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Classic Ten – Greatest Barroom Brawls

classic_10_callout.jpg It usually begins with a half-kidding insult, a wrong look, a crossing over into a quick-fused tough guy’s personal space. Whatever it is, the fragile laws of social decorum have been violated, and what was just a moment before the local public watering hole becomes a boxing ring or, if things get really out of hand — a steel-caged wrestling match. One might think there are only so many ways to shoot a barroom brawl, but the ten movies on this list prove that the bar fight can be improved upon, expanded, and amplified.

Star Wars.jpg10. Star Wars (1977)
Before it was famously altered, this brawl originally had cocksure Han Solo (Harrison Ford) stalling for time before blasting green-skinned alien bounty hunter Greedo with his laser gun from under a table of the Mos Eisley Cantina. An unphased Solo then stands up, flips a coin to the bartender and says, “Sorry about the mess.” When re-released in 1997, director George Lucas changed the scene to have Solo shoot only after being shot at by Greedo, thus inspiring the fanboy protest: “Han Shot First.”

on-deadlyground.jpg

9. On Deadly Ground (1994)
You never want to mess with Steven Seagal, especially when he’s directing his own movie, but poor Big Mike (Mike Starr) makes this very mistake. After thoroughly dispatching Big Mike’s crew, Seagal challenges the inebriated jerk to the “Hand Slap Game.” Mike eventually gets pummeled by an unflinching Seagal, who asks him: “What does it take to change the essence of a man?” “I need . . . time to change” sputters Mike, thus making Ground‘s barroom brawl the first and only in movie history to offer spiritual healing.

Road House.jpg8. Road House (1989)
Peak era Patrick Swayze and still the best bar fight movie ever made — in fact, the entire film might as well be just one long bar fight. Highlight: One of Ben Gazzara’s henchmen clears the dance floor of the Double Deuce by going Ninja Turtles with a pool stick, then pole vaults and flips onto the stage to challenge Sam Elliot and bouncer Swayze, to battle. Gazzara’s reaction to all this? “Can somebody get a drink around here?”

From Dusk Till Dawn.jpg7. From Dusk ‘Til Dawn (1996)
This Roberto Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino team-up goes from gonzo to
insane when bandit brothers Seth and Richie Gecko (George Clooney and
Tarantino) hide out at the strip club from hell where rough neck
employees and thonged dancers transform into bloodsucking demons. Chaos
ensues: Richie’s neck becomes a main course, a patron unleashes a
machine gun at his crotch, and dominatrix queen vampire Selma Hayek
finds herself impaled on a chandelier. And that’s only the first five
minutes.

Top Secret2.jpg

6. Top Secret! (1984)
A barroom brawl underwater? It happens in war movie spoof Top Secret!
when Val Kilmer’s endless fight with a bad guy spills over (pun
intended) into a river, where the two fight undaunted amidst their own
air bubbles and an entire Western saloon — bartender, poker players,
swinging doors and falling chandelier included — materializes on
river’s floor (see also: Shane). The funniest part of the
whole perfectly executed sequence is a barstool slowly moving through
the water that actually breaks on Kilmer.

Raiders of the Lost Ark.jpg5. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
This
one’s literally on fire, as the Nepal bar of Indiana Jones’ former
lover Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) goes up in flames while Indy
(Harrison Ford) shoots it up with a group of henchmen headed by Nazi
Major Toht (Ronald Lacey) over the headpiece to the priceless Staff of
Ra. There’s a little bit of everything here: Immolating men are shot,
greedy Nazi hands are seared, and the heavy-drinking Ravenwood gulps
down liquor pouring from a punctured jug before offing a bad guy with a
burning log.

Terminator 2.jpg4. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

“I need your clothes, your boots, and your motorcycle.” So commands
a hulking, naked Arnold Schwarzenegger to the shocked frequenters of a
seedy biker bar in the scene that introduced an unstoppable killing
machine to the world of barroom brawls. You’d think the bikers would
know better than to laugh at a Terminator, but machismo rules, and
after failing to put his cigar out on Arnie’s bulging pecs and winding
up on a skillet, the original addressee willingly forks over his keys.
Exit Arnie, all geared up to “Bad to the Bone,” but not before leaving
with one final wardrobe addition: Killer shades.

Goodfellas2.jpg3. Goodfellas (1990)
More beatdown than brawl, yet classic nevertheless. Short-tempered
Tommy’s (Joe Pesci) revenge on taunting nemesis Billy Batts (Frank
Vincent) is as surreal as it is mercilessly brutal, with Donovan’s
dreamy “Atlantis” scoring the gangster violence of a ambush (with a
little help Robert De Niro) both deserved and a fate-sealing act of
impulsiveness. Of course, for director Martin Scorsese, ethics are as
important as standing ground. Says an apologetic Tommy to fellow
gangster and bar owner Henry Hill (Ray Liotta): “I didn’t want to get
blood on your floor.”

Shane.jpg2. Shane (1953)
A Western ain’t nothin’ without a barroom brawl, and Shane‘s
old school mano-a-mano slugfest between the titular hero and a rude
lackey of villain Ryker (Emile Meyer) is the best of a grand tradition.
The anticipation of each blow is so tense you feel you’re in the action
yourself, but it doesn’t end there, as friend Starrett (Van Heflin)
comes to the rescue when Ryker plays dirty and uses his gang to
outnumber Shane. The underdogs emerge victorious from the free-for-all,
and their shared look of joy while taking on all comers is the
Western’s finest display of rugged frontiersmen’s camaraderie.

Kill Bill Vol. 1.jpg1. Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)
As already seen on this list, Tarantino is no slouch when it comes to
bar fights, but the “Showdown at the House of Blue Leaves” chapter of
his Kill Bill Vol. 1
is a saloon smackdown of epic proportions. Traveling to Japan to seek
revenge on crime boss O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), the Bride (Uma Thurman)
must first go through O-Ren’s henchmen, including an army of
black-suited, Zorro-masked, samurai sword-wielding yakuzas within a
paper-walled bar. Tarantino’s show-off compositions (black and white,
silhouettes), deliciously exaggerated sound effects, and passionate
love for martial arts choreography and excess (flying acrobatics,
decapitations, eye-gouges, full body slicings) all make monumental too
tame a word to describe this exercise in pure kineticism.

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