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Death by explosion is a terrific (albeit PG-13) way to kill off a significant character in any action movie or thriller. A loud boom with pillars of fire and usually the right touch of slow motion in post-production makes a climactic death scene a fitting one and serves as a very visceral catharsis in any movie experience. In other words, it works well every time you watch it.
In Friday’s Source Code from director Duncan Jones (Moon), Jake Gyllenhaal enters the body of a man eight minutes before he dies during a terrorist bombing aboard a commuter train. His goal is to uncover clues about who might have blown it up. At the end of the eight minutes, the train explodes, the guy dies and Gyllenhaal’s Colter Stevens wakes up in his original body before getting ready to dive back in again.
This concept had us at Player Affinity wondering: what are some of the best deaths by explosion in movie history? The folks at the moviedeaths.com helped jog my memory (though not every moment I’ve chosen is from their list) and it really turns out that some of the best deaths are indeed explosion-based. Some of the explosions here are that which killed off individuals and some obliterated collective groups of extras/stuntmen we assume dead. Almost all of them, however, are part of the big finish, which is interesting to note, yet makes a lot of sense. Interestingly yet fittingly, there are no Michael Bay films on this list.
Oh yeah, and SPOILERS ABOUND. Seriously, like land mines.
I know what you’re thinking. How does Stealth make an list of top ten anything except “movies about military fighter drones”? Well, you (like me) obviously haven’t seen it then, or you’d know. So why don’t you watch the clip and see for yourself? Rob Cohen (xXx and The Fast and the Furious) captures this blaze in all its glory — not much CGI work here if any. In the scene, Josh Lucas uses the drone to blast down a hangar door and past some baddies who think they have him pinned. It might be one of the more visually impressive moments on this list and loses points only for not being part of the climax or killing a significant character.
Many people with their eye on Captain America: The First Avenger might have forgotten (or not been alive long enough to remember) that director Joe Johnston is not stranger to World War II period crime-fighter films. I, for one, had The Rocketeer pajamas. Granted I was four or five at the time and would’ve worn any pajamas, but The Rocketeer was memorable if not polarizing as a film.
One of the best comical and “fitting” deaths comes at the very end aboard revered Hollywood actor Neville Sinclair’s (Timothy Dalton) zeppelin after we’ve learned he’s a Nazi spy. After Sinclair and The Rocketeer exchange some surprisingly accurate punches, Sinclair steals the prized jet pack and bids our heroes (Jennifer Connelly was there too) good-bye, except he doesn’t know that the pack has been leaking fuel the whole time. A few moments into the air, in a terribly executed green screen blaze he falls into the “Hollywoodland” sign, knocking out the “LAND” part and sending it up in flames. This, of course, was the historically accurate part of the film.
A sad fact is that more often than not, explosions in movies happen for added effect and blatantly spit upon the laws of science. However, the cooler that explosion is, the less anyone could care about physics. This terrific explosion from “Die Hard 2” is one such logic-defying event that redeems itself on sheer creativity. I also really wanted to include a “Die Hard” death on this list.
At the end, the terrorists are on their way to escaping via plane, but a battered John McClane won’t go away. Two guys go out to get him and on the plane’s wing (while it’s moving at a high land speed, mind you) to engage him in combat. He sends one through the turbine and while the other is busy using martial arts, he pops open the fuel dump and the plane begins spewing fuel. After he falls off, the terrorist begin their ascent, except McClane has a lighter. Can you guess what line of dialogue comes next? The fire travels a perfect line up to the plane and blows it up midair. Revisit the whole thing here.
“Die Hard 2” co-writer Steven E. de Souza, who was a hot name in the late ’80s early ’90s, previously adapted Stephen King’s story into Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The Running Man. He must’ve had a thing for explosions. In a dystopian society, the wrongly imprisoned Ben Richards ends up on the famous death-row style game show “The Running Man” where he must defeat various gladiators.
After Richards beats the system, he confronts the show’s host and creator, Damon Killian (longtime “Family Feud” host Richard Dawson). Killian tries to explain that it’s just show business and he was simply giving the the people what they wanted to see. Arnie responds, “Well, I may not have been in show business for as long as you have, but I’m a quick learner, and right now I’m going to give the audience what I think they want.” Revenge makes for a nice added punch to an explosion death; Richards straps Killian into the sled used to send prisoners into the combat area and sends him on his way. The sled comes off the track at the end and skids into the air and through a picture of Killian on a billboard promoting Cadre Cola. No explosives appear to be anywhere near the area, but the whole thing comes down in flames as millions watch on TV. “Now that hit the spot,” Arnie says, mocking the slogan for Cadre Cola. Beautiful ’80s writing.
