When A Bad Movie Has One Incredibly Great Scene

Illustration for article titled When A Bad Movie Has One Incredibly Great Scene

Why do so many bad movies have one good scene each? All of a sudden, the awfulness goes away, and the movie starts living up to its potential. The performances click, the action is exciting. Here are 20-odd examples.


When a terrible — or just mediocre — movie suddenly has one shining moment of greatness, it paradoxically makes you more angry at the rest of the movie. These people have been holding out on us! They had it in them all along to do something better, and they totally punted. Sometimes, it feels like you're watching a totally different movie for a moment, and sometimes it feels like the same movie, only they blew all their cash on one great set piece. Sometimes, it's just like the ingredients finally come together for one moment of goodness.

So check it out:

I, Robot:
Like we said before, Will Smith's killer-robot movie was mostly a great disappointment, especially if you expected it to be even remotely Asimovian. But the very last scene was actually a huge improvement, as the robots finally started showing self-awareness and we got hints that Alan Tudyk's robot was going to lead them to become independent:

Actually, movies sucking until their very last moments is a theme we've noticed. This space-mutants film had an absolutely crackerjack ending, and if the rest of the movie had lived up to its final two minutes, we would have been thrilled. (And yes, this is a spoiler, since it's the end of the movie.) Check it out:

The One:
Yet another movie that sucked except for its final two moments. Most of the movie is watching Jet Li fight his obvious stunt double as they battle to be the only Jet Li remaining in the multiverse. But then the evil Jet Li is sent to a prison planet in the Hades Dimension, where he proceeds to show the other inmates why they will all be his bitches:


Escape From L.A.:
Another movie which is a bit underwhelming — except for the classic ending, where Snake finally outwits the president and turns off the world. "Welcome to the human race!" Heh.

Illustration for article titled When A Bad Movie Has One Incredibly Great Scene

Deep Blue Sea:
Renny Harlin's genetically awesomeified shark movie was more notable for its flaws than for its jaws. But there's one moment which will live in our hearts forever, where Samuel L. Jackson stands up for what he believes in, speaks up and rallies everybody to do the right thing — and then the unexpected happens:

Another dragon movie that wasn't that great. Except for the one great climactic moment where dragons actually fought helicopters, and we all won:


The Time Machine:
The 2002 movie of H.G. Wells' novel, directed by his great-grandson Simon Wells, started out a bit silly and then got drastically sillier as it went along. But there's one scene in that movie that has a place in our hearts forever: The great bit where the time traveler visits the future, where stupid humans have broken the Moon into pieces:

Planet of The Apes:
We're amazed they still let Tim Burton do big movies after he blew this all to hell. But the one thing this movie really did right was the incredible scene of the apes running, like actual apes — which has since been done to death in other movies. But it was really great when this film did it:


Independence Day:
Yeah, Mac virus takes down alien spaceships, yadda yadda. But there are 20 seconds of this film that we have a huge soft spot for: the alien sucker punch.

The Amazing Colossal Man:
This is a perfect example of a pulpy old-school scifi thriller that has one memorable scene — where the giant guy tosses the huge hypodermic needle and impales a poor scientist with it. And as with so many movies with one great scene, it's in the trailer (at about 1:35):

Okay, any movie with Kurt Russell in it can't really be considered a "bad" movie. But this early Paul W.S. Anderson gem isn't exactly a great movie either — except for the long montage at the beginning where we see babies being trained to become supersoldiers, by watching dogs kill boars 'n' shit. (It starts about a minute in, in this video below.)

The 6th Day:
One of Arnie's later films, and not really his best work. He's sort of sleepwalking through this tale of cloning, in which he has to meet himself and punch himself in the face for sleeping with his wife. It's cute, but not that great. Except when we meet Sinpal Sindy, a creepy android doll who is a callback to the creepy taxi android from Total Recall:

Reign Of Fire:
God, what a letdown. But it's really true that there are a couple of great bits, including the part where we meet the male dragon for the first time:

The part where Christian Bale and Gerard Butler re-enact Star Wars is also a great candidate for this movie's one decent scene.


