Reporting Eric Henderson
It’s the Fourth of July, which means fireworks displays galore. But if you happen to be stuck inside this evening, you’ll probably want to take in a great display via a classic movie. These are 10 of the top best scenes involving fireworks in movie history.
Sunrise (1927). The story is simple. Husband and wife live in the countryside. Man is tempted by city woman. Man tries to kill wife, but backs down. Man tries to make it up to wife and the two are reminded of why they love each other, while ironically enjoying an exciting day in the big city. Their renewed love climaxes at an amusement park, and blossoms with a ravishing, impressionistic fireworks display. Watch it here (about eight minutes in).
To Catch A Thief (1954). The granddaddy of all fireworks displays is this most celebrated scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s otherwise somewhat uneven thriller, partly because the fireworks are so obviously a metaphorical for something even more explosive: the sexual chemistry between Cary Grant and Gracy Kelly. Watch it here.
Mary Poppins (1964). A batty admiral who spends time perched atop his street corner “mast” sees a bunch of rogue chimney sweepers stepping in time a few blocks away and understandably assumes the entire neighborhood is under attack. He responds by firing off cannons filled with DayGlo-hued rockets, which explode to everyone’s trepidation but a supremely nonplussed Mary Poppins. A real ’60s trip. Watch it here.
Manhattan (1979). If there’s a runner-up to Hitchcock’s display, it’s the Gershwin-assisted capper Woody Allen gives to the prologue for his love letter to the home turf. Watch it here.
Blow Out (1981). Probably my favorite fireworks sequence because they’re working to the hero’s detriment, and form the outsized backdrop to an intense personal tragedy. John Travolta plays a wire-tapping expert who bugs a not-too-bright streetwalker, puts her in danger’s path and then can’t locate her when the fireworks for Philadelphia’s sesquicentennial start blasting off. Watch it here. (Note: Scene contains violence and spoilers.)
An American Tail (1986). One of those scenes from my childhood that’s somewhere between thrilling and just plain scary. Behold, the Giant Mouse of Minsk! Watch it here.
The Boy Who Could Fly (1986). The dream sequence climaxing with a kiss literally stolen while floating among the clouds is Gen X’s To Catch a Thief moment. Watch a clip of it at the tail end of this montage.
Les Amants du Pont-Neuf (1991). Think fireworks are a strictly American movie phenomenon? Oh, my word, no. In fact, one of the wildest, flashiest fireworks sequences of all time comes from a French folly: Leos Carax’s Lovers on the Bridge. Watch it here.
The Sandlot (1993). Anyone who doesn’t recognize the magic in the scene where the fireworks let the backlot baseball kids play their only night game that summer was never truly a kid. Watch it here.
Brokeback Mountain (2005). The scene isn’t on YouTube, so far as I can find, but the shot of Heath Ledger in his denim jacket, standing against the backdrop of nighttime fireworks, having just beaten up someone who called his sexuality into question, seems as iconic as anything else in the movie.
Bonus pick: The Naked Gun (2008). “Nothing to see. Please disperse. Nothing to see here, please.” Watch it here.