It will happen three or four times while watching Mission: Impossible — Fallout; you won’t realize how tightly you’re clenching your fists in excitement until after the scene is over. That’s par for the course for the M:I franchise, which is now six movies strong, but Fallout appears to be the most exhilarating and fun installment yet. In honor of Cruise doing what he does best — almost dying (or at least breaking his ankle again) for the sins of lesser blockbusters — we took a look back at 10 of the best action movie scenes since 2008. There are car chases, explosions, bloody brawls, two Charlize Theron films, and of course, Ethan Hunt on a very, very, very tall building.
Joker chase scene in The Dark Knight (2008)
When people say “edge of my seat,” as in “I was on the edge of my seat watching the game last night,” they’re using the expression figuratively. But when it comes to The Dark Knight, specifically the action scene where Harvey Dent captures the Joker, I was literally on the edge of my seat. Christopher Nolan shoots the scene smoothly, but it’s also total chaos: a helicopter spirals out of control, gunshots echo in Chicago, the Joker cackles like a maniac, and Batman causes a freaking 18-wheeler to flip over using his Batpod. It’s all very silly (shoutout to “turkeys on Thanksgiving” cop), but the stakes are serious. It’s also much better than the, uh, other Joker chase scene. — Josh Kurp
Vault heist in Fast Five (2011)
The best part of the Fast Five vault heist — maybe the second-best, sliding in just behind “it is awesome” — is picturing the next-day news coverage. Watch the scene in all of its 12- minute glory. Here are some things that happen:
- A United States government official crashes a government-issued Batmobile SUV through the wall of a Rio police facility
- Two wanted criminals rip a safe out of the wall and speed off with it, dragging behind their unmarked street racing cars in broad daylight
- The two cars haul ass through downtown Rio with a safe dragging behind them, crashing it into dozens of parked cars and through the glass-fronted bank building that line the city’s main drag and causing millions of dollars in property damage
- The thieves kill, presumably, at least 10 Brazilian cops in the escape
- They get away
Please do imagine, like, Wolf Blitzer covering this story as it develops live on air. It adds another layer to the whole thing that is just beautiful. — Brian Grubb
Final fight scene in The Man from Nowhere (2010)
Look, I’m a sucker for a fight scene where the bad guy could easily kill our hero with a gun, but he instead drops the firearm and uses his hands. Or, in the case of The Man from Nowhere, South Korea’s highest-grossing movie of 2010, his knife. Won Bin is calm, cool, collected, and covered in blood as he dispatches an entire room of nameless goons before squaring off against the main henchmen. My favorite thing about this fight, outside of how the camera thrillingly never stops moving, is how realistically nasty it is. You hear the bones snap and the squishy flesh noises — you see the physical struggle. Look, if I was in a fight with a knife expert, I’d probably take a bite out of him, too, if it came down to momentary cannibalism vs. dying. I stand by this. — JK
Nightclub shootout in John Wick (2014)
There are two really notable action scenes in John Wick. The first is the one in his house, early on, in which Theon Greyjoy’s Russian goons show up and try to kill him after they realize exactly who he his and why they shouldn’t have killed his puppy. It’s the first time we get to see John in action and it is breathtaking. It’s also the first time we get a sense of the style and artistry the movie brings to its action scenes. If this was the only action scene in the movie, I would still probably have it on this list.
But it’s not the only action scene in the movie and it’s not on this list, because the nightclub massacre at the Red Circle happens later on and that sucker shreds. From beginning to end, too. I tried two times to keep track of how many Russian mobsters John Wick took out and both times I lost count in the middle because I was just watching Keanu move. Combine the action with the music and the color and the way the whole thing is shot — part frantic, to show the chaos of a single gunman taking on the entire mob in a crowded nightclub; part calm and steady, to show that John always has the situation under control — and you’ve got one of the best action scenes you’ll ever see.
One thing that always jumps out at me, though: Maybe don’t all wear matching red dress shirts if you’re involved with organized crime. Sure does make it easy for a highly-skilled assassin to identify you and pick you off, especially if he’s on a hell-mission for revenge because your boss’s bratty son killed his dog. My tip to you, free of charge. — BG
Carano v. Fassbender in Haywire (2011)
Here is the first sentence of Haywire‘s plot summary on Wikipedia: “Former Marine Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) goes to a diner in Upstate New York to meet Aaron (Channing Tatum). He tells her to get in his car, but she refuses and they fight.” Any movie that begins with MMA fighter Carano brawling with Magic Mike should be a good one, and Haywire does not disappoint. (More movie summaries should end with “…and they fight.”) The plot is a convoluted mess, but the muscular fight scenes, from director (and cinematographer) Steven Soderbergh, are kinetic. Michael Fassbender never stood a chance. — JK
Scaling the Burj Khalifa in Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol (2011)
Tom Cruise spends a pretty substantial chunk of the Mission: Impossible series dangling off of things. We discussed this recently in a ranking of the films, but it’s worth noting again here, and every time it can be reasonably inserted into a conversation, because it is true and insane. Tom Cruise is in his 50s. He doesn’t have to hang for dear life from the world’s tallest building. He could pay someone to do it for him. Or, more accurately, he could ask someone else to pay someone to do it for him, and they would, gladly. They would prefer it, actually. But Tom does it for you. Because he cares. You should probably thank him one of these days.
Anyway, you could pick one of many Mission: Impossible scenes for this, from the plane dangling or breath-holding of Rogue Nation to the second part of this scene where he is chasing a bad guy through a sandstorm. You can’t go wrong. I’m just choosing this one because of the shot at the 1:30 mark of the video where the camera pulls up over Tom’s head and shoots straight down the face of the skyscraper. Terrifies me every single time. — BG
Hallway fight scene in The Raid: Redemption (2011)
When was the last time you watched The Raid? If the answer isn’t “today,” you’re doing it wrong. The Raid is a masterclass in sustained action — it’s near-continuous violence for 100 minutes, and the violence is brutal. Punches and kicks land with visceral thuds, machetes are swung, throats are slashed, and there’s so much grunting and screaming. That’s the whole movie, though, so why did I pick this scene? Because among the 121 people who die in The Raid, this one has my favorite kill. R.I.P. guy who gets impaled by a door frame. — JK
Elevator fight scene in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Some action scenes are big and loud with bangs and screeches and fire. There are a few like that on this list, in fact. But sometimes an action scene develops slowly. Maybe a few guys get on an elevator, then the elevator stops on another floor and a few more guys get in, then it happens again and one of the guys looks a little too menacing and whooooaaaa elevator fight.
That’s the cool part about this scene: the build. Everyone has been on an elevator with a shady character. If you’ve watched too many movies, maybe you even have that little voice creep into your head that says “Is something about to go down here?” But unless you are Steve Rogers or a member of the Carter-Knowles family, it probably will not. Fun to pretend though. — BG
Literally every chase scene in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Look, I couldn’t pick just one, okay? If you separate the chases by how they’re listed on YouTube, there’s: the First Chase, featuring the introduction of the flame-throwing guitarist Doof Warrior; the Second Chase, with Imperator Furiosa sniping dudes on motorcycles; the Sandstorm Scene, which speaks for itself; and the Final Chase, at which point the chases should be exhausting but nope. Still great. Fury Road is not only the best action movie of the 2010s — it’s one of the best movies, period. Oh, what a movie. What a lovely movie. — JK
Apartment fight in Atomic Blonde (2017)
This scene and the stairway fight are both terrific action scenes filled with tension and masterful choreography but the stairway scene is not set to “Father Figure” by George Michael so it can go die on a toilet for all I care. Perhaps that’s a bit harsh. I stand by it. — BG