1. Concentrate really hard

The psychic outcasts of David Cronenberg’s Scanners can perform a variety of cool parlor tricks with their advanced brains, including reading minds, starting fires, and hacking hilariously outdated-looking computers. But the most dramatic of their special powers has to be the ability to detonate craniums—a gift demonstrated in the film’s most famous scene, which is also probably the most famous exploding-head scene in all of cinema. In a demonstration gone horribly wrong, villainous volunteer Revok (Michael Ironside) grits his teeth, flexes his temples, and causes another Scanner’s noggin to go kablooey. The makeup team accomplished this memorable effect by stuffing a life cast of the actor’s head with miscellaneous stuff (including “leftover burgers”) and then shooting it with a shotgun. Originally designed to serve as the film’s cold open, the sequence was moved back a few scenes after shocked test audiences failed to really recover from it. Ultimately, Scanners is to exploding heads as Bullitt is to car chases: Other movies have gone bigger or more realistic, but none set the standard quite like this one. [A.A. Dowd]

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2. Throw a basketball really hard

The comical irony of Wes Craven’s Deadly Friend is that for a film so obsessed with science—specifically neurology and artificial intelligence—it gives approximately zero hoots about concrete reality. Centering on a boy genius and his BFF robot, BB, Deadly Friend builds to a climatic moment when the robotically reanimated girl next door, Samantha (Kristy Swanson), throws a basketball at the neighborhood buzzkill’s head, smashing the cantankerous woman’s cranium. So, could this really happen? No. According to The Washington Post, it would take “500 kgf, or the force that 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) would exert in standard gravity” to break a human skull. That’s, like, a lot. Plus, even if Samantha’s animatronic arm were hypothetically able to whip the basketball with that amount of force, an explosion of the kind depicted would still be unlikely: Pressure would have to come from inside the skull in order to force brain matter to splatter outward with such intensity. [Kiva Reardon]

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3. Have a conversation in a car with a loaded weapon

Marvin, the young victim of accidental gun death in Pulp Fiction, wasn’t supposed to die. In fact, when Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) show up at an apartment earlier in the movie to menace a bunch of careless dudes, he’s the only one who gets out alive—escorted out and into the backseat of their vehicle, not even in the trunk, which in a Tarantino movie counts as an honor. But when Vincent turns to chastise Marvin for offering no opinion on a debate he’s having with Jules, his gun goes off at close range and blows up Marvin’s head with an efficiency no one was expecting. The root of this conversation actually stems from earlier gunplay; suffice it to say, if you are discussing how miraculous it is to survive a hail of bullets without even a wound, it’s best not to make that case by pointing a loaded gun for emphasis. Marvin, most famous for his headlessness and the inconvenience of disposing of his corpse, was actually played by Phil LaMarr—the voice of Hermes on Futurama, a show with real affinity for semi-lovingly preserved non-exploded heads. In any case, Pulp’s method of blowing up a head turns out to be surprisingly (and hilariously) easy; it’s the cleaning process that turns out to be way more complicated (or at least labor intensive) than it should be. [Jesse Hassenger]

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4. Open up the Ark Of The Covenant and stare into it

“Shut your eyes, Marion. Don’t look at it, no matter what happens.” So goes the most important advice ever proffered by Dr. Henry Walton “Indiana” Jones Jr., archeologist, adventurer, and preventer of multiple Armageddons. Raiders Of The Lost Ark ends with the signature set piece of the Indiana Jones franchise, in which the opening of the film’s titular MacGuffin visits all sorts of Old Testament wrath on a platoon of unsuspecting Nazis. The Germans hope the Ark Of The Covenant—the scriptural vessel for the Ten Commandments (among other artifacts of great Judeo-Christian import)—will give them the supernatural advantage they need to win World War II. Instead, it presents them with some chilling pre-CGI specters, a biblical heat ray, and a couple of melted faces. French turncoat and archeological fraud René Belloq receives God’s most painful vengeance: Arrogantly seeking an audience with the almighty through the ark, Belloq is overwhelmed by the spiritual powers contained within, which engulf him in flame before detonating his skull. Raiders Of The Lost Ark opens with Belloq telling his rival, “There is nothing you can possess which I cannot take away.” Turns out the only exception to that taunt is Indy’s “don’t look” strategy. [Erik Adams]

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5. Hire robot security guards