John Carpenter’s The Thing remake, which has a prequel coming out in October, stands as one of my favorite scary creature movies outside of Alien. The make up and animatronics combine to make the effects one-of-a-kind as we see in full glory right before Kurt Russell blows the Thing to smithereens.
As the thing shifts into parts of all the creatures/people it has devoured throughout the film, Russell throws a stick of dynamite at it and in a fit of rage and fear, thinks of nothing to say but the poetic “fuck you too!” Carpenter peels back and shows the entire Antarctic compound blown sky-high. This “we finally killed the damn thing” sub-category of the explosion death is only bested by one other film on this list.
One of the funniest and most morbid parts of the classic comedy Groundhog Day is when weatherman Phil Connors, forced to relive the same awful day over and over again, goes on a crazy spree and ends up killing himself on multiple occasions. The first of those attempts is the most elaborate. Seeing an opportunity, Phil steals the pickup with the beloved groundhog in it and drives away. Following a chase scene that shows Phil talking to the groundhog and letting the rodent drive the truck, a cornered Phil decides to make a grand exit and drives the vehicle off a cliff. When it lands, Chris Elliot proclaims that Phil might be okay, that is until the truck explodes. One of the funniest exploding deaths — at least when you consider the whole lead up and placement in the context of the film — ever.
Perhaps cinema’s greatest climactic mono-a-mono fight sequence is between (once again) our dear Arnold Schwarzenegger and the mighty Predator. At the end, Arnold is trapped and begs the Predator to kill him, but the beast prefers to play with his prey. Soon, he finds himself placed perfectly under a trap that Arnold sets off that squashes the Predator with a tree trunk. But it’s not over yet; the Predator is merely immobilized and bleeding slowly. Arnold picks up a rock to bash over the Predator’s head, but he has a change of heart. He asks “what the hell are you?” and after a nice tender moment, the Predator hits several buttons on a device on his wrist. It takes Arnold a second to realize that this is a detonation device. The Predator laughs the creepiest semi-human laugh in all of film as Arnold runs away to dodge a tremendous electro-magnetic explosion.
Rarely do the creatures get the last laugh, especially in a film opposite the king of last-laugh one-liners in action films, but that’s what makes the Predator’s “honorable” death so infamous.
Like Predator, this movie features a very big (yet way more emotional) self-sacrifice. Leon’s death scene would probably make most “best death scene” lists of any variety. In Luc Besson’s Leon or The Professional, Jean Reno plays an assassin who takes a young girl named Mathilda (Natalie Portman) under his wing after her family is brutally murdered by Stansfield (Gary Oldman).
In the climactic scene, Stansfield sends an entire ops team up to find and eliminate Mathilda and Leon, but both concoct excellent escape plans. Leon escapes dressed as an injured one of Stansfield’s guys, but as he’s about to exit the building, Stansfield finds him and pops him in the back between the shoulder blades. With his last ounce of life, Leon hands something to Stansfield and says “this is from Mathilda.” No, it’s not a gift, but rather the pin to one of a half-dozen grenades Leon has strapped to his chest. “Shit,” Stansfield says before the front of the building explodes. This is one of several times that Oldman dies a most deserving death given all the jerks and terrible villains he’s played. Relive the beautifully done sequence here.
Now here’s an explosion that never gets old. This example defines the climactic explosion to a T, especially when you consider the whole objective of the Rebel fleet from day one is to destroy the Death Star. Every time I revisit Star Wars, I have to question for a second whether or not Luke is going to get those missiles into the hole, but sure enough, a clear strike every time.
The added bonus here is that the old bastard Gran Moff Tarkin gets blown to pieces along with all the Imperial forces working on the Death Star. Although his character isn’t that significant, he deserved it for blowing up Alderaan, which is one of the biggest dick moves in film history.
Easily one of the best deaths in film if for nothing but the mere satisfaction and sigh of relief, I’m lucky enough that it happened to be an explosion. After a grueling two hours of beast destroying man, that old rubber shark gets what was coming to him as Roy Scheider aims a rifle at the SCUBA tank lodged in the sharks’ mouth and manages to score a hit, turning the shark into a bloody fountain of sorts. The lucky bullet hit just in time to cover up the vulgar part of Scheider’s now-infamous line: “Smile, you son of a bitch!”