Five of the best examples of people pointing guns at each other for your cinematic entertainment
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The Mexican standoff tests the nerve of characters and audiences alike – and when used effectively this fierce plot device can instantly increase the tension in any scene. Here are some examples of intense stalemates that are sure to leave you on the edge of your seat.
Due to the nature of the trope every clip featured here contains spoilers and adult content.
Where better to begin than with the definitive Mexican standoff; the iconic sequence that made the device so popular. In the concluding part of Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy the three titular characters square off in a graveyard with Ennio Morricone’s operatic score providing the perfect backdrop to this breathtaking finale. On a technical level their guns aren’t drawn so you could argue that this doesn’t qualify as a standoff, but the speed of these quick-drawing gunslingers means they are at a mutual disadvantage even with their guns holstered.
A Mexican standoff can occur in a range of shapes and sizes, from singular tête-à-têtes to mass free-for-alls; even army against army. Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan features what is arguably cinema’s largest standoff as a squadron of Allied soldiers stumble upon numerous German soldiers. This scene is not only worthy of inclusion for its size, but it also offers a variation of how a standoff is resolved, in this occasion by a fortuitous third party – in the form of another squadron of ruthless American soldiers.
In films less willing to freely kill off significant characters, Mexican standoffs are resolved in a civilised manner, with all characters realising the suicidal position they face and agreeing to drop their weapons. However, this scene in Tony Scott’s hyper-violent, bittersweet love story ends in typically brutal fashion with a massacre that puts an end to key supporting characters.
Armed with their unique referential humour and witty intelligence, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg expertly dissect the conventions of the Mexican standoff in this hilarious scene. As the assembled survivors begin arguing whether to kill Shaun’s recently infected mum, a standoff breaks out to exacerbate the issue. With two weapons trained on one character, another character claims that the standoff is unfair so the character hands her his weapon to even the odds.
Aside from possibly John Woo, the greatest exponent of the Mexican standoff is Quentin Tarantino, who has featured the plot device in the majority of his films. While the intense finale of Reservoir Dogs, or examples from Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction or Django Unchained could be included, I’ve opted for the sublime pub scene in Inglourious Basterds for its powerful performances and jaw-dropping tension, but also on the basis that it provides two for one. After the initial standoff ends in bloodshed, the two surviving soldiers, Lieutenant Aldo Rayne and a young German officer Wilhelm, begin arguing whether their current situation is a Mexican stand off or not. This innovative sequence is a perfect example of Tarantino’s style, where he executes a narrative convention expertly in one breath, before satirising it only moments later. In a film brimming with iconic scenes it’s this one that towers above the rest, and not only for the line “Say auf Wiedersehen to your Nazi balls!”.