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

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 really 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 -- can be 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 scene comes out looking extremely corny and stupid to the viewers and the characters look like utter buffoons.

A Subjective Trope, of course (though let's be real here... some of the examples that follow are so bad that even the most liberal "benefit-of-the-doubt" interpretation comes up as 'Yeah, that sucks'). Compare Special Effects Failure. See Wimp Fight and What the Fu Are You Doing? 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


Film

  • Spider-Man. Although other fights in the movie ranged from merely poor to passable, the scene where Peter Parker fights with Flash Thompson in a school corridor was especially bad. It's not that this fight was a Curb Stomp Battle (that's to be expected, after all, since it is intended to illustrate Peter's newly-aquired super-reflexes and strength), its that even Peter's blows are widely telegraphed and obviously don't connect with anything but air. The mugging done by actors Tobey Maguire and Joe Manganiello (playing Peter Parker and Flash Thompson, respectively) also conspire to make the whole affair look silly.
  • Dolemite: Scenes are shot from the wrong angle, so it's obvious that punches miss.
  • At the end of Leviathan, when Peter Weller punches the Corrupt Corporate Executive there's at least three inches of air between his fist and her.
  • The "force kick" from Return of the Jedi. Basically, a mook reacts to being kicked despite Luke's foot hitting nothing but air, so fans devised the "explanation" that he was actually using the Force.
    • 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, and only speeds up after the first two are dead.
      • It's a much better fight in the Novelization, but this isn't surprising; the novelization is pretty much Adaptation Distillation.
      • While the fight had many problems, mainly it was because George Lucas for some reason insisted that Ian McDiarmid performed the fight himself, and McDiarmid is, you know, kind of old, so what was shown was pretty much all he could do.
    • 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.
    • However, the scene did manage to pull off some great foreshadowing to Revenge of the Sith. Darth Maul forgot to attack while his opponent was jumping through the air. Obi-Wan doesn't make the same mistake fighting Anakin.
  • 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. Of course, the rest of the fight was actually too real, as several bones were broken due to James Caan's forceful acting.
  • The Man Who Saves the World (aka "Turkish Star Wars") as a whole. Especially the climatic battle.
  • Pretty much anyone in Uwe Boll's Blood Rayne.
  • 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 and 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.
  • While not a fight scene per se, the interrogation scene between Batman and the Joker in The Dark Knight is a notable aversion. As the trope description says, directors and producers can't actually tell the actors to hit each other. In this instance however, actor Heath Ledger allegedly instructed co-star Christian Bale to actually hit him in order to avoid a Fight Scene Failure.
  • One of the many complaints about The Last Airbender is that the film makes "bending" look clumsy and narmy. The best example is the so-called "Pebble Dance" where a group of earth-benders do a bunch of elaborate choreography with what appears to be the the end result of a small rock flying through the air.
  • Carmen tries to punch a robotic simulacrum of her brother (played by her brother's actor in a different costume) in the face, with a loud CLANK sound. 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 movie is made of this, especially the final battle between Guile and Bison -- OF COURSE!
  • Unknown Island has a fight between a giant ground sloth and a Ceratosaur which looks more like a waltz.

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 slow, apparently in an attempt to make the Gorn look big and ponderous... but it makes the fight seem ridiculous. As one critic said about the Gorn's attempt to swipe at Kirk, "Stephen Hawking could have dodged that one."
      • Not to mention that he apparently has the strength to hurl a huge boulder, but Kirk can hold his own against him in grappling. And those teeth seem to be completely useless, you'd think it would occur to him to bite Kirk.
    • 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.
    • Not to mention the fight scene between Kirk and Spock in "Amok Time" which doesn't look so much like a fight scene as... something else.
      • 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.
    • Many, many, many fight scenes in later series have shots where it is obvious that one actor just held still and let the other fake-punch them. Fans have jokingly dubbed it "Kirk-fu".
    • Honestly, any time physical combat is shown on any Star Trek show, expect this trope to be in effect.
  • 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. This notably improved as the show went on.
  • 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.
  • 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 1960's Batman series were almost always like this.
  • 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. Yeesh.
    • To clarify, 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.
  • 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.
    • Arguably, 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.

Professional Wrestling

  • Happens very, VERY often in wrestling, sometimes when a move misses its mark, sometimes when the recipient of the move overreacts or fails to react at all.

Web Comics

  • The page quote stems from an in-universe example from 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 Battle Royale With Cheese is made of this, but it's justified considering they're reviewers and not professional stunt people, nor would they be likely to find doubles.
    • It's arguable that 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 "dueling kicks" sequence you can see the Nerd's hand resting on the tv to balance himself. Yeah.)

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 therefor heavily toned down in visible violence. Since his entire powers are to cut things apart 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.
    • Wolverine and the X-Men might possibly be the worst offender. One fight has Wolverine fighting Sabertooth, a mutant with simliar powers as his. It involves Wolverine cutting off a branch of a tree to use it as a club against Sabertooth and ends with Sabertooth pulling a bazooka sized Taser out of his trenchcoat and knocking out Wolverine.
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