Everyone likes a Sword Fight
, and for good reason. It's flashy! It's suspenseful! It's Bad Ass
! It allows the hero to prove himself not just some guy designated to defeat the villain, but who can clash with him one-on-one and come out on top (or at least hold their own).
Problem is, not all stories take place in locales where a sword would be considered an appropriate weapon to have along, regardless of what the hero might prefer.
This might be simply because the story takes place in The Future
, where no one uses swords anymore (even Laser Blades
). It might also be because the protagonist is some manner of soldier, mercenary, scruffy rogue, or other manner of Anti-Hero
who is thematically forbidden
from using such extravagant weapons. Enter the knife—simple and useful enough that humans will almost certainly be carrying it around no matter where or when they are, yet dangerous and shiny and sharp enough that they can serve as a substitute for the Sword Fight
in a pinch. Knives also have the advantage that you don't have to necessarily be a knife fighter to carry one around, meaning that any character is a candidate for pulling one out. All the drama with none of the camp!
Because knives are so small in comparison to swords (meaning that typical sword-fighting tropes can't really be used effectively with them), they tend to go a bit different from sword fights. While they can involve a lot of dodging and parrying in a sort of knife-based Flynning
, most tend to be short and brutal. With knife fights, the emphasis is usually on the grit factor, with characters grunting and actively trying to go for the killing blow with every attack. Your typical Hollywood knife fight will always devolve into one character trying to stab another, with the other character grabbing the attacker's hands and trying to push them away. Unlike your typical sword fight, you can expect to see a lot
of blood during a knife fight.
Common variations involve the fighters being tied to each other by the wrists (cuts down on bicycling) and both fighters being blindfolded (one participant will turn out to be a skilled blindfighter.)
Anime and Manga
- Storm's battle with Callisto for leadership of the Morlocks in X-Men comics.
- The Bride and Vernita Green in Kill Bill Vol. 1 are in the middle of one of these when the bus comes and little Nikki arrives. They discuss continuing it at a baseball field. But in a subversion, Vernita tries for a bushwhack by pulling a gun and the Bride kills her on the spot (in front of her daughter who just walked back into the room).
- Riddick gets into these a lot.
- The cult film Exposure actually has a scene where a knife fight master teaches the protagonist.
- Saving Private Ryan and Eastern Promises are both known for having psychologically disturbing knife fights.
- The Long Riders had one between two Bowie knives, and at the lady's request no less. Notable for having the fighters "tied" together by a chew rather than their wrists.
- Under Siege. The final has Casey Ryback fighting the Big Bad William Strannix, and utterly annhilating him.
- Into the Night has a struggle of knives between David Bowie and Carl Perkins.
- The Ultimate Warrior has a knife brawl involving no less than five people.
- A knife fight is proposed in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when Harvey decides to give himself a Klingon Promotion. Butch instead delivers a Groin Attack.
- In Avatar, a giant mech is handily equipped with a proportionate Bowie knife to engage in a knife fight with the hero.
- In Murders in the Rue Morgue, Dr. Mirakle's carriage runs into two men knife fighting over a prostitue.
- Averted in Crocodile Dundee in the classic "That's a knife" scene. The mugger is not interested in knife fighting a guy who carries a Bowie knife around with him.
- Mahoney gets into a wrist-tied version with Zed at the end of Police Academy 2. There's a twist: Mahoney has a rather small sheath knife. Zed has a scimitar.
- In Commando, between Matrix and Bennett at the end of the movie. Minutes later both of them lost their knives, engaging in a fistfight instead.
- The Man From Nowhere has one around the film's climax.
- Cormac McCarthy features several in his Historical Fiction novels. Especially The Border Trilogy and Blood Meridian, ranging from quick attacks to possibly the most epic Duel to the Death ever captured on the page.
- Quite a few throughout the Dune novels; forcefield technology repells bullets, but slow things like knives and swords get through fine.
- Snow Crash gives us a fight between Raven, who uses glass knives with molecule-thin cutting edges, and Badass Grandpa Uncle Enzo, who has a straight razor.
- Jorge Luis Borges had a fascination for them. Knife duels feature in several of his stories ("El encuentro", "El Sur", "El fin", etc.) and there is a whole book of his poems dedicated to (a nostalgic and romanticized version of) the cuchilleros of Buenos Aires circa 1900.
- In Dragonriders of Pern, F'lar and Lord Fax engage in a duel using short knives. Although F'lar has a lot of practice dueling experience, he does not have nearly as much practical killing experience as his opponent. In fact, F'lar gets into a knife fight in each of the original three novels. He wins all three, killing his opponent in two of them.
- Matthew Reilly does a couple of these, since most of the characters carry knives as backup weapons (see Real Life section below). Ice Station has a knife fight when the air becomes mixed with a flammable gas.
- Technically it's a "sword vs knife" fight, but given the relative sizes of the two combatants and the close quarters involved, the duel between Ahren Elessedil and his tormentor, Cree Bega in The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara is thematically closer to this. Oddly, given the number of Knife Nuts in Terry Brooks' writing this is the only one that really stands out, possibly due to it being between a Break the Cutie Woobie, and The Dragon.
