Knife fight! You're gonna fight with a knife!
Knife fight! A really really really sharp knife!
I'm a crazy (crazy) son of a bitch,
I'mma cut you (cut you) swish swish
In a knife fight!"
Everyone likes a Sword Fight, and for good reason. It's flashy! It's suspenseful! It's badass! 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.)
- In Baccano!!, Firo has to duel Maiza before he can be accepted into the Martillo family (technically a duel, with a martial on hand who states if either of them go for the neck or torso he'll shoot them). Firo wins by slashing Maiza's arm, but of course, it heals.
- GitS:SAC features an unusual one—between Pazu and someone with a body identical to his own, complete with mannerisms.
- Umineko: When They Cry has a magical knife fight.
- The obscure OVA of Dog Soldier has one... sort of. Also present in the manga.
- There was also a knife fight... sort of... in Super Dimension Fortress Macross (thankfully, the Macross franchise got much higher budgets in subsequent series).
- Kara no Kyoukai had a quite awesome one in the seventh movie between Ryougi and Shirazumi Lio. Take a look.
- Gunslinger Girl features two between cyborg Triela and the Badass Normal assassin Pinocchio.
- Psycho-Pass has a short but intense one in its final episode, between a clip-point folding knife and a straight razor.
- Jormungand has a fight between Milde Dual Wielding machetes and Valmet armed with a single knife. They're not really trying to kill each other, though.
- The climax of the Assassination Island arc in Assassination Classroom is a knife fight between Nagisa and Takaoka.
- Storm's battle with Callisto for leadership of the Morlocks in X-Men comics.
- Comic Book: "Wolverine": the bloodiest knife fight in comic history takes place in the story arc "Get Mystique", in the Desert in Afghanistan, between a stark naked Mystique, armed only with a Marine Corps Bowie, and Wolverine, equipped with six retractable adamantium blades and a healing factor; it ends as Logan screams and impales Raven right through the chest. She produces a pistol from god-knows-where and shoots him through the middle of the face. Logan recovers first and walks away, leaving behind Raven's gun, with one bullet "...and I'm sure you'll know what that's for..." Raven screams after him: "This isn't over! Come back and finish me! I'll see you in hell Logan!" Don't worry; Raven (a) gets better, and (b) makes good on her threat to "see Logan in hell".
- Child of the Storm has the Winter Soldier get in a few of these, including with Wolverine himself.
- Natasha gets in one of these with Yelena Belova in chapter 10 of the sequel, Ghosts of the Past as part of a more general brawl. Yelena loses the fight, her knife, and a thumb.
- These tend to be the result when Nav encounters assassins in Diaries of a Madman.
- Driven to Kill features what may be the greatest knife fight ever.
- The baton vs. knife fight in Sha Po Lang between Ma Kwan and the assassin Jack.
- A fantastic one between Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Toro in The Hunted.
- 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).
- The Chronicles of Riddick: Riddick gets into these a lot.
- The cult film Exposure actually has a scene where a knife fight master teaches the protagonist.
- In Saving Private Ryan, there's one really (in)famous one in the final big battle sequence between tough Jewish GI Mellish and an SS soldier. It ends with the German overpowering Mellish and very slowly sinking the blade into his chest down to the handle, whispering to Mellish to stop struggling and to accept his fate as he convulses and winces until his life leaves him.
- Eastern Promises is also well known for its psychologically disturbing knife fight in the climax.
- 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.
- West Side Story features a very dancy knife fight between champions in the Sharks and the Jets. There's a lot of emphasis on light glinting on the knife blades.
- A defining moment in Rebel Without a Cause.
- 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.
- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: Harvey Logan tries to give himself a Klingon Promotion by challenging the gang leader Butch Cassidy to a knife fight to the death. The Non-Action Guy Butch is not enthusiastic and inquires about the rules. As Logan guffaws, "There's no rules in a knife fight!" Butch delivers a Groin Attack and promptly knocks Logan out.
- 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. After the two kill each other, he kidnaps the woman for his experiments.
