A perfectly imperfect organism: The beautiful metamorphosis of the ‘Alien’ quadrilogy

“Strange fascination, fascinating me / Changes are taking the pace I’m going through” – David Bowie, Changes

“If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary.” – Jim Rohn

“The saddest journey in the world is the one that follows a precise itinerary. Then you’re not a traveler. You’re a f**king tourist.” – Guillermo del Toro

“Do what you haven’t done is the key, I think.” – Ridley Scott

Over the past few days there has been quite the influx of retrospectives regarding the Alien franchise. Such is the cycle of a franchise, particularly one that’s been around as long as this one.

Surely there will be much to be said of the first two film’s influence. There will be in-depth histories into the making of each, focusing once again (most likely) on the first two films and rightly so. Both Alien and Aliens are absolute masterclasses, representing the pinnacle of what can be achieved in their respective genres and their influence is obvious in just about subsequent, similar film that came afterwards. Released in 1979, Alien remains the standard of the wonders of horror and science fiction. Its sequel, Aliens, bares one of the distinct honors of being a rare sequel that meets the level of success its iconic predecessor if not wholly surpassing it. Much can also be said about the franchise’s refreshing and outright progressive steps in showcasing a genuinely badass female protagonist in the form of one Ellen Ripley, who actually showcases characterization outside of “badass female protagonist.” -COUGHJYNERSOCOUGH-

Reviewers will be quick to praise the success of these two films, all while quickly dismissing the two films that followed them (Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection respectively). Now while these films are far, far, FAR from perfect, I argue they are also very far from terrible and in some respects even almost secretly phenomenal. Now you are well within your right to argue to the contrary but I posit that each and every one of these movies have merit and that’s what I’m here to convince you of here and now.

I’m here to put forth that this franchise deserves commendation for a reason I don’t see cited all that often by critics or fans and if I can somehow convince you to see this series out, then I call that a win for both of us.

The first four Alien films stand singularly as a franchise benefited by multiple cooks in the kitchen, not least of which is the fact that each sports a different director at the helm with Ridley Scott tasked with the first film, James Cameron the second, David Fincher the troubled-third and Jean-Pierre Jeunet bringing in the rear with the utterly insane (once thought to be) final chapter. The utterly unique thing about them combined is that none remotely resemble each other in regards to their tone. Each perfectly represents what their respective director brings the table and I absolutely love that. I’d argue it may just be the most director-driven franchise we’ve yet to see.

Much like the xenomorph itself, each entry adapts to the vision of its host or in this case, the director. Over the years, this monster has evolved and warped to whoever oversaw it. Like the Mad Max films, there isn’t too much of an emphasis on continuity but there is, at the very least, a through-line through the first four; that being Ripley (Signourney Weaver), the Weyland-Yutani Corporation and the xenomorph itself. So there is a cannon and I’m all for that, but there’s also wiggle room to take the story in directions free from the constraints of your typical, more episodic narrative. I’d almost argue the DVD/Blu-ray collection should be called the Alien Anthology rather than the Quadrilogy.

Now it’d be ridiculous to fully credit each of these movies to the efforts of a single person. As someone whose never fully subscribed to the auteur theory, I think the individuality of each entry can be attributed to small armies worth of folks both in-front of and behind the camera. Watch the bonus features on the Alien Quadrilogy box set (perhaps the greatest DVD/Blu-ray release of the past decade given the absolute wealth of material) and you’ll lose track of just how many people played in important part in each, a fact we often lose sight of with every movie. The BTS material on this set covers every single aspect of the production of each film, beginning with their origins and spanning all the way to the final product’s release and reception. Every individual interviewed is refreshingly candid, unafraid to share their personal thoughts regardless of whether it paints them in a pretty picture. The making of each entry is as interesting (if not more so) as the films themselves.

Also important to note that I’m really only going to get into the first four films as well as a little on Prometheus later on so that means no Alien vs. Predator or its equally terrible sequel.  I don’t really consider either of those movies to be honest-to-Ripley sequels because outside of featuring xenomorphs, they largely stand apart. The sooner I, and the world, can forget about scenes like the one below, the sooner we can heal.

Also those movie are lack any sort of merit beyond just being bad and I’m trying to bring us up rather than down…at least in relation to the first four films. There will be plenty of Prometheus-bashing soon.

I’m not divulging that in-depth in relation to the plot of these movies but there will be some frank discussion about plot points in each film in the series meaning of course the ending or major twists will come up at one point or another.

So yeah there are some spoilers, Nick.

Alien

The gist:

“After a space merchant vessel perceives an unknown transmission as distress call, its landing on the source moon finds one of the crew attacked by a mysterious life-form, and they soon realize that its life cycle has merely begun.” – IMDb.com

So here’s our template, the movie that sets the tone for all that comes afterward. Almost all the major beats that take place a viewer from today may pass off as cliché neglecting the fact this is the film that not only created the cliché but perfected it. Typically, when EVERYTHING about a movie is iconic, it’s because more than one person was doing their job.

But another thing it deserves all the credit in the world for is just how dadgum relatable everything is. Yeah, I know. It takes place in space. Yeah, I know. There’s a face-hugging, chest-bursting monster at the center of it all. But as with the rest of these films, it’s really smart in its execution.

Our crew isn’t a group of scientists like in Prometheus. Nor are they an elite group of marines as in Aliens (with the term “elite” being used very, VERY liberally in this instance). They’re space truckers, and only one of them makes it out alive by the end. Even then, it’s by the absolute skin of her teeth. I think a lot of this reflects on the time this came out in the 1970s, where there was this larger push for the realistic; where films began to mirror documentaries in their presentation. Like A New Hope, Alien does not exist in a pristine future. It’s a world that’s been lived-in, where dated technology still exists and the grime carries over. This goes hand-in-hand with the way our character’s talk to one another. A lot has been said of the subtle yet noticeable way the crew talks over one another, similar to the way large groups of people do in real life. This is due to Scott trusting his actors in this case, allowing them to play off one another rather than fully adhering to the script.

It’s also incredibly important to point out how simple the whole affair is. The original theatrical cut clocks in at 117 minutes, chump change compared to today’s standard tent-pole but by no means a breezy movie either. But I can count only one hand how many major plot points there are, and I stress that the movie isn’t filler. It all comes down to the power of good pacing, matched with clever dialogue and stunning presentation.

In more cases than not, simple is the best option. Scott was setting out to make Dune (an adaptation he was originally supposed to direct funny enough before opting to do Blade Runner instead). There’s a much larger world in Alien, yes, but it’s at the service of the characters first. Go back and watch Alien and make a point to notice how all (or most) of the world-building is subjected largely to the background. That’s because Scott, at his best, is a MASTER CLASS world builder. When matched with a great screenplay, I argue he works best. It doesn’t hurt that he had the insight to bring in Swiss surrealist artist H. R. Giger to form his monster but everything involving the alien, ensuring a visual consistency on LV-426 and the crashed Space Jockey ship. I could go on but YouTuber kaptainkristian spoke in-depth on the matter and I’ll pass the baton off to him.

Another reason just about everyone loves (snobs and paupers alike) is that it appeases everyone’s sensibilities without ever once being condescending. It’s moody and dark, building tension to white-knuckle levels (Dallas in the vents), and it provides the ever-important gore (the chest-burster). Science fiction fans love the hardware, but those who don’t are never bored with techno-babble. It’s progressive in how it doesn’t fit any of its character into a box. No one is a damsel or tasteless stereotype. 