Star Wars: The Phantom Menace:
Speaking of Star Wars, the prequels were mostly a giant anticlimax, especially the first one. But enough has been said about that already. And when we polled our inner cabal of mindwiped geniuses online, they all pointed to this one moment — where Darth Maul first confronts the two Jedi and reveals that he has a double-edged lightsaber — as the one non-sewerish moment from the first prequel. Although the fight that follows is a bit meh:


The Last Starfighter:
We still have a soft spot in our hearts for this 1980s space opera/video-game-wish-fulfillment movie. But it doesn't actually hold up that great if you watch it today — the whole "hero rejects the call to adventure" section takes up about half the movie, and the protagonist is kind of hard to like. But when they actually start, you know, starfighting, it's pretty great. And the "Death Blossom" is just... wow.


Mission To Mars:
God, what a clunker. But the bit where Tim Robbins sacrifices himself by depressurizing his helmet rather than letting everyone else get killed rescuing him is one of the coolest death scenes ever.


The Thing From Another World:
Generally not as great as the 1982 John Carpenter remake. But the bit where they electrocute and incinerate the monster, aka Gunsmoke's James Arness, is classic:

Illustration for article titled When A Bad Movie Has One Incredibly Great Scene

The Chronicles Of Riddick:
Actually, this is a good movie, if you just watch the director's cut instead of the messed up theatrical version. But everybody loves the "kill you with my teacup" scene. When I polled my online friends about good scenes from bad movies, this was one of the ones that came up the most. Because it's Vin Diesel at his most murderously awesome.

King Kong:
Oh, Peter Jackson. What were you thinking? Still, the one scene where Jack Black takes the captive giant super-ape and shows it off on stage, only to have the creature go on a mad rampage, is pretty great actually.

Illustration for article titled When A Bad Movie Has One Incredibly Great Scene

We were pretty underwhelmed by this dull, lifeless outing in which Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber stumble through "WTF just happened" scenes, one after the other. And yet, the sequence where Logan gets adamantium agonizingly pumped into his skeleton is pretty amazing, and — you guessed it — it's prominently featured in the trailer.


Event Horizon:
Another Paul W.S. Anderson classic. The spaceship-visits-Hell movie is a bit turgid, but you have to love Laurence Fishburne running down a twirly corridor being chased by the traditional fireball, only to jump through a dilating doorway just in time. (It's at about 2:50 in this video below):

I have a feeling we're just barely scratching the surface here. What's your favorite great scene from a terrible movie? Feel free to suggest some in comments below!


Additional reporting by Kelly Faircloth. Thanks also to Annalee Newitz, Meredith Woerner, Greta Christina, Eileen Gunn, Matthew Clark, Jennifer Joseph, Wayne Nix, Sharon Zohar, Jessy Randall, Stefani Madison, España Sheriff, Kevin Schmidt, Larry Young, Maureen McHugh, Theresa DeLucci, Robert Meyer Burnett, Tiffany Leigh, Nick Mamatas, Gwenda Bond, Karen Meisner, Kyle Brown Watson, Laura Oppenheimer, Genevieve Valentine, Michael Nixon, Rus McLaughlin, Andrew Liptak, Deric Hughes, Yoz Grahame, and anyone else we forgot!



My favorite scene in Reign of Fire has nothing to do with the dragons.

It's when they're performing the play of the Empire Strikes Back for the kids, and Quinn (Christian Bale) and Creedy (Gerard Butler) are at the lightsaber duel between Luke and Darth Vader. Vader (Quinn) cuts off Luke's (Creedy's) hand - the children gasp - and Creedy breaks character for just a second to let the kids know his hand is really still fine. I just love that scene, even though there's nothing epic about it. It tells us so much about these people and their world.

Oh, and re: Phantom Menace - I stand by the sentiments I said as I was leaving the theater after seeing it the first time. The lightsaber fights alone are worth the price of admission, and it's a damn good thing they are.