Warning! This list contains spoilers! Proceed at your own risk!
Characters jump or fall off of high structures, airborne vehicles, and elevated topography all of the time. If you are watching an action movie, chances are there will be a sequence where a character falls for some amount of time. In thrillers or dramas, a fall can be a method of escape, or sadly, a method of suicide. Most commonly, a fall is a script writer’s tool to kill off a character, good or evil.
Below I have compiled a list of my favorite/most memorable falling scenes in film. Some of these have become iconic moments in cinema. Others are important to the plots of the biggest franchises. All of them are memorable due to either the dramatic impact, or the creativity utilized by the filmmakers to bring them to the big screen. I’m sure I missed some good ones, but these were the sequences that first came to mind when I thought about falling scenes in film that had an impact on myself.
Do you agree with my ranking? What memorable falls are missing from this list? Join along in the conversation on twitter: @cinelinx, @gsperno
25. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – Dumbledore’s Fall
Our first entry on this list is a bit of a downer, and actually, that’s what makes it so memorable. As you will see in this list, movies like to kill people by having them fall great distances. Most of the time, falling scenes end with the death of a villain, but in this case, it’s the death of a beloved protagonist. It’s even more sad because it is essentially a move of self-sacrifice. It is also an important step in Harry Potter’s growth, essentially representing the moment he is no longer a child.
24. Superman – Saving Lois Lane
From a sad falling scene, we go next to a happy one. Superman swooping in to save the day is almost a cliche these days. We’ve seen it in at least three films. I chose the original Superman the Movie version because it is the original version of the iconic plunge, and also because he saves Lois Lane. What sweeter moment is there than seeing Superman save his love from certain death?
23. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – Croc Snack
Indiana Jones has made a career out of falling, and not finding a way to include him on this list would be a travesty. Jones often stumbles into discoveries by falling. At other times he has almost fallen to his death. However, the fall I chose for this list is a a classic fall – the death of a villain. Jones ruthlessly kicks Mola Ram, the thuggee priest, into a crocodile-infested river, and saves the day. How’s that for satisfactory ending?
22. The Matrix – The Jump Program
The Matrix films are another set of films with many spectacular falling scenes. For this list I decided to choose one of the first, and perhaps one of the most original. When Neo is being trained by Morpheus, he is tasked with jumping between two skyscrapers. Neo is supposed to put mind over matter and convince himself that the height isn’t real because it is part of the training program, not real life, despite seeming very real. He fails to do this, of course. Tank exclaims, “Everyone misses the first jump.”
21. Iron Man 2 – AC/DC Opening
Tony Stark isn’t exactly humble. Not only does he have an entire convention dedicated to his namesake company, but he has to have the grandest entrance to said convention. Not only does he jump out of a plane, but there are fireworks, music, dancing, and screaming crowds. It’s a hell of a way to arrive, and an impactful opening to Iron Man’s second cinematic adventure.
20. Quantum of Solace – Scaffolding Fight
This fall sequence isn’t the biggest on this list, or the most memorable, or even very important. However, it is very creative, features some spectacular stunts amd choreography, and is well-filmed. Bond is tracking down the bad guys and ends up getting pushed off of a bell tower. The camera then follows Bond as he tumbles downward through the glass and lands on some scaffolding. The fight becomes an excellent mix of mid-air acrobatics and climbing, and then there is another heart-pounding fall as Bond gets caught in a rope and nearly plummets to death.
19. Cliffhanger – Opening Shocker
In terms of traumatic impact, this sequence stands out. As such, it is a tremendous opening scene for a film. I still have nightmares. It’s a climber’s worst nightmare, a rescue gone terribly wrong. It sets up the main character and establishes the dramatic conflict around which the rest of the film revolves. Therefore, even if the fall is tragic, it is an important one in the context of the film and this list.
18. Toy Story – Buzz Flies!
We all know that Buzz Lightyear can’t really fly. The best he can do is fall gracefully. That’s exactly what he does at the end of the original Toy Story. When Andy and his family move away, Woody, Buzz, and a few other toys are left behind. Buzz saves the day when he “flies” them back into Andy’s car as it drives away. It’s a feel-good ending to Pixar’s first feature film.
17. Crank – Ending Freefall
A lot of the films on this list are high-energy, high-adrenaline. Those descriptors fit perfectly with Crank. The end of the film finds Chelios falling from a helicopter. Merely falling from an airborne vehicle is not enough to make this list. To make this list, Chelio’s falling scene adds a bit of ingenuity, and comedy. Not only does he fight people on the way down, he finds the time to call his girlfriend and apologize before he hits the ground.
16. Star Trek – Deep Space Jump
The Star Trek reboot brought more action to the venerable franchise, and one scene in particular showcased the new, more dynamic approach. Many jumps on this list feature characters jumping out of planes, but this one has the characters jumping from space. It’s a bit extreme, impractical, and ridiculous…but those traits are what makes it so exciting and memorable. (It also features one of the most spectacular Redshirt deaths of all time)
15. Dredd – MaMa’s Death
Dredd is the first film on this list to have a falling scene that is responsible for the death of its main antagonist. The fall scene in Dredd kills off the notorious Mama, and is the climactic moment of the hard-hitting and stylish comic book adaptation. It’s also very fitting because a majority of the film is spent watching Dredd fight his way floor by floor as he climbs a giant building. All of that struggle yields a few seconds of effortless, redeeming, freefall.
