Action, action, action. Good movies and great movies alike share one unmistakable ingredient, it’s all about the action.
Of course action comes in different guises, sometimes it’s hand-to-hand fighting, sometimes there are weapons involved and sometimes there are cars and planes. But in the best of cases the drama of a good fight scene manages to wrap itself into the plot of a movie in a way that takes it above the level of just another set of neat moves and clever edits. And more than that, the action needs to be set up in just the right way. There needs to be a growing sense of anticipation. There needs to be a sense of danger to fuel the drama.
The best scenes are often those where there is already a heightened sense of trouble brewing. Fights that take place alongside, or in connection with, high stakes gambling always get a tick in our box just because there is a heightened sense of risk that goes with it. It is all part of the ratcheting up of the tension that makes the fight such a visceral viewing experience.
In no particular order, here are the four that we would put at the top of our list. If you want to test your own knowledge, check out this casino movie quiz.
Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels: The premise is simple, the good guys are pretty bad, but they’re not as bad as the full-time card sharks and drug dealers who they try to get the better of. If you want to get the idea of how something as seemingly mild as a game of cards can send the stakes spiralling out of control, there aren’t many better examples than Guy Ritchie’s 1998 mini-classic.
Skyfall: It was always odds on that James Bond would be on this list somewhere, but the build up to the fight scene in Skyfall is deliciously underplayed. Daniel Craig is the first Bond that you can really take seriously when it comes to the moving and shaking in a shakedown. Even Shaun Connery was a bit doubtful. But the growing menace in the lead up to this particular sequence – not to mention the fight itself – are well worth a second look.
Casino: Strictly speaking this isn’t a fight scene, but it fits in here perfectly because of the way it illustrates precisely what we’re saying about the set up to a violent scene. The way Martin Scorsese’s stellar cast mix formal politeness and an insistence on good manners with how they lay that insistence down is pure cinema gold.
Run Lola Run: Run Lola Run is a non-stop gallop of a film, but all the racing around that’s involved only gets the lift it needs because of the way it is teed up in scenes like this. Everyone likes a good scrap, but the warm up is every bit as important.