Fighting scenes in movies and TV shows nowadays look so real; you sometimes wonder how didn’t anybody got hurt. Of course, there’s a lot of acting and camera trickery involved, but so much more goes into making a fight scene look realistic.
Some segments of the fight scene are more important than others, but if only one is not on a high level, the entire scene falls apart. I’ll break down all the little things filmmakers use to create the perfect fight scene using four movies as examples: The Dark Knight, John Wick, Rocky, and Avengers: Endgame.
To put it simply, most good fighting scenes aren’t real at all. You might think that the best fight scenes happen when the actors actually hit each other, but it’s not necessarily true. A well-choreographed and rehearsed fight scene with some smart editing and filming angles will look a lot better on camera than two guys fighting for real.
Back in the old days, when technology didn’t allow such realistic fight scenes, it was quite hard to create a fight that looked real on camera. That’s where editing and sound post-production play a crucial role for the scene to work and “deceive” the viewer. Let’s see how they do it.
The Dark Knight is one of the best-rated movies on IMDb ever. The story is incredibly well written, Nolan killed the directing part, and the actors were amazing. However, the action is what sells the whole package, especially the fight scenes.
I chose The Dark Knight as an example because it’s one of the rare films where real punches look amazing on camera.
During the scene where Christian Bale (Batman) interrogates and then beats up Heath Ledger (Joker), Ledger told Bale to give him all he’s got and really beat him up to make the scene look more realistic. And boy, did it work. I’m sure Heath god banged up pretty badly, but it was worth it in the end.
Still, even those scenes where Bale actually hits Ledger, every more is choreographed before to make the action seamless. Without one knowing what the other will do - how, where, and when they’ll hit them - the action looks clumsy and plain bad. Especially if you hit somebody for real - how can they keep acting if they are in real pain?
That’s why real fighting doesn’t work on camera if you want the fight scene to look real. It may sound strange, but many stunt coordinators can confirm that, including Anthony Vincent, the guy behind the fight scenes in Mission Impossible, John Wick, Jason Bourne, and more.
John Wick is jam-packed with action and some of the best fight scenes in film history. Although John gets pretty badly injured in every film, Keanu Reeves never gets hurt.
Every fight scene you see through the movies is incredibly well-choreographed, and most importantly, it’s rehearsed countless times by the actors involved in the scene. When John Wick fights four guys simultaneously, they go through the scene together a million times.
If the choreography is good and the moves seamlessly connected while being repeated numerous times, you get a fight scene that makes you feel like you’re watching it live.
Another thing that enhances a good fight scene even more, is great camera work and editing. Angles are extremely important to make it look as if a punch landed right on the money when it actually flew by without even making contact.
Have you ever noticed how fight-scene editing sequences are usually faster (the frames exchange more quickly)? That’s because the fight scenes are shot several times in short segments, which are later patched together in post-production to make the fight look continuous and seamless.
If you combine great choreography with a lot of rehearsal, good camera work, and intelligent editing, you get fight scenes like those in John Wick that obviously aren’t possible in real life, but they still look so incredibly realistic.
We’re going old-school a bit and revisiting the Rocky franchise with Sylvester Stallone. The fourth film, where Rocky fights Ivan Drago - is probably the most iconic film in the franchise, and part of it was the spectacular boxing matches. The punches looked and felt real, even if you knew that it just couldn’t be true.
If you ever watched boxing, you’ll know that heavyweights can’t exchange those kinds of clean blows to the head without getting knocked out. I mean, Drago has a punch so strong that it destroys the power-measuring device, but he can’t knock Rocky out with at least fifty clean shots to the head. So, how did they make it look so real?
Well, Rocky IV is a classic example of using sound incredibly well to deliver that realistic feeling. There are thousands of people in the crowd while Rocky and Drago fight, but you can still hear every shot louder than the crowd is cheering.
When one of them swings, the punch doesn’t even come close to hitting the other, but the editing crew adds a sound of a punch that sounds like it could knock out a horse. Perhaps they didn’t have the technology that today’s films have, but they know how to use what they have to perfection.
Finally, I wanted to include Endgame on this list to show how advanced technology nowadays plays a crucial role in making fight scenes in movies & TV shows look much more realistic than before.
Special effects are so advanced right now that you almost can’t tell the difference between what’s filmed and what’s a special effect.
For instance, when Steve Rogers finally lifts Mjolnir and starts hitting Thanos badly with it, spinning it in the air, tossing it around, etc., it looks like he’s really destroying the big fellow with every shot.
In reality, neither Thanos nor the strikes are real. The crew uses tons of special effects to make it look like Chris Evans is fighting the Mad Titan for real, but it’s not even close.
In conclusion, fighting scenes in movies & TV shows aren’t real 99.9% of the time, even if they appear incredibly realistic. You need the perfect blend of choreography, acting, rehearsing, camera work, editing, sound effects, and even special effects to create the perfect fight scene. If it’s done right, it will appear more real than any real fight you’ve ever seen in your life.