Action films have had undergone an interesting transition since the turn of the century. A genre that used to be largely populated by trained performers capable of in-camera stunt work, American action cinema has more and more been folded in and blended with high concept franchising. Superheroes, sci-fi and spectacle are the order of the day, and in a film market increasingly driven by proven box office star power, the classic model of action star has by and large been relegated to the realm of direct-to-video in favor of leading man heroes with remarkable trainers and even better stunt doubles.
But the art of the fight scene is stronger than ever. While action films from overseas markets continue to deliver staggering in-camera displays from skilled martial artists like Donnie Yen, Jet Li, Sammo Hung, Tony Jaa, Jackie Chan and recent breakout Iko Uwais, the rising popularity of genre films on an international scale ensures there’s never a shortage of kinetic kick-ass action in the theater at any given week. If you like your fights scenes a bit more classically macho, there’s also a healthy DTV scene where the 80s and 90s all-stars like Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, and Steven Segal are still in action alongside reliable next generation powerhouses like Scott Adkins and Michael Jai White.
In short, there’s been an insane amount of great action over the last couple decades, which makes singling out the best of the best in well-rounded way one hell of a challenge. A few ground rules before we get to the picks. First of all, this is movie scenes only, which means no Banshee, no Arrow, and most painfully of all, no Daredevil. Second, I’m not using “fight scenes” as a catch-all phrase for action, I’m focusing on hand-to-hand combat fight scenes, not shootouts, massacres, battles, or chases, though admittedly some fall a little close on the line. Finally, I’m limiting selections to one fight scene per movie because otherwise, this list would just be Kill Bill, The Raid, and Donnie Yen, and that’s no fun.
Without further ado, let’s look at the best fight scenes of the 21st century below.