Rapiers, Cutlasses, Katanas, Laser Blades, whatever. At times, a goodie and a baddie just have to have a one-on-one fight, with Swords.
In any given story, the main character is fairly likely to be somewhat proficient with a sword. In video games, anime, and certain sci-fi-fantasy stories, indeed, large segments of the population prefer swords as their primary weapons, over any firearms that may be available. This is true even in many cases where it would be far more intelligent to use a firearm.
Bonus points when it's a modern setting, and using a blade is Awesome, but Impractical because you Never Bring a Knife to a Gun Fight and the hero is far less likely to possess the training needed to use a sword. Exactly why this is the case varies. In some settings, swords offer advantages that guns do not. Perhaps the predominant point-defensive system is effective against ranged weaponry and not against blades, à la Dune. Sometimes the enemy and duelists are invulnerable to ranged weapons, such as through using the Force or Implausible Fencing Powers to deflect bullets, which means that they must battle in close-range with formalized sword martial arts that counteract this invulnerability. Perhaps it is a formalized duel where modern weapons are forbidden. Or perhaps the people using swords or edged weapons are just thatcool, à la the Jedi. Sometimes, of course, it is left unexplained.
A similar trope results when two characters choose to battle each other with their bare hands, for absolutely no reason at all. Even if one of them (usually the hero) has a gun, he will throw it away, preferring the visceral satisfaction (and added chance of failure) of beating his rival's face in. Again, this has no practical value in nearly all cases.
Unfortunately, even when use of swords is justified, it is usually done unrealistically. As a result of choreography safety guidelines (that minimize hazard to actors) as well as a dismissive attitude toward earlier weapons (going back to late 19th century fencers), these factors led to a wide acceptance of the unrealistic image of swordplay. The weight and lack of handiness of these heavy swords was grossly exaggerated and swordplay depicted as a slow and ponderous affair where raw strength is the deciding factor.
Mobile suits in Gundam, in addition to their gun and missile armaments, are usually also equipped with some type of sword, usually an energy saber. At the end of the original series, the main character Amuro Ray and his rival Char Aznable had an honest sword (rather rapier) fight in the middle of the collapsing A Baoa Qu.
Most fights in Bleach, since the primary power source of a Shinigami is their swords.
Actually, many fights that are sword-on-sword haven't yet become actual fights, since most characters' weapons change as they power up.
X1999. With living swords for the end of the world, no less.
In Ranma One Half, Akane and Kuno duel with swords twice: in the first instance, she comes at him with a rapier, and Kuno quickly proves why "It's foolishness to challenge the Blue Thunder with a sword!" The second time, it's during a formal Kendo tournament where she's in disguise, so he goes all-out against her. She holds her own much better, however.
One Piece has about one per arc to showcase Zoro's three-sword style - he has declared that he will refuse to back down from any enemy swordsman and gets plenty of chances to put his money where his mouth is. Enemy pirate crews seem to have top-notch swordsmen often enough that it would fall into This Looks Like a Job for Aquaman for Zoro if it didn't make a lot of sense.
A number in With Strings Attached—not involving the protagonists, though—the most notable being when As'taris fights Aurion; the latter wins when she zaps As with her pink sword, which seemingly turns him into her adoring slave. Since he helped make that sword, unbeknownst to her, he's immune to it and just screwing with her.
Also, when As fights the brought-to-life statue of “Biggus Dickus,” who is fighting back with his leg-long penis.
For an example of what more realistic sword fighting looks like, check out the Lady Snowblood movies. Maximum carnage with a minimum of movement.
Kill Bill features a number of fights with swords and knives. Appropriately, the only two characters to pull a gun have the hero completely at their mercy.
In The Matrix Reloaded, Neo has a swordfight with several of the Merovingian's Mooks, after they try shooting him with a wide variety of guns. However, because he is The One, Guns Are Worthless against him.
Rob Roy features a magnificent duel at its climax that does a terrific job of telling a story and showing character through the fight choreography. Rob Roy is a plodding, grim, and determined hero fighting a slender, flashy, sadistic fencer who toys with him like a cat.
One of the longest sword fights in cinematic history is from Scaramouche, at six and a half minutes long. It is also the longest single-take sword fight ever put on film. It had to be single take because they had over 800 extras in full pre-Revolutionary France costume. They couldn't trust the actors with it, so they filmed it longshot using the fight director and his sparring partner, and came back later to film close ups of the leads at significant points. They didn't even stop for two nearly fatal accidents.
In Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Mutt (Henry Jones III) and Irena Spalko have a sword fight on a pair of duck trucks while driving through the jungle.
