Hollywood is known for giving plenty of surprises whether it’d be a character death, a climactic ending, or simply character dialogue. There are plenty of scenes in films that stick out to us the most just because of how riveting and terrifying it was. We as an audience feel a sense of dread for the character(s) who are usually in a very helpless environment when these scenes take place. Even if we already realize what the outcome may be, its usually the build up and eerie music that delivers the most scares. It’s not just the horror genre that succeeds at this, but rather how directors are able to harness the complexity of this work of art.
This list does however include a few jump scares however they are handled the right way. Jump scares happen much too often and are perhaps the most cliche of all cliches especially in horror films but when done right, they are memorable. The directors are the one’s who should be given the most credit for these scenes. I enjoy watching films that have those intense scenes because even if you already know the outcome, there’s still that feeling of remorse for that/those character(s). Hopefully this list will bring back some of those memories of the very first time you viewed these films. Here is my list of “5 Most Tense Movie Scenes in Cinema.”
5. War of the Worlds: Basement Hideout Scene
While not a masterpiece, Spielberg still knows how to deliver scenes that has the audience gasping for air. This entire scene takes place after Ray (Tom Cruise) and his children find a house to hide from the alien invasion. Trying to sleep “peacefully,” in the basement, the characters are confronted first by a snake-like camera. Tom Cruise’s character eventually destroys the machine after the alien technology notices Rachael hiding behind a mirror. But their worst fears are about to come true…
Shortly after, the camera pans over the aliens slowly creeping down the stairs of the basement. They begin to search for signs of life peeking behind chairs, tables, and other various objects. Tim Robbin’s character almost gives their hiding spot away, but Ray is able to prevent him from attacking the aliens. The entire scene is full of tense moments carefully crafted by Spielberg’s touch of genius. We believe the main characters will eventually make it out alive, but this scene makes you think otherwise.
4. Taken: Kim Abduction Scene
Arguably one of the greatest action/thriller films to hit theaters in the past decade, Taken brought us a bad-ass Liam Neeson willing to do anything to save his daughter. This film had many memorable action scenes but it was the kidnapping scene that struck a cord for the audience. The scene that is most prevalent here is the one where Kim is abducted.
Kim sees her friend Amanda forcefully grabbed and taken out of the apartment. Kim’s only option here is to find a hiding spot. Unfortunately, the spot she chose wasn’t the brightest. The scary part about this scene is not when she is eventually snatched out from under the bed. It’s when she is on the phone with her father as he is telling her to shout out everything that she notices about the kidnappers. Before being taken captive, she is told by her dad that she will be taken with no other option. It’s the facial expressions of Neeson’s character that we begin to feel terrified of what happens to his daughter. This is a scene that will no doubt go down as one of the most petrifying scenes of any thriller film.
3. The Lost World: Jurassic Park: Glass breaking scene
Shortly after patching up the baby t-rex’s leg, the crew is confronted by the mama and daddy T-rex. “Mommy’s very angry,” says Ian Malcom is one of the most quotable moments from this film. The characters believe they are out of danger when all of a sudden the dinosaurs ram into the trailer slowly pushing them off the edge of a cliff. But the moment that makes your heart race is when Sarah falls down onto the bottom of the trailer. The glass slowly begins to crack as everyone tells her to “Don’t move!”
Sarah is in a very unfortunate circumstance as every movement of hers allows the glass to continue to crack. Any more weight on the glass would surely break it. Nick Van Owen (Vince Vaughn) notices the phone begin to slip off of the light. Sadly, Nicks’ attempt to grasp the phone is short lived as it falls straight towards Sarah. Fortunately, Malcom is able to grab a hold of Sarah’s lucky pack in time before the phone breaks the glass and plummets to the bottom of the cliff. However not all of the characters are left unscathed as Eddie is soon devoured after saving them.
2. Saw: Pig Mask Reveal Scene
The Saw franchise was such a terrifying horror/thriller that when you think of the term “torture porn,” usually these films come to mind. This film was hyped up to be the next horror franchise and boy did it deliver. The scenes that everyone talks about in this film is either the final reveal of Jigsaw or Amanda’s bear trap escape scene. However the scene I’m referring to that brings about the most tension is the scene where Adam wakes up inside his darkroom and realizes all the lights have been turned off. Fearing a possible intruder, Adam uses his camera to flash light to help him see. .
What makes this scene truly terrifying is that there is NO music playing and you just hear Adam yell to see if there is someone else in his apartment. We follow Adam throughout his pitch black apartment expecting the intruder to show themselves eventually. However the reveal of the invader is frightening as Adam slowly creeps towards his closet and flashes his camera for the last time. It’s a great jump scare even if the audience was expecting it.
1. Alien: The Xenomorph Finds Dallas
So many scenes to choose from here! The movie Alien will go down as one of my all time favorites. The climax of the film is built up throughout and Ridley Scott does a great job of this. Scott knows when to surprise audiences and does not use any scare cliches (ok maybe one when Ridley’s cat jumps out from her hiding spot). The creature from Alien is one of the most terrifying monsters ever seen on screen.
While there are lots of intense scenes throughout, the one that stands out to me the most was when Dallas has to go through the ships ventilation shafts attempting to force the alien into an airlock. With a flame thrower to boot, Dallas’s attempt to successfully remove the alien is foiled once the alien finally catches up to him.
The scariest part of this scene is not the reveal of the alien but rather not knowing how close it is to him. We see everyone else looking at the radar alerting Dallas that the creature is gaining on him. Not realizing where it is, he quickly descends lower into the shaft and is eventually ambushed by the alien.
This was in my opinion the scariest scene from Alien simply because of the build up of suspense. A great film that gives us the ultimate payoff and this is why it earns my number one spot on my list.
Did you agree with my list? I’m sure I missed plenty of tense movie scenes in cinema so I’m curious to know what movie scenes are your favorite that bring about the most tension? Please share your thoughts and comment below!