We all know the drill — we’re watching a nice magical adventure unfold before our eyes on the big or small screen, and the characters get to a point where they no longer have the option to be friendly. It’s time to throw down.
Maybe the spells are flying fast and furious, or maybe it’s a more subtle use of magic to assist a mostly physical blow, but one thing is for certain: even more so than standard fight scenes, battles that involve magic raise the dramatic stakes in any story, because when you’re hurling thunderbolts, you’re playing for keeps. Even when the stories they feature in are not exactly memorable (cough The Covenant cough), a good magical fight can be a visual feast. Here we count down some of our favorites.
10. Caleb vs. Chase (The Covenant)
Though at times this fight seems more like a mystical game of dodgeball using amorphous jellyfish-like energy, one can’t deny that it at least looks pretty cool when these dudes are blasting away at each other in a rain-soaked barn. It’s fun to see the mayhem that male witches can wreak on each other, when witchcraft is so often allocated to female characters.
Unfortunately, the movie itself sucked.
9. Raziel vs. Bavmorda (Willow)
Willow will always hold a special place in the hearts of many fantasy enthusiasts who emerged from that nebulous decade known as the ’80s. Part Star Wars, part Lord of the Rings, it featured a very hobbitish hero, a very Gandalf-ian sorceress named Raziel, and a mean, mean old witch name Bavmorda.
Bavmorda and Raziel are mortal enemies, and in the climax of the movie, as a huge battle takes place outside, a very private war is fought between these two magicians. Utilizing the latest visual technology of the time (Willow was one of the first movies to showcase morphing), the filmmakers introduced a wide-eyed generation to the wonders of a magical smackdown.
8. Gandalf vs. Saruman (The Fellowship of the Ring)
When you see two wizards fighting, you expect to see some crazy fireballs being thrown around, but when Gandalf and Saruman threw down in The Fellowship of the Ring, it was just the telekinetic version of an old-fashioned bar room brawl, with the two tossing each other around with the force of their minds. Bruising, bloody, and awesome.
7. Harry vs. Draco (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets)
At this point in the Harry Potter series, we knew there was no love lost between the boy wizards Harry and Draco Malfoy, but they were just kids, and the last thing we expected to see was a full-on, wire-spinning melee, but that’s exactly what we got when they took each other on in Professor Lockhart’s dueling seminar.
6. Giles vs. Dark Willow (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Sweet Willow Rosenburg was the heart and soul of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, always a cheerful presence in a dark, demon-ridden world. But following the death of her true love Tara, she tapped into the vengeful part of her psyche and became a very bad witch. Who better to take her on than the mentor of the group, Giles, with a little borrowed magic from a coven of good witches?
5. Nancy vs. Sarah (The Craft)
An underrated gem from the angsty ’90s, The Craft showed what happened when the freaky girls in school have access to some seriously dark mojo. When good girl Sarah faces off with mean alpha-chick Nancy, all hell breaks loose in a spectacle of CGI mystical violence.
4. Pretty much every fight with Zedd (Legend of the Seeker)
Before Legend of the Seeker, the heir apparent to Xena: Warrior Princess, made its way to the airwaves, most people had never used the term “wizard’s fire” before (that is, if they weren’t Terry Goodkind fans). But every time a fight breaks out on Seeker, you can bet that Zeddicus will be blasting away to his heart’s content, and it just looks awesome every time.
3. Buffy vs. Adam (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Though the show was as magical as they come, Buffy’s fighting style always stemmed from the very real world of martial arts. So when in the fourth season she learned that she’d need a little extra boost to face a Frankenstein-like foe, her friends Willow, Giles, and Xander all got together and gave her their energy in a little power-enhancing spell, causing Buffy to bust out some kick-ass matrix moves, as well as turn a bullet headed for her face into a pair of white doves, which are of course the symbol of peace. And who doesn’t love a little irony with their smackdowns?
2. Dumbledore vs. Voldemort (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix)
Though the main event is reserved for the very end of the very last movie, we got a nice little treat when uber-baddie Boldemort took on the bastion of goodness, Dumbledore, in the fifth installment of the Harry Potter series. They fought with all four elements — fire, water, earth, and air — before Voldemort finally took his leave. But what an exit!
1. Gandalf vs. The Balrog (Fellowship of the Ring)
There are fights, and there are fights. When the Fellowship was fleeing the mines of Moria, they were accosted by a demon of the ancient world, a Balrog of Morgoth, a creature of shadow and flame, and a nasty attitude to boot. When Gandalf took him on to protect his friends, it was a true clash of the titans, instantly resetting the bar for what we expect to see on screen from anyone audacious enough to film a magic fight. For the gift you gave the world, Peter Jackson and company, we thank you.
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