One of the best things about seeing a film on the big screen is the level of intensity it provides. There aren’t any distractions; it’s just you and a big screen to focus on, which can result in a magical experience. The very best films should make you feel something, and it’s very difficult to make an audience feel tension. Below are some of the best examples of an intense film experience. These are the scenes that will have you digging your nails into your leather sofa like a frightened cat.
7. Pulp Fiction — Overdose
Quentin Tarantino created a true staple of cinema with Pulp Fiction, an endlessly quotable film that helped popularize postmodernism and non-linear storytelling. The film’s biggest strength is that pretty much every scene is entertaining, and one of the best moments is when John Travolta finds Uma Thurman (the boss' wife) overdosing on the sofa after yet another trip to the bathroom.
In a panic, he rushes her over to his stoner friend hoping for a cure. This leads to the two bumbling idiots debating over whether or not to shove a shot of adrenaline straight into Uma’s heart. It’s both hilarious and nail-biting and ends with a jolt that's guaranteed to make you squirm.
6. Boogie Nights — Long Way Down
Paul Thomas Anderson proved that he was a force to be reckoned with after the release of his second feature film. Boogie Nights follows Mark Whalberg on his rise to (porn)stardom among a cast of oddball characters who end up hitting rock bottom. It’s a terrifically idiosyncratic film, and the best scene is completely unrelated to the main narrative.
The cash-strapped porn crew decide to organize a drug deal with an insane Alfred Molina. The plan is to hand over the cocaine (which is actually laundry detergent), take the money and go, but things don’t go according to plan. The tension builds brilliantly as soon as they enter Molina’s abode. There’s a stereo blasting out '80s hits and a guy randomly throwing firecrackers on the floor, as well as an intimidating bodyguard eager to reach for his gun. Everything from the editing to the acting is perfection, and when the scene finally explodes we’re left on the edge of our seats.
5. Whiplash — Drum Solo
Who knew that drumming could be so intense? Damien Chazelle wrote and directed this little feature in order to make money to create his dream project, La La Land. Both films are about music and both took home more than one Academy Award, so Chazelle certainly knows what he’s doing. It’s incredible to think that Whiplash is the director’s debut film as it’s so masterfully crafted you’d think it was made by a director who has been honing his skills for years.
The film follows Miles Teller as an ambitious drummer who gets mercilessly bullied by his drum teacher/drill sergeant (J.K. Simmons). The main focus is on these two characters sparring, which results in a wordless finale designed to leave you breathless. Simmons tries to humiliate Miles Teller by giving him the wrong sheet music on his big show. The tension rises as the young drummer boy plays an astonishing 10-minute solo. Drumming has never been so tremendously powerful.
4. Requiem For A Dream — Nightmare Ending
Darren Aronofsky has never been one for providing us with an easy watch, but Requiem For A Dream is unquestionably his most harrowing film to date. Most people who see it call it a masterpiece, but most never have a desire to watch it again. It’s one of the most crushingly depressing films ever thanks to its portrayal of drug addiction.
The focus is on four separate characters who all start off with big dreams and ambitions, but as the film progresses it becomes apparent that nothing is going to end well for any of them. The last half hour is mind-numbing as we watch each character going through their own personal hell. The relentless editing and Clint Mansell’s menacing thumping score drives the intensity to unbearable levels. The worst part is that the film ends with a slow zoom out on each character at their lowest points. It's scarier than most #horror films. Don’t do drugs, kids.
3. Inglourious Basterds — The Tavern
No one writes dialogue quite like Quentin Tarantino, and this long scene from his war epic, Inglorious Basterds, is quite possibly the best piece of dialogue he has ever written. Our heroes are surrounded by Nazis in an underground tavern and have to pretend to be one of them in order to survive. The scene is set as soon as they enter the bar, as at any moment the motley clan could be debunked. What follows is a series of tense exchanges including a game of mind games and an interrogation thats ends up with guns being pointed at each other’s testicles. Needless to say, it all ends with a glorious bang (or several).
2. Interstellar — No Time For Caution
Christopher Nolan is a master at creating high stakes and that’s partly why his films are so popular and re-watchable. From The Dark Knight to The Prestige, each film builds to dizzying heights before beautifully exploding in our faces. This scene from Nolan’s sci-fi masterpiece Insterstellar is a strong contender for the crown of most intense movie moment ever.
It’s important to note the spectacular build-up to this moment. Matthew McConaughey nearly dies, another character gets blown up, and Matt Damon has just been revealed as a maniac on a desperate mission to save himself from death. This all goes belly up when he blows up the centrifuge, giving McConaughey the impossible task of docking on the spinning spacecraft. It’s an impressive scene elevated by Hans Zimmer’s thundering score. The scene is an absolute masterpiece of tension and suspense — even Interstellar haters can’t deny its power.
1. Black Swan — Last Dance
One of the most spectacular movie-going experiences I’ve ever had is watching Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan. The film follows Natalie Portman as an obsessive ballet dancer going through a mental breakdown. We see everything through Portman’s deranged eyes, so the film immediately grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go. Things get progressively weirder and more nail-biting until the finale and the big show that everything has been building up to. By this point our protagonist is now well and truly insane. The dazzling camerawork mixed with Clint Mansell’s swelling take on Tchaikovsky’s "Swan Lake" are intoxicating. The bloody altercation between Portman and Mila Kunis results in a beautifully tragic ending that will have your pulse racing.
There are my picks for the most intense movie scenes! Which movies have left you breathless?