Bad Movies
Photograph: Time Out

50 great scenes in bad movies

The magical moments that (briefly) turn turkeys into triumphs

Phil de Semlyen
Written by: Tom Huddleston
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Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day – and even a terrible movie can contain flashes of genius. If you’re willing to sit through enough dreck, sometimes a miracle will unfold before your eyes: a scene that genuinely makes the ticket price seem almost like value for money and that takes the edge off right that sinking feeling you get when a movie turns into a turkey before your eyes.

And, from Darth Maul’s moment of glory to everything Raul Julia does in Street Fighter, those moments deserve celebrating, because it’s not their fault that everything around them is made of potato peelings and offal. 

Here are the 50 best bits in the very worst movies.

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Great scenes in bad movies

  • Film
  • Science fiction

Recent reappraisals notwithstanding, George Lucas’s prequel remains a lightning rod for disenchanted fans – us included. Jar Jar alone ensures the movie is frogmarched into cinematic infamy, even before you throw in all the tedious waffle about galactic trade policies. Still, it’s not all bad: the pod race is fun, and Darth Maul’s double-‘sabered showdown with Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon Jinn is a franchise high, accompanied by one of John Williams’ greatest Star Wars cues.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
  • Film
  • Fantasy

The third Jurassic Park movie introduced a terrible trope that has blighted all subsequent sequels: the serial-killer dinosaur (in this case, the T-rex-slaying Spinosaurus) inexplicably determined to murder the human protagonists at any cost. The film does have a saving grace, though. The pteranodon aviary sequence – a holdover from Michael Crichton’s original novel – offers five minutes of gripping tension that harks back to the heights of Spielberg’s OG mega-hit.

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James Balmont
Freelance arts and culture journalist
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3. Harry Dean Stanton in Red Dawn (1984)

Those dastardly Commies stage an invasion of the American heartland in this desperately silly patriotic war fantasy. But no film starring Harry Dean Stanton is ever completely terrible, and the scene where he’s dragged off to face the firing squad while his sons watch helplessly is absolutely epic. ‘Avenge me, boys! Avenge me!!’

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Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist

4. ‘I would like to buy a hamburger’ in The Pink Panther (2006)

Arguably the worst movie Steve Martin ever made (and yes, we’ve seen Cheaper By the Dozen), this witless, needless remake of the Peter Sellers original contains one scene of pure genius, as Martin’s Franglais-mangling Inspector Clouseau attempts to polish up his American accent. ‘Iwooladdabayadabarga!’

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Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist
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  • Film
  • Comedy

Paul Feig’s well-intentioned but badly received comedy reboot doesn’t deliver many belly laughs – except for Kevin’s (Chris Hemsworth) job interview, which is genius. The would-be receptionist reveals he’s wearing glasses without any lenses and sidesteps some sexual harassment by Wiig’s character. Then he requests to bring a pet to work, causing some fun confusion when it turns out he’s not asking about ‘my cat’ but a dog called ‘Mike Hat’.

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Helen O’Hara
Film journalist, author and broadcaster
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  • Film


M Night Shyamalan’s career as cinema’s leading supernaturalist officially jumped the shark with this goofy bit of self-serious schlock, but its single standout moment involves a different kind of jumping: a mass suicide at a construction site. First one body falls. Then another. Within seconds, a veritable rainstorm of humanity comes plummeting out of the sky. It’s genuinely disturbing – pity that it’s then followed by a confused Mark Wahlberg looking constipated for 90 minutes.

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Matthew Singer
Film writer and editor
  • Film
  • Science fiction

Years after The Matrix trilogy wrapped, rumblings arose of a fourth entry, with or without the Wachowskis’ involvement. So there’s a real spit-out-your-drink moment in the eventual follow-up when chosen-one Keanu Reeves – now playing the creator of a video game series called The Matrix – is told by his agent (Jonathan Groff) that ‘our beloved parent company Warner Bros.’ is going to brute force a sequel into existence. It’s the high-point of a ludicrously meta intro that riffs on just how deeply The Matrix has been embedded and remixed into pop culture since its debut. Now if only the following two hours didn’t become a rinse-and-repeat of the lore-heavy nonsense that bogged down the worst parts of the original sequels.

