Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief Action Scenes Ranked
Updated: Jul 14
When reading a fantasy/adventure novel like this with plenty of Greek Gods and monsters around, you're kind of expecting to have great action sequences involving them. Thankfully, Rick Riordan is fully aware of this and, when bringing these iconic characters and creatures into his world, delivers on the untold promise of great action. As I've said before, this is one of my favorite series as it had the three things I love most in a story: heart, humor, and action. While some action scenes are meant to be more humorous and others a little shoe-horned in just to include one minor Greek myth no one's really heard of (cough, Procrustes, cough), most of them are very well written and truly recapture the original myths in new and exciting ways. Funnily enough, several times when reading these scenes, it took me a while to figure out who the characters were since in this world, saying their name gives them power so they just use nicknames. In one instance, one particularly famous monster was only named a little after the scene ended and I had to go OH and go back to reread the scene. Anyway, here I will rank the top ten action sequences from the first book, The Lightning Thief. This will be even more exciting when these action scenes are recreated in live-action format in about six months. Oh, and there will be some major spoilers here so proceed at your own peril not-readers of the series. And if you're still kind of on the fence, then definitely don't read numbers 9 or 5 or 1 which contain the biggest spoilers. Or 3 or 4. Or really any of them honestly.
10. The Waterland Incident
This scene only really serves as a way to flesh out the mythological world Riordan was building as well as provide a new feature in Annabeth's character, that being her intense arachnophobia. The god Ares gives the team the task of retrieving his shield that he 'left behind' at the Denver Waterland park. And at this point in the book, the reader already knows that nothing is that easy. Sure enough, as soon as they reach the shield, they're attacked by a swarm of robotic spiders while riding an out of control boat to destruction as a host of cameras film them, courtesy of the god Hephaestus. Again, no true monsters here, just a scene that adds a little more to Annabeth's character as she's rendered catatonic in fear of the spiders and some worldbuilding for Ares and his philandering with Hephaestus's wife Aphrodite. Still fun, but just not that tense or suspenseful.
9. Luke's Betrayal
This one was a shock, coming right at the end of the book. Throughout the main story, Percy has had this one line hanging over him: You will be betrayed by one who calls you a friend. And it's only here, when both Percy and the reader think that everything is good, that Luke, the character who has supported Percy all along and helped him out whenever he could, reveals his true colors as the main villain. His backstory is really sad though since he feels like just a plaything for the gods to laugh at after losing his friends and having his life destroyed, so he decides to get even, aiming to tear them down. This scene is incredibly tense and Riordan delivers it masterfully. The only reason it's not higher on this list is because it's not action-packed other than the one moment where Percy bats away the scorpion Luke left to kill him. Luke just leaves a warning before departing. Still, a fantastic scene that sets up the rest of the series.
8. Echidna and the Chimera
Before reading this scene, you're kind of already thinking 'there should be another attack coming soon, right?' And you're definitely thinking that when Percy tells Annabeth and Grover to go on ahead, leaving him trapped in the Gateway Arch. Well, you're proven right as one of the more famous Greek myths arrives, the unholy lion-goat-snake hybrid led by its less famous mother Echidna (unrelated to the anteater). Unfortunately, the Chimera doesn't really get a chance to shine because it's such a powerful monster, Percy can't really hope to match it being as young and inexperienced as he is. Soon, he's overwhelmed and near death, deciding to make a retreat instead. Still, a truly tense scene that showed how dangerous this world was to demigods and the like, proving why they need to start training at such a young age and why so few make it to adulthood. But I do wish the Chimera would make a comeback and really live up to its reputation.
7. Attack of Mrs. Dodds
The first action scene of the book, starting on page 12. And it really kicks off what's to come with a bang as Percy is called in by his math teacher to answer for 'what he's done.' And then, she transforms into the monster, nearly killing him. It's only thanks to the sudden appearance of Mr. Brunner and his sword that Percy is able to survive, cutting through his teacher. This was actually a pretty scary scene as at this point; you don't really know what's happening so reading this you feel just like Percy, trying to figure out what the hell is even going on. While this scene was short, it got its point across and Rick Riordan did a fantastic job setting up what was to come from this scene going forward.
6. The Three Furies on the Bus
The start of Percy's quest and he and his friends get attacked right then and there. And by, as Annabeth claims, three of the worst monsters ever. The Furies, captains under Hades and his head torturers. One, Mrs. Dodds, already made an appearance but now the siblings have arrived as well on a cramped bus where there's no escape. This scene didn't last too long but it had a lasting impact, providing small hints at later revelations and also setting up just how dangerous this quest would be. While I thought the Furies would last longer, this scene was still very tense and gripping, especially when they start walking down the bus towards Percy and the others, and his mispronounced Greek (Eat my shorts!) was just perfect Riordan humor.
