This was a tough list to create! I love fight scenes in films, but there have been lots of lists about the best fight scenes in all of film or even sci-fi. But with superhero films blowing up over the last decade plus, it’s time for a list of the best fights in just adaptations of comic books. Here’s the definitive list which no one will argue with at all. So who made the cut? Well, I had to be ruthless. I stuck with American films so anime, manga adaptations, French graphic novels and Italian comics all got ignored. Superman didn’t make it. Neither did Blade, Iron Man, or Scott Pilgrim. I’m not saying these aren’t good films. In fact, some of the fights that made this list come from not-so-great films. But the FIGHT was memorable and well done or creative in some way. Let’s see what we’ve got.
10. The Punisher vs. The Russian from “The Punisher” (2004)
A very uneven film but this fight is a moment of levity in an otherwise too-serious movie. The seemingly unstoppable Russian just knocks Frank Castle around his apartment and shows us that the Punisher is not nearly as formidable without his guns.
9. Marv vs. Kevin from “Sin City”
Highly stylized but very accurate as far as adapting the source material goes. This is an interesting fight because Marv is just a brawler, going up against Kevin, a mute psychopathic assassin. But Marv figures out how to counter Kevin’s speed and technique. He may defeat Kevin, but does Kevin really even care?
8. Hit Girl vs. the Mafia from “Kick Ass”
It’s funny that Kick Ass was originally pitched as what if people in the real world tried to be superheroes? Because it does not really stay in the realm of realism for long. Hit Girl has ninja skills beyond anything you could reasonably expect, but at least it creates for a very fun fight scene complete with great use of a Joan Jett number. It flows right into a final battle where Kick Ass defeats the crime boss with a jet pack. Very realistic.
7. Hulk vs. Abomination from “The Incredible Hulk”
There are plenty of scenes of destruction in superhero movies, but Hulk vs. Abomination is one of the best for several key reasons. First, Bruce Banner decides to unleash the Hulk to save the city, and controls him to a degree. So he saves lots of people. That’s heroic. Second, it’s not just bland punches. Hulk creates weapons out of his environment, like gloves made out of nearby cars. That’s fun. Finally, the villain has a clear goal throughout the film that leads him into natural conflict with Hulk. It works pretty well.
6. The Comedian vs. Mystery Assassin from “Watchmen”
People either love or hate Watchmen, but either way the beginning is pretty much perfect. It’s a very accurate adaptation complete with frames from the comic book appearing on screen. It’s a scary fight with someone bursting into the Comedian’s home at night and quickly gaining the upper hand despite Comedian’s considerable skills. And it flows into the best opening credits of any superhero film, showing the effect of real life superheroes on the world throughout the 60s through the 80s, all set to an excellent Bob Dylan song.
5. Batman vs. Bane from “The Dark Knight Rises”
This is an interesting fight because the hero flat out loses. Batman thinks he’s going to get the drop on Bane and realizes too late that Bane was expecting him the whole time. Batman throws everything he has at Bane and it doesn’t slow him down at all. He tries his tricks, like cutting out the lights. Nothing. It devolves into a slugfest which Batman loses. It’s cool to see Batman go up against an opponent that’s smarter and tougher than him and it raises the stakes of the movie considerably.
4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles vs. the Foot Clan from “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (1990)
Back in 1990, there wasn’t a lot of superhero movies. We had the Superman films which had 2 good films and 2 stinkers. We’d had the first Batman which was different than anything we’d seen before, with superheroes being taken a lot more seriously. And then the indie comic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came along and became a surprise hit. For a long time, it was the most successful independent film of all time. The best part of this live action take was a long battle in the middle of the film. Raphael is ambushed by the Foot Clan on a rooftop and is beaten into a coma. Eventually everyone crashes through the ceiling and the rest of the turtles enter the fight but they are so outnumbered, they have to retreat. This has fun kung-fu and good use of props in the antique store they battle in.
3. Captain America vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. from “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”
It was tempting to select Cap’s first battle out in public with Winter Soldier because Cap so selflessly protects innocent bystanders. But this fight gets to the core of the film, where Cap’s own allies turn on him and he doesn’t know who he can trust anymore. More and more S.H.I.E.L.D. agents get on the elevator and Cap realizes he’s about to be betrayed. Outnumbered, he fights and defeats a small army and eludes all of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s measures to trap him, culminating in him taking on a jet while on a motorcycle. It’s pretty rad.
2. Nightcrawler vs. the secret service from “X2: X-Men United”
Bryan Singer knows how to highlight mutant powers in innovative ways. X2 is full of interesting fights but the best is its opening scene where Nightcrawler takes out nearly every security guard in the White House in a bid to assassinate the President. Using his teleporting abilities, he throws security around like ragdolls in a stunning setpiece. It sets high stakes for the movie ahead, showing how dangerous just one mutant can be.
1. Spider-Man vs. Doctor Octopus from “Spider-Man 2”
Superman saving Lois Lane from a falling helicopter is rousing, but it isn’t a fight. Spider-Man 2 accomplishes a similar emotional overload when Spidey takes on Doc Ock first among the skyscrapers of New York and eventually on a rush hour subway. It uses both of their powers in interesting ways and has Spider-Man risking everything to save innocent people. It will be very hard for any superhero film to top this sequence which delivers both unique action and thrilling emotional beats.