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The 50 Greatest Explosions on Film: You’re Welcome, America!

on July 04, 2018, 2:00pm
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KABOOM! WHOMP! BRRRAPPP!

No, you haven’t walked into an episode of the mid-’60s Batman. Welcome to 50 of the greatest, most destructive, and ear-rattling movie explosions of all time. You’re welcome, America: home of the whopping explosions, the land of the free disaster clips all over YouTube. In an age where Steven Soderbergh has us feeling a bit guilty for indulging in mayhem pornography, we say light this turkey and watch the mesmerizing glow, baby!

Feel the heat on your back as you coolly walk away from chaos! Feel no remorse as you ignore the fact that innocent bystanders probably ate it in the blast! It’s the 4th of July, and this list is about big badabooms. Our forefathers, John Rambo and John Matrix, came to this country, to our cineplexes, to exercise their right to destroy property. And bad guys. And the White House. Wait a minute … those were aliens.

Still, we’re here now to do some Van Dammage. So try not to lose a finger, and be sure to play either “Pyromania” or “The 1812 Overture,” as we let it sing this holiday with a thunderous list of orange and yellow madness. Mind you, these 50 fiery bangers are in no particular order, namely because explosions don’t exactly adhere to form and structure. Just know that there’s nothing more American than claiming your own piece of land and blowing it the hell up.

–Blake Goble
Staff Writer

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Commando

House Explosion

Fuck CGI and fuck all these stupid houses. Nobody’s denying those stupid houses are models, and the figures standing before them painted dolls. But Jesus, there’s something unsettling the way they just stand still as the fire spews out. They are paralyzed by fear. Fear of John Matrix. I would be, too. –Randall Colburn

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Rambo: First Blood Part II

Exploding Arrow Head

Rambo First Blood Part II is not only the most annoying title, but it’s also a red state wet dream about an angry loner picking up where the U.S. government failed, and personally kicking the crap out of something like a thousand Soviets and Vietnamese soldiers in the mid-’80s with gratuitous weapons, like an exploding arrow head … Mr. Rambo, you got a permit for that? –Blake Goble

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The Rock

Alcatraz Goes Bye Bye

It’s a shame that Al Capone, The Birdman, or even Machine Gun Kelly couldn’t hold on to life for just a few decades more. If only they’d survived, they could have watched their former residence being blown all the way up Zeus’ Butthole! But alas, these legendary crooks weren’t around to bear witness. And neither was Sean Connery’s elusive, James Bond-inspired John Mason character because he used the explosion as an excuse to simply disappear, leaving Nicolas Cage with nothing left to do but go home and fuck the prom queen. –Dan Pfleegor

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Die Hard

Nakatomi, Baby!

The best explosion in the best film ever made, this scene openly mocks us by having John McClane skirt death about six dozen times. It’s tense and perfect and iconic, and it’s probably the first time we really hate Hans because he’s so ready to let Karl die. ‘Da fuck, Hans? Karl rules. –Randall Colburn

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Independence Day

The White House

A lot of people get worked up about the White House blowing up, and yeah, that’s awesome, but as a kid I always found myself so sad for the people in that helicopter. –Randall Colburn

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The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

Bridge Explosion

All that stands between Blondie (Clint Eastwood), Tuco (Eli Wallach), and the fortune they’ve been chasing is a Confederate-run bridge. So what’s left to do but demolish it? It’s hard to say what’s more memorable: Tuco bracing for the explosion ass-first, or the shrapnel that lands all the way over by them. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

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The Bridge on the River Kwai

Another Bridge Explosion

So much forced effort to make a bridge in Burma, and all those plots, plans, and abused POWs. For what? The perils of war. The Bridge on the River Kwai truly goes out with a bang, when the eponymous bridge gets laid to waste. Madness! … Madness! –Blake Goble

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True Lies

One More Damn Bridge Explosion

It’s another damn bridge explosion. What do you want from me? [“The bridge is out!”–Randall Colburn

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Desperado

Antonio Walks Away

A sexy explosion with sexy people. Antonio Banderas is sexy, and Salma Hayek is sexy, and I could just tell you that the fire erupted because two people who are that sexy should never make sexy because it will cause a sexy explosion that kills only the non-sexy, and you would absolutely believe me. –Randall Colburn

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The Rundown

The Rock Walks Away

Real tough guys never look at the explosion. And just behold Dwayne Johnson in what we’ll call his pre-Southland Tales phase. The real explosion is about to happen out of that shirt, amirite? –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

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Con Air

Cage Runs Away, Without Burning His Wig

What’s great about this explosion is that nobody seems to give a shit except for the guy who’s ‘bout to get ‘sploded. Malkovich and M.C. Gainey are cool as cucumbers, the former seriously at the ready with a one-liner. And Cage’s face could very well be processing an Italian opera as he outruns the flames. One question persists, however: How was that wig never singed? –Randall Colburn

