Fight Scene Failure

Luke Skywalker defeats one of Jabba's henchmen using the Jedi power Force kick.

"This [fight] is obviously staged, and more to the point, it's staged poorly."
General Tarquin, The Order of the Stick, Strip #783

Almost all fighting you see on TV is fake. Producers just can't have their actors actually hitting each other, as most do not wish to be held liable for broken bones, stitches, etc. So, fight scenes in movies have to be cleverly staged to make it appear as though they are real, but in such a way so that nobody actually gets hurt.

Sometimes this is pulled off extremely well, making for one hell of a great fight scene.

But this page is about when it isn't pulled off so well. This can happen due to a number of factors, but usually can be attributed to poor choreography, Executive Meddling, or simply poor acting. But regardless of the reason, the whole fight comes out looking extremely corny to the viewers and the characters look like utter buffoons.

Of course, this can be a matter of opinion, though some of the examples that follow are so bad that they fail even the most generous benefit of the doubt. Compare Special Effect Failure. See Wimp Fight, What the Fu Are You Doing? and Fake Special Attack for when this is done deliberately. If the Fight Scene Failure fails and someone really does get hit, expect the producers to Throw It In.


Examples:

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     Fan Fic  

  • The part of The End of Ends in which Count Logan beats up his enemies with his cane is especially poorly animated. For example, he and Terra jump at each other, and he seemingly hits her in the shoulder, only to cut to him hitting her on the chin and her kicking him in the chest, resulting in both falling to the ground, not to mention that some of the sounds of the fight get repeated.

