From iconic Western face-offs to battles between cops and robbers and even vigilante justice, some of cinema’s best pictures feature thrillingly epic shootouts. Audiences are in for a wild ride in these electrifying action flicks and are able to live vicariously through their fearless and tenacious leads. It can be quite a tall order to produce a cutting-edge, visually stunning, and entertaining showdown, but when filmmakers are able to masterfully do it, the result is spectacular. Some of the most memorable and notorious action sequences contain such spectacles, cementing their status in Hollywood history.
Whether it’s Keanu Reeves as John Wick avenging the death of his beloved puppy, Clint Eastwood taking on both the Bad and the Ugly, or famous outlaws going out in a riveting blaze of glory, the cinema has been home to some pretty magnificent movie moments. There are a few standouts that have truly transcended their fellow flicks, providing viewers with a spellbinding and rousing good time. These are some of the best shootouts in movie history.
Updated May 2023: If you’re a fan of movies with great shootouts, you’re in luck. This article has been updated with fresh and new content for your enjoyment by Nikole Finger.
The 1995 neo-Western action film Desperado stars Antonio Banderas as El Mariachi, a vigilante musician who seeks revenge against the drug lord who killed his lover. The Robert Rodriquez picture is famous for its epic gun fights and thrilling battles, but by far the most memorable and superior showdown is when El Mariachi ends up at the Tarasco Bar, where the drug kingpin’s men lie in wait. Mariachi shows up with his guitar case in hand which, unbeknownst to the goons, is packed full of guns to aid in the fight.
The stunning and well-choreographed gun battle that ensues is perfectly over-the-top and visually breathtaking, as Mariachi defies the odds and takes out every single henchmen. Director Quentin Tarantino, a close friend of Rodriquez’s, makes a playful cameo in the tense scene, getting killed by his associates when he is used as a human shield after cracking a joke about a bartender and urination.
10 The Godfather
The Godfather is easily considered the pinnacle of movies about the mafia, and for good reason. Director Francis Ford Coppola masterfully creates tension throughout the whole film, and while there are many shootouts throughout the film, as to be expected with the topic, none of them compare to the dramatic and cinematic ending when Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) has his henchmen kill the heads of the other families while he peacefully enjoys his daughter’s baptism. While this shootout is very one-sided, as the Corleone family attacks their victims when it’s least expected, the ambush nature of it, combined with the juxtaposition of Michael being in church, make it just as memorable and impactful as any other scene on this list.
While this scene does show the protagonist “winning,” the scene finalizes Michael’s transformation into a mobster and the audiences’ terror of what he has become. The baptism is so angelic, soft, and holy, signifying a new start to life. This chilling comparison to Michael’s plan that is being carried out simultaneously, with his henchmen preparing their weapons delicately like the priest does with his holy relics, leaves no room for doubt that the heads of the families are being sacrificed for Micheal to start his new life. The dynamic concept that Coppola chose to convey with this ending scene earns it a spot on this list.
9 The Untouchables
Brian De Palma’s 1987 crime flick The Untouchables features an impressive cast of Hollywood greats like Kevin Costner, Robert De Niro, and Sean Connery, and follows Prohibition agent Elliot Ness (Costner) as he forms the Untouchables team to bring down infamous gangster Al Capone (De Niro). The Oscar-winning picture depicts the notorious lawman as he and fellow officer George Stone are caught in a slow-motion shootout on the stairs at Union Station.
The dramatic scene showcases Ness as he attempts to protect a baby in a carriage during the surprise gangster attack, and though outnumbered, the pair manage to kill all the mobsters and keep the mother and child safe (in a visual reference to the old masterpiece Battleship Potemkin). Now that’s going above and beyond the call of duty! The Associated Press called the drama, “a terrific movie, full of the same brand of fierce vitality that made the 1930s gangster films so compelling.”
8 The Devil All The Time
While The Devil All The Time may be a lesser-known film compared to the others on this list, the ending shootout earns it a spot on this list. Without revealing too much about the ending, the protagonist, Arvin (Tom Holland), finds himself in multiple dangerous situations where he has to fight for his life. He finds himself face-to-face with one character in particular in the finale of the film that challenges him even more than the others. While Arvin always had some sort of advantage against the other antagonists he faced, this time, the odds are not in his favor.
The film offers no relief for the audience after the start of the action, with the tension only rising until it finally comes to a crescendo. The ending shootout is well worth watching the film without any spoilers.
7 John Wick
The Keanu Reeves-led neo-noir action franchise John Wick is no stranger to electrifying fights, violent combat, and rousing gun battles, and the actor’s commitment to the role is blatantly clear to fans of the films. To prepare for his action-filled portrayal, Reeves spent four months learning Judo, Japanese ju-jitsu and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and practiced close-range combat that blended martial arts and guns.