Probably the most technically flawless sword fight in cinema would have to be the climactic duel between Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone in the 1940 version of The Mark of Zorro. Honestly, almost any film with either of those two in it has excellent fencing, since both of them were world-class swordsmen in Real Life. Here is a clip of the match.
Sometimes their skill was used to make their opponent look good, as when either went up against Errol Flynn.
In the 1998 The Mask of Zorro Alejandro and Diego have a sword fight in a bar and all Diego is using is his cane! They later have several training fights.
Later Alejandro (as Zorro) has a sword fight with Captain Love and Montero!
In the next scene Alejandro fights Elena in a barn which he wins and then he cuts her shirt off, kisses her, then leaves!
At the last scene, old and new Zorro are fighting their archenemies to the death, Zorro 2 (Alejandro) manges to kill Captain Love first but unfortunately Montero kils Diego first but is then killed due to being tied to a falling crate of gold.
In The Legend of Zorro, Zorro fights a man named McGivens and later Count Arman, both end up dead.
Some of the most realistic swordfights can be found in The Duellists. Three of them, in fact.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest features an epic three-way sword-fight between Jack, Will, and Norrington. Including, at one point, all three men taking the fight onto a water wheel (which for some inexplicable reason is attached to a ruined church), which promptly comes loose and rolls away down the beach taking them with it. They still keep up the fight.
The Three Musketeers (1973) (directed by Richard Lester) takes pride in giving fiction's most famous swashbucklers decidedly non-Flynn moves. Examples include sucker punching, groin kicking, blinding with cloaks or laundry, bashing with convenient chairs, and reversing the sword to beat the bad guy with the grip.
In the third Librarian film Flynn has a sword fight with a throwaway villain at the start.
Flynn: I know two things; Your sword grip and stance show me you're fighting with a 14th century German style defeated only by the renaissance style taught by Hutton in 1892.
Mason: What's the other thing you know?
Flynn: The renaissance style taught by Hutton in 1892.
Star Trek (2009) managed to work Sulu's fencing skill into the plot, when he confronted an axe-wielding Romulan with his fold-up saber.
In The Great Race, Tony Curtis vs. Natalie Wood at the beginning of the movie, to demonstrate just how good he is. Then, when the race goes through Ruritania he rescues the prince and engages in a massive swordfight in a parody of The Prisoner of Zenda.
In Don Juan DeMarco, the title character's related backstory includes a major sword fight, which was responsible for the death of his father.
First, Aragorn fighting the Ring Wraiths off with a sword in one hand and a torch in the other.
Second, Aragorn fighting the leader of the Uruk-Hai.
As could be guessed from the title, the film version of Blade ends in a climactic sword duel between the eponymous protagonist and the Big Bad. This trope is subverted in the rest of the film, where Blade is the only one using such an anachronistic weapon, while everyone else just uses guns, or maybe the occasional cattle prod.
Happen several times in Willow with Mad Martigan against the evil soldiers, especially against the skull-masked General Kael.
Ricochet manages to have a nazi swordfight in prison. What else would you expect from the director of Highlander?
Kingdom of Heaven is a rare case where some effort is made to present the use of Medieval European swords at least somewhat correctly. Although not perfect, the guards Balian is taught to use are similar to many real guards in the historical Italian school of longsword fencing, and the use of half-swording and pommel strikes are worked in as well.
In the 2012 film of the musical Les Miserables, Javert and Valjean have a sword fight in the Confrontation scene because...why not? Well, Javert has a sword. Valjean makes do with a slab of wood.
Dune: Personal shields stop any object traveling above a certain speed so projectile weapons are obsolete, and lasers trigger a fusion reaction when they hit a shield. So most fighting is done with sword and dagger.
The sword was also largely just a diversionary tool, as most shields are set at a rate where the cutting speed of a sword would be repelled. So the point of swordfighting was actually to trick the opponent onto falling onto your knife, or making a misstep long enough for you to make a slow cut with your knife.
Though the Fremen of Arrakis actually use dart guns because shields attract Sandworms.
The Wheel of Time: Rand and High Lord Turak have a Sword Fight near the end of The Great Hunt.
Rand often practices sword fights before he loses his hand. Other people wonder at this, since he's practically a walking god.
Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle has Eragon and a mysterious Rider working for Galbatorix fighting at the end of Eldest. It's actually Murtagh.
The Lies of Locke Lamora is a tale of a roguish character, which is made up almost entirely of cons and mind games. Naturally, then, it culminates in a duel of rapiers between the hero and his foe, although to the book's credit Locke does rather cock it up almost entirely.
