Friday, November 20, 2009

Best Action Scenes from Non-Action Movies

There might be some argument over what is, or is not, an action movie. But for me, besides the obvious (Bond films, Indiana Jones films) action films mean that the protagonist is repeatedly involved in physical action central to the film's main plot. Therefore, Jaws is an action film, so is Children of Men. I'm not counting parodies as pure action films, since their principal goal is to make the audience laugh. I am, however, excluding silent films from this list. If I were to include scenes from the films of Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Chaplin etc. they would dominate the list.

10. The Harry Beaton chase sequence from Brigadoon. Yes, the townspeople are singing as they race after Harry, but there's also fist-fighting and bridge-leaping, all choreographed as brilliantly as the dance scenes.

9. Foot chase sequence from Hot Fuzz. Most would pick the giant gun battle at the end, but for me, the best action sequence in this parody is the mid-film foot chase. Beautifully edited and shot.

8. The opening duel in Roxanne between Steve Martin's Cyrano-character and the two ski-assholes. They use their poles and he counters with his tennis racket in a cool little fight scene that nicely sets up Martin's character.

7. The pool sequence in Let the Right One In. It's essentially a one-shot sequence and much of the action is not happening on-screen, but that one shot--as Eli saves Oskar from his tormentors--is so original, horrifying and thrilling, all at once.

6. The siege on the Wicked Witch's castle in The Wizard of Oz. Eluding the guards through the hallways and turrets of the castle is great action, even though, as a kid, it was more like watching a horror film. I know most people had bad dreams about the flying monkeys, but I had bad dreams about the guards and their song.

5. The pie-machine sequence in Chicken Run. Although a parody of a Raiders-style action scene, it stands as a great, stylized bit of action on its own.

4. Shoot-out with cops in Reservoir Dogs. This could be construed as an action film, but I don't think it is. Especially since it's a heist film that never shows the heist. But there is one little nugget of a scene, in which we see how Mr. Pink gets away from the heist-gone-bad. His shootout with three cops on a busy street corner is a mini-masterpiece of quick, dirty action.

3. Hotel escape in Some Like It Hot. Joe and Gerry dodge a hotel-full of mafia goons in the penultimate scene of this great (if not the greatest) comedy.

2. The Merry-Go-Round scene from Strangers on a Train. Action artistry as Guy and Bruno fight it out on a wildly spinning Merry-Go-Round. I love the touch of the old guy climbing under the platform to pull the plug.

1. Leo takes out the hit-men in Miller's Crossing. In the middle of this talky, existential thriller, there is an action sequence so well-put-together and cool it deserves to be on most lists of best action scenes, period. Mob-boss Leo O'Bannion (Albert Finney) is lounging at home, enjoying a cigar and a vinyl recording of Danny Boy, when the goons arrive. Leo proves, as a subordinate later says, the "he's still an artist with a Thompson."


  1. Such good choices. Modern classics like 'where the wild things are' have great scenes also...

  2. Hmm ... Modern classics? I liked Where the Wild Things Are a lot too, but I think it's a little early to classify it ...

  3. Wouldn't "Hot Fuzz" be classified as a parody?

    Very cool list.

  4. Hey Kevin, I'm allowing parodies, which is why I have Hot Fuzz and the scene in Chicken Run, although, with Hot Fuzz, I think I'm pushing it because it's very close to a genuine action film. Even though it's comedy first.

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