The clock is ticking, time is running out. We have just ten more detonations to run through in our list of the Top 25 Movie Explosions of All Time. The first half of our list ran through everything from Wages of Fear to Iron Man, but now we've come to the best and biggest explosions ever filmed. There was a lot of debate involved, and the exact order changed more than once, but we stand by these incendiary scenes as the finest around. Of course, if you feel like we missed one, we'd love to hear from you.
Let's not build the suspense any longer. These are the Top Ten Movie Explosions of All Time.
10. The Meaning of Life (dir. Terry Jones, 1983)
The funniest explosion in film history has got to be from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, the famed comedy troupe’s last feature film collaboration as a complete team. Although the film itself is probably their most scattershot, one of the centerpieces is a classic vignette about a morbidly obese Terry Jones (who also directed), dining at a fancy restaurant where an extremely supportive John Cleese happily provides his guest’s every desire. At the end of it all, Jones can’t eat another bite, but Cleese insists that he has room for one “wafer thin mint.” Jones tries to protest but finally can’t resist the urge as Cleese delicately places the treat in his mouth, leading to an enormous, literally gut-busting kaboom that’s as perfectly timed as it is really, really gross.
9. The Dark Knight (dir. Christopher Nolan, 2008)
When blowing up a real object for a film, like an entire building for example, you only get one shot at it. In Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, the Joker (Heath Ledger) had to do that typical movie cliché of walking away from an explosion without looking back at it. He had one take to nail his performance as he responds to the unexpected delay in the big kaboom. And that take is one of the most memorable moments in a totally unforgettable film, capturing the chaos of the character, the perfect comic timing involved in the scene, and responding naturally to one of the most spectacular explosions ever filmed. Damn, we miss Heath Ledger.
8. Touch of Evil (dir. Orson Welles, 1958)
Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil begins with a bang. In one of the most famous shots ever devised, the film noir begins with a bomb placed in a car, while the car drives through a shady border town, building unbelievable tension as Welles introduces the world of the film and dangers within before the fateful explosion. There have been more complicated single take sequences since, but the ticking clock Welles ingeniously included insures that Touch of Evil will remain one of the all time greats.
7. Sabotage (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1936)
Sabotage is rarely considered one of Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest films, but within this early thriller from the master of suspense is one of his most shocking moments, on par with the shower scene from Psycho. Oscar Homolka plays Karl Verloc, the owner of a movie theater and member of a terrorist organization with plans to blow up Piccadilly Circus. His wife and her little brother Stevie (Desmond Tester) are completely unaware of his double life. Eventually, the trap is set and Verloc sends Stevie off to Piccadilly Circus with a package only the audiences knows is set to explode. Unaware of the danger, and being a very young boy, Stevie allows himself to get distracted en route. The clock is ticking, he won’t get there in time, how will fate step in and save this little boy?
It doesn’t. Kaboom. As powerful as the sequence was, Hitchcock believed that audiences resented the film for making them care about a character so utterly doomed. (He even played with an adorable, also doomed puppy for crying out loud.) He considered the sequence a mistake. We respectfully disagree.
6. Kiss Me Deadly (dir. Robert Aldrich, 1955)
Robert Aldrich’s adaptation of Mickey Spillane’s “Mike Hammer” mystery novel Kiss Me, Deadly is one of the most sadistic film noirs ever crafted, transforming the already gritty anti-hero into an absolute thug and the mafia-centric storyline into an apocalyptic Cold War parable. Ralph Meeker plays Hammer, a private investigator and blackmailer who stumbles onto a mystery when an escaped mental patient is killed and thrown off a cliff in Hammer’s car… with Hammer inside. This sends Hammer on a mission to find “The Great Whatsit,” a box with glowing contents that, like the Maltese Falcon before it, has everyone betraying each other to gain access to its riches. SERIOUS SPOILERS. The joke’s on them. The case opens in the film’s twisted ending, blowing up the cast, and a sizable chunk of the California coastline with them, in a devastating nuclear firestorm.