The Malazan Book of the Fallen has several notable ones, such as Whiskeyjack fighting Kallor or Rhulad Sengar and Brys Beddict. Not to mention Anomander Rake, or Gruntle, or Adjunct Tavore Paran... you get the idea.
Ranger's Apprentice has sword fights everywhere, from Horace using a stick and his sword against a pair of thieves to Horace against Morgarath.
In Animorphs book 1 when Visser 3 meets Elfangor the have a tail-blade fight Elfangor loses and is then unfortunately Eaten Alive.
The Belgariad, where the Sword Fight between the Child of Light and the Child of Dark will decide the fate of the world.
Not often encounter in the Discworld novels due to the tendency of so many opponents to brawl, but one does turn up in Monstrous Regiment, although as per the usual style it's ended when one of the characters head-butts her more experienced (with a sword) opponent.
The Forever War uses this at one point - swords IN SPACE!!
Live Action TV
Virtually every episode of Highlander featured a sword fight between two Immortals, usually to the death. This made some sense in the series, because decapitation was the only way to kill an Immortal and gain his power. The use of firearms to incapacitate them was also seen as dishonorable, so only the most unscrupulous Immortals used them.
In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer second-season finale, Buffy has a fencing duel with Angelus for no apparent reason other than that it's cool. (Well, OK, she had to stab him with the sword for mystical reasons related to knights, purity, and the closing of the way to hell).
There was a perfectly good reason. They were going to fight. They both had swords in their hands. What else are they going to do?
The various alien races in Star Trek were far too eager to engage in this type of combat. Naturally, Starfleet actively shunned it, because swords lack a stun setting. But this didn't stop a preposterous amount of crew members from engaging in Ancient Ritual Combat to avoid offending said aliens' culture.
In the Firefly episode "Shindig", Mal engages in a "duel of honor" with Atherton Wing. He tries for either fist fighting or a gun duel first. Mal, despite generally being proficient in more modern methods of fighting, has no clue how to fight with a sword. (Gentleman: "If you require it, any gentleman here can give you use of his sword." Mal: "Use of his s-what?") He has to learn from Inara (who is, as part of her back story, classically trained in pretty much everything).
Played with in the Big Damn Movie, where Mal has to fight the Operative hand-to-hand after losing his gun. When the Operative draws his sword, Mal's counter is with a screwdriver.
Subverted in an episode of Stargate SG-1 when the team is on an Arthurian grail quest. Lt.Col Mitchell touches Excalibur in an attempt to get at the McGuffin, and is challenged to a sword fight with a holographic knight to prove his worth. While he is a seasoned and deadly warrior, he is a 20th century warrior, and is completely worthless with a sword. As he's taking a whupping, his team discovers that their other weapons go right through the knight and he tries to give the sword to Teal'c (a Proud Warrior Race Guy that's excellent at this sort of thing), but discovers that only he can touch it. They end up shutting off the trial another way.
Actually, the first time Mitchell duels the knight, he is actually able to beat it in a straight sword fight. It isn't until the season finale, when he duels a far more powerful one, that they have to take it down via alternate means.
Mitchell mentions that he took fencing in college, which explains why he's even remotly competent with a sword. In the season finale, prior to the sword fight, he encounters two kids who are mock-swordfighting, and gives them a few pointers.
Stargate Atlantis: Ronon has a rather big sword and he's rather good at it (mainly due to him being even more muscular than a Jaffa, he handles it like a really big kife). In fact, Satedans appear to be naturals at sword fighting despite being skilled at guns and gunplay too.
The Doctor has always been pretty good with a sword. His skills have been called on in
"The Christmas Invasion", against the Sycorax leader.
"The King's Demons", against Sir Giles Estram. The Doctor defeats Estram who then threatens him with a Tissue Compression Eliminator. He is actually the Master
And then his duel with Count Grendel, best swordsman on the planet, in The Androids of Tara.
A lovely parting shot from that gentleman, as he leaps from a high tower into the moat to escape: "Next time, Doctor, I shall not be so lenient!". Apparently Tara is the universe's primary source of both Soft Water and Magnificent Bastards.
Also in The Sea Devils, where he dueled the Master (because it's apparently standard practice to hang swords on the wall outside the cell of the most dangerous and evil man on the planet).
And then there's the massive sword fight between Rory, Vastra, and Jenny against the Headless Monks.
In The Mind Robber there is a swordfight in the Land of Fiction between Cyrano De Begerac and D'Artagnan, who have been summoned by the Master and the Doctor. Finally Blackbeard is substituted for Cyrano and defeats D'Artagnan, causing the Doctor to replace D'Artagnan with Sir Lancelot, who defeats Blackbeard.
