Pick your fighter: 8 ultimate action scenes

By Gen Terblanche26 July 2023

Pick your fighter: 8 ultimate action scenes

Once upon a sad and dreary time, if you saw a fight scene you got a kick out of in a TV show, it was gone in a flash and you’d probably never be able to see it again. It existed only in your reenactments with your siblings and friends. Later, you’d have to rewind a video tape until it stretched and fuzzed just to get those epic action minutes – the action-fan equivalent to flipping to the sticky pages. Thank goodness for streaming. These days we can play and repeat until we’ve caught every move. And fight choreographers have responded by pouring out their best work onto the screen in series like Warrior, now in its third season on Showmax.  

Here are eight of our favourite action scenes, from one-on-one brawls, to sword battles, to house raids and street beatdowns. Pick your fighter! 

1. Warrior Season 3, episode 1

Ah Sahm (Andrew Koji) has become a fighting legend in San Francisco’s Chinatown in Bruce Lee’s legacy series, Warrior, which is set during the Tong Wars era of the 1800s. The opening eight minutes of Warrior Season 3, episode 1 are a perfect introduction to stunt coordinator Bret Chan’s heart-pounding fight scene choreography. Ah Sahm takes on an entire gang of attackers in a close quarters fight in an alleyway, and then a butcher’s shop. Opponents come at Ah Sahm with axes and knives, and whatever they can lay their hands on, captured in gorgeous film quality that takes us from seeing the fight from above, right into the action as if we were about to get hit by flying knives, fists, chopped off limbs, or even a bucket of blood. The fight spills out into the street, where it becomes a full-on gang war between the Long Zii Tong and Ah Sahm’s Hop Wei Tong, while Li Yong (Joe Taslim) of the Long Zi and Ah Sahm face off.

Since the Hop Wei are in slim-fit black suits with white shirts, it’s like watching 10 John Wick kicking ass. While there’s a comic book gloss to the action, the acting doesn’t grind to a halt for a punch up. You can see how tiredness, desperation, and anger impact how someone fights. Come for the action, stay for the story. PS: if you want to get deeper into the scenes, there is an official Warrior Season 3 podcast. 

Watch Warrior S1-3 now » 

2. Banshee Season 3, episode 3

Banshee on Showmax

Stunt coordinator Marcus Young’s crowning jewel in Banshee might be the fight between leather-clad assassin Nola Longshadow (Odette Annable) and bowtie and glasses-wearing Clay Burton (Matthew Rauch). It starts with Nola hurling a tomahawk into Clay’s chest. A normal guy would be out of the game at that point, but with Clay, Nola’s just given him a weapon and a reason to take her out. The Banshee camera team came up with their own rig to film the scene, as they needed to follow Clay and Nola inside and outside an unfortunate Rolls Royce that gets caught up in their brutal, glass-in-the-face fight.

The action sees one person wielding a tomahawk while the other waves a scalpel around, the strategic use of a hood ornament, and an actual throat being ripped out. The three-and-a-half minute scene took 14 hours to film, with Odette’s stunt double Boni Yanigasawa and Matthew’s stunt double Dave Maccomber taking the lion’s share of the action. Be warned, though, this isn’t one of our favourite action sequences for its realism. Pace and inventiveness are everything, and rapid-fire cuts give it an over-the-top, Mortal Kombat-style flair. Warrior fans are probably going to love Banshee and vice versa.  

Watch Banshee S1-4 now » 

3. Band of Brothers episode 2

Band of Brothers is on Showmax

Want to get serious? Historical drama series Band of Brothers follows America’s Easy Company through their battlefield engagements throughout Europe towards the end of World War II, from Normandy to Berchtesgaden. If you want as-it-happened realism in action, Band of Brothers has it in spades, as even its most sensational moments closely follow what happened during the war – real-life veterans from Easy Company back up the claims made on screen in interview segments.

Episode 2 features medal-worthy filmmaking as Dick Winters (Billions star Damian Lewis) leads a small division on a David vs Goliath mission to seize control of the German machine gun battery at Brécourt Manor that was set to massacre the allies landing on the facing beach. The scene is a perfect mix of awe-inspiring planning, and nail-biting execution (with moments of glee) as the plan starts working, the grenades fly, and death and dismemberment are narrowly dodged in the melee. Watching it, you get the full loop of a jerk of terror, eerie silence, confusion, the next jerk of terror, and so forth.  

Watch Band of Brothers S1 now »

(Bonus: Showmax has the Easy Company documentary, too) 

4. True Detective Season 1, episode 4

In a flashback during the Season 1 main cult murder-mystery investigation, homicide detective Rust Cohle (Dark Tower star Matthew McConaughey) goes undercover during a nighttime house raid between rival drug gangs, along with a former gang contact, Ginger (Joseph Sikora, Power Book IV: Force and Power’s Tommy). It’s an unbroken, six-minute tracking shot of relentless, claustrophobic violence and confusion, and Rust is high on drugs for all of it. From the get-go it’s clear the people in the stash house have been caught by surprise and they’re just going about their lives, including a young boy who’s watching TV, when it all goes to hell.

