8 Epic Movie Moments and the Music that Made Them Great

by TJ Fink.

All right, I have a confession to make: one of my occasional hobbies is songwriting.

Think of me what you will, but I find the exercise extremely therapeutic. There are just a few caveats: I can’t play any musical instruments, I’ve never taken a class on musical theory, and I have the rhythm of a stoned baboon. Wasn’t born with that particular gene, I guess. Despite this lack of natural talent in the art form, however, it recently occurred to me that music is truly an essential part of my day-to-day; when I step out my apartment door and into the bustling metropolis, those earbuds are going in.

I’m also an aspiring cinephile. I could easily talk all day about the intricacies of my favorite movies—all night too if I take my prescriptions a bit late. What really gets me excited, however, is witnessing that perfect, beautiful storm between a movie and its respective musical score: that is, specific scenes that were already great, but achieved epicness thanks to directors and composers who exude more talent in their smallest knuckle hair than I have in…well, all of my knuckle hairs. I should mention that analogies aren’t really my thing either.

Now, I’m not just talking about movies with good soundtracks; lots of flicks have those. Drive? Pulp Fiction? The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou? Almost Famous? To quote a certain gangster from Home Alone 2, I could go on forever, baby.

No, I’m talking about those fleeting moments that send tingles down your spine and out to your fingertips. The ones that compel you to immediately Wikipedia the cast and crew when the credits roll. I’m talking about these moments.

(Oh, that reminds me. There are spoilers below. Big ones.)

#1 and #2: Sunshine (2007)

Composer: John Murphy

Director: Danny Boyle

“Capa’s Jump” – In the year 2057, we join Sunshine’s crew of Icarus II on a mission to launch a bomb—one mined from Earth’s last natural resources—into our dying sun. In short, these eight men and women are humanity’s “last, best hope” for avoiding extinction via ice planet. As articulated by Mace (Chris Evans), the ship’s engineer, there is “literally nothing more important than completing [their] mission.” This is a big deal, is what I’m getting at.

After a series of deadly mishaps along the way, our potential doom lies in the hands of Capa (Cillian Murphy), the resident physicist and only crew member left with a steady pulse. Despite all that stood in his way, Capa manages to manually activate his sun-bomb in the most fabulous kamikaze fashion imaginable. First, he detaches the bomb from the ship whilst both vehicles orbit the sun. Then…well, this happens:


The scene starts off with a slow build that echoes the weight of each breath, each movement, each decision Capa makes over the next 4 minutes. By 1:15, it sinks in for us—the audience. This is what he was born to do, and he knows it. Then at 1:20 we go back to the slow build, the rising crescendo that starts with a reminder of humanity’s fallibility (i.e., Capa’s fall) and ends with the most important leap for mankind in recorded history (i.e., hurtling ~100 feet between a spaceship and free-floating bomb). By the time Capa takes that jump—a 10-second window that determines the fate of an entire planet—the hairs on my forearms are on end. He’s going to do it. He’s going to goddamn do it, and the intensity of the entire situation is palpable. Enraptured, I’ll sometimes even join his silent scream.

In space, no one can hear you scream “I HAVE TO PEEEEEEEE!!!”

At 3:32, the tension lifts, though of course we know it’s only temporary (he’s still got to manually activate the bomb from the inside, silly!). Speaking of which…

“Capa Meets the Sun” – Bombs don’t set themselves off, and sun-igniting bombs are no exception. Once Capa finally makes it to the manual controls, he only has a matter of seconds to accomplish what I can’t emphasize enough to be the most important thing a human being has ever done in this tangent universe.


Yet while our redemption and continued existence costs Capa his life (as it did the rest of the ill-fated crew), he accepted the inevitability of his death long ago. He hadn’t necessarily expected to witness the sum of his species’ accomplishments: a literal explosion that may or may not save our only home. But he sure had imagined it, and that beautifully homogeneous chain reaction—a reaction born of pure science—gave him peace. As sparks “pop into existence” precisely as he’d described (in the second act?), the instrumental score echoes the same question I scream inside my head between 0:40 and 1:07: “But will it work??” Then, as in the scene above, the tension instantly dissipates as Capa’s answer to extinction defiantly meets the ancient glory of ionized elements on a battlefield he alone is privy to. But the difference here is in the tension’s replacement at 1:08: a peaceful air of grateful resignation and childlike wonder.

