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Top 10 "How'd They Shoot That?!' Scenes

These "how'd the shoot that?!" scenes had us all believing in movie magic.

Mind officially blown! Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 movie scenes that must have been (nearly!) impossible to shoot.

For this list, we’re taking a look some of cinema’s most impressive sequences made possible through astonishing effects, editing, and cinematography. These scenes additionally need to have a certain degree of difficulty or originality to them, leaving the audience wondering, “How the hell did they do that?” We’ve excluded continuous uninterrupted shots because we already have a list dedicated to those.

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#10: The Smell of Napalm in the Morning “Apocalypse Now” (1979)

CGI isn’t a simple process, but it has made achieving the impossible much easier. Francis Ford Coppola didn’t have this luxury back in 1979, making Apocalypse Now his own personal apocalypse. Although every shot of the movie is an incredible feat, this napalm strike might be the most remarkable. Capturing real F-5 Tigers and a real extended explosion on film, Coppola settles for nothing less than perfection in recreating the Vietnam War. As impressive as the scene is on a technical level, Robert Duvall’s iconic monologue truly steals the show.

#9: Bridge Collapse “The Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957)

Yet another classic from the pre-CGI era, The Bridge on the River Kwai works up to a crucial scene in which the bridge itself comes tumbling down. Rather than using models, the filmmakers decided to demolish a full-scale bridge as a train comes plunging into the river below. Only getting one chance at shooting this pivotal, not to mention expensive, moment, the whole picture would have basically been ruined if anything went wrong. Fortunately, the flawless final product turned out to be nothing short of movie magic. 

#8: Crazy 88 Fight “Kill Bill: Vol. 1” (2003)

Quentin Tarantino throws everything he has at his leading lady and audience in this kickass scene. Confronted by an army of masked men, the Bride engages in a gloriously choreographed battle full of severed body parts and blood spewing everywhere. As excessive as it may appear, the fight never gets tiresome. Brilliantly shot and gushing with creative swordplay, Tarantino just keeps topping himself. The sequence is so overwhelming that you really need to stop and catch your breath once it's over. Good thing Kill Bill was split into two movies.

#7: Deserted London “28 Days Later” (2002)

Filming a deserted city might not sound especially complex. When you consider the time and manpower needed to make a huge capital city look abandoned, though, it’s a pretty daunting task. Nevertheless, Danny Boyle pulled it off in 28 Days Later, placing Cillian Murphy in the eerily empty streets of London. With the police closing the roads at 4 a.m. and reopening them around rush hour, Boyle only had a brief window of time each day—sometimes only a couple of dozen minutes—to shoot this stunning sequence. But it was worth it: the results certainly created a disturbing end of days vibe.

#6: The Burj Khalifa “Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol” (2011)

Suspending Tom Cruise outside the tallest building in the world, there are so many ways this sequence from Mission Impossible—Ghost Protocol could have cheated. Rather than relying on a green screen or hiring a stunt double, what the audience sees is virtually what they got. The sequence is only made more thrilling when considering that’s really Tom Cruise running and crawling outside the Burj Khalifa, even if cables are supporting him. It’ll have you hanging at the edge of your seat just as Cruise hangs 123 stories above Dubai.

#5: D-Day “Saving Private Ryan” (1998)

Filmed over the course of a month, the Omaha Beach landings sequence from “Saving Private Ryan” places the audience at the center of the action through hand-held cameras. Although the film hasn’t introduced us to any characters yet, we immediately share all the anguish and panic these soldiers endure. While the scene is indeed a visual marvel, what’s truly miraculous is how Steven Spielberg bluntly immerses the audience in combat. With haunting imagery that will remain forever etched in our minds, never has a depiction of war felt more hellish.

#4: Joker Chase “The Dark Knight” (2008)

Through his Dark Knight trilogy, Christopher Nolan aspired to create a Gotham City that could exist in the real world. His grittier approach to the franchise especially shines in this freeway chase, chiefly relying on practical effects. Filmed on the streets of Chicago, the explosive confrontation works up to an applaud-worthy climax as Batman utilizes his fully functional batpod to flip the Joker’s rig. And yes, the filmmakers overturned an actual truck with a driver inside. How will Nolan ever top this amazing set piece? Stayed tuned to find out.

#3: Car Chase “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior” (1981)

Given a bigger budget for the initial sequel to Mad Max, George Miller was able to go as big and over-the-top as he wanted. He put the money to great use, particularly in the film’s wildly inventive climax. Driving a tanker, our death-defying hero is bombarded by a gang on wheels determined to spill his blood for oil. With vehicles crashing, vehicles catching on fire, and characters jumping between vehicles, it’s exhausting just thinking about how Miller got this extraordinary scene on film. However he did it, we’re 100% grateful.

#2: Titanic Sinking “Titanic” (1997)

Titanic is full of awe-inspiring moments that authentically recreate the supposedly unsinkable ship’s rise and demise. Utilizing a diverse blend of sets, models, green screen effects, and CGI to fashion the most convincing illusion possible, James Cameron leaves the audience gasping for air up until the Titanic’s final moments before it’s submerged below the sea. With countless extras crowding around the bow and holding on for dear life as the ships breaks in half, the audience is thrilled, shocked, heartbroken, and left feeling totally insignificant compared to the film’s majestic size.

Before our top pick blows us away, here are a few honorable mentions:

  • The Whole Movie, Escape from Tomorrow (2013)
  • Hallway Battle, Oldboy (2003)
  • Rotating Set, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
  • Underwater Flooded Town, Hard Rain (1998)

#1: Crashing This Plane “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012)

Trapped in an airborne CIA plane, there appears to be no escape for Bane. When a C-130 shows up, though, the criminal mastermind puts his unthinkable getaway plan into action. Causing the government aircraft to take a nosedive and ultimately crash to the ground, this scene is truly a revolution of stunts, cinematography, and staging. It goes to show that Christopher Nolan will never stop pushing the envelope in terms of ambitious action sequences, from the corridor fight in Inception to this unbelievable opening to The Dark Knight Rises.

Do you agree with our list? What impressive movie scenes made you drop your jaw? For more entertaining Top 10s published every day, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.

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