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The Best Choreographed Sword Fights In Movies And Television

Nothing gets the adrenaline pumping quite like an epic, saber-rattling clash between heroes and villains. All great action and adventure films feature a climactic confrontation between a character of destiny and a villainous or tortured antagonist. Memorable fight sequences are punctuated with stellar choreography and skilled stunts that make the audience believe each traded blow is painfully real.

The best fight scenes aren't the "Indiana Jones" style fisticuffs or the "James Bond" shootouts: Audiences are most engaged by the dangerous game of out-maneuvering an opponent with a blade. They endure for a lengthy amount of time because the combatants are skilled warriors capable of defending and parrying at a moment's notice. Ultimately, victory is claimed when the loser makes one fatal flaw or misstep, leaving an opening for the victor to seal their fate. 

While most outcomes are predictable with the hero winning the day, the execution of a fight should still leave audiences on the edge of their seats in case the unthinkable were to occur. Countless films and television series have toyed with our hearts while a hero's fate is left in the balance during an epic duel to the death. Let's take a look at some of the best-executed sword fights in movies and television.

The Matrix Reloaded – Neo vs. Merovingian's guards

The "Matrix" films are loaded with stellar combat and imagery that will dazzle and delight viewers — if one can overlook some of the special effects that haven't exactly aged spectacularly. The very premise of the film series is that a person's own mind is the only thing that sets the limits of what is and isn't possible in the virtual world of the Matrix. The fabled hero and chosen one, Neo (Keanu Reeves), becomes skilled rather quickly in the art of combat. At one point, in "The Matrix Reloaded," Neo must contend with the Merovingian — a computer program masquerading as a Frenchman — who has amassed power through his ability to gain and trade valuable information.

The Merovingian sees Neo as a threat due to his insistence on taking The Keymaker, a program that is the means of reaching the Source of the Matrix. The Frenchman sends some of his most eccentric fighters after Neo in a climactic clash that involves hails of bullets, battle axes, a pair of sai, and — you guessed it — swords. At one point, Neo reaches for a sword while on a staircase. He manages to expertly evade the attacks of two assailants with the sword in a brilliantly choreographed ballet of death. Of course, Neo predictably gains the upper hand, but that doesn't make this fight sequence any less thrilling.

Gladiator – Maximus vs. Commodus

Ridley Scott's genre-defining epic "Gladiator" won countless nominations and accolades, and for good reason. The film presents the era of the Roman Empire's gladiatorial games, where enslaved fighters would battle to the death for public entertainment. The evil tyrant, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), taunts a gladiator who he had thought dead. That gladiator, Maximus (Russell Crowe), has proven to be an adept fighter, and the crowds adore him. In order to maintain favor with his people, Commodus never outright kills Maximus, but instead, places him against seemingly insurmountable odds. This only bolsters the gladiator's popularity as he overcomes the obstacles.

In one final move to wipe Maximus off the board entirely, Commodus attacks the fighter's emotions by recounting the memory of the deaths of his wife and child by crucifixion. He then secretly stabs Maximus in the side to weaken him before issuing a combat challenge. The fight is visceral and raw. The emotion behind Crowe's performance adds a profundity to his ultimate victory over the emperor. While the real-life Commodus was never actually killed by one of the gladiators he enslaved and exploited, this alt-history moment where the wicked emperor receives the comeuppance he so justly deserves is pure cinematic glory.

The Witcher – Geralt vs. Renfri's Men

Geralt of Rivia is a force to be reckoned with, especially as Henry Cavill breathes new life into the monster slayer for Netflix's live-action adaptation of "The Witcher." In the very first episode of the series, Geralt is confronted with a moral quandary. A shady mage by the name of Stregobor is attempting to kill a girl named Renfri simply because of the circumstances surrounding her birth: He believes her to be evil incarnate. Stregobor attempts to buy Geralt's services in order to dispatch the girl, seeing as she has gained a loyal following who protect her. Likewise, Renfri tries to tempt Geralt into striking down Stregobor to put an end to the feud. She argues that only conflict and bloodshed will come of it and that Stregobor's death is the lesser of two evils. 