But seriously, this movie has much more to offer than a stoned-looking Cillan Murphy.

Capa not only accepts his fate, but he embraces it, welcomes it—he literally reaches out to take it. I’ve watched this visual summation of personal and collective triumph at least 20 times just to research how I personally feel about it, and I’m captivated every time.

Bonus scene!

After Mace and Capa get in a brief scuffle, the ship’s psychological officer prescribes two hours of Earth simulation time to Mace (the instigator). I can’t find an embed, but do yourself a favor and check out the 11-minute mark on the DVD; the waves make me feel peaceful, too.

#3: Antichrist (2009)

Composer: George Frederic Handel

Director: Lars von Trier

“Prologue” – You don’t need any context here; if you haven’t seen this scene yet, watch it now. I’ll wait. (NSFW)


If you’re looking for a more pristine juxtaposition between latent beauty and abject pain, I can assure you I don’t have a backup recommendation. In fact, I’m literally sitting here at a loss for describing the visceral reaction I have each time I watch this movie. A brief summary, that’s where I can start. OK.

This scene, which sets the pace for the subsequent plot, depicts a young boy accidentally falling out an open window whilst his oblivious parents (William Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) passionately make love in the background. Yes, despite the explicit nature of 0:50 (those are porn actors, by the by), this married couple was not having sex—they were making love. There is a huge difference between these two things.

In general, the scene speaks for itself. Handel’s “Lascia ch’io pianga” is a beautiful song, and it effortlessly highlights the passion between He and She. The slow-motion shots (1,000 frames per second, Wikipedia says) are breathtaking, and the performance bleeds authenticity.

. . . Because f*ck bottled water, that’s why.

As toddler Nick falls to his death, my inner monologue goes something like this:

“Whoa, this is super depressing. That kid is doomed.”

“True, but isn’t there also beauty in death? Isn’t there a grisly poetry that von Trier encapsulates in these suspended moments?”

“But dude, can you imagine the crippling regret his parents are about to experience? Obviously this is a preventable tragedy that will haunt them for the rest of their lives!”

“You were an English major. Since when are you not into irony?”

“Hmm, valid point.”

“Now shut up and appreciate those slow-motion water droplets.”


Did I mention von Trier was recovering from depression while making this movie? Well, to quote the late Calvin, nothing helps a bad mood like spreading it around.

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  1. Personaly i miss scene from How to train your dragon, when Hiccup brought fish for Toothless and then they started draw themselves to the ground. But either way, great article, love it.

  2. Thanks! Great to see an article about how music can be such a crucial element of a story. The work that John Murphy/Underworld did on Danny Boyle’s 28 X Later films and Sunshine remain some of my favorite to date.

    Check out Clint Mansell’s earlier work with Aronofsky on “Pi”. Great stuff there, too.

    And if you like the work of Murphy on Sunshine, take a look at this:


    Makes great use of the music.

  3. Great list.
    Just to add one of my personal favorites. While the whole Last of the Mohicans soundtrack is AMAZING! One of the best scenes, directing, and musical scores to come together was the final scene where the last 2 Mohicans chase down the rival tribe on the mountain. The musical score is “promentory” by Trevor Jones. Nothing is spoken, but I’ve never felt more emotion than watching that scene.

  4. “This video contains content from Studio Canal, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds ”

    Ok, that does it. I only wanted to listen to the song. Now I’m downloading the movie! And ten more! Take that! Suckers!!

  5. Good choices, haven’t seen Sunshine since it first came out; have to give it another look. For me though you should have included the first song from the credits in The Prestige (Analyse-by Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke). The scene in Collateral where the coyotes walk in front of Max’s cab http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9qG52s3s2s
    Another great use of music in a Michael Mann film is in Heat at the end of the film (God Moving Over the Face of the Water-Moby)
    This one is a bit older, from a movie that by no means stands the test of time but still a great song and scene (White Discussion-Live) from Virtuosity (Denzel and Russell Crowe, theres no scene but heres the song anyway
    Most recently though the best song I’ve heard in a film is by the National-About Today
    A very underrated movie in my opinion, I read your review, I think you should give it another look.

