You know that moment. The moment in a movie that you geek out over as soon as you walk out of the theater. The one that gives you goosebumps, or makes you whisper “Holy crap” as it’s happening. Those are the “wow” moments, and we’ve collected the best ones from 2015.
Below are our 17 favorite wow movie moments of 2015 in the world of sci-fi, fantasy and action.
Spoilers for all of these movies follow
I didn’t love the final installment of The Hunger Games, but it does have a few great scenes—especially a masterfully staged, suspenseful action scene in the sewers of the Capitol. What starts as a a scary, slow burn quickly becomes a boisterous set-piece as Katniss and her crew battle an army of mutated “mutts,” highlighted by an almost Legolas-like bow and arrow long take and a shocking death.
It still doesn’t seem like a real thing. Peter Pan makes his first entrance to Neverland only to hear the inhabitants—and eventually Hugh Jackman’s Blackbeard—singing Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. Somehow this is both completely out of place and also completely perfect. The ‘90s grunge anthem is sung with hypnotic repetition against this bright, CG landscape, and the whole thing is just so out there, weird but also catchy and unforgettable. It’s not just a stand-out moment in an otherwise blah movie, it’s one of the stand-out moments of the year.
The Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending has some cool ideas, but most of it is predictable, overly melodramatic, and kind of stupid. There’s one part that isn’t, though. And it’s an amazing chase sequence where Channing Tatum’s character Caine Wise uses his super-duper awesome flying boots to fly through Chicago while being chased. It’s one of those action sequences that the Wachowskis are best known for, and it’s one of the few redeeming factors in this otherwise disappointing film.
Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella played things pretty safe with the famous fairy tale but that was okay because of the way its magical moments elevated everything else. The best of these is when we first meet the Fairy Godmother, played by Helena Bonham Carter. She’s immediately transforms not just Cinderella, her mice, the pumpkin and more, she transforms the movie—giving it a genuinely jaw-dropping moment of beauty and wonder.
Frank Walker’s jetpack never actually works. That is, until he, and it, find their way to Tomorrowland. Once a young Frank slips it on in mid-air, Brad Bird’s mostly disappointing adventure reaches its peak potential. This is a gorgeous, chill-inducing scene as Frank flies through this incredibly mysterious and futuristic world. Even if the film never reaches a moment as awe-inspiring as this one, at least there’s this one.
If It Follows didn’t live up to its chilling opening scene, it would still be pretty amazing. Out of nowhere, we see a girl running through her neighborhood. There doesn’t seem to be anything chasing her, she’s just scared, and the more scared she gets running through houses, through the street and eventually to the beach, the more scared we also get. We have no idea what’s happening, but the pure terror, long takes and shocking smash cut from director David Robert Mitchell make for a stupendous sequence.
It was never going to be easy for Mark Watney to get off of Mars. But the plan his NASA friends come up with seems absolutely ridiculous. Which is why it’s such a fantastic moment. Ridley Scott’s film makes you feel so much of the weight of Watney’s situation, only an act of true craziness could balance that and make everything else pay off. Which is what Watney’s escape absolutely does.
Most movies save their biggest “wow” moment for the end of the film. Everything builds to it. But Christopher McQuarrie’s Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation says’ “Screw that.” Instead, they give us the film’s biggest moment, the poster image, the trailer money shot, before the main titles. Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt runs and jumps onto a plane, only to be lifted into the air hanging onto the side of the plane (in a stunt that cruise actually did himself.) And you can tell, because the camera is right there capturing everything.
Ex Machina is a great movie. It’s tense, it’s seductive, it’s claustrophobic—and then, out of nowhere, Oscar Isaac’s character, Nathan, just starts dancing in this evocative red room. The whole scene sticks out like a sore thumb. And yet the dancing is both incredibly vibrant, but also incredibly off-putting, because of what it says about the character’s mental state. Everything, put together, makes for the film’s most memorable and crazy moment.