It checks off every box, making for as perfect of a film as there ever has been. I’d be lying if I thought it even needed a sequel let alone a franchise. But seeing as it made an estimated ALL OF THE MONEY in 1979, a sequel was all but assured. The question was however would said sequel be more of the same, but on a bigger scale or a different experience altogether set within the same world. The answer was a resounding….yes/no.

Aliens

“Fifty seven years after Ellen Ripley survived her disastrous ordeal, her escape vessel is recovered after drifting across the galaxy as she slept in cryogenic stasis. Back on Earth, nobody believed her story about the “Aliens” on the moon LV-426. After the “Company” orders the colony on LV-426 to investigate, however, all communication with the colony is lost. The Company enlists Ripley to aid a team of tough, rugged space marines on a rescue mission to the now partially terraformed moon to find out if there are aliens or survivors. As the mission unfolds, Ripley will be forced to come to grips with her worst nightmare, but even as she does, she finds that the worst is yet to come.” – IMDb.com

Hard to ever really accurately gauge but if I were to make an informed guess, I’d say Aliens is the fan favorite. I’d certainly argue this as I’d say it is hands-down my favorite two films as well.

Something that’s been noted in recent years is that Aliens, for all its bells and whistles, is practically the exact same movie as Alien in that it hits a lot of the same narrative beats. The key difference is where Scott took us inward, favoring claustrophobia and paranoia; director James Cameron went much bigger, favoring action beats and encompassing scope. The connecting tissue (at least thematically) is that bigger themes weren’t lost in the shuffle.

Cameron took the mantle from Scott effortlessly, taking the world he had established without going too large. This is a tight-rope too many sequels fall short of, simply taking a “bigger is better” approach. Aliens growth all flows naturally. Informed by the insect-like design of the monster, Cameron built on that and made his monsters hive-based going so far as to have a queen. Informed by the treachery of Ash in the last film, Cameron plays with our expectations with Bishop and allows for ready-made tension. 

For all intents and purposes Aliens is an action blockbuster but as with a majority of Cameron’s films, it is an exceedingly intelligent one. Too often I see folks criticize the space marines for being one-dimensional, but Cameron and the cast do an incredibly skillful job at characterizing them all. Who is to say we really need to hear the life-story of all of these guys and gals? There’s a great deal many more of them than there were Nostromo crew members, so efficiency is key. Largely, we get all the info we really need within a few seconds of meeting each new squad member.

I love, love, love that most action-oriented of the series is the most about female empowerment as well. The image of Ripley we so often see is the one she becomes in this movie, and the great thing is that it doesn’t just happen. Ripley just barely survived the film and it had a great deal to do with luck. This is Weaver’s best outing with the character by a large margin reflected by the fact she received a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her efforts; something typically unheard of for science fiction and horror.

She plays Ripley as a woman looking to find her footing in an unfamiliar world. In the Director’s Cut, we learn that her daughter died while she was floating around in space. The only thing left to her is her cat (who really needed an epilogue now that I think about it). Deciding to return to LV-426, she finds a new purpose in Newt and in doing so reclaims that lost motherhood.

This plays larger into her conflict with the Alien Queen during the film’s climax (given Ripley saw fit to torch all of her babies), which boils down the movie to a knock-out, drag-down war for motherhood told through the prism of an old-fashioned war story.

It’s easily the most accessible of the four as well. Where Alien and Alien 3 may (wrongly) be accused of being “boring” and Resurrection too weird, Aliens is just the right mix of action/horror/comedy that reaches a wide audience. It’s no coincidence that, in many cases, some saw this movie before Alien.

And that accessibility without sacrificing genuine storytelling is something I don’t think Cameron gets nearly enough kudos for.  He’s been credited for raising the bar of where effects can take us time and time again, but he always does so in a way that compliments the story too. Sure, he can be written off as unoriginal but more often than not he’s falling back on the grand tradition of acquiring a previous work and running with it.

Aliens represents a sequel done not just well, but perfectly. Anything that followed would have considerable shoes to fill. Unfortunately, the series really never recaptures the glory of its first two films. But as I said before, that doesn’t mean the two final films were failures. In fact, I argue they’re secret successes.

Alien 3

“After escaping from the alien moon, the ship carrying Ellen Ripley crashes onto a remote and inhabited ore refinery. While living in the ore refinery until she is rescued by her employers, Ripley discovers the horrifying reason for her crash: An alien stowaway. As the alien matures and begins to kill off the inhabitants, Ripley is unaware that her true enemy is more than just the killer alien.” – IMDb.com

When I talk about Alien 3, I get kind of defensive due in no small part to the involvement of director David Fincher, a man for whom I give a great deal of admiration to.

I’ll concede that the theatrical cut is a bit of a mess, a clear victim of retooling and cuts. The effects are also a series low point when it comes to seeing a dog-like xenomorph (or a cow as is the case in the Director’s cut) fully in motion. This is something I think speaks more to the limitations of technology at the time and its an admittedly a cool idea to give us a new type of creature, enhanced by a canine rather than a human. It branches out the mythos in a subtle way rather than immediately throwing elephant xenos or tiger xenos. That said the effect looks pretty bad even by early 90’s standards and probably could have used some re-tooling.

I’m mainly drawing from the 2003 Assembly Cut, a version of the film that is exactly what it sounds like. Adding in about 37 minutes of new or unused footage, this version fits in line more with Fincher’s original vision. Now it too isn’t a perfect movie, but I’d wager it’s a much more complete, comprehensible of the narrative. Not that I fault the studio all that much for making the cuts they did.

If one watches the BTS features on the Quadrilogy set (something I once again whole heartedly recommend), you’ll pick up on the fact that making each one of these movies was an absolute nightmare. Based on the production stories from Alien 3‘s surprisingly frank making-of documentaries, it’s a minor miracle that the either cut of the film is watchable at all.

Where Aliens was a big, loud, bombastic statement, Alien 3 brings everything inward; it cleans the slate, bringing everything back to a simplistic core. What it lacks in scope however it more than makes up with lofty ideas and imagery. It’s the closest the series has to an art film, something I attribute to Fincher and the early involvement of Vincent Ward, who brought forth a lot of religious context and themes to his original vision before Fincher took over. Fincher, to his credit, scaled things back considerably in favor of taking the series back to its roots. 

The last film sought to build Ripley up, elevating her to the badass we see often in the iconography.  Too often we neglect Alien 3 however, the movie that brought her right back down to lowest point we had yet to see her.

I think a lot of the hate this movie receives deals largely with the fact it is almost nothing like its largely revered predecessor. It’s in no way a fun movie and it isn’t a summer blockbuster. Hell, our movie opens with the death of Newt and Hicks. In the Assembly Cut, Newt’s autopsy is a critical scene for Ripley. There are very, very few scenes of levity to balance everything out so it is a really long, dour affair at the end of the day. I argue Fincher’s best stuff is pretty bleak though. He’s dabbled in darker comedy (Fight Club) and even prestige, feel-good whimsy (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), but his greatest movies (Seven, Zodiac, Gone Girl) match his (presumably) dark soul.