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Hard Target

The Wilford Brimley Explosion

What’s more fun? Watching a crazed Cajun uncle stylishly knock out baddies with his arrow stunts? Or the fact that the uncle is played by none other than Wilford “Diabeetus” Brimley, and he rides away from an explosion on horseback? Either way, it’s a hell of a screen shot. –Blake Goble

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Casino

Amateur Night

You know if it weren’t for that metal plate, Robert De Niro might have actually died in a Scorsese movie. So close. –Blake Goble

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The Hurt Locker

Guy Pearce Eats It

Bold move, Bigelow, killing off a handsome star like Guy Pearce in your film’s opening scene. War doesn’t discriminate between its victims, and neither does The Hurt Locker. Also, I’m giving this scene bonus points for forcing me to Google “effects of blast pressure on the human body.” –Collin Brennan

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Aliens

“You always were an asshole, Gorman.”

Oh, the sadness of self-sacrifice. Vasquez, you are arguably the toughest of the space marines. Gorman, you’re a wuss, but you redeemed yourself in this moment. Hopefully, there are no Xenomorphs in Heaven. –Blake Goble

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Jaws

“Smile You Sonuvabitch!”

Brody is like, so done with this shark. With a scuba tank shoved in its mouth and coming at Brody with the blood of his friends still lingering in its teeth, there’s really only one solution. Shark explosion? Shark explosion. –Rebecca Bulnes

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Raiders of the Lost Ark

The Ark

Fellow readers, don’t look at it. Shut your eyes, people. Don’t look at it, no matter what happens! How did Indy know to keep his eyes shut? Well, there was an extended scene with Sallah’s confidant, Imam, who warned him not to touch the Arc and not to look into it when opened. There’s also, you know, the Bible’s warnings (see: The Books of Samuel).  –Michael Roffman

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Star Wars

See you in Hell, Death Star!

The Death Star is a space station that’s the size of a small moon, right? Think of how many people it takes to operate something that enormous! We’re talking tens, maybe hundreds of thousands. I bet some of those guys were actually just blue-collar employees with spouses and children who loved them. Holy shit, is Luke a mass murderer? Why am I cheering for this? –Collin Brennan

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Return of the Jedi

See you in Hell, for real this time, Death Star!

“YEEEEEEHAAWW!” Lando Clarissian screams after destroying the Death Star (but actually!) from the inside out, but also me every time I watch this explosion. There’s something so ominous about the physical nature of this version of the Death Star, and the mounting drama of needing Lando to get the hell out of there before he too combusts makes this scene thrilling as hell. –Rebecca Bulnes

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Terminator 2: Judgement Day

Nuclear Dream

If Sarah Connor’s exploding corpse didn’t scar you for life, then perhaps Stan Winston’s intricate nuclear nightmare did the job. The sequence was so detailed and up to snuff that members of several U.S. federal nuclear testing labs unofficially declared it “the most accurate depiction of a nuclear blast ever created for a fictional motion picture.” Chill out, dickwad. –Michael Roffman

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Mad Max

Just Drive Away, Dude

Max Rockatansky is a cold, hard motherfucker. Who else could handcuff a dude’s ankle to a truck, devise a makeshift bomb, and leave him with a saw to hack through his own flesh? The best part: Max isn’t bluffing. He drives away as the explosion goes off, ostensibly to begin work on the script for 2004 horror film Saw–Collin Brennan

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Mad Max: Fury Road

Take Your Pick!

Everything explodes on the Fury Road. It’s almost like explosions themselves explode, you know? Comparatively this is probably not the biggest explosion of the film, but it really bursts my heart. Look at this War Boy diving head first towards his fiery death! WITNESS HIM. –Rebecca Bulnes

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Total Recall

”Two Weeks.”

There’s a good chance Arnold will make many appearances across this list. After all, he’s fought predators, battled fellow terminators, and squared off with foul-mouthed Kindergarteners. One of Arnold’s strangest sequences, however, finds him in drag trying to sneak past the interplanetary equivalent of an NSA officer. Things go downhill fast after a wardrobe malfunction exposes our hero. But fear not! In typical quick-thinking Schwarzenegger fashion, this crisis is averted with a playful game of “Catch!” The villainous NSA agent, falling for the clever Austrian’s ruse, ends up holding the hot potato, which bursts into a glorious ball of 1990’s special effects. The scene may not square up exactly with Philip K. Dick’s original vision, but who among us hasn’t wanted to do the same when traveling through those pesky airport lines? –Dan Pfleegor