In Pushing Daisies, Ned fought the man who murdered the twin of the man he killed in a sword fight. Ned's sword-fighting skills are pretty implausible, even given his explanation (see quote at the top of the page).
In the Smallville episode "Icarus", Slade Wilson finds his gun to be ineffective against the mace-wielding Hawkman. What does he do? Draw out a katana and close with the hero. Badass ensues.
In Kamen Rider Dragon Knight, sword fights happen a lot; even when some of them don't even have swords they fight the ones that do.
Dragon Knight (both Kit and Adam) have fought Wing Knight: Kit's fight is a training fight; Adam's is for real.
Xaviax poses as Eubulon and uses his Sword Vent against Adam, who uses his own Sword Vent agaianst Xaviax. Xaviax wins via his Speed Vent.
Strike and Dragon Knight cross blades a couple of times too.
Wing Knight and Strike have fought each other as well: sometimes Wing Knight is temed up with Dragon Knight.
Wing Knight and Wrath have crossed swords many times in the series.
Back when Sting worked for Xaviax, he tried to eliminate Wing Knight and Wing Knight wound up fighting Sting with his own sword. Sting used his Copy Vent and fought Wing Knight with another Wing Lancer.
In R L Stine's The Haunting Hour four kids get sucked into a video game and when they get to the final boss he breaks out his twin dao and fights the other four and all they have are baseball bats, chains, and other around the house stuff.
In Henry IV, Part I, the fight between Prince Hal and Hotspur usually takes the form of a sword fight; however, in many productions it ends up suffering a Combat Breakdown, usually serving to highlight (intentionally or not) the massive amounts of Foe Yay going on between the two characters.
A sword fight is a stock element of the Mummers play, common to most (if not all) versions.
Cyrano de Bergerac: At Act I Scene IV, Cyrano and Viscount de Valvert engage in one and Cyrano wins, at Act V Scene VI, Cyrano raves another Sword Fight with all his enemies (Falsehood, Treachery, Compromise, Prejudice, Folly and Death itself), a combat that Cyrano know he already has lost.
Twelfth Night has quite a lead-up to a swordfight set up by Sir Toby because he thought it would be funny—the coward Andrew Aguecheek against the Sweet Polly Oliver, "Cesario", both terrified because each has been separately convinced that their opponent is pure evil. After Sebastian shows up and gets mistaken for Cesario, he thinks he's being attacked for no reason, and a fray results, ending with Sir Toby (who's jumped in to help his friend) bleeding at the head.
Every game in the Metal Gear Solid series ends in a similar fashion, and one plays it straight. MGS1 features a two examples, one with Snake's old friend, Gray Fox, where weapons are actually useless against him because Katanas Are Just Better, and a second against Snake's Brother, Liquid atop the Metal Gear. The second plays it straight with a katana battle on top of Federal Hall. The third subverts this with a duel that allows guns. The finale of the series ends with a recreation of all the games fighting styles atop of a submarine.
The Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic video game series, in addition to lightsabers and Energy Weapons, have metal swords. It is handwaved by a shopkeeper, who explains that with personal energy shields becoming commonplace, melee weapons that can penetrate them are also becoming increasingly common, akin to Dune. Why they didn't just use bullets is not explained. (This is handwaved even more when lightsabers are involved; the blades are supposedly made with cortosis ore, a metal capable of blocking even lightsabers.)
You do use bullets, sometimes. Ranged weapons that bypass shields are variously explained as being "disruptor" weapons or as being actual projectile weapons (the best of which is the Mandalorian Ripper). Of course, said weapons tend to do crappy damage relative to melee weapons anyway.
KOTOR 2 tried to fix that problem by increasing the damage that ranged weapons do. It helped, but they were still no match for a lightsaber.
Played straight and subverted in Final Fantasy VII. The final, final battle is Cloud and Sephiroth, one on one with swords. However, earlier in the game, Barrett fights his old friend Dyne ... and both wield their Arm Cannons.
Scenes from Crisis Core and Advent Children offer a potential justification for the fact that SOLDIERs wield large swords: They have a small ability to block bullets with the large weapon, especially from their vitals.
Played, to a point, in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. One mission gives you the choice of going sword to sword against a crimelord. Your other options involve whatever other guns you picked up on the way to him.
There is also a similar mission in Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories mission, titled Waka-Gashira Wipeout, that ends with you facing off against a Yakuza boss sword-to-sword. If you opt to go with guns instead, he'll order his men to respond in kind.
Not to mention various minibosses in the series that use swords. These enemies, if appearing in pairs, usually even have the decency to fight you one at a time.