In Fincher’s hands, Alien 3 is an excursion into nihilism on a dilapidated, claustrophobic prison planet populated by celibate fundamentalist prisoners so it at least removes the immediate threat of sexual violence where they’re concerned which is refreshing. The xenomorph, in all its forms, is kind of one big sexual allegory any way so to add that unpleasant layer would have in no doubt been a major detractor given this series is sort of built upon “subtle” sexual imagery due in no small part to the involvement of Giger.

However I must concede that Alien 3 never fully recovers from just how bleak it is. Still there is a lot to be said about its stylistic bravado and the courage it has in taking the series’ darkest turns. Killing of Ripley was a bold, fitting move and one almost wishes this had been the final chapter. She and the xenomorph go down together, their fates forever entwined and closed.

But alas, nothing ends in Hollywood as long as there is money to be made.

Alien: Resurrection

“200 years after the conclusion of Alien 3, the Company is able to resurrect Ripley through the process of cloning and the scientists successfully take the Queen Alien out of her. But, Ripley’s DNA gets mixed up with the Queen’s and she begins to develop certain alien characteristics. The scientists begin breeding the aliens, but they later escape. Soon the Xeno-morphs are running amok on the ship, which is on course to Earth. The Queen then gives birth to a deadly new breed of alien, which could spell disaster for the entire human race. It’s up to Ripley and a band of space pirates to stop the ship before it reaches Earth.” – IMDb.com

At last, we arrive at the black sheep of the family.

Alien: Resurrection is hands down one of the most insane wide-releases I think a major studio has put out in the past 3 or 4 decades. It’s just so utterly bizarre it deserves a litany of think-pieces examining just how this storm came together.

Weirdly enough, it’s also the one that seems to have gotten the least amount of studio notes.

Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet had only done two movies at this point and had yet to complete the film for which he will forever be associated: Amélie.

Suffice to say, he doesn’t automatically scream franchise material. Let alone the million dollar behemoth that the Alien franchise represented at the time and unlike Fincher, I don’t think the studio hired him to be some puppet to blindly accept notes. I think this movie really only represents Jeunet’s single stab at making a Hollywood movie, and it’s really fun to see what exactly he brought to the table having since seen him find his groove outside of the system.

Oh and did I mention the screenplay comes from nerd messiah Joss Whedon? Now this may seem like an odd fit, but if you actually watch the movie you see Whedon’s finger prints all over the damn thing with all of its quippy dialogue (at inopportune times) and playful jabs at genre conventions. There’s even a pre-Firefly wacky family dynamic with the crew of the Beatty; not to mention Whedon inherits one of the most empowered female leads in cinematic history, something he made a staple throughout his work. (That said, it makes no logical sense to have Ripley be in this outside of just finding an excuse to include Weaver and the reason provided for Ripley’s “resurrection” is quite the stretch. Then again, a stupid cloning aspect fits in perfectly with all of the other stupid shit celebrated therein.)

To be fair to Whedon, he’s gone on record more than once that he’s not a fan of the final product. He’s quoted as saying:

“It wasn’t a question of doing everything differently, although they changed the ending; it was mostly a matter of doing everything wrong. They said the lines…mostly…but they said them all wrong. And they cast it wrong. And they designed it wrong. And they scored it wrong. They did everything wrong that they could possibly do. There’s actually a fascinating lesson in filmmaking, because everything that they did reflects back to the script or looks like something from the script, and people assume that, if I hated it, then they’d changed the script…but it wasn’t so much that they’d changed the script; it’s that they just executed it in such a ghastly fashion as to render it almost unwatchable.”

All credit to Whedon and he is fully entitled to his own opinion (it is a screenplay he wrote after all), but I humbly disagree. I think this a movie exudes a confidence that a lot of others of its scale at the time lacked and in that we find the spectacle.

You can almost get the sense Jeunet wanted to go crazier but was limited by plausibility and budget…probably the studio to a degree as well. This is the rare entry that probably could have used a bit more supervision to be sure. Frustratingly enough however, its utter insanity is what most elevates the movie from a forgettable chapter to arguably the most memorable if only for what your mind is assaulted with. It carries an odd integrity, consisting more of half-formed ideas combined with the ambitions of a French madman.

The one (of many) stupid things that probably could have used a touch up was….this stupid thing.

Look at its stupid face.

And my problem is more of nitpick because this…thing is supposed to be a half xenomorph/half human hybrid….even though the xenomorph is already supposed to be a half human hybrid. That said, I give it a pass because we get to see it die in a fashion that remains unmatched in the annals of cinema.

An element worth commendation that the movie never really executes is how it finally somewhat explores  the series-long thread of weaponizing the xenomorph. There’s a truly unsettling scene early on where the military is “farming” the aliens with live, human hosts they’ve essentially kidnapped. Unfortunately really never goes too in-depth with this aspect. It’d be interesting if a future movie examined this further.

While Resurrection is probably the weakest movie of all four, it features enough strong scenes like the one I just mentioned to keep it from devolving into simple schlock. It’s a roundtable movie, demanding discussion that all fall prey to it.

So while far from perfect, the Alien franchise had submitted its place as perhaps the most diverse cinematic franchise up to that point in that each entry represented something new, something different, something exciting. No two entries were ever the same. They didn’t always land, but they were distinct. In a world where studios are more concerned with consistency and inter-connecting episodic threads rather than something so risky, these movies would be downright revolutionary. 

Then Ridley Scott came back and fucked everything up…

Perhaps it’s unfair to join the masses in beating a long dead horse, airing my complains about a movie I’ve made sure to harp on in the past so I’m going to be as concise as I can before I send you out on your way. I could dedicate more than a few thousand words regarding plot holes, but that would be screaming into the abyss at this point. Add in the fact redlettermedia took on that task much more eloquently and concisely than I ever could.

Unlike AliensPrometheus doesn’t take risks with tone. It plays things safe, something no other entry had done up to that point. I can’t really stand on a chair above it, pretending I know what would have made a better movie or even that it’s a lazy movie. The production design and effects, for what they’re worth, clearly had a lot of effort put into them. It’s nice to say basic effort at least carried over where the visuals were concerned.

It would be unfair to say the movie is without merit and had it nothing to do with the world Scott helped begin all those decades ago, I’m sure my displeasure with it would have been tempered. In fact, I may have even enjoyed it a little bit more…not by much, but at least a little. The notion of Scott returning to a genre he helped define was enough to make one giddy. However it instead came off as Scott painting-by-numbers rather than be the innovator we all know him to be.

It was Alien but with a shittier coat of paint. Sure, it looks nice and new but the old layer hadn’t remotely begun to chip yet. There’s nothing distinctly praise-worthy about Prometheus outside of its visuals, a couple of half-baked unanswered questions and Michael Fassender’s turn as the android David, a character so developed and nuanced he’s a disservice to everyone else who comes off as flat and one-dimensional.

The comparisons to its forebear would have been there with Scott’s involvement alone but instead its hitched its trailer to a franchise it initially appears to share very little connective tissue with outside of its hard R-rating. I think this can possibly be faulted to pre-release build up that really wasn’t clear whether the film was indeed a prequel rather than a science fiction in the same vein as Alien. Given we now know it is a prequel, I believe comparisons are completely fair.

I hate accusations that a lot of hardcore Alien fans dismiss this movie because it “breaks from the formula.” This is something Scott has said in promoting the newest film, adding this is what led to said film’s creation and implying he’s “giving us what we want to see.”

