Narrowing down the universe of action scenes to a few favorites is like asking a bear which is its favorite salmon in the sea.
There are just too many of them.
(Also, check out the impetus for all this action-packed list-making: Why I think The Raid 2 is among the best action movies of all time.)
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Top 15 movie shootouts
1. Heat (1995)
Michael Mann’s meticulously set-up bank heist/shootout in this Al Pacino/Robert De Niro crime story is epic.
John Woo’s last film before leaving Hong Kong for Hollywood showcased an explosive 45-minute finale shootout in a hospital.
The Wachowskisowe more than a bit of thanks to Hong Kong action directors like Woo for this film’s “wow” factor, especially in the showpiece lobby firefight.
Six words: “Say hello to my little friend.”
The final shootout in Sam Peckinpah’s Western is a symphony of bullets.
Quentin Tarantino is a master of building suspense before a violent eruption, and he does that skillfully in this WWII film’s bar scene where a Nazi soldier finds himself seated at a table with his enemies.
James McAvoy holds his own with Angelina Jolie in Timur Bekmambetov’s underrated blam-o-rama. It has a couple of ferocious action sequences, including one with McAvoy taking down a whole warehouse full of villains.
Three words: “I’ll be back.” And, true to his word, Arnold Schwarzenegger was. His starred in sequels as the cyborg/killing machine and even became a good guy at some point. But he was never better than when he went on a robotic rampage in the first film, determined to terminate Sarah Connor(Linda Hamilton).
The famous shootout at the O.K. Corral is revisited in this Western starring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer.
Brian De Palma turned in a clever nod to Eisenstein’s classic Odessa Steps scene in the groundbreaking 1925 film Battleship Potemkin with a baby carriage hurtling down train-station steps as bullets rain down all around it.
11. The Boondock Saints (1999)
There’s a lot of shooting in this stylized crime thriller but the big shootout involving the guy in the bathroom is a memorable piece of killing choreography.
This period piece featured nighttime gunplay in the Victory Motel shootout that matched the film’s noir mood.
13. Desperado (1995)
The bar scene is not only great for Antonio Banderas’ athleticism, but we get to see Quentin Tarantino take a bullet to the head.
Clint Eastwood’s epic Western showcased lots of action, but nothing can hold a candle to Clint’s high-noon-like showdown with Gene Hackman.
The opening bank-robbery scene, in which viewers are introduced to the eerieness that was Heath Ledger’s Joker, may have less of a body count than others on this list but it is no less effective.
Honorable mentions: Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and The Godfather (1972): Not really shootouts since the victims don’t get a chance to fire back, but the ambush of Bonnie and Clyde and the tollbooth death of Sonny (James Caan) in The Godfather remain two of the most iconic death scenes in cinema history.