10 of the Most Intense Anxiety Producing Scenes Ever Caught on Film

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One of the beautiful things about cinematic art is that it acts as a repository for every other art form. Whether it be music, image, writing, architecture, or costuming, all artistic disciplines must collide to produce any film worth its salt. Though all of these art forms can elicit emotions independently, the combination of these disciplines works on your emotions in a unique way to the medium. 

Music can hit you all at once, whereas film creeps up on you. Emotion surges through you before you even have a chance to recognize what you’re feeling. A film can make you swoon, laugh, cry, and fill you with fear. One of the most exciting feelings one can experience is sustained, controlled fear. When watching a horror film or a thriller, the safe and controlled feeling of fear can be extremely exciting! Today, we’ll count down some of the most intense sequences ever caught on film. Naturally, we’ll spoil some major plot points for the movies listed here. This is your cue to turn back if you’re afraid of spoilers. Now, without further ado, let’s dive in!

1. Basement Sequence – The Silence of the Lambs

Photo Credit: MGM.

Jonathan Demme’s Best Picture-winning adaptation of Thomas Harris’ best-selling novel stands not only as one the greatest films of the past three decades but also as one of the most suspenseful pieces of pop-horror filmmaking you’re likely to find. Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is on the hunt for the Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine) Killer when she finds herself trapped in the basement after Bill throws off his power. This sequence intercuts Clarice’s POV with Bill’s, allowing the audience to sit in terror while waiting to see if Bill can catch up with Clarice. Needless to say, this is one scene that will keep you on the edge of your seat. 

2. Final Sequence – The Blair Witch Project 

Photo Credit: Summit Entertainment.

The final scene of one of the scariest horror films ever made sees our remaining protagonists—Hannah and Mike—looking for their missing friend, Josh. The two find an abandoned shack and decide to investigate the premises. As they descend further into the shack, their fate becomes more sinister. Something in the woods wants to kill them. It is one of the most hair-raising sequences ever to close a horror film.

3. Opening Scene – Halloween

Photo Credit: Compass International Pictures.

John Carpenter’s 1978 horror classic kicks into high gear with one of the most suspenseful sequences ever captured on film. The film opens with a stalker’s POV—a sequence directly lifted from Bob Clark’s 1974 film, Black Christmas—as he makes his way into a suburban house, puts on a mask, and murders a naked woman inside. The real gut punch is the reveal that a child was committing these crimes. It’s a twisted reveal of a truly chilling sequence. 

4. Bridge Collapse – Sorcerer

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

William Friedkin’s masterpiece has several scenes that could have qualified for this list, but nothing will ever top the Sorcerer’s bridge collapse that comes at the direct halfway point of the film. The film proposes that all you need for a suspense sequence is a big truck, a rainstorm, a box full of liquid dynamite, and a rickety old bridge on the verge of collapse. This is one sequence that just needs to be seen to be believed.

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5. Paul’s Escape – Misery

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures.

This 1990 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name contains one of the most suspenseful sequences ever put on film. Expanding on a scene of Paul exploring Annie’s house from the novel, the film’s cutting and sound design makes the scene ever-so-grueling to sit through. You want to see Paul escape, but you know he won’t. 

6. Opening Scene – Inglourious Basterds

Photo Credit: The Weinstein Company.

The opening of Quentin Tarantino’s remake of the Enzo G. Castellari film of the same name may very well be the best scene in the movie. The scene, which sees Nazi general Hans Landa (Christophe Waltz) storming a farmhouse to find the whereabouts of a group of Jewish stowaways, is a nail-biting sequence of great suspense. Every squeak of Landa’s boots or the creak of wooden floorboards sends a wave of anxiety through the audience, waiting impatiently until the scene reaches its inevitable violent conclusion. It’s an absolute barnburner that perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the film.

7. Russian Roulette – The Deer Hunter 

Photo Credit: Universal Studios.

Michael Cimino’s Best Picture-winning anti-war epic is one of the most evocative depictions of a veteran’s post-war malaise ever produced by American cinema. However, this doesn’t mean that the film is without its suspense elements. In one of the film’s most famous sequences, Mike (Robert De Niro) and Nick (Christopher Walken) are held captive by the Viet Cong. The two are forced to sit at a table and play Russian Roulette with three bullets in the chamber. It is a nail-biting sequence that sets the pace for the remainder of the film, painting for the audience a rich tapestry about men broken by war.

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8. The Invasion – The Searchers 

Photo Credit: C.V. Whitney Pictures.

John Ford’s totemic Western contains many of the greatest sequences that ever graced the silver screen. An entire article could be written breaking down the effect this one film has had on the medium’s history. For now, we’ll focus on the scene that concludes the film. 

Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) and his ward, Martin, have finally made it to Comanche camp, where they believe Ethan’s niece Debbie has been held. The crux of the scene’s suspense hinges on whether or not Ethan’s racism will cloud his moral judgment, leading to a massacre at the camp. Ford’s mastery of space and form elevates this typical Western sequence into the sublime.

9. Final Shootout – Night of the Living Dead

Photo Credit: Image Ten.

The final scene of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead hits you like a punch in the gut, with our surviving protagonist, Ben, having been left alone in a house overrun by members of the undead. The United States military finally arrives at the crumbling home, only to find Ben in the window of the house and sending a sniper team in to shoot him. The suspense builds throughout much of this sequence. The viewer hopes for a reprieve from the horror they’ve just witnessed, only to be heartbroken when he’s murdered by the people who were supposed to save him. 

10. Eyeball Gouging – Zombie

Photo Credit: Variety Film Production.

Lucio Fulci’s Italian exploitation epic follows a group of people who travel to Matul, an island in the Caribbean after a woman’s father goes missing. Though many suspense sequences litter the film’s 91-minute runtime, one is particularly grueling. Paola, the wife of a scientist who lives on Matul, encounters a zombie entering her home. Paola tries to escape but ultimately apprehended by the zombie and dragged towards a shard of wood sticking out of the wall. The scene is unbearable to watch, with the camera cutting back and forth between Paola’s POV and the splinter’s, cutting frequently until we see the shard stabbed into her eye in one of the most horrendous effects ever put on film. Check this one out!

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Photo Credit: MRC Television.

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Home Alone (1990)
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

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