The 15 Best Explosions in Movie History

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Sure, we love those quiet moments in a Wim Wenders film as much as the next mid-brow entertainment website, but today we embrace our inner 12-year-old. And there are few things more visually appealing than a kick-ass explosion. As the special effects have evolved, so has their role in movies. A well-known tool of the trade for action flicks and spy thrillers, explosions all serve the same purpose: destruction.

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.

Honorable mentions: Die Hard, Fight Club, The Dark Knight, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Ghostbusters

15. Batman: The Movie (1966)
This might not be the Batman movie you had in mind, and Christopher Nolan’s hospital explosion in The Dark Knight is an honorable mention. But Adam West’s lovable (borderline Slapstick) Batman makes this scene that much better. Although the explosion actually occurs off camera, there’s a certain art and charm that surrounds this entire sequence. And Seriously, how long is that fuse?

14. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Before he was beach-bumming on Tatooine, Alec Guiness was known by many as Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson in David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai. Many times, explosions are exactly what they seem: dazzling and destructive. But in Kwai, the bridge’s destruction is a symbol for the film’s thematic message on war as a whole, as Major Clipton aptly describes in the closing scene as “madness.”

13. Sabotage (1936)
Alfred Hitchcock wasn’t exactly known for his artful use of big-time booms in his films. His technique was usually a little more subtle. However, one of the filmmaker’s early works shows just how good explosions are at building tension. The blast itself might not be as impressive as some CGI-constructed monstrosity, but is a perfect example of how they can be an artful, if not vital, component to a film.

12. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Keeping with Quentin Tarantino’s taste for the ultra-violent, it was no surprised when Inglourious Basterds went out with a very large bang. I’m not sure if this needs to be prefaced but the following video is NSFW (as are most Tarantino films). Of course, the movie’s conclusion is rife with historical inaccuracy, but to some, it’s an ending that the despotic dictator deserved. Although the extreme violence in this scene is wince-inducing, I always felt bad for the guy riding his bike outside the theater. Having a building explode on you would certainly ruin your day.

11. The Matrix (1999)
Now this one is just plain cool. A helicopter nose dives into a glass-plated building. The cool wavy glass effect. Big explosion. The well-executed angles just makes the experience more enjoyable. I’m not going to argue the physics behind the effects at work here (after all, there is no spoon), but it’s a classic explosion nonetheless.

10. The Hurt Locker (2008)
This whole movie is just one big explosion. A stunning film by director Kathryn Bigelow (who would go on to win Best Director), The Hurt Locker harnesses the violence and danger inherent in explosives. In an era where explosions are commonplace in film, Bigelow makes them frighteningly real, and all that more terrifying. At one moment almost beautiful, until the audience is reminded of its deadly consequence.

9. Jaws (1975)
There is perhaps no better “fuck yeah” explosion in all of cinema history. From the film’s bloody opening to Brody clutching onto Quint’s rifle for dear life, the entire film centers on killing that giant pesky fish. Just as all hope seems lost, our hero slowly sinks amidst the wreckage of his boat and one massive blast saves the day. The film opens bloody and finishes bloody…really bloody. Sounds about right.

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