Genre sticklers, beware! Some movies are more genre fluid than others, and certain action movie scenes could fit into any horror movie. Here’s a list of 11 such movie scenes, arranged in order of bleakness!
The criteria for list rank:
1. How many people a scene would hypothetically impact. The more far-reaching implications a scene has, the closer to number one it will be.
2. How cheesy is it? Let’s face it: cheesiness subtracts from the darkness a little, which is why some movie scenes aren’t closer to the #1 spot.
3. How thought-provoking is it? Disturbing horror movies make us wonder what’s wrong with the human race. We may even think, “Should I really be watching this?” There’s a surprising amount of this feeling in some action movies as well. Dark movie scenes have a time and a place, and one of those places is this here list!
And yes, a Spoiler Alert may be in order… Let’s get on with it!
11. Raiders of the Lost Ark — Angels of Death Melting Faces
Raiders of the Lost Ark is a great many things, but few people would call it a horror movie. Nonetheless, every Indiana Jones film occasionally nods in that direction, and Raiders is no exception. The most telltale sign that you have horror aspects in your movie? If you show angels of death flying around, melting people’s faces off, of course! When Dr. Jones (Harrison Ford) instructs Marion (Karen Allen) to look away as the Nazis open the Ark of the Covenant, it turns out to be wise advice.
Of course, the film has other scary aspects. There is the famous snake scene, a freaky Gestapo interrogator named Arnold Toht (Ronald Lacey), and the opening moments where Jones deals with a bunch of booby traps. Nevertheless, because of the final freak out, people will forever associate Indiana Jones with a bunch of horrific, melting faces! Maybe it’s not a horror film, but it does contain scenes any horror fan could appreciate.
10. Predator — Skinned Human Remains
Generally considered a science fiction action film, some fans sidestep those labels and just regard Predator as a horror movie. However, Predator is no less a horror movie than the original Alien, and it has the scenes to prove it. One of the key moments is our introduction to the Predator’s handiwork — three skinned Green Berets hanging from a tree in the jungle like deer carcasses. When genre questions arise, you have to admit… anytime a film shows human carcasses skinned alive, it’s probably a horror show. Aside from that, Predator is one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best movies. In fact, it’s one of his few that’s arguably not just a guilty pleasure experience. There’s something to it. And that something includes flayed humans in trees.
9. The Dark Knight — The Disappearing Pencil Trick
This highly acclaimed superhero film has a few noteworthy aspects. Obviously, there’s the almost comically brooding Batman, played somewhat over dramatically by Christian Bale. Most importantly, though, is Heath Ledger’s tour de force performance as The Joker. It’s definitely a memorable depiction, but it’s also bolstered by some decent writing. For example, the Disappearing Pencil Trick scene would have been unforgettable, regardless of Heath Ledger’s onscreen presence. The scene reveals a villain who will kill people just to make a minor point — a classic gangster move, but also classic Joker. Former U.S. President Barack Obama compared ISIS to the Joker, which says something about Ledger’s performance.
8. Scarface – The Chainsaw Scene
Okay, I know how some of you genre sticklers will be all: “Scarface is a crime drama, not an action movie!” Still, I’d say it has plenty in common with action movies. You have shootouts, a grenade launcher, classic lines like, “Say hello to my little friend!” as Tony Montana (Al Pacino) empties clip after machine gun clip into people, and the infamous chainsaw scene.
Although the chainsaw dismemberment actually occurs off screen, some people found it too violent (especially for the time) and the MPAA tried to classify it as X-rated. After numerous edits, Brian De Palma finally reached his breaking point, saying he wouldn’t edit the scene any further. Way to take a stand, Brian! The film was considered offensive for other reasons, of course, and critics at the time lambasted it. However, it’s become an action-crime classic, and this moment has some clear horror aspects (is a “Scarface” really so different from a “Leatherface”?)
7. Kingsman: The Golden Circle — Meat Grinder
Let’s not forget the ladies! Yes, women can be evil, too. That’s is where Kingsman: The Golden Circle’s Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore) comes in. A drug lord character in an over-the-top film, Poppy sure knows her way around the kitchen! Much like the Joker, Poppy plans a huge poison attack on people. However, inarguably the darkest moment in Kingsman: The Golden Circle is when Poppy offers up a challenge to a prospective new henchman named Angel.
In order to join her ranks, Angel has to cannibalize one of the other henchman who let Poppy down. At first, it’s considered a joke, but then the lowly servant is killed by a robotic dog, fed into a meat grinder and turned into a Poppy Burger. Yum, yum! I don’t know if it’s tasty, but it’s definitely on the dark side. Still, who knows? Maybe with the right seasoning, along with some fresh lettuce, tomatoes and onions…
6. Maximum Overdrive — Appliances Revolt!
Aside from toddlers, hardly anyone finds Maximum Overdrive scary. Stephen King himself dismisses it as a “moron movie,” and after directing it, decided to never sit in the director’s chair again. Nevertheless, it is a fun movie with some dark moments. The idea of one’s appliances turning on their owners is interesting, nutty, and pretty brutal. One of my favorite movie scenes from this one is the pop machine killing a Little League coach with flying cans. Check out Maximum Overdrive when your Estevez levels are dangerously low (and thanks for that line, Bob!).