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Mission: Impossible

Cruise Vs. Helicopter

Leon is pretty dope behind that chopper. Enough that he’s able to withstand a cable attached to a bullet train. What? Too bad Ethan Hunt has that RED LIGHT. GREEN LIGHT. gum. How Cool Cruise avoids that helicopter blade is but one of many tense close calls in Brian De Palma’s 1996 reimagining — which, to date, is still the best Mission: Impossible film.   –Michael Roffman

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Children of Men

Spilt Coffee

Sir, would you like asphalt with your latte? –Michael Roffman

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Apocalypse Now

This Is The End

That’s a whole hell of a lot of napalm, but boy did Coppola’s tumultuous masterpiece make things both beautiful and chaotic in the form of a huge Vietnam War fire thanks to copious explosions. That, and clearly someone loved the smell of the stuff. Likely in the A.M., you know, early in the day. Morning, if you will. That’s when Apocalypse Now loves the smell of napalm. –Blake Goble

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The Birds

Gas Station Gets Avian Flu

No one is too good for an old-fashioned explosion, not even Alfred Hitchcock. So here we have some classic combustion, era 1963, before the Zoolander gas station scene was even a whisper of an idea. But honestly, what’s better in this scene, the explosion itself or Tippi Hedren’s four-cut facial expression? Trick question. It’s the birds. It’s always the birds. –Rebecca Bulnes

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Touch of Evil

Start Up With a Bang

This 1958 Orson Welles classic is a touchstone of film noir, but all that shadowy intrigue has nothing on the boom boom. The film literally opens with a bang when someone places a bomb in the trunk of a car. Wait, is this where that saying comes from? –Collin Brennan

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White Heat

TOP O’ THE WORLD, MA!

Jimmy Cagney’s White Heat was a dazzling latter-day gangster flick, and it provided the star with one of his all-time onscreen moments. Cody Jarrett, fallen crime lord, blowing it all up, screaming about how much he loves his ma. –Blake Goble

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Sabotage

Hitchcock’s Little Boom

Want to learn how to successfully ratchet up tension and earn your little bit of visceral kabooming in a suspense thriller? Look no further than Hitchcock’s early effort, the exquisitely staged and cut Sabotage. –Blake Goble

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Inception

Goodbye Paris (a.k.a. the Zabriskie Point Rip-Off)

Remember how we previously said that real badasses walk away from explosions without looking? Scratch that. DiCaprio doesn’t even have to stop monologuing as Paris falls apart around him. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

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Zabriskie Point

Going Out with a Bang

The coolest thing about the explosive finale in Antonioni’s head-trip masterwork isn’t the extent of damage or the ‘60s wave use of Pink Floyd. No, it’s the crystal clarity of debris on display here that’s wild. If Nolan didn’t subconsciously rip this off, or get incepted with the idea, then I’ll jump on a grenade. Wait, that’s too far. –Blake Goble

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The Matrix

Warped Window Explosion

It may not quite be The Matrix’s most iconic sequence of destruction, but when a skyscraper warps and then shatters, almost resembling a breaking wave, it’s yet another reminder that the normal rules of physics no longer apply. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

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Fight Club

You met me at a weird time, Helena Bonham Carter

I know this makes me so, so lame, but, dude, this is how I got into The Pixies, the band that made me realize that life is worthless and music is everything. Problem is, dramaturgically speaking, this scene doesn’t really work. Tyler’s dispatched too easily, and the narrator’s cured too quickly. But, Jesus Christ, this scene is beautiful. Perfect song, perfect framing, perfect image, perfect final line, and a bunch of collapsing buildings. The book makes more sense, but the movie is better by every other conceivable measure. –Randall Colburn

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The X-Files: Fight The Future

John Locke Really Loves Death

Chris Carter needed to go bigger and badder when The X-Files was abducted from the boob tube and dropped into theaters in the summer of 1998. So, he kicked things off with a big ol’ explosion, a firecracker of a way to ignite a bold conspiracy that would send our dynamic duo across the world. He also decided to kill off John Locke (Terry O’Quinn) in the process. –Michael Roffman

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The Dark Knight

Joke’s On That Hospital

Ah, the first moment a superhero film actually went there. Until the hospital explosion, we just knew that Batman would find a way to save the day because, well, that’s what Batman does. Dressed in a nurse’s gown and smeared with makeup, Heath Ledger hams it up for laughs, making terrorism seem like a vaudeville stage production. Cue the lights. –Collin Brennan

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The Dark Knight

RACHEL!

