Standoffs are great because they create instant drama and force characters to reveal important parts of their personalities by how they react. When two or more characters face a situation in which they can’t win by taking direct action, they have to get creative and go to extremes. Sometimes they have time to prepare, but other times they are caught off guard and have to improvise a solution. Whatever the case may be, it often leads to exciting results. Here are 10 of my favorite standoffs in movies, along with how they are resolved.
When Ripley first meets the Alien Queen at the end of Aliens, it’s straight out of a nightmare. In fact, she’s seeing the source of her nightmares in all its grotesque glory. But she keeps a level head and is able to communicate what she will do to the alien eggs if the Queen doesn’t call off her drones. It’s a tense moment. All Ripley wants to do is escape with Newt, and for a moment it looks like the Queen is going to let her leave in peace, but it turns out to be a ruse. A nearby egg opens with a facehugger meant for Ripley. Responding in kind, Ripley burns the whole nest and guns down several aliens before they can attack. It’s immensely satisfying to see this standoff end in a glorious action sequence, and it’s also cathartic for Ripley’s character after feeling like a victim of the aliens for so long.
In Die Hard, Hans Gruber spends nearly the entire film lording a large group of hostages over John McClane’s head, preventing him from engaging in a direct confrontation. John, meanwhile, picks off Hans’ henchmen one by one until they arrive at a moment when they’ve both been stripped down to almost nothing. John has a major problem at the end of Die Hard. There are three terrorists holding his wife hostage, and he only has two bullets left in his pistol and none in his machine gun. What does he do? First, he knocks out one bad guy with the butt of his machine gun, and then he pretends to threaten the other two with it. Unbeknownst to them, John has taped his pistol to his back. When Hans points his gun away from John’s wife for a few seconds, John takes the opportunity to use the hidden ace up his sleeve and shoot Hans and his fellow bad guy. It’s an inventive way to end a great standoff and a great movie.
For all its flaws, I like Dragonheart. There’s something special about the relationship between Sir Bowen, a knight of the old code, and Draco, the last dragon in the world. They’re both part of a dying breed, and they share a unique connection to the wicked prince. And when they get properly introduced in combat, it leads to humorous and interesting results. They’re stuck in a no-win scenario when Bowen climbs into Draco’s mouth and puts his sword against the roof of the dragon’s mouth. No matter who makes the first move to kill the other, they will both die. I love their back-and-forth banter as they try to figure out how to get out of this situation alive and who can stay awake the longest. Draco finally expels Bowen from his mouth and corners him, but now that they’ve had a chance to get to know one another, they are able to come to an understanding and even help each other. Maybe what I like most about it is that it reminds me of the start of Toothless and Hiccup’s friendship in How to Train Your Dragon.
Talk about an epic buildup. The climax of Face/Off begins with so many characters pointing guns at each other, it feels like something amazing will have to happen to resolve it. The evil Castor Troy’s description of it as “a predicament” is funny in its understatement. Unfortunately, how it plays out is not terribly satisfying. A bunch of close-ups and uncertainty about who is shooting who turns what should have been the highlight of the film into a confusing mess. However, the film easily makes up for it when Sean Archer’s daughter uses the switchblade Troy gave her against him to end another standoff. Now that was a clever payoff to something that was set up earlier in the film.
James Bond has a nasty habit of surviving. And he often does that by using his surroundings to his advantage. For example, he finds himself in quite a pickle at the start of Goldeneye. He just watched his fellow double-O agent Alec Trevelyan get shot in the head by Colonel Ourumov, and he overhears Ourumov’s warning to his men not to shoot the gas tanks for fear they will explode. This inspires him to hide behind a mobile gas canister and slowly make his way across the room. It seems like there’s no chance of escape until Bond activates a nearby conveyor belt and releases numerous overhead canisters onto the soldiers. Quick thinking and always coming up with elegant solutions to impossible situations─that’s the hallmark of a great Bond movie.