While Link's been using a sword in every game, Skyward Sword puts special focus on his actual skill with the blade beyond "use an item to make him vulnerable, then swing away," because of the improved Wii Motio nPlus controls. Several bosses and Elite Mooks exist mainly to showcase this aspect of the game. It helps that nearly every aiming-based item available to you is less than automatic in Z-targeting mode(it still locks on to enemies, but still uses manual aiming, similar to Metroid Prime.).
Zelda II The Adventure Of Link also plays out in a similar manner where Link's abilities come from his swordplay rather than items and various enemies fight Link with swords of their own. The Final Boss is Link's shadow and the two of them duke it out in a sword duel.
In Red Steel 2 sword fights happen just as often, especially against Shinjiro, whom you face twice, once earlier in the game and he's also the last opponent.
In Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box, when Layton battles Anton in his manor. But, just so you know, that was the only weapon available, and only 2 swords out of the many in the room (including Anton's) it occurs in are real.
A number of the Ranking Fights in No More Heroes and its sequel are of the good ol' fashioned "One-on-one sword fight" variety, albeit with laser swords and Mexican Luchador wrestling thrown in. Off the top of the head, the battles with Death Metal, Shinobu, Harvey Moiseiwitsch Volodarskii, Dark Star, and Henry in the first game are all sword duels. The sequel gives us Skelter Helter, Kimmy, Ryuji, and technically Alice Moonlight, if you count "Swords being held by armored frame" as the proper type.
In The Witcher, less common but more climactic encounters are sword duals. All of Geralt's techniques are Slice And Dice, and his Group and Fast styles employ the maximum Flynning.
Kingdom Hearts has several instances of this like whenever Sora fights someone else using a different Keyblade and then there's the bandits that carry Sinister Scimitars.
Also when Sora fights Cloud or Sephiroth.
And inevitably that's what happens whenever Cloud and Sephiroth meet.
In Sluggy Freelance, despite being friends with Riff, and therefore having access to most forms of weaponry known to man, Torg tends to prefer using his talking sword Chaz in battle. This is usually justified, however, since Chaz can kill just about anything in a single strike, even near-omnipotent immortals. Plus, most of the times Torg's used Chaz have been when he's stuck in another world or time where there aren't any firearms around.
One was a (presumably) staged one for a music video between Skwisgaar and Toki.
The second was a fencing match between Charles Ofdensen (Dethklok's manager, and a college fencing champion) and Melmord Fjordslorm, who had been told by Ofdensen that the only way Melmord would get his job was to kill him. Ofdensen ended up kicking Melmord off the roof of Mordhaus.
In Samurai Jack, Jack has fought beetles with sword-shaped legs, 6-armed robots with scimitars, a robot/ninja/assassin with a blade that could cut through solid metal, a Scottish man with a machinegun for a leg and a magic claymore, his own evil side, a giant mecha, and more.
In "Omens Part One" King Claudus has a sword fight with Lion-O to show off the Sword of Omens' power.
In "Legacy", Leo has a sword fight against his commander, both using their respective Cool Swords.
In "The Duelist and the Drifter" there are multiple fights against Master Swordsman The Duelist.
In "Between Brothers" Lion-O and Tygra have a sword fight both using the Sword of Omens, one the real version, one created in the astral plane. In the end Tygra said he would never betray Lion-O and both put their swords away.
History repeats itself in What Lies above part 2 when Lion-O takes on Mumm-Ra (technically) again.
In Sym-Bionic Titan episode Escape from Galaluna, Lance has a sword fight with his former Commander. In the end, Lance stabs the commander through the stomach and lets him fall from the platform they were fighting on.
In the Adventure Time episode "Mystery Train", Finn follows the Train Conductor and finally corners him in the engine and has a sword fight, quickly throws the conductor's sword away and as he is about to dispatch him the conductor reveals he is Jake who was previously believed to be dead.
Somewhat averted in The Super Hero Squad Show episode 1602 due to the fact that a) it's a pretty dumb show, b) Thor used his hammer which he cheated with by breaking Abomination's sword.
In the Batman episode "Showdown", BadassBounty Hunter Jonah Hex takes on Arkady Duval, who is using a saber, and beats him using only a knife!
Batman himself does this against Ra's al Ghul.
Gravity Falls: in the episode "Headhunters", Dipper has a fight with a wax version of Sherlock Holmes, the former uses a piece of fireplace equipment while the latter uses a sword.
"Mad Jack" Churchill remarked that "any officer that goes into combat without his sword is improperly dressed." During WW 2. He also carried a longbow, and used them both on several occasions.