Thanks to advancements in practical effects, special effects, CGI, pyrotechnics, set and actor safety, and more; movies (and cinema in general) have been able to go above and beyond in visual spectacles and storytelling ideas. From having small fireworks go off in a slow scene, to absolutely huge and bombastic explosions in space, oceans, and on planets; directors and crews have taken to making explosions in film an artistic skill.
In recent decades and years, some directors have been known for the explosion set pieces, and certain films and genres have been known for their exquisite explosion masterpieces. Michael Bay (Transformers, Bad Boys) has an entire filmography decked out with stylish pyrotechnic pieces. Movies such as Bridge on the River Kwai are known for their symbolic and storytelling uses of explosions. Recently, the newest James Bond movie, No Time to Die, set the Guinness World Record for the largest amount of explosives detonated for a movie. These set pieces are only primed to be bigger and better than their predecessors. With that, here are the most impressive explosions in action movies, ranked.
6 The Matrix (1999)
Already somewhat of a gamechanger with its seminal use of CGI and mind-binding action sequences, The Matrix (starring Keanu Reaves and directed by the Wachowskis) is also known for having one of the best explosions in the action genre. Near the climax of the film, Neo (Reeves) and Trinity (Moss) continue their fight against the Agents; their helicopter begins to spin out of control. Neo jumps out, lands on top of a building, and lassos the helicopter to try and prevent it from crashing (with Trinity still instead). Alas, he is not strong enough, and in one of the most fantastic uses of CGI, the helicopter crashes into a nearby building (in slow motion) as if the building were made of soft material. Then, just a few seconds later, the helicopter explodes, shattered glass flies from the building, and Trinity swings from the danger and the fire. A truly impressive feat from the graphics team, nabbing an Oscar for Best Visual Effects.
5 V For Vendetta
A film based on the great graphic novels of writer Alan Moore, V For Vendetta follows a man simply known as V, who is trying to bring down the dystopian, fascist government the UK has become. In a series of coordinated attacks, V makes his statement to the people and to the government on what he is planning to do, specifically one year from then, on Guy Fawkes Night. And true to his word, one year later, with the help of his assistant Evey Hammond (Portman); V, using an old train car filled with explosives, blows up the Parliament building, symbolizing both the physical fall of the government, and the symbolic fall of the government, allowing the peoples to rise and create a new government from the ashes. Visually exciting and full of depth, the explosion of the Parliament building was one of the highlights of the film.
4 No Time To Die (2021)
The latest entry into the James Bond franchise (based on the book series by Ian Fleming), and also the final Bond film for actor Daniel Craig. In a classic fight between archrival Ernst Blofeld, the Specter Organization, and a new villain (played by Rami Malek) Safin; and alongside sidekick Nomi (the new 007, played by Lashana Lynch), Bond goes on yet another mission to stop the destruction of the world. In the climax of the film, a missile strike is called to the factory where Safin and Bond are fighting. In a record-setting set-up, containing 136.4 kilograms of TNT equivalent, the missiles struck the factory and the island, destroying it for good. No easy feat for a film crew to assemble. The payout was worth it, seeing one of the biggest and best explosions on the big screen.
3 Apocalypse Now (1979)
On the set of one of the most troubled film shoots of all-time came one of the most iconic action movie explosions in the history of cinema. Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola’s grim Vietnam War film, starring Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Harrison Ford, and more., has many, many explosions throughout its entire story. The most well-known, showing the cruelty of the war, is the airstrike in a Vietnam forest early in the film. Holding back nothing, the forest erupts in fire, destruction, and pain; no beauty at all in the sight of it all. Combined with Bill Kilgore’s (Duvall) dark line, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning“, this explosion provides a brutal message to the audience on the horrors of war.
2 Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Another epic war movie (considered one of the greatest films ever made), and starring the all-time great Alec Guinness, Bridge on the River Kwai follows POW British soldiers in a Japanese prison camp, who are forced to build a new bridge over the River Kwai. With serious intrigue, emotional roller coasters, and a brilliant plot, the movie went on to win seven Academy Awards. Arguably the best part of the film is its ending, in which the soldiers who built the bridge blow it up with dynamite. The explosion is also well known for its symbolic meaning as well, of the soldiers getting back at their captors and gaining a turning point in the war.
1 The Hurt Locker (2008)
The story of an Explosive Ordinance Team in Iraq being terrorized by insurgents, while dealing with their new team leader in the horrors of war, The Hurt Locker (directed by Kathryn Bigalow) won six Academy Awards, and was the first Best Picture Winner to be directed by a woman. With the film being about a bomb disarmament squad, it has many well-done explosions. The arguably best one comes when showing the defusing skills of the new Staff Sergeant James. When an Iraqi citizen comes towards the soldiers wearing a vest full of explosives, Sergeant James and his colleagues get to work immediately to get rid of the vest. Almost shot documentary style, the team runs out of time to disarm the vest, and it explodes, brutally. No fireworks, or bright flames, just jaw-dropping shock or witnessing the citizen blow-up.