- Averted in Crocodile Dundee in the classic "That's a knife" scene. The switchblade-toting mugger is not interested in tangling with 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: Their First Assignment. 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.
- The Raid 2: Berandal has a spectacular fist fight turn into an equally spectacular knife fight as the assassin grows more desperate. Watch it here.
- Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation features an excellent one at the end of the film between Ilsa Faust and The Bone Doctor
- Force 10 from Navarone: In the climax Weaver gets into a knife fight with the Chetnik leader, who even mocks "blackie" for bleeding red. Weaver ultimately wins but is gravely injured.
- 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.
- In The Iron Teeth Geralhd gets into a knife fight with another bandit named Dafur. He loses but survives as Dafur is killed when Herad intervenes.
- 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.
- The Wheel of Time:
- 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.
- Knife fights are very common among men in the streets of Ebou Dari, such that many men bear the scars of past duels. Knives are so ingrained in their fanatically matriarchal culture that wives carry knives to discipline their husbands.
- James Bond
- In Icebreaker, Bond goes to visit one of his many girlfriends and finds two thugs waiting for him instead. 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.
- Jürgen, the main villain of The Traitor's Emblem, arranges a private ultimate confrontation with the main character Paul (who is also his half-brother) where they fight with knives to the death.
- In Donna di piacere (set in a rural brothel) the Madam's favorite draws a knife on another of the girls. Madam tosses the other girl a dagger to ensure a fair fight.
- 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. 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.
- Star Trek: The Original Series. "The Omega Glory" has a variation; a single knife is placed between the two combatants who have to fight each other to reach it.
- Star Trek: Discovery episode "Despite Yourself" (also a Mirror Universe episode) gives us a knife fight between Prime!Burnham and Mirror!Conner. In a turbolift!
- Veronica and tribesman characters get into these a lot in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 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.
- Leon and Krauser have one in a harrowing Press X to Not Die sequence in Resident Evil 4. It even has a bit of That One Boss to it.
- In World of Warcraft, Martek the Exiled challenged Deathwing to a Knife Fight, or at least that's his story in "The Day Deathwing Came".
- In Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Raiden engages Vamp in a one-on-one knife fight atop Metal Gear Rex on Shadow Moses Island. Too bad the player doesn't get to see any of it because they're trying to kill an oncoming rush of Gekkos at the same time in split-screen.
- All of the major Boss Battles in Far Cry 3 are of the Knife Fight variety. With a side-order of Mind Screw.
- Shiki Tohno has several in Tsukihime and the spin-off Melty Blood. His opponent is usually his Enemy Within, Nanaya.
- In Night in the Woods, protagonist Mae and her friend Gregg have playful knife fights for... fun, only nicking each others' hands instead of going full-on dangerous.
- In the Strong Bad Email personal favorites, Strong Bad claims that one of his favorite emails was the one where Coach Z and Pom-Pom had a knife fight on the stone bridge.
Coach Z: Hoo-ha! I'm a blade-man, man!
- AMV Hell 4 took this trope to its logical extreme by setting the Resident Evil 4 example to Lemon Demon's 'Knife Fight'.
- The Simpsons showed us the simple joys of a monkey knife fight.
Mr. Burns: "OH FURIOUS GEORGE! What have they done to you?! Smithers, this monkey is going to need most of your skin..."
- One episode of Drawn Together briefly featured a knife fight between look-a-likes of The Smurfs.
- Parodied on the Dilbert animated series, with the office equivalent: tied at the wrist with a necktie, and fighting with marker pens.
Asok: I'm gonna mark you so bad!
- Practically every culture in human history has used knives not just as tools, but as weapons too. Therefore, most combat oriented martial arts from various cultures teach how to fight with knives or defend against someone attacking you with a knife when you're unarmed.
- 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.
- Filippino, Indonesian, and other Southeast Asian schools of martial arts focus quite a lot on using the traditional knives of their respective cultures and produce many masters of knife fighting technique.