8 Epic Movie Moments and the Music that Made Them Great

#4: 28 Weeks Later (2007)

Composer: John Murphy

Director: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo

“Don Abandons Alice” – I know my bias for John Murphy is glaringly obvious, but that doesn’t change my opinions. 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later are arguably my favorite zombie movies to date (though for zombie purists, I’ll concede that the afflicted here are technically diseased as opposed to undead), and here’s why: I’m goddamned terrified of this proactive brand of zombie. They have the same hunger pangs as their Max Brooks–canon brethren, but none of the lazy drawbacks. They don’t lurch, walk, or even jog to get their dinner. They break into a dead sprint the second they smell food (i.e., you).

Here’s a little context for the sense of terror in this scene: a group of survivors have boarded up an English farmhouse to isolate themselves from “the infected.” When a desperate young boy suddenly appears begging for help, he leads the flesh-eating horde right to their cobblestoned doorstep. In the ensuing madness, Don, a middle-aged Brit, makes the painful decision of abandoning his wife in favor of living longer:


Huh, there’s that slow build again. At 0:15, Don’s awful choice is minimally interrupted by the haunting repetition of the background score, underlining the damning finality of his actions. But Murphy’s not done, not by a long shot. There’s a valid justification behind Don’s apparent selfishness: he has teenaged offspring to take care of, and one dead parent is better than two. But in order for his wife’s (involuntary) sacrifice to make a difference, Don literally must hit the ground running (see 0:35).

It’s sure not all cupcakes and roses after Don glances back at his terrified wife for the last (?) time. At 0:57, the softer ostinatos are appropriately overtaken by the frenzied riffs of an electric guitar. First a handful of zombies are chasing him. Now a dozen. Now two dozen, and nothing physically embodies the term “one-track mind” than a herd of these mindless cannibals chasing down the latest candidate for Most Desperate Man in the Country.

“Oh shit,” indeed.

At this point, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn I sometimes put this song on repeat when I’m on the treadmill. If you have a more motivating soundtrack for cardiovascular activity, let me know.

#5: Inception (2010)

Composer: Hans Zimmer

Director: Christopher Nolan

“Last Scene” – OK, I know this was an obvious choice. But if you weren’t blown away by Nolan’s Inception, you know someone who was. And while it’s possible that his narrative was inspired by Scrooge McDuck, one can’t really argue against the genius behind Nolan’s execution.

If you’re into melodies that easily get stuck in your head, this musical score is for you. The plot to Inception is ridiculously complex; just know that this narractive revolves around characters who hack into people’s dreams to extract information. A lot is on the line for Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his assembled team as they perform their riskiest job to date: the nearly impossible act of “inception” (i.e., planting an idea into a person’s subconscious). As the convoluted story unfolds, they ultimately succeed in their mission, which culminates here:


Despite a variety of complications as Cobbs’ team traverses multiple “dreams within dreams,” they manage to plant a powerful subliminal message deep in the mind of an unconscious Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy) without killing themselves in the process. At 0:58, Hans Zimmer’s “Time” begins to play. It’s very quiet at first, allowing viewers to process the gravity of what Cobb has just accomplished (I know, it’s not easy). But here’s the thing: we get to do this right alongside Cobb as he awakens on the plane, his eyes betraying an initial astonishment. As he makes the appropriate connections in his head, the score gathers and dispatches momentum like the flow of an ocean tide. (I’m deliberately using this simile because oceans are vast, and the pure depth of this piece feels staggeringly epic.)

“Ah, sir, nice to—” HOOOOOOOOORN “—have you back.”

Cobb’s personal tribulations are nearly as complex as the movie itself (well duh, I guess—he’s the main protagonist), and the intentionally ambiguous ending was a real point of contention when the film released. But whether you believe Cobb made it out of limbo or not, I don’t think it really matters. According to Nolan, “The real point of the scene . . . is that Cobb isn’t looking at the top [i.e., his totem]. He’s looking at his kids. He’s left it behind. That’s the emotional significance of the thing.”

This is already some heady stuff, to be sure, and Inception has a lot of awesome scenes to choose from, but what really elevated the ending for me was how effectively Nolan’s message was conveyed in the film’s last 3 minutes. By 2:40, dialogue is no longer necessary (all those background horns do enough talking as it is), and when Cobb’s totem starts to waver, I finally let myself blink.

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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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