- In Ghost Story from The Dresden Files Daniel Carpenter gets into a knife fight with a street sorcerer named Aristedes, whose magic gives him Super Speed. He loses, but manages to cut him and then Butters beats him with a lead pipe before he can kill Daniel, hospitalizing him and ending his control over the others.
- The Fishhawk chooses knives as the weapons for a duel against Solomon Kane, figuring that he can better use his trickery and strength than if they fought with swords or pistols.
- Ship Breaker concludes with a Knife Fight between Nailer and his Archnemesis Dad, Richard. It ends when Nailer traps his dad between the gears in the ship's engine and kills him.
- In Skulduggery Pleasant there are fights between Tanith Low, who has a BFS, and Billy-Ray Sanguine, who carries a straight razor. Hilarity Ensues.
- In The Wheel of Time, it's mentioned that knife duels were a popular pastime for a while in the First Age. With knives coated with slow poison. Most of the time, both duelists ended up dead.
- James Bond
- In Icebreaker, Bond goes to visit one of his many girlfriends and finds two thugs waiting for him. The other is quickly dealt with, but the bigger one with a knife must be fought with another blade.
- After stopping the Big Bad's Evil Plan in Death Is Forever, Bond is attacked in London by a knife-wielding cohort of his, and all he has is a knife of his own to defend himself.
- In One King's Way Shef and his crew witness a 'Rogaland style' duel, where the men tie their left wrists together and knife fight on a bullhide. Later, Shef fights the King of Sweden this way, atop the Kingdom Rock.
- The Magnum, P.I. episode "Lest We Forget", in which Magnum helps reunite a couple that had been separated for decades. He was a World War II flier and she was a prostitute and they met on a beach and fell in love and planned to elope but were interrupted by the attack on Pearl Harbor(I know, I know). In any case, it shows one Flashback seen in which the flier comes to the Place of Employment to pick up his girlfriend. The local muscleman draws a knife on him where upon a sympathetic customer throws a knife to the flier and the two of them have a Duel to the Death.
- Major Zod vs Clark in the Smallville Season 9 finale. It should be noted that the knife is made of Blue Kryptonite which renders both of them human and vulnerable to being stabbed, while preventing the Kryptonian-attuned The Book of Rao from teleporting them both to another dimension. And that oh yeah, it takes place in the rain with The Matrix-style Slow-Mo being employed. The result? Clark lets Zod stab him and then jumps off the building, which results in the Book of Rao teleporting the now-Kryptonian Major away. One of the show's most epic moments.
- In one of the episodes of the new Hawaii Five-0. The fight involves one of the main characters and his Broken Pedestal partner on the beach at night. Could count as a Crowning Moment of Awesome because it still has the Hollywood style flashiness but both participants were Ex-Spec Ops members and it showed off a lot of the technical aspects of a fight.
- In the third episode of Stargate SG-1, Carter got in a fight with the Mongoloid leader. He had a larger curved sword and was trained to fight people his own size. Carter had a combat knife and was trained to fight people bigger than she was. Carter won.
- Star Trek: Enterprise
- Captain Archer is forced to duel the Andorian commander Shran in the "wrists bound together" version of this trope during the fourth season. He wins by cutting off one of Shran's antenna, which incapacitates him.
- Combined with blatant fanservice in the Mirror Universe episode when a scantily-clad Hoshi and T'Pol go at each other with daggers while exchanging snarky comments about each others sex life.
- Occurs several times in Star Trek: The Next Generation thanks to the Klingon tradition of carrying bladed weapons, specifically "Sins of the Father" when assassins attack Worf and later Picard, and "Redemption" when one of Gowron's officers challenges him for leadership.
- Veronica and tribesman characters get into these a lot in Sir Arthur Conan Doyles The Lost World. In "The Knife", Veronica gets into one with Sir William Gull and Robert Anderson, but Reality Ensues and she kicks their asses because they are mere killers of the helpless and not trained fighters.
- On Supernatural demons and angels can only be killed using special weapons, most of which are short blades. In later seasons most characters obtain an Angelic Blade, a slender silver dagger that is the standard weapon used by angels. Any fight between two angels is usually a fairly short knife fight since angels are not very sophisticated knife fighters, and the weapon is built for stabbing rather than slicing.
- Michael Jackson's music video for "Beat It" from Thriller had a switchblade fight, of the wrists-tied variety.
- Lemon Demon: I'mma cut you (swish-swish) in a Knife Fight (Knife Fight), Knife Fight (Knife Fight), Knife Fight! Knife Fight!
- Instrumental, but Tom Waits has the song "Knife Chase" on Blood Money.
- Link Wray's Rumble, despite not having any lyrics, was popularly believed to feel like a knife fight, courtesy of its then-new distorted guitar sound. In fact, many radio stations banned it out of fears that it would incite juvenile delinquency.
- Knives are carried by most soldiers, primarily as utility/survival tools for most, while special-forces troops are more likely to use their knives as weapons. This is often reflected in the design of the knives, leading to such contrasts as the classic US Marine's K-BAR and the equally famous British Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife.
- The reason Dizzy Gillespie left Cab Calloway's band involved the two of them getting into a knife-fight.
- Jim Bowie got into a few knife fights with his signature blade, resulting in his reputation as a Knife Nut and the knife's popular nickname.