I’ll get into it more in a bit, but this is probably the thing that enrages me most about Prometheus as a whole. It suggests we want to be spoon-fed rather than surprised. I could be wrong given how much money movies like the Beauty and the Beast remake make every year. It suggests audiences typically only want the same thing time after time. Sure, we love familiarity but there’s room for new stuff too…he said kind of simplistically.

Well if you want the same thing, look no further than Prometheus; a movie that could best be described as if Alien thought its audience consisted of nothing but morons. Where Alien had characters that felt like actual people, Prometheus “elevates” itself with dialogue no human being (not even a scientist) would utter.

Maybe it just falls back to personal preference. Where the characters in Alien were largely concerned about things like overtime and pay checks, the Prometheus crew are concerned with intangible concepts. “Is there a God?’ “Who made us?” “Why did he/she/it make us?” “Did I leave the stove light on?” These are not inherently boring ideas. They could be pretty interesting if framed properly. But Prometheus doesn’t really go for that. It largely hinges on the mystery. But in asking so many questions, it never really feels the need to answer any of them, leading to frustration. In a way, it undermines what made the original so great in the first place, complicating things that shouldn’t be all that complicated.

And it extends to matters beyond just dialogue as well. Whenever a new threat presents itself, the crew of the Nostromo make a point to map out to a degree their next course of action and in turn this allows us a chance to know them specifically as characters. The Prometheus crew, which I must remind you we are led to believe is a group of trained scientists that represent the highest potential in their respective fields (otherwise why else would they be recruited for potentially THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT DISCOVERY OF ALL TIME), lumber around like idiots, never really taking any time to discuss any intimidate action. We’re granted plenty of questions, but literally no payoff.

Hence my lack of excitement for the impending release of Alien: Covenant, yet another entry by Scott. From the grapevine I hear word that it is a soft reboot, meaning it is a reboot in everything but name so therefore could also be considered a prequel and/or sequel. There’s connective threads to what came before, but everything else is entirely new. Think of the Force Awakens, Jurassic World or the movie I just got done bitching about Prometheus as recent examples.

I have yet to see it, but I predict my reaction may be akin to how I gradually felt about Jurassic World, another soft reboot. I’m excited at first, seeing a franchise return to its roots but cools every single time I watch afterword.

Given it’s attached to Prometheus (thereby….sigh….attaching the two franchises), I also assume it’s a prequel. If there’s anything I didn’t need it was where the xenomorph came from. Maybe I’m in the minority here, but this is a monster that was much more interesting when my mind was allowed to fill in the gaps. Given they’re creatures that we’re not really ever asked to feel sympathy for (well, most of the time), in what instance is an origin needed.

One of the great joys in Alien is our characters land on LV-426, find a downed space ship they know nothing about. All we know is some insane parasitic creature has killed everyone on said ship, thereby making the jump to humans. Who is to say what they originally looked like? That’s never been a question lingering in my mind. I always viewed as this brilliant/terrifying coincidence that humans ran into this species at all. And as kaptainkristian pointed out so truthfully in his video essay, this is a creature we understand without any explanation. Thanks to the design, we fundamentally understand all three life stages of the xenomorph without all our characters gathered around a table to exposit each stage’s purpose.

And that’s why it sucks (to me) why Scott has saw fit to apparently take this series back under his wing, favoring a unified vision rather than experimentation. I fear we’re only going to get the same variation of the same movie year after year, joining the rank-and-file series it once set itself apart from. This isn’t to say I’m not in favor of a director overseeing an entire series. Without going down the entire list we have Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, James Gunn with the Guardians of the Galaxy and Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy for some prime examples. I’m simply arguing we could use more room for franchises that mix things up by letting new directors with different visions mess around and not in the same way as the James Bond series does, a franchise so beholden to its own formula it’s a point of humor in later installments.

Imagine how much more interesting if the Pirates of Caribbean series would have been if it ditched an over-arching narrative in favor of new directions with each entry? Much like the Back to the Future films, it dedicated its second and third to go hand-in-hand, leading to two movies that just sort of bleed into another without each really making a substantial impression. Whereas I argue the latter BtF films are marginally better, Pirates kept going after its original trilogy and appears to be going for something I’d initially consider a step in the right direction. Unfortunately it kind of comes too late. On Stranger Tides was so forgettable I struggle to remember a single thing that happened in or if I saw it all, and Dead Men Tell No Tales looks to be in the same vein. What that series could have benefited from is a new director each time, maybe focusing on someone other than Jack Sparrow and ditching a traditional arc; opting instead to bring us to new locales and adventures each outing.

This all wraps into why I’m here today, making a case for a series many dismiss as formulaic when in fact it’s a franchise (that once) was something special, something that changed from movie in the way a musical artist plays around with different genres; artists like Kanye West, Childish Gambino, Lady Gaga, David Bowie, Gorillaz and Bob Dylan.

I think we’ve largely grown complacent with sequels that barely register as mildly entertaining, and for what’s worth that’s not exactly the worst thing, but it also doesn’t really get the blood-pumping in a serious way either.

When you look back at the original four Alien films, you see a new vision each time. You see risk rather than safe, lazy imitation. For all its faults, Fox inadvertently created a highly, unique franchise (something that’s clear given they kept trying to bring back Scott and Cameron throughout the years), set apart from just about anything else of its scale in the Western studio system.

Does everything work? No. Not by a long shot but in a cinescape dominated by the “safe” and “episodic” there should still be room for a series that doesn’t adhere to a code, and mixes things up even if there are mistakes. So what if every beat doesn’t always land when the jump was completely watchable?

I argue these movies are anything but formulaic. There may be beats you expect, but tonally they could not be any more different. They match the tastes of four incredibly masterful and diverse directors, each sporting an entirely different feel than the last.

I can’t sit here and tell you what I want out of an Alien movie because my “dream Alien film” is one that I wouldn’t expect or at the very least one that is set apart from its predecessors. It would be one that does what this series and its monster (used) to do best: evolve.

My 100 favorite film scenes -or- the 5oth Mega-Post Spectacular -or- Tyler rambles about boring movie stuff: Episode L: The Phantom Spellcheck, Part 1

“Every once in a while I have what I think of as an out-of-the-body experience at a movie. When the ESP people use a phrase like that, they’re referring to the sensation of the mind actually leaving the body and spiriting itself off to China or Peoria or a galaxy far, far away. When I use the phrase, I simply mean that my imagination has forgotten it is actually present in a movie theater and thinks it’s up there on the screen. In a curious sense, the events in the movie seem real, and I seem to be a part of them.” – Roger Ebert in his review for Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

“Movies aren’t stupid. They fill us with romance and hatred and revenge fantasies. Lethal Weapon showed us that suicide is funny.” – Homer Simpson

“Everything I learned I learned from the movies.” – Audrey Hepburn

Here we are. 50 blog posts. In this generation, that means something…I guess? I do this for fun for a pretty small (i.e. SUPER small) audience, but a hallmark is a hallmark, goddamnit.

I love talking about movies. That should be pretty obvious by this point, but generally I use this blog to talk about entire movies. So with this MEGAPOST I thought I’d mix things up. I want to look by not at my favorite movies (because frankly that would take way too long and its a list that is always changing) but the cinematic moments that I have replayed time and time again. Like Roger Ebert said so beautifully, these are the scenes that truly let me escape and enter a new reality, if only for a second.

