The Italian Job (1969)
He was only supposed to blow the bloody doors off, but Arthur obliterated the entirety of that retro white van.
It’s good ol’ pyrotechnics at its best, but the moment is made by Michael Caine’s brilliantly timed one-liner.
Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull (2008)
This entry secures its place on the list by means of complete ridiculousness. The ever-resourceful Indy, caught in the middle of a nuclear blast, somehow survives by hiding in a fridge.
The scene introduced the phrase ‘Nuke the Fridge’ to the English language as a synonym for ‘Jump the Shark’, originally coined from the TV show Happy Days to mean a series had passed its peak. Considering it occurs near the beginning of the film, that’s a damning indictment.
Tropic Thunder (2008)
This scene from Ben Stiller’s thoroughly meta comedy parodies the core idea behind movie explosions.
Hapless film director Steve Coogan accidentally gives a signal to pyrotechnics technician Danny McBride, who promptly blows up half the Vietnamese jungle… and the cameras aren’t even rolling.
McBride makes the scene with his orgasmic utterances as the flames rise to the sky. “I’m trying to put Tiger Balm on this jungle’s nuts.”
V For Vendetta (2006)
Accompanied by Tchaikovsky’s ‘1812 Overture’, the titular masked vigilante makes his way underneath the Houses of Parliament via a tube-train packed with explosives.
The ultimate anti-establishment payoff, the government capital comes tumbling down under a sky of fireworks.
Hundreds of fellow masked protestors take off their guises in salute to the event, including Stephen Fry. Didn’t he die earlier in the film? Oh wait, we get it.
The Birds (1963)
It may not be the biggest explosion on the list, but the gas station scene from Hitchcock’s suspense-filled masterpiece is one of the most brutal.
After Mr Ron is engulfed in the flames the film cuts to a birds-eye-view (appropriately) of the ensuing carnage, with the desperate shouts barely audible above a flock of screeching seagulls.
If you ever wondered why petrol pumps contain a ‘No Smoking’ caution, here’s why.
Angels And Demons (2009)
The entirely CGI-engineered examples are never quite as cool as the ones that use pyrotechnics, but this anti-matter implosion is a spectacle nonetheless.
Sending debris flying across St Peter’s Square as well as taking out a chunk of the Vatican, the blasphemous blast aims for the religious jugular.
The final shot of the aftermath looks almost God-like, perhaps in an attempt to make a profound point. Others may regard it as a black hole, like the one that devours Vulcan in Star Trek .
Last Action Hero (1993)
There are many Schwarzenegger films that contain brilliant explosions, and while this one may not be as colossal as the one in, say, Commando , it gets preferential treatment because of the ingenious plot-device and the immortal line “It’s a bauhm!”
The fact that it takes the Austrian powerhouse until the penultimate card to realise what’s happening suggests he’s a little slow on the uptake – who here hadn’t figured out what was happening by the time he got to card number ‘3’?
Con Air (1997)
As The Lonely Island told us, cool guys don’t look at explosions. In this scene John Malkovich confirms this by barely flinching as he struts away from a gigantic fireball.
His character, Cyrus ‘The Virus’ Grissom, causes the blast by flicking a lit cigarette onto a gasoline-drenched Jesse Borrego. He takes the promptly engulfed Mexican’s last words out of his mouth – “Cy” [ Malkovich butts in ] “onara.” Totally cool.
Fight Club (1999)
The ending of David Fincher’s schizophrenic drama features several bombs triggering at the same time, taking down multiple skyscrapers.
It's accompanied by The Pixies’ song 'Where Is My Mind'? The music makes the moment, contrasting with the standard explosion soundtrack by overshadowing the sound effects.
It may be entirely CGI, which makes it a little less potent, but it would have been a logistical nightmare to actually blow up all those buildings. We’ll let them off the hook this time.
One of the hugest and fieriest explosions on the list. When Josh Lucas shot a missile at that hangar door in a bid to escape he may not have been expecting such a dramatic result. The ensuing fireball engulfs about twenty men, as well as sending several vehicles soaring into the air.
It seems a bit unlikely that he would be able to take off, and fly right through, such a high temperature blast - but this is futuristic technology we’re looking at, who knows what level of fire-proofing we might be capable of?
‘Neo-Tokyo is about to E.X.P.L.O.D.E.’ reads the tagline of this cult Japanimation. The opening scene may be brief, but it is starkly beautiful and profound; Tokyo, 1988, an atomic blast engulfs the entire city in a matter of seconds (six, to be precise).
The lack of sound amplifies the awe-inspiring nature of total destruction and contrasts greatly with the rest of the film, which has a fantastic, overarching score.
Out of all the entries on this list, Akira’s explosion probably exterminates the most life.
The second Schwarzenegger entry - the ending of John McTiernan’s sci-fi smash is more famous for the eerie laugh that precedes the explosion, rather than the blast itself.
