(This article is part of our Best of the Decade series.)
Fear is a complex emotion, and filmmakers use a variety of tricks to induce it. There are many ways to scare audiences, from bogeymen jumping out while violins screech to slow, gut-churning dolly shots leading up to horrific visuals. Fear can be a creeping sense of dread, a shock to the heart, or a terrifying realization. Ranking the scariest movie scenes of the decade meant paying homage to the myriad ways fear presents itself, whether in screams or silent despair.
Each of the scenes on this list stuck with me in some way long after the movie was over. They sank their claws into my brain and won’t let go, earning them each a place among the scariest movie moments of the decade. Some of these scenes are from later in these films, so this is your spoiler warning for each movie listed.
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(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: Midsommar is one of the most cathartic movies ever made.)
Cinema has always had a way of making the real world make more sense to me. Throughout the years, I’ve identified with the heroines of rape-revenge cinema and the women of Tarantino films. When reality prevents me from getting closure, I can sometimes find it in film. However, I didn’t expect to find catharsis in Ari Aster’s Midsommar, especially given how traumatic Hereditary was. I expected to leave the theater feeling disgusted and raw, but I left elated. By experiencing my own trauma again through the beautiful and twisted lens of Dani’s story, my years-old wounds were scrubbed clean. I left feeling as if I had just been through two and a half hours of intense therapy.
Midsommar is a challenging film. It’s heavy – full of grief, death, pain, and genuine horror. There are moments of levity scattered throughout as the movie riffs on its own absurdity, but it isn’t an easy experience. Aster has said in interviews that the movie is protagonist Dani’s fairy tale, and in a way, it felt like my fairy tale. I identified with Dani (Florence Pugh) in several ways, and our shared name didn’t hurt. Like Dani, I have an anxiety disorder. I have a terrible fear of abandonment. At the age of twenty, I moved thousands of miles away from anyone I knew besides my then-boyfriend, whose behavior mirrored her boyfriend Christian’s enough to be eerie. It wasn’t Sweden, but it wasn’t home either. While our experiences obviously weren’t identical, the interactions between Dani and the people around her mirrored my own. Her trauma legitimized my own. (Spoilers ahead.)
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(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: Quentin Tarantino is many things…including a writer of amazing female characters.)
Director Quentin Tarantino recently came under scrutiny for refusing to answer a female journalist’s question about the number of lines he wrote for Margot Robbie in his latest, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. He “rejected [her] hypothesis” that he neglected to write enough for Robbie’s part. Robbie defended the decision, saying that she enjoyed working within the restraints of a low-dialogue role.
While Tarantino is by no means perfect, it feels disingenuous to call him out on a lack of dialogue for Robbie when he has written some of the more complex and powerful female characters in American cinema. The performers entrusted with these characters brought them to life. They don’t shy away from the more difficult aspects of their characterizations. Their flaws make them relatable, and ultimately more human.
My own relationship with Tarantino’s filmography is complicated. I cannot reconcile Tarantino endangering Uma Thurman on the set of Kill Bill: Volume 2. I worry about his knowledge of Weinstein’s predation. I have serious concerns about how he treats people both on-set and off. Despite my conflicting feelings on the man himself, it’s impossible to deny the impact his characters made on my life. By writing female characters who were flawed, traumatized, and stuck in dangerous hyper-masculine worlds, he gave me characters whose trajectories felt more like my own. Tarantino’s women were survivors, and I was just learning how to be one.
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The final season of Game of Thrones has been divisive at best. The rushed pacing and certain character choices left many fans feeling bitter after the penultimate episode, “The Bells”. I was one of those fans, and I detailed my grievances with the series as I prepared for the final episode. I prepared myself to be angry, to be bitter, but above all, to be disappointed. Imagine my complete shock when the episode moved me to tears.
The final episode of Game of Thrones, “The Iron Throne”, delivered on many of the series’ most important character arcs. The series has always been at its best when it focuses on the characters and their personal journeys, and “The Iron Throne” gave us some satisfying conclusions for the characters who deserved it most. It wasn’t a perfect episode, as uneven as much of this season, but the big emotional beats worked – offering some catharsis after the upheaval from the previous episode. This may be the only real ending fans ever get, with the finale two books constantly being pushed back by series author George R.R. Martin.
Here’s a look at what worked and what didn’t, and why some fans feel worse about the ending than others – though no one needs to be making petitions.