After he rejects her plea, Renfri forces Geralt's hand when she threatens innocents and takes a hostage. Additionally, her men attack Geralt, and he is forced to dirty his blade with the blood of men. The combat sequence isn't so much of a "fight" as it is a slaughter. Geralt's skill is on display as he strikes fatal blows, one after another, in smooth succession. The moment ultimately earns him the title "The Butcher of Blavikan," making any witnesses think twice before assaulting this Witcher.

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace – Qui-Gon Jinn & Obi-Wan vs. Darth Maul

Whether the sword is made of steel or crimson light, the effect is all the same in the world of "Star Wars." Lightsabers may cauterize the wound as soon as it occurs, but the danger is nonetheless very real, and one must be incredibly skilled to wield such a weapon. "Star Wars" introduces the art of the lightsaber duel in the first theatrically released film, "A New Hope," where Obi-Wan confronts Darth Vader. From a visual effects standpoint, the moment hasn't aged very well, and some have even taken it upon themselves to "remaster" the fight scene for a more explosive and dramatic duel.

However, when George Lucas had another opportunity years later to re-envision the fundamentals of a lightsaber duel, he didn't disappoint. While "The Phantom Menace" has remained controversial over the years among "Star Wars" fans, there's no doubt that Lucas was ambitious. In the third act of the film, young Obi-Wan and his Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn square off against the first Sith Lord seen in the galaxy in a thousand years: Darth Maul. The fight sequence is fast and frenetic, with Lucas employing environmental blockades to separate Obi-Wan from the action. Set to the backdrop of John Williams' famous score, "Duel of the Fates," there's no argument that this action sequence is unforgettable.

The Count of Monte Cristo (2002) - Edmond Dantès vs. Fernand Mondego

"The Count of Monte Cristo" is a novel by Alexandre Dumas that has seen numerous adaptations over the years. Edmond Dantès (Jim Caviezel) is a man who has only ever sought to do right, but is punished for it by his ambitious and jealous friend, Fernand Mondego (Guy Pearce). After Fernand has Edmond imprisoned for treason, he only manages to break free after six long years. He eventually makes allies among a pirate crew and discovers new wealth on the island of Montecristo. Edmond establishes himself as the Count of Monte Cristo, setting his sights on those who conspired to rob him of his life.

In the final act, Fernand finds himself with nothing left to his name. Desperate and frustrated, he launches into an ill-advised duel to the death with Edmond. In a grassy field, the two square off, initially losing their swords in the weeds. So they begin their conflict by bare-knuckling it. Eventually, Fernand recovers his sword which prompts Edmond to quickly search for his. Once located, the two engage in an intense duel that sees Edmond disarmed. With Fernand now wielding two swords, he plunges forward only for Edmond to counter his initial thrust, guiding the sword in Fernand's hand into his own torso. With his dying breath, he asks Edmond what happened to his mercy. In a callback to an earlier scene with a fellow prisoner, Edmond simply responds, "I'm a count, not a saint."

Troy – Achilles vs. Hector

"Troy" is the cinematic realization of Homer's great epic, "The Iliad." The film features Brad Pitt as the legendary warrior Achilles. After King Menelaus of Sparta (Brendan Gleeson) feels disrespected when Paris of Troy (Orlando Bloom) absconds with his wife Helen (Diane Kruger), his brother Agamemnon (Brian Cox) seizes the opportunity to use this as an excuse to conquer Troy. Paris's older brother Hector (Eric Bana) does all he can to avert war with the rest of Greece. It becomes clear, however, that Agamemnon only seeks power and that sending Helen back to Menelaus would result in her death and continued aggression against Troy.

Agamemnon recruits Achilles to fight for him, but he has a hard time commanding Achilles due to the soldier's pride and personal dislike for the scheming royal. Fatefully, Achilles' young cousin charges into battle and is killed by Hector, who mistakes the young warrior for Achilles himself. Furious, Achilles challenges Hector to a duel outside of the doors of Troy. Hector accepts, and the two engage in combat. The duel is grueling and raw as Hector often engages in defensive maneuvers against Achilles' rage-filled onslaught of attacks, and two of the film's most sympathetic characters are locked in deadly combat. The filmmakers even opt to leave out any music during the engagement, ramping up the breathless anxiety of the clash.