During the scene in which Wick shows up at the Red Circle nightclub, he single-handedly dispatches and kills a horde of thugs with no hesitation, demonstrating how much of a gifted marksman and professional he is. Wick’s cool head and hand-to-hand combat skills really elevate the moment, and it shows just how far the revenge-seeking assassin will go to avenge his puppy and stolen car. While his actions are violent, they absolutely feel justified, so it’s easy to get excited for Wick.
6 Django Unchained
The master of stylized violence himself Quentin Tarantino wrote and directed the 2012 American Revisionist Western Django Unchained, centering on a freed slave who sets out with the help of a German bounty hunter to rescue his wife from a merciless plantation owner in Mississippi. Django will stop at nothing to rescue his beloved wife Broomhilda, and during a major climatic scene in which both his nemesis and ally are murdered, he goes on a bloody rampage with his fury and six-shooter in tow.
Django is merciless in his execution of the bad guys, and the massacre at the Candyland plantation is without-a-doubt one of Tarantino’s most shockingly gory yet. The New York Times called the film “crazily entertaining, brazenly irresponsible and also ethically serious in a way that is entirely consistent with its playfulness.”
5 The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Cinema legends Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach star in the 1966 critically acclaimed spaghetti Western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, which follows a trio of gunslingers who are competing to find a hidden fortune in a buried cache of Confederate gold. Though over 220 dead bodies were stacked up by the end of the picture, the most paramount and gripping battle was the final shootout between the three titular characters.
The iconic Mexican standoff features a nerve-wracking stare-down between the triggermen, with close-up shots and drawn-out silence building among them. Director Sergio Leone used his signature long-drawn and close-up style of filming to build up the tension and suspense among audiences, falling back on Ennio Morricone’s haunting and perfect score when he needs to. This epic showdown culminates in Blondie (Eastwood) shooting Angel Eyes (Van Cleef), eliminating the bad guy, and having his body land right into an open grave.
Michael Mann’s 1995 crime drama Heat has an ensemble cast of gifted performers led by Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Val Kilmer, and details the conflict between an LAPD detective (Pacino) and a career thief (De Niro) as they battle to gain the upper hand. One of the movie’s most legendary shootouts occurs after a bank robbery, and the ensuing battle between the cops and the robbers is a massive showdown in the streets that is both realistic and extremely riveting.
Each character knows how to handle the gun they’re using, and when to take cover and go in for a kill. Due to its well-crafted action sequences and knockout performances of its A-list leads, Heat is regarded as one of the most influential films of its genre and would go on to set a precedent for future crime flicks.
3 The Boondock Saints
The 1999 vigilante action thriller The Boondock Saints stars Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus as Irish Catholic brothers Connor and Murphy MacManus, who become vigilantes after killing two members of the Russian mafia in self-defense and set out to rid Boston of its criminal underworld in the name of God. Though initially flopping during its theatrical release, the movie found new life with video sales and went on to develop a large cult following.
The Boondock Saints is full of exciting shootouts and rousing action sequences, but the Saints facing off in a suburban street against II Duce is one of the greatest. Featuring a dramatic narration from Willem Dafoe, the scene is complemented by classical music and slow-motion cinematography that truly heightens the epic battle. The classic thriller led to a 2009 sequel, The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day, and a follow-up is scheduled for production this year.
2 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Undeniably one of cinema’s greatest Westerns of all time, George Roy Hill’s 1969 picture Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid follows acting legends Paul Newman and Robert Redford as the real-life iconic outlaws, who are on the run from a crack U.S. posse after a string of train robberies and decide to escape to Bolivia. In one of the most sensational blaze-of-glory finales ever crafted, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid find themselves targeted by the local police at the end of the incredible picture and must take refuge from the crossfire. The outlaws are confident they can get the upper hand, and emerge from the building with their guns drawn directly into a hail of bullets.
The director famously ends the Western on a freeze-frame, with the doomed duo’s fate implied but never confirmed. Empire praised the 1960s staple, writing, “Note-perfect performances, a screenplay steeped in both nostalgia and a timely sense of insight, and anti-heroes you can’t help but love: it’s no surprise that the always re-watchable Butch and Sundance was once labeled the most likable films ever made.”
“Say hello to my little friend!” Few films are as memorable and quotable as the 1983 crime drama Scarface, which features Al Pacino in a star-making role as the Cuban drug lord Tony Montana. The film depicts Montana’s rise to power in 1980s Miami, from being a penniless refugee to becoming a dominating and feared kingpin. Scarface’s climax revolves around the coked-out drug lord as he takes cover in his office from bloodthirsty assassins, pulling out a grenade launcher-equipped rifle before mowing down many of the killers.
The carnage that ensues is violent and extreme, with bullets flying and Montana continuously taunting his executioners despite his overwhelming odds of defeat. The notorious shootout also includes a single camera shot that was actually directed by Steven Spielberg, who was visiting the set, and Brian De Palma; together, the two visionaries crafted a fabled grand finale and one of the best shootouts in movie history.