army of vengeful cops take on Bane’s henchmen while Batman goes after Bane himself. The two engage for a second time in a fight with Bane overwhelming Batman until he discovers Bane’s weakness in his face mask and is able to gain an upper hand on the super villain for the first time in the film.
Why It’s Great: After watching Bane overwhelmingly win their previous fight, at this point in the movie, you’re ready to see Batman take him down. With no time to lose, Batman and Bane engage in a massive fight between the city’s recently liberated police and the League of Shadows members. Watching the city’s police charge at the army of armed villains is admirable in and of itself with Batman as their leader, inspiring the city to help itself in the way he'd always hoped.
This is also the first cinematic Batman fight that we've seen in a movie, a unique ingredient to the scene in and of itself. Without the cover of night, Batman stands out clear as day as snow flurries blow around them. He punches his way to the crowd where Bane seems to be waiting. They fight their way up the steps. Bane is cocky and overpowering as usual, and Batman takes some hard hits. His retaliating punches seem to do nothing at first, and Bane’s fist sound like sledgehammers hitting his body. When he misses a shot and punches a pillar, the cement crumbles like dirt. It’s apparent that Batman is no match for him, no matter how strong his will to save his city. That’s when he discovers Bane’s weakness: his mask.
After punching through the mask, Ban is weakened enough to allow Batman to take him down, kicking him through a door and punching him repeatedly, ordering him to disclose the location of the trigger to the bomb that has minutes before it detonates. Unfortunately, a knife is waiting to prevent Batman from finishing Bane off.
Spider-Man 2 (2004): Clock Tower and Train Fight
Synopsis: Spider-Man and Doc Ock meet at a clock tower where they fight against the side of the building before falling onto a moving train to continue their battle.
Why It’s Great: This sequence is probably the most popular in the movie (if not the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy) starting with Spidey swinging toward Ock who is waiting on the clock tower. After a brief exchange of words, the two go at it, wrestling and throwing punches against the clock face. At one point, Ock rips off the clock’s hands with his tentacles and throws them down at Spider-Man who is climbing back up towards him after being thrown off of the building. Spidey uses his webbing to pull Ock off the side of the building, and they fall onto a moving passenger train where they continue to fight on and in the cars.
The fight is fast-paced, utilizes very convincing CGI, and is full of fun, flowing shots. The constant movement, breaking glass, and innocent people in peril is a great formula for a full-fledged superhero fight. Spidey’s powers are given great opportunities to shine from sticking to the side of the passenger car to avoid being hit by a passing train to skidding past passing cars as he is thrown from the train by Ock. The greatest moment is when Spidey runs up a building and then dives off the roof to crash into Ock who is standing on the roof of the train, waiting for him to catch up.
There is a lot of intensity to Spider-Man's fighting style in this scene. After going half of the movie without the use of his powers, they come back in full swing once he sees Mary Jane being kidnapped before his eyes. Ock, meanwhile, is simply wearing him out so that he can knock him out long enough to be taken to Harry in exchange for the tritium that he needs to finish his energy machine. He is more relaxed in this scene, preoccupying Spidey with the need to stop the train and save everyone on it, which takes every ounce of his strength and energy. For being an inexperienced fighter, Ock uses his intelligence to his advantage. While Spidey saves the day for the passengers, it ultimately leads to his own abduction.
Wonder Woman (2017): No Man's Land Sequence
Synopsis: While trying to find Ares, Diana, Steve Trevor, and their team come across No Man's Land, a year long battle that is taking place in Belgium. Steve urges Diana to go around the fighting. Instead, she ends up going right through it, exposing her true identity to both her friends and enemies as she nearly single-handedly defeats the Germans on the other side and reunites the citizens with their town.
Why It’s Great: This is the scene that everyone was talking about after the movie was released and with good reason. It highlights every one of Diana's strengths, her motivation to help people and her fierceness toward those who stand in the way of peace. We've seen heroes dodge bullets, lift tanks, jump high, and break through buildings, but we've never seen Wonder Woman do it with her own distinct style and grace. The scene builds slowly with a walk across the battle field until she is dodging bullets one at a time, then dozens at a time using her shield before she takes out her sword and goes to town on the Germans, disarming their guns with one powerful punch and taking them out one by one.