The Last Kingdom – Uhtred vs. Ubba

The historical Netflix drama "The Last Kingdom" has plenty of swordplay for combat enthusiasts. The premise of the narrative is the invasion of the Danes in the Anglo-Saxon territories of England. Uhtred (Alexander Dreymon), born a Briton, is taken in by a Viking family as a child, assimilating to their ways. After his adoptive father is killed, Uhtred strikes out on his own, attempting to find a healthy middle ground between his two worlds: the Saxons and the Danes. Uhtred eventually allies with the Saxon king, Alfred the Great.

In an effort to prove his loyalty, he takes on the Viking warlord Ubba (Rune Temte) as a distraction for the rest of the king's men to flank the Danes and push them from their territory. The duel is intense and brutal: Ubba may be an aggressive Viking, but he proves to be too bloodthirsty to see the strategy that Uhtred employs to bring him down. After taking a hit and falling to the ground, Uhtred cuts both of Ubba's ankles, forcing the Viking to fall to his knees, after which Uhtred delivers a fatal slash across his chest. Ubba is the first of many Viking warriors that Uhtred would eventually confront, earning him the title of the "Dane-Slayer."

The Princess Bride – Inigo Montoya vs. Dread Pirate Roberts

Children of the '80s and '90s are all too familiar with this delightfully quirky fantasy tale. "The Princess Bride" has charmed millions with its quotable one-liners, loveable characters, and humorous escapades. The story follows a former farmhand by the name of Westley (Cary Elwes) who is on a journey to return to the love of his life, Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright). While away, he has taken on the title and attitude of the legendary Dread Pirate Roberts. In pursuit of Princess Buttercup's captors, Westley confronts a wily swordsman, Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin). While Inigo may have cast his lot in with a pair of crooks, he is one of the most charming characters in the film. Always smiling and full of righteous zeal, Inigo is on a lifelong quest to find the six-fingered man who murdered his father.

He engages the Dread Pirate Roberts in a formal sword duel, but the fight goes beyond a simple clashing of the swords, with friendly banter between the two opponents as they tout their own prowess as combatants. The fencing is choreographed brilliantly, never missing a beat. Westley as the Dread Pirate Roberts and Inigo Montoya manage to carry the film's light-hearted theme into something as inherently violent as a duel to the death. Ultimately, Westley bests Inigo, but doesn't kill him — thankfully.

Game of Thrones – Brienne of Tarth vs. Sandor Clegane

"Game of Thrones" is known for its raw and grisly violence set in a fantasy world. If the sword fight between Inigo Montoya and Westley is a lighthearted storybook romp, the clash between two skilled giants like Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) and Sandor "the Hound" Clegane (Rory McCann) is the exact opposite. Brienne finds Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) traveling with the Hound, and realizes she has an opportunity to protect Arya, fulfilling her promise to Lady Stark. Once it's revealed that Brienne's sword was a gift from Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), however, all bets are off. Arya bitterly hates the Lannisters and is unwilling to join Brienne. With Brienne attempting to fulfill her perceived duty, she and Sandor engage in bloody combat.

Both Brienne and Sandor are large individuals and their skills in battle match their imposing nature. These two titans don't disappoint, offering a bloody spectacle that devolves into dirty fighting tactics from both parties just to survive. Once Brienne holds Sandor at sword point, claiming she doesn't wish to kill him, he growls, letting her know that he isn't a knight and doesn't abide by their honorable combat traditions. He lunges at Brienne with his fists and takes some rather cheap shots. Brienne returns the lack of gallantry with a blunt rock to the side of the Hound's head. It's visceral, but exciting, as fans of the show have come to expect.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – Yu Shu Lien vs. Jen Yu

Ang Lee's epic martial arts film "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is hailed as one of the very best, excelling in both choreography and cinematography. The film features the story of forbidden love between a swordsman named Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat) and Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), who is also a skilled combatant in charge of a private security company. Shu Lien had once been engaged to Mu Bai's late friend, Meng Sizhao. Due to honor and a healthy respect for the dead, the two keep their distance and do not confess their love for one another.

