From DeNiro in Mean Streets to Pacino in Carlito’s Way, the movies have featured plenty of dramatic poolroom brawls. Here’s a top ten list of them, courtesy 8 Ball On The Silver Screen
COURTESY 8 BALL on the SILVER SCREEN — What is it about a pool hall that seems to instigate unbridled paroxysms of rage, extended periods of bedlam, and brutal bouts of barbarity, at least in the imaginations of filmmakers, screenwriters and producers?
In their defense, the linkage is not totally unfounded. In a five-year study done by the Research Institute on Addictions at the State University of New York at Buffalo, the researchers found that “bar characteristics that are related to the occurrence of violence included: smokiness, noise, temperature, dirt, darkness, crowding, poor ventilation, the presence of competitive games (e.g., darts, pool), bouncers, and more male than female employees.” On the other hand, a more recent study from 2012 revealed that among the “hot spots” for barroom aggression, the pool-playing area accounted for just 4% of the incidents of violence, as opposed to on or near the dance floor (31%), at the bar (16%), or at tables (13%)..
Yes, there’s a scintilla of veracity underlying the pool hall free-for-all, but it’s hardly significant enough to warrant all the attention it generates on the silver screen. Nonetheless, movies abound with pool hall pandemonium. Perhaps, it’s the butcherly utility embodied in a cue stick, 59 inches of tapered wood, that can be used to whack, jab, puncture, impale, skewer, bonk or bludgeon. Or, maybe it’s the spherical perfection of a billiards ball, hardened with a phenolic resin, that invite the amateur pugilist to wield it for all sorts of sanguinary purposes.
In any event, if there’s a pool table in a movie (especially one that is otherwise not about billiards), it’s likely going to be ground zero for some kind of mayhem and melee. Thus, I present the TOP 10 BILLIARDS BRAWLS of all time. Let the countdown begin:
10. Out for Justice
In this 1991 thriller, Steven Seagal plays a Brooklyn cop hell-bent on revenge after his best friend is murdered. Part of tracking down the killer involves frequenting a pool hall where the local patrons are not forthcoming with essential information. This prompts Seagal to unleash the whup-ass, starting with a towel-wrapped cue ball, followed by some (cue) stick fighting and a pool table judo takedown.
9. Velvet Smooth
The blaxploitation era of the 1970s produced many landmark films and iconic characters, including Superfly, Coffy, and Shaft. But, Velvet Smooth (played by Johnnie Hill) would not even crack the top 100. This 1976 low-budget dud has some of the worst choreographed fighting to appear in Technicolor. And while the billiards scene is so (unintentionally) bad, it earns a place on my list as one of the few movies to feature a woman meting out a cue stick drubbing.
8. Ninja Holocaust
This little-known, questionably-named, 1985 Hong Kong martial arts spectacle is likely light on plot, dialogue and other film-making indispensables. Still, the brawl that occurs around a snooker table is notable not only for the rapid-fire dispensing of the combatants, but also for the innovative use of a snooker ball as a temporary gag that is ultimately swallowed (?!) right before the ingestor is impaled on the taxidermied horns of some unfortunate ungulate.
7. Dead Presidents
The Hughes Brothers’ 1995 follow-up to their inaugural landmark film Menace II Society didn’t win favor with critics, but the pool hall scene, backed by James Brown’s “The Payback,” has all the visceral wallop of its predecessor. Anthony (Larenz Tate) and Cowboy (Terrence Howard) play a disquieting game of 8-ball that ends with Anthony becomes uncorked and beats Cowboy bloody with a cue stick all over the floor.
6. Force: Five
This 1981 action flick stars Chuck Norris BFF Richard Norton as a martial artist leading a team of martial artists on a rescue mission to save a senator’s daughter. After defeating an opponent in 8-ball, Norton quickly goes Australian-nutso when it appears his opponent will welch on a bet. Like Johnny Boy in Mean Streets, Norton uses the pool table as his playground for round kicking opponents and even makes smart use of a billiards rack to disarm an attacking cue-sticker. How Norton could shoot stick with that throwing star dangling from his neck I’ll never know.
5. The Krays
In the 1960s, Ronald and Reggie Kray were twin crime lords of London. The story of these underworld kingpins was brought to life in this 1990 biopic, starring real-life twins Gary and Martin Kemp. Known for ruthless acts of violence and intimidation, the Krays turned a snooker hall blood-red with their cutlasses in the graphically memorable “Say Thank You” scene.
4. Mean Streets
Martin Scorsese’s iconic 1973 masterpiece about the daily violence of living on the streets of Little Italy should be mandatory viewing, ‘nuff said. That said, the ruckus that ensues when Johnny Boy (Robert DeNiro) insults the pool hall proprietor is cinematic, hand-held, perfection, with a single camera darting among the pool tables as they become props in a feral, claustrophobic fight sequence that includes Johnny Boy hopping mad onto a table, waving off his attackers with kicks and cue stick. The scene, choreographed over the Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman,” is available to watch below.
3. Rush Hour
In 1998, Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan starred as a pair of ill-matched cops, and in the process, launched a film series that collectively grossed about $850 million. In the original installment, Jackie Chan, a stranger to American culture and argot, begins a pool hall conversation with four poorly-chosen words, “What’s up, my n*gga?,” thereby igniting a billiards ruction, complete with all the signature Jackie Chan acrobatics audiences love. Hopping over and under tables, parrying with cue sticks, clubbing with cue balls, this scene has it all.
2. Gangster High (original title: Pongryeok-sseokeul)
Clocking in at more than seven minutes, the pool hall massacre in this 2006 South Korean film pivots from the hyperkinetic, with cue sticks clashing and feet flying, to the near balletic, with one man avenging his fallen comrade through a gruesome series of pool stick maneuvers. Heightening both the beauty and the tension is the switch to black-and-white, while Mahalia Jackson’s gospel spiritual, “Trouble of the World,” plays over the scene.
1. Carlito’s Way
“It’s magic time. After you see this shot, you’re going to give up your religious beliefs,” says Carlito (Al Pacino) in Brian De Palma’s award-winning 1993 crime drama. Pretending to set up one of his “famous trick shots,” Carlito uses the mirrored sunglasses of his opponent to see the gunman behind him, while he rockets a billiard ball, perched atop a cue chalk, into his opponent’s face. Now that’s a pool hall fight scene and getaway to remember!
So, there’s my Top 10 list of Billiards Brawls. Of course, there are a number of great pool halls skirmishes that didn’t make the list, but are nonetheless worthy of honorable mention, including Hard to Kill (1990), Boondock Saints (1999), Black Dynamite (2009), Trainspotting (1996), Code of Silence (1985), Die Bad (2000, South Korea), and Road House (1989). See a scene that should have made the cut? Let me know what movie would be on your Top 10. Otherwise, stay safe. You never know what might happen to you in a pool hall.
 Graham K, Bernards S, Osgood DW, Wells S. ‘Hotspots’ for aggression in licensed drinking venues. Drug Alcohol Rev 2012;31:377–384