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20 Most Tense Movie Scenes

Se7en (1995)

The Scene: What’s in the box? David Fincher’s moody crime saga comes to an emotional climax as detectives David Mills (Brad Pitt) and William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) confront serial killer John Doe (Kevin Spacey) in the middle of nowhere. As Doe taunts them both, Mills demands to know what’s in the box they’ve just discovered – even though he half suspects he already knows the answer. Horrible, but horribly effective. 

Hide Behind The Cushion Moment: We get a glimpse of golden blonde hair inside the box…

Misery (1990)

The Scene: The hobbling scene is fist-chewingly nasty, but in terms of tension, one of Misery’s quieter scenes is far more wrenching. When kidnapped, wheelchair-bound author Paul Sheldon (James Caan) finds himself alone in the house, he manages to unlock his bedroom door with a hairpin and searches for an escape. But he’s got to get back into the bedroom before psycho Annie (Kathy Bates) returns.

Hide Behind The Cushion Moment: Sweating like a pig, Paul attempts to re-lock his bedroom door from the inside…

The Pianist (2002)

The Scene: A Nazi soldier callously lines up his victims in the street, and orders a handful to lie down on the ground. He then paces along the line and casually shoots them all in the head one by one. Blood curdling stuff. 

Hide Behind The Cushion Moment: The soldier’s gun runs out just as he reaches his last victim. He pauses to reload, eking out the tension…

Saw (2004)

The Scene: Saw comes to its inevitable conclusion. Lawrence (Cary Elwes) goes mental as the phone rings, fearing for his family’s life. Ripping off his shirt and tying it around his shackled leg, he takes a rusty hacksaw to his ankle. As blood sprays everywhere, it seems to take an age (luckily we get a Daniel Glover gunfight interrupting the mayhem) before Lawrence is finally free…

Hide Behind The Cushion Moment: That first cut, as the red stuff begins to flow…

Ichi The Killer (2001)

The Scene: Sadomasochist Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano) makes a boo-boo by torturing Suzuki (Susumu Terajima) to death – skewering him with metal rods and covering him in boiling water. In order to make amends, he cuts out his own tongue and offers it to Suzuki’s boss. We’ve only watched the scene once, and we won’t be watching it again in a hurry. 

Hide Behind The Cushion Moment: The whole flippin' thing!

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly (1966)

The Scene: At the climax of Sergio Leone’s classic Western, Blondie, Tuco and Angel Eyes meet at Sad Hill Cemetery, all there to dig up the gold that’s buried in one of the graves. Thing is, none of them fancy sharing.

Hide Behind The Cushion Moment: The three men stand and stare each other down, but who’ll draw first?

The Assassination Of Jesse James (2007)

The Scene: Andrew Dominik’s rich historical epic reaches its apex as the ‘cowardly’ Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) finally does what we’ve been waiting for him to do for the past two hours. As James (Brad Pitt) casually starts putting up a picture, knowing what’s coming, Ford raises his gun to do what he must…

Hide Behind The Cushion Moment: The gun goes off. Jesse’s face hits the wall. Then the collapses on the floor like a doll…

Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

The Scene: A poor stuttering man is put in the line of fire when he’s told that he can go free if he can speak without stammering. He tries. He fails. He’s tortured and killed.

Hide Behind The Cushion Moment: As the poor chap tries his hardest, you’re on the edge of your seat willing him to succeed…

Dead Man's Shoes (2004)

The Scene: Richard (Paddy Considine) is confronted by drug boss Sonny (Gary Stretch). The latter attempts to intimidate the former, but Rich is having none of it. “If I were you,” he snarls, “I'd get in that fuckin' car and I'd get out of here, man… ’cause I'm gonna fucking hit you all.”

Hide Behind The Cushion Moment: “Get in that car and fuck off,” Richard threatens Sonny, and for a moment we’re not sure where this is going to go…

Ringu (1998)

The Scene: We finally figure out just how creepy dead girl Sadako claims her victims when Ryji (Hiroyuki Sanada) is confronted by the ghost girl. As he sits watching the cursed video tape, Sadako steps out of a creepy on-screen well and stalks towards us. Except she doesn’t stop when she hits where a camera should be, instead clambering out into the real world and scaring Ryji to death.

Hide Behind The Cushion Moment: Sadako emerges from the TV screen…