50 blog posts in and I have to say…I hate lists. I really fucking hate lists. Oh, I enjoy reading them but writing them is another animal entirely. I’m not referring to what the writers over at Buzzfeed do. I look more to the writers over at sites like Cracked or magazines like Empire. To take something as massive as the medium of film and subjectively put it in a list in a level from worst to best and then justify it sounds daunting. Way too daunting for someone who does this for fun (coughAndSucksAtItcough) like myself so the list before you will have no numeric system of value. I have neither the time nor inclination to sit down and even attempt to place these scenes in order.

For a general FYI, I am not a film analyst i.e. I’ve only taken one film studies class and it was for an elective. I love movies but I don’t love the idea of picking apart a movie to understand “why it works.” For the most part, I just want to escape. Sure, I like talking about why I liked a movie or a particular scene (that shit is my bread and butter) but there is a magic about the process that I don’t often like to get tangled up in themes or higher meaning. In other words, I am a nightmare for filmmakers like Kubrick, Lynch, and Malick. Make no mistake, this is not a list of scenes that I think are objectively the best ever committed to film. These are scenes that moved, shook, haunted, and sometimes all three. Of course some of them are here because they are a technical marvel, but I want to get more to the root of why they made me marvel personally.

Another criticism I foresee is that a lot of these are from newer movies which I can’t really contest. I have no qualms against older movies, but I am a human being that hasn’t seen every single movie made. I see them as they come out and do my best to catch up with movies of the past. Call it insecurity or just laziness if you will but I feel I picked some pretty solid choices given I am not a professional nor am I a true student of cinema. I don’t think there are many “controversial” choices here.

I also wanted to steer away from picking scenes on the sheer fact that they are iconic but expect more than a few well-known scenes to appear. A scene becomes iconic for a reason, and that reason is the public gravitates towards it for whatever reason. There is a movement in criticism to denounce the popular which is a stance I am adamantly against.

Also it’s important to note that these are my favorite SCENES, not movies. Sure, some of them are from my favorite movies but some are from movies that are wholly forgettable with the exception of the scene in question. For movies that are favorite and got neglected, I attribute it to the mere fact that there isn’t just one scene in there that I can point to as the definitive effective one. This is especially true to documentaries and animation which are regretfully underrepresented here.

Some of movies I love that are not represented here include (but are not limited to):

Back to the Future, Battle Royale, Reservoir Dogs, Seven Samurai, Rashomon, Frankenstein, Taxi to the Dark Side, Man on Wire, The Cove, Dear Zachary, The Lego Movie, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, The Social Network, Casablanca, Raging Bull, A Streetcar Named Desire, X2:X-men United, Heathers, Dr. Strangelove, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Airplane!, Kick-Ass, The Ice Storm, Layer Cake, District 9, Submarine, The Royal Tenenbaums, Spirited Away, Samurai Cop, Nightcrawler, Strangers on a Train, Deliverance, The Insider, The Blob, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors, Drive, On the Water Front, Hot Rod, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Bad Boys 2, Lake of Fire, Brazil, Drunken Master 2, Guardians of the Galaxy, Boogie Nights, E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, Sabrina, The Thing, The Breakfast Club, Titus, North by Northwest, Some Like It Hot, War Games, Hot Fuzz, The Avengers, The Graduate, Gravity, Black Swan, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, The Lego Movie, The Prestige, They Live!, A Christmas Story, Blue Ruin, Casino Royale, Space Jam, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Requiem for a Dream, Groundhog Day, Freddy Vs Jason, The Matrix, Chinatown, Akira The Godfather, Stand By Me, Midnight in Paris, The Godfather Part II, Once, Tombstone,  Indiana Jones (any of the first three), Die Hard, Bridge on the River Kwai, Face/Off, The Act of Killing, Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, Metropolis, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Host, Lars and the Real Girl, Adaptation, Das Boot, Magnolia, The Dirty Dozen, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Lawrence of Arabia, Her, Let the Right One In, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Brain Dead, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Badlands, Miami Connection, All the President’s Men, How to Train Your Dragon, Inception, Election, Bound, Kingdom of Heaven, American Beauty, Toy Story 3, Citizen Kane, Slumdog Millionaire, Whiplash, Almost Famous, Mad Max, Princess Mononoke, Army of Darkness, Cloud Atlas, American History X, My Fair Lady, Planet of the Apes, Team America:World Police, Aliens, Fight Club, The Wrestler, The Seventh Seal, Tokyo Story, Skyfall, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Short Term 12, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Mean Girls, Ghostbusters, Annie Hall, The Devil’s Backbone, The 25th Hour and so and so forth. (These are all of my favorites that I could think of in 10 minutes. I know because I timed it.)

I could go on and on. I’ve seen quite a few movies but there are even more I haven’t seen. If for whatever reason you think I forgot something, chances are I did. There are more than a few movies out there, and I possess a very tiny mind that is growing more and more forgetful by the day. I only wish I had the time to do 100 scenes. There are so many fucking movies I love with all of my heart but not enough time in the day. Maybe when/if we get to 100 these scenes mentioned and many more will get their time to shine. For now, let’s get on with this beast!

Obviously there will be spoilers.

 

TYLER FRANK TALLEY’S 50 FAVORITE FILM SCENES EVER….SO FAR

1. The Chestburster – Alien 

Let’s start off with an obvious choice. Few things are more terrifying to me personally than the thought of something exploding from your chest. Better writers than me have discussed in length the power and almost universal fear this scene holds so I’ll just say this: since I first saw this movie at a young age, whenever I would even get the slightest twinge in my chest from overexerting myself or seeing a girl I liked, there would be a split second where I thought I was truly fucked because a facehugger had attached itself to my face while I had been sleeping and I was moments away from a fucking xenomorph bursting from my chest.

2. The first transformation – An American Werewolf in London 

Outside of a scene that will come later on in this list, this is the best use of special effects in any movie ever made in my opinion. This scene is why there never needs to be another werewolf transformation scene ever again. Anything that comes after just feels like a cheap imitation. Rick Baker redefines practical effects with this scene. Honestly finding out just how he and his team pulled it off is just as jaw-dropping as the scene itself. We don’t get practical horror effects of this caliber like this for the most part anymore.

3. “What’s in the fucking box?!” – Se7en 

If I could go back and watch any movie again for the first time, it would be Se7en, mainly for this scene. It is absolute perfection and a masterclass on suspense and tension. Everything about this scene is just so on point that tension is simply unbearable. It may go down as my favorite scene ever to watch with someone unexposed to the movie beforehand. Watching it with an unsuspecting audience as the squirm and sweat over what John Doe has planned makes my nerdy little heart sore. It takes me right back to when I first saw this movie.

4. Good cop, Dark Knight – The Dark Knight

Every comic book fan had been longing for a scene like this, and not only did this deliver; it excelled. The dynamic between Batman and the Joker is one of the greatest in the comic book medium and never equated between the physical differences between them. In other words, the ultimate fight between the Dark Knight and the Clown Prince of Crime would be a punching contest. It would be a battle of the minds. The most interesting aspect about their relationship is how they both differ and align mentally. Psychologically, Batman is just as damaged as the Joker. It is in their insanity that they find common ground. Where they differ is one stands for order and the other chaos. (Even though the Joker only runs on completely unbeatable, highly organized plans in this movie but I digress…)

This is the perfect Batman/Joker scene and DC is going to have a hard time recapturing the magic on display here in their revitalized shared universe. The two characters feel and sound like they were pulled right from the page…well not a silver age comic…go watch Batman & Robin for that.