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Now that the dust has settled around what’s left of King’s Landing, there is room to examine why some fans have felt betrayed by season eight of Game of Thrones. The fan reaction to the episode has been divisive, with some overzealous and misguided fans petitioning for a “redo” of this season. While I’m certainly not among those folks, I found myself very angry at my favorite dragon show more than once this season. While it’s not uncommon for a series to drop the ball in the last inning, Game of Thrones final season has felt spectacularly disappointing.
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(Welcome to Debate of Thrones, where a panel of Citadel-trained experts explain why someone deserves, or doesn’t deserve, to sit on the Iron Throne. In this edition: Queen Cersei has proven herself incapable of caring about her kingdom or her subjects.)
There was a time, three or four years ago, when I would argue in favor of our queen. Much like her father, Cersei is adept at political machinations. She understands both power and money well – she is a Lannister, after all. There was a time when she was a proud lioness protecting her pride, and by extension, the rest of Westeros. Without her children to anchor her, Cersei has become even more vicious and unpredictable. Estranged from her brothers, even her lover-twin Jaime, she has nothing left to protect.
Our queen has failed us time and again. Her failures began when jealousy took root. Her envy of Margaery drove her to insanity, and now our Mad Queen reigns supreme.
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The Hellboy reboot, helmed by British director Neil Marshall, isn’t doing so hot. That’s a real shame, because Marshall’s track record with hyper-violent action-horror has been fantastic so far. While rumors of production woes definitely explain the film’s lack of cohesion, there are kernels of good stuff in the new Hellboy. Horror fans have delighted in the movie’s gory brutality, and some of the sequences work as fun standalone scenes; while Hellboy might not work, it’s easy to see some of Marshall’s skills on display.
So, if you’re looking to understand more about the man who helmed Hellboy, or if you’re just looking for an alternative film to watch with the same kinetic, savage energy, check out our guide.
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French-Argentinian director Gaspar Noé creates extreme cinematic experiences. His films are mind-bending examinations of the darkest parts of humanity. Noé’s subject matter is extreme; his films explore grief, abortion, drug use, incest, abuse, rape, and more. His methods are no less extreme. He has a reputation for unorthodox filmmaking choices, like hiring Japanese yakuza as security for Enter the Void in order to gain access to the Tokyo underworld or using audio frequencies designed to make viewers physically ill in Irreversible.
Climax, in theaters today, is a musical psychological horror about a group of dancers who are dosed with LSD. It’s a guaranteed psychedelic trip, like much of Noé’s work. Noé’s films are also notoriously shocking, so prepare yourself for the intense insanity of Climax by reading our primer!
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Catherine Hardwicke hasn’t exactly gotten a fair shake in Hollywood. Despite directing several indie favorites and turning the first Twilight book into a goldmine, she’s gotten relatively little credit. Hardwicke tends to direct films aimed at feminine audiences, which are traditionally looked down upon by (overwhelmingly male) critics. She’s a true indie director who understands the power of storytelling, even on a shoestring budget. Hardwicke knows how to highlight emotion, using handheld camera techniques and working closely with performers to get the most out of every scene.
In Miss Bala, in theaters now, Gloria (Gina Rodriguez) is a makeup artist from Los Angeles who gets caught up in kidnapping, money laundering, and drug cartels after a trip to Tijuana. She ends up playing both sides, working with both the cartel leader and the DEA. She’ll have to rely on all her strength and cunning to survive the dangerous world of cross-border crime. Based on the 2011 Mexican film of the same name, Miss Bala highlights Hardwicke’s return to telling emotional stories about women in precarious situations.
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Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos is not the most accessible filmmaker for your average audience. To begin, his characters don’t behave as if they are bound to the same cultural norms that we are. Conversations that would be utterly taboo in our society are discussed with abandon, like Steven (Colin Farrell) in The Killing of a Sacred Deer casually telling a colleague that his daughter has started her period. Lanthimos’ worlds run parallel to our own, but they offer a unique and sometimes disturbing vision of our darker desires.
In The Favourite, now in limited release, Lanthimos pits Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) and servant Abigail (Emma Stone) against one another for Queen Anne’s (Olivia Colman) affections. While The Favourite is the first Lanthimos film he didn’t at least co-author himself (the screenplay is credited to Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara), it’s sure to have lots of quirks peculiar to this avant-garde director. To prepare for The Favourite or just find out more about this rising auteur, we have prepared a primer.
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