The camera takes you with Rust, alternating from being at his shoulder to in his face, as he bursts from room to room, wide eyed with adrenaline. From the moment the first gunshot is fired, it’s as if someone has thrown a stone at a wasp nest, while a big group of wasps was standing behind them, tapping their feet. Ginger is extremely confused when Rust “kidnaps” him right out of the confusion, and from then, Rust is just trying to keep a lid on what he’s really doing, dodging and dragging us away from the scene of the increasing violence erupting in the neighbourhood – which, when unseen, plays out in the soundtrack – until his partner, Marty (Woody Harrelson), can take Ginger into custody for interrogation. Watch and see why the episode earned Cary Fukunaga the 2014 Emmy for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series. 

Watch True Detective S1-3 now » 

5. Fargo Season 1, episode 6

In crime dramedy series Fargo, a fender bender between three cars during a white-out snowstorm slips into a suburban street gun battle between hitman Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton), and fellow hitmen Mr Wrench (Russell Harvard) and Mr Numbers (Adam Goldberg), who have trapped his car between theirs. It turns into a deadly game of hide and seek between the cars, as the snow reduces visibility to less than a two metres, and killers slip in and out of the fog.

Cunning Malvo cuts open the back of his hand to leave a trail of blood and lure his opponents into a trap, proving how wily he is, even against juggernauts like Wrench and Numbers, who have their own theme music. The local cops come scampering into the scene trying to make sense of what’s going on, but as they run towards gunfire, Malvo is out there in the haze, quietly slitting throats. And one police officer makes a fatal mistake by firing at sound without being able to see a target. It echoes an earlier scene in which Malvo tricks a SWAT team into killing his victim for him using duct tape, an exercise machine, and a knowledge of gung-ho, gun-crazy cops.  

Watch Fargo S1-4 now » 

6. Barry Season 2, episode 6 

Ronny/Lily, Season 2, episode 5, is (justifiably) one of the most-talked about episodes of hitman comedy-drama series Barry. Barry (Bill Hader) the hitman is fighting for his life from the moment he realises that Ronny (Daniel Bernhardt) – the man he has been sent to kill  – is a martial arts champion, as evidenced by his intimidating collection of trophies. The scene captures the contrast between the wildly different goals the two have in the fight. Ronny has been trained to fight with restraint and to follow certain rules, while Barry would normally execute a quick and dirty kill with no rules whatsoever … but in this case he’s desperate not to kill Ronny, or die himself, since he has decided to try to get Ronny out of town rather than assassinating him.

Wade Allen’s stunt choreography plays up both humour and danger, and there are moments where there’s nothing in frame, but you can hear Ronny wheezing, that sell just how knock-down, drag-out brutal the fight is. And then, there’s more, as the fight turns into a battle between Barry and Ronny’s martial arts trained, demon-tween daughter, Lily (Jessie Giacomazzi), before going back into a fight with Ronny just as Barry is trying to drag himself away and fix his wounds. It’s the perfect scene and episode to watch if you want to get into the show.  

Watch Barry S1-4 now » 

7. Game of Thrones Season 4, episode 10 

Fantasy series Game of Thrones brings us multiple bloody showdowns, epic battles, and cunning fight scenes. But in Season 4, episode 10, when honourable wandering knight Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) takes on Sandor Clegane, aka The Hound (Rory McCann), the hype does not lie. The two run into each other by chance on the road and the Hound is weak, starved, and fighting infection, while Brienne is in great condition and has on the best armour the Lannisters can throw at her. The battle starts with the two parrying and weighing each other up as if in a sparring session but it’s not long before they’re leaping around the rocks, using the environment against each other and swinging punches as well as swords.

Within minutes they’ve gone full caveman, screaming, grunting, butting heads, rolling in the dirt, and trying to bite off ears and beat each other with rocks. It’s a brief and sweaty bout that gives you a sense of what the words “fight to the death” really mean. This is also a fascinating battle because of the morality swap between The Hound, who’s desperate to protect Arya (Maisie Williams) and normally noble Brienne, who comes off as the villain. 

Watch Game of Thrones S1-8 now » 

8. Peacemaker episode 1

Adults-only warning on this one! The screen is too small for all this 90s nostalgia in a scene from episode 1 of superhero action comedy series Peacemaker. Former WWE Champion John Cena is at his most absurd as Peacemaker (his character from 2016’s Suicide Squad and 2021’s The Suicide Squad) when he goes hand-to-knife with his big-haired bar hookup, who turns out to be a hair-metal-loving, meta-human assassin. It’s a scene that gives you nearly naked karaoke sung into a woman’s personal massager, followed by a lounge furniture smashing, wall busting brawl between two people who’re trading blows in their (extremely well fitting and tightly packed) underwear, all to the tune of The Quireboys’ I Don’t Love You Anymore (1990).

A confused Peacemaker desperately hurls everything from a mace to a hairdryer, to a chest of drawers, at his snarling opponent, while his horrified expression telegraphs the  facts that this is not how he thought they were going to dent her headboard. Faced with an indestructible foe, Peacemaker has to work out just how much damage he’s willing to take for the sake of being a real man like his heavy metal heroes. The good news? The rest of the series lives up to all of this.  

Watch Peacemaker S1 now » 

Read more about the best action series and movies on Showmax.   

Tommy is making money moves in Power Book IV: Force S1
Quantum Leap S1: Leaps and bounds of enjoyment!