Weekend Roundtable: Favorite Movie Explosions

Since tomorrow is a holiday in the United States, the blog will be closed for a long weekend. We’ll leave you today with an early Roundtable. In honor of the Fourth of July, our topic this week is all about things that go boom. What are some of your favorite explosions featured in movies?

Shannon Nutt

I’m not sure what my fellow Bonus View contributors will pick in this week’s Roundtable, but hopefully it won’t be anything either created or enhanced with CGI. Yes, I’m old-school when it comes to movie stunts, which is why my choice is the building explosion at the beginning of ‘Lethal Weapon 3‘. In reality, the building was the old Orlando City Hall in Florida, which was scheduled for demolition anyway. The producer of the movie, Joel Silver, paid the city $165,000 for the privilege of blowing it up. Sadly, the rest of ‘Lethal Weapon 3’ didn’t quite live up to that great opening, but what a way to begin a film.

Daniel Hirshleifer

I’ve gotta go with the car chase explosion in ‘21 Jump Street‘. Phil Lord and Chris Miller edited it for perfect comic impact. And of course, there’s that chicken…

Mike Attebery

I know the movie wasn’t the best in the series. And I know one of the stars is none too popular these days. And I know I’m probably showing my age. But the first thing that comes to my mind is the opening of ‘Lethal Weapon 3‘. Forgetting all the stuff I just mentioned, and the oddity of a cat in a downtown Los Angeles parking garage – and Homicide showing up at a bomb scene – the bickering, mixed with the series’ signature musical rips, culminates with what I at the time thought was the biggest explosion I had ever seen in a movie. That scene made for some good summer fun.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

I’d hammer out a paragraph explaining why ‘Tropic Thunder‘ boasts one of my all-time favorite cinematic explosions, but I’m too busy cackling like an idiot and replaying this clip over and over and over:

Chris Boylan (Big Picture Big Sound)

My favorite explosion occurs in ‘The Fifth Element‘. Zorg plants a bomb on the Flotsam Paradise, expecting it to explode after he escapes with the stones. However, he discovers that the stone case is empty, returns to the space-borne hotel to recover them and stops the bomb with just a few seconds to spare. But alas, the Mangalores have an override on the trigger which resumes the countdown, leading to the destruction of the entire hotel in a fiery explosion that almost – but not quite! – engulfs our escaping heroes.

Also, the Death Star being destroyed in ‘Star Wars‘ is pretty satisfying, before and after the revisionist enhanced visual effects were added. I’m not as big a fan of the second death star explosion in ‘Return of the Jedi’. Not just that it had been done before, but think of all those poor innocent contractors working on the construction of the new station.

If I get to pick a third, then I’ll go with ‘Jaws‘. Chief Brody’s “Smile, you son of a bitch!” followed with the rifle shot that explodes the compressed air tank in the shark’s mouth may be short on actual flames, but it’s long on cathartic satisfaction. It’s a perfect ending to an excellent film.

M. Enois Duarte

My favorite movie explosion is from the ’80s action classic ‘Die Hard‘. Well, technically, there are two absolutely awesome explosions in the movie, but the first one, when McClane straps a block of C4 to an office chair with a computer monitor, still stands as a phenomenal piece of motion picture history, in my opinion. I love that he adds the one extra blasting cap. And his reaction to the firestorm racing up the elevator shaft is priceless.

I still remember my friends and I watching in shock with eyes bulging and jaws on the floor because we had no idea what to expect next, and to this day, when I watch the film around Christmas every year, that scene continues to make me smile.

Brian Hoss

One movie explosion that I’ve always enjoyed even as the FX involved have aged is the tanker truck towards the end of the ‘The Terminator‘. Reese slides the pipe bomb in the back, and when the lit fuse fires it off, the audience is treated to a multi-stage, multi-angle, multi-shot explosion that borders on satire.