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Michael Juliano
Editor, Los Angeles & Western USA
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  • Film
  • Science fiction

Anticipation was high for this follow-up to Disney’s ahead-of-its-time 1982 adventure about a world inside your computer. Poor casting and a predictable script make for a disappointing watch, but director Joseph Kosinski made one unimpeachable decision, persuading Daft Punk to write the soundtrack. When their music combines with the sleek visuals – as in this mid-film party scene in which DP cameo as themselves – it’s momentarily thrilling.

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Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist
  • Film
  • Action and adventure

Ridley Scott’s plodding, pompous return to his original Alien universe gets a jolt of dark energy when Noomi Rapace feels something slithering about inside her and decides to consult the ship’s auto-doc. What follows is a gleefully audience-punishing sequence of heart-stopping body horror.

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Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist
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  • Film
  • Action and adventure

The emergence of emo Peter Parker, Tobey Maguire’s off-the-rails, alien-goo-addled bully, was exactly the point aughts moviegoers realised something was rotten in Sam Raimi’s third Spider-Man entry. Yes, the montage of his overconfident bob bouncing along the sidewalk has become meme legend in the years since, but it’s the jealousy-fuelled jazz club scene that demands your attention: an ivory-tickling, chair-flipping song-and-dance routine so courageously campy that it’s one drink smash away from Anchorman’s jazz flute interlude.

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Michael Juliano
Editor, Los Angeles & Western USA
  • Film
  • Action and adventure

After the effervescent triumph that was 2009’s Star Trek, JJ Abrams’ follow-up was, let’s face it, a bland letdown. An irksome promotional campaign had it that Benedict Cumberbatch would be playing a baddie called John Harrison, a name so generic it could only be a bait and switch. No blame on Cumberbatch, though, who pulls off cinema’s least surprising reveal with Shakespearean gravitas and shark-like menace. It’s very Silence of the Lambs – a big highlight of a forgettable blockbuster.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
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  • Film
  • Action and adventure

The opening credits of this X-entry, depicting Logan and Victor (aka Wolverine and Sabretooth) participating in every major American conflict from the Civil War to Vietnam, offer a clever and concise way to communicate their shared characteristics: vengefulness, invulnerability, massive sideburns. It also illustrates the growing schism between them. Unfortunately, this fun three-minute sequence features more character development than every other scene in this dumbass movie combined.

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Sean McGeady
Film writer and essayist

14. The Killers in Southland Tales (2006)

Writer-director Richard Kelly’s indulgent, adolescent follow-up to Donnie Darko fails on pretty much every level. But a handful of scenes – like the one where Justin Timberlake’s scarred narrator imbibes a brand new street drug and busts into a glittering, anti-patriotic song ‘n’ dance number – really stand out.

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Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist
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  • Film
  • Action and adventure

Sure, Michael Bay’s third Transformers effort is a stress headache in movie form. But as the Decepticons and Autobots butt metallic heads in Chicago, something genuinely impressive takes shape: a five-minute sequence that sees a wingsuited special forces team drop into the city and through a skyscraper, with evil robots in pursuit. It’s a thrilling stretch, right up there with Bay’s best. And not a dangling robot testicle in sight.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor

16. Spock’s space walk in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

So ponderous that it was immediately nicknamed The Slow Motion Picture, the first Star Trek movie is memorable for its gorgeously detailed pre-digital effects, most notably in the scene where Lieutenant Spock ventures out of the Enterprise and embarks on a trippy, 2001-style voyage into the heart of a giant vessel.

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  • Film

Essential in establishing the terrible reputation for movies based on video games, Street Fighter is an incredibly corny action flick led by an overly exuberant Jean-Claude Van Damme. Production was plagued with issues, not least Raul Julia’s battle with stomach cancer. But the Addams Family star gave it his all in his final film role, stealing every scene he’s in as the tyrannical General M. Bison. The captivating monologue in which he outlines his entire villainous campaign is gloriously bombastic. You’ll find it under ‘Greatest Speech In Cinematic History’ on YouTube.

