Originally published on Flickering Myth on 27/03/17.
With Ben Wheatley’s Boston-set shootout comedy Free Fire finally hitting UK screens this week, it seems only appropriate to remind ourselves of all the best and bloodiest gunfights to date, which there’ve been many of. In fact, narrowing it down to just the eight listed here was an almighty task in itself. You could very happily write an entire book just on movie shootouts alone.
*Spoilers may follow*
The Matrix (1998) – The Lobby Shootout
Quite easily one of the most influential action scenes of the last twenty years, the Wachowskis very much set the pace for almost every shootout since with this ridiculously explosive second act monster. From the opening kung-fu to the now iconic industrial score, it’s a beautifully barmy bit of Hollywood filmmaking, full of crazy backflips, running up walls and needlessly spraying huge amounts of bullets. It’s the epitome of indulgent action, whilst still pulling on the film’s core ideas and its lead’s overall hero arc terrifically. Many have tried since, but few have come even close to making a shootout as thrilling or, frankly, as cool as this.
The Way of the Gun (2000) – Parker and Longbaugh’s Last Stand
One that’s often sadly forgotten, Christopher McQuarrie’s grisly directorial debut is filled to the brim with incredible shootouts, but its finale is on another level entirely. The two leads, Benicio Del Toro and a young Ryan Phillippe, both find themselves charging headfirst into a heavily-armed ambush in the grounds surrounding a Mexican brothel, facing off with James Caan and a private-army of sharpshooting criminals. Barely a second goes by without a bullet being fired (and for a hefty eight minutes too), as Del Toro and Phillippe make a seriously bloody last stand. It might be a lot more desperate and less energetic than the above, but it’s certainly no less effective.
The International (2009) – The Guggenheim Firefight
The perfect example of a standout scene in an otherwise fairly forgettable thriller, Tom Tykwer’s Guggenheim-set shootout is one of the most exquisitely arranged gunfights ever. Playing as much on tension as it does the thrill of chasing bullets, it’s about as drawn-out as they come, using the architecture of the museum to pit an out-of-his-depth Clive Owen against a never-ending team of uzi-toting henchmen. Even just from a technical standpoint this one’s impressive, with Tykwer and his team building a scale model of the world famous Guggenheim in a gigantic warehouse in Germany, just so they could tear it all apart with bullet-holes. And this attention to detail really shows.
The Wild Bunch (1969) – The Battle of Bloody Porch
It’s frankly impossible to even mention the word ‘shootout’ without paying some sort of tribute to Sam Peckinpah’s legendary western stand-off. Famously one of the most violent movies ever released at the time, the film’s climactic ‘The Battle of Bloody Porch’ remains ridiculously intense, explosive and just downright insane even now, nearly 50 years later. The body-count alone is enough to make your head spin, let alone Peckinpah’s quick-fire editing.
Scarface (1983) – “Say hello to my little friend!”
Written by Oliver Stone, directed by Brian De Palma and starring none other than Al Pacino in one of his most iconic, scenery-chewing roles to date, this now legendary reimagining of the 30s gangster classic caps off with yet another blood and bullet-ridden last stand for its eponymous lead. Pacino’s Tony Montana attempts to fight off an invading gang whilst hauled up in his Miami mansion, with nothing but a trusty M-16 for back-up. It ends the way you’d expect, but Montana certainly doesn’t go down without a fight, in what is easily one of the finest final showdowns in cinematic history.
Kick Ass (2010) – Strobe
Matthew Vaughn’s no amateur when it comes to huge, sprawling action scenes, and whilst Kingsman’s now infamous church massacre might technically top anything Kick Ass can offer, it’s not quite a shootout. Hit Girl’s last ditch attempt to save her mortally wounded father, Big Daddy, however, has just enough gunfire to be eligible. And between some Matrix-inspired coolness, a seriously bombastic John Murphy score, and a tremendously lit strobe sequence, Vaughn proves that comic-book adaptations aren’t all visually drab and bloodless affairs. If anything, quite the opposite.
John Wick (2014) – Red Circle Club
Despite being a mere three years-old, David Leitch and Chad Stahelski’s John Wick came completely out of nowhere to set a totally new precedence for the 21st-century shootout. Using long, sweeping takes and throwing in cuts only when absolutely necessary, the pair really raised the bar for how audiences appreciate gunfights, and the Red Circle Club sequence is the very epitome of that in action. Leitch and Stahelski plant the camera firmly on Keanu Reeves’ Wick as he launches from room to room, mowing down assailants in the most elite and methodical manner possible. It truly is like watching an expert at work, devoutly bloody, but sensationally cool.
Heat (1995) – Bank Robbery Shootout
And finally, very much the creme de la creme of the contemporary movie shootout, Michael Mann’s agonisingly complex, ten minute firefight that pitted two of Hollywood’s most exceptional actors, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, head-to-head at long last. Spinning very quickly out of a hasty getaway gone wrong, Mann sends Pacino and his squad storming after De Niro through the packed streets of downtown Los Angeles, in and out of cars and buildings as the policemen in question start dropping like flies. Mann edits the whole thing so carefully, and the cast’s insanely detailed weapons training really pays off, offering up a shootout that’s not only hugely engrossing and thrilling throughout, but massively believable too. In terms of gunfights, between the scale, the pure level of detail and the overall intensity here, nothing gets even close to matching Heat for quality.