Not to mention, I nearly squealed like a little girl when the Joker said, “The old good cop, bad cop routine…” and Gordon’s reply was, “Not exactly.” because I, like just about everyone else, instantly realized who was already in the room.

5. “Like a doll’s eyes…” – Jaws 

A general rule for movies is “Show. Don’t tell.” As a visual medium, movies normally should be expected to regale us with memorable imagery that stick with us, and not just tell us about the imagery later. This isn’t a rule however especially if the description is both A) written phenomenally and B)delivered by a competent actor or actress. This iconic scene from Jaws, written by John Millius and acted out by the equally great Robert Shaw is the absolute gold standard for this. Each time I see it, my mouth is agape much like that of Richard Dreyfuss.

6. Revenge is a dish best not served. – I Saw the Devil

 I have a soft spot for bleak endings. Not pitch black endings like Requiem for a Dream, but endings in which the hero “wins” at the very cost of his or her soul or the loss of something equally as important.

I Saw the Devil starts as a simple enough revenge film but evolves into something more. It becomes a game of cat and mouse, with the hero’s quest ultimately costing him any semblance of happiness or closure. That last silent shot of Lee Byung-hun collapsing in the snow tells us everything we need to know: he’s defeated the monster but in doing so he has lost everything else.

7. Spidey’s got a train to catch. – Spider-Man 2

Perhaps the first (and best) fully realized comic book fight scene committed to film. What I mean by that is what better location for two characters like Spider-Man and Dr. Octopus than on a moving train? Unlike the Batman/Joker scene, these are two characters we want/need to see punch the shit out of one another. It’s obvious how much work went into this with the level of detail on display. Little things like Spidey bursting out of a window and quickly shooting two webs to remain on the train or Ock using his arms to prevent him from falling back are just icing on the cake. This is the best action scene I’ve seen in a comic movie to date, and it’s going to take quite a lot for a usurper to take its place.

8. The dreams of our forefathers. – Cave of Forgotten Dreams

I am hardly ever awed and humbled by actual locations being presented in film. The Effiel Tower is used in a number of films, but nothing will ever come close to actually seeing it in person. The rare exception is Werner Herzog’s documentary and the way he shoots the cave paintings of Chauvet Cave.

I have never been to Chauvet Cave nor do I ever expect to have the privilege to but watching this scene (particularly in 3-D the first time) I feel as if I have been momentarily transported there. I can smell the watery limestone. I can feel the cold wind raising the hairs on the back of my neck. More importantly, I feel a long lost connection to our ancestors who once called these caves home. Herzog has done something truly beautiful here and thrown us a life line from our prehistoric forefathers.

9. “I ABANDONED MY CHILD!” – There Will Be Blood 

I partially just included this because it simply just a masterwork in acting. Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano are just incredibly here. But the larger reason I included it is because it cements the character of Daniel Plainview as one of the best cinematic villains, using his own shortcomings to his own ends and putting the final nail on his opponent’s proverbial coffin on his own turf.

We can’t hear what he whispers, but given a later scene, it probably something along the lines of, “I beat you, Eli.”

10. “We are all complete.” – Never Let Me Go

This ending is like a straight up punch to the chest. The entire movie is silently devastating (typical British cinema) but it’s when we reach the final few minutes that we are confronted with what it means to truly be human. Like all the best science fiction, Never Let Me Go is a film that takes a future world along with familiar motifs (clones), and uses it to reverse the image and causes us to look at our own present.

The thing I like most about the scene that even though things are bleak, there is the tiniest ring of optimism. There is no rousing speeches. There is no final battle. Kathy H accepts her fate as well as Tommy’s. She takes solace in the fact that they were given any time together whatsoever.

Rachel Portman’s hauntingly beautiful score serves only to twist the knife stabbing our collective heartstrings.

11. That hallway scene – Oldboy

I love this fight so much. Even beyond it being just one long take aside, it is still just so impressive at how real and improvised it feels. The Spike Lee remake did its best to recreate this scene and it ultimately came off as way to choreographed. The power in the original is that Oh Dae-su is just to fucking angry to lose, no matter the odds. He wasn’t some one man army like Rama in The Raid. He kind of sucks to be honest. His “power” stems from his quest for vengeance.

12. How to deal with racism – 12 Angry Men 

A powerful scene that still remains as relevant today as it did 50 years and it doesn’t hit you over the head with its message. The men show their protest silently, and the scene is all the more impactful for it.

13. “I wonder if it remembers me.” – The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou 

There are many ways to interpret this scene. I tend to just ride the emotional wave as the music Sigur Ros sweeps over me.

14. That other hallway scene – The Raid: Redemption 

While this is not the best fight scene in either of The Raid films, I included it because it completely changed how I view action scenes hence forth. We are living in a post-Raid world, and it’s about time Hollywood took note.

15. “You have a T-rex?” – Jurassic Park 

This scene represents CGI’s highest potential. There is nothing lazy about it. As far as I am concerned, there is a real animal on screen or at the very least the closest thing we will ever see to a living dinosaur. There is a certain amount of respect or at least gravitas that comes with using such a well-known yet never-seen-alive-by-man creature, meaning that if this scene didn’t work and the audience didn’t believe in this animal, the film would have failed horribly.

Director Steven Spielberg, being the genius he is, intentionally left a MASSIVE continuity error in do enhance the excitement/tension of the scene because he knew the audience would be so enthralled we wouldn’t notice…and he was 100% right. I didn’t even notice the mistake until it was pointed out to me and I am obsessed with this movie.

It’s a rather big success considering that, when you boil it right down, not a whole hell of a lot happens in this scene. The t-rex leaves it’s pin, trashes a car, eats the lawyer, and leaves.

16. “Superman.” – The Iron Giant 

This scene absolutely destroyed me as a kid. For like a week afterword, I was inconsolable even though I knew the Giant ultimately survives this. Today it still holds sway over me as the only movie scene to not just make me shed a tear, but openly weep. The only conceit that I make in terms of a flaw would be Hogarth saying, “I love you.” Other than that, the scene is poignant and incredibly powerful.

17. “Kill the Queen.” – Shaun of the Dead 

This scene is just a blast, and I will hear no arguments to the contrary.

18. “A center for ants?!?!” – Zoolander 

I hate writing about why any particular scene is funny so I will just say this: this scene is never not hilarious. Enough said.

19. “You are going to die.” – The Grey 

The Grey is a raw movie, and no other scene is rawer than this. Props to both actors providing a scene that never rings false. There’s a split second ever time I watch this that I honestly believe James Dale Badge just died on-screen. The way Liam Neeson delivers, “You are going to die.” is so bone-chilling yet oddly comforting that seen isn’t scary, it’s oddly comforting.

20. Losing control. – United 93

Every time I watch this, I hope for a different outcome. That maybe the plane will land safely this time. Silly, I know, considering this an actual event with a well-known outcome.

Paul Greengrass films the scene almost as if it were a documentary, and in all honesty, I often forget that it isn’t. You could show just this scene, it would remain just haunting.

In many ways, the scene works as a greater allusion to the world after September 11, 2001, everyone fighting for control as the world rapidly descends into oblivion. That final shot of the ground drawing closer and closer sends chills down my spine each and every time.