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James Balmont
Freelance arts and culture journalist

18. The Golden Gate showdown in A View to a Kill (1985)

Any criticisms directed at Roger Moore’s final Bond outing are more than justified. At 58, Moore’s Bond has no business romancing young women, and there are too many camp jokes in the script. Fortunately, Christopher Walken is unhinged as the maniacal Max Zorin – and his axe-swinging, vertigo-inducing demise atop the Golden Gate Bridge remains one of the canon’s most epic finales.

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James Balmont
Freelance arts and culture journalist
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19. The self-cannibalism in Hannibal (2001)

Ridley Scott’s glossy-car-ad sequel to The Silence of the Lambs is too slick to leave much impression. But one sequence is so gleefully twisted that it warrants a place on this list, as the good Dr Lecter cracks disgraced FBI agent Ray Liotta’s skull open and feeds him brain carpaccio.

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Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist
  • Film
  • Thrillers

Wes Craven’s exploration into the true-life origins of the zombie mythos contains a few cool images but ultimately ends up too silly to take seriously. It does, however, have one truly chilling moment, as Bill Pullman, poisoned by a ‘super anaesthetic’ that turns users into the living dead, stumbles through a Haitian village, pleading with onlookers not to bury him after he ‘dies’. If only it didn’t end in a dream fight with the evil voodoo priest getting a spike driven through his junk.

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Matthew Singer
Film writer and editor
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  • Film
  • Horror

Sometimes all it takes is a single shot. Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski’s satirical sort-of-horror movie about a creepy Alpine spa retreat falls mostly flat, but one moment of visual splendour stands out, as a mounted camera films a train coming out of one tunnel and entering another. Simple, but bracingly effective.

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Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist
  • Film
  • Action and adventure



If the Wachowskis were hoping for a
Matrix-sized hit with this batshit space opera about human-animal hybrids, they were sorely mistaken. But they hadn’t lost their touch when it came to flat-out action, as proven by this ferocious sequence in which the bad guys try to raid the homestead of bee-man Sean Bean.

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Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist
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23. Attack of the Ringwraiths in The Lord of the Rings (1978)

This cartoon take on Tolkien’s masterwork plays fast and loose with the source material but contains flashes of brilliance. The scene where the Black Riders pursue Frodo to the ford of Rivendell is actually more intense than in Peter Jackson’s version, combining live action and animation to nightmarish effect.

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Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist
  • Film
  • Action and adventure

The classic video game had a nail-biting premise: a lone cop faces off against the undead in an abandoned mansion in a forest. Paul WS Anderson’s franchise opener instead concerns villainous AI in a steely, subterranean genetics facility soundtracked by Slipknot and Marilyn Manson. Still, watching those commandos get decimated by a hallway laser defence system early on is a pulse-quickening thrill – and far more memorable than the generic zombie chaos that follows.

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James Balmont
Freelance arts and culture journalist
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  • Film
  • Action and adventure

The big loser in 2013’s Battle of the Presidential Action Flicks (to Olympus Has Fallen which, amazingly, is even worse), Roland Emmerich’s old-fashioned shoot-em-up comes to life when hero Channing Tatum and Pres Jamie Foxx jump into an armoured car and skid wildly around the White House’s front garden, pursued by truckloads of bad guys.

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Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist
  • Film

Godzilla’s stormy, pier-busting arrival in Manhattan offers a brief taste of the kind of carnage fans had hoped for from a Hollywood kaiju movie in 1998, but the atomic iguana spends the rest of the film running away and playing hide-and-seek. Elsewhere, everything from the creature designs to the Madison Square Gardens escape sequence just feels like it was nicked from Jurassic Park.

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James Balmont
Freelance arts and culture journalist
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  • Film
  • Comedy

Hugh Grant was deep in his post-Divine slump when he made this ropey Cosa Nostra romcom, but the scene where James Caan tries to teach our floppy-haired hero how to talk like a gangster is truly funny. Now gedda heeellll oudda hee!

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Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist

28. The opening oner in The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)

An infamous flop on release, this shallow, overblown adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s bestseller about political skullduggery in New York City opens with one of director Brian De Palma’s signature tracking shots, a sinuous weave through the bowels of a posh hotel with drunken sleazeball Bruce Willis for company. It’s all downhill from there.