The Naked Gun
Standoffs don’t all have to be serious, do they? Sometimes they can stray into the ludicrous to produce hilarious results. The Naked Gun plays with numerous cop-drama tropes, like when Officer Nordberg gets shot by a barrage of bullets and then suffers a series of embarrassing minor injuries before getting caught in a bear trap and falling into a body of water. And he miraculously survives. Then there’s the exciting car chase with a student driver, which has the best ending of all time partly because it feels like a parody of Bullitt. With this in mind, it’s perfect that the film’s climax involves the villainous Vincent Ludwig holding Frank Drebin’s girlfriend hostage. It’s a classic trope. Rather than take this situation too seriously, Frank chooses to grab a random lady and hold her at gunpoint, too. Why would Vincent care? Doesn’t matter, and that’s the point. It’s so absurd, it works. Thankfully, Frank’s girlfriend gets herself out of danger without too much trouble, and Frank finishes Vincent off amid much fanfare, literally.
Is there honor among thieves? In RoboCop, cop killer Clarence Boddicker shows that he is not a man to be trifled with when he walks into a cocaine maker’s facility and proceeds to insult and threaten him if he doesn’t offer a discount on his drugs. Sal, the cocaine maker, doesn’t take kindly to that kind of talk and tells his men to blow Clarence’s head off. But Clarence has his own men on hand to back him up. Everyone has a gun pointed at everyone else, so it’s basically mutually assured destruction at this point. Rather than show any sign of weakness, Clarence defuses the situation through humor. He gives Sal permission to back down by making it all look like a joke. Of course, then RoboCop shows up and guns down nearly everyone, but this opening part of the scene involving just the bad guys is dramatic in its own right.
Officer Jack Traven and his police partner Harry Temple start their day by talking about what to do in a hostage situation, and Jack has a rather unique solution to it. Shoot the hostage so that they can’t be used by the criminal as a bargaining chip. Little did he know that he would have to put that theoretical scenario into practice in a matter of minutes when a crazed bomber named Howard Payne takes Harry hostage. Jack shoots Harry in the leg at Harry’s request, and then attempts to apprehend Howard. It doesn’t exactly go as planned, but at least the bad guy didn’t get away with Harry. In a movie chock-full of high points, that “shoot the hostage” moment is among the best.
The Thing (1982)
There are plenty of tense moments in John Carpenter’s The Thing. The reason the creature reveal in the infirmary is particularly shocking is because there are so many other things happening at the same time, it’s impossible to know where to focus. Everyone thinks that MacReady is a thing, and he has to threaten them with a stick of dynamite to get them to back off. Unfortunately, Norris suffers a heart attack during the confrontation, and he gets taken to the infirmary so Dr. Copper can help him. While Copper is busy with the defibrillators on Norris, MacReady is barely holding the others at bay while Clark grabs a scalpel and hides it to attack MacReady later. All of this effectively hides the terrifying moment that Norris’s stomach opens up like a giant mouth and gobbles up Copper’s arms. Hm, I suppose that scene is meant to demonstrate how the thing hides itself in the midst of confusion and misdirection. The Thing just gets more ingenious the more I think about it.
I actually watched Waterworld in the theater. I was mostly bored by the film up until the Mariner sneaks aboard the Deacon’s ship and the two engage in a tense confrontation. The Mariner has grown to care about a little girl and her mother, and he wants the Deacon to release the girl after he kidnapped her. It seems like he has nothing to bargain with until he does something brilliant. He pulls out a flare and holds it over a pipe that leads to the ship’s belly. The ship is an oil tanker, which means it wouldn’t be hard at all to destroy it with a bit of fire dropped in the right spot. I didn’t expect the Mariner to actually drop the flare, but when he did, I knew I was in for a fun ride. And the movie didn’t disappoint. This is one of my favorite solutions to a stalemate, and it almost makes up for the mostly disappointing rest of the movie.
The Standout Among Standoffs
Those are 10 of the best movie standoffs that have mostly satisfying, creative resolutions. If I had to pick just one as my favorite, it would probably be the one in Aliens. It’s epic and perfect, the culmination of two films’ worth of psychological torture committed against the character of Ripley. Her personal terror is personified in the form of the Alien Queen while Ripley’s peace of mind is represented by Newt. She gets to protect what is dearest to her while angrily expunging her inner demons. An action movie in which the action is more than just spectacle, but signifies something deeper? Pure greatness.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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