When it comes to big Hollywood franchises, there is always a risk of forgetting where the series of films started from, and that may be the case with “Alien.” The 1979 first chapter, directed by Ridley Scott, has had a great number of sequel, spin-offs, soft reboots, and many, many films inspired by it, to the point that ‘Alien’-like sci-fi films may constitute their own genre. That should not make anyone forget how great the first film is, and how innovative it was.
A perfect mixture of sci-fi, horror, and thriller, Alien has many unforgettable scenes, among which there is certainly the “chest-buster” one. After John Hurt’s character is attacked by an alien creature, he seems to recover, until something wrong starts to happen to his body, and an actual alien bursts out of his chest, terrorizing the crew.
This surprising moment, as seen in the film, features the spontaneous reactions from the actors surrounding Hurt, who were simply told that the alien would emerge, without specifications. Scott, unbeknownst to them, set the device that would make the alien violently pop out of Hurt, and then made everyone do the scene as scripted.
Reportedly, he even shot a fake first take where just a little blood came out, in order to get the actors near Hurt, and then on the second take he shot the extremely surprised and horrified reactions of all of them. For a moment, they actually must have thought that something wrong was going on with Hurt, and their reaction to the spats of blood covering them is nothing but sincerely disgusted.
4. The Shining
Every Kubrick film has been the subject of deep study and interpretation from film experts and fans alike. The fact that he has made a limited amount of works, all of which were carefully outlined ad realized, created a sort of cult for each of his films.
Out of Kubrick’s filmography, “The Shining” may be the most speculated upon, with numerous books and even documentaries enquiring about its hidden meanings. These sometimes outlandish theories are probably the result of the mesmerizing and terrifying nature of the film, which seems to constantly avoid the grasp of the spectator and at the same time capture them. A considerable factor of this effect is certainly the performances in the film, mainly Jack Nicholson’s.
Yet, another great portrayal in “The Shining” seems particularly believable, and not for the reasons one would expect. We are talking about Shelley Duvall playing the wife of Jack Torrance. Most of her performance saw the character in deep confusion and stress, almost to the brink of madness herself, and in order to reach that effect, Kubrick famously pushed her to the limit on set, making her repeat scenes an abnormal number of times, and sometimes verbally attacking her.
Duvall was truly affected by Kubrick’s behavior, and in some scenes it is easy to see how Duvall’s desperate and hysterical reactions actually came from her emotional response to the stressful on-set environment Kubrick had crafted for her.
3. Django Unchained
Quentin Tarantino’s seventh film is “Django Unchained,” a variation on a cult screen character named Django, who was the protagonist of a series of Italian western films from the ‘60s. The film works as an action film, a western, a satire, a gore-filled vengeance film, and perhaps it could fit a few other genre definitions.
Its production was very long and at times difficult, as the conditions in the film’s sets in Wyoming, Louisiana and California proved testing in the long run. The extended shooting caused a number of actors (some of them extremely eager to work with Tarantino, like Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to leave the picture because of other commitments.
Still, the strenuous shooting pushed the actors to an extreme that eventually gave something in return, like the convincingly terrified performance by Kerry Washington when Broomhilda is in the “hot-box,” or the now iconic scene of Leonardo DiCaprio’s racist phrenology rant that explodes when he slams his hand on the table, cutting himself as a consequence.
It is a well-known fact among fans of the film that the moment was real: DiCaprio accidentally hit some broken glass, but kept acting and out of the many takes that were made, the one that was kept in the final cut was this one. The blood we see is real, as the initial reaction of the other actors in the scene. DiCaprio kept going with the scene and finished his monologue, making it much more bloody and authentic.
Funnily enough, in Tarantino’s next film, “The Hateful Eight,” another moment similar to this happened and was then kept in the film, when Kurt Russell suddenly destroyed the guitar he was holding during a scene and a surprised Jennifer Jason Leigh screamed.
2. Kramer vs. Kramer
This 1979 drama is a wonderful showcase of acting at its best, with Dustin Hoffman at the peak of his career, and an always reliable Meryl Streep, who was actually only in her fifth feature film. Both were nominated for an Academy Award, eventually winning for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress, but the film was also a great commercial success, hence its status of renowned masterpiece.
The film’s strength comes from the simplicity of its core story: the divorce battle between two spouses, a battle that inevitably involves their son. This simple premise leads to some heartwarming and dramatic scenes of great effect, and the last scene is among them.
In this final resolution, the two Kramers put aside their animosity and decide together the best for their son. After Streep’s character realizes where the real home of her son is, she asks to see him and gets on the elevator.
The last dialogue between the two characters (“How do I look?” “Terrific”) actually was not in the script, but was a real exchange between Hoffman and Streep after they shot the scene as written. They were simply talking to one another, and director Robert Benton found the moment fitting for the film, and by keeping it gave the finale an extra touch of tenderness and added realism to the characters.
“Casablanca” may be the most quotable and recognizable film from classic Hollywood cinema. It has an endless series of cult scenes and lines, such as the Paris flashback and the subsequent line, “We’ll always have Paris.” Among these scenes is the Marseillaise one. Rick, Humphrey Bogart’s character, is arguing in his Café Américain with Laszlo, the husband of Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa, the ex-lover of Rick.
Suddenly, some German soldiers start singing their patriotic song “Die Wacht am Rhein.” Laszlo does not accept it and quickly orders the band to play the French national anthem, in order to fight off the German chant.
The band, loyal to Rick as all his employees are, turn to him to know what to do. Rick gives a small but extremely meaningful nod, and the anthem starts. The people in the bar stand up and sing, and soon the German song fades in comparison to the Marseillaise. The Germans remain powerless.
The scene is strongly evocative, but has a second meaning. The extras singing the anthem were actual war refugees, hired by director Michael Curtiz. The film was shot in 1942, so it is easy to see how the emotion conveyed by those refugees, most of them French, was natural. Hearing and singing their anthem was not really a question regarding the film: it was their real freedom at stake, as the Nazis still occupied their country.
The evocative power of the scene is proved by the fact that in November 2015, after six simultaneous terrorist attacks in Paris (including the Bataclan theater one), among the many forms of solidarity that the world showed to the city of Paris there was also the sharing of this scene from “Casablanca,” as a testimony of the strength of the French people and the value of freedom.