The Top 10 Nuclear Explosions in Film

With Chernobyl Diaries slated for a release on the 25th of this month, it seems altogether fitting that Ryan and Angela Davis would commission the 10rant  for a list detailing the most outstanding nuclear explosions in cinema history.  Since the dawn of the atomic age, human beings have respectfully cowed before the awesome spectacle that is nuclear power.  For those of us born after the bombing ofHiroshima andNagasaki, it is sometimes easy to forget that such immense, wide-scale destruction was once thought inconceivable, at least in the context of a single bomb/attack.  Yet after 1945, a veritable boogey-man with reach enough to tickle the fears of every man, woman, and child was born, and the film industry never once hesitated to exploit the shit out of this.  ThoughHollywood churned out a slew of half-assed monster-trash featuring atomically-exposed creatures of every shape and size during the 1950’s, few of these films showcased a nuclear explosion in the grandest tradition of the genre.  Sure, stock footage of some silly test the Army ran might have originally gotten the idea across, but once movies started showing both the explosions and the after-effects, then they truly began cooking with gas!

To make today’s list, the movie in question had to have an unshakably fantastic atomic explosion, one that was either preceded or followed by a unique act or moment that really brought the event to life.  It is for this reason that you’re not going to see any mutant atomic-monster movies below, for that’s a whole other ball of wax.  While some films got extra points for portraying a realistic nuclear scenario, equally valuable points were also awarded to those films with nuke scenes satirically outrageous, yet no less relevant.  In short, the more awesome the better (“awesome” defined as a variety of factors including authenticity, plot-enhancement, special effects rendering, and poignancy).  A few films worth mentioning if only by definition of this list’s parameters included Next, Skyline, Indiana Jones 4, Superman 4, and Starship Troopers, which were all tossed out because they were so dreadfully unwatchable, even a sweet-ass nuking couldn’t save them.  The jury is still out on Chernobyl Diaries, yet in celebration of its glorious premise which, coincidentally, has nothing to do with an offensively-based nuclear explosion, per se (hey, what do you care!?), let’s begin with this fist film, which never made a hell of a lot of sense either…

10.) ArmageddonOh, merciful Jesus, please forgive me, but I had to do this.  Those of you who may be upset at this film’s ranking, even at a meager #10, should remember what it is we’re talking about today, and attempt (as best they can) to swallow the rage accompanying this indignity.  After all, we’re talking about nuclear explosions that are unquestionably tits, and when it comes to a nuke going off in space, inside an asteroid rocketing towards Earth, then Armageddon fit the bill.  A 1990’s action flick with more balls than brains, this Jerry Bruckheimer colossus made a name for itself using quick-cuts and deep color saturation against ¾-speed shots absolutely bursting at the seams.  It’s an industry-standard that is practically textbook nowadays, and was enough of an innovation in 1998 to propel this Bruce Willis-Ben Affleck action vehicle into the stratosphere.  The climax came with the last-second detonation of a nuclear warhead the movie’s heroes had hauled up into space so as to save the world.  Reliable go-to action Renaissance Man that he was, Bruce Willis stepped in to push the nuke-button at the last possible moment, sending an atomic shockwave through that bastard asteroid with enough force to split it in two and save humanity for the next disaster film.  A shitty movie to be sure, this space detonation (only the first of two to get a mention today) definitely earned a slot in today’s ranking, one just behind a film only slightly less terrible…

9.) Fat Man and Little BoyA “historical” drama in only the loosest sense of the word, Fat Man and Little Boy had a lot of problems, not the least of which was its casting of Dwight Schultz as Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer in its lead.  Oh, you remember Dwight, don’t you?  He played Cpt. “Howling Mad” Murdoch on the long-running television blockbuster ‘The A-Team,’ something that clearly spoke to the filmmakers of this 1989 mess of a film.  Though Paul Newman, John Cusack, Natasha Richardson, Laura Dern, and Bonnie Bedelia did their best to staunch the bleeding, Fat Man and Little Boy never was able to overcome the disadvantage of being boring and disastrously miss-cast.  Still, it was a movie about the development of the atomic bomb during World War II, and was thus, if only at times, somewhat engaging.  Cusack’s scenes kept the movie grounded when that actor was around, and there was a gloriously destructive A-Bomb testing that yanked this movie back from the precipice ofSuckMountain.  As theLos Alamos scientists watched in horrified amazement, the first full-scale testing of an atomic weapon of mass destruction took place: changing everything about warfare and high-octane filmmaking thereafter.  Indeed, as this next movie proved, one cannot hope to have a full-tilt action thriller without throwing a nuke into the mix to keep shit interesting…