 

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Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist
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29. The train chase in Wrongfully Accused (1998)



Making an unfunny film with Leslie Nielsen takes some effort but this wearisome spoof manages it. ‘A shameless, old-fart comedy circus’ was
Entertainment Weekly’s verdict – and that was one fo the kinder ones. Even so, with a gag rate this high some of the jokes are going to land. And in one inspired and deeply silly homage to The Fugitive’s train sequence, in which Nielsen’s fleeing violinist is stalked through a forest by, yes, the train – it strikes gold.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
  • Film
  • Action and adventure

The only advantage this unnecessary remake has over the razor-sharp 1987 movie about a cyborg law-enforcer is its enhanced special effects. But these are exploited to deeply disturbing effect in the scene where we realise just how little of our cybernetic hero is actually left. What Gary Oldman did to end up here is anyone’s guess…

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Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist
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31. The machine awakens in Superman 3 (1983)

The scene that scarred a generation. The third Superman flick tried to add laughs with the inclusion of a mugging Richard Pryor, but what really stands out is the utterly chilling moment when baddie Robert Vaughn’s infernal supercomputer turns on its creators, transforming poor Annie Potts into a hideous silver cyborg.

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Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist
  • Film
  • Drama



Wildly expensive to make but mind-numbingly tedious to watch, this apocalyptic snoozer features one unforgettable sequence, as Kevin Costner’s grouchy, gill-necked anti-hero swims deep down into the ocean that covers our planet to discover the ruins of the old world, submerged forever beneath the waves.

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Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist
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  • Film
  • Comedy



Even Steven Spielberg admits that this overlong, over-budget ‘comedy’ about America’s post-Pearl Harbor panic was something of a misfire. But amid all the mugging and explosions there are a fistful of smartly satirical scenes, notably the sight of kill-crazy US general Robert Stack weeping at a screening of Dumbo.

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Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist

34. Video piracy in Amazon Women on the Moon (1987)

A staple of late-night telly in the ’90s, this daft portmanteau comedy from John Landis and Joe Dante has not aged well. But the sketch about swashbuckling VHS pirates yo-ho-hoing over their latest haul from Blockbuster is still hilarious. ‘Gather round lads! Make all the illegal copies you want!’

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  • Film
  • Horror

Jason Voorhees completely jumps the shark in the tenth entry of the Friday the 13th series – with the cryogenically-frozen machete-wielder thawed out by a bunch of sexy space students in the year 2455, whom are duly dispatched one-by-one. A nitrogen-infused, head-shattering kill offers a moment of twisted practical FX creativity early on, but everything else – from the sets to the music to the performances – is awful.

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James Balmont
Freelance arts and culture journalist
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  • Film
  • Action and adventure

Anything with ‘part 1’ in the title could safely be packaged up and prescribed as a cure for insomnia back in the early 2010s. But two yawning hours of cinematic filler will leave you susceptible to a shock, and it comes in the first Mockingjay’s final scenes as Katniss’s old bestie Peeta, freshly brainwashed by the Capitol, flies at her and throttles her until she blacks out. The scene defibrillates a movie that seemed poised to black out itself. 

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor

38. The birth scene in Xtro (1983)

How to make your microbudget sci-fi shocker stand out? Make it as weird and gross as humanly possible. In a blatant effort to one-up Alien, this deeply bizarre, largely terrible Brit-grot oddity features a scene where a woman gives birth to a fully-grown man. The result is hideously unforgettable.

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Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist
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39. Christopher Walken steals Gigli (2003)

Any film can be improved with a straight shot of Christopher Walken. Case in point: this disastrous J-Lo/Ben Affleck vehicle, in which just a few moments of the great man ordering pie makes the whole affair almost bearable. Mm-mmm, good!

