I’d like to imagine that no director starts out with the intention of making a bad movie (although I’m less and less convinced that people like Michael Bay are doing any of this “for art’s sake” rather than a giant paycheck). Still, even the greatest movies aren’t perfect and have scenes that don’t work as well as others. The same is true of really bad movies too, as it’s hard to find many that are completely without merit. Sometimes there are even scenes so good, they make you question why the rest of the movie couldn’t have been of the same quality. Of course, you may very well be a fan of every movie that appear on this list (films are subjective, after all), but here are 10 scenes that I think are truly special in otherwise awful movies.
10. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Warehouse Fight
While I’ve softened on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice a bit since its release, I still think it’s a terrible movie with far too many problems to list off here. Issues with characterization aside, Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne/Batman is not one of them, as the actor actually acclimates well to the world-weary, jaded Dark Knight presented in the film — even if he racks up an uncomfortable body count by the end of it. It takes far too long to get to, but the warehouse brawl between Batman and a group of Lex Luthor’s hired thugs is arguably the best fight scene in a live-action Batman movie to date. It truly feels like a comic panel come to life, as Batman fights his way through a room full of armed adversaries and the best part is that we see both the character’s strength and vulnerability.
It’s clear from the way Batman carries himself in the fight that he’s been honing his skills for years, but he also gets pretty banged up over the course of the brawl, which underscores that he’s not as spry as he once was. Unlike Superman, Batman declines as he ages and even though he comes out of the fight victorious, it’s a hard-fought victory. Director Zack Snyder has always known how to shoot a great fight scene and even though he’s not directing The Batman (due out in 2018), I hope Matt Reeves takes his inspiration from Snyder’s work in this scene specifically for that film’s hand-to-hand combat sequences because this is now the gold standard for live action Batman fight scenes.
9. Superman Returns – Plane Rescue
With Superman Returns, Bryan Singer went to great lengths to craft a modern successor to the Richard Donner Superman films that he grew up with, but he ultimately falls short of his mentor with a film that is plodding and dull to a fault. It also has surprisingly little action for a film with “Superman” in the title, so it’s hardly surprising that the best scene in Superman Returns is the one that actually shows its lead character being a true hero. The sequence where Superman (Brandon Routh) rescues a malfunctioning airplane as it hurtles towards earth is an incredible set piece, with a rousing score that helps emphasize why Superman is such an enduring symbol of hope and heroism. I’m still waiting for Henry Cavill’s version of the character to top this.
8. The Matrix Reloaded – Highway Chase
I actually like all three films in the Matrix trilogy, but I’ll readily admit that both Reloaded and Revolutions are vastly inferior to the first film on pretty much every metric of quality. However, that doesn’t mean either film is without merit and I’d argue that Reloaded — the middle chapter in the trilogy — contains the best action scene in the franchise and one of the greatest car chase sequences in blockbuster filmmaking. The Wachowskis actually built a mile-and-a-half long fake freeway on a disused naval base at Alameda in California — to the tune of $2.5 million — for their lavish chase, which features dreadlocked wraith twins teleporting between vehicles, Carrie-Anne Moss weaving in and out of traffic at insane speeds, and Laurence Fishburne’s Morpheus fighting one of the franchise’s villainous Agents on top of a speeding 18-wheeler.
The scene is not only a masterclass of action filmmaking, but also sidelines Keanu Reeves’ superpowered Neo completely until the very end when he swoops in to save the day, thereby giving the other characters something to do in his absence. I may not be itching to sit through all 2 hours and 18 minutes of The Matrix Reloaded again anytime soon, but I’ll happily watch this freeway chase anytime.
7. Spider-Man 3 – Sandman Origin
Spider-Man 3 isn’t as bad as its reputation would suggest, but it’s easily the worst entry in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy by a wide margin and is too overstuffed with its own good (no wonder Raimi initially fought against the studio’s demands to put Venom in the movie). While Topher Grace’s Eddie Brock/Venom makes for a pretty terrible villain, Thomas Haden Church fares much better as the sympathetic Sandman, especially in the first half of the movie. In particular, Sandman’s “birth” scene is a work of art, impressive on both a thematic and technical scale.
Set to a somber piece of music by composer Christopher Young, the scene is drenched in pathos, as Flint Marko struggles to reassemble himself after falling into a particle accelerator. It’s a surprisingly moving sequence in a film that veers too far into camp at points and feels like a carryover piece from Raimi’s original (and likely much better) vision for the film.
6. Street Fighter – “It Was Tuesday”
No one would mistake Street Fighter for a good movie but anytime Raul Julia is on screen, it makes sitting through this ill-conceived video game adaptation that much more tolerable; enjoyable even. This is because Julia goes all in as maniacal dictator M. Bison and delivers a performance that transitions between over-the-top and menacing, sometimes even mid-sentence. While I very much enjoy the final confrontation between Bison and Jean Claude Van Damme’s Guile — which gave us such choice lines as ” Something wrong, Colonel? You come here prepared to fight a madman, and instead you found a god?” — it’s Bison’s casual dismissal of Chun Li’s emotional confrontation that deserves recognition.
After listening to Chun-Li’s tale of how Bison and his thugs raided her home village as a child and killed her father, Bison replies that he doesn’t remember. Chun-Li is shocked and appalled that the man who killed her father could be so callous, to which Bison replies with the best line in the movie: “For you, the day bison graced your village was the most important day of your life. But for me, it was Tuesday.” Street Fighter would end up being Raul Julia’s final performance before his death, but elevating an otherwise terrible movie single-handedly is a pretty awesome way to go out.
