Five by Friday: Top Five Battle Scenes

Welcome to Five by Friday! If there’s anything we can all agree on (okay, there are a lot of things we all agree on), it’s that we are suckers for a good battle scene. Whether it’s massive armies coming together on the battlefield or a small ragtag group up against overwhelming odds, there is something tremendously moving about the epic scope and stakes of a well-executed battle.

While we all agree there are some amazing and inspiring on-screen depictions of real battles out there (Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers), for the purposes of making our lists today, we ruled out anything based in the reality of the past century, as we were going more for entertainment value and less for harrowing realism.

Warning: as battles typically serve as the climax to one or more plotlines in a story, spoilers abound for all the shows and movies mentioned below.

Five by Friday

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I had a really hard time narrowing down my list, as there are a ton of amazing battle scenes that I love (honorable mentions go to the Jolly Roger battle in Hook, the battle against the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the final Musketeer battle in the 1993 The Three Musketeers, and the Gypsy Danger & Striker Eureka vs. kaiju battle in Pacific Rim). Ultimately, my picks were battles that not only were visually impressive and epic in scope, but also affected me emotionally. Because really, the main reason I love battle scenes isn’t because of the massive scale, complex choreography, or the stunning effects (although those are all definite bonuses); it’s because I’m deeply invested in the characters and truly care about the cause they’re fighting for.

5) Battle of New York, The Avengers

I know some people are suffering from superhero fatigue (not me, never me), but remember back in 2012, when none of us had ever seen a massive superhero team-up before and anticipation for Marvel’s groundbreaking Avengers was nearly killing us? Well, I do, and the climactic Superheroes vs. Aliens battle in the streets (and skyscrapers) of New York City absolutely delivered on all fronts. Its perfect balance of teamwork and individual heroics, grand spectacle and small emotional moments, set the standard for all the collaborative superhero movies that followed, and is still one of the most enjoyable and satisfying scenes in any superhero movie to date.

4) Battle of Nockmaar, Willow

As I’ve mentioned before, I have loved Willow almost my whole life, and it shaped a lot of my current tastes. Its final battle is no exception, as the army Willow and Madmartigan have cobbled together tricks their way into Nockmaar Castle and fights against Bavmorda’s armies, led by the terrifying General Kael, to rescue the infant princess Elora Danon. To this day, I still cry when Madmartigan sees Arik die, and get chills when he triumphs over Kael. And I will probably never get enough of Fin Raziel and Bavmorda getting into a magical brawl that turns into a fistfight.

3) Raid on Kattegat, “The Lord’s Prayer,” Vikings

This is the smallest battle on my list in terms of number of people involved, but it feels so much bigger than it is. The season 2 finale of Vikings is one of my favorite season finales of any show ever, with all the plot lines that have been brewing all season coming together in what I believe is a near-perfect ending sequence, accentuated by Trevor Morris’ urgent, percussive score. This scene is so chock-full of amazing moments I have a hard time picking a favorite, from Athelstan reciting the Lord’s Prayer before jumping into battle, to Lagertha leading her warriors through the burning streets, to the reveal of what is truly going on with Floki and Rollo. I have rewatched the end of this episode so many times I’ve lost count, and it never ceases to leave me breathless.

 2) The Battle of the Bastards, Game of Thrones

As soon as the episode titles for season 6 of Game of Thrones were announced, fans began eagerly counting down the days to episode 9’s “Battle of the Bastards,” as Jon Snow, illegitimate son of the slain Ned Stark, led his armies against Ramsay Bolton, the only-recently legitimized heir of Roose Bolton. By the time the battle rolled around, we’d spent years passionately hating Ramsay while yearning for a win for the tortured Stark family, which meant this episode had a lot of expectations to live up to. Fortunately, the gritty, claustrophobic “Battle of the Bastards” was not only a fantastic and thoroughly satisfying episode of Game of Thrones (even if the Knights of the Vale may as well have ridden in to the Rohan theme at the end); it turned out to probably be one of the best battle sequences to ever air on television.