With its near spoof level of replay (it feels like it’s shown three or so times), this could be any pyrotechnic enthusiasts’ dream shot. These days, the angles with Sarah running don’t composite so well, but it’s a terrific explosion that leads into seeing the last vestiges of Arnold melt away as the film’s villain rises from an inferno. It may lack the subtext of ‘Apocalypse Now’, but in terms of the Terminator’s never-stop characteristics, it’s thrilling and somehow believable.

Luke Hickman

Despite the flack that people give the franchise’s sequels, I’m a pretty huge fan of the head-on semi-truck explosion from ‘The Matrix Reloaded‘. I remember seeing that for the first time and cheering as the two diesels collided in super slow-motion, the bodies of Morpheus and the Keymaker soaring forward as flames and billowing plumes of smoke erupted from the fuel ignition. As the camera spun around the worsening wreckage, I got giddier and giddier. I absolutely love that mostly-CG (I think some of the flames were actual footage), super-stylized, single-take explosion.

Josh Zyber

I still haven’t seen a movie explosion that tops Sarah Connor’s nightmare of the nuclear firestorm in ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day‘. The movie is packed with other big explosions (the Cyberdyne building detonation is another highlight), but the dream sequence was easily the most visually-realistic depiction of a nuclear holocaust put to film at that time. Even if the effects work may have been topped in the meantime, the image of Connor clutching the chain link fence as the shockwave of flames strips her body of its flesh is still traumatizing.

Honorable mention to the ridiculously silly and fun climax of Brian De Palma’s ‘Mission: Impossible‘ – which features a phallic train plunging into a tunnel where the action builds and builds until exploding in orgasmic release, followed by a moment where it deflates in exhaustion. The flagrantly sexual imagery is hilariously subversive.

Tell us about your favorite movie explosions in the Comments.


  1. Chris Bennett

    Ok , so the movie is actually pretty bad by today’s standards, but when I was a kid the giant explosion at the end of “Blown Away” when Forest Whitaker and Jeff Bridges are jumping off the dock and the old dilapidated boat is being systematically blown sky-high always made my jaw drop!


    Sure, Tommy Lee Jones sounded like a leprechaun and there’s no way in hell I bought that Jeff Bridges was a former Irish terrorist….but damn that is one boat that got blowed up good!

    Happy 4th of July Yanks!

    • Scott H

      I love that explosion, that was a heavy steal ship and took so much explosive to blow it up that the shock wave from it broke dozens of windows in east Boston. And the fact that the actors were willing to risk there lives running away from it.

      • Chris B

        That’s gnarly!…like Michael said, I wonder if that movie will see a Blu Ray release anytime in the future. I miss the days when movie explosions were for real. Say what you want about Christopher Nolan, but he’s one of the few directors that prefers to use as little CGI as possible.

  2. Ryan

    In an otherwise terrible movie….I absolutely love the ending of Terminator 3. Those nukes going off was the only thing in the movie that worked dramatically for me

    • Chris B

      T3 IS terrible, I hate it when people try and defend that piece of shit. Let’s call a spade a spade and a turd a turd.

      • William Henley

        I don’t know if I would call it terrible. If I hadn’t seen one and two, I would probably find the third terminator movie to be okay. But if you are comparing it to 1, 2 and 4, yeah, 3 is pretty bad in comparrison, but that is just because the others are so strong

        • Chris B

          Nah man, I still think T3 is terrible, but I also think T4 is way better than people give it credit for and the first one is not as good as people say it is. The Terminator is certainly a “good” movie and one of the most innovative of the decade, but I don’t think it deserves as much praise as it receives. At least we all agree that T2 fucking rocks.

  3. Great choices, everyone.

    @Chris. I used to use the BLOWN AWAY DVD as my subwoofer demo. I wonder if it’ll ever hit Blu-ray.

    @E. That’s a great explosion in DIE HARD because it was so surprising, but I think I like the rooftop / helicopter crash even more, simply because it goes on and on and on (much to the chagrin of my neighbors).