The brutality of the Joker’s gambit: whoever you decide matters more is the person who’s going to die. And that’s before Christopher Nolan decides to hold the shot on the ill-fated Rachel Dawes for just an extra second or two, long enough to see her hair fly up in an explosive breeze. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

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Batman

Controversial Kaboom

Where does Michael Keaton get those wonderful toys? And why did everyone lose their shit when he blew up the chemical factory? C’mon, those little Batmobile balls were sick and the henchmen he wasted away were a bunch of scumbags. No, the town needed an enema, and Batman was the one to give it to them. –Michael Roffman

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Lethal Weapon 2

GET ME OFF THIS TOILET, RIGGS!

The relationship between Roger Murtaugh and Martin Riggs is what fuels Richard Donner’s bromantic action franchise. That he strapped one of his stars to an explosive toilet, an emasculating image if there ever was one, is not only classic Dick but smart Dick too. Hey, Mel.  –Michael Roffman

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Caddyshack

Be the Ball

It’s all in the stare. That patient gaze painted over Brian Doyle Murray’s face as he waits for the ball to slowly roll in, inevitably leading the slobs to beat the snobs. Well, the 1812 Overture does it too. And Dangerfield. And that stamp of approval Ty gives Danny. Yeah, everyone got laid at Bushwood that day. –Michael Roffman

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Ghostbusters

Crossing The Streams

Poor Stay-Puft, he was just an innocent bystander in the chaos of Zuul! He was a sailor! From New York! Peter Venkman had a solution! Well, come to think of it, he did step on a church in Venkman’s town… –Blake Goble

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Raising Arizona

He Was Horrible

Leonard Smalls is one of cinema’s most baffling characters. He comes out of nowhere, he’s supernatural, and he’s tonally inconsistent with the rest of the movie. But it works, if only because the movie hinges itself on the kind of desperation that can veer into delusion. Beautiful, sad, and brilliant. –Randall Colburn

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Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Kong Ignites Doomsday

You want proof that Dr. Strangelove is the greatest black comedy of all time? After yahoo cowboy pilot Major King (Slim Pickens) rides an H-bomb down to the ground like a bucking bronco, thus setting off a series of reactionary blasts, Stanley Kubrick plays Valerie Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again” over the ensuing explosions that bring about the end of the world. It’s funny because society won’t, you know? –Blake Goble

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21 Jump Street

Did It Explode Yet?

So many false explosion setups go into this car chase scene that it makes the actual combustion sizzle (get it) with so much hilarity. Is it bad that when I first saw it I thought, “Mmmm dinner!”? –Rebecca Bulnes

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Zoolander

Gas Fight

Just because they have chiseled abs and stunning features doesn’t mean that they can’t not die in a freak gasoline fight accident. RIP Meekus, Brint, and Rufus. You put the boom-boom into my heart. (Sidenote: I totally think about this scene pretty much every time I go to a gas station.) –Rebecca Bulnes

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MacGruber

Losing The Team

Woe be to MacGruber’s formidable first squad. Also, who wouldn’t want an action team involving Mark Henry and Chris Jericho? Not The Great Khali, though. Khali is just the worst. The Punjabi Prison Match exists because of Khali. YouTube it. Not great. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

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The Music Lovers

1812 Overture Head Explosions

Ha! You thought Cronenberg was the king of exploding heads, didn’t you?! Nuh uh! Ken Russell, that wildly obsessive, bizarre genius, was blowing up heads (yes multiple heads) over a decade prior all in the name of a Tchaikovsky biopic. Seems a bit much, but who are we to stifle creative, whacked-out vision? –Blake Goble

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Scanners

Another Guy’s Head

When you can make a guy’s head explode just by thinking really hard, bombs kind of start to seem pointless. Not only is this one of the greatest explosions — and horror-movie kills — of all time, but it’s also the source material for one of the greatest Internet GIFs ever created. Truly mind-blowing stuff, Cronenberg. –Collin Brennan

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Big Trouble In Little China

Full Body Salad Explosion!

An incredulous Kurt Russell spends most of his BTLC screen time in a state of utter confusion. What? He has no idea what’s going on. Huh? Russell eventually shakes off his disbelief just long enough to help his friends deliver the finishing blow to the ancient sorcerer Lo Pan. Who? This death shames Lo Pan’s supernatural henchman into committing a suicide akin to over inflating an explosive bag of salad. Why? It’s grotesque, it’s silly, it’s unbelievable fun!. –Dan Pfleegor

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Halloween II (1981)

GETOUTNOEWWR

What was that, Dr. Loomis? What are you trying to say as blood pours out of you and that blind bastard swings his blade? Ohhhhhh. Get out now. Okay, see ya. In a perfect world, this explosive heroic feat would have ended the The Shape once and for all but we don’t live in a perfect world. Also, Halloween 3: Season of the Witch was a total box office bomb. So, he came home … again, and again, and again. For me, it all ends here. –Michael Roffman

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