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Top 10 Running Out of Oxygen Movie Scenes

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script Written by Kurt Hvorp. Sometimes movies leave us breathless – and sometimes it's the characters who have a hard time breathing. Join WatchMojo.com as we count down our picks for the top 10 running out of oxygen scenes in movies. For this list, we’re looking at the scenes in cinema where people’s lives are on the line, the air is thin, and the stakes are as high as they get. Just so you know, a SPOILER ALERT is probably in order. Special thanks to our user PlungedUncle for submitting the idea on our Suggestion Tool at WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Top 10 Running Out of Oxygen Movie Scenes


Sometimes movies leave us breathless – and sometimes it's the characters who have a hard time breathing. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 running out of oxygen scenes in movies.

For this list, we’re looking at the scenes in cinema where people’s lives are on the line, the air is thin, and the stakes are as high as they get. Beyond the standard one-scene-per-movie limit, we’re leaving the list open to all potential entries – as long as the scenes in question contain someone losing oxygen and struggling to survive. Just so you know, a SPOILER ALERT is probably in order.

#10: Buddy Breathing
“Sanctum” (2011)

Sometimes the bond of friendship just isn’t enough. At least, that seems to be the case here. During a diving excursion, Frank notices fellow diver Judes’ tank seems a little off – and then the oxygen hose comes loose. The two scramble to act as Judes begins suffocating, even going as far as sharing a breathing mask. However, in her panicked state Judes starts hogging the mask, and Frank needs to make a tough decision to ensure they don’t both die down there. Of course, with his team watching on a monitor, he’ll have some difficult questions to answer later.

#9: One Final Gambit
“Event Horizon” (1997)

When in doubt, resort to extreme measures. It’s probably this line of thinking that drives Cooper, a crew member on the Lewis and Clark vessel, when he is left floating in space after his ship’s destruction. Clinging to one part of the ruined craft, terrified, and with limited oxygen in his space suit remaining, Cooper makes the decision to re-route his oxygen and use it as propulsion to get back to the titular ship, Event Horizon. It’s a dangerous manoeuvre but we respect him for making it.

#8: A Friendly Chat
“Gravity” (2013)

Though Kowalski’s eventual “return” is just as powerful a moment, there’s a sort of beauty in this oxygen-deprived conversation between colleagues. Kowalski and Stone, played by George Clooney and Sandra Bullock respectively, float through space after a disastrous series of events. As their oxygen supply dwindles, Kowalski tries to keep things light – asking Stone about home, habits, and her loved ones. What follows is a heartfelt confession from Stone, whose soul-bearing monologue is both moving and a sign that things won’t get any easier from here.

#7: Houston, We Have A Problem
“Apollo 13” (1995)

Based on a true story, “Apollo 13” chronicles the efforts of three astronauts placed into an unenviable situation. Immediately after a public broadcast three days into their mission to land on the moon, Mission Control asks Apollo’s crew to go over their spacecraft’s functions and test everything, per standard procedure. And since this is unlucky Apollo 13 we’re talking about, why wouldn’t a technical malfunction occur? One of the two oxygen tanks explodes, inspiring fear in everyone present: the astronauts, their mission support team, and the audience. However, we do get an iconic line out of the ordeal.

#6: Brutal Decompression
“Total Recall” (1990)

Simple, but fitting. Late in the events of this Schwarzenegger classic, the villainous governor Cohaagen gets thrown out of an airlock and onto the surface of Mars. Thus, we are privy to a villain’s brutal demise, as he quickly succumbs to the lack of breathable air. While the scene is rather short, the cartoon-like way in which Cohaagen’s face puffs up is certainly memorable, if not entirely pleasant to watch considering his evil deeds.

#5: Breaking Out
“Angels & Demons” (2009)

How much do you suppose Robert Langdon wants to retire after this? Midway through an investigation into the theft of anti-matter, the iconic Tom Hanks character and a Vatican guard find themselves trapped inside the Vatican Archives. With their air supply cut off and the Archives surrounded by bulletproof glass walls, you can see the desperation increase as their consciousness fades, even as Langdon makes a game effort of trying to escape. Hang in there, professor.

#4: Poole’s Space Walk
“2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968)

The pod bay doors won’t be opening this time. Poor Frank Poole – this astronaut couldn’t have known that by going on a space walk, he was exposing himself to a cutting blow by an AI-controlled pod. His friend, Dave Bowman, has to watch as Poole is separated from his oxygen line and sent spiralling through space. The worst part is this: even as Dave sees Poole grasping for air, the shipboard artificial intelligence HAL 9000 refuses to allow Dave to intervene – after all, HAL was the one who killed Frank.

#3: Gallagher’s Discovery
“Red Planet” (2000)

This one was a close call. Some time after touching down on the red planet, the crew of the Mars-1 ship finds themselves running short of breathable air. The remaining astronauts all assemble and prepare for their demise. It’s actually fairly depressing, watching as three trained space explorers slowly accept their impending doom. Gallagher starts to succumb to suffocation first and removes his helmet... only to breathe in that sweet, sweet Martian air. That’s quite the convenience, but we expect he’s not complaining.

#2: Noble Sacrifice
“The Abyss” (1989)

Heroism isn’t dead, but did it really have to come at this cost? In James Cameron’s 1989 film “The Abyss,” estranged couple Vergil and Lindsey Brigman find themselves knee-deep in a slowly flooding submarine. The situation only gets worse as Lindsey does the mental math and realizes there’s no feasible way to save them both without sacrifice. Lindsey’s choice to drown in the hope that she can be revived later while Vergil takes the remaining diving suit and swims for help is certainly brave, but that makes it no less tragic to watch unfold.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- The End
“Buried” (2010)
- Star-Lord Saves Gamora
“Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014)
- Close-Quarters Battle
“Innerspace” (1987)
- Narrow Rescue
“Galaxy Quest” (1999)
- No Engine, No Extra Oxygen
“Marooned” (1969)

#1: Dr. Mann vs. Cooper
“Interstellar” (2014)

Two men grapple; only one man leaves. That’s the setup for this scene in “Interstellar,” a rolling fight between Matt Damon’s Dr. Hugh Mann and Matthew McConaughey’s noble engineer Joseph ‘Coop’ Cooper, both of whom want to prevent the other from leaving the icy planet they’re on. Mann prevails in the fight, though, as he fractures Cooper’s helmet just enough to leave his former comrade suffocating. As Coop struggles with his apparent final breaths, we get a dose of introspection from Mann – who establishes himself less as a villain, and more as a flawed individual. The scene’s not bold or bombastic, but it gets the job done enough for a number one spot on our list.

Do you agree with our list? What oxygen-deprived scenes do you enjoy? For more breathtaking Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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