8.) Resident Evil: ApocalypseA lazy mish-mash of recycled action-gags and piss-poor acting, Resident Evil: Apocalypse shocked a lot of people, for when it came out in 2004, during the peak of cinema’s comic book renaissance, nobody thought the quality-bar could be lowered any further.  But it could, and did, for adapting video games into films is/was an even more ludicrous proposition than what’s to be found in comic books.  Still, the first Resident Evil flick turned a profit despite laughably bad special effects and wretched pacing, something the sequel tried to remedy.  And to be fair, the F/X in #2 were vastly superior to the original’s, and at a brisk 96 minutes, the sequel definitely kept things moving.  Audiences watched as Milla Jovovich’s “Alice” character emerged from the Umbrella Hive to kick zombie ass on the surface, the feisty heroine having absorbed some mutant Kung Fu since the last time she’d appeared.  These recently acquired martial arts skills along with a cadre of new allies helpedAlice survive the corporate zombocalypse, a tricky feat considering she and her group were on the clock due to an impending nuclear explosion.  Yep, in order to sanitize the zombie-infected area, the Umbrella Corporation shot a nuke into “Raccoon City,” something Alice and the survivors just barely dodged (though their chopper was a bit worse for wear).  Though not an especially flashy detonation, the results were terrifying, and gave a decent sense of what surviving one of these explosions might actually be like (in a completely fictional, ridiculous, Milla Jovovich-populated world).  Actually, if given the choice between the two, I think I’d rather brave the nuke.

7.) Independence DayI was a kid who spent the better part of the early-90’s watching The X-Files, and learning that I was indeed a heterosexual man based on a budding fascination with Gillian Anderson, and all things redhead.  Eventually, this coming-of-age moment grew into a mild science fiction obsession, something that crested with the release of 1996’s summer blockbuster, Independence Day.  Granted, this isn’t a film that’s aged particularly well (hell, it was laughably trite the day it came out), but for wide-eyed action and alien junkies just flirting with notions of puberty in 1996, this film was both the Alpha and the Omega.  A grand spectacle piece with groundbreaking special effects and an action pulse that flirted with full-blown cardiac arrest, this Will Smith vehicle landed at precisely the right time, in what could be argued was the perfect cinema market.  The previous summer’s cash-cow, Twister, had proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the action hero formula was dead, and that the way of the future was dumbed-down, full-throttle CGI disaster epics with cheap, consequence-free plots and B-list actors popular enough to gain recognition, but not so famous that they overtook the picture.  Independence Day hit all these chords, and soundly, and even threw in a pretty decent nuking to add a little spice to the gumbo.  Left with what he considered his only viable option, the President (Bill Pullman) nuked an American city in the hopes that it would destroy one of the invading alien crafts.  Well, it didn’t, and the audience was subjected to another hour or so of torment while (seriously) Randy Quaid came in to save the day.  A regrettable film?  Maybe?  Sweet-ass nuking?  You bet your ass!

6.) The PeacemakerTucked way down into the cracked and dried up recesses of 1997, where action banality lived in those days, one can find the Nicole Kidman-George Clooney vehicle, The Peacemaker.  A decent enough movie that kept the action and blood coming in torrents, this international nuclear conspiracy featured a sexy White House atomic expert (Kidman) who was trying to track down nine hijacked nukes pilfered by some Russian heavies.  EnterLt.Col. Devoe (Clooney), a swagger-heavy special op’s roughneck that had more commie scalps on his belt than toes on his feet.  Though it was a bit rocky at first, the pair eventually sorted out their differences sufficiently enough to get their shit together so that both could get into the fight, where Clooney’s Devoe was especially effective.  Though he and Kidman’s Dr. Kelly character eventually succeeded in savingNew York from total nuclear annihilation, there was nothing they could do for the train load of Ruskies the film’s bad guys vaporized near the beginning of this film when the ICBMs were stolen.  It was during this scene that the audience got a good look at one of these bad boys going off, 500 kilotons of shit-your-pants enough to make one hell of a crater.  In all, it was a fairly impressive scene with gripping effects and a healthy blast radius, at least enough to brag about.  For this, it got a nod.

