Gunfights are only as great as the anticipation leading up to them. That sense of palpable tension permeating the air, sweat beading on the forehead, hand at the ready for when it all goes down.
The tightly wound nerves are what make adrenaline-fueled firefights so captivating and able to hold audiences in their seats. Boom! The guns start firing, our heroes duke it out with their villains, and everyone surrenders themselves to the truth of fell-or-be-felled.
A good old-fashioned shootout is even better when seated in a proper movie theater. The heart races, the bullets fly, and the intense music lays out the rhythm of the sequence.
Gunfights happen in all kinds of stories and genres, from the slapstick nature of comedy to the thrilling nature of sci-fi. Here are our picks for the best movie shootout scenes in cinema.
8. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
The climactic shootout in Reservoir Dogs arrives as the tension throughout the whole film steadily builds to a fever pitch, where the perpetrators of a jewellery store robbery all turn on one another.
As Nice Guy Eddie, Mr. White, and Joe all have their weapons pointed at each other, the mood of the threesome reaches a point where, eventually, Nice Guy Eddie fires at Mr. White for pointing a gun at his father, Joe. Then, they all start firing.
The build-up to the scene starts at the beginning of the film, and that's what makes it so great. It's how the unseen robbery goes wrong, and the shootout features one of cinema's most-famous mistakes (in which nobody actually shoots Nice Guy Eddie but he dies anyway).
7. Hot Fuzz (2007)
It was a ludicrous task for Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg to craft a comedy film that takes place in the rural British countryside, set in a small town, while giving it the finale of an American movie like Heat. Yet, somehow, it worked really well.
As Sergeant Nicholas Angel returns to the village to exact revenge on those who secretly run the town, he brings a stash of weapons with him—and, thus, engages in a shootout with the ruling secret society.
The sequence has it all: body parts blown off, a Swan, and Timothy Dalton being impaled on the spire of a small-scale church. It's Hollywood filmmaking in a quintessentially British setting.
6. The Matrix (1999)
The rescue of Morpheus has become one of those iconic moments in film that really gets the blood pumping.
Neo and Trinity head back into the Matrix to free their wise leader from the building in which the agents have him imprisoned. As Neo and Trinity walk into the lobby, the security guard looks in horror at the number of guns strapped to Neo before the whole shootout kicks off.
A mixture of slow-motion martial arts and hard-pumping music follows the pair through the lobby as they dispatch everybody that comes up against them, all in the film's own signature style.
5. Shane (1953)
Shane's final shootout is a small-scale affair, but one that means everything to the audience watching.
As the mysterious ranch-hand Shane heads off to end the violent quarrel between his boss and his friends versus a greedy cattle baron, the ranch owner's young child Joey follows him to see what Shane will do.
Entering the saloon, Shane waits for the bad guys to draw first. His speed still manages to see him win the draw, ending with him killing two men in the battle. Joey warns Shane of another hiding on the indoor terrace, and Shane kills him too with his immense pace on the draw.
4. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
If you're looking for an all-out action feast that's as profoundly meaningful as it is bloody, Mad Max: Fury Road is for you.
After realizing that they need to go back to where they came from, Max, Furiosa, Nux, the wives, and the last remaining tribe of women head through the canyon and back to the Citadel, knowing that Immortan Joe will fight them with his mighty Warboys.
As the cars all race back, the shootout begins between the small band of rebels and the Warboys. It's an epic fight that sees multitudes of warriors shot, cars wrecked, and Immortan Joe with his jaw ripped off in ruthless fashion. It's epic dystopian storytelling in a nutshell.
3. John Wick (2014)
The first John Wick movie features a shootout so intensely bold in visual style and choreography that it influenced later action movies.
As Wick heads to a nightclub to assassinate his target—and the man who killed his dog just weeks after his wife's death—he does so with the ability of a man at the peak of his powers.
The fast-paced sequences include him chasing his target through the club, killing bodyguard after bodyguard. The high-contrast nightclub lighting merges with the action and result in a sense of slick style that makes John Wick an action movie icon.
2. Heat (1995)
While most movie shootouts are fun and intense, few of them are actually realistic. That's where Heat stepped in to give a wholly tactile experience that feels about as real as it gets in cinema.
The characters' movements and their use of weapons in the film were purposely designed to look and feel as genuine as possible. It's shown spectacularly when the LA bank robbery goes wrong for the crew.
Spotting the police, the crew open fire with their assault weapons—in the middle of the day on a bustling downtown street.
We follow Robert De Niro's Neil McCauley and Val Kilmer's Chris Shiherlis as they attempt to escape Al Pacino's Vincent Hanna and the rest of the police. That's when the firefight turns bloody, ending with several dead and more wounded as the battle concludes.
Heat is the gold standard for cinematic firefights. It puts us in a position where we feel the chaos and tension of gunfire, and it's all done to such a realistic level that doesn't downplay our intelligence.
1. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966)
Here we have cinema's most famous shootout—the one between Blondie, Angel Eyes, and Tuco for the buried cemetery gold.
As the trio lines up, the music swells and Ennio Morricone's score holds your attention. Director Sergio Leone's increasingly closer shots bring us right into the minds of the combatants.
Questions rattle through our brain. Is Blondie really quicker than Angel Eyes? Can Tuco win this? Who's going to aim for whom?
As the score brings us nearer and nearer to the final shootout, it's almost enough to make us turn away. But then, in a flash, it's all over. Clint Eastwood's Blondie remains standing, Tuco has no bullets, and Angel Eyes lies dead on the ground.