5 of the Most Memorable Shootout Scenes in Movie History

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Composite image by Kenna Milaski/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Gunfights stand as some of the most exciting sequences in movies. It seems no genre (save maybe rom-coms) is without its fair share of quality shootout scenes. To narrow the pool, Westerns, war movies, and comedies have been saved for another day, but here are five great movie shootouts worth revisiting.

Inglourious Basterds

“Say ‘auf Wiedersehen’ to your Nazi balls!” You’d be hard-pressed to find a shootout that kicks off with a better line. Inglourious Basterds starts our list for its sheer absurdity. All the characters are crammed into a dimly lit basement bar, and the extreme tension comes to a head in one of the most cramped movie gunfights of all time. With gorgeous cinematography and gratuitous violence — Tarantino calling cards — the shootout is really just a card game gone very wrong, but it is the perfect combination of comedy and gore.

The Way of the Gun

Christopher McQuarrie’s directorial debut was a box-office flop, barely turning a profit, but the neo-Western from 2000 has one of the best climactic gunfights of any movie. Starring Benicio Del Toro, Ryan Phillippe, and James Caan, The Way of the Gun is a great blend of realistic action and style. The director’s brother, Doug McQuarrie — a former Navy SEAL — acted as the film’s weapons and technical adviser, undoubtedly contributing to the final shootout’s level of realism. Pump-action shotguns and 1911s abound as the two main characters blast their way to their fates in a dusty courtyard. Named Parker and Longbaugh after the real Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the film’s principals give us the doomed shootout we were denied with Newman and Redford. The film has attained cult-classic status, and for good reason.

The Town

Brimming with thick accents and iconic settings, The Town is as much a movie about New England as it is about robbing banks. The film is based on Chuck Hogan’s novel Prince of Thieves and stars Ben Affleck, Jon Hamm, and Jeremy Renner. It is full of great heist scenes and one-liners (“Whose car are we gonna take?”), but the final shootout steals the show. It kicks off inside the loading docks of Fenway Park and spills into the streets of Boston. Deafening AK blasts, burps from a TEC-9, and loud reports from a Remington 870 give this gunfight a unique chorus of weapons. As the cops outgun the antiheroes, the main characters’ desperation is palpable — they fight and claw to survive. The tension is exhilarating. The Town proved Affleck’s ability to star in and direct a great action drama, and he wins big bonus points for filming an unforgettable shootout finale.

Hold the Dark

An epic movie gunfight snuck past a lot of people in 2018’s Hold the Dark. The action thriller takes place in rural Alaska, adding an oppressive atmosphere of isolation. The movie contains an intense shootout involving a group of under-equipped police officers and a madman with an M60 machine gun. As casualties mount and the M60 keeps blasting away, the lopsided firepower makes this one of the more intense gunfights on the list. While it’s a decent movie, Hold the Dark’s unique gunfight alone makes it worth a watch.

Heat

This list would be incomplete if we did not include the famous Hollywood Boulevard shootout from Heat. Often regarded as the greatest cinematic gunfight of all time, this scene in Michael Mann’s 1995 action-drama set the standard for realism. The impressive firefight includes Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Val Kilmer, Wes Studi, and Tom Sizemore, each of whom gets his share of screen time as they fire thousands of rounds at each other in downtown Los Angeles. Twenty-six years on, the gold-standard scene holds up.

Heat may have been the first movie to accurately depict bounding overwatch and people communicating and fighting together rather than as lone gunmen. The characters’ frantic efforts to break contact and keep their weapons loaded while their ammunition quickly depletes makes it feel authentic. The complete lack of slow motion or additional score adds to the oppressive percussion of the guns. Mann originally intended to use a sound design of heavily edited gun noises, but after shooting the scene with fully loaded blanks, he found the natural audio echoing between the buildings proved to be the better option. So while you’ve probably seen it more times than you can count, add another watch and pay special attention to the sound; it will be eight minutes of your time well spent.

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Mac Caltrider is a senior staff writer for Coffee or Die Magazine. He is a US Marine Corps veteran and a former police officer. Caltrider earned his bachelor’s degree in history and now reads anything he can get his hands on. He is also the creator of Pipes & Pages, a site intended to increase readership among enlisted troops. Caltrider spends most of his time reading, writing, and waging a one-man war against premature hair loss.
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