The following list represents some of the most memorable explosions in film history. The criteria for this list expands beyond just the visual and also keeps in mind the importance of the explosion to the rest of the film. Of course, a few are on the list because they just look cool. All explosions included are of the traditional variety, the severe head trauma in Scanners (headsplosion?) and the luscious visuals in Inception (dreamsplosion?) were not included.
8. Stealth (2005)
This gem of an explosion can be filed away under the “bad movie but good explosion” category. You’ve probably even tried to forget this film existed. Sorry to bring up painful memories, but there is one moment of redemption within this two-hour cinematic disaster. And no, it’s not Jessica Biel’s acting.
7. Zabriskie Point (1970)
I’m not sure whether this explosion belongs in MoMA or on a dirty, DVD rack appropriately labeled “explosion porn.” This is the crème de la crème of slow-motion explosions. Otherwise an easily forgettable movie, this scene at least provides a small moment of beautiful and gratuitous destruction.
6. Michael Bay (1990-2012)
Yes, I’m aware that this is person and not a film, but if I was going to be honest with myself and put the absolute best explosions on this list, Michael Bay would undoubtably make the list several times. And yes, I understand that Bay tends to use explosions as a crutch, but I’ll be damned if he doesn’t make some pretty stunning destruction. I couldn’t exactly decide what his single best explosion was, so I just picked all of them. Enjoy below (and ignore the weird Caribbean music.)
5. Apocalypse Now (1979)
“I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”
4. V for Vendetta (2005)
This movie, down to its most essential, is about one explosion. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s a pretty big one, but all the plot threads and character motivation arrive at one emotional apex, which is eclipsed by a pretty impressive light display. The conflation between celebration and carnage mirrors the complexity of V himself as he must destroy to liberate.
3. Star Wars (1977)
It doesn’t get more iconic than this. X-wings screaming down metal trenches, shooting an exhaust port no bigger than a womp rat. The fate of the galaxy rests in Luke’s hands, and the kid’s a deadeye. Whether the original or the digital remastered, it really doesn’t matter. The explosion worked so well they did it again six years later in Return of the Jedi. It’s the boom so nice, they did it twice.
2. Independence Day (1996)
Have you ever watched this movie? I mean, really watched it? It’s basically a compilation of the best explosions ever. Treasured monuments and government buildings get decimated, and then the alien mother ship follows suit. This movie is a pyrotechnician’s dream, which makes the title that much more fitting.
1. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
When anyone asks me how I’d like to die, I usually offer them the response, “Major Kong style.” If a wide grin spreads across their face, I know that they’ve experienced the best explosion cinema has to offer. In Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, Major Kong rides a nuclear bomb likes it’s a mechanical bull as he plummets to his eventual death. Even excluding this scene scene, the final few minutues, which features a bevy of earth-shattering blasts to the music of Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again,” are enough to hold the top spot.
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