     Film  

  • Spider-Man: Peter's punch to Flash Thompson obviously does not connect.
  • Dolemite: Scenes are shot from the wrong angle, so it's obvious that punches miss.
  • At the end of Leviathan (1989), when Peter Weller punches the Corrupt Corporate Executive there's at least three inches of air between his fist and her.
  • Star Wars:
    • Pictured above is the "force kick" from Return of the Jedi where a mook reacts to being kicked despite Luke's foot hitting nothing but air, so fans devised the joke explanation that he was actually using the Force. Years later, this became Ascended Fanon when Star Wars: The Old Republic used it as the Jedi Knight's interrupt ability.
    • In Revenge of the Sith, the scene where Windu confronts Darth Sidious is undercut by him apparently bringing two of the worst Jedi ever to back him up. Sidious activates his lightsaber, jumps at them twirling through the air, and lands directly in front of them. They raise their swords slightly. Sidious makes an extremely telegraphed thrust at one of them, and he responds by... looking at him, since for some inexplicable reason he was gazing off to the side. While he's getting stabbed through the chest, his compatriot responds by raising his sword a bit higher, as though he thinks you need to put a lot of strength into a blow while using a weapon that cuts though anything. It's probably supposed to be happening too fast for them to react, but it's a pretty slow scene at that point. Ian McDiarmid was forced to do his own stunts for this scene and the actors were only given one day to learn the choreography, whereas for their fight Hayden Christensen and Ewan MacGregor got to train for months.
    • The Phantom Menace, again, has a jarring moment of failure rather than the whole thing; the Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan versus Darth Maul fight is often considered the best one in all six movies. But at the end, Obi-Wan leaps right over Maul's head, lands in front of him, and cuts him in two. It takes about five seconds, during which time Maul looks at him with a vaguely confused expression as though having trouble processing that this guy is still trying to kill him, and does absolutely nothing to defend himself. After Maul fighting off two Jedi at once, this seems like an absurd loss of competence. Or a very good example of Sith arrogance.
      • There is one YouTube video that picks the fight apart, however, showing that, if anything, the fight suffers from being overchoreographed, and has several swings, parries, dodges, and twirls that doesn't make sense if you look closer at it.
  • The "best fight scene of all time" in Undefeatable.
  • Parodied at the end of Bowfinger, showing a Fight Scene from the kung-fu movie "Fake Purse Ninjas."
  • The Godfather: When Sonny is beating Carlo, one of his punches obviously misses by a mile, but Carlo and the soundtrack react just the same. The reason this was kept in the film is apparently because the beating was all filmed in one take and the rest of the beating was too real: Caan broke several of the other actor's bones.
  • The Man Who Saves the World (aka "Turkish Star Wars") as a whole. Especially the climatic battle.
  • Pretty much anyone in Uwe Boll's BloodRayne, as the delivery of strikes are very stiff. And just to hammer it in, the last 5 minutes is a gratuitous slow motion montage of the over the top blood effects, allowing you to see the already bad choreography look even worse.
  • La Venganza De La Momia (The Vengeance of the Mummy), a short fight scene between El Santo and a jaguar. A three-month old kitten could have given Santo a better fight.
  • In Batman & Robin, when Mr. Freeze sends his minions to attack while claiming the Wayne Diamonds, Batman actually pulls off a Force Kick on one of the hapless hockey hooligans (about 44 minutes 13 seconds in.) Bruce's foot is almost as close to his own face as it is to the bad guy.
  • In The Last Airbender, some say that "bending" looks clumsy and narmy. The best example is the so-called "Pebble Dance" where six earth-benders do a bunch of elaborate choreography, whoop, and shout, and then a small rock moves slowly and lazily through the air.
  • Spy Kids: Carmen punches a robotic simulacrum of her brother, only to hurt her hand on its metal face. It's quite obvious her hand wasn't anywhere near it; it looks more like the robot has a force field that blocks punches.
  • Happens in-universe in the Mortal Kombat film, where Johnny Cage is making another kung-fu film. He hits a Mook actor, who does a No Sell. Johnny has to remind him "This is where you fall down", before the guy promptly drops. Needless to say, they have to re-shoot the scene. In-between takes, Johnny meets his martial arts teacher (actually Shang Tsung in disguise) and complains that people think everything he does is fake.
  • In a fantasy sequence at the beginning of Sidekicks, the main character and Chuck Norris manage a simultaneous kick into the face of a Mook who...freezes for a second, then falls down.
  • The makers of Satan Claus decided to show a beating completely from the victim's POV. This looks horrible.
  • The infamous scene in Las Vegas Bloodbath where a man takes a swing at Sam with a bat, and hits a just barely offscreen mat.
  • The Street Fighter had very stiff choreography for Bison's and Guile's final fight due to actor Raul Julia being in the advanced stages of cancer at the time.
  • Unknown Island has a fight between a giant ground sloth and a Ceratosaur which looks more like a waltz.
  • Done intentionally in the opening fight of Team America as Joe grapples with a terrorist; the puppets are just flailing around and getting tangled up. Later in the film, the fight scenes are better done. The commentary reveals that the puppeteers were good enough they could have actually done all the fight scenes realistically, but decided to go for Rule of Funny after realizing the results were actually too realistic and crossed into the Uncanny Valley.
  • Played for laughs in Black Dynamite when Bullhorn helps Black Dynamite out in the pool hall. Bullhorn accidentally slaps one of the henchmen, who gets mad, breaks character, and approaches Bullhorn's actor, as if to return the favor, but the take is cut short. The next take features a completely different actor playing the same henchman, implying that the original actor had to be replaced.
  • Subverted in Captain America: The First Avenger when Cap "socks old Adolf in the jaw" during his stage show, the movie audience clearly sees distance between Cap's fist and the actor playing Hitler. Later, lampshaded when Cap claims to have knocked out Hitler hundreds of times.
  • Several times in The Dark Knight Rises, mooks are shown in big fight scenes hurtling back and collapsing while Batman or Catwoman is standing five feet away and beating up someone else. Batman's first fight with Bane also has a few instances of whiffing.
  • Subverted twice in the animated movie Superman vs. the Elite. Superman fights a monstrous giant bug at the start of the movie and does nothing but throw weak punches that don't phase it. However once he figures out the bug is a machine and not a living, thinking creature, he freezes and smashes it in seconds. Later, during the titular fight with the Elite, he doesn't land any major hits on any of the Elite (despite exhibiting a very high power level earlier in the film) and gets the shit kicked out of him... to make it seem like he's been pushed over the edge into the Elite's "bad guys get killed" mentality and to buy time for his Super-Bots to hijack the Elite's ship.

