Intense movie moments are generally the sign of a fine motion picture. If you recoil or tense up or even leave the room during a specific part, then in our book, the film has done its job. That’s led us to pick out our 13 favorite intense movie moments. See if you agree. (SPOILERS ahead!)
13. Saving Private Ryan — Private Mellish
In 1998, Saving Private Ryan held the true hell of war up for all to see, and it was much uglier than anything Hollywood had ever depicted. Within the film, Private Mellish (Adam Goldberg) takes point on what is, by far, the hardest-to-watch moment. In a hand-to-hand combat scene, a German soldier slowly pushes a knife through Mellish’s body. The buildup, suspense, and execution, are gut-wrenching.
12. Carlito’s Way — Carlito
After the titular character (Al Pacino) survives a masterfully orchestrated shootout sequence, he’s two steps away from freedom when he’s offed by a thug from earlier in the film. After what you’ve just been through as an audience with the will-he-survive-or-won’t-he back and forth, watching him die is like having your heart pulled out through your chest. We couldn’t find the video of the shootout, but here’s the last scene of the film.
11. Inglourious Basterds — The Bar Scene
QT’s buildup is a work of art for anyone wanting to know how you build suspense to a fever pitch, and then build it a little more before the payoff. You know something ugly is about to happen. Your only hope: that a few of your favorite characters will live.
10. The Godfather — Michael Breaks Bad
In The Godfather, Michael (Pacino) is supposed to be the “good boy.” But then, he meets Sollozzo. We love this scene, particularly how Francis Ford Coppola uses Italian without subtitles to show that Michael isn’t thinking of anything else but the murder he’s about to commit. Once he does, you know that he’ll never be the same, and you grieve for him, even though a part of you wants to see Sollozzo’s brains in the cannoli as well.
9. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo — Rape Scene
As bad as this scene is in the foreign version, it’s a million times worse in the American. The attacker is physically and psychologically repulsive. Our hero is completely helpless. You keep hoping for an 11th Hour save as he humiliates her, but it just doesn’t happen. No one could blame you for running it through.
8. Pet Sematary — Achilles Heel
When the murderous Gage returns from the grave, he’s still cute enough to where we think he isn’t capable of slicing an old man’s achilles tendon in two. Boy are we wrong!
7. The Shining — Come Play With Us, Danny
And by “play with us,” they mean “die with us.” Danny’s quick-cut visions of the creepy little girls have you anticipating their appearance with each turn of the big wheel. Still, nothing prepares you for when they actually show up.
6. No Country For Old Men — Hotel Showdown
By this point, we’ve come to like our hero, and we’re also well aware of how unstoppable his adversary is. Putting the two together is a volcanic mixture that to this day, we can’t watch while looking straight at the screen.
5. Reservoir Dogs — The Ear Scene
Dang it, QT. A straight razor slicing through a man’s ear — really!? We all know how sensitive the ears can be, and watching how enthusiastically Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) torments the young cop with the family is stomach-churning.
4. The Exorcist III — The Hospital
Everything is off about this scene — the heavy use of a single camera, the slow-burning long take, the musical cues, the shock coming when we least expect it — it’s the unwillingness to film this scene in standard horror movie fashion that continues to make it (and the film) a must every Halloween.
3. American History X — Curb Stomp
It wouldn’t have mattered if the shoe was on the other foot and it was the African-American kid stomping KKK Edward Norton’s face into the pavement. Either way, this would have still been tough to watch because you can instantly imagine how painful it would be. The crunching sound FX are hard to deal with as well.
2. Casino — Baseball Bat Beatdown
In Martin Scorsese’s Casino, the director does the impossible. He makes us feel sympathy for the film’s most reprehensible character — Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) — in that character’s final moments. How does he do it? By making Nicky watch as his beloved brother is beat to death with a baseball bat. Then he gets a taste of it himself. Also, you have to see Pesci in his underwear.
1. Passion Of The Christ — The Scourging
Whether you think Jesus is the Son of God or not, you can’t argue with good special FX and Mel Gibson’s diabolical imagination. The flogging of Jesus is hard to watch, from how the guards “test” the diabolical contraption to the moment it rips into flesh.
Which intense movie moments do you find the hardest to watch? Share them in our comments section, please. And for more list fun, make sure you check out our 8 Saddest Screen Deaths.