    It’s still too new to consider The Best, or My Favorite, but I was fortunate enough to see DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES on Monday, and it has a battle sequence that uses fire and explosions in one of the most haunting and effective ways I’ve seen in a long time. Probably not as good as the T2 nightmare, Josh, but it’s definitely insane and nightmarish, and wants to make the audience feel guilty for (normally) cheering on carnage.

    It will be interesting to see if that sequence, complete with a badass long take, works as well on others as it did for me.

    • I did battle back and forth a bit on which to choose because the helicopter crash is such an awesome explosion, but in the end, I went with the first one because it really was such an unexpected surprise.

  4. Scott H

    Great mentions so far. I’d like to add the truly ridiculous final act of True Lies with Arnold in the harrier, his daughter hanging onto the canopy and the terrorist having fallen off the wing, has his back pack get caught on one of the planes missiles. Arnold says “your fired” fires the missile through the torn up building into the terrorist helicopter hovering on the other side. Boom

    Another great one is when the master of destruction Roland Emmerich blew up the White House in Independence Day as well as when the Chrysler building is destroyed. The model work done for those scenes was great, as the set was turned on its side to get the fireball to move up the street.

    The house explosion in mr and mrs smith was pretty awesome and powerful.

    The hospital explosion from The Dark Knight was great as joker headed outside and stopped when the explosion didn’t continue and he shakes and continually presses the detonator button, then boom, crumble.

    • Pretty sure the iconic building being Destroyed in ID4 was not the Chrysler but in fact the Empire State Building. But the White House Blowing up was an incredible Practical effect. One of the last great ones.

  5. Bill

    My vote goes to Independence Day and the destruction of the White House. The theatre erupted with applause and cheers at the Toronto theatre where I was watching it. Not sure if it because of awesomeness of the explosion or our views up here of the White House and its occupants at that time. Hopefully the former.

    In any case, on this July 4, 2014 Happy Independence Day to all Americans reading this and if you are in the path of Arthur, be safe. (It reaches us here in Prince Edward Island, Canada tomorrow).

  6. Barsoom Bob

    There is a beautiful, prolonged, slow motion explosion of a beautiful hilltop super home at the end of Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point that is cut to a slightly reworked version of Pink Floyd’s Careful with that Axe, Eugene. This was his violent view of our late sixties counter culture, and he was blowing up all the materialistic trapping of the rich and soulless. The music is powerful and it goes on for about 5 minutes as an aerial display of cathartic destruction.

  7. Timcharger

    I remember the first subwoofer I got were some cheapo Altec Lancing 2.1 computer speakers.

    And the DVD I played over and over and over was the first Matrix movie.

    I loved that explosion in the elevator shaft.
    “There is no spoon.”

    I would skip (and I was then so impressed with the DVD feature of skipping
    to chapters) to when Neo and Trinity were walking into the lobby gunfight

    And the music, thank Google, it’s called Spybreak. That music was great.
    I couldn’t convince my wife to let us walk out into our wedding reception
    to this song.

    After that thrilling lobby shootout, the explosion in the elevator shaft was
    this satisfying end, as Neo and Trinity were soaring upwards on the cut
    elevator chain.

    It was actually silence at first. The elevators doors flew out faster than
    the speed of sound. We watch the doors bounce by and then a tidal wave
    of sound swept over us.

    Great movie explosion!

    • William Henley

      Great choice! I haven’t seen the movie in a while, so it didn’t come to mind, but I completely agree. Shot, the entire climax of that movie is one big adrenaline rush!

  8. EM

    I think Matinee (1993) has a total of three nuclear explosions, but I’ll go with #s 2 & 3. #2 is the highly stylized culmination of a dream sequence that was already bubbling into a personal nightmare embodying a major anxiety of the film’s teen protagonist. #3 is supposed to be the pièce de la résistance of Matinee’s primary film-within-the-film Mant, but Mant’s director hijacks his own onscreen armageddon in order to save the day with the same effectiveness and panache that he usually reserves for fictive disasters. (#1 appears in a trailer for Mant at the beginning of Matinee, and frankly it’s not bad either, getting the film off on the right foot.) I’ve heard that one nuclear explosion can really ruin your whole day, but in Matinee three make for a rollicking good time.

