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Ranking the Best Seven Action Scenes In ‘Point Break’

From raiding a bank-robber hideout, to skydiving with a parachute, to skydiving without a parachute, here are the best moments from Kathryn Bigelow’s wacky 1991 action film

20th Century Fox/Ringer illustration

2020’s summer blockbuster season has been put on hold because of the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate the movies from the past that we flocked out of the sun and into air conditioning for. Welcome to The Ringer’s Return to Summer Blockbuster Season, where we’ll feature different summer classics each week.

It’s a tale as old as time: A former star quarterback who blew out his knee before he could go pro joins the FBI, and is tasked with infiltrating a group of surfer bank robbers (!) who have spent years evading the authorities. There are few action films with a premise as inspired as Point Break—and fewer still that embrace the prospect of thrill-seeking and zen living with such earnestness. As Keanu Reeves’s quarterback-cum-FBI-agent Johnny Utah—an all-time great character name—slowly falls under the spell of Patrick Swayze’s Bodhi, so do we. Point Break unequivocally rules.

But it’s not just the philosophical underpinnings that make Point Break a classic: Kathryn Bigelow’s film lives and dies with the characters’ death-defying stunts. Whether it’s time to ride a huge wave, rob a bank in a Nixon mask, or jump out of a plane, Point Break doesn’t hold back. Or, to quote Bodhi himself: “If you want the ultimate, you’ve got to be willing to pay the ultimate price.” So in honor of one of the summer’s gnarliest blockbusters, we’re ranking Point Break’s many adrenaline-fueled sequences. (Spoiler: Jumping out of an airplane without a parachute is going to rank high on the list.)

7. Beach Football

Beach football can be pretty tame, but not when you’re playing with a bunch of adrenaline junkies and a dude who could’ve been an NFL star if his knee wasn’t wrecked. There’s a lot to like about Johnny Utah’s game in this scene: He’s got a real presence in the pocket, he moves around comfortably, and we even get to see him make a throw out of play-action. He did get sacked by Bodhi at least once, though. (In glimpses, Bodhi rushes the QB like prime Julius Peppers.) But with that rocket of a left arm, Johnny Utah might as well be Stoner Steve Young.

Quarterbacks—let alone ones that suffered career-ending injuries—aren’t known for their tackling prowess, but credit where it’s due: Johnny puts his body on the line to send Bodhi crashing into the waves.

If this happened on the gridiron, Utah would get flagged for unnecessary roughness; on the beaches of LA, though, a flagrant tackle into the ocean is more like a rite of passage. The surfers realize they were just playing with the Johnny Utah, and this undercover agent can hang. It’s a shame the whole robbing of banks thing got in the way of more pickup football games.

6. The FBI’s House Raid

For a former quarterback, Johnny Utah sure doesn’t care about a comprehensive scouting report. He suspects a group of drug-dealing surfers are the Ex-Presidents—the proficient bank robbers wearing presidential masks during their heists—and Gary Busey’s Angelo Pappas, Johnny’s partner, leads a raid on their home. It’s a disaster, mainly because a neighbor was … using his lawn mower and it was really, really loud. (If a lawn mower can disrupt the FBI, the agency might have bigger problems.)

The lawn mower prevents Johnny from warning the other agents that the surfers are armed on his walkie-talkie, and a chaotic shootout ensues. If a standard shootout doesn’t sound gnarly to you, I would like to add that one of the women in the house comes out of a shot-up shower stall and beats the shit out of Johnny, which was iconic. (Alas, the sequence is not GIF-appropriate because she is totally naked.) And that pesky lawn mower almost takes out Johnny’s perfectly sculpted face.

To think all of this could’ve been prevented if the FBI and the DEA communicated; per an undercover DEA agent, these surfers had an alibi for one of the robberies. Johnny’s lucky he didn’t get sacked. (OK, I’ll stop with the football puns.)

5. The Ex-Presidents Force Johnny to Rob a Bank With Them

Don’t you hate it when your surfer archnemesis kidnaps your love interest and threatens to have her killed unless you—a former star quarterback and undercover FBI agent who’s not very good at staying undercover—become an accomplice in a bank robbery? Johnny had little choice but to go along with Bodhi’s scheme, even as the security cameras could catch him as the only robber without a mask. But this robbery going horribly wrong comes down to Bodhi’s hubris.

