The Ten Most Expensive Action Scenes in Film (So Far)

Explosions = Expensive

7. The Matrix (1999) – Opening Scene ($15 million)

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When the Wachowskis first pitched The Matrix to Warner Brothers, the studio was understandably hesitant. This was an action film unlike anything that had been seen before. Warner Brothers was at least a little bit intrigued, and so they agreed to give The Wachowskis’ $10 million to make their film. The Wachowskis knew this would not be nearly enough, but they took what they had and ran with it.

More importantly, it worked. When they screened the film clip for the studio, jaws hit the floor and The Wachowskis got more money to actually finish the film how they wanted. This $10 million ($15 million in today’s money) went towards buying equipment, training the cast, and of course developing the “bullet time” camera rig. All of these things would be used for the duration of the film’s entire production, and so the cost is a bit inflated when you take into consideration the entire film’s budget. But that doesn’t change the fact that $10/15 million was required to make this scene exist in the first place.

Worth it? Yes

6. Swordfish (2001) – Flying Bus ($15 million)

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In Swordfish, a group of terrorists escape a police chase thanks to a helicopter picking up the bus they are driving. While some CGI is utilized for the sequence, the filmmakers wanted the sequence to be as realistic as possible, and so much of the sequence is completed with stunt work. For interior scenes, the bus was hoisted up on a crane and moved around in front of a green screen. For exterior flying scenes, the bus was actually air-lifted by a helicopter through the city. It was a very dangerous stunt because the bus was more than 80% of the capacity of the helicopter, and any wind could make it uncontrollable.

There was even a sequence where the bus crashed into a building and then the helicopter pulled it through. Unfortunately, the film was released close to 9/11 and so the actual sequence which made it to film was scaled back. However, much of the scene’s budget was spent making this later-deleted sequence, in which an actual building was essentially destroyed for the sake of entertainment.

Worth it? No

5. Transformers: The Last Knight (2017) – Junkyard Scene ($15 million)

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The second scene from  a Michael Bay movie on this list is one you may not expect. While the Transformers films have all so far been very expensive, very action-heavy affairs, their excitement has mostly been derived from CGI. CGI can be expensive, but spread out over the cost of an entire film, a high cost for a particular scene just doesn’t happen. What makes this scene different is the combination of CGI with practical effects.

In addition to the cost associated with building and customizing the cars for this scene, we also have the quintessential Michael Bay stylistic flair provided by a multitude of explosions. But the high cost of the scene was also associated with the logistics of supporting an entire film crew in the middle of the Arizona desert. Since this scene was filmed on location, a lot of local support was required. But compared to some of the other groundbreaking scenes on this list, I can’t help but be disappointed by this one.

Worth it? No


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Managing editor. Fascinated by the history of film. "Film can teach us just as well as it can entertain us, and the things we learn from film can be much more beneficial to our lives than the short-term entertainment we extract from it."