Skip to main content

22 Greatest Movie Explosions

Akira (1988)

‘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.

Predator (1987)

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.

“Wooohoooaa!”

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.