5. Jaws (dir. Steven Spielberg, 1975)
After two hours of the most some of the most suspenseful storytelling caught on film, you can’t just harpoon the stupid shark. So Steven Spielberg, in the motion picture event that started the whole concept of “the summer blockbuster,” went for something a little more… explosive. Roy Scheider, hanging from the mast of a sinking ship, rifle in hand, firing into the mouth of the monster and hitting the oxygen tank inside, blowing the beast up good and sending Jaws off on a truly triumphant, cheer-inducing note. It couldn’t end any other way.
4. Independence Day (dir. Roland Emmerich, 1996)
We’re not going to pretend that there’s any great storytelling involved in this iconic explosion from Roland Emmerich’s blockbuster Independence Day. The movie is pretty fun, but there’s just not that much to it. The alien invasion film had a fine cast and a charming, plothole-laden script, but it was sold on one image and one image alone: a flying saucer hovering above The White House, blowing it the hell up in a neatly symmetrical composition that sticks in your head to this day. It seems a little crass now, but that image alone probably brought more people to the theater any of the film’s many recognizable stars. And it’s still really, really, really cool.
3. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1964)
Stanely Kubrick’s acidic Cold War comedy Dr. Strangelove is all about nuclear war and the impotent swaggers and illogical politicking that made it actually seem possible. (And still do, if we’re being honest.) Deranged Air Force General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) bucks the chain of command, ordering his bombers to attack Soviet Russia, starting World War III in a nuclear attack. What he doesn’t realize is that the Soviets have a fail-safe system in place that will end all life on the planet if he succeeds. Peter Sellers plays three separate roles as the mild-mannered president trying to save face, the ex-Nazi scientist with a bizarre “Plan B” and a Royal Air Force officer desperately trying to make Ripper see sense. Sellers was originally going to play the lead bomber as well, but eventually dropped out due to a sprained ankle, freeing the part for Blazing Saddles star Slim Pickens, who closes the film in an unforgettable image, proudly screaming “Yahoo” as he rides a nuclear bomb down to his target, triumphantly dooming humanity. As the world perishes in a haze of mushroom clouds, Vera Lynn croons “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when.”
2. Star Wars (dir. George Lucas, 1977)
Oh, you knew this was coming, didn’t you? George Lucas’s classic story concludes with arguably the most spectacular explosion ever conceived, as the heroic young Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) scores a nearly impossible bull’s-eye, destroying the planet-sized space station threatening to destroy the last hope of the rebellion against the evil, evil Emperor Palpatine. Lucas surely made the task seem impossible, with the rest of Skywalker’s squadron failing to navigate the treacherous trench, including the great Wedge Antilles (Denis Lawson). In the end, Luke abandons the technology and places his faith in the power of The Force to save the day. It does, and we’re treated to the biggest kaboom ever. The biggest, but if you ask us, not the best…
1. The Bridge on the River Kwai (dir. David Lean, 1957)
We’ve played a little fast and loose with the spoiler warnings, concerning ourselves mostly with unexpected twists. But you probably know all about Star Wars, and you’re sure as hell supposed to know about The Bridge on the River Kwai, the Oscar-winning film from arguably the greatest epic director in history, David Lean. The film stars Sir Alec Guinness, he of genuine class, as Colonel Nicholson, a British officer in a battle of wills with the warden of his P.O.W. camp in World War II, Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa). Hayakawa needs to break Nicholson’s spirit in order to build a strategically important bridge (over the river Kwai), but no amount of torture can shake Nicholson’s staunch cultural pride. In the end it’s Saito who breaks, and in a dogged pursuit to prove British superiority, Nicholson builds a better bridge than Saito thought possible, blinded to the fact that he’s doing the enemy’s job for him. When the other heroes of the film show up to blow up the bridge, Nicholson himself tries to foil their plot, realizing only too late the extent of his madness, and sacrificing in his last moments the very thing which had been giving his life purpose. The explosion and subsequent train wreck is the most dramatically satisfying kaboom ever filmed, even though the real bridge still stands to this day.