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.
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
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
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
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
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
The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly
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
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
One More Damn Bridge Explosion
It’s another damn bridge explosion. What do you want from me? [“The bridge is out!”] –Randall Colburn
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
“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
Raiders of the Lost 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
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
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
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
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
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
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
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
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
Children of Men
Sir, would you like asphalt with your latte? –Michael Roffman
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
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
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
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
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