What’s a possible greater implication of Maximum Overdrive? Perhaps that we’re too dependent on our machines. Indeed, from a certain, hyper-environmentalist/Ted Kaczynskian angle, technology dependence looks like a giant accident waiting to happen. It’s a smart implication and definitely on the bleak side. Thus, this “moron movie” actually provides some food for thought.
5. Surviving the Game — The Trophy Room
Though not a huge critical or financial success, action thriller Surviving the Game is nevertheless a memorable film about man hunting man, with decent performances from its cast — especially Ice T and Rutger Hauer. A key moment is when Ice T’s character, Mason, doubles back to the hunter’s cabin and breaks into a room looking for weapons. However, what he finds are not weapons but trophies — severed human heads from previous hunts of homeless men!
It should be kept in mind that this was before The Walking Dead‘s Governor ever appeared on TV. And, just like Michonne ultimately found the Governor’s head cases sick, Ice T decides to set fire to the cabin. Quite simply, this is another movie that most critics got wrong, and is definitely worth checking out for some man-hunting action and biting social commentary.
4. Tim Burton’s Batman — “Love That Joker!”
Tim Burton’s Batman is a pretty old movie, and some have forgotten just how big it was. Part of its success, of course, was due to Burton’s dark, twisted version of Batman, definitely not the jokey, Adam West-style Caped Crusader. Here, the Joker was homicidal, maybe even genocidal, and basically nuts. Still, he is the Joker, so his madness was infused with a certain degree of humor.
When the Joker laces a product he calls Smylex with a deadly poison, generating a public panic, it’s a pretty dark moment. It’s made all the darker by how he promotes the deadly line with his own style of advertising. When it comes to evil Joker depictions, let’s not forget one of the best, most downright evil versions. Love that Joker!
3. Last Action Hero — The “Test a Theory” Scene
Last Action Hero seems pretty far from a horror movie, right? Well, hold on a second! As far as I’m concerned, this action flick has some movie scenes which are pretty bleak and horrific. When the villain, Benedict (Charles Dance), enters the real world, he quickly comes to realize how different things are. In the action movie realm, Benedict was used to police arriving almost instantly after his crimes. However, when he steps off the screen and into reality, he finds things much different, and he likes it!
If anything, the world seems almost too violent for him. He sees hoodlums shoot someone, and one of them says, “Take his shoes!” Benedict repeats in disbelief: “Take his shoes?” When he realizes there are no screams or sirens, he approaches a random auto mechanic, saying, “Excuse me… I’m sorry to bother you. I wonder if you’d help me test a theory.” He then shoots him, just to see what will happen. He looks at his watch, shoots the body 2 more times, and then announces loudly, “Hello! I’ve just shot somebody, I did it on purpose!” Then, when he gets no reaction, he adds: “I said, I have murdered a man, and I want to confess!” The only response is someone yelling, “Hey, shut up down there!”
For Benedict, the real world is bad enough to become his playground. With that in mind, he plans to summon other film villains like Dracula and Freddy Krueger, proclaiming: “Here, in this world, the bad guys can win!” It’s a pretty harsh and serious note for such a silly movie, and borders on being profound.
2. They Live – “Consume”
John Carpenter’s They Live is described as a splendid blend of science fiction, action and horror, centered on the premise that society’s ruling class is, well, a bit different from us. Much is said about the line, “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass – and I’m all out of bubblegum.” Then, of course, there’s the famous fight scene between Roddy Piper and Keith David.
However, one of the best, albeit freakiest moments in They Live is when Piper first dons the magical sunglasses, seeing life as it really is. Behind all the advertisements and regular signage in the big city, signs that say “Obey,” “Consume,” “This is your God,” “Work,” “Buy” and “Watch television,” are to be seen. Of course, it’s ironic that They Live has appeared on TV, and was itself a commercially released film. Nevertheless, it’s still a pretty heavy-hitting and bleak sequence, and certainly memorable. It’s also an uncomfortably accurate description of how corporate/materialistic interests dominate people’s lives and minds, as an almost constant presence.
1. Hobo with a Shotgun — “Disco Inferno”
Considered a black comedy action exploitation film, Hobo with a Shotgun has one of the darkest movie scenes you could ever hope to see. Two sons of a crime lord hop onto a school bus, asking the kids questions like, “Do you kids like school?” and “What about ice cream?” They all shout, “Yeah!” However, when they say they like “hobos,” something bad happens…did I mention that they brought a flamethrower onto the school bus? Sometimes it’s easy to forget little details like that.
That’s it for this action movies list! Did we miss any good scary action scenes? Let us know in the comments!