Welcome to Part Two of “Iconic Sci-Fi Action Moments.” I have thought long and hard about which scenes I’d use to finalize this list, and have come up with five awesome moments I hope you’ll all appreciate. Once again, I’d like to dedicate this article to action dazzler Snowpiercer, a film that’s in limited release this weekend and deserves your money much more than Michael Bay does. Without further ado, behold some of the most memorable action sequences science fiction filmmakers has ever given us!
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, “The Battle of Hoth”
I have to credit one of our readers for this inclusion, an oversight in my last article that I humbly apologize for. What makes “The Battle of Hoth” so iconic is that the battle set the tone for the remainder of the film. The Rebel Alliance had already secluded itself to a harsh, uninviting snow planet whose native Wampas feasted on all forms of sentient life, Jedi being their favorite meal. But to add insult to injury, some pesky probe droid spotted the Rebels’ headquarters and signaled to Imperial command that the time to strike was now. The strike included these monolithic, elephant-shaped armored transport/attack vehicles known as AT-ATs that made mincemeat of any scrappy Rebel fighter squadron that stood in their path. Brutally outnumbered and led by the relentless Darth Vader – who would stop at nothing to capture Force-sensitive Luke Skywalker – the Rebels were forced into an embarrassing retreat. Rebel Alliance: 1, Empire: 1. Although it was an official draw between the two opposing forces by the end of the “Battle of Hoth,” the Empire had the advantage since the Rebels were on the run, and their dominance never waned throughout this magnificent sequel. Thanks to the “Battle of Hoth,” we were finally allowed to witness the awesome might of the Imperial Navy. Take that, Rebel scum!
Gravity, “Ryan Stone’s suitless escape from the ISS”
There’s a number of harrowing action moments in Alfonso Cuaron’s groundbreaking Gravity, but the one that stands out most to yours truly is Ryan Stone’s escape from the seemingly safe International Space Station. After losing her knight in shining armor (thank god!), Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) finds herself alone yet able to breathe for the first time in over twenty minutes of non-stop terror. From the beautiful fetal position to the heart-pounding, “will-she-make-it?!” conclusion, this stunning sequence will be treasured in my memory banks till the day I die. Ryan Stone is at her most vulnerable but doesn’t fall into a pool of tears when the station suddenly starts the countdown to self-implosion. Suitless and without any knowledge of the ISS’s structural layout, Ryan somehow improvises at every turn, making damn sure she is going to stay alive even if it means having severe burns in the process. The camerawork by Emmanuel Lubezki is incomparable to anything I’ve seen – it immerses the viewer by closely following Ryan as she maneuvers through the ISS, where destruction is occurring all around her but the only thing we care about is Ryan’s careful yet speedy navigation to an escape pod and out of harm’s way. Thrilling from start to finish, this is the type of action sequence where visual coherence combined with an extraordinary lead performance makes all the difference.
Aliens, “Ripley vs. the Xenomorph Queen”
Yes, the immensely satisfying showdown features the equally satisfying “Get away from her, you bitch!” line, but the sequence is much more than a canvas for killer one-liners. No longer caught unawares in her underwear, Ripley is ready to face her worst nightmare with a sleekly designed mechanical exosuit that’s used to load cargo. Ripley literally puts the petal to the metal with each brutal punch she swings at the Xenomorph Queen. This is 80’s action cheese at its most enticing – we don’t care how silly the fight looks but simply revel in its epic splendor. Sigourney Weaver is actually more frightening than any Xenomorph in existence, and even though it’s disappointing the annoying Newt survives at the end (she’s the original Jar Jar Binks), you can’t help but applaud this rare instance of a female human kicking ass at the movies without trying to look sexy for the male-skewed audience. Say what you will about James Cameron, but he sure does give room for female empowerment to flourish.
Looper, “Showdown at the Cane Fields”
Like Gravity, there’s a plethora of action moments from Rian Johnson’s Looper I could pull from for this article. I’ve decided to pick the one with the most emotional resonance: the infamous cane field sequence. There’s nothing too complex about the action featured in this scene, though Cid’s telekinetic blasts further emphasize the power he can wield when he’s in a state of intense fury. Sara (Emily Blunt) stares death in the face when she calms down her son and then subsequently stands in front of him before Old Joe (Bruce Willis) can deliver the ultimate assassination blow. Heroically preserving the beautiful bond between mother and son, Young Joe (Joseph Gordon Levitt) turns his shotgun on himself, thus ensuring Cid won’t become The Rainmaker so long as he and his mother are free from the violence that consumes their life. Because there was nobody in the theater when I witnessed such an inspiring moment, I stood up and clapped after it was over, in awe of what I had just seen and totally blown away by the level of storytelling. Someone like Johnson, who can make action a critical component of the writing process, is a person worth praising tenfold.
District 9, “Wikus in his Mechanized Battle Suit”
Few action moments have ever been as elating as when District 9 protagonist Wikus (Sharlto Copley) dons the Prawns’ alien mechanized battle suit and goes to violent town on both Obesandjo and his gangsters and the morally bankrupt South African military. I saw the movie at the midnight screening the day it came out, and I cannot even begin to describe how loud the theater got when Wikus in mech uniform came out. What followed were rapturous, joyous cheers that never subsided till after the credits rolled. In that hectic, action-heavy moment, Neill Blomkamp was some kind of deity. Here was a director who came out of nowhere and commanded an audience’s attention like no science fiction director had in the past twenty years. We were transfixed, we were moved, and we were blissfully entertained at the cinema. Rooting for sympathetic aliens to defeat deplorable humans hasn’t felt as good since.
Thanks for reading and please share more great action sci-fi moments in our comments section below!