     Live Action TV  

  • The 1960s TV series The Avengers Cathy Gale's fighting style is made of this trope. Back then, fight scenes would be recorded 'as live' on studio video with no possibility for editing or retakes, rather than being pre-filmed and edited.
  • The original Star Trek was bad for this:
    • "Court Martial". Not only can you tell it's two stuntmen fighting, but they telegraph their punches so badly the misses are obvious.
    • "Arena": "Worst Fight Scene Ever"; the guy in the Gorn suit moves slowly, apparently in an attempt to make the Gorn look big and ponderous... but it makes the fight seem ridiculous. The Gorn also doesn't seem to be able to use his super-strength to overpower Kirk or use his big teeth to bite.
    • Those scenes were of course not helped by Kirk taking time rolling over and over and over to make his plight look worse, leaving the Monster of the Week standing around waiting for Kirk to get back up for the next spectacular throw and fall.
    • The fight scene between Kirk and Spock in "Amok Time", which doesn't look so much like a fight scene as... something else. This was likely deliberate, as the man who wrote the episode (Theodore Sturgeon) was infamous for putting gay subtext into his works ... and using asphyxiation as a metaphor for sex.
    • In the Bar Brawl scene of "The Trouble With Tribbles," Scotty punches a Klingon across the room—without touching him. Maybe Scotty can use The Force like Luke?
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • The episode "Code of Honor" has a particularly inept fight scene at the episode's climax, with most of the action being shot from the same camera angle, and the two combatants (Tasha Yar and an alien woman) standing on what looks like a children's climbing frame and mostly just flailing around at each other with spiked gloves. This was largely due to the episode's director having been fired the day before the sequence was shot, and the first assistant director — who had never directed anything before, much less an action sequence — having to take over.
    • In another episode, where a dying scientist uploaded his consciousness to Data's positronic brain, the possessed Data strikes Captain Picard. Data swings his arm camera-right, Picard spins camera-left as he staggers camera-right.
  • Parodied on The Fast Show. They showed a clip from a 'new British gangster movie'. The title was a parody of The Long Good Friday, The Long Big Punch Up. It was basically two blokes on a bit of wasteland, just doing one really slow, telegraphed, obviously wide of the mark punch after another. Over and over again.
  • A frequent occurrence in the black-and-white era of Doctor Who; as with The Avengers above, most of the early stuff had to be done in one take.
    • "The Web Planet" was forced to have some seriously awful fighting scenes in it, as the monster costumes used were so delicate.
    • "The War Games" part 6 has an absolutely laughable sequence. Jamie swings obviously wide of the mark blows vaguely at the bad guy's face, over and over and over, while a guard in the background of a fight sequence tries to escape, with a crummy slow-motion Girly Run, before one of the heroes pulls him off a slope and onto a bed onto which he harmlessly bounces.
    • The Axon chucking itself at the jeep in "The Claws of Axos".
    • "Robot":
      • Episode 2 has an adorably flimsy-looking Killer Robot chasing the Doctor at a pace best associated with zimmer frames, while Tom Baker zips and flings himself around it effortlessly, trying to look like he's narrowly being missed by its blows and not slightly managing. It's quite fun when the Doctor uses all of his costume gimmicks against it but it's also clear he can only possibly lose the fight due to the fact he has the Idiot Ball lodged in his throat for the whole episode.
      • Episode 3 forces the actor playing Jellicoe to help the robot down some steps while pretending to be hiding behind it, because the actor in the robot costume couldn't see where he was going.
    • The fight with the Myrka in "Warriors of the Deep". A woman is approached in a blindingly-lit corridor by a ridiculous green pantomime horse monster that leaves visible wet paint smears as it goes, flails her arms about, inexplicably decides to high-kick it in the chest and then gets killed by some bad CSO. The footage was used on Room 101 when Michael Grade was being asked why he cancelled the show.
  • Many fights on Buffy the Vampire Slayer are made of this trope. Also, any time swords are brought on to either Buffy or Angel. Overlaps with Obvious Stunt Double when Buffy and Angel swordfight in the season 2 finale. As soon as the camera pulls back, Buffy grows several inches, and Angel has a drastically receding hairline. Lampshaded by Joss in his DVD commentary for Hush: "Look! Buffy's strapped on her fighting boobs!"
  • Parodied with "Kickpuncher" on Community. Abed and Troy make their own version, with even more Stylistic Suck.
  • Chuck had this in its Season 2 final. Chuck has an I Know Karate moment, and his actor had clearly very little stage fighting experience. They must have worked on it in the off-season break, as he's much much better in season 3.
    • And used as a plot-point in Season 3. Shaw fakes a rescue of Chuck and Sarah which includes shooting 3 enemy agents, and having a fight with 2 more. There is some horrible stage fighting, with punches and kicks being missed all over the place. It turns out that he's a double agent and the fight was staged intentionally.
