Sometimes a movie stinks and there’s no amount of A-list casting or CGI or stunt work that can rescue it. Occasionally, however, a bad movie will play host to a scene so good, you actively will the rest of the movie to raise its game. These are the scenes that almost managed to redeem awful films but will instead go down in history as diamonds in the rough…
The pod race – ‘Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace’
There are hundreds, thousands, millions of reasons to hate on the 'Star Wars’ prequels, but you have to admit, for ten minutes there back in 1999 the pod racing scene in 'The Phantom Menace’ grabbed your attention and didn’t let go. It’s relatively low-stakes in plot terms, but as soon as the pods get fired up and catapult themselves into the race, it doesn’t matter: the 'Episode I’ pod race is as kinetic and exciting a scene as any in the entire franchise. It’s a pure audio-visual feast, comprising of cutting edge CG rendered at breakneck speed and sumptuous sound effects by franchise legend Ben Burtt. It’s just a shame the rest of the movie feels like it plays out at a snail’s pace as a result.
T-Rexes vs RV vs cliff – 'The Lost World: Jurassic Park’
There are precious few moments in Steven Spielberg’s follow-up to 'Jurassic Park’ that are worthy of its predecessor, save for one early scene that ratchets up the tension to almost intolerable levels. Ian Malcolm’s RV is pushed halfway off the cliff of Isla Sorna by an angry T-Rex mama, leaving the passengers to scrabble and climb up and out as it slowly slips further towards oblivion. Meanwhile, on terra firma, poor old Eddie (Richard Schiff) attempts to pull the RV back up using his Jeep, but finds himself a fancied delicacy of not one but two hungry Tyrannosaurs. If you’ve got to go, being eaten by a dinosaur while at the wheel of a car saving your friends’ lives is a pretty badass way to sign off.
Freeway chase – 'The Matrix Reloaded’
No matter your feelings towards the much-maligned 'Matrix’ sequels, the franchise was always built around its set-pieces, and the action sequences in 'Reloaded’ were second to none. The 100 Agent Smith 'Burly Brawl’ wowed at the time but has aged quickly due to suspect CGI, but the freeway chase scene still drops jaws: we haven’t seen a car chase since that racks up quite as much twisted metal. With fights in and on top of moving cars, lots of guns, swords and 100mph Kung fu, there was a lot to pack in, meaning the Wachowskis had to custom build their own stretch of road to fully capture their vision. The rest of the movie hangs heavy with exposition but this thrilling chase is lean and mean.
The birth of Sandman – 'Spider-Man 3’
'Spider-Man 3’ is maybe not a terrible film but it is one that’s overloaded with villains, none of whom really live up to their true potential – that’s a crying shame, especially considering how beautifully and economically director Sam Raimi captured the essence of Sandman in this touching early scene. It’s a villain origin scene that absolutely couldn’t be done any way other than CG so it was a triumph for special effects at the time, but there’s real heart involved in its execution. Criminal Flint Marko, now vapourised into sand and at first unable to maintain solid form, tries and fails to pick up a locket containing a photograph of his sick little girl – the look of anguish on his face, animated in the days before performance capture, is heartbreakingly perfect.
First-person shooter – 'Doom’
The reason most, if not all movies based on videogames fail is because the act of enjoying a videogame is so much more involving than the act of enjoying a movie – so often, videogame movies feel like watching someone else play the game… badly. 'Doom’, starring Karl Urban and Dwayne Johnson, is the only videogame movie to even attempt to replicate the immersion one feels when playing a great game, and it does so in a single virtuoso first-person POV sequence that puts the viewer squarely in the hero’s field of vision, as if each audience member had a joypad thrust in their hands. It’s without a doubt the most successful movie nod to videogame source material and that rare example of movies and games coming together to create something worthy of both mediums. The rest of the film, however? Hot garbage.
Chomping at the bit – 'Deep Blue Sea’
Nothing endears you to a movie more than when the filmmakers show respect to an audience’s intelligence – or even better, when they fake a cliché and then flip it on its head to show you they’ve been paying attention. 'Deep Blue Sea’, a largely god-awful and forgettable shark movie, sets up the scene perfectly: Samuel L Jackson begins to warm up his customary, grandstanding rant-and-rave, the kind we’d come to know and love, only to be cut down right in his prime by a hungry shark that didn’t respect boundaries. It’s a total crowdpleasing surprise smack bang in the middle of a movie that’s otherwise anchored with leaden genre tropes, which just makes the shock all that more enjoyable.
The plane crash – 'Knowing’
Usually, a movie featuring a scene in which an actor yells “THE CAVES CAN’T SAVE US!” with bug-eyed intensity would be noteworthy, except when that actor is professional freak-outer Nicolas Cage and the film actually qualifies as one of his more mundane outings. 'Knowing’ is a disappointing movie filled with missed opportunities and underdeveloped ideas, but Alex Proyas’ thriller does have an ace up its sleeve in the form of a stomach-churning plane crash scene, shot in one take that begins with the plane lurching from the sky, shows it scything through a busy freeway and ends with Cage sifting through the flaming wreckage as burning passengers flee and sections of the fuselage are engulfed in flames. It’s almost good enough to make you forget how dreadful the pseudo-religious cop-out ending is.
360 degree explosion – 'Swordfish’
'Swordfish’ is a movie that’s equal parts atrocious to amazing. There’s the scene where Hugh Jackman’s hacker gets oral relief while doing some hacking at gunpoint: atrocious. Then there’s the scene where a bus is air-lifted – for real – away from a heist: amazing. Ah, but then there’s Halle Berry’s completely gratuitous boob flash, which – if legend has it – scored her a $500k bonus: atrocious. What redresses the balance? The movie’s high point: the detonation of a hostage’s explosives belt, a scene in which director Dominic Sena takes almost as much pleasure as Berry’s boobies, spinning his camera around the fireball in super slow-motion, taking in every shard of glass and mangled car. It’s a breathtaking sequence in a movie that’s otherwise content to be breathtakingly stupid.
Judgement day – 'Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines’
The third 'Terminator’ movie is a pale imitator of 'T2’, James Cameron’s action epic, which forgoes tension and characterisation for large scale carnage. We follow Arnie’s Terminator, already starting to look creaky, as he shepherds a young John Connor (Nick Stahl) and his beau Kate Brewster (Claire Danes) into an underground bunker to stop Skynet, but only when it’s too late do we understand the true reason for the trip: Judgement Day was inevitable. Connor, the future of humanity, had to be protected at all costs – if the robots didn’t destroy the world today, they’d do it tomorrow, or next Tuesday, or a week on Wednesday, and so on. It’s the downer ending you didn’t know the 'Terminator’ franchise needed, but it came way too late to make the rest of the movie watchable.
The wire – 'Ghost Ship’
If 'Ghost Ship’ lived up to the promise of this one scene – the scene that featured heavily in the movie’s trailers, and indeed in the word-of-mouth that followed it around – then we feel confident in saying it’d be one of the best horror movies of all time. As it is, 'Ghost Ship’ is an amazingly brutal scene in need of a rest of a movie. It’s an inspired set-up, executed (if you’ll pardon the pun) to perfection: the passengers on an old-timey ship sing and dance on deck when a taut wire slips and slices the entire congregation in half through the midriff. They stop dancing. Then the sound of wet meat hitting the deck begins. It’s truly, genuinely grotesque stuff, but the scene is so visceral, it renders the rest of the movie – which fails to provide anything even half as memorable – completely redundant.