Top 10 Movie Shoot-Outs

I’ve always been a sucker for a good action movie, and it’s a shame the genre has declined somewhat in recent years. I guess swearing, guns and blood-squibs don’t cut it in the focus groups anymore. Anyway, as a tribute to a diminished genre, I offer my, in no particular order, list of Top Ten Movie Shoot-Outs:

Hard Boiled (1992, Dir. John Woo) – Tea-shop Carnage

Ballet With Guns has become something of cliché these days, but Hong Kong action maestro John Woo fully justifies the term with the opening scene to his most lauded work. The bullet and body count soars as Chow Yun Fat’s maverick cop faces off against arms-traffickers in a tea-shop. Fast, frenetic action counterpoised with perfectly judged use of slo-mo. This is how it’s done.

The Untouchables (1987, Dir. Brian De Palma) – Chicago Central Staircase

Brian De Palma borrows shamelessly from Battleship Potemkin to provide the focus for dramatic tension as a baby in a pram trips down a stair case in a cross fire of slo-mo gunfire. A tour de force set piece with Kevin Costner’s Elliot Ness taking down Al Capone’s henchmen aided by Andy Garcia’s crack-shot cop. De Palma tried to repeat the formula with escalator-set gun battle at the end of Carlito’s Way. It was good, but not Untouchables good.

Open Range (2003, Dir. Kevin Costner) – Last Twenty Minutes

Kevin Costner’s western is distinguished by two things, its use of authentic frontier dialogue and a brilliantly staged twenty minute gun-battle. Costner’s war-jaded cow-hand and Robert Duvall’s trail-boss take on Michael Gambon’s thuggish ranchers in a slickly-edited climax that subverts the High Noon template: this time the townsfolk actually join in.

The Long Riders (1980, Dir. Walter Hill) – Town Ambush

Walter Hill’s depiction of the career of the James – Younger outlaw gang is perhaps a little too kind to its protagonists. Despite all the Robin Hood-esque mythologizing, the historical record paints a picture of low-down dirty varmints to a man. But they were to receive well-earned comeuppance in the town of Northfield, Minnesota on September 7th, 1876, when local lawmen and townsfolk set about them with gusto, here envisaged as a blood-spattered spectacle of slo-mo bullet impacts, blazing six-shooters and wheeling horsemen. Walter Hill’s finest hour, though Southern Comfort runs a close second.

The Wild Bunch (1969, Dir. Sam Peckinpah) – Hacienda Rampage

Machine guns and misogyny abound in the bloody climax to Sam Pekinpah’s epic eulogising the demise of the gunslinger. William Holden and his grizzled comrades blaze their way through a hacienda full of Mexican revolutionaries, Holden gunning down a woman in the process with the word “Bitch!” Charming, but at least it’s in character. A classic of action cinema, if you can stomach the misogyny and the frankly rather tedious preceding two hours.

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976, Dir. John Carpenter) – First Attack

The good one – not the 2005 remake. John Carpenter’s urban reworking of Fort Apache sees assorted crims and cops banding together to battle hordes of gang members in a near-abandoned LA police station. The tense first act, enhanced by Carpenter’s heart-beat paced electronic score, pays off in tremendous style as the cast (still mostly unknown) beat back the first wave of attacking yute in a blaze of shotgun fire. One the best examples of the movie editor’s art ever seen.

Matewan (1987, Dir. John Sayles) – Miner Ambush

The only realist entry on the list sees a thoroughly nasty group of Pinkerton strike breakers assailed by justifiably pissed-off mining folk in John Sayles’ true-life inspired tale of industrial strife in 1920s West Virginia. The tightly edited, but convincingly edgy, final shoot-out, known to history as the “Matewan Massacre”, is a masterclass in how to film realistic action.

Kick Ass (2010, Dir. Matthew Vaughan) – Hit Girl Penthouse Incursion

Matthew Vaughan’s adaptation of Mark Miller’s comic book tale of real people attempting a super hero lifestyle is an odd mix of the realistic – you’ll probably just get yourself killed – and the fantastic – an eleven year old girl can slaughter a roomful of drug dealers with a Naginata. Nevertheless, it’s also riotously entertaining, never more so than when Chloe Moretz’s Hit Girl two-guns her way through the penthouse lair of Mark Strong’s psycho crime boss to the music of Ennio Morricone and Joan Jett.

The Matrix (1999, Dir. The Wachowski Bros) – Lobby Fight

The Wachowski Brothers’ heady mix of philosophy and sci-fi with virtual reality twist allowed for a certain visual excess in the action sequences, most notably in this perfectly choreographed, SWAT team swatting extravaganza. Keanu Reeves and Carrie Anne Moss (Neo and Trinity, surely the best-looking action heroes in movie history) put weeks of martial arts and weapons training to good use in an adrenalized display of acrobatics with guns, an event I’d really like to see make it into the Olympics.

