Bar brawls, pub fights, saloon showdowns—if you’re in a movie, and you happen to walk into the wrong watering hole at the wrong time, chances are that all hell is going to break loose. Sometimes, smashing a sugar glass bottle over the other fella’s head just won’t do; for those special cases, The A.V. Club has compiled a handy guide of field-tested, completely practical tips and techniques for surviving or averting fictional booze-induced bruisings.

1. Put on a show

One way to head off big emotion is to replace it with another big emotion—in this case, replacing anger with a love of music, or at least a love of watching other people act goofy. In The Muppet Movie, Kermit and Fozzie do a little vaudevillian dance as a forestalling tactic when Fozzie’s ugly crowd gets uglier, and when violence breaks out anyway, Fozzie deflects it with a quick disguise and a terrible pun. Rapunzel and Flynn don’t start the “I’ve Got A Dream” sing-along that breaks up a mob scene in Tangled, but participating in it and sharing their dreams through song and dance gets them out of a tight spot, and gets a bar full of vengeful toughs on their side. And in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Pee-Wee escapes forced tattooing, hanging, and worst of all, possible sex with a lady biker, all by hopping onto the bar, wiggling his negligible assets, and smashing glassware until his would-be murderers are more amused than furious. It’s the “Nobody gets out of here unless they sing the blues” rule from Adventures In Babysitting: The best way to deal with people who might engage in mayhem when they’re bored is to make them a little less bored. [Tasha Robinson]


2. Break the fourth wall

Of the many, many things people were offended by in Mel Brooks’ Western spoof Blazing Saddles, “lack of respect for the genre” was somewhere in the middle of the list—a few notches down from the campfire scene, but still on there. However, there’s nothing more artificial in even the most serious Western than the all-out, chair-smashing, bare-knuckle saloon brawl, and Blazing Saddles’ frantic finale embraces the tradition with signature irreverence. With bad guy Hedley Lamarr’s cowboy henchmen running roughshod over the town of Rock Ridge, all seems lost—until the action bursts right through the studio wall, ruining the musical number going on next door on the Warner Bros. lot, and infuriating director Dom DeLuise and his stable of swishy, tuxedoed dancers (also on the movie’s list of offenses). Luckily, everyone dives right in and the fight continues—except for the one cowboy and one dancer who manage to find some common ground after taking their fisticuffs behind the scenery. That’s how you survive a bar fight. [Dennis Perkins]


3. Make it about Vietnam

Colonel Kane doesn’t want to fight. That’s the whole point of the climactic scene of William Peter Blatty’s The Ninth Configuration, a seemingly endless slow burn that finally explodes into a two-minute, no-prisoners-taken bar fight. Kane, who for most of the film is a beacon of virtue, patience, and empathy, is trying to escape from a murderous past, and when facing off against a sadistic gang of bikers, he makes every effort to calm them, speaking softly and enduring multiple humiliations. But decency can only cover so much, and when “Killer” Kane finally snaps, he does so with a fury that instantly reveals why he worked so hard for so long to control himself. Sure, his training as a Marine Corps soldier gave him an edge, but what really tips the scales in Kane’s favor is the frenzy he’s held at bay for so long. Like The Avengers’ Hulk, Kane is always angry; it’s just that, for a while at least, he was able hold his temper. [Zack Handlen]

The one upside to having your hand mangled in a garbage disposal by a gang of thugs is that you end up with a hook hand, which you can then use to your advantage in a bar fight. That’s what Major Charles Rane (William Devane) does in Rolling Thunder (1977), John Flynn’s unjustly overlooked, Paul Schrader-penned revenge drama, notable for its brutal violence and bleak worldview. In the movie, Rane, a recently returned Vietnam vet suffering from undiagnosed PTSD, goes on a journey of revenge with pretty blonde military groupie Linda (Linda Haynes), who accompanies him to a series of bars as he searches for the men who killed his family and destroyed his hand. When the duo actually encounters one of them, Automatic Slim (Luke Askew), a three-on-one bar brawl between Rane, Slim, and Slim’s buddies breaks out. Outnumbered, Rane only manages to escape after burying his hook deep into Slim’s jeans-clad crotch. Cruel and unusual, yes, but he really did deserve it for the hand. [Katie Rife]


4. Work with the soundtrack

Given their unrelenting desire for flesh, zombies would appear to have the distinct advantage in any bar brawl against humans. So when Shaun (Simon Pegg) and his friends face off against the undead at the Winchester pub in 2004’s Shaun Of The Dead, they have to rely on a secret weapon: Freddie Mercury’s powerhouse vocals. Although Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” starts playing from the pub’s jukebox accidentally (“David, kill the Queen,” Shaun instructs), there’s no doubt the rock score motivates some serious zombie ass-kicking. Shaun, Ed (Nick Frost), and Liz (Kate Ashfield) even coordinate perfectly synchronized attacks set to the energetic chorus. Of course, the downside is the loud music attracts even more zombies. But, hey, that’s nothing a tiger defying the laws of gravity can’t handle. [Caroline Siede]