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Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist

40. The Shape returns in Halloween H2O (1998)

This mid-noughts reboot of the seasonal slasher would be just another cookie-cutter sequel if it wasn’t for one absolutely throat-grabbing mid-film chase scene, as masked murderer Michael Myers pursues a gaggle of hapless teens through an abandoned prep school. We defy you not to squeal when Michelle Williams drops the keys…

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Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist
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  • Film
  • Action and adventure

The combination of hokey source material, a seen-it-before plot and the world’s dullest title doomed this mega-budget sci-fi adventure about a Confederate soldier who travels to Mars. But a handful of moments – like the dizzying sequence when our earthling hero discovers how insanely high he can leap in Martian gravity – are almost worth the price of admission.

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Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist

42. The last boat in Weekend at Bernie’s (1989)

It’s a comedy! About a dead guy! Oh, our aching sides. But this inexplicably popular corpse-ploitation calamity contains precisely one great sequence, as the heroes run helter skelter down a busy pier, desperately leaping onto the last ferry out of town – only to discover that it’s coming in, not going out. 

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Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist
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  • Film
  • Fantasy



After James Woods torches a nest of vampires in the opening of John Carpenter’s meandering horror-western, a motel party descends into chaos when the monstrous Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith) shows up. In a hectic, jaw-dropping sequence that recalls Carpenter’s classic The Thing, the master vamp slices Mark Boone Jr in half; thrusts a full arm into another goon's chest; and blows a priest's head off with a shotgun while soaking up bullets himself. Sadly, it’s all downhill after that

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James Balmont
Freelance arts and culture journalist
  • Film

What on earth the great John Boorman thought he was doing with this bonkers but still very boring sequel to the greatest horror movie ever made is anyone’s guess. But it does feature a few flashes of visual magic, like the moment where a plague of Biblical locusts descend on an African village, blacking out the sun.

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Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist
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  • Film
  • Science fiction

The ‘Thunderdome’ is a Wrestlemania-style caged arena in which, at the film’s centre-point, Mel Gibson’s hero battles a masked baddie with chainsaws, iron spikes, and sledgehammers. It’s a vintage addition to the dusty, dystopian franchise’s set-piece repertoire – which hit an all-time-high in Road Warrior’s asphalt-burning action sequences. Unfortunately, Beyond Thunderdome gets really boring immediately afterwards, as a clan of Ewok-like children slow the film to a crawl.

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James Balmont
Freelance arts and culture journalist

46. Ryan Gosling takes a licking in Only God Forgives (2013)

Nicolas Winding Refn’s underwhelming reunion with Ryan Gosling after the smash success of Drive is all neon-soaked style over nonexistent substance. But the scene where Gosling’s taciturn antihero challenges the crimelord villain to a fist fight beautifully upends expectations. We keep expecting Ryan to bounce back, to get a good punch in, to triumph against the odds. He very much doesn’t.

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Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist
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47. Ambulance mayhem in Hudson Hawk (1991)

Another infamous Hollywood mega-flop, this action comedy aims for charmingly slapstick and ends up annoyingly slappable. The scene where Bruce Willis’s master safecracker ends up stuck on a stretcher behind a speeding ambulance is both gleefully funny and genuinely thrilling – but it’s the only one in the film. ‘Hey Mister! Are you gonna die?’

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Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist
  • Film
  • Science fiction

This Peter Jackson-produced adaptation of Philip Reeve’s terrific fantasy novel about mobile cities was a flop on every level. But the opening sequence – in which a massive, motorised London-on-wheels runs down and consumes a weaker city – is a real attention-grabber.

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Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist
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49. The prehistoric intro in Meg 2: The Trench (2023)

The Cretaceous cold opening, in which a megalodon snacks on a T-rex, is an economical and enjoyably silly way to re-establish the titular titan’s place at the top of the food chain. Enjoy it. From here, we jump 65 million years into the future to watch Jason Statham jetski into battle against several massive sharks, and the drop in fun and efficiency is about as deep as the Mariana Trench itself.

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Sean McGeady
Film writer and essayist
  • Film
  • Fantasy


This low-budget fantasy epic may be stuffed with iconic British thesps (Bernard Bresslaw! Liam Neeson! Todd freaking Carty!), but it’s the late, great Freddie Jones who takes the honours. The sequence where he meets his lost love in the heart of a giant spiderweb is genuinely heartbreaking. 

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Tom Huddleston
Arts and culture journalist
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