All fencing fans know the famous battles in movies like The Princess Bride and Kill Bill. I'm here to offer some lesser-known action scenes. Together, this list features some of the greatest swordplay in film history. En garde!
Like so much of Zhang Yimou's film, this sequence is beautiful and balletic. It's actually two fights in one, as Broken Sword fights flying snow and then Moon fights Nameless (played by Jet Li). Moon uses two blades, which is cool, but Nameless's sword has a slot in it which he uses to twist the blade out of hands. The scene features some impossible moves, including jumping, kicking, and flying. The whole movie is filled with awesome fight scenes, but this indoor fight, surrounded by calligraphy scrolls, always stuck with me.
Rob Roy (1995)
Before he was wielding a lightsaber (and, uh, losing), Liam Neeson played the Scottish hero in this film that doesn't get the same love as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves or Braveheart. It's a pretty cool film, though, with a cast that includes Jessica Lange, John Hurt, and Eric Stolz. In the final showdown, the spotlight is on Tim Roth, playing the despicable aristocrat Cunningham. The sword fight is exciting, but the end is the real treat. Rob Roy is beaten, on his knees, with Cunningham's sword at this throat. Rob Roy grabs the blade, cutting his hand in every possible way. He holds on so tight that Cunningham can't swing the final blow. Rob Roy manages to grab his own sword and slash into Cunningham's shoulder and halfway down his chest. Good stuff.
This overlooked film features what many believe to be the longest sword fight in movie history -- a seven-minute duel between Stewart Granger and Mel Ferrer all over a theater (starting with a play in progress) that contains 87 fencing passes, according to Turner Classic Movies. The fight goes from the galleries to the hallway to the stairs to the orchestra seats to the stage to backstage, with no music or dialogue; just the clang of swords. No wires or CGI here, either. The two men did their own stunts. The duellists make clever use of the theater setting, from slashing through scenery to jumping over box seats to kicking over stage props. It's truly one of the most phenomenal fight scenes you'll ever see.
The Duellists (1977)
Before Ridley Scott directed the battle scenes in Gladiator, he made Duellists with Harvey Keitel and Keith Carradine. The film has been praised for its realistic depiction of sword fighting by experts like historian and Olympic fencer Richard Cohen (whose book By The Sword is a must-read history). The entire film is about two men pursuing, challenging, and battling each other over years. Their second duel takes place in a cellar and involves sabers. It's a counterpoint to the gentlemanly fighting of Scaramouche, savage and furious. The fighters can barely stand and wield their heavy blades. It's a raw, realistic fight between two honorable men who simply despise each other.
The Three Musketeers (2011)
I'm not defending the entire steampunk (or is it clockpunk?) take on the classic tale, but this early scene is very well done. It begins with D'Artagnan taking on two dozen of the evil Cardinal Richelieu's guardsmen, and eventually Athos, Porthos, and Aramis join the fray. The sequence involves knife-throwing, bucket-wielding, and scaffold-swinging. D'Artaganan even fights while rolling on the ground. The scene gets extra points for not committing the sin of "Large group of bad guys attack the lone good guy one at a time"—the action is constant and the 360-degree swordplay is well-done. It's a good combination of exciting and realistic.
What's your favorite movie sword fight? Rattle your sword in the comments.