Heart-Pounding Action Movie Scenes That Went From Zero To 100

List Rules
Vote up the most intense scenes that came out of nowhere.

Have you ever been watching a nice, calm dialogue scene in an awesome action flick when all of a sudden, the movie breaks out in an epic firefight?

This list presents a compendium of sudden, intense, shocking, and/or quickly escalating action movie fight scenes - stand-out cinematic moments that make the audience go, "Oh, snap." Vote up the moments that surprised you most.


    In the first Kingsman: The Secret Service, psychotic tech billionaire-turned-eugenicist Richmond Valentine has hatched a demented scheme to turn anyone who possesses the SIM cards he's freely distributing across the globe into a mindless, zombified foot soldier, and the full power of Valentine's lethal SIM card is witnessed during the movie's signature scene.

    Impeccably tailored Kingsman spy Harry Hart, on assignment in a Kentucky hate group church, draws the ire of the parishioners after a wry comment about their inflammatory speech. They turn to harass their interloper, verbally at first. But things get physical all too fast as Valentine turns on the SIM cards in everyone's phone, and they immediately bombard Hart simultaneously.

    What follows is an explosion of action as the camera pans through every gunfire blast, punch, and grapple Harry Hart executes on his targets, all set to the soaring solo from Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird." Deftly coordinated by Matthew Vaughn and his stunt and VFX teams, it's a perfect example of an escalating action moment.

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  • Keanu Reeves is all over this list, as well he should be. The groundbreaking The Matrix developed a brand-new action movie vocabulary, incorporating elements of anime into live-action Hollywood filmmaking and creating the "bullet time" effects photography technique that almost immediately got copied in everything that came after. But in The Matrix it was fresh (and pretty darn cool), and one scene that puts all these virtues on display is the lobby scene. 

    Neo, Trinity, and Tank, bringing an arsenal of weapons with them to invade the office building in which Morpheus is being held captive, approach the security team guarding the lobby. A quietly intense Don Davis score pulsates as Neo and Trinity place gym bags down on a conveyor belt and walk through the metal detector. The metal detector, of course, goes off, and a seemingly bored security officer approaches Neo. "Would you please remove any metallic items you are carrying? Keys, loose change." Neo opens his trench coat... to reveal that his body is absolutely strapped with weapons. He shoves the guard backward. The moment hangs in the air for a soft, pregnant beat.

    Then the scene bursts into life as Neo and Trinity rain a hail of gunfire down onto this beleaguered group of security guards. A SWAT team of reinforcements is then called in, and soon Neo and Trinity are in full acrobatic mode, deftly dancing around enemy bullets. It's a master class in escalating excitement, courtesy of the Wachowskis and their stunt team.

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  • The Quentin Tarantino-penned, Robert Rodriguez-helmed From Dusk till Dawn is one of the all-time great cinematic bait-and-switch movies, and the bait-and-switch moment happens to also be a great escalation scene.

    Outlaw brothers Seth and Richie Gecko are spending the night in an adult club when they're treated to a sultry dance from Santanico Pandemonium. In the midst of it, a fight breaks out between some of the bar's employees and the Gecko brothers, and three men are slain by the duo in the process. 

    Or so they think.

    As the Geckos point their pieces at the bar's remaining employees and patrons, everyone is weirdly relaxed. The only noise we hear is a rock song playing on the soundtrack. Richie's mutilated hand is gushing blood. Then Santanico can no longer contain herself. The scent is too strong. She mutates into a vampire, tackles Ritchie, and bites his neck. Richie collapses to the ground, dead (for now).

    With this, the rest of the vampires reveal themselves, and the action pops off. Up pop the three not-quite-dead bar employees. It turns out that, like their comrade Santanico, they were never that alive to begin with. The Gecko brothers have found themselves smack dab in the middle of a Tijuana vampire bar.

    Before this scene, we think we're in a shoot-'em-up, but when the going gets tough, we realize we're actually in a demented action/horror/comedy mash-up.

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  • When a group of dangerous men holds the employees of the Nakatomi Corporation hostage at a company Christmas party, it's up to one New York cop, John McClane, to save the day.

    He's able to evade capture in the initial stick-up and has been stowing away, researching the crooks until company CEO Joseph Takagi is threatened by snazzily attired head honcho Hans Gruber. Gruber holds the CEO at gunpoint, demanding the passwords to the company's vault. 

    Everyone is trying to act cool, calm, and collected in the scene, though of course Takagi is fairly freaked out. Still, he feels secure enough to bluff, "You're just gonna have to kill me." But when Gruber actually acts on his threat and executes Takagi, we realize that underneath that suave exterior, this guy is nuts. He can do anything at any time and clearly takes no prisoners. It perfectly ratchets up the stakes for the rest of the film, concisely demonstrating just who John is dealing with.

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  • They killed his dog. 

    It takes hundreds of dead hitmen to even begin to compensate for the loss of John Wick's beagle puppy Daisy, slain by idiot Russian syndicate goons as they beat up and relieved John of his beloved 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 - without realizing that he was the greatest retired assassin in the known universe. On screen, there are few motivations so pure and obvious that the audience immediately green lights any and all vengeance.

    The scene begins quietly, with John and Daisy dozing off in bed when something suddenly draws the dog's attention. John, still half-asleep, follows her downstairs to find two black-clad men standing silently in the room. Then a third puts a bat to his head.

    The beating is unexpected, swift, and vicious - a drastic tone switch in and of itself. But when the smoke clears and the assailants speed off in the Mustang, we still get one final punch to the gut. The camera pans down a trail of blood to reveal that even the adorable puppy was not spared in the onslaught, and John is left cradling her lifeless body. 

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  • At the climax of Vol. 1 of this two-volume fight fest, avenging bad*ss Beatrix "The Bride" Kiddo confronts O-Ren Ishii, who eliminated her husband on their wedding day and left the (very pregnant) Bride comatose.

    In what is initially a quiet moment, the Bride picks up her sword, ready to throw down with O-Ren Ishii. O-Ren Ishii unsheathes a dagger, then plants it firmly in the balcony in front of her. The revving of approaching motorcycles sounds in the distance.

    "Is that what I think it is?" the Bride inquires.

    "You didn't think it was going to be that easy, did you?" O-Ren Ishii shoots back.

    As the scene builds (as evinced by a quickened pace of cuts), we discover that O-Ren Ishii is protected by a crew of elite masked warriors, the Crazy 88. Soon, the Bride becomes a one-woman wrecking crew, squaring off with all of them in hopes of getting a piece of her friend-turned-foe.

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