The 10 Best Movie Showdowns

By Rudy Devine · November 19, 2014

Just like the Electric Light Orchestra song, “Showdown” these people were also headed for a showdown. This Top 10 list may alternately be titled, “Top 10 best climaxes,” as showdowns are really just epic confrontations.

In every film on the list, the stakes were high, whether they be for one person, or for civilization as a whole, and most, if not all, depict the hero’s swan song, as they come to blows with their antagonist.

That said, if this were at Top 11 list, Kingpin (1996) would start us off, just for Bill Murray’s hair.

Photo: Lucasfilm

10. Benjamin Martin vs. Col. Tavington (The Patriot, 2000)

A bayonet through your enemy is suitable justice for killing your children in 1776, and present day as well. The Patriot (2000) is one of the few stand alone films on the list, but best from Roland Emmerich (2012, 2009, The Day After Tomorrow, 2004, Independence Day, 1996).

Martin (Mel Gibson) in all of his Gibson-y glory does what audiences around the world wished we could’ve done. We should’ve known.


9. The Terminator vs. T-1000 (Terminator 2: Judgement Day, 1992)

This one came out when sequels used to get their own titles.

Moment that defines it: After being disabled with a steel bar, the Terminator reanimates and pulls the bar out of itself and grabs the grenade launcher.

As Sarah runs out of shotgun shells, it rolls over a piece of rotating machinery and fires a grenade into the T-1000, who is teetering at the edge of a catwalk above the molten steel.

The T-1000 explodes and is ripped inside out. It falls into the molten steel and wails as it changes into all of its different forms before finally dissipating into nothing.


8. Rocky Balboa vs. Ivan Drago (Rocky IV, 1985)

“To the end.” Ivan Drago’s words to an exhausted Rocky Balboa in the last round of the epic fight couldn’t have been more irresponsible, since he was fighting the man who only wanted to go the distance three films ago. Not to mention, he’s “made of iron.”

The outmatched Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) rallies with the support of the Soviet Union and does the impossible, knocking out Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) to avenge Apollo Creed’s death.


7. Dirty Harry vs. The Scorpio Killer (Dirty Harry, 1971)

One of the best monologues ever sets up the showdown, which also reaches one of the quickest conclusions for a film based on a detective chasing a killer all over San Francisco.

Harry (Eastwood) delivers the penultimate death blow through gritted teeth, “You gotta ask yourself one question, ‘Do I feel lucky?’” As the killer reaches for the gun, he shows him how a .44 Magnum works.


6. Terry vs. John Friendly (On the Waterfront, 1954)

Terry (Marlon Brando) gets snubbed for ratting on the union bosses, then calls Friendly out for being a “cheap, lousy, no good, stinkin’ mutt.” Although he gets put through the wringer, he earns the respect of the stevedores for taking a whooping, and doing what they’re afraid to do, making him somebody.


5. William Munny vs. Little Bill (Unforgiven, 1992)

The second of two Clint Eastwood movies on the list.

The aging gunslinger, Munny (Clint Eastwood) takes a swig of whiskey and heads into town to avenge Ned’s death. He gets his gunslinging skills back in time and guns down all of Little Bill’s cronies, before finishing Little Bill (Gene Hackman) off, too.

Exciting for a character who falls ambiguously between hero and anti-hero.


4. Sam Bowden vs. Max Cady (Cape Fear, 1991)

Martin Scorsese’s remake, in which Bowden (Nick Nolte) fistfights Cady (Robert DeNiro) to no avail, until he is able to handcuff him to the boat. The boat is destroyed by the raging water and they continue to fight, but the battered Cady is pulled under by the sinking wreckage, ending him conclusively.

It is Cady’s character, not Bowden’s actions that make this showdown so exciting, as Bowden is unable to sink to the level of a barbarian and crush Cady’s skull with a rock, and the defeat is bittersweet, but it feels so good watching him go under.


3. The Spartans vs. The Persian Army (300, 2006)

This is purely a numbers game.  It is also one of the few on the list where the protagonist is not successful in physically defeating the antagonist, or in this case, antagonists.

Leonidas (Gerard Butler) kneels before Xerxes and thousands of Persians, but instead of surrendering, launches his attack from his knees, and throws his spear at Xerxes, which narrowly misses him and wounds the supposed God-King in the process.


2. Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader (Star Wars, 1977, The Empire Strikes Back, 1980, Return of the Jedi, 1983)

Almost the purest good vs. evil, were it not for the #1 best showdown. Star Wars is a saga, and took second on the list for the twists and turns it delivered at the end of each film. It’s hard not to put it at #1, considering Luke Skywalker loses a hand while battling Darth Vader, and then finds out Vader is his father, and he’s been in love with his sister, in a very Oedipal twist, but the two forces butted heads for over six hours!

And luckily, Skywalker goes through a tremendous character arc, and racks up a considerable body count along the way.


1. Harry Potter vs. Voldemort (Harry Potter, 2001 – 2011)

The number one because the antagonist couldn’t even be referred to by name for half of the series. The match-up was formidable, as Harry Potter went from a teenager with no sense of direction to a wizard with a slew of spells and tricks to play with, all while trying to avoid death at the hands of “he who shall not be named,” who grew more powerful with every sequel.

Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) found a new way to infiltrate the Wizard world in every movie, and Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), staved off every advance until he mastered his wizard powers, with the help of many others.

The buildup to each battle between these two heavyweights captured more emotion and suspended more tension than any other series, not to mention the fact that the series grossed over $7 Billion at the box office.