For most of its runtime, Peyton’s Reed’s delightful Ant-Man is pretty understated for a Marvel movie. Except for one scene. It’s Scott’s final test. He’s sent to steal a small piece of gear from a probably abandoned warehouse in upstate New York—only to realize it’s now the headquarters of the Avengers. Not only is this a “wow” moment for the audience, it’s one for the characters too. Then it gets even better, when Scott continues to go along with the caper and finds himself face to face with Anthony Mackie’s Falcon. It’s just a fun, surprising action scene that not only sets up the film’s ending, but some other Marvel movies, too.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens has a bunch of potential wow moments, but the one that beats all the others comes at the end. If you’ve seen the film, you probably know what moment we’re talking about—it involves someone grabbing a lightsaber. This comes with a huge swelling of John Williams score, and a big emotional payoff. The result is pure Star Wars magic.
If we’re being honest, basically all of Mad Max: Fury Road is a “wow” moment: a two hour, almost non-stop action scene. But if you have to pick one moment among the rest that stands out—and we do—it’s the polecats. Furiosa, Max and the crew are on their way back to the Citadel, so the action is hot and heavy. Just then, some of Immortan Joe’s War Boys start attacking by swinging on poles like something out of a circus stunt. And if you were already on the edge of your seat, you just fell off. It’s a practical effect that takes the action to a whole other level of insanity.
Avengers: Age of Ultron has, arguably, the largest-scale finale of the entire year. An entire city literally flies and falls from the sky. But that’s not the “wow” moment. It’s before that. Early in the film, it’s well established that no one can lift Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir. It’s an act only one person is worthy to perform—in this case, the son of Odin. So later, when the mysterious new Vision matter-of-factly hands the hammer to Thor, it’s a stunner. Jaws drop, both on screen and off.
No matter what you think of Jurassic World, there’s no denying that its climax is amazing. After a movie of chasing, and being chased by, the Indominus Rex, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) realizes only one thing can stop it: the Tyrannosaurus Rex from the original Jurassic Park. Out she comes, and the battle begins, smashing all across Main Street of the park—and this culminates in arguably the best single shot of the entire year. The characters run through multiple stores and watch the battle take place in front of them. Then it spills toward the water and the Mosasaurus kills the Indominus Rex, all in a single take. Love the movie or hate it, the ending is top notch.
Sometimes a “wow” moment can be something that rips through your guts with emotion. And this year, the number one tear-jerking moment involves Bing Bong in Inside Out. Riley’s imaginary friend, lost inside her mind, helps Joy get out of the memory dump by sacrificing himself. What makes the scene so exemplary though is happy it starts out being. Bing Bong and Joy are singing his song, the spaceship sprouts out its beautiful colors... and the pair just miss the cliff. Then they do it again. At this point, you are pulling for them so hard, you can’t believe it. That’s when Pixar nails you. When you are so perfectly in tune with the characters, a selfless act like Bing Bong’s becomes even more devastating.
Sure, The Revenant isn’t a science fiction or fantasy movie. But watching Leonardo DiCaprio get mauled by a bear in a single take for several minutes is the most fantastic, gut-wrenching thing I’ve seen on screen this year. It’s a visual effects marvel, that could easily be straight out of Game of Thrones or an ice cave on Hoth. The scene is so terrifying, and amazingly shot, that no matter how desensitized to violence you are, it’s difficult to watch—in the best possible way.
Director Matthew Vaughn knows how to bring an audience to its feet with tension and excitement. But he outdoes himself with the church scene in Kingsman. Colin Firth’s character, Galahad, is inside a church, and Samuel L. Jackson’s evil Valentine triggers a test of his psychotic master plan. Instantly the scene turns into literally the most violent bloodbath imaginable, with everyone punching, kicking and ripping each other’s throats out. And right in the middle is Galahad, slaying with the skill of Achilles, all set to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird. “Wow” almost doesn’t cover it.
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