In continuing to explore my friend’s own personal genre of Men of Honor Blowing Stuff Up, this week we look at … Stuff Blowing Up. Explosions are such a staple of movies that they are basically a subgenre of tropes. And the reason for their rampant use isn’t nearly so deep or complicated; explosions are cool and people, especially men, like them. They’re an awesome way to anchor an action set piece and they look great visually. Should you put explosions in your movie? Unless you’re working on a Jane Austen adaptation the answer is yes! And even then you should at least consider it. (I think I just invented my own genre.)
One of the most common types of explosions is the Unflinching Walk. You already know what I’m talking about, don’t you? That’s because it’s the most badass. There’s a huge explosion and the Hero or the Big Bad casually saunters off while fireballs blossom behind him, completely ignoring the shrapnel, heat, and air percussions, cause he’s just that tough. Examples include Iron Man, The Punisher, The Transporter, several James Bond movies, and Desperado. Burn Notice loves this trope and it’s been parodied on Futurama and The Simpsons. A related trope is Out of the Inferno, where a character emerges from the fireball relatively unharmed because Convection Schmonvection. This happens in The Terminator and The Right Stuff.
On the flipside of the Unflinching Walk is Outrun The Fireball. This trope is usually in Slow Motion and may be accompanied by a Big No. This is a great way to give the audience a momentary scare thinking the Hero or his Entourage may have been killed. You can see Outrun The Fireball in Independence Day, Return of the Jedi, Chain Reaction, Die Hard, Watchmen, and even Shrek. There are some fun inversions of this trope in Hot Fuzz and the Doctor Who episode The Sontaran Strategy. In both of these, the Hero et al run and dive from a potential explosion only to be disappointed. The Doctor even comments, “Is that it?”
There are so many other explosion tropes out there like the Gas Leak Coverup or Every Car Is A Pinto. I highly recommend the checking out the Stuff Blowing Up page on TVTropes.org. You could waste a lot of valuable time over there.
You can also waste some time checking out this Top 10 Greatest Explosions video. From the list in the video I’d have to say The Matrix is my favorite. I also have to point out that the late, great Heath Ledger totally saved the scene from The Dark Knight. When you are shooting a live explosion in a building you pretty much have just one chance to get your shot. There was a detonation malfunction and the explosions stopped. Ledger stayed in character, turned around, fiddled with the remote. His startled reaction is real but he just kept going as the Joker and saved the production the expense and effort of finding another building to blow up.