State of Grace (1990, Phil Janou) – Bar Room Show-Down

In the climax to James Cagney’s classic gangster movie Public Enemy, we see him walk across a rain drenched street and into a bar having just stolen two revolvers from a pawn shop. There is two seconds of silence then a thunderous explosion of gunfire. The camera stays fixed on the bar exterior. Silence returns then Cagney emerges, stumbles to the kerb, lays down and dies in the rain. It’s a brilliant moment in cinema and deftly subverted in Phil Janou’s State of Grace as undercover cop Sean Penn walks into a bar in Hell’s Kitchen to settle accounts with Ed Harris’s gang of miscreant Westies. No fixed exteriors here as Penn and co blast away entirely in slow motion amid a welter of blood and exploding whiskey bottles.

14 responses to “Top 10 Movie Shoot-Outs

  • Pain #1

    very cool, I think I missed one or two of those. I seem at least eight. Good list. I too love the genre. It is to bad that audiences are too politically correct to appreciate a good body count scene when presented with one. Oh well, it can’t last forever. After all, when things start to get worse in America, watch the body counts start to rise again. Hollywood will see the need for real distraction, not just talking dogs and stupid movies, but blood and gore, like in the gas crises in the 70s. You can quote me on that.

  • Planx_Constant

    I think the bank robbery scene in “Heat” deserves a shout out, too. Also, you should catch “The Raid: Redemption” if it comes near you. It’s basically a 2 hour long slugfest from the bottom of a tenement to the top.

    On an unrelated note, I found this page from your Amazon profile. I’m halfway through “Blood Song” and I think it’s fantastic. You have a real talent; I can’t wait for the next one.

    • Anthony Ryan

      Thanks Planx,
      Good point about Heat, but to be honest, I wanted to find room for the oft-overlooked Matewan. Heat definitely makes it into my top 10 crime movies though.

  • Scott Dickerson

    No offense meant, but it was Matewan “West” Virginia, not Virginia which we seceded from as a result of our “Civil War”. The Union wars were a thing almost completely specific to my state, and my grandfather was a union man during the troubles.

    • Anthony Ryan

      Sorry Scott, I stand suitably corrected.

      • Scott Dickerson

        No worries. People in my own country dont realize its a different state, even though it was born of our bloodiest conflict to date. (watch “Jay Walking”on the Leno show sometime and you’ll see what I mean, makes me think Idiocracy is prophecy). Love slab city blues to death. Hopefully there’s a lot more of that coming soon. I’m famished for it.

      • Scott Dickerson

        Oh and just for fun, the etymology of the term redneck was born of the union wars. There was a battle that over 10,000 miners walked, and hobo’ed to in southern WV. The miners wore red kerchiefs around their necks to self identify, the Charleston Gazette picked up on it and called them rednecks. Had nothing to do with being a backward idiot although many of the miners were simple and un-sophisticated men.

  • Cubert

    Found this blog while looking for information about you and Blood Song – I think you missed a real obvious one on this list – The Unforgiven – Clint Eastwood walking into a bar and telling Gene Hackman “That’s right. I’ve killed women and children. I’ve killed just about everything that walks or crawled at one time or another. And I’m here to kill you, Little Bill, for what you did to Ned.” and unloading on everyone was just awesome.

    As for your writing – awesome, just awesome.

    • Anthony Ryan

      Thanks Cubert. Good point about Unforgiven but I had to draw the line somewhere. But I’d definitely put the ‘killed everything that walked or crawled’ speech into a top ten of great movie monologues.

  • RO

    Speaking of Clint-The Outlaw Josie Wales has some of the greatest lines ever:
    “I noticed when ya get to dislikin someone they ain’t around to long either”
    “It is good that Warriors such as we can meet in the great struggle that is Life, or Death”
    “Good thing you came along when ya did, I might have killed her”
    “This Boy was born in a time of Blood and Dyin, and never questioned none of it”
    “Get Ready Grandma, Hell is coming to Breakfast”
    Quotes more or less accurate, point being, Clint is “O.G.B.A.” And should be cast as an Aspect when the movie deal comes thru. speaking of which, I wanna see a “Top tenish” list of actors, living, dead, any age, cast in Shadow of the Raven. Not as arrogance, but to get the visual. Would Like to see the popular vote, Love to see yours. Of course don’t want any spoilers. Ken Watanabe, Jet Li, one is the Mason, one is the Battle Lord. Yes? No?

  • Anthony Ryan

    Jet Li as Ahm Lin I’ll go with, as for everyone else I’d rather leave it to the reader’s imagination. Writers are notoriously bad at casting anyway; Ian Fleming wanted Cary Grant to play James Bond (can you imagine?)

    I will say, and have said so to my publisher, that I’d walk on broken glass to get Jeremy Irons to voice the audiobook – all other suggestions welcome.

    • RO

      Beat me to it. I have Irons in the fantasy cast from go, good Jeremy as Erlin, bad Jeremy as Janus. Yes, fantasy casting treads dark waters my brother, and reveals inner demons. But how fun! My visual projection works like hunters sight. When a character starts to become Kirk Cameron in Krull I hear the wolf howl. How he got that hot chick I’ll never know. Sorry Kirk, stick to High School movies.
      Long shot-don’t answer-Russell Crowe as older Vaelin?
      “Frankly my dear Octopussy, I don’t give a damn.”

  • Peter

    Agree with some not all. Bank robbery scene from Heat as mentioned previously. Also an honourable mention for the scene in Predator where they landscape the jungle with automatic gun-fire.

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