Here’s a list I made for no reason other than it is fun to see shit blow up real good. I’ll keep my explaining to a minimum and let the fireballs do most of the talking. I stayed away from people explosions and what have you (Sorry Scanners) and anything nuclear (Sorry Aliens) and movies I don’t like (Sorry Swordfish). There’s something special about these, something that makes them stand out long after the credits have rolled. I found my favorites to be more than just the biggest blasts of all time (Sorry Stealth), but instead a hybrid between “that was really fucking cool”, some essentialness to the story, and something else that distinguishes it from the rest. With that in mind, a lot of these are major spoilers so skip ahead if you haven’t seen the movie (Especially numbers 3, 10 & 20).
20. The Rock – Green Smoke
Nicolas Cage’s first, and best, action spectacular goes out with a bang. I love the overly dramatic build up and the super low angle as Cage drops to his knees. The aerial shot of the errant missile making contact just as the jet whizzes past is an absolute delight.
19. Die Hard 2: Die Harder – Oh Shit
The Die Hard series is full of great explosions (we’ll be hearing more from it later), and Die Harder is no exception. My favorite is McClane’s last-second ejection to escape a plane full of grenades. Again, a nice use of an aerial shot with a sweet fireball. Throw in the image of McClane’s seat spinning and his comical exclamation and you have a classic explosion.
18. Children of Men – Morning Coffee
A great long take (Starting inside the coffee shop and then blowing it up), and a great way to set the tone for the whole movie. Pre-title we know everything we need to know about the world this movie will occupy, thanks to this shocking terrorist blast.
17. Munich – Turn off the lights
(The trailer is best clip I could find, but parts of the scene are in there)
It’s the suspense that kills. Bana stares at that lamp for an eternity before turning it off and signaling his bomb expert to set off the charges. The blast is bigger than expected; the way Bana gets thrown about and the ensuing carnage is terrifying in its realism.
16. The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers – Deep bomb
It’s already one of the best battle sequences ever filmed when a torch bearing orc sets off a giant theater rattling bomb. The SFX and miniature work sell this one perfectly. I love the pieces of wall that slowly land on random orcs.
15. Dawn of the Dead (2004) – Fill’er Up
Another great opener. In 8 minutes the world has gone to hell in a hand basket. This becomes more apparent when we pull back for a bird’s-eye view. There’s a lot to take in so we don’t immediately notice the traffic accident that turns into a gas station cookout. The suddenness of the explosion is jolting and thematically satisfying.
14. True Lies – Flame-stroke
(This is a German-dubbed compilation video, but the blast is in there at 2:13)
James Cameron has many explosions in his movies and True Lies has its fair share (including a nuclear bomb). But I find the one with Arnold swimming away while flames roar overhead to be one of the most visually arresting and iconic.
13. Final Destination – Oh Shit Pt. II
Scoff all you want, but this sequence is still effective. It has a great fireball in the background, the priceless Stifler reaction, and the delayed shattered glass.
12. The Dark Knight – Nurse Joker
The explosion itself is solid, but this one is really all about two things. Heath Ledger’s acting as he walks away from the blast, and how freaking cool it looked on a giant IMAX screen.
11. Terminator 2: Judgment Day – Last breath
10. The Bridge on the River Kwai – Blast of Irony
After spending the whole movie refusing to swallow his pride, Alec Guinness’s stubborn Colonel dies but not before uttering a great final line, “What have I done?” Then he lands dead on a blast detonator (love the way he keels over, eyes rolling back in his head) thus destroying the bridge of the title that he worked so hard to build.
9. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid - Dy-no-mite!
It’s a great stunt (No CGI) and a really funny moment. It is set-up wonderfully by the previous robbery and the two lines of dialogue Newman utters before the blast. Explosions with debris and shrapnel always look more dangerous and this one looks like someone almost died.
8. The Hurt Locker – Slow death
You know the bomb is going to detonate, you know this, yet the suspense is still unbearable. The blast itself, in amazing slow motion, is as good as the suspense. The insert shots of the ground swell and rust cracking only enhance the already impressive IED.
7. Die Hard with a Vengeance – Summer in the City
(This is a compilation that begins with the scene but without most the music)
The Lovin’ Spoonful lend a big hand in the second appearance of the Die Hard franchise on my list. I love the SFX/Music enhanced slam down title cards. The unassuming montage is quickly interrupted by the first of what will be many bomb blasts. It’s a great way for the movie to announce itself and declare “Die Hard is back and we’re not fucking around.”
6. The Matrix – Window shine
(You can jump ahead to 4:00)
What isn’t great about this helicopter crash? It’s got the cool wobbly glass, the awesome shattering, the delayed fireball inside the glass, and then the glass breaking on the window. It’s a fantastic quadruple punch of cool.
5. Alien 3 – Flare-up
An underrated movie with one of my favorite uses of slo-mo. The flare falls and slowly turns end over end for an eternity. It’s agonizing until the flare hits on its end and ignites a wave of fireball destruction throughout the claustrophobic tunnels. Few survive and the dread is amplified by the question, “What do we do now?”
4. Contact – Busey bomb
It’s all about the camerawork. We voyeuristically watch the scene unfold through security cams. When crazy Jake goes up in flames we get to experience it from every angle. First extreme close-up, and then the camera pans across the monitors so we get the medium shots, and then a quick pan to the real thing in a long shot. One big blast, every possible angle, so you really feel it.
3. Leon: The Professional – Oh Shit Pt. III
After a tour de force action finale, we are treated to one last bang. Gary Oldman’s face and quip are priceless here. The camera dollying left then cut to wide shot of explosion still dollying left adds so much to the impact and excitement of this wonderful explosion.
2. The Crow – Rings of fire
It’s such a badass line of dialogue to utter before blowing something the fuck up. Throw in the awesome shotgun blast laced with engagement rings, the lack of reaction from Lee to the blast, and the fun overacting of Jon Polito and you have the second greatest explosion of all time.
1. Die Hard – Nakatomi fireworks
You can’t question this one. The dude jumps off a giant skyscraper as the roof blows up and lives. That is the definition of dying hard.
Agree? Disagree? What are some of your favorites?