Let’s face it; there are few thing more involving in the movies than when protagonists and antagonists attempt to settle their differences. From thrilling physical clashes to psychological battles of wills, these scenes represent the payoff moment for the audience. Often times, the efficacy of the entire story of the film hinges upon these sequences. So, with so much importance placed on what usually amounts to little more than a few minutes of screen-time what could be more fitting for a profile on your favorite film site? You might want to roll up your sleeves and brace yourself! This is where we make our stand! This is Top Ten: Cinematic Showdowns.

10. The Dark Knight – Batman VS. Joker (2008)

Like all great arch enemies, Batman and The Joker are reflections of each other, two sides of the same coin. The 2008 indie, The Dark Knight, perfectly encapsulates their intense dynamic – offering viewers a powerful examination of vigilantism in perpetual opposition with unstoppable anarchy. Never is this relationship more defined than in the iconic interrogation scene. This showdown is so memorable not only because of the brilliance displayed through Ledger’s performance but also because it highlights Batman’s impotence in the face of Joker’s insanity. Finally, the scene offers a not-so-subtle suggestion that these are two men locked in eternal conflict not only because of their dramatically contrasted agendas but also because of their dramatically similar proclivities for extreme theatricality.

9. Mississippi Burning – Agent Rupert Anderson VS. Frank Bailey (1988)

While he may look like some sort of harmless old codger, Gene Hackman as Agent Rupert Anderson in Mississippi Burning is the epitome of a tough as nails, highly principled law-man who doesn’t take any crap from anybody. This especially applies if the person giving him sass is a racist, muscle-bound simpleton named Frank (zestfully embodied by Michael Rooker). There are so many classic bits here to discuss, with some of the highlights being the hilarious way that Hackman chuckles while asking, “A member? A member of what?”, Rooker’s seething hatred and constant use of the term “Hoover Boy” and finally the way that Hackman snarls at Frank and calls him a “Shitkicker.” This scene is a powerful and inimitable cinematic showdown because of the sheer intensity involved and because it reveals the best way to deal with an obstinate, red-neck, KKK member: Go for the balls. Now if only Hackman would show up to a Tea Party meeting.

8. The Matrix – Neo VS. Agent Smith (1999)

There are so many things to love about this classic showdown including: the green-hued grit of the subway set, Reeves’ feckless Neo being completely outmatched in terms of power and the sublime choreography that defines the fight sequence. However, probably the quality that makes this scene work so well is that the film does a beautiful job of building up these two characters’ animosity for one another. This shared feeling displays itself in a number of ways. This includes everything from Neo breaking Smith’s glasses with a roundhouse kick to Smith resolutely and antagonistically referring to Neo as “Mr. Anderson.”

7. Zoolander - Derek Zoolander VS. Hansel (2001)

For those of you who weren’t aware, Zoolander is a classic American comedy. Remarkably simplistic with its satirical ambitions (A model, idiot) yet surprisingly funny throughout, Zoolander draws considerable strength from the pairing of Owen Wilson’s Hansel and Ben Stiller  as the title character (Zoolander is easily the two actors’ most successful team-up). Originally acrimonious in nature, their dynamic eventually transforms into a strong friendship by the film’s end. However, the most successful part of the film comes probably in the scene below, which serves as a lead-in to the memorable “Walk Off” sequence, much parodied by bros and idiots on dance floors across the globe.

6. M - Hans Beckert VS. Kangaroo Court (1931)

A bleak, bleak picture that seemed way ahead of its time, Fritz Lang‘s M charts the disturbing downfall of Peter Lorre’s Hans Beckert - a child killer wanted by both the police and the criminal sub-culture of Berlin. With its powerful design and blazing monologue from Lorre, the showdown between Beckert and the Kangaroo Court (run by the criminals who have tracked Beckert down) is an unforgettable moment where the complexities of criminality and the nature of human hypocrisy are debated and the fate of a man’s life (who the film amazingly elicits the audience’s sympathy for) hangs in the balance.

5. True Romance - Vincenzo Coccotti VS. Clifford Worley (1993)

True Romance is a movie filled with showdowns; each one is spectacular. The Coccotti/Worley face off towers above the rest however due to the beautifully way that the late Tony Scott builds tension and how Tarantino’s vulgar yet simultaneously beautiful script is able to manipulate the power dynamic of the two men involved through words alone. Finally, Hopper and Walken each give one of their greatest performances in this scene.

4. Unforgiven - Will Munny VS. Little Bill Daggett (1992)

Because he is simply such a badass Gene Hackman earns another slot on this list, this time playing the part of the antagonist, the vicious Little Bill Daggett. However, the brutal shoot-out between Eastwood’s Will Munny and Daggett’s crew is not what makes this scene worthy of inclusion to a list profiling great showdowns. That moment comes when Eastwood moves in to finish off Daggett (who has already been wounded). Daggett states that he “…doesn’t deserve this” and that he “…was building a house,” immediately showcasing Unforgiven’s deconstructionist  effect of eliminating the Western genre’s mythology and easy classifications of who is good and who is bad. Daggit truly believes in his actions as being the correct course of behavior. Of course, Eastwood’s concise response offers further encapsulation of Unforgiven’s themes and hits with the power of a bolt of lightning: “Deserves got nothing to do with it.”

3. Marathon Man – Thomas Levy VS. Dr. Christian Szell (1976)

A landmark film from the 1970′s, Marathon Man offers a characteristically intense performance from Dustin Hoffman in addition to an incredible late era performance from Laurence Olivier as the demonic Dr. Christian Szell. The final showdown in the pump room is memorable because of the authentic, unhinged nature of Hoffman’s work but also because it is so gratifying for Olivier’s larger than life, monstrous Szell to have to literally eat the object of his desire.

2. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest - Randle McMurphy VS. Nurse Mildred Ratched (1975)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest contains one of the great movie conflicts, constituted by two of the great movie characters, McMurphy and Ratched. Now, while it is true that Nicholson’s McMurphy is a bit of shitbird the unholy force of Ratched’s seemingly innate affinity for degradation and fear mongering is so utterly repulsive that when McMurphy finally snaps and attempts to wring Ratched’s neck you can’t help but cheer him on.

1. True Grit - Rooster Cogburn VS. Lucky Ned Pepper’s Gang (1969 and 2010)

Each version of True Grit has something to offer. Of course, it is hard to erase the legendary appeal of the iconic Wayne film persona, especially in one of his most memorable films. However, the one against four showdown at the climax of each film showcases how, with a talented enough director (or in this case directors) even a film deeply ingrained in the audience’s mind can be improved upon. Watching both versions of the showdown sequence it is clear that in terms of aesthetics the Coen Brothers’ version transcends past the Wayne film, delivering a shoot-out with far superior editing, music, cinematography and emotional power.

What did you think of the Top Ten: Cinematic Showdowns? What would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments section.

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  • brt

    Streets of fire – often overlooked but the final showdown between wilhem defoe and michael pere is incredible.

    Rounders – Mike mcD vs Teddy KGB

    King Kong – Beauty may have killed the beast but a lot of pilots had a hand in it too.

    Jaws – How can you forget jaws?

  • Benson

    Star Wars–> Luke Skywalker vs Darth Vader

  • Luke

    What about High Noon? The whole movie is set up for its grand finale!

  • Pingback: On the Multi-Faceted Nature of the Epic Finger-point | Adam Mohrbacher

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