5.)Broken Arrow(1996)Man!  There were a lot of nukes going off in the 1990’s, weren’t there?  Truly, if anything could be said about Broken Arrow, it was that it never tried to be anything special, but rather amalgams of classic action moments like the leaping handgun shot, or the jumping explosion dive.  In this way, its use of a nuclear explosion to inject a little life into its second act wasn’t all that surprising, for this was a film that had already dazzled its brain-dead, hard-dick audience with an appearance by a Stealth bomber, a boxing match, half a dozen machine gun murders, and Howie Long.  By the time Christian Slater had met up with his Pump Up the Volume co-star (Samantha Mathis), the pair were running like hell to escape the villainous clutches of the most lock-jawed villain in cinema history: John Travolta’s Major Deak (swear to God).

In between cigarette drags and steely eyed exclamations between clenched teeth, Travolta danced effortlessly through this one, like some kind of psychotic, double-gun wielding ballerina of death.  The plot demanded that Travolta’s character detonate a warhead so as to scare the U.S. government to cough up some bribe money, thus, with his nemesis (Slater’s Captain Riley Hale) locked in a mine shaft with the nuke, Deak decided to evaporate two birds with one stone, and set the blast to go off underground.  This it did, and with spectacular results that included the downing of a government helicopter loaded, staffed, and ready for action.  The ripping shockwave sent through the ground as a result of the explosion was actually pretty damn cool, and one of the few moments in this eye-gouging nightmare worth remembering.

4.) The AvengersNow, if you want a nuke scene worth recalling, look no further than the climactic death-blow delivered by The Avengers in the film of the same name, for an explosion in space is just as memorably fantastic as any on (or beneath) land.  Asshole that he was, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) couldn’t just let bygones by bygones, no: he had to go ahead and declare war on all of humanity.  In a scheme that resembled the friggin’ book of Revelation, Loki opened up a portal into another universe so that his space army could descend onManhattan, and create the first front of a war to subjugate all mankind.  Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) was all over that shit, though, and let his super-secret superhero squad off the chain to combat the prick demigod.  Sure, it took a little while for The Hulk, Iron Man, CaptainAmerica, and the other Avengers to gel as a team, but when they did, it was like having a blank check made out to ‘KICK ASS!’

At first, Loki’s space army did appear pretty formidable, if only by volume, for the legions that descended upon New Yorkwere vast in number, and definitely had some impressive weaponry.  This Chitauri fleet flew around alright, and even punched a few holes in the lower-East side, yet the real hassle was the nuclear warhead that the shadowy powers-that-be sent in over Fury’s objections, one Stark had to wrangle and send up into space via the portal that asshole-Loki had opened.  Iron Man successfully managed this feat, and sent the rocket arcing into the Chitauri mother-ship and command center, a collision that resulted in a spectacular explosion.  The alien threat to Earth squashed, New Yorksafe for the public-urinates of the world, and yet another spectacular nuking in the books, it should come as no surprise that The Avengers is doing so well at the box office!  Shit, if this next movie had figured out a way to inject a superhero (or heroes) into its plot, maybe it wouldn’t have landed D.O.A…

3.) The Sum of All FearsThere may be some of you out there that feel Ben Affleck should have never, ever been handed the sizable, respected shoes of one Dr. Jack Ryan, for the actor’s professional pedigree suggests an inability to fill them.  Yet if taken on its own, without any perspective relating Affleck’s performance against previous Jack Ryan incarnations, The Sum of All Fears wasn’t too terribly bad.  It followed a young Jack Ryan working his way out of a basement analyst’s job to a mid-level C.I.A. advisory post.  This all took place in a matter of days, and happened to be during a period just before theU.S. andRussia started posturing for World War III.  As Jack untangled the knotted strains of a complex international conspiracy involving Nazis, Russians, and a refurbished nuclear warhead, he also had to contend with an American bureaucratic apparatus that was constantly questioning how the nosey kid from the stacks kept finding his way into important meetings.