Mu Bai is the owner of a legendary sword called Green Destiny. The blade is many centuries old and he decides to pass the relic along to an individual in Beijing as Mu Bai seeks retirement from his career as a swordsman. The fabled relic is, however, stolen by a thief, Jen (Ziyi Zhang), who is revealed to be the daughter of a powerful governor. At one point in the film, Shu Lien confronts Jen and they spar in a killer display of sword combat. Jen wields the Green Destiny blade, which is capable of eviscerating just about every weapon Shu Lien brings into the fight. Despite Jen having the upper hand with the Green Destiny in tow, Shu Lien is a far more skilled fighter who ultimately defeats her with a fractured sword.

Pirates of the Caribbean – Jack Sparrow vs. Captain Barbossa

Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" became an instant classic when the film hit theaters in the summer of 2003, with Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow stumbling and stammering his way into the hearts of fans everywhere. With a well-rounded cast including Orlando Bloom (Will Turner) and Kiera Knightley (Elizabeth Swann), the film was a raging success for Disney and ultimately spawned several more sequels. The first film, however, is widely considered the best in the entire series, mixing the age-old stories of pirates with a mystical curse.

Geoffrey Rush portrays the villainous Captain Barbossa of the Black Pearl, a ship that was once commanded by Jack Sparrow until the crew mutinied, abandoning him on a remote island. After the change in leadership, the crew of the Black Pearl plundered a cursed treasure, rendering them undead: Only the moonlight would show their true zombified nature. In a pivotal moment where Jack Sparrow and Elizabeth Swann attempt to save Will Turner from becoming the Black Pearl's sacrificial lamb as the crew pursues a cure, Jack engages Barbossa in a sword fight for the ages. Much to Barbossa's dismay, Jack secretly steals a coin from the cursed treasure so he would also be immortal. The two stab and slash each other to their heart's content, and nothing comes of it. Regardless, the fight is thrilling, backed by an epic score and plenty of witty banter between the two opponents.

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum – John Wick vs. Zero

The "John Wick" series is known for its insanely high body count. John's (Keanu Reeves) life is akin to a video game where he dispatches "bad guys" like he's aiming for the high score. The filmmakers, however, didn't just set out to create a bloody contest of killing — despite how it looks. The "John Wick" films establish a brilliant world filled with its own ever-expanding lore, rules, and legends. Within it, all hitmen and hitwomen are governed by a larger organization akin to the Illuminati. Things have a certain logic to them ... until John Wick upsets the established order.

In "John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum," a seemingly ordinary sushi chef by the name of Zero (Mark Dacascos) is secretly a ruthless killer who leads a band of trained misfits tasked with hunting down John Wick. Of course, John must first contend with his goons. But after that, Zero absolutely tests John's mettle, the two eventually engaging in sword combat. As the series promises with all of the action sequences that precede it, the display is littered with spectacular maneuvers and moments of anticipation as both John and Zero pull "ninja" moves on each other, disappearing and reappearing for another sudden challenge.

300 – Leonidas vs. the Persians

Director Zack Snyder bursts onto the scene with a visually thrilling recreation of Frank Miller's graphic novel "300," based on the historical account of the Battle of Thermopylae, where King Leonidas and the Spartans make one last stand against the Persian army. Gerard Butler, alongside his cohorts, is absolutely shredded for his role as King Leonidas. In typical Zack Snyder fashion, the film accentuates the action sequences with stylistic choices, changing the color palette and adding slow motion into the mix.

There's one scene in particular that prepares us for the level of swordplay butchery that we're in for with the rest of the film. The Spartans manage to push the Persians back and splinter their groupings with a well-executed phalanx maneuver. Leonidas then leads the charge against the fractured Persian soldiers, as he is seen eviscerating them one by one with his sword as each approaches. It's a scene that surely kicks the adrenal glands of viewers into gear as they cheer on the group of warriors fighting bravely against Persian conquest.