1) The Battle of Helm’s Deep, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

There was never any doubt in my mind which battle would claim the #1 spot on my list. The hour-long climactic battle of the second Lord of the Rings movie is one of the grandest and most affecting sequences I’ve ever seen on film, period. It’s my favorite scene in the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy, with each part building on the last, starting even before the battle begins, with the long sequence of both armies preparing, and continuing steadily through each wave of attacks to the triumphant charge of the Rohirrim at the end (which still makes me cry, every time). Everything about this battle hits for me, from the valiant individual character moments to the thrilling choreography to Howard Shore’s sweeping score, and it’ll probably remain my favorite for many years to come.


It turns out there are a lot of battle scenes that I find absolutely incredible (shoutouts go to the Spartans in 300, the battle for Narnia in Prince Caspian, and given what we’ve seen so far in this week’s mass team-up on the DCTV shows, that has the potential to make its way to this list eventually) and would have loved to include on this list. There are so many battles where I am emotionally invested in the story, the characters, and the cause they are defending that it was, as usual, difficult narrowing down my list to just five, but I finally managed. It was made a tiny bit easier knowing that Lauren and Teija had picked some all-time favorites and I could rest easy knowing they were being represented.

5) Pirates vs. East India Trading Company, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

I am one of the rare people that apparently loves the third Pirates of the Caribbean and I do so with absolutely zero shame. The final battle is the most epic of the trilogy, pitting a combined Pirate force against the East India Trading Company and Davy Jones. The battle rages across ships, people going sword to sword against their enemies while cannons go off, ripping holes in ships and raining down debris and water. And then to make matters worse, a Maelstrom appears, created by Calypso, that threatens to take everyone down. The battle is fraught with tension, but also manages to keep it a bit lighter with my favorite wedding scene from any movie.

4) Hardhome, Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones typically only gives us one large battle a season, and it’s never a letdown. And the battle of Hardhome is no exception. The fight comes at the very end of the episode, allowing tension to build slowly as Jon and his friends try to win over the Wildlings, only to erupt into all hell breaking loose when the White Walkers appear. It was difficult to watch as hundreds of Wildlings were slaughtered, and my heart was in my throat as Jon went toe to toe with a White Walker, eventually taking him down with his sword. And then the final shot of the Night’s King raising the dead Wildlings into wights? Gives me chills.

3) Gypsy Danger & Striker Eureka vs. kaiju, Pacific Rim

Is it really any shock that this battle made my list? Pacific Rim is high up on the list of My All Time Favorite Movies, and this ending battle plays a large part in that. The whole movie is peppered with incredible fights between the Jaegers and the Kaiju, but this one is the best, if only because the stakes are the highest. You know going into it that not everyone will be coming back, but there’s a few moments where you aren’t sure if anyone will be coming back. And, I’ll admit, I’m a total sucker for a battle where one of the good guys bravely sacrifices himself in order to ensure that the mission will succeed, and this is no exception.

2) Battle of Endor, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

This battle isn’t nearly as visually stunning or impressive as battles in newer movies (with better CGI and budgets), but I am still so emotionally attached to it that it earned its spot on this list. I love how it plays out in three parts: in space with Lando and Co. in a dog fight; on the moon’s surface with Han, Leia, and Chewie taking on the imperials based there; and on the Death Star itself, with Luke going toe-to-toe with the Emperor and Darth Vader. The three very different fights come together in some absolutely brilliant visuals, raising the stakes and building the tension. Even though I have seen the movie more times than I can count, I still jump when Leia’s shot in the arm and I still hold my breath waiting to see if Lando and Luke both escape the exploding Death Star.

1) Team Cap vs. Team Stark, Captain America: Civil War

Like Lauren, I am probably one of the few people on the planet who is not suffering from superhero fatigue. Words cannot express how much I loved seeing the Avengers join forces to take on the Battle of New York in 2012’s The Avengers. Yet, the battle from Civil War takes top spot on my list simply because of how emotionally invested I was in BOTH SIDES of the fight. I didn’t know who to root for (even with going into the movie fully #TeamCap), and I cared about everyone on screen. There were no good guys vs. bad guys here, this was friend versus friend. This fight was incredible because the characters know each other, they know their weaknesses, they know where to hit, and they know how to take each other down. This could have been one of the deadliest battles ever, except you could see how much they cared for each other even while beating the other side down.