    • It's also telling that the only person who figured out that Shaw was faking was Morgan, thanks to many-many hours of watching bad kung-fu movies. All the CIA/NSA experts watching the footage took it at face value.
  • Supernatural: Castiel's actor Misha Collins appeared to have little stage fighting experience in season 4, making some of his fight scenes look mildly awkward. He improved massively in season 5.
  • Knight Rider is infamous for this, too: The proper way to knock someone out is to swing one's fist past their stunt double (who'd look nothing like the real deal if they weren't wearing roughly the same clothes) at a distance of 2 ft.
  • On Robin Hood we had Marian punch out Guy of Gisborne at the altar. Her fist clearly doesn't connect with his face. Other fight scenes amongst the outlaws were rather clumsy, particularly whenever Robin blocked a sword-blow from an opponent with his bow. It's made of wood, people! And the fight between Robin and Guy in Tattoo, What Tattoo? involves both actors obligingly lining themselves up for the other one to more easily punch them.
  • Fights on the 1960s Batman series were almost always like this. The missed punches were often covered up by the now-famous hit flashes of "POW!"/"ZAP!"/"WHAMMO!" etc etc. This was because the show's brutal production schedule didn't allow much time for fight scene rehearsals.
  • Monster Warriors has this in spades. For example, one girl is hit by a giant snake, but she falls down before the CGI snake actually hits her. Whether this trope was deliberately invoked (given the B-movie inspiration for the series) is debatable (given how seriously the show takes itself).
  • During the Bruce Kalish era, Power Rangers fights were basically "everything you see elsewhere on this page, but in slow-mo to make sure you see how terrible it is, and with explosions happening in the background at random points for no discernible reason." Disney's censors may be partially to blame, though, with the limits of how and where a person could be hit becoming increasingly restrictive - when this was at its worst, blows tended to miss by a light-year or be blocked so far away from the body that if the person hadn't moved, it would still have done them no harm. Most of these complaints are about the unmorphed fights - people getting smacked around is alright so long as you don't actually see their bodies, apparently. There were still a few 'jump up in front of the explosion and yell' moments to go around, though. Unmorphed fights before and since have looked much better.
  • Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon improved on a few aspects over the anime, but the fight scenes were certainly not one of them. Ballet Fu or not, the choreography is insultingly stupid and it lost a great number of viewers for that reason. It got better as time went on.
  • Days of Our Lives doesn't have many fight scenes, but whenever somebody just has to fight, it's quite obvious that the choreographer was on break and the actors are much more suited to crying and then losing their clothes as they make up than throwing a punch.
  • Home and Away. Dear god, that show had the lamest fight scenes. Simply involved both participants rolling in the sand and somehow getting massive black eyes and other cuts and bruises. However, there was a storyline where Ric was hospitalized after an illegal street fight. That fight actually did involve some reasonable-looking punches.
  • Babylon 5 occasionally had this; J. Michael Straczynski himself (via producer's commentary) points out a shot in Severed Dreams when Garibaldi attempts to hit a mook with his PPG rifle; the blow clearly doesn't connect, and JMS apologizes for it.
  • Susan Lucci once recounted a particularly horrible scene she had on All My Children. First off, neither she nor her costar were trained fighters, but it was a catfight, so that wasn't a problem. However, the scene took place outdoors, in the rain, while both were in tight-fitting clothes and high heels. Adding even more to it, both actresses were wearing lotion, which combined with the artificial rain and made them both incredibly slippery. By the end, the "fight" was merely the two actors grabbing each other by the wrist and flailing back and forth.
  • Australian comedy The Late Show spoofed this in its Gag Dub "The Olden Days", in which the actors get into a fight over their ability to stage an unconvincing fight scene.
    "Unrealistic fight scenes are a piece of piss! First I'll tip over the table, then I'll stagger into the crowd. Then the fat guy will pull me aside...now you in the corner, propel yourself across the room for no apparent reason!"
  • Sherlock Holmes - in a brief bar brawl between Holmes and a drunken ruffian, the opening backhand obviously misses and slightly later one of Holmes' punches is obviously aimed below the chin. However, the fight is otherwise competently staged.
  • A Saturday Night Live Weekend Update skit ended up unintentionally—and hilariously—lampshading this. Jimmy Fallon was incensed at Tina Fey's snarky remarks and as such, repeatedly struck her in the face. Unfortunately, the sound effect was absent, making it seem as though he were really hitting her, leaving the audience in stunned silence. Once the sound effect was fixed and the noise of the punch landing was put in, the audience laughed heartily, prompting Tina to continue snarking, "You see how much funnier it is with the sound effect?"
  • The "Magical Video Game Controller" sketch from Incredible Crew has this as its climax, with some Special Effect Failure thrown in for good measure at the end.