5. The Underworld
Honestly, there are several different action scenes here but since they all take place in the Underworld and lead up to the big face-off, I just decided to put them all together. The Underworld, the objective of the entire quest as Percy meets Hades and tries to convince him not to start a war. And Rick Riordan both made it difficult and easy to get in here from bribing Charon to Annabeth's totally adorable takedown of the three-headed Cerberus to the edge-of-your-seat sequence of all three nearly being dragged into, well, hell. All this leads to the confrontation. As Percy says in the book, Hades is the third god he's met but the first who is actually godlike, his stature and aura lording over them. And here come some major spoilers, so beware, as now it's revealed that their objective, to stop Hades from launching a war with his brothers and to return the stolen lightning bolt was all a ruse, Hades being innocent in it all. In fact, he's a victim too. It was so well done and you can't help feeling bad for the guy. Doesn't make this scene any less dramatic as now they have to get away from a god, leading to Percy's amazingly sad sacrifice. Rick Riordan swung for the fence in putting the Underworld in his first book and it really paid off. The only reason this isn't higher is because there actually isn't too much action here, just major suspense (and some comedy), but it really works.
4. Capture the Flag
This was actually hyped up a bit before with the camp bully Clarisse telling Annabeth she would crush her in the game. Then Annabeth asks Percy to be on her team. So when we actually get to the game, your nerves are already on edge because in stuff like this, you know something's going to go down. And boy are you right as Percy, after humiliating Clarisse earlier, faces off against her and several of her cronies and he's completely overwhelmed. Until he isn't, finding new strength and totally whipping all their butts in a way that had reader's heads whirling as they went 'what?' But it doesn't end there as just after that, a hellhound appears, nearly killing Percy if not for Chiron's intervention. And then comes the revelation that Percy is the son of Poseidon. This whole scene was a turning point in the story, the turning point really that set off the rest of the story and was amazing to read. While it's always fun to see bullies get what's coming to them, the hellhound was genuinely terrifying, making this scene one of the best.
3. The Minotaur Chase
The second major action sequence and the one that, if you aren't already, gets you hooked. When Grover appears on Percy's doorstep in the middle of the night, warning him of what's coming, the two and Percy's mom all rush to try and get to safety. But, it comes too late with a monster on their trail and I'm sad to admit that it was only after the scene, when they actually name drop the Minotuar, that I figured out who it was. So when I first read it, I had no idea that one of the most iconic Greek monsters was featured. And it is both a terrific and terrifying scene with Grover quickly rendered helpless, leaving it to Percy and his mom to try and drag him to safety. But that proves impossible and soon, sadly, Percy's mom is killed (or so it seems). This however gives the Percy the rage and energy needed to tap into his inner power and manage to defeat the monster. The way Riordan wrote this, you can feel the dark and stormy atmosphere and easily picture it all. Truly incredible work.
Yeah, there are plenty of monsters in this book that are memorable and some that aren't. But everyone knows Medusa. Plenty of people know Chimera and the Minotaur and the others, but fewer know their stories. Practically everyone knows Medusa's story. A woman cursed to turn everyone who looks at her into stone. So of course Riordan has her here in one of the best scenes in the entire book. After the Fury Bus incident (see above), the three travelers are running for their lives and come across a Garden Gnome Emporium. I'm ashamed to admit that it took me so long to figure it out. It is right there in the name. The suspense just builds from there as they meet a veiled woman and see all her statues that she 'creates.' Here is where it actually gets dark for a kids' book as Riordan describes the statues of couples and little kids, all with terrified expressions on their faces as they died. Truly horror stuff. And the fight scene emphasized that as none of them could dare to look at her, having to maneuver around relying on mirrors and their other senses to survive. It is a very narrowly won victory that keeps you on edge from beginning to end and even after that as your heart just keeps racing. For me, this scene really showed how dangerous this world Riordan was creating was and how much trouble the characters would have to face.
1. Percy vs. Ares
There's no way any other scene would top this one. The epic showdown on a beach, at sunset, with a crumbling (sort of) city in the background. When Ares is revealed to be the traitor, he tries to kill Percy to keep him quiet leading to the duel with the God of War. Ares even says that throughout the quest that all Percy's been doing is running from each monster and challenge he faces which is honestly accurate. Here, Percy doesn't run. Riordan choreographs the whole fight very well, really making the reader feel what it's like to go up against a god. It's really only because Ares underestimates Percy that the fight ended the way it did. Still, it shows a lot of Percy's character and strength that he lasted as long as he did, proving himself a real hero. Walker Scobell, the actor playing Percy in live-action, stated himself that this was the fight he was looking forward to the most and I whole-heartedly agree. Again, Riordan swung for the fences by pitting Percy against the God of War for the finale of the first book, but he really did make it work and cemented this as one of the best fantasy books of its time and beyond.
There are plenty of other cool sequences like Percy beating Clarisse the first time, their encounter with Procrustes, and almost getting suckered into the Lotus Hotel, but these are the best. Truly a high bar Riordan set for himself and it was amazing to see how he might top it.
So, I hoped to all previous readers of the book that this was fun time down nostalgia road. And, if you've never read the books and really didn't care about them being spoiled, hope you enjoyed it. And if you didn't care about them being spoiled before but now do cause you want to read it but everything's been revealed, sorry. But it's also kind of mainly your fault cause I did warn you.