Top 10 Most Tense Movie Scenes Without Music

Written by Akil Goin This film scenes were dripping with tension, and while this is usually be achieved with a great score, these movies had us on the edge of our seat using silence! WatchMojo presents the Top 10 Most Tense Scenes That Don't Have Any Music! But what will take the top spot on our list? Will it be Batman's showdown with Bane in "The Dark Knight Rises", The Motel Showdown from "No Country for Old Men", or the chestburster scene from "Alien"? Watch to find out! Watch on WatchMojo: WatchMojo.com Big thanks to MikeMJPMUNCH2 for suggesting this idea, and to help suggest what video we should make next, check out our suggest page here: WatchMojo.comsuggest/
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Silence is golden. Welcome to WatchMojo.com and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 Most Tense Movie Scenes Without Music.

For this list, we’re looking at big screen scenes with edge of your seat suspense that neither need nor use music to elicit a strong emotional response. Oh, btw, a SPOILER ALERT is probably a good idea.

#10: Phone Call from a Dead Man
“The Departed” (2006)

Undercover cop Billy Costigan’s phone rings – but the weird thing is: the only guy who has that number is his special unit police chief, and Billy just saw him being thrown off a building with his own two eyes. With the ring of the telephone ominously soundtracking the scene, you can see the curiosity and confusion in Billy’s eyes, as he quietly calculates the potential repercussions of answering the ghost call. When he finally decides to pick up, neither Billy nor his nemesis, Colin Sullivan, makes a sound – but neither words nor music is necessary.

#9: Adrenaline Shot
“Pulp Fiction” (1994)

What better way to make your viewers’ hearts race than with a literal shot of adrenaline? Just as it did during Brett’s torture by Jules and Vincent, the tension in this scene comes from whether or not a character will survive. Vince has his boss’ wife Mia under his care, and when she accidentally ODs on his heroin while he’s on a bathroom break, the situation needs no audio score to demonstrate that things are dire. Quentin Tarantino’s great at the slow burn, and – with the zooms, close-ups and countdown amplifying the stress – this music-free resuscitation scene is a great example of why.

#8: The Tavern
“Inglourious Basterds” (2009)

Tarantino’s at it again, this time with a dialogue that slowly goes from friendly to frightening. German double agent and movie star Bridget von Hammersmark is helping the Basterds orchestrate their latest coup in a tavern that’s unfortunately packed to the brim with Nazis – and they happen to have a particularly good ear for accents. The confrontation between the good guys and the Gestapo officer is masked in formality, with the two sides playing figurative and literal head games with each other until the Basterds’ cover is finally blown. With music and background noise conspicuously absent, things finally come to a head, and we’re left holding our breath until the gunpowder settles.

#7: How Am I Funny?
“GoodFellas” (1990)

In a crowded restaurant with low light, no ambient music, and no noise but the din of the crowd and an enthused gangster talking about intimidating his foes, one must tread lightly. But the unpredictable Tommy DeVito’s temper is tested when his mob associate and friend Henry Hill pays him an offhanded compliment. It all escalates insanely quickly; with the tension thickening so palpably you could slice it with a knife – mostly thanks to the awkward silence. With a soundtrack, this scene would’ve been pretty average; but without one, it’s music to our ears.

#6: Found Footage
“The Blair Witch Project” (1999)

The film that popularized the found footage style for 21st century horror was almost completely devoid of a musical score. After all, no tunes are necessary to evoke a frightening atmosphere when a camera crew is trespassing in a creepy witch’s house. Mike and Heather are in pursuit of their missing friend Josh, whose body parts and clothes they’ve already discovered. As if that’s not eerie enough, they don’t know if the ghastly cries they’re hearing are real or a fabrication of the mysterious Blair Witch. This is a showdown with an unseen antagonist, and no amount of spooky music can give you goose bumps like the great unknown.

#5: Russian Roulette
“The Deer Hunter” (1978)

A group of American soldiers is captured by their Vietnamese foes, and psychological torture is the name of the game. Yelling, crying, slapping: these are the only sounds needed to help you feel the characters’ utter helplessness as they’re forced to engage in a game of Russian roulette against each other. Of course, in this game, there are two players and three bullets. With the deafening background silence heightening the tension, the game ultimately ends with laughter and a bullet – actually, several bullets, all aimed at the Viet Cong. Thanks to the language barrier and lack of music, this scene’s highlight is truly the actors’ ability to communicate their fear with few words.

#4: Cable Drop
“Mission: Impossible” (1996)

Your nerves are bound to be frayed when the loudest things in a scene are the sounds of files transferring, ropes creaking and a rat crawling. IMF agent Ethan Hunt is in the middle of an elaborate computer hack in a room equipped with sound, temperature and pressure sensors. That’s why silence is paramount, because even a cough could set off the alarms. Oh, did we mention that room is found inside CIA headquarters? You’ll find yourself struggling to keep as deadly silent as the movie, while the precariously dangling Hunt tries to keep his sweat in check. The silence holds until Hunt’s comrade makes one near-fatal mistake, almost giving them away. Almost.

#3: Breaking the Bat
“The Dark Knight Rises” (2012)

Music always plays a huge part in superhero movies when the good guys win, but what about when they’re at their most vulnerable? In “The Dark Knight Rises,” when Bane and the Bat fight it out, there are no cheers, there’s no backup and there are no heroic symphonies to be heard; just running water and hit after hit taking down the Caped Crusader. Bane basically performs a monologue filled with nefarious taunts and plans to destroy Gotham, while completely exposing Batman’s weaknesses. By the time Bane has definitively broken the Bat, the music has begun to swell – but we’re too shocked to even notice. Guess they save the rousing musical scores for the victories…

#2: Chestburster
“Alien” (1979)

Some friendly conversation over dinner takes an unexpected turn when a member of the Nostromo spacecraft crew has some severe gastrointestinal pain. While he writhes in agony, the team reacts in terror – and the next thing you know, Kane is on his back, and the sounds of screams are all you can hear… until the alien bursts forth and utters its first squeals. This is an action scene of course, but music would only detract, as the quietness lets us revel in the tension. As the movie’s tagline goes, “in space, no one can hear you scream”; guess that means don’t hold your breath for any encouraging orchestral pieces, either.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- Attacked in the Attic
“The Birds” (1963)

- Bond & Torture
“Casino Royale” (2006)

- I Drink Your Milkshake!
“There Will Be Blood” (2007)

#1: Motel Showdown
“No Country for Old Men” (2007)

The gas station attendant’s life-or-death coin-toss is a master class in music-free suspense. But the real MVP of this thriller is the motel showdown, which is an intense experience with minimal sound – and no music. Anton Chigurh is hunting Llewelyn Moss and a bundle of cash – and Moss is ready. Waiting under the cover of darkness with his gun cocked and his reflexes at the ready, a noise breaks the silence and from then on, every carefully curated sound – from shattered glass to the scrambling footsteps to the heavy breaths – provides us with grittily realistic detail, without a single note ever being played. And even when the blood starts to spill, it’s still not over.
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