So far, I have ranked John Wick (the Red Circle) at #5, The Wild Bunch (finale) at #4, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (finale) at #3. Now, we're really turning up the heat (forgive me) with the most bullet-laden gunfight to make my list.
Top 5 Movie Shootouts: #2) Heat (downtown L.A.)
Michael Mann is a superb filmmaker who has directed some fantastic movies, and high energy action setpieces are one of his specialties. Heat is one of his best movies, and I don't think there's any question that the most thrilling sequence that he has ever put together is this film's high-octane shootout, which takes place in downtown L.A. during the aftermath of a high stakes robbery.
Much like The Wild Bunch, this shootout represents a dynamic pairing between a visionary director and an impeccable cast. This time out, Robert DeNiro, Val Kilmer, and Tom Sizemore are among the professional crooks exchanging rounds with an elite task force that includes Al Pacino, Ted Levine, and Wes Studi, among others. It's a great ensemble and they do a fantastic job of embracing the required physicality and drama of this bloody battle in the streets.
I'm not sure how many shots are fired, and I'm not sure how many innocent bystanders are gunned down, but I am certain that no other shootout on this list boasts as many flying bullets or casualties. It's a sprawling affair that covers several blocks and consistently ratchets up the intensity, yet it's a tribute to the cast and crew that it is easy to follow and never stoops to masking lapses in clarity with the hyper-kinetic edits that have become prevalent in more recent action flicks.
This is a well-staged gunfight that does its best to remain plausible with the various combatants utilizing advanced tactics and frequently reloading. Rambo can fire 1,000 bullets from a weapon that has a maximum capacity of 200 rounds, but these guys can't. They utilize cover, reload when necessary, and as a result, this gripping shootout rocks. Such a sequence could have been quite a farce in the wrong hands, but it I think it works to perfection with Michael Mann at the helm.
It should also be noted that this setpiece is a tremendous asset to the film itself. There are some major deaths, and as a whole the shootout serves as a tremendous blowoff for all of the incredible tension that Mann's slick thriller has been building up since the opening reel. As I said before, Heat is a terrific movie and this is truly an action sequence for the ages--and I'm not sure that either of those statements would hold true if either the overall composition of the piece or the potent gunfight that elevates the proceedings fell short.
. . .
Well, we're down to #1, and while I have frequently hailed my final pick as the best gunfight ever captured on film, it comes from a cult classic and not a feature with the same pedigree as the rest of my choices for this list. With that in mind, I imagine that it will be a bit more controversial, but I guess we'll just have to wait and see.