The Court Jester: Hubert/RavenhurstBasil Rathbone did a number of great swordfights over the years, but few are as comedic as the battle between his Ravenhurst and Danny Kaye’s heroic jester. Copying a number of scenes from Rathbone’s past glories (including the fight in The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Mark of Zorro), Kaye weaves between cowardly incompetence and elegant dueling prowess.
The scene is funny and tense at the same, and both actors seem to be having the time of their lives, making it one of cinema's more memorable sword fights.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Yu Shu Lien/Jen YuCrouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has any number of excellent fight sequences. For my money, though, the fight between Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) and Jen Lu (Zhang Ziyi) is right at the top.
The speed and dexterity of the pair makes this fight exhilarating to watch. With the rumbling drums emphasizing their battle and some amazing camerawork bringing us close to the action without losing sight of the technical abilities of the combatants, this fight between two masters is both epic and personal in scope. You can legitimately feel the adrenaline in this one.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Jack Sparrow/Will TurnerThe first Pirates of the Caribbean features some great fights and the initial sword fight between Captain Jack Sparrow and Will Turner is still one for the ages.
We watch as the pair race through the swordsmith’s shop, jabbing at each other past donkeys, backflipping up to the rafters, and pausing to cross swords every once in awhile. Of course, Captain Jack does not play fairly, but then again, he is a pirate.
The Mark of Zorro: Diego/Captain PasqualeThe fight between Basil Rathbone’s Captain Pasquale and Tyrone Powers’ Diego/Zorro is one of the fastest, tensest fencing matches in film history. Rathbone was himself a fencer and the speed and precision of the choreography between the two is truly an exciting experience.
Other fights are much showier, but as the film builds the characters’ unfriendly rivalry to this intense climax, we know that we’re about to see some great swordplay at work.
The Mask of Zorro: Zorro/ElenaThere are a number of excellent sword fights throughout this film, but none sexier than the all too brief battle of sex and swords between Antonio Banderas’s masked bandit, and Catherine Zeta-Jones’s Elena Montero.
Refusing to allow him to escape, Zorro and Elena fight it out around a horse stable, until Zorro steals a kiss and Elena loses his clothes. “He was young and…vigorous,” Elena later tells her father. He was indeed.
The Princess Bride: Westley/InigoWhile few scenes in The Princess Bride are more heartbreaking than Inigo Montoya’s final fight, one of the best fights occurs between Inigo and the Dread Pirate Roberts/Westley.
Between witty banter and a switching of sword hands, the pair duke it out on a mountain-top, enjoying the play and unwilling to kill each other. They don’t – thankfully – but the fight remains one of the most exciting scenes in a film full of exciting scenes.
Rob Roy: Rob Roy/CunninghamThe final duel in Rob Roy is a combination and conflict of dueling styles. Tim Roth’s mincing and cruel Cunningham is an expert fencer with the smallsword, while Liam Neeson’s more brutish Roy uses the broadsword. As Cunningham apparently takes Roy apart with speed and agility, Roy swings his great (and Scottish) weapon.
It’s like watching a fox fight a bear. The pair are matched, but in a rather unexpected way, and it makes for a unique and disturbing fight.
The Adventures of Robin Hood: Robin Hood/Guy of GisborneErrol Flynn made his career out of swashbuckling, even if he wasn’t the greatest swordsman in the world. Luckily, Basil Rathbone usually made up for that.
The final fight between Flynn’s Robin Hood and Rathbone’s Sir Guy of Gisborne is an iconic duel, with Robin and Sir Guy crossing swords and words with equal aplomb. Filmed in glorious Technicolor, and replete with sweating faces and wild thrusts, this fight reminds us why the thirties were the era of the great swashbucklers.
Sanjuro: Sanjuro/HanbeiToshiro Mifune participated in many sword fights – and other fights – in his long and storied career. But one of the best is Sanjuro’s version of the gunfighters’ standoff.
As Sanjuro’s opposite number Hanbei challenges the wandering samurai to one last fight, Sanjuro attempts to put him off. But Hanbei refuses and the pair face each other at very close quarters. It is less of a fight and more of a battle of wills – blink and you’ll miss the moment when Sanjuro draws his sword.