5. Have a massive ego

Steven Seagal has long tried to project an air of being enlightened and spiritually aware, up to the point that he had himself named the reincarnation of a 17th century treasure revealer—a designation worlds apart from his persona as the star of violent films and multiple lawsuits. His directorial debut, 1994’s On Deadly Ground, sees his character Forrest Taft merging the two styles to defeat a bar full of obnoxious oil workers. First, he becomes one with his environment, moving up and down tables, snagging a lasso off the wall, and leading his enemies into jukeboxes, windows, and stuffed bears to disable them with even more force than a punch. In the second half of the fight, his victory comes from challenging the ego of the ringleader, using the idea of his “big balls” to draw him into a hand-slapping game where the other man has no choice but to stand and take punches that eventually seem to bring him to a higher understanding. “What does it take to change the essence of a man?” he pontificates, his route to inner peace built on the backs of everyone he just drove through a table. [Les Chappell]


6. Budget for a pyrotechnician

Want to add an extra element of chaos and danger to your next bar fight? Just follow Raiders Of The Lost Ark’s lead and set the bar on fire; it’s easy to do, given that most bars are made of alcohol-soaked wood from floor to ceiling. You can take advantage of the smoke and confusion to elude your enemies, the fire creates a natural obstacle for anyone chasing after you, and there’s absolutely nothing more badass than ducking a punch thrown by a guy whose arm is on fire (with the exception of throwing a punch while your arm is on fire). Even if your enemies survive the fight, they may end up with an ancient Egyptian inscription burned into their skin. The only down side? Once the smoke clears, it’s time to find a new watering hole. [Mike Vago]

7. Cut out a few frames here and there

When super-spy Harry Hart (Colin Firth) brutally roughs up a gang of neighborhood hoodlums early in Kingsman: The Secret Service, his great asset isn’t his impeccable manners or his high-tech umbrella—it’s sped-up, cut-up motion, accompanied by bone-crunching sound effects. The technique—called undercranking in the days when everything was shot on film, but now accomplished in editing—was popularized by William Witney, the king of the cowboy serials of the ’30s and ’40s, who used to use it for saloon brawls and other moments that called for furious motion. Use it, and your blows will land quicker while your opponents fall faster, helpless against the fundamental properties of filmmaking. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]


8. Start with a speech about how violence doesn’t solve problems

Road House’s James Dalton (Patrick Swayze) is so adept at breaking up bar brawls that he’s made a career out of it, which officially makes him one of NYU’s most successful philosophy majors. Dalton only has three rules for successful bouncing that he brings to his new employees at the Double Deuce: Never underestimate your opponent, take it outside, and, most importantly, be nice. Of course, there are limits to such kindness. Eventually, in Dalton’s words, it’s time to not be nice. Then it’s time to kick so much ass that it leads to the demise of a local corrupt businessman. Despite his Zen attitude, it certainly doesn’t hurt that Dalton can also pull the esophagus out of his enemies when need be. Whatever Dalton preaches, that’s probably more effective than being nice. [Molly Eichel]


9. Make “psychopath” a defining character trait

“Begbie didn’t do drugs. He just did people.” This is Renton’s introduction to his “friend” Begbie, the only one in the Scottish heroin gang who doesn’t do smack in Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting. What he does do is drink like a fish and kick the ass of anyone who messes with him, sometimes just for the hell of it. As Renton explains, he gets off on his own sensory addiction. On three different occasions in the film, Begbie starts bar fights. He breaks a pool cue over the back of a poor chap for opening a bag of chips and messing up his pool game and nearly kills a guy for bumping into him and spilling his pints. His most psychotic moment comes when he casually tosses a beer mug over a balcony and the glass breaks on an innocent woman’s head. He plops a knife on a table, claps his hands, and proceeds to start an epic brawl. [Drew Fortune]


10. Add some cross-dressing

The tavern fight sequence from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is famous for a reason, namely that it’s exceptionally well done. But it wouldn’t exist without the tavern fight from Come Drink With Me, King Hu’s 1966 wuxia film about a highly skilled female fighter named Golden Swallow (Pei-Pei Cheng) on a mission to save her brother from armed bandits. When Golden Swallow visits a tavern disguised as a man early on in the film, the same bandits that kidnapped her brother begin to harass who they see as a vulnerable stranger, throwing jugs of wine and coins at her as she tries to order food. But Golden Swallow effortlessly deflects the onslaught, and when swords are inevitably drawn she takes down the whole gang with almost supernatural ease. This scene, elegantly performed by Cheng—a former ballerina cast for her dance skills—is so iconic that both the tavern fight and female fighter disguised as a man have become standard wuxia tropes. [Katie Rife]

11. Just in case, write in a time machine

When Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted Theodore Logan amble into a dusty Old West saloon in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, about the only thing the dimwitted San Dimas duo cares about is getting served without being carded. But the boys are quickly recruited into a rigged poker game by feared gunfighter and noted cheat Billy The Kid. When Bill drops his poker face and tips his hand, the fists start to fly, and only with the unlikely and fortuitous arrival of the Goodyear Blimp do our heroes escape to their telephone booth-outhouse-time machine, just barely escaping the angry lynch mob. Marty McFly’s time machine in Back To The Future, on the other hand, is out of commission when he runs afoul of violent teenager Biff Tannen in the malt shop. McFly instead uses his deep knowledge of future skateboard technology to turn some kid’s milk crate scooter into a makeshift board and escape. Later (or earlier, if you prefer), in Back To The Future Part III, McFly hypnotizes Tannen’s equally aggressive ancestor and the rest of the saloon with his mastery of the moonwalk—a revolutionary bar fight tactic America would not see for another century. [Drew Toal]