21. Married life. – Up 

An entire life summed up in one gorgeous, nearly silent 5-minute scene. The life-affirming highs, the soul-crushing lows, and all the mundane shit in-between. The masters that be over at Pixar truly outdid themselves here and cemented their place as not just one of the greatest animation studios to ever exist, but one of the greatest group of storytellers to ever assemble. (Cars 2 not withstanding….)

And Michael Giacchino’s score? One of the absolute best cinematic pieces of the last decade as far as I’m concerned.

22. “I am your father.” – Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back 

Because of course this is going to be on here. I feel fairly fortunate that this wasn’t spoiled for me before I saw it considered just how big it is in popular culture. It is referenced in everything. Somehow I wasn’t exposed beforehand, and I can still reach back to when I was really little and this bombshell was dropped on my lap. It was like learning Santa wasn’t real. When I first heard it I thought it was a lie. I wish I had something more profound to say honestly.

Just for some context, Star Wars is the closest thing I have a religion. Going back and watching these movies and seeing scenes like this are like when a Christian, Jew, Muslim, what have you looks for a favorite passage of scripture. Skywalker Ranch is my Mecca. I get flustered when I think just how much this series has shaped me…sad I know but I am a loser. What you want from me?!

Anyway, this scene is great. This twist is great. It’s just….fucking great.

23. War is hell. – Atonement 

A single shot that highlights all of the grief, despair, chaos, and even unexpected levity that was the second World War. Sure, it’s a show off-y sequence, but to its credit, it is incredibly effective.

24. God is in the rain. – V for Vendetta 

Another beautiful statement on hatred and revenge. (What is with me and loving scenes about revenge sucking considering how bitter of an asshole I am. Practice what you preach, Tyler!)

Anyway, I love the juxtaposition between V and Evey here. It’s a little on the nose (V’s hatred represented by fire, and Evey’s rejuvenation and acceptance represented by water) but it works for me at least.

25. Make ’em laugh. – Singin’ in the Rain 

Raw, unadulterated comedic power. That is what comes immediately whenever I see this scene. I don’t want to imagine how many takes Donald O’Connor had to do for this scene as just one seems simply exhausting.

26. Okay. – Evil Dead 2

This was a tough one to point out as there are a number of scenes from Evil Dead 2 that I thought about including here. I picked this one because it highlights just how good this film is at balancing both horror and comedy. When that deer head moves for the first time, you can’t help but jump. When everything starts laughing, your stomach tightens. It’s when Ash begins to laugh however the tension releases and we see how ridiculous all of this and we can laugh along.

27. Everything changes. – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire 

There are quite a few feel-inducing moments to be had in the Harry Potter films, but this one always leaves me with that overwhelming melancholy that only Harry Potter can provide. On one hand, our heroes have won. They’ve had another successful year at Hogwarts (successful meaning they did not die and did not fail any of their classes…I presume) and now they head off into the summer, having met a bunch of new friends along the way. On the other hand, they’ve also experienced their first death before death will almost become a common place. Voldemort is back, and he is out for blood. This is the ending the represents where everything changes.

28. “Death is just another path…” – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King 

I go to this clip whenever I lose someone close and it helps.

To imagine death in a way as described so beautifully by Sir Ian McKellen here makes the whole thing a little less scary. Sure, I may not believe in a heaven but to imagine an existence with no pain or suffering is something just about every human being must long for at some point, if only on a subconscious level.

Beyond the religious connotations, it is still a beautiful quiet scene that serves as a much needed breather in the massive wave of excitement and sadness of the previous 30 minutes. When things are at their bleakest, who better to bring Pippin (and the audience by extension) back to the brink than Gandalf and his never ending bag of hopeful optimism? It’s not a stand up and cheer moment like “I CAN CARRY YOU!!!” but it isn’t supposed to be.

29. Where are those goddamn onions?!” – WALL-E

Last time I shed a tear was once again brought about by machines. I don’t know what it is about fucking robots that get me going. I blame Skynet.

Anyway, WALL-E is hands down my favorite film Pixar has done to date, and this is there best ending in my opinion. It’s a simple enough payoff. WALL-E wants to hold EVE’s hand. It’s a small moment that feels massive given the level of build and love we have for this little robot.

30. The Avengers Initiative – Iron Man

There are a lot of phenomenal moments that have been cranked out of Marvel’s cinematic universe (“HULK…SMASH!!!!”, “We are Groot.”, and that master shot of the Avengers assembling for the first time to name just a few) but I have to look back to the after-credits scene that started it all. This is the scene that launched every nerds collective (and pardon the term) nerd boners to the highest levels imaginable. We had just come off the high that was the first Iron Man film only to have a massive bombshell dropped in out laps. After years of rumblings, an Avengers film was on the way, the news shepherded by Nick Fury himself. 7 years and 9 movies later, we are now only a little more than a month away from a SECOND Avengers movie, something I couldn’t have even wrapped my head around back then. I chose this scene because it takes me back to when I was there when superhero movies were about to go through a full-blown renaissance.

31. Chopin’s Ballade in G minor – The Pianist 

The thing about this scene that sticks with me the most outside of just Adrian Brody’s performance is the other actor in it that doesn’t get enough credit for his role in my honest opinion. Thomas Kretshmann plays the Nazi captain that spares Szpilman’s life, and he is playing his emotions a lot more subtly than Brody. That isn’t to say its a better performance. It just stuck with me in a different way. What I see is a subtle twinge of remorse. What he sees before him is a great artist, not vermin like his superiors and leader would have him believe. Almost an entire generation of potential lost forever. What I see are the flashes over other great artists that were lost because of regime built on bigotry and intolerance. Reading up on the actually officer (Wilm Hosenfeld), and you discover a man who aided several people (including Poles and Jews) after growing disillusioned with the Nazi party and I see this in a Kretshmann’s performance.

The scene is also beautiful in large part to Brody as Szpilman is finally allowed to play the piano once again. He has lost his entire family by this point, and what remains is his one great love: his art. You see an almost relaxed blanket envelop his face as he sets himself back into a comfortable place in the piece. He is finally back where he is at most at home and this is the most calm he’s been in quite some time.

32. The meaning of racing – Speed Racer

I’ll never quite understand the levels of hate this movie gets. To me, it is a completely uncynical adaptation of one of my favorite childhood cartoons.

This sequence is fucking beautiful. No if’s, and’s, or but’s about it. The narration. The visuals. (My god, the visuals.) It’s trippy, without being stupid. In fact, it’s a pretty poignant scene given the levels of absurdity we have just seen over this movie’s run time. I am a massive fan of movies that connect the dots and this scene does just that as every quiet moment beforehand is drawn upon in one cinematic release of sights and sounds. The psychedelic wave of red and white as Speed finishes the race is just electrifying.

33. The beginning of the end. – War of the Worlds 

H.G. Welles’ The War of the Worlds is one of my favorite novels, and the scene in which the Martian tripod first lays waste to the English military is one of my favorite literary moments. Leave to a master like Spielberg to bring that moment to life so brilliantly. It’s not a perfect translation (the tripod comes from beneath the ground instead of just crashing to Earth in this version), but the tension and unrelenting terror remains. I doubt I’ll ever get a version that is set in Victorian England with this kind of budget so I will happily accept this sequence as a silver medal.

