The American public is fond of films that feature massive explosions to move the plot for action, thrill and often violence and carnage forward. Filmmakers have long used explosions in their creations to make films more exciting and appealing to the audience. Some have chosen to set up their own scenes, calling in experts in incendiary devices, while others have relied upon CGI, which has the potential to be far more expensive in the long run.
But in the history of movies, which explosive scenes were better than others? Do you go with the over the top action era of the 80s featuring the likes of Arnold and Sylvester? Do you go back further when tech wasn’t so impressive? Or do you just pick anything that makes the most sense?
Join us as we review the top twenty explosion scenes in movies from as early as the 1940s through the current era.
20. “Dambusters” (1955)
We begin our listing of the top 20 explosion scenes in movies with a clip from the 1955 classic film “Dambusters.” The movie was a huge success that shows plenty of action for its era. It’s cool enough to watch these vintage aircraft in flight, but watching the British bomb the German dams with the tremendous explosions is even better yet. The film is spotted throughout with amazing scenes like this and it was a sensation in its’ time because tensions were still high after the battles that served as inspiration for the making of this film.
19.” Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957)
This is one of the classic films that is still a favorite among both young and old who have a penchant for bridges and explosives. The powerful storyline hit home with many veterans of the war throughout the world, who participated in the events that took place during this period in time. It didn’t hurt that Alec Guinness led a star-studded cast to make the film even more highly anticipated. Not only was it anxiously awaited, the movie delivered on all fronts, no pun intended. It was brilliantly written which moved the believable plot, based on actual events in history ahead nicely. The explosions in this film were among the most realistic generated on film during this era of post war rebuilding and recovering from the effects of the recent conflicts. One of the famous sentiments of this movie remains, “If you’re going to die, try not to fall on the dynamite plunger rigged to the bridge you’ve just built.” This was the overriding lesson that was taught to the world from the movie “Bridge on the River Kwai.” At any rate, it was considered to be one of the most exciting depictions of war in the late 1950s and movie-goers flocked to see it. You can still catch the film on DVD or on classic movie networks because it is one of those classics that never dies.
18. “Jackass 3D” (2010)
Leave it to the crew of “Jackass” to come up with a 3D explosion on film. These geniuses delivered high in the 2010 movie “Jackass 3D.” Although the clips only give a representation in 2D, it is still a spectacular explosion. Shooting it in slow motion was a brilliant idea because it allowed viewers to see greater detail of the explosion and this made it all the more exciting. These guys are consistently blowing things up, but this is one of their finer moments. One of the main reasons that it’s considered to be one of their greatest triumphs is because nobody lost a toe or finger and there were no hospitalizations as a result of filming.
17. “Scanners” (1981)
This scene may start out slow if not even boring, but if you know what is coming at the end of the clip, it’s well worth the wait. This isn’t a film explosion scene in the classic sense, because it is actually, much better. We see the suits all gathered at the podium area in a panel type setting. The audience, which includes Jason Robards is intently watching and listening as the meeting starts rolling. Near the end, we hear the buzzing that indicates it’s about to happen, the bald guy starts sweating and writhing in agony and we’re certain that he’s developing a pounding headache. Alarm starts to register on the faces of those in the audience as the creepy panelist sitting next to the bald dude gets his creep on and conjures the magnificent mumbo jumbo that leads to the climactic explosion of his head. This was one of the most amazing effects that we’ve seen with a realistic rendering of blood and gore spraying forth from the headless corpse that leaves nothing more than a gaping neck that issues forth streams of blood. In a side note, the stunt crew made this all possible by filling a fake head prop with animal liver and then blasted it with a shotgun to achieve the gruesome details which were a big deal at the time.
16. “The Italian Job” (1969)
The explosion scene in “The Italian Job” is truly spectacular, even if it’s only a vehicle that goes up, but it is blown up in a big way. What comes after the blast is one of the most comedic scenes in the film. First we have the countdown, then we have the crash zoom and finally, the explosion followed by the line The sequencing is hilarious as Michael Caine looks at the charred wreckage and tells the bomber, “you were only supposed to blow the buddy doors off.” This line became famous and was used for years after the film hit the big screen.