Though he worked hard and unearthed a majority of the plot to engineer a war between the Americans and Russians, Jack wasn’t able to stop the nuking ofBaltimore, an act that was meant to spark the international conflict between the world’s superpowers.  A Neo-Nazi terrorist cell had planted the nuke at a football game in Baltimore, one the President was scheduled to attend.  Though Jack raised the alarm in time, and got word out to evacuate the Commander-in-Chief,Baltimorewas lost: the nuke’s detonation enough to hallow out the city and blanket it with a cozy layer of fallout.  Though not an especially CGI-heavy picture, the studio obviously pitched in for this vignette, and created a striking portrait of what a nuclear explosion would look like if detonated in a dense urban metropolis.  A decent enough movie with one hell of a nuclear blast, this one was worth watching, if only for the fireworks.

2.) Terminator 2Yeah, it was a dream.  Big shit.  If you’re going to try and sit there, with a straight face, and say that Sarah Connor’s dream aboutL.A.getting the crap nuked out of it was anything less than terrifying, then you’re going to have to swallow me calling you a lying son of a bitch.  Seriously, this was chilling.  Left alone, and with the few remaining scraps of sanity still in her possession, Sarah (Linda Hamilton) drifted off into a deep sleep that brought her visions of an idyllic summer afternoon, one with children frolicking about and a light breeze kicking up the leaves on nearby trees.  In the dream, Sarah, the kids, and the leaves on the goddamned trees all went up in a blinding tidal wave of hellfire, one born out of a nuclear blast which quickly blew through the greater Los Angeles area.

As she watched the holocaust approach, Sarah clutched a chain-link fence and screamed in horror as the flames passed over her now-charred body, exploding the corpse in a withering blast of fallout.  The nightmare was enough to light a fire under the woman’s ass, for moments after waking, Sarah had geared up and was on the trail of a scientist she deemed responsible for humanity’s pending date with death.  A vignette in one of the most technically innovative films of all time, this blast scene wasn’t just some crude mock-up, but a meticulously constructed miniature of downtownLos Angeles, one the film unit blew all to hell using mortars so as to perfectly capture their shot.  Arguably more impressive than this last, #1 nuclear explosion, it certainly had its heart in the right place, and was a worthy runner-up to…

1.) Dr. StrangeloveOf course this is #1!  For Christsakes, the man rode the bomb like a fucking bull right into the target!  If that’s not a marriage of practicality, style, and class, this author doesn’t know what in the hell is!  Arguably the world’s first cinematic black-comedy in the modern definition of the term, Dr. Strangelove took a terrifying concept (global thermonuclear war), slapped some face paint and a costume on it, and then unleashed it back onto the world for laughs.  Indeed, in the early-1960’s, most people, Russians and Americans alike, weren’t tickled by thoughts of humanity’s annihilation, and certainly didn’t look to film’s comedy genre as the medium to placate or assuage those fears.  Yet director Stanley Kubrick had an eye for satire and the absurd, and used his protagonists (Scott’s Gen. Turgidson and Sellers’ trio) to color in the scenario’s thematic gaps.  Sure, on the surface, nuclear war is/was frightening beyond all measure, yet this doesn’t necessarily preclude a person’s ability to recognize the mind-boggling insanity and stupidity that would have to transpire in order for such a fate to come to pass.

Throughout Dr. Strangelove, humor percolated up to the surface as the audience watched imposing, powerful men, generals and world leaders, scramble around like children in a schoolhouse absent of supervision: all of them desperately trying to fix something they’d broken.  Of course, all of their efforts were for naught, as one of the wiliest, most daring pilots in the U.S. Air Force was at the controls of the one remainingU.S. bomber over Soviet air-space, and Slim Pickens’ “Maj. Kong” was in it for the long-haul.  Orders in-hand, the fate of the world seemingly resting on his shoulders, Kong did what any captain would do if the payload failed to drop: he went into the belly of his plane, and did everything he could right up to riding the fucking thing down to assure the mission’s success.  Sure, the world ended as a result, yet at least there was one hell of an explosion (explosions, rather) right before it all went up in flames, a nuclear blast massive (and awesome) enough to earn it the top spot here today.

By Warren Cantrell of 10 Rant


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