There are blatant 9/11 allusions to be made (people covered in ash, a completely foreign enemy attacking us with on a seemingly normal day, etc) and honestly it works here given the themes of the original work as well as the themes of this updated version. The Martians could easily be an allusion to the Taliban, but as with the novel, I think this movie works best as a mirror on ourselves. The original work was a statement on English imperialism. By the early 2000’s, a new empire had risen; the United States. Decimating technologically inferior cultures for decades, the Martians are us now just as they were the British over a century ago. I’m rambling now. Needless to say, this is a wonderfully staged set piece that brings to life one of my favorite literary sequences.

34. THAT restaurant scene – Heat 

Brilliant, non-flashy dialogue delivered by two Hollywood giants. It’s the most electrifying scene in a movie with some of the best heist scenes committed to film. It’s honestly more like a short one-act play with two men, on opposing sides, having a frank, unextraordinary conversation.

35. One “wacky” car ride – Children of Men

As I said before, it doesn’t take too much to impress me when it comes to single-take sequences.

The thing that separates this one from the pack is just how absolutely bonkers it is and just how personal the sequence feels. Alfonso Cuaron puts us IN that car. We are laughing and relax right along with our heroes, and when things go to shit, full-blown anxiety kicks in. Gravity was a technical masterpiece (in my opinion) but no sequence ever came close to the levels of awe and panic I felt while watching this scene for the first time.

36. That escalated…quickly. – The Departed 

I did not see Infernal Affairs before I saw this so I was completely blindsided when DiCaprio bit it; me and just about everyone in the theater I saw this in. I have seen it since and it plays out more or less the same, but at the same time I went with this scene instead as A) it was the one I was exposed to first and B) I just think it was played out better here. Maybe better isn’t the right word. Both scenes are great, but this is Scorsese we are talking about here.

37. “I get it now!” – Scrooged 

Another Bill Murray victory lap that comes at the tail end of a movie. It’s even more impressive that Murray apparently improvised a large portion of the scene. I can see it coming off as a someone jarbeled mess of a monologue but the emotion shines right on through and melts even the most cynical of hearts.

38. The Pale Man – Pan’s Labyrinth 

This scene takes me right back to my nightmares as a child. I never had (or I don’t remember having) a dream exactly like this, but like everyone at some point, I had a dream in which I was chased by some nondescript monster down a hallway.

Guillermo del Toro’s beautifully, fully-realized visuals have never been more twisted in the Pale Man sequence. Like any good fairy tale, the hero/heroine must confront a monster and del Toro created a monster for the ages here.

39. “I could have done more…” – Schindler’s List 

I’ve written about this scene quite a bit in the past, and I don’t have much more to add. It’s the most devastating scene in a movie that is almost exclusively devastating scenes. This is because at the end of the day, Oskar collapses under the weight of all things he could have done to save more people and did not.

40. The sun will die. Everything will die. – Where the Wild Things Are

This movie, as a whole, took me right back to the third grade. This was a time when my imagination was still running wild, and there was still some magic left in the world but the harsh realities of the world were starting to seep in. It was around this time that it struck that the world would end, and by extension, I would end. That led to me realizing my parents would die. My dog would die. My friends would die. Everything fades away at some point, even the sun. This scene eloquently captures that misplaced defiance in the face of the inevitable in order to hide the bleeding insecurity. Spike Jonze is a genius and this may be my favorite scene in any of his films for just how much it reached that little kid inside me that I thought went away a long time ago.

41. “Funny, how?” – Goodfellas 

Actual tension mixed with actual comedy create a scene that still causes me to squirm. You want to laugh because Tommy is a troll. He wouldn’t actually kill a guy for saying he was funny…right? It’s that hesitation that make Joe Pesci’s performance as scary as it is comedic.

42. “It’s not your fault.” – Good Will Hunting 

See my tribute to Robin Williams to learn why this scene resonates with me. Sure, as the years go on and I get older, Good Will Hunting begins to lose some of its initial luster, but this scene coupled with the others featuring Williams, are more than enough reason to keep coming back to it.

43. “I’m glad it’s you.” – Road to Perdition

One of my favorite film deaths made all the more bittersweet that it is also the last onscreen performance of one of my favorite actors, Paul Newman.

Sam Medes directs the shit out of this scene. Conrad Hall shoots the shit out of the scene. Thomas Newman scores the shit out of this scene. Both Tom Hanks and Paul Newman act the shit out of this scene. To be that lame guy, this scene is simply the shit and a masterwork from a movie that deserves more recognition…speaking of which….

44. The train robbery – The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

A criminally overlooked movie also happens to be one of the most beautiful of the past couple of decades thanks in large part to the cinematography of Roger Deakins. This scene is the man’s best work to date in my opinion and sends chills down my spine every time I see it. The man has yet to win an Oscar for his achievements which is a shame and after seeing this clip (if you haven’t already), I hope you’ll agree.

45. Enter: Brick Top – Snatch 

I love villains that steal the movie in right as they walk into frame. Characters like Heath Ledger’s Joker or Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West come to mind. Alan Ford’s Brick Top is also pretty damn high on that list. This isn’t his first scene, but it’s the one that cements him as the film’s primo badass (in a movie filled with unforgettable badasses).

46. The brawl – Pineapple Express

One of my favorite fight scenes ever is also one of the funniest scenes ever. Like the scene in Oldboy, it comes off completely improvised. Given it involves three of the best improvisors in modern movie making only sweetens the preverbal pot.

47.  Oh, Audrey… – Funny Face

Aubrey Hepburn is the most beautiful woman to exist on film. This is not a subjective statement as far as I’m concerned. It’s a fucking fact. I’ve only seen Funny Face once and I don’t remember the plot all that well. (It’s certainly not her best movie by a long shot. That’s not a derevitive statement either. When her categlogue includes Sabrina and Wait Until Dark, the competition for that title is sure to be fierce.) I do however remember this scene as it is highlights how instantaneously under her spell. It is also a testament one extraordinary woman’s beauty as well as her considerable talent to entertain.

48. Ego’s Review – Ratatouille

Dammit, Pixar. For the love of fuck stop being so fucking good at making movies! I’m just kidding…please don’t ever leave me.

This scene presents a harsh, yet poignant truth about criticism. Leave it to Pixar to completely humble something I love doing and not leave me completely depressed about what I’ve been doing with my free time.

A movie, and by extension all art, is a risk for anyone putting it out in the public consciousness. It will immediately poked, prodded and scrutinized. Critics risk very little when they criticize something. They are not the ones putting their effort out for display.

49. “We must all unite!” – The Great Dictator 

I want to let this scene speak for itself. Sure, it is a little hokey….but that doesn’t mean that it’s message isn’t relevant or incredibly important.

50. “Sharks with laser beams.” – Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery 

I am pretty much obliged to include this scene given I owe the blog its title because of it. It’s not the funniest scene ever made in my opinion, but the absurdity combined with the real-life conversation that stem out of it are just too fucking perfect.

 

Thank you all for reading, and here’s to 50 more! It understand that this little blog isn’t even a blip on the massive radar that is the internet nor do I have any sort of output that qualifies this as some sort of victory lap. This blog, and by extension most of the writing I do for fun, is most therapeutic. This blog has helped me in more ways than I care to bore you with. Suffice to say, writing has been the bandage on my broken, depression-filled mind on more than one occasion. As long as I have time, I will continue to put out reviews and other such things on Sharks with Laserbeams as long as their is a readership that wants it. So thank you once again, my 5 readers. You are why I do this.