  6. The only movie on this list I’ve seen is ‘Love Actually’, but when I saw the article’s title, I immediately thought ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. Specifically, the super-long introduction to Omar Sharif’s character, riding his horse across a flat desert plane.

    Also mentioned should be the opening sequence of ‘Absolute Beginners’, showing the raucous goings-on of a London neighborhood at night, set perfectly to its’ music.

  7. when i read the title of the article, I thought of several of the ones you discussed… (1) lux aeterna, especially at the moment when they show Sarah come out into the hospital waiting room to the horror of her friends. (2) both Sunshine scenes/tracks that you discussed, but I’d also throw in the “Kanada’s death” scene/track and (3) the 28 Days/Weeks Later scene/track. RE the 28 Days/Weeks, I prefer the usage of the track in 28 Days (In the House – In a Heartbeat), but it was great for both scenes.

    Basically when John Murphy teams up with Danny Boyle, it’s fantastic… And same goes for Clint Mansell with Darren Aronofsky (plus Mansell with Duncan Jones for Moon).

    You mentioned Life Aquatic which came to mind immediately, too. Specifically, the submarine scene when they see the Jaguar Shark and the Sigur Ros “Staralfur” song plays over it.

    Needless to say, I like your selections. A few others you didn’t mention that also come to mind…

    I also loved the use of the Underworld “Born Slippy” track at the end of Trainspotting for the betrayal scene. The Trainspotting soundtrack overall was perfectly fitting for the film throughout though.

    The scene in The Thin Red Line when the US soldiers are plodding through foggy woods and uncover and attack a japanese encampment where all sounds slowly fade out to just the haunting Hans Zimmer track is brilliant.

    The final boxing match scene in Snatch between Mickey and Brick Top’s guy with the Oasis track “Fu**in in the Bushes” blaring over it is seared into my brain too.

  8. thought of a couple others that for some reason i feel compelled to share as well.

    From Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, the scene where they travel to the future and meet the council and find out that they’re destined to save the world. Robbi Robb’s “In Time” fits this scene extremely well for some reason.

    From Oldboy, the opening scene from intro credits where the track starts slowly then cuts to a jolting fast-paced piece as Oh Dae Su mysteriously holds a guy up over the edge of the building by his tie.

  9. I can get with all these – or at least all that I’ve seen.

    If I may submit my own list, this is off the top of my head and in no particular order:

    – Any scene in Glory where the main theme plays.
    – Last Scene from The Fountain
    – Grand Prix finale from Speed Racer
    – That scene with the creepy lady in the hospital (been a while) from The Omen
    – Count to Three from X-Men: First Class
    – Opening titles from Titus (Good grief. Really, please watch this if you haven’t yet. The movie is absolutely bonkers and the opening scene is one of the best parts of it.)
    – Duel of the Fates from The Phantom Menace
    – Gabriel climbs the waterfall from The Mission

    Bonus: Young Flynn enters the grid from Tron Legacy

  10. I couldn’t agree more with Sunshine. Both Capa’s Jump and the end scene when they play back his voice message…I can watch either of those scenes by themselves anytime and still get chills.

    Music is awesome.

  11. Cannot endorse the ending montage of Donnie Darko enough.

    That was the first time i was literally left breathless through the end of a credits sequence. Patrick Swayze is a living superlative in this movie.

    Bonus: Sympathy for the Devil in Apocalypse Now. It just fits. So perfectly.

  12. The scene and track from 28 weeks later is absolutely spot on.

    Regarding Inception and the music I would say the scene in Mombasa and the track used for it has the most impact, for me personaly.

  13. Lots of awesome scenes mentioned here that I can totally get on board with! Compiling this list was tricky (particularly because my choices are somewhat subjective), but the title easily could have read “30 Epic Movie Moments” instead of 8.

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