Zabriskie Point (1970)
The sheer number of repeats shot from various camera angles is almost comical, but Zabriski Point’s final scene is magnificently shot and the explosive noise gives way to to the eerily calm soundtrack supplied by Pink Floyd. Lovely.
Tropic Thunder (2008)
Like the rest of Tropic Thunder, the explosion scene is massively overblown. But in satirising the nature of movie pyrotechnics, it also supplies one of Hollywood’s best firework moments. How? A 450ft line of explosive pots and over a thousand litres of petrol and diesel creating a 1.25-second blast that reached 350ft into the air. Result.
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Do you love the smell of napalm in the morning? If you answered yes, this is the movie explosion for you. If you don’t know what we’re talking about, it’s about time you booked out some armchair time with Francis Ford Coppola’s classic ‘nam movie.
Fight Club (1999)
Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter get the best seats in the house for Fight Club’s epic final scene. The rest of us get to watch some citywide smithereen action to the tuneful accompaniment of The Pixies’ Where Is My Mind? We’ll settle for it.
Return of the Jedi (1983)
The sight of Saturnic rings emitting from the valedictory explosion of a villainous space lair is sci-fi’s version of the rom-com kiss. But even today Return of the Jedi’s Death Star obliteration scene still impresses. That’ll stop Vader moaning about the heating bill.
On the off chance you haven’t seen Dambusters, or can’t decipher the utterly unambiguous title hint, the best of British sticks it to Jerry with bouncing bombs that explode dams. Rock up at around 02:20 for a good example.
Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
If you’re going to die, try not to fall on the dynamite plunger rigged to the bridge you’ve just built. That was the lesson we learned from Bridge on the River Kwai, as Alec Guinness helped the titular structure, and a trainload of soldiers, find its way to the ground.
The Matrix (1999)
There is no spoon, but are lots of bangs in the Wachowski brothers’ reality-questioning action thriller. The Matrix’s finest explosive moment is the ultra-slo-mo helicopter crash that showed the rippling glass of a skyscraper giving way to a neatly circular blast.
Jackass 3D (2010)
What’s better than explosions on film? Explosions on film in 3D, that’s what. Jackass 3D delivers with this final scene, shot in super slo-mo. The 2D clip here doesn’t really do it justice, but while you’re saving up the cash for a 3DTV, you’ll have to make do.
Two words: exploding head. The crowning moment of Scanners was made by filling a prosthetic head with animal livers and blasting it with a shotgun. But don’t let that put you off.
The Italian Job (1969)
The countdown, the crash zoom, the explosion, the line. The Italian Job delivers the ultimate sequence, with Michael Caine’s payoff becoming the Brit antonym to Jaws’ ‘bigger boat’ quote.
White Heat (1949)
"Made it, Ma! Top of the world!" The dramatic finale of this 1949 noir classic sees James Cagney's Cody Jarrett ending his confrontation with the police in spectacular fashion by emptying his gun into a gas storage tank – with predictably pyrotechnic results.
More after the break...
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Indiana Jones survives a nuclear explosion by hiding in a lead-lined fridge. Yes, Crystal Skull marks the moment the Indiana Jones franchise went off the rails and "nuking the fridge" became the new "jumping the shark" – but it's impressively staged. And the shot of Indy facing the mushroom cloud, a 1930s hero transplanted to the Nuclear Age, is one of the film's few truly iconic moments.
Touch of Evil (1958)
This explosion, from Orson Welles' 1958 classic, isn't particularly big. But it follows three tense minutes of build-up, famously shot in a single take, as we follow a bomb on its journey through the streets of a border town. The first cut of Touch of Evil – to the subsequent explosion – is genuinely jarring.
The Dark Knight (2008)
The Joker blows up Gotham General Hospital. Yes, the fact that Chris Nolan actually blew up a building in one take is impressive, but it's Heath Ledger's acting that makes the scene – his nonplussed look as the big explosion he was expecting initially fails to materialise is priceless. Skip to 04:47 for the big bang.
Things get out of hand at a petrol station, ending up with a freak fuel fight. It watches like a public awareness film for not smoking at the pump. But much, much funnier.
Die Hard 2 (1990)
One of the best yippee ki-yay moments in all the Die Hard films, initiated by the flick of a lighter, the immortal Willis line and the ensuing imagination-melting plane explosion. Lucky he was a smoker, eh? Skip to 02:42 for the boom.
The Hurt Locker (2008)
Everything looks better in super-slow-mo. So take something that’s already awesome to look at – a big HD explosion, say – make it slow and you’re onto a winner. Well done, Kathryn Bigelow: the shake of the pebbles and ripple of rusted metal in this scene are touches of genius.
Dr Strangelove (1964)
Stanley Kubrick used old footage of mushroom clouds to make this apocalyptic sequence of atomic bomb explosions at the end of Cold War black comedy Dr Strangelove. By the finale, a bunch of incompetent American generals have managed to activate a Soviet built Doomsday Machine. It triggers nuclear detonations all over the world, with a suitably epic soundtrack: Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again.
V for Vendetta (2006)
Grab a creepy Guy Fawkes mask and watch as an anonymous rebel sticks it to the man on November 5 in V for Vendetta. V gets his kicks blowing up statues and the Old Bailey too but from 00:31 in this mash-up you can see the Houses of Parliament being blown to smithereens, complete with slow-mo, multi-angle shots of Big Ben’s clock face getting what for.
Scenes like this were made for 3D but since Swordfish came out ten years ago we’ve no joy there. We’ll just have to make do with the near-360 degree sweep of the ensuing carnage from a hostage strapped up with C-4 explosives, stainless steel ball bearings and an electronic dog collar.
Independence Day (1996)
Roland Emmerich might be getting distracted by Shakespeare these days but destroying cities is what he does best. After hovering ominously over Manhattan for a while, those aliens send ripples down the Empire State Building and pulverise most of the New York skyline in Independence Day. Meanwhile, in Washington Will Smith’s too busy saying ‘Damn!’ at anything that moves to notice that the White House has just been zapped too.
Stealth may have been given a huge thumbs down from critics and bombed at the box office, but it does feature one of the biggest explosions in cinematic history. Ever. We're talking 500 gallons of petrol. The hangar scene is so huge it's surprising a handful of stuntmen weren't wheeled out in body bags. Even NASA had to be given a heads up. Not everyone was impressed with the huge fireball, though. A bunch of party pooping environmentalists took the filmmakers to court.
Doom threatens. Again. This time it's a giant apocalyptic asteroid ("It's the size of Texas, Mr President") on a collision course for Earth. Michael "boom" Bay is known for his over-the-top use of special effects, and in one of his biggest blockbusters, he doesn't disappoint. Ironically, a fire destroyed the master print of the film. Fast forward to 02:40 for the good stuff.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
The most harrowing depiction of a nuclear explosion ever shot on film? Probably. Fun fact: the other Sarah Connor in this dream sequence was played by Linda Hamilton’s real-life twin sister (who also doubled for the T-1000 later in the film). Neither were hurt during the filming of this explosion, which wasn’t quite as bad as it looks.
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