Her actions inspire her friends to back her up, but she takes center stage, jumping over ditches before she infiltrates the town that has been taken over and uses her strength and magic lasso to take out the rest. The lasso part may be my favorite as she ropes each soldier and kicks and punches them each out of commission one by one. Everything from the smoky setting to the music to the colors shining in her armor make this the stand out scene of the movie and the one that sums up this character in a nutshell.
Superman 2 (1980): Superman vs. General Zod, Ursa, and Non
Synopsis: Superman finally comes up against this vengeful Kryptonian trio on the streets of Metropolis. They throw large objects at each other, exchange blows with their heat vision and super breath, and search for weaknesses as Zod tries to make the son of his enemy bow before him, and the last son of Krypton tries to protect his adopted homeland.
Why It’s Great: It’s hard to find a worthy opponent for Superman, and this movie gives him three. It’s a slow fight that relies on era-limiting practical effects, but these aliens fight in a dance-off style, trying to prove who is the most powerful. Vehicles are thrown at each other, a manhole cover is used as a Frisbee, and a baby is nearly crushed by falling debris. Annoying bystanders get in the way and give Superman the added challenge of trying to protect them while taking on his opponents. I especially love the shot where Superman tosses Zod straight into the Coca-Cola sign, complete with showering sparks. It doesn’t stop him for long, but it’s the kind of fight that fits the scale of these super-powered beings.
The Dark Knight (2008): Batman vs. The Doctors vs. The SWAT team
Synopsis: The Joker has kidnapped a school bus full of evacuees from the hospital explosion and has dressed them up like his henchmen while the henchmen have dressed as doctors to throw off the SWAT team who are descending to take them out. With the help of Lucius Fox, Batman discovers this and must make his way to the building, protecting the hostages, taking out the clowns, and stopping the SWAT team from shooting the wrong people while The Joker watches from above and waits for his turn with The Bat.
Why It’s Great: The mixture of The Joker’s signature trickery and Batman’s quick thinking make this an exciting sequence. He has to stop one group, help another, and keep the third from doing the wrong thing while The Joker looks on from above. Reluctantly given only two minutes to infiltrate the building on his own before SWAT moves in, Batman discovers early on that the masked clowns are really the hostages, and the doctors are the hostage takers.
He gets to work, stopping the SWAT team from shooting each group of hostages, eventually stringing up all of the SWAT team members and kicking them off the building where they dangle from their harnesses. The back up team discovers the trick and begins to work with Batman to take out the doctors and free the hostages while Batman goes after the Joker. They two exchange blows, and the Joker does remarkably well, eventually gaining the upper hand and pinning Batman down so that he can proceed with the second part of his plan: blowing up two ferries, one full of Gothamites and one full of prisoners.
When his plan fails, Batman is able to break free of the Joker’s grasp and sends him hurling off the building only to catch him in mid-air with his grappling gun in typical Batman fashion. It’s an appropriate final showdown between the two characters with the Joker perfectly summarizing it as saying, “This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object.” It's almost disappointing that Batman doesn't let The Joker fall to his death as he did in the 1989 Batman. But this film's intention is to show how Batman's morals will not be swayed, no matter how savage his opponent. As a result, he is rewarded by the people on the ferries who refuse to blow up one another, despite the fact that it will lead to their certain death. In return, they are rewarded by Batman who stops The Joker from detonating the ferries at the last second, thereby saving the day.
Spider-Man 3 (2007): Spider-Man and Harry vs. Venom and The Sandman
Synopsis: Venom and The Sandman team up to kidnap Mary Jane and lure Spider-Man to a construction site where they can take him down together. Just as Peter is about to succumb to the villains, Harry arrives in an act of redemption and forgiveness, and the two team up to take on the super villains and rescue Mary Jane.
