I feel like our friends at How To Fight Write could make you a beautiful list.
Maybe they’ll oblige us?
Well, it’s more a question of what you are looking for or want to be looking at. There are a lot of fabulous books and movies out there, but they are all interested in doing different things. So, the real question is what do you want? Other than a good fight scene.
Here are some of my favorites though:
For novels: the Conan the Barbarian catalogue and novels by Tamora Pierce are good, both are very good and you can learn a great deal from them.
For movies: When you’re looking for good fight scenes in movies, it’s always worth checking who did what and what they know.
Lord of the Rings has fairly realistic sword fights with actual technique.
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) This is one of the finest swashbucklers from the Hollywood Golden Age. Howard Hill did the stunt shooting with the bow, the stuntmen were paid somewhere around $200 (that’s insanely real money for the time) to take arrows in the chest, Errol Flynn is charming, it’s got a great staff battle between Little John and Robin on a bridge, and Basil Rathbone was a real honest to god fencer. It’s a timeless classic and it’s worth noting that Errol Flynn hated Michael Curtiz partly because he forced him and Basil to fence with swords using real points to add an air of realism. (Captain Blood and The Seahawk are also very fun.)
GI Joe: The remake gets looked down on, but Byung Hung Lee and Ray Park (and their child counterparts) are absolutely fantastic to watch go at it. I can’t really recommend the second movie, as it uses shaky cam and jump cuts during the fight sequences and the two are moving so quickly it’s almost impossible to tell what’s going on.
Expendables/Expendables 2: This is more of those really fun movies put together by aging acting stars, but they really know what they are doing when it comes to action. 2 is my favorite. Van Damme has a jump wheel kick I would sell my soul for (and he does it twice!). Getting to see Chuck Norris tell a Chuck Norris joke on screen is also a bonus. They do some neat and inventive stuff in this movie that might give you some ideas.
Lethal Weapon IV: He may be the bad guy, but see Jet Li take a gun apart with his knees while in the air.
The Karate Kid (Remake): Will Smith’s son and Jackie Chan star in this delightful remake set in China about a young boy who is transplanted from his home. The film stars a bevy of young action stars all of whom are martial artists (you want to know what trained children fighting looks like, it’s right here), gives a fairly nice primer on traditional training and spirituality versus bullying. Jackie Chan is awesome as usual and Michelle Yeoh has a cameo where she stares down a cobra. It was filmed in China, so the martial arts are all excellent and there’s only one white supporting cast member. I very much enjoy this movie and I think you will too!
Romeo Must Die: This was one of Jet Li’s earliest American movies set as a remake of Romeo and Juliet with Chinese versus African American mob with a young interracial couple caught in the middle while they try to work out who murdered their siblings. Jet Li does some amazing things with twist ties and some really cool stunts. On the plus side, the only white actors in the film are the NFL executives looking to buy up the waterfront property.
Rumble in the Bronx: This is an early American Jackie Chan movie (after he was finally able to get insurance in the states) it’s basically a bunch of long stunt fights strung together, but they are pretty fabulous.
RED/RED 2: RED is the better (and over the top) put together movie, but RED 2 with Byung Hung Lee is also pretty fun for his action sequences.
Highlander: the katana combat is silly, but the Italian school of fencing is actually neat. Adrian Paul specializes in aikido and it’s one of the few places you’ll see some interesting fight sequences using joint locks. The show spent most of it’s money on the stunts and it shows. (Season 2 has a great episode involving Duncan training Ritchie, which showcases how beating the crap out of someone teaches them nothing, and what it looks like when it’s done the right way.)
24: Starke would be mad at me if I didn’t mention 24, but it does have some really good fight sequences both with guns and hand to hand.
Burn Notice: This is more about tradecraft, but Michael Westin really does some cool stuff and explains it all to you in VO. It’s a must watch for anyone trying to write a spy. (Or just watch for Undead Larry. Undead Larry!)
There are plenty more than these, but this is what I could come up with off the top of my head.