Most Exciting Hollywood Sword Fights and Battle Sequences
The sword fight is one of the greatest traditions throughout literature, and certainly in film. What can appear to be a series of impressive stunts or choreography can actually serve a deeper meaning beyond mere spectacle. A sword fight is normally depicted as the culmination or beginning of a relationship between two characters. A sword fight can reveal the personality or inner feeling of a character in a way that dialogue cannot.
This is equally true of scenes that take place on the battlefield. In battlefield scenes we are able to see multiple characters meet their respective fates and how they have grown throughout the film. Here are some of the greatest sword fights and battlefield sequences in movie history and why they made the grade.
The Princess Bride
The Princess Bride is the movie that has it all: Fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles, and of course fencing. When the Dread Pirate Roberts (later revealed to be our hero Wesley) encounters the swordsman Inigo Montoya they engage in a sword fight that, like the film itself, has it all. There is tight choreography, playful banter, impressive athleticism, gymnastics, and master camera work to let you see it all. This is a sword fight that uses its set to its full potential, which can be a big palette cleanser if you’re bored of watching sword fights take place in the middle of a battlefield shot entirely in closeup. While there is a fair amount of Flynning involved, this sword fight is fun to watch because of how decidedly old school it is.
The Last Samurai
The Last Samurai has come under some scrutiny in recent years over its historical inaccuracy but one thing that cannot be disputed is the quality of its sword fights. With The Last Samurai we see a blending of styles at play. While it features bloodier combat than one would find in traditional Black and White samurai films, it uses the fast, furious, and almost realistic pacing that one would find in a Kurosawa film. Sword fights in Japan tended to be quickly ended as the Katana was not designed for long term blocking so much as it was precise strikes. The Last Samurai beautifully (and brutally) shows this in the scene in which Ken Watanabe’s character is attacked by a group of ninjas. The climactic battle scene is also noteworthy for its gorgeous cinematography while depicting a brutal scene of war.
Akira Kurosawa was a master of depicting sword fights. Ran is no exception. As previously stated, Kurosawa tended to depict battle scenes as sudden, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments. His stories didn’t have room for fancy choreography. He let the cameras take care of that. This film features an amazing battle sequence brought to vivid, almost hallucinogenic life thanks to Kurosawa’s masterful use of camera work and color. As if that were not enough, Kurosawa did his due diligence and ensured that the combat techniques were true to history, depicting what a battlefield may well have looked like in that era.
Excalibur is John Boorman’s decidedly R-rated take on the classic legends of King Arthur. You won’t find any triumphant scores to highlight this battle scene. The only soundtrack available is the sound of grunts, yells, and screams. This is a down and dirty take on mythological warfare where each swing of a sword looks exhausting with knights who look equally exhausted. The blood, sweat, and tears of battle are on full display here and the battle scenes are made stronger for it.
Kingdom of Heaven
Ridley Scott is no stranger to depicting scenes of violence. He has a great skill for depicting violence that is all at once arresting, disturbing, and oddly beautiful. This is true for Kingdom of Heaven. The carnage of sword based combat is on full display, using a high shutter speed to give it the Saving Private Ryan look. Scott balances this effect with apt use of slow motion. When a character falls the audience feels it.
While Kingdom of Heaven shows Ridley Scott’s ability to bring Medieval warfare to life, Gladiator is the film that showed Scott’s true mastery of the action scene. In the opening scene of Gladiator we see incredible choreography and gorgeous camera work paired with a true sense of realism. The action is believable and therefor even more awe inspiring. Scott utilizes the forest scenery to incredibly effective ends, especially once the fire from the catapults enters the scene. This is a battle sequence that is simultaneously grounded and gorgeous as only Ridley Scott can deliver.
No list of great movie sword fights is complete without at least one nod to Highlander. By the time the 1980s rolled around sword fights in movies were starting to seem a bit old hat, especially with Star Wars having nearly perfected the on screen sword fight up to that point. Highlander was different. Sword fights were more than just a means of driving forward the story, they showed us who the essence of the characters participating in the fight. The opening scene of Highlander manages to perfectly set the tone for the rest of the film.
We first meet Christopher Lambert’s Connor fighting another man in a parking garage while a professional wrestling match takes place. The fight in the ring is juxtaposed with the life or death battle in the parking garage. The audience has no clue who to root for, who the protagonist is. All we know is what the tagline tells us: There can be only one. This fight also helps to establish the rules of the duels throughout the rest of the film, even if the scene doesn’t spell it out for the audience.
Movie sword fights and battle sequences are proud traditions. They are all at once exciting and informative. They push stories forward and reward the patience of the viewer. They allow the viewer to divine information about the characters without ever needing boring expository dialogue. They make a great climax for a film and are just plain fun to watch.