Fight scenes have been a staple point of cinema from the beginning. From whiskey-fueled bar brawls in a seedy saloon to a fistfight on a high-speed train carrying a nuke. Who doesn’t enjoy a good fight scene? Often, you’ll find that the location of a fight scene plays a pivotal role in how the fight is fought and what elements the protagonist has to use to their advantage to finish the battle.
Since the late 80s, nightclub fight scenes have become a favourite for cinema junkies and filmmakers alike. From the overload of bass to the bursting array of strobe lights, the nightclub location allows filmmakers to turn the visual aesthetics up to 11.
In a story context, you’ll often find nightclubs provide a challenge for the protagonist. Movement is often restricted due to a packed dance floor, the atmosphere is typically dimly lit, with areas of the club being darker than others, and it’s harder to hear an approaching enemy with music so loud.
Today we will discuss some of the best nightclub scenes in cinema and why they have become so iconic and memorable today.
When we think about the 1998 Marvel comic-book adaptation Blade, we instantly think about Blade’s first appearance in the film.
“It’s him, the daywalker.”
The opening fight scene in the film “Blade” is a memorable and intense moment that effectively establishes the character of Blade as a formidable hero. In this scene, Wesley Snipes, who portrays Blade, expertly uses his various weapons and combat skills to defeat a group of vampires in a nightclub setting. The use of music and the nightclub’s energetic atmosphere adds to the scene’s overall intensity.
While the first Blade film was successful at the box office, the subsequent films in the series did not receive as much acclaim. Blade is a nostalgically entertaining choice for fans of gore, vampires, and 1990s superhero films, with a standout fight scene in a nightclub that tends to take the title for the best nightclub scene. In fact, upon typing ‘nightclub scene’ into YouTube, this is the first search result.
The Terminator (1984)
The Terminator franchise is known for its iconic second film, but the first film in the series should not be overlooked. It is still considered a classic in its own right and features several memorable scenes, including the nightclub scene. This scene showcases the perspectives of the hunter, the hunted, and the hero and is set in a 1980s-style nightclub.
The music and cinematography in this scene work together to build tension as the T-800 tracks down its target, Sarah Connor. When it seems that Sarah will meet her inevitable death, the scene erupts into chaos, and the chase continues.
John Wick (2014)
Keanu Reeves is a well-known and respected action movie actor, having starred in iconic films such as Point Break, Speed, and The Matrix. Among his notable roles, his performances as Neo in The Matrix and John Wick in the eponymous film series stand out as highlights of his career.
Directed by Chad Stahelski and shot by cinematographer Jonathan Sela, John Wick is a masterful action film that tells the story of a retired hitman who is drawn back into the criminal underworld. The film’s success is due partly to Reeves’ excellent performance as the titular character but also the film’s exceptional cinematography and visual style.
One standout scene in John Wick is the nightclub sequence, which is expertly crafted with a balance of light and darkness, neon colours, and dynamic shots. The scene begins with a stealthy approach by Wick, who takes out his targets quietly and efficiently. Once he is discovered and the action ramps up, the music changes, and the scene becomes more frenetic, with Wick navigating the crowded dance floor as he takes out more henchmen.
The lighting and colour choices in this scene are particularly striking and contribute to the overall intensity of the scene.
Collateral, a 2004 crime action drama starring Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx, is a gripping and well-crafted film that I initially overlooked upon its initial release. Upon rewatching the film in 2011, I was impressed by the various elements that make the film so engaging, including the audio, cinematography, and the complex relationship between the characters Vincent (Tom Cruise) and Maxx (Jamie Foxx).
One standout scene in the film is the shootout in a Koreatown nightclub. The first half of the scene builds tension with quick cuts between the crowded dance floor, Vincent taking out henchmen quietly within the crowd, and the FBI’s involvement. Once the first shot is fired, the scene explodes into chaos, with people screaming and panicking to escape, accomplices trying to locate Vincent, and Maxx doing his best to avoid getting caught in the crossfire.
I appreciate this scene for the tension it creates as Vincent tries to eliminate his target quickly, the crowded nightclub atmosphere, the choice of lighting and music, and the use of blue neon tones throughout the film. Overall, “Collateral” is a standout crime action drama worth revisiting.
Man On Fire (2004)
This intense crime detective drama starring Denzel Washington, Christopher Walken, and Datoka Fanning is about an ex-CIA officer tasked to protect and safeguard an entrepreneur’s daughter. As you might have guessed, she gets kidnapped, and it’s John’s (Denzel Washington) job to seek revenge on whoever is connected to it. Directed by the late and legendary Tony Scott, Man on Fire is a must-watch.
The Raid 2 (2014)
The first Raid film was a huge success, directed by fellow Welshman Gareth Evans; the film brought light to upcoming Indonesian martial arts actors such as Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian with some of the best modern fight choreography at the time of release. The story was gripping and was set in one particular location, a 15-floor drug cartel building.
Today though, we are focusing on the second film; in this scene, we find Prakoso (played by Yayan Ruhian), a character that has been through a hell of a lot, and you can see it within this scene; his sadness, misery and the struggles he’s already been through. He sits there dwelling on his past, and soon to become his end, the club gets raided by henchmen, and Prakoso uses every bit of the location to eliminate them quickly and efficiently.
Midway through the heated and bloody scene, we get a pan shot into a cold, snowy back alley which is peaceful and quiet until Prakoso breaks through a backdoor with a soon-to-be-dead henchman. The scene isn’t full of flashy lights or busy dancefloors; it’s an arena where you see all sorts of objects nearby get used as climbing frames, weapons, and protection for Prakoso to use in this battle of survival. It’s also a beautiful ending to the character, realizing he has only one way out, to his death.
Bonus -Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II (1991)
I mean, I don’t need to say much about this scene. It kind of speaks for itself. Vanilla Ice + Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles = Iconic Cringe.
There are so many scenes that I have missed. I know they should have been on the list, but with a focus on the shots used within the location, choices of audio, interactions with the crowd and objects, variety of hues and lighting choices, and how the antagonist uses their surroundings to benefit them within the scene. This is a solid list to draw inspiration from if you intend to create your nightclub bar brawl.
There is one thing to say, though, fight scenes in nightclubs are pretty badass.
Cover photo via New Line Cinema
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