14. Return of the King – Gollum’s Tumble
Speaking of redeeming falls, here’s another film that concludes with a major antagonists’ plummet to death (ok – “concludes” is too strong a word, the ending drags on for what seems like 2 hours after this scene). But this scene is more than just the death of Gollum. It is essentially the conclusion of the entire original LOTR trilogy. Frodo and Sam’s adventure to destroy the one ring is one of the most epic film journeys of all time, and here, Gollum completes that journey by taking the ring with him into the fires of Mount Doom.
13. Mission Impossible: Fallout – HALO Jump sequence
The latest Mission: Impossible film featured the mother of all jump-out-of-a-plane scenes. We’ve seen HALO jump sequences before, but this one amps up the intensity by doing what the Mission: Impossible films do best; have things go very wrong. The enjoyment is watching Ethan Hunt improvise his way out of a deadly situation. But this one earns high praise not just because of the exciting action, but because of the beautiful cinematography (during sunset), and the fact that it was actually performed.
12. Goldeneye – 007 Says Goodbye to 006
The James Bond franchise is full of great falling scenes, including one other one that made this list. However, the best falling scene in the James Bond franchise (IMO) is this one. Here, Bond defeats his enemy by willingly let him plummet from the scaffolding above the world’s biggest satellite dish, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. But this scene isn’t the best Bond fall because of the stakes or the location, it is because Bond’s nemesis in this case was a fellow MI6 agent, and former friend.
11. The A-Team – Flying Tank
In terms of the most ridiculous falling scene, this one takes the cake. Hannibal and team escape the destruction of their cargo plane by jumping in a tank. As the tank falls, they have to figure out a way to orient it with a lake and then slow it down so that they have a chance of surviving. This wouldn’t actually work in real life, but hey, it made for an entertaining and memorable action movie scene, so who are we to complain?
10. Police Story – Jackie Chan’s big jump
This is Jackie Chan’s most insane and dangerous stunt, and he paid a big price for it. As he slides down the pole he comes in contact with actual strings of lights which severely burned his hands. He then actually landed on the glass kiosk, and got up to continue the scene and allow for a single continuous shot. This sequence is so shocking that the film shows it several times from different angles, just to make sure you didn’t miss a single painful second. There is no way that he would have been allowed by any production company to perform this stunt today.
9. Robocop – This Meeting is Over
No ending makes more of an impact then an ending where the hero blasts the bad guy out of a skyscraper window and we get to watch him fall to his well-deserved death. Robocop has such an ending, and it is very fitting with the violent/shocking approach of the film, as well as a literal take on its cautionary message against capitalism.
8. Furious 7 – Car-go Drop
The Fast and Furious franchise as of late is all about going big. One of the franchises’ biggest moments is this sequence, when Dom and company airdrop their cars into a mission to rescue a computer hacker who has been kidnapped. It’s not exactly believable, but that’s not the point. The point is crazy entertaining antics with cars, and on those fronts, this sequence more than delivers.
7. Batman – Joker’s Death
Another movie, another antagonist falling a great distance to his death at the conclusion. Tim Burton’s Batman uses his surroundings, and his gadgets, to finally defeat the tricky joker, saving the day just when it seemed like things were at their bleakest. And who can forget that creepy smile on Joker’s face, and broken laugh track as he lies dead and embedded in the concrete far below his final perch?
6. Return of the Jedi – Tossing the Emperor Overboard
The original Star Wars trilogy, perhaps the most beloved and well-known movie franchise of all time, ends with Vader’s betrayal of his master. Literally the only way Palpatine can be defeated is throwing him off of the edge of the Death Star into the reactor. Vader essentially sacrifices himself to save his son. It’s almost redeeming enough to make us forget all the terrible things Vader had done up to that point. Almost.
5. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – Gandalf vs. Balrog
It’s one thing to have a battle between a wizard and a hellish giant fire beast, it’s quite another thing to have said battle while falling through what seems like the center of the planet. It’s one of the most epic moments of Peter Jackson’s epic original Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s also Gandalf essentially sacrificing himself for The Fellowship.
4. King Kong (1933) – Gravity Killed the Beast
We all know that “it wasn’t the airplanes. It was the beauty that killed King Kong.” But really, it was the fall. A giant ape falls off of the Empire State building. It is such an iconic moment that it has been repeated in two remakes. I chose to have the original fall on this list because it is a brilliant accomplishment of stop-go-animation as well as a triumph for early monster/science-fiction films in general.
3. Dr. Strangelove – Slim Pickin’s A-bomb Ride
What’s more memorable than a cowboy riding a hydrogen bomb like a bull as it falls from the sky, triggering doomsday? It’s an important scene from one of the best films ever made. Silly and deathly serious at the same time, it just may be the most iconic dark comedy bit in film. If you’re going to go out, might as well go out in style, right?
2. Die Hard – Hans Gruber’s Death
Gruber’s death at the climax of Die Hard is the ultimate Villain-falls-to-his-death scene. It is by no means the first, or the last, or even the most creative, but somehow it has stuck in our minds. It is the defacto example of how deadly gravity can be.
1. Empire Strikes Back – Luke’s Leap
Luke’s choice to let go and fall into the center of cloud city, rather than join his father on the dark side is probably the most important scene in all of Star Wars, which itself is probably the most iconic film series of all time. His jump is a statement, a decision to face death rather than do something he knows is wrong. It doesn’t hurt that the jump itself is interesting to watch.