  9. Tom Volkamer

    For me there’s really no question. Jim Morrison singing “This is the ends” at the exact same moment that a whole line of forest goes up in Napalm flames in the first scene of Apocalypse Now is just one of the most goosebumps inducing moments in cinema history.

    • Bill

      Agree the visuals are awesome but there’s no “bang”. Just the great music. It’s effective in the context of this movie but without the sounds to go with the fireball it isn’t as memorable or as mentionable as some of the other examples that have been given here.

  10. AndersT2

    There is also a building demolition explotion after the end credits of “Lethal Weapon 3”. So they do it twice in that movie.

  11. Ryan

    A number of explosions from Ronin have always been high on my list. Dammit when will they remaster this movie with high quality 5* audio.

    I will agree with Chris Boylan, if I had to pick one, it would the Jaws. The explosions isn’t a HT demo material or anything, just simply my favorite “storyline” explosion.

  12. The explosion at the beginning of Sworfish with the ball bearings was pretty cool although I don’t know that is was a real explosion involving pyrotechnics or if it was all done on a computer. It sure as hell was fun listening to it in state of the art 5.1 Dolby Digital and was pretty cool and original at the time. If I remember correctly, in the Lord of War bonus features or commentary, ( can’t remember which one) the director wanted the explosions to not be flashy with the big clouds, and I give him credit for going against the grain. The car bombing of Yuri’s uncle is very startling and when his brother blows up the weapons truck toward the end of the movie, it’s also fast and nasty and feels realistic.
    The explosions in Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla with the jaguar roars are so stupid , but they make me giggle every time.

  13. William Henley

    So lets start with one that I bet most people have forgotten about – I love the train going over the cliff at the end of Back to the Future 3. The fact that this is done with models and all in-camera makes it that much more exciting.

    I just saw Total Recall again a few days ago, and really like the explosions there. They are different than most movies, as you do not see your typical fireworks – rather the explosions cause depreserization of domes, which leads to all sorts of issue

    Demolition Man – that movie is one explosion after another, and they look incredible. From the opening shots with a burning LA, to the closing climax, this movie is just a thrill ride.

    Star Trek 3 – The Search for Spock – come on, we blow up the effing Enterprise, and follow this by the destruction of a planet.

    Termiator 2 – I was not going to mention this as it is the headline picture, but come on, that’s just awesome! Also the blowing up of Cyberdine.

    Can I include implosions? Seriously, the house destryoing itself in Poltergeist is classic.

    Any Godzilla movie – there is usually at least one explosion in there somewhere (at least from 1990 onward, just started on the pre-1990 movies yesterday).

    Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – Okay, its not the best Indiana Jones movie, but come on, Indy survives a freakin A-Bomb test!

    Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 – Battle of Hogwarts! From memory, the only pyros are when they blow up the bridge, the rest is caused by magic, but who cares, let’s just blow up a castle and kill a ton of kids. Good thing the fantasy aspect is pumped up as much as it is, otherwise this would be an extreamely disturbing premise for a movie.

    • Scott H

      For Terminator 2 in the beginning when the pick up truck is driving through the battlefield and the guy with the RPG shoots down the HK. Impressive mix of live action and model work. Also the canal chase when the semi cab hits the bridge support and then the shot of that cable swinging back and forth, spark and boom. Also though there arn’t any flames involved, the scene in the steel mill where the T-1000’is frozen in the liquid nitrogen and then blasted to pieces by T-800. Beautiful pyrotechnics work.

      • William Henley

        I was thinking of the steel mill myself when I wrote it, but you are right, its not your typical explosion. I was thinking primarily of the H-bomb sequence in Sarah’s dream, but that doesn’t lessen the other explosions in the movie. They are all great.