Instead of the Ex-Presidents sticking with their usual timeframe—in and out of the bank within 90 seconds, and never going for the vault—Bodhi gets greedy and spends extra time for the vault. (I can only assume he wants more cash because the group’s LA cover is blown for the foreseeable future.) An off-duty cop that’s among the hostages reaches for his gun; a shootout ensues. The cop and the bank’s security guard die, along with Grommet, the actual name of one of Bodhi’s surfer buddies—not be mistaken with the claymation character.

Could all of this have been avoided if Bodhi didn’t go for the vault? Perhaps not; the off-duty cop really wanted to play hero. (Insurance covers the lost money at these banks, don’t lose your life over it!) But the Ex-Presidents were destined to be impeached at some point. (I never said I’d stop using presidential puns.)

4. Skydiving With a Parachute

It’s a testament to the overall radness of Point Break that skydiving lands squarely in the middle of this ranking, but that doesn’t mean the moment wasn’t breathtaking. What I really love about this sequence is how quickly Johnny and the surfers—they know by now that he’s an undercover agent; Johnny knows they’re the Ex-Presidents—transition from mutual distrust into pure glee. My dude went from being paranoid that the surfers messed with his parachute (understandable!) to joining hands with them in the middle of the sky.

The good vibes don’t last long—it’s only when they land that Bodhi tells Johnny they’ve kidnapped his girl—but it speaks to Point Break’s carefree ethos that everyone can set aside their differences to enjoy the rush of jumping from a plane. I would watch an entire, conflict-free movie that’s just Johnny and Bodhi skydiving, surfing, smoking, and talking about the Great Earth Mother that protects us all.

3. The Bank Robbery/Foot Chase

That said: Conflict is pretty sick, too. The frontrunner for the best sequence of the film—and one of the best action scenes of the ’90s—is, without question, Johnny chasing Bodhi in a Reagan mask after another one of the Ex-Presidents’ robberies. Bigelow’s virtuosic filmmaking gives the chase a real sense of urgency, and seeing Bodhi—or, more accurately, Patrick Swayze’s stunt double—parkour his way through backyards and busy streets never gets old. There’s also nothing more spontaneously hilarious than Bodhi waiting for Johnny to catch up with him, only to throw a literal dog in his face.

The chase culminates with Johnny reinjuring his knee, and refusing to shoot the escaping Bodhi—instead unloading an entire round into the sky, frustrated that he can’t shake off their bromance. Fun fact: I have the same reaction to this sequence as Nick Frost in Hot Fuzz.

2. Skydiving Without a Parachute

Imagine the thought process that goes into jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. Maybe there isn’t one. In any case, with his life on the line and the love of his life—sorry, his frenemy Bodhi—on the run via parachute, Johnny Utah takes the ultimate gamble. I’m not sure what the odds are for jumping out of a plane, latching onto another person who is already airborne, and holding on for dear life when they open up their parachute, but Johnny defied them and solidified his status as an adrenaline junkie legend. When even Bodhi is impressed, you don’t fear dying doing what you love.

This is when Point Break truly peaked. I just hope this doesn’t give Tom Cruise any more ideas.

1. Surfing the 50-Year Storm

What could possibly be more extreme than jumping out of a plane without a parachute? This might be a controversial pick for some Point Break enthusiasts, but Bodhi surfing the waves of a legendary 50-year storm is the stuff of legend. There’s the feat itself—riding an unparalleled wave that looks like the size of a skyscraper—and the fact that Bodhi willingly punched a one-way ticket. Rather than live out the rest of his life behind bars, Bodhi stuck to his own philosophy. For him, it was better to burn out than fade away.

And so Bodhi, in essence, surfed to his death—the most poetic way for such a mythical dudebro to meet his end. To match Bodhi’s accomplishment would be to welcome death with open arms; thankfully, Johnny Utah appears to settle for throwing away the badge and living free at the end of the movie. It’s an epic surf, and while the moment feels bittersweet, Bodhi said it best: It’s not tragic to die doing what you love. By that logic, I guess I’ll die eating bagels?