Top 10 Tense Movie Moments

On screen action and violence may get your pulse pounding, but the real nail biter is tension! This build up of suspense and anticipation makes every scene that much more captivating and overwhelming. These range from such things as a bus that cannot drop below a certain speed without blowing up, a character who loses it at a moments notice and characters hiding for their lives. Just to be clear, by tension, we mean scenes that are underscored with a feeling of nervousness that leave the viewer unable to relax. Join WatchMojo.com as we count down the top 10 tense movie moments.
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Top 10 Tense Movie Moments


You there, stop biting your nails! Welcome to WatchMojo.com and today we’ll be counting down the top 10 tense movie moments.
Just to be clear, by tension, we mean scenes that are underscored with a feeling of nervousness that leave the viewer unable to relax.

#10: Speed Limit “Speed” (1994)


Kicking off our list is action thriller that had us holding on to our seats. When a speed-activated bomb is tripped on a city bus, Keanu Reeves and the riders are at the mercy of Sandra Bullock’s driving skills. Unable to drop below 50 mph, they’re forced to do whatever it takes to keep the dial from dropping. This includes a hair-raising scene in which they travel against traffic.

#9- The Kitchen “Jurassic Park” (1993)


From the street to the kitchen. Here, the pairing of defenseless children and murderous Veloco-raptors in a giant kitchen makes for palpable tension. With the Raptor’s smart enough to open doors, smell out prey and work together, nature’s fiercest hunters play the ultimate game of cat and mouse. Hey, if these things are so smart, why don’t think give up on the kids and go for the fridge instead?

#8: The Prank “Carrie” (1976)


This iconic scene is all build up! First, the poor girl actually gets to be named Prom Queen. Then we see her one shred of happiness unraveling with a prank involving a bucket of Pig’s blood primed in lip smacking slow motion. Even worse, after it falls, the music then cuts out, and Carrie’s humiliation and rage boils over in split screen. Talk about playing with fire!

#7: Stowaway “Alien” (1979)


With an alien onboard with two sets of smiles, every dark corridor scene is pulse-pounding platter of paranoia and fear. However, what really takes the cake is the scene that follows Ripley’s run to the escape craft after priming the auto destruct. After stripping down to her undergarments we discover that those pipes in the corner that sorta look like an alien actually IS the alien. Try not to have a heart attack as Ripley nervously plays her last card.

#6: Night Vision “Silence of the Lambs” (1991)


Despite being a film loaded with uncomfortable scenes and abject terror, nothing could prepare us for this. At the film’s climax, with the life of a kidnap victim surely on the line, Clarice foolishly decides to go in alone and confront Buffalo Bill on his home turf. Already nerve racking enough, she’s soon gets stalked around a pitch black basement while we watch from the killer’s point of view night vision and all.

#5: Captive “Misery” (1990)


In this Steven King inspired classic, it’s all about the psychological scares with a total whackadoodle. Here, James Caan, the imprisoned and injured captive decides to take advantage of what little time he has to break out of his room and investigate. This entire pulse-pounding scene relies entirely on the anticipation of Annie’s return, which we as the audience get to witness, but are unable to do
anything about.

#4: Interrogation “Inglorious Basterds” (2009)


Leave it to Quentin Tarantino to make us nervous with friendliness. Here, an infamous Nazi Jew Hunter interrogates a man who just so happens to have Jews hiding beneath the floor boards. Holding our breath alongside the terrified souls underneath the floor, we were left gasping as he pretends to be leaving peacefully, only to call in a firing squad and then personally take aim at a sole survivor.

#3- Shark Attack “Jaws” (1975)


What list about tense movie moments would be complete without this classic? For this shark scene that needs no introduction, fancy effects weren’t needed, just children swimming, an underwater point of view and a now iconic theme. You know this scene still crosses your mind every time you can’t see the bottom where you’re swimming. Thanks a lot Spielberg.

#2: Coin Flip “No Country for Old Men” (2007)


If you enjoyed the smarmy passive aggressive tension from entry #4, you’ll probably agree that this scene goes a step further. It’s all thanks to Javier Bardem’s Oscar winning performance as a terrifying and unbalanced hit man. When he is inadvertently ticket off by a friendly small town gas station attendant, their conversation quickly takes a dark turn. As it becomes clear that old bowl cut isn’t just making Smalltalk, we’re left gulping hard for the frightened old man who’s offered one chance to survive.

With so many tense movie moments to pick from, we had to draw the line somewhere. Here are some of the honourable mentions.

#1: What Do You Mean I’m Funny “Goodfellas” (1990)


Taking the top spot on our list is a scene that makes the last one seem almost bearable. Here, Joe Pesci plays a wildly unpredictable mafia goon telling his pals a raunchy joke. When he’s told that he’s funny, something snaps and Ray Liotta is left fearing for his life. As simple as the scene is, we’ve all had misunderstandings escalate, especially when everyone’s had a few drinks. By this point in the film the viewers already know how vicious Pesci’s character can be, so all that anyone is left wonder is whether or not he’ll pop.

Agree with our list? Which movie scene do you think is the most intense to watch? For more nerve-racking top 10s published every day, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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