    • EM

      You could have a whole roundtable on Star Trek explosions. In addition to the movies (Wrath of Khan’s Genesis effect! The Undiscovered Country’s destruction of Praxis, felt across the light-years aboard the Excelsior!), there are years of TV episodes to consider. Some that come to mind are “Cause and Effect” (TNG), in which the Enterprise-D explodes what, five times?; “Timescape” (also TNG), which has the same explosion going forward and backward, sometimes fast, sometimes slow enough to draw a smiley face in it; and “Death Wish” (Voyager), featuring the Big Bang itself!

  14. Scott H

    I really like the explosion in the Fifth Element when Korbin and the DJ are semi working together to fight the mangalors in the main room of the cruise ship when Korbin grabs the spiked German hand grenade and sets it for 10 seconds tosses it up into the ceiling of the balcony the bad guys are on. Boom, lots of satisfying flame in that one.

    The pirate ship blowing up in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, though I think the explosion of the pirate ship in Cutthroat Island is much bigger and more powerful.

  15. Daniel

    It’s SMILE you son of a bitch. (crickets) Just saying. Sorry to be that auto corrector but it’s one of my favorite films. And it’s not the biggest explosion ever but I’m going with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters as one of my favorites.

  16. Andrew Murrell

    I’ve always liked the hydrogen truck explosion from Extreme Prejudice. Massive and non-CGI. I’ll also go for the hospital in The Dark Knight as that was non-CGI as well (an old sweet/candy factory if I remember correctly) Thought the final 747 in Die Hard 2 was impressive again non-CGI (albeit a model) and for a CGI one the aircraft hangar in Pearl Harbor .

  17. David Staschke

    One my my all time favorite explosions is from the end of Speed when the bomb on the bus explodes while colliding with an airplane. That damn explosion was HUGE and my 12-year-old eyes were mesmerized! Also, you can’t go wrong with the bridge explosion at the end of The Long Kiss Goodnight. Ah, the 90s: when they actually blew things up to create cinematic explosions instead of relying on CGI.

  18. Thulsadoom

    Nice to see someone mentioning Matinee. I love that film. 🙂

    My pick:

    1 – Star Wars – The last TIE Fighter destroyed when the Falcon escapes the Death Star. I always loved the way they linger on the explosion and let us really enjoy it. And it’s superb the way it has multiple blossoming explosions as it goes off.
    2 – The Thing – When the camp goes up at the end, there’s a series of great explosions, all culminating in that great distance shot of the camp with the muted sound and far off flames and explosions…
    3 – Poltergeist – Someone else mentioned it, but the implosion of the house at the end. Especially brilliant when you read about how they created it, blasting it with shotguns to break it up as it was pulled in.

  19. Jak Donark

    So many to choose from, and so many categories, but I’ll have to say my favorite is the chain of explosions from the rooftop explosion in Die Hard. Just like McClane our nerves are wracked, and when the recurring harbinger bell of the elevator goes off to release another explosion from the elevator shaft, we share McClane’s reaction of is this ever going to end? The series of explosions just increases the tension.

    Another of my favorites is V For Vendetta. Both the opening and closing fireworks displays set to the 1812 th overture give me a triumphant feeling, not necessarily in a rebellious way, but just sharing that release to the closed off and restricted society they live in.

    A few more worth mentioning: Biggest: Destruction of Alderaan. Sure the Death Star blowing up was one thing, but this was a whole planet! Practical: Refinery explosion in Road Warrior. Haven’t watched it for awhile, but doesn’t the camera actually shake from one of the explosions? And that flying oil drum! Best storyline explosion: Jaws! Enough said.

    How about just gas station explosions? Bullitt, 1941, Blues Brothers (Extended), Lethal Weapon 4, Romeo & Juliet, but my two favorites are Robocop and Christine. Both feature basically indestructible characters coming out of the flames. And the tire screech from Christine just echoes in my head, always gives me chills.