However, the moment when Dutch finally gets the better of the Predator, and the otherworldly creature triggers its self-destruct mechanism, is one of the most satisfying pay-offs around.
While the Predator does appear to believe it has won, hence the mocking laugh, Schwarzenegger is the only thing with flesh left intact by the end of the film. Chalk one down for the Austrian.
Independence Day (1996)
There are several awesome explosions in Roland Emmerich’s sci-fi thriller, but the first is the best of the lot. After queuing up to greet their alien visitors, a bunch of peace-loving well-wishers are obliterated by energy weapons. It’s difficult to feel sympathetic, particularly when one of them screams, “I hope they bring back Elvis!”
This ginormous blast engulfs an entire building, sending flames cascading down each floor in a destructive procession. It then wipes out several more skyscrapers, as well as countless cars and fleeing human beings.
When you take into consideration the numerous moments of carnage that follow, Independence Day is one of the most explodey films around.
Dr. Strangelove (1964)
One of the most iconic images in cinematic history, Major Kong hurtling towards the ground straddling an atomic bomb lives long in the memory of many movie fans.
Apparently Stanley Kubrick wanted John Wayne to play Kong but he never responded. While Slim Pickens was brilliant, the prospect of Wayne waving his Stetson on his way to nuclear annihilation is hilariously satirical, if a little unnerving.
The Hurt Locker (2008)
By far the most realistic entry on the list, this famous scene from Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar-winning gritty Iraq war drama is presumably an unfortunately regular occurrence in real conflict.
Filmed in super slow motion, the moment when Guy Pearce’s head hits the inside of his helmet makes you shudder.
The scene does make you wonder why he wore that cumbersome suit; it didn’t do him a lot of good in this instance.
Die Hard (1988)
The Die Hard franchise is full of massive explosions, and it’s difficult to pick one to hold above the rest. After much consideration, we’ve gone for the elevator scene from the first of the series.
“Geronimo motherfucker.” John McClane coolly utters as he chucks a chair riddled with explosives down the vast chasm. The blast takes out an entire floor of the building and sends a fireball back up at the all-American hero, resulting in more profanity.
Considering how large and widespread the fire is, the building remains remarkably sturdy. Top marks for construction.
The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
A gigantic explosion that destroys an entire bridge and flings numerous motor vehicles into the fiery skyline. We also get to see Samuel L Jackson emerge from the resulting carnage driving a car, covered in flames, on two wheels. How could that not be awesome?
As he’s trying to navigate the wreckage the young girl in his passenger seat utters, “Don’t hit the cars!” Yeah, thanks for that advice.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
As with Die Hard , there are several high profile explosions in the Terminator franchise. The ending of the third instalment may be larger scale, but the nuclear nightmare in T2 is far more affecting.
Sarah Connor’s vision of her future self being wiped out by a nuclear holocaust includes several people being incinerated by the initial fallout. It’s a disturbing event, and we are given a frank view of it – children’s screams can be heard as searing flesh turns to dust. In a word: harrowing.
The Dark Knight (2008)
One of the best moments from Heath Ledger’s incredible performance as the sinister Joker, the hospital explosion was a remarkable piece of filmmaking.
Director Christopher Nolan said that he was “determined to do one of [ the explosions ] for real”. So, they did just that, levelling an abandoned Brach's Candy Factory in Chicago.
According to common lore, the onset explosives stalled and Heath Ledger improvised the Joker repeatedly attempting to use his detonator. However, in a making-of featurette Nolan claimed that this was pre-determined.
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Both the beginning of Francis Ford Coppola’s surreal Vietnam War epic - where Martin Sheen is montaged with shots of napalm attacks to 'The End' by The Doors – and the 'Ride of The Valkyries' scene - where Robert Duvall and co blow up an entire village - were considered for this list.
However, trumping those to make the final selection is the film’s often forgotten alternate ending, where Colonel Kurtz’s village is burnt to the ground by an air strike.
It’s a poetic and haunting moment, and one that lives long in the memory post-viewing, making it emblematic of the film itself. The scene may have been cut for the final edit, but seek it out anyway.
Super 8 (2011)
The brilliant opening to JJ Abrams’ sci-fi homage-fest depicts a train derailing while a group of kids run for cover. It may be CGI, but the result is both mind blowing and spine tingling in equal measure.
Steel carriages fly through the air and fire sprouts out of every alcove as the camera tilts and weaves to avoid the debris. If you can deal with the persistent lens flare, this is one of the best explosions of the lot.
Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)
Luke Skywalker single-handedly brings down the Death Star without even using his super-hi tech equipment, instead relying entirely on 'The Force'.
Not only does Luke avert the destruction of an entire planet with this incredibly unlikely move, but he also gets revenge for the earlier death of Porkins, who really should have pulled up.
The spectacular explosion fills the screen with sparkling fragments from the gigantic Death Star. A towering moment in cinematic history. As Hans Solo says, “That was a one in a million shot!”