15. “White Heat (1949)
Our list would not be complete if it didn’t include the best explosion fro the 1940s era in film. James Cagney portrays Cody Jarrett in the 1949 classic drama. The finale was perhaps the most memorable part of the film because of the action and chaos which was rare in 1940s filmmaking at the time. As Cagney nears the final scene, he screams out the notoriously popular phrase “Made it, Ma! Top of the world!” This is how the film ends as Jarrett has his famous confrontation with the police. He knows that his time has come, but he isn’t going to go out alone. Instead, he decides to take as many of them out with hi as possible. Jarrett empties his gun into a storage tank that contains gasoline and although the fire starts out small, it quickly mushrooms into a full-fledged explosion that gives the film a grand finale.
14. “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” (2008)
Harrison Ford’s character Indiana Jones, once again finds himself in a compromising situation in the latest installment of the “Indiana Jones” franchise. After being taken hostage and escaping the clutches of the Nazi’s in search of world treasures, he finds himself at a small town that is made up of test dummy people and homes with neatly manicured yards that are set up to be a nuclear testing site for the government’s ongoing nuclear bomb experimentation. With just moments to spare before the bomb is detonated, warning sirens going off in the background and a pack of Nazi’s hot on his tail, Jones scrambles through the pretend homes in search of something that could shield him from the nuclear blast and possibly save his life. With seconds to spare, he spies a lead lined refrigerator. Fumbling with the contents, he pulls them out by the racks and jumps inside, closing the door behind him just as the bomb goes off and blows the town to smithereens. The explosion was truly a spectacular event, but what made this scene the most memorable, was watching Jones, as he was flying in the frig, tumbling over steep embankments and coming to rest on the desert floor. Of course, he popped out of his lead lined container virtually unscathed and ready to tackle the government officials who suspect him of espionage.
13. “Touch of Evil” (1958)
We absolutely had to include the best explosion scene from the 1950s. Orson Welles” 1958 classic film “Touch of Evil” was a masterpiece of brilliant story telling and climactic build. A bomb is stealthily placed in the trunk of the car that Janet Leigh and her beau are driving through a small border town, but they are totally unaware of its’ presence. The camera follows them as they make their journey to various places through the streets, making stops here and there, and continuing on their way to the border. It isn’t until they are safely away from the vehicle, having a private romantic moment near customs that the bomb goes off with a jarring explosion that becomes the focal point of this film. The way the anticipation builds in this vintage clip is nothing short of spectacular. This was successfully accomplished without the modern techniques and advantages that filmmakers have at their disposal today.
12. “The Dark Knight” (2008)
Heath Ledger tore up the role as the Joker as he blows up the General Hospital in Gotham City. What many viewers didn’t realize is that Chris Nolan really did blow up an actual building in the creation of this scene, but even more impressive is Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker character. This scene shows him casually strolling down the hospital corridor and the fact that he knows the explosion is coming doesn’t really seem to move him down the hallway any faster. This scene is a priceless piece of history with the excellence in acting that is difficult to replicate.
11. “Zoolander” (2001)
Who in the world would ever under any circumstances think that it’s a good idea to smoke a cigarette at a gas pump? This powerful scene from the movie “Zoolander” serves as a reminder to us all that it’s something that you should probably avoid doing. When things really get out of hand at the petrol station, the freaky fuel fight had disastrous consequences. In the end, the scene was funny, but mostly because it was so terribly stupid, and these are the kind of things that crack us up.
10. “Die Hard 2” (1990)
It seems like Bruce always has to start a fist fight that includes a lot of struggling, wrestling and rolling around on the ground before a big explosion takes place. This is among his best action moments and it was enough to make him say “yippie ki yay” as the best explosion of all of the films in the “Die Hard” franchise ignites with a full fury. All it really took was the flick of a lighter and then we got to see the plane melt. What would have happened if he wasn’t a smoker? Would it have even happened?
9. “The Hurt Locker” (2008)
Perhaps one of the best aspects of this explosion scene is that it was shown in a super slow motion mode. This makes the details of the destructive forces more apparent and it somehow makes the explosion scene seem so much bigger. This was an awesome blow up scene that we can thank Kathryn Bigelow for with the pebbles shaking and the ripple of rusting metal touches, it was nothing short of sheer genius.