I’m really pleased that Sarah and Lauren handled the superheroes and the Jaegers for me, because it left me room to pick two from Lord of the Rings. I’d usually try not to repeat a fandom in one list of five, but when it comes to Middle Earth I am more than happy to bend my own rules. I’m one of those people that loves battle movies–historical epics, regardless of accuracy (or even quality, sometimes, though I do have my limits) are some of my favorite types of films because they are guaranteed to include clashing swords and thundering military advances, as well as fabulous soundtrack pieces to go with them (the battle scenes in Gladiator are as good as they are specifically because Hans Zimmer backs them up with his take on Holst’s “Mars” — I choose to believe it’s an homage, not a ripoff). In any case, you’ll find that this extends to the below choices: all of the battles I’ve picked below come with incredible soundtrack moments, and I hope you all enjoy them as much as I do.

5) The Last March of the Ents, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

While this fight was hardly fair and the Ents laid waste to Isengard with very little trouble, I’m still considering it a battle. The Ents took on the forces of Isengard and defeated them handily in a spectacular show of force and strategy. Flooding the pits around the tower that Saruman used to create his orcs, the Ents not only struck a decisive blow against the forces that threatened Middle Earth, they also started the process of restoring all the damage that Saruman had done around Isengard. Plus it’s just impressive.

4) The Final Chase, Mad Max: Fury Road

Throughout the course of this film, you grow fond of a good few of the characters as they race their way across the desert. The final battle, when they have realized that the only way to survive is to go back and take over the water supply from Immortan Joe, has the highest stakes. During the battle they not only take out major antagonists on their way back, but they themselves nearly die in the effort. Furiosa fights to the brink of death, and when Nux sacrifices himself to block the way for their pursuers, you can’t help but feel his loss. Ride Eternal, Nux.

3) The Battle of the Department of Mysteries, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

This battle is a major turning point in the Potter series not only because of what it means for the main story arc against Voldemort, but also what it means for the characters involved. It’s not the first time Harry and his friends find themselves in mortal peril, but it is the first time that they take other friends with them, and it’s also the first time they go in for a very adult confrontation. Previously, it had been Harry, Ron, and Hermione trying to outsmart people or sneak around to change some kind of outcome, but this time they were going in against Death Eaters, who could, without hesitation, kill them (or worse). The dire stakes of the battle are only confirmed when they come out on the other side having lost Harry’s godfather in the process.

2) The Slayers vs. the Hellmouth, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

The battle between good and evil culminates with the complete destruction of Sunnydale and its Hellmouth in this enormous battle between Buffy, the newly-minted Slayers that were the potentials until mere moments before, and the First Evil and all of its minions. This sequence features Buffy’s greatest speech and Willow’s greatest magical act to turn every woman in the world who could potentially have been a Slayer into an actual Slayer. They take their new power straight into the Hellmouth and wage war against the forces of evil. Sacrifices are made with the losses of multiple major characters, and in the end, the whole city of Sunnydale is gone–but the world is safe. It’s one hell of an ending for one hell of a show.

1) The Battle of Pelennor Field, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

It’s no secret that Lord of the Rings is my first and most beloved fandom. Choosing a favorite battle from it, though, that’s easy: it’s the big one. Through the series you see things leading to this inevitable clash, and the battle pays off big time, giving you everything all at once. The defenses at Gondor, the arrival of the Rohirrim, the Nazgul on their wyverns… and my favorite part, Eowyn battling–and defeating–the Witch King of Angmar, destroying him utterly while growling “I am no man” in the face of his arrogant boasting that no man could take him down. You’ve got Oliphaunts, you’ve got Legolas and Gimli continuing their friendly competition, and when it feels like things may not be going all that well, Aragorn comes to save the day with his army of the dead. Honestly, it’s a thrilling ride from start to finish. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the top of the heap.

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