    Blues Brothers also has a great one courtesy of Carrie Fisher. The whole movie is edited in a musical and lyrical way, and the scene when the troopers kick in the door of Elwood’s apartment has a perfect one-two-three of the door kick, the bomb remote click, and the explosion.

    Die Hard With a Vengeance: We are pulled in by “Summer in the City”, singing along, watching the normal morning of a hustle bustle New York City, then BAM! Right when you least expect it. Still one of the most jarring.

    Aliens: When the drop ship crashes in the air exchanger, I love the metal pipe that comes clanging out at the end!

    I have to finish off here somewhere, or I’d be here all day: Category: Villians who get blown up by a grenade or bomb unexpectedly: As mentioned above, Zorg’s death in Fifth Element, and related and this should have been my second favorite (or even favorite) is Stansfield’s death in Leon. Such a perfect end. I really hope people reading have seen these movies… Also: Lance Henriksen in Hard Target, Ra in Stargate, the Aliens in ID4, Jaws (again?) Marcone in Last Boy Scout, Darrow in The Rock, okay I’m done…

    • Scott H

      Forgot about that crash of the drop ship in Aliens, that one is awesome. As far as people getting blown up, though he wasn’t a villain, Woody Harrelson in a thin red line. As far as gas station explosions go, how about the one in Zoolander, a fun day played out to jitterbug and then the gasoline fight and boom. Pure hilarity. http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnZ2XdqGZWU

      You mentioned robocop, how bout the multiple explosions caused by Boddicker and his henchmen when he brings them the cobra assault cannons.

      Also forgot about Harrison Ford in clear and present danger, when his motorcade was destroyed by RPG totting drug cartelist and also the destruction of the cartels mansion, heart wrenching as you see the kids playing a few seconds before the bomb hits. According to IMDB “The drug lord mansion destroyed by the missile was a real brick-and-mortar residence in Mexico purchased by the filmmakers from a divorcee who had unpleasant memories of the place. The filmmakers bought the mansion and destroyed it; the divorcee kept the land and presumably built a new house after clearing out the rubble.”

      • Jak Donark

        Oh yeah. I had thought about the sidewalk explosions in Robocop when I first saw this topic, forgot about it when I went to type. My favorite is the last one, it seems like no one expected it and they might have been a little too close.

        Completely forgot about Zoolander. Haven’t seen it since it came out. I remember that scene was hilarious! I’ll have to pick it up again when it comes out on blu soon.

      • EM

        Aliens is a superb film with some superb explosions (they can bill me!), but let’s not forget the triple superexplosion of the Nostromo in Alien. Yeah!!

      • Jak Donark

        The Birds, of course the classic. Maybe the first time for a gas station explosion? I first saw it over 30 years ago, I was around six, and that stood out in my memory of that movie. Also, thinking of Hard Target and John Woo, In Broken Arrow Travolta is another who gets killed by his own bomb, and that explosion is pretty good, not to mention the earlier underground bomb blast that causes the helicopter to crash and burn. Hard Target has a fun one when Van Damme kicks the bottle of gasoline(?) and shoots it with a shotgun to blow it up in front of the one guy.

  20. Andrew Murrell

    Forgot the fuel tankers from License to Kill. The penultimate one where Robert Davi drives off in the cab and looks behind him as the trailer goes up is good, and real. You can see the camera shake from the shockwave.

    • Jak Donark

      If you watch the doc on Licence to Kill there is a cool photo they took from that explosion. It looks like a firey hand coming out to grab Bond. Pretty creepy. Bonds had some pretty good explosions. One of my favorites is from A View To A Kill during the teaser when the Russian helicopter crashes. There is a half second of the sound of crushing metal as the blades hit the mountain before it blows up. Another of those good one-two sound effects. Just like the little spark sound before the tow truck explodes after the canal chase in T2.

  21. Andrew Murrell

    Got another. Ignoring opinions on the film itself but Terminator Salvation had three good ones. The gas station, the helicopter firing on Sam Worthington and the final nuclear explosion as they escape Skynet.

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