     Professional Wrestling  

  • In pro wrestling lingo, a "botch" is a moment when someone screws up. Examples include when a performer overreacts, fails to react at all, or misses with whatever they were trying to do. The web video series Botchamania details a long and extensive list of such botches.

     Webcomics  

  • The page quote stems from an in-universe example from The Order of the Stick, wherein General Tarquin is complaining about a staged gladiator fight. The two gladiators are best friends, so they of course don't want to hurt each other. However, their ruse is not working, and a Tear Jerker follows.

     Web Original  

  • There Will Be Brawl: In some scenes, the fights are just too slow to look realistic. Episode 10 is a big one.
  • The That Guy with the Glasses big battle is made of this, but they're doing it on purpose for the Rule of Funny. The cartoonish sound effects don't help matters.
    • In his commentary over the N. Bison/Dr. Insano fight in Kickassia, Film Brain reminds people disappointed in the fight that they were in another person's house and had to be careful not to mess it up, so what we got really was the best thing possible, especially considering the time and money issues.
    • Ditto the original Final Battle between the Critic and the Nerd. The lightsaber scene alone was too ridiculous not to be a parody. (Also, during the "dueling kicks" sequence, you can see the Nerd's hand resting on the tv to balance himself. Yeah.)
  • Cracked:

     Western Animation  

  • Pretty much any X-Men series has this problem, save for the Wolverine vs. Hulk short movie, when showing Wolverine fighting, since they are often aimed at kids and therefore heavily toned down in visible violence. Since his entire powers are to cut things apart with his retractable claws and heal from wounds, writers often go out of their way to make him miss any living opponent he fights, sometimes with rather silly moments. Basically, you may choose from the following for Wolverine's enemies: Mecha-Mook, No Sell, Good Thing You Can Heal. Otherwise Wolvie's gonna tackle someone.
    • Wolverine and the X-Men might possibly be the worst offender. One fight has Wolverine fighting Sabertooth, a mutant with simliar powers (including the claws) as his. It involves Wolverine cutting off a branch of a tree to use it as a club against Sabretooth and ends with Sabertooth pulling a bazooka sized Taser out of his trenchcoat and knocking out Wolverine.
  • The first BIONICLE movies followed strict violence guidelines, which forbid the characters from using their "tools" (LEGO still shied away from using the word "weapon" at the time) for their intended purpose. Thus we get scenes like Tahu storming onto a villain, flipping in the air above it, flashing his Magma Swords, planting them into the ground, and sending small lines of fire around the villain, making it... annoyed at the hot air? This was phased out later, and the fourth movie had tons of genuine physical combat, although the characters would take awkward, second-long pauses after every swipe, and in one shot, a villain chasing one of the heroes simply vanished when the camera panned to the side.
  • The 1994 Spider-Man series had a number of heavily castrated fight scenes due to heavy censorship refusing to let Spider-Man throw a punch when battling villains. Pretty much all of the fights are done with Spider-Man's webbing. Very rarely you'll see an actual punch in a Wham Episode, such as when the Green Goblin abducts Mary Jane and takes her to a bridge many comics fans recognized...
  • The 1996 DCAU Superman series also had a few below average fights due to inconsistent power levels for the title character.