By Jared Jones
Over at CagePotato, I write about all things mixed martial arts (MMA)-related — fight bookings, event recaps, and the occasional head-to-head fighter breakdown — all while making sure to include as many fart jokes as possible. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned that MMA fans love in my time at CP, it’s a good old fashioned faceoff, a staredown, or whichever term you prefer.
For those of you unfamiliar with this concept, maybe step outside every once in a while, but also know that a faceoff is what you get when you place when two opposing forces in each others comfort zones while expecting them to remain completely civil, usually in the interest of selling more pay-per-views. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it does not. This is the best staredown of all time. This is the worst one.
The faceoff is one of the more cinematic elements to be adopted by mixed martial arts, boxing, etc. It sets the tone for the violence that is about to occur. It builds tension, anticipation, and whips our unquenchable bloodlust into a frenzy. Faceoffs are truly the calm before the storm, whether in movies or martial arts, and it is with that notion that we look back at some of the greatest faceoffs in film history, ranked in no particular order.
Jules vs. “Pumpkin”/”Ringo” — Pulp Fiction
If you thought I would make it more than two entries into this list without mentioning Samuel L. Jackson, you are one dead wrong motherf*cker, motherf*cker.
You see, even when I attempt to evoke the intimidating presence of sir Jackson’s voice in writing, it still comes out sounding like it’s being spoken by the scrawny-legged, pimple-popping dweeb that I was from ages 9-13 and also 13-present. That’s just the kind of gravitas Jackson speaks with, and it was his closing monologue as contract killer Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction that really boosted Jackson’s bad motherf*cker cred to a level unattainable by most mortals. Even now, when he’s dressing like an old, female librarian in those Capital One commercials, I still have no doubts that Samuel L. could find out what’s in my wallet through sheer force in under 30 seconds flat.
Quoting Ezekiel 25:17, Jules manages to pull off the rare feat of comparing oneself to God and sounding 100% believable in this scene. And like a true badass, he doesn’t even need to fire a shot to get his point across. For although Jules may be brandishing 9 mm, it is his word bullets that do all the damage here.
I apologize for all that confusing writer-speak I used just then, but let’s move on.
Rocky vs. Thunderlips — Rocky 3
Speaking of the Bible, Rocky Balboa vs. Thunderlips: The Ultimate Male is about as accurate a David vs. Goliath story as we will ever see out of Hollywood. Standing at approximately 4’3″, Balboa literally did not possess the physical mass to register as a blip on Thunderlips’ radar. That he had been beaten into a state of semi-retardation by the third Rocky film did not aid him in his fight with Thunderlips, as you can tell by their derp-filled pre-fight faceoff.
Of course, cooler (softer?) heads once again prevail in the Rocky franchise, as Balboa manages to take down his massive opponent using nothing more than his fists, a chair, and the help of a dozen or so security guards. Just like his Dad raised him.
Batman vs. The Joker — The Dark Knight
CALM DOWN NERDS. I’m only including this so I don’t have to deal with all the “But what about my pwecious Dawk Knoight?” comments that would follow its omission.
In the second chapter of a dark, gritty story about a man who wears a cape with the honest-to-God intention of scaring people, Batman faces off against his greatest rival ever: a man in clown makeup dressed like a rejected gang member from The Warriors. Super-serious stuff that we should take super-seriously follows, including this scene where Christian Bale needs a lozenge and mercilessly beats Heath Ledger for not giving him one.
Honestly, I can’t look at or listen to Bale’s Batman anymore after seeing Pete Holmes do it way better.
Doc Holliday vs. Johnny Ringo — Tombstone
The art of the staredown was practically, if not literally invented by the Western. There are over 3,000 staredowns to choose from between the films of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood alone, but for me, it always comes back to the OK Corral. While the 1957 original starring Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster is undoubtedly a classic, my favorite faceoff comes in 1993’s Tombstone, and more specifically, the “I’m your Huckleberry” scene pitting Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday against Michael Bein’s Johnny Ringo.
To say that Val Kilmer absolutely slays it in this movie would do his performance no justice. Thankfully, Holliday hands out enough justice in Tombstone for the both of us, and usually in the form of a bullet between the eyes before a breakfast consisting of whiskey and a good blood cough.
Two films later, Kilmer would don Batman’s cape in 1995’s Batman Forever. His career would never recover. I’m just saying, Duster > Cape.
Lt. Vincent Hanna vs. Neil McCauley — Heat
While not a “faceoff” in the traditional sense, the diner scene between Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) and Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) in Michael Mann‘s Heat is one of those “defining moments of cinema” that you always hear critics talking about while sniffing their own farts. It’s a meeting of two powerhouse actors at the peak of their relevance. It’s one of the greatest movies of its decade. It’s Godfather vs. Godfather for Christ’s sake!
There are so many quotable lines from this exchange, but my personal favorite has to be:
Hanna: “So you never wanted a regular-type life, eh?”
McCauley: “What the fuck is that, barbeques and ball games?”
That is some Samuel Beckett-level existentialism right there, and one of the many reasons why we will forever be in debt to Heat for bringing together two acting greats for one memorable faceoff.
You can list your personal favorite faceoffs in the comments section if you’d like. I will consider considering them.