For the next few weeks, I’ll be running down top-ten lists of some of fantasy’s best fight scenes: the vast battles, one against impossible odds, the magnificently over-the-top.
You know, sometimes a duel just isn’t enough to settle those really big differences. When there is no peaceable way out of an enormous conflict, it’s time to suit up, summon some armies, and have yourself a battle.
Below, I run down fantasy’s top ten group-to-group battle scenes.
10. Every possible scene, 300
Besides homoerotic subtext and bright red capes, was there anything in this movie BESIDES battle scenes? See one (of many) here.
9. The Battle at Isla de Muerta, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
If you’re going to have a cast of hundreds, you might as well use them. Captain Jack Sparrow, Will Turner, Elizabeth Swann, Captain Barbossa, Commodore Norrington, and everyone else with a speaking part gets to have their moment in this swashbuckling extravaganza, which seems about as fun as a battle ever could be.
8. The Department of Mysteries, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
When you want a fight scene that packs an emotional punch, you really can’t go wrong with sticking a bunch of British character actors on a soundstage, giving them four years of mythology to pull from, and calling Action. The Harry Potter series proves this time and again, but none of them offers quite the kick to the teeth that this one does. (If you’re the last person on the planet to hear about this book, spoiler alert.) Relive the pain here.
Because in a sea of sophisticated 3D, sometimes you can just really go for some old-school stop-motion, you know?
6. The Battle of Beruna, The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
All four Pevensie kids acquit themselves with aplomb in this childhood-favorite battle of thousands, fighting out their loyalties to the badass secular witch or the zombie lion who’s out for revenge.
5. Forest Battle, Princess Mononoke
Hayao Miyazaki’s spellbinding story of the wandering hero, the wolf-princess who saves him, the benevolent forest spirit, and the most ambitious mayor ever, and this can only end one way: epic forest battle, complete with demonic serpents, hacked-off body parts, and the all-murdering black sludge of I Am Very Disappointed in Your Lack of Environmental Priorities.
(Honorable Mention for Environmentally-conscious Animation: Battle for FernGully in FernGully: The Last Rainforest. Your heart’s in the right place, but do you have any adorable kodama spirits? No, you don’t. See how the little things can cost you?)
4. Final Attack of the Wendol, The Thirteenth Warrior
This underrated B-movie plays it smart (sidelining Antonio Banderas, keeping plot holes to a minimum, filling up the screen with awesome character actors and their assorted helmets). By the time the survivors face off against their seemingly-superhuman enemy and King Buliwyf begins the blessing for those about to die, it’s genuinely affecting. Luckily, after that they get down to business and Viking the living daylights out of those hordes.
3. The Assassination of the Emperor, Mulan
Disney’s most feminist heroine, Mulan snuck away from home to join the army, excelled in training, gained the respect of her fellow soldiers (even after they found out she was a girl), became a master strategist, and led the soldiers to battle against the Huns to save the emperor’s life. Somewhere, Snow White is so pissed, you have no idea.
2. The Warriors and the Baseball Furies, The Warriors
Director Walter Hill intended his movie to take place in an alternate world, and actually had “Sometime in the Future” as an intro title before Paramount made him remove it. That’s all the reason I need to put this scene on the list; the Warriors facing off against the bat-toting Baseball Furies has become one of cult cinema’s most recognizable scenes, and it’s about as awesome as a low-tech fight scene can get.
1. The Rohirrim at the Battle of Pelennor, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
This battle is truly epic; pitting humans (and some ghost-soldiers we won’t even get into) against the forces of Mordor, this battle was a desperate struggle to hold ground before the advancing evil. In the film, the grueling fight is approximately eighty hours long and leaves you worrying for the brave soldiers and Halflings scattered throughout Minas Tirith, When the horn of the Rohirrim sounds, you’re as relieved as Gandalf. (Bonus: the Inspiring Speech and following Slow-Motion Charge covers any remaining Fantasy Bingo spaces! See?