Why It’s Great: The best thing about this scene is Harry’s change of heart as he teams up with his best friend to take down the two villains and save the girl who he has previously tormented throughout the film. There’s a videogame feel to this fight with the over-the-shoulder action and twists and turns on Harry’s glider. Peter uses his intellect to take out Venom, and Harry incapacitates the Sandman before he sacrifices himself for Peter. It’s an action packed ending after a lackluster second act that ties everything up in a sad but satisfying way.
Batman (1989) – The Bell Tower Fight
Synopsis: An injured Batman follows the Joker and Vicki Vale up a cathedral to the bell tower where a handful of Joker’s goons are waiting. They engage in hand-to-hand combat as The Joker and Vicki dance on the rooftop while waiting for their ride from the helicopter en route to take them away.
Why It’s Great: This film contains slow, choreographed fight scenes the suit its style as well as the non-superpower element of this superhero. Batman really looks like he’s in his element with his swishing cape and pointy ears in the dusty, rotting tower. His enemies pop out of corners and attack one at a time. Many of the goons are easy to take down while one or two pose a challenge. Batman is unapologetically murderous in this scene, throwing some of his victims down the tower to their deaths, but it’s easily overlooked. The fights play like a dance which matches the waltz that The Joker and Vicki dance around them. There’s a dark, gothic look to the scene with its dilapidated setting, the cloudy, black sky, and the gritty fights.This Joker is no match for Batman physically so to ensure that the audience get a proper showdown, his strongest henchmen just happened to be hiding up there, ready to fight.
I find that a typical superhero final battle must be a big, explosive showdown which then changes locations to a more personal, man-to-man fight. The parade scene with The Bat Wing is the bells and whistles of the sequence while the bell tower scene is the icing on the cake. Vicki is saved. Batman gets revenge for his parents. The Joker's deadly gas is disposed of along with the laughing madman himself.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014): The X-Men vs. The Sentinels
Synopsis: In the futuristic section of the final battle, the surviving members of the X-Men must buy time for Logan by holding down the fortress they have created and taking on the incoming Sentinels that are there to destroy them. They are no match for the robots but give it their all before they are overtaken one by one.
Why it’s Great: This hard to watch showdown between the future X-Men team and their undefeated opponents depicts the death of some favorite characters as they buy Wolverine as much time as possible in hopes of changing the course of this dystopian future. Intercut between past and future, it is intense, stylish, and causes some of the most emotional scenes in the franchise. Magneto is mortally wounded trying to take out as many of the approaching Sentinels as they can before they arrive at their fortress while sealing it up with as much metal as he can find. Storm is attacked from behind and taken out in the first round. Professor X and Magneto say a poignant goodbye to each other in their final moments, Bobby Drake is melted by a heat blast, and Blink being stabbed from all ends by a gang of Sentinels. This scene shows what it’s like when the bad guys win and how decisions of the past become important to the events of the future.
The Avengers (2012): The Avengers vs. Loki and The Aliens
Synopsis: In the film’s climax, The Avengers team up in the middle of New York City to take on Loki’s army of aliens who enter from a portal above them and proceed to destroy portions of the city. They each use their own special skills and take on their own separate missions to work together to hold off the army and protect the innocent bystanders until they can find a way to stop Loki all together.
Why It’s Great: Starting with the famous 360 degree shot of the team about to do battle, this fight destroys a chunk of New York City’s streets and puts thousands of citizens in danger. It’s an overwhelming task, and the team is outnumbered. They split up and each goes off to cover an area until they can find a way to stop Loki from carrying out his evil plot. There’s that crazy tracking shot following each team member in full battle. Each has a job to do, whether it’s closing the portal, protecting citizens from incoming attackers, flying bombs out of the city, or catching each other when they fall. The team finally comes together in this final battle, working together to stop the bad guys and become heroes to the world who watches it all unfold before their eyes and on their TV screens. This is the battle that Marvel fans had been waiting for since the after credits scene of the first Iron Man movie, and it delivers on a scale that is deserving of a six-hero team up.
What are your favorite Superhero movie fights? Leave your answers in the comments below!