8. “Dr. Strangelove” (1964)
The use of old mushroom cloud footage for this scene was quite helpful in the making of this apocalyptic sequence that featured atomic bomb explosions. The film took place in the era of the end of the Cold War in this dark comedy. It’s not complementary to the United States military when the end of the film comes and the American generals are shown as being the incompetents who triggered nuclear detonations world wide, but the explosions were really cool. The addition of Very Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again, ” was a bit on the twisted side, but all in all, was appropriate. Stanley Kubrick is the genius behind this explosion scene that has been regarded as one of the best to ever be shown on film during the era of the 1960s.
7. “V For Vendetta” (2006)
The Guy Fawkes mask was perhaps the creepiest that we’ve ever seen yet. It’s a wonder that the former “Star Wars” heroine could stand being in his presence in the rooftop scene that screamed, “something big is coming up.” This anonymous rebel was hell bent on sticking it to the man in the film “V for Vendetta in 2006. The sicko seems to get off on blowing up statures of Old Bailey, but he took it too far when he annihilated the famous face of Big Ben then took out the Houses of Parliament in a shocking display of the destructive power of explosives. The creepy smile on the face of the mask is something that you just wanted to wipe off of the guy’s dumb head.
6. “Swordfish” (2001)
“Swordfish, starring John Travolta tells the tale of a hostage that is strapped up with an oufit equipped with C-4 explosives, complete with stainless steel ball bearings and to complete the ensemble, an electronic dog collar. This is a scene that was made for 3D viewing, but since it came out prior to the really good technology, that didn’t materialize for us, but it did the next best thing. Instead, it gave us effects that almost completed a three hundred and sixty degree sweep of the explosion caused by our bomb fashionista and the carnage that came after the poor unfortunate hostage was not able to be saved.
5. “Independence Day” (1996)
This Roland Emmerich masterpiece was one of the most amazing films for depicting the explosions and destruction that could occur in an alien attack from above the earth. The special effects for “Independence Day” were far reaching. We not only saw the White House blown to bits before our eyes, but also other national monuments. Large skyscrapers with rooftop parties with blown from the top down and exploded downwards and outwards, sending a fiery blast through the streets and neighborhoods, wiping out entire cities. Will Smith, Bill Pullman and Jeff Goldblum lead the star studded cast of this blockbuster that was the rage in 1996, and remains a favorite today.
4. “Stealth” (2005)
Although the movie “Stealth” was not a huge blockbuster, it certainly contained one of the most impressive explosion scenes in the history of film. Critics gave the film a firm thumbs down rating, but it wasn’t because of the fiery scene, but rather because of the rest of the production. Viewers had to agree that this was a spectacular scene, but there was little that could make up for the other aspects of the movie. In fact, NASA was given a heads up before the crew rolled out the five hundred gallons of petrol that was required to create the special effects as the hangar blew up. No stuntmen were killed during the filming of this scene, but many were amazed that there were no serious injuries. It created a huge fireball that ignited the ire of a group of environmentalists who took the filmmakers to court over the incident.
3. “Armageddon” (1998)
Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton lead the impressive cast of the doomsday film that presented viewers with one of the most magnificent explosions of all time. An apocalyptic asteroid was heading towards the earth and there wasn’t much time to find a solution. The asteroid was roughly the size of the state of Texas and if it hit the earth, it would be an event culminating in global extinction. Michael Bay is the genius behind the pyrotechnic wonder that made use of his over the top special effects in the film that became on of the biggest blockbusters of the year. It may have cost Willis his life, but they managed to blow up the asteroid and save the planet from total destruction.
2. “Pearl Harbor” (2001)
The explosion scenes in the movie “Pearl Harbor” were among the finest that we’ve seen in film to date. The estimated cost of the attack scene below was estimated at $5.5 million dollars when the dust, shrapnel and debris had settled. This is one of the best depictions of the real-life attack that occurred on United States Soil, water and air space during the era that set off the war with Japan in the 1940s. Ben Affleck leads the cast of this blockbuster movie that spared no expense in portraying the events that rocked the nation and the world.
1. “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” (1991)
This notorious scene in the film is one of the most realistic and frightening depictions of a nuclear explosion that has ever been shot on film. This occurred in a Sarah Connor dream sequence with the part played by the real life twin sister of Linda Hamilton who would appears as double of the T-1000 at a later time in the film. The explosion looks much worse on film than it really was on the set, but it made for a spectacular scene in the movie.