5. Prometheus – C-Section Scene
Like a few other movies mentioned on this list, I don’t think Prometheus is quite as bad people make it out to be. Sure, it’s full of plot holes and bad writing, but it’s also filled with some standout scenes, the majority of them involving Michael Fassbender’s devious android David. However, the best scene in this movie doesn’t involve David at all. As a horror movie, Prometheus falls well short of the original Alien, but director Ridley Scott goes for broke with the C-Section sequence, which arguably rivals the chest burster scene for best body horror scene in the franchise. Scott Wampler over at Birth.Movies.Death has already written an incredible breakdown of this scene, so I’m not going to get too into it here, but I will say that even if you hate Prometheus, it’s hard to find much fault with this scene.
For one thing, Noomi Rapace absolutely kills it here, as her character desperately climbs into a medical chamber and has the alien monster growing inside of her violently removed by C-Section … and she’s awake for the whole thing! That in itself is horrifying, but it gets even worse when the creature comes out of her body and starts trying to attack her. The scene itself is only about four minutes long, but not a single one of those seconds is wasted. Prometheus (deservedly) gets criticized a lot for what it gets wrong, but few seem to acknowledge that it contains at least one absolutely pitch perfect scene that rivals some of the series’ best.
4. Snakes on a Plane – Samuel L. Jackson is Sick of Snakes
Remember Snakes on a Plane? This movie was a viral hit well before it hit theaters based on two factors: its title and the fact that Samuel L. Jackson was the lead. Unfortunately, the film was pretty mediocre overall and proved that a catchy title and premise will only get you so far when you stretch them out to a feature-length presentation. Thankfully, Samuel L. Jackson is one of the most consistent actors you’ll ever find and even when he’s starring in bad movies he can be counted on to deliver a good performance.
It’s no surprise then that he’s the best part of Snakes on a Plane and the film is worth watching alone for his now classic line, “I have had it with these motherf—ing snakes on this motherf—ing plane!” Sure, it’s not a flashy scene or even all that important to the rest of the film as a whole (besides establishing that Jackson’s character is very sick of snakes being on a plane) but admit it: this is the scene that springs to mind when you think of Snakes on a Plane and therefore, it’s arguably the film’s best.
3. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen – Forest Brawl
Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise is, collectively, a steaming pile of hot garbage but there was a time when these films weren’t totally bankrupt creatively. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the second installment in Bay’s dumb robot movie series, erased pretty much any goodwill gained by the 2007 original, which is still far and away the “best” of the bunch. However, it does contain at least one scene that is surprisingly inspired. What’s more, it’s actually a little bit emotional! Pretty early on in the film, Autobot commander Optimus Prime battles Megatron, Starscream, and Grindor by himself in a forest setting and I’ll be damned if it’s not one of Bay’s finest action sequences.
For one thing, the forest makes for an interesting battleground from a visual standpoint, as trees explode all around and are even used as weapons by the combatants. And unlike the majority of Tranformers action scenes, you can actually keep track of what’s going on, which is great because it’s not everyday that you hear Optimus yell “I’ll take you all on!” before brandishing dual wrist blades and going full beast mode. It’s all capped off with a death scene that registers as truly shocking and it’s a shame that Optimus ends up being revived at the end of the film because it would have made things that much more impactful if this was the last time we’d get to see Optimus in the series. Oh well, at least the scene itself is still well done.
2. X-Men Origins: Wolverine – Opening Montage
X-Men Origins: Wolverine is in a two-way tie alongside X-Men: The Last Stand for worst film in the X-Men franchise, but if the whole movie was anything like its first 10 minutes, it would probably be considered the best. That is because the opening montage, which features Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine and Liev Schreiber’s Sabretooth fighting in every major American war from the Civil War up to Vietnam, is truly an inspired bit of cinema and one of the more memorable opening credits sequences I can remember seeing.
The scene almost wordlessly paints these two immortal men as battle-hardened, lifelong warriors and there’s something tragic about how they continue to find themselves involved in the wars of man, as violence is what both are gifted at (it helps that they can just shrug off bullet wounds). However, the scene also depicts the divide between the two characters, as Wolverine becomes increasingly uncomfortable with his brother’s blood-lust and feral instincts. Essentially, it’s a teaser for a much more interesting movie than what would follow.
Oh and the scene where Logan gets his adamantium skeleton is another standout.
1. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace – Duel of the Fates
Enough has been written about the many faults of George Lucas’ first Star Wars prequel, so I won’t rehash any of that here. Instead, I want to highlight one of the film’s few brilliant moments. While the podracing sequence also gets pointed to as a standout scene in this otherwise horrendous film, it’s the final showdown between Darth Maul, Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi that stands as one of, if not the greatest scene Lucas directed post-A New Hope. The old Star Wars movies had their share of lightsaber combat, but none of it was as intense or skillful as what’s on display in The Phantom Menace.
This scene is a masterclass of fight choreography and even though it doesn’t quite make up for two hours of trade disputes and Jar Jar Binks, it certainly comes close. The only real complaint I have with it is that the duel is intercut with three other scenes, all of which are much less interesting, which is annoying when it’s one of the few bright spots in an otherwise nigh-unwatchable movie. Thankfully, it’s quite easy to find uninterrupted versions online, so let’s watch one now!