Some things require a human touch. A robot can never have the bedside manner of a human physician, for example, and a portrait painted by a machine would lack a certain je ne sais quoi. Working security isn’t generally considered an activity that requires human finesse, but maybe it should be, given the example of Jim Wynorski’s Chopping Mall. While not quite a horror-comedy, the film has its tongue planted firmly in its cheek—until that cheek gets blown clean off by a robot security guard with scrambled circuits that’s been outfitted with lasers capable of exploding human heads for some reason. A simple lightning strike upgrades the Park Plaza Mall’s robot security team from “stun” to “kill,” and that means trouble for the horny teens hanging out in the mall after hours, drinking and having sex in the furniture-store display beds. One of these unfortunates is Leslie (Suzee Slater), whose half-dressed flight from the motorized mall cop culminates with an exploding-head shot so spectacular, Wynorski felt compelled to use it as Slater’s closing credit in the film. Either that, or she was difficult to work with. [Katie Rife]

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6. Hold a note for too long

The theme songs of the James Bond franchise are iconic for their grand finishing notes, from Shirley Bassey in Goldfinger to Adele in Skyfall, so it comes as no surprise that a parody of the films would riff on that tradition as well. Written and performed by the master of musical parody, “Weird Al” Yankovic, the theme for 1996’s Spy Hard is full of jokes about Bond opening themes, from the silhouettes of naked women to lyrics that talk about how awesome it is to be a secret agent: “Facing death every day is a tough job for any man / But his hours are flexible, and he’s got a great dental plan!” The song ends in a literally explosive manner as Yankovic manages to draw out the last note for a full 20 seconds, eyes darting around and face growing increasingly red, before his entire skull pops in a shower of blood and brain matter. Life didn’t imitate art, in this case: Yankovic said in a 1999 Q&A that he originally planned to loop the note, but when he got to the studio he was able to deliver the take in a single breath. [Les Chappell]

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7. Hear the voice of God

Kevin Smith has always been a director with a strong appreciation for the power of speech; any rare flashes of dynamism with his camerawork inevitably fall to the wayside when one of his characters begins to deliver a fast-paced monologue or offer a short, snappy aside. That celebration of language is at its strongest in Smith’s religious comedy Dogma, in which the voice of God (played by Alanis Morissette) is so powerful it can explode the head of any mortal who hears it. Her demonstration of that power, granting a merciful death to Ben Affleck’s rendered-mortal angel Bartleby, also acts as a callback to one of the film’s better lines, from God’s usual mouthpiece, the Metatron: “Were you to hear [God’s voice], your mind would cave in and your heart would explode within your chest. We went through five Adams before we figured that one out.” And that’s exactly what happens, in a weird mixture of grace and gore that serves as a fitting climax for a movie that juxtaposes thoughtful dialogues on theology with a battle against a giant monster made of human shit. [William Hughes]

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8. Get really, really frustrated over your dead boss

Everyone’s had that moment where they disappoint their boss so much they feel like dying, but few take that as seriously as Big Trouble In Little China’s Wing Kong society. After Kurt Russell’s Jack Burton manages to kill the evil sorcerer Lo Pan with a bit of fancy knife-play, he incurs the wrath of Lo Pan’s trusted lieutenant, Thunder. While Thunder’s ability to control storms has thwarted the heroes several times during the film, the sight of Lo Pan’s corpse pushes him to new heights of rage, and his body finds no outlet for the energy. He swells to the size of a weather balloon, and the steam escaping from his nose and ears isn’t enough to take the pressure off, leaving him to pop like the aforementioned balloon and bring down the ceiling of the Wing Kong hideout. The film reportedly ran into some financial difficulties with visual effects, but it appears no expense was spared on Thunder’s demise, a once-proud warrior reduced to a fleshy teapot full of nitroglycerin. [Les Chappell]

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9. Have incredibly strong thumbs and really lean into it

Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson is the strongest man on a continent in the real world. In his acting career, he plays Ser Gregor Clegane, The Mountain That Rides, the strongest man on Game Of Thrones’ continent of Westeros. Now, Europe’s Strongest Man competition may or may not have included a thumb-wrestling tournament, but if it did, Björnsson would be a pretty safe bet. His physical presence is such that he can make season four’s climactic skull-destroying scene seem plausible. You do know how to make a head explode, don’t you, Hafþór? Just roll on top, place thumbs in eye sockets, and push. [Rowan Kaiser]

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10. Send someone outside… on Mars

Of all the startling visuals offered in the immersive Technicolor-and-concrete future of 1990’s Total Recall, the most haunting effect is the illustration of the biological decompression that awaits someone exposed to the atmosphere of Mars. Director Paul Verhoeven used practical rather than CGI effects for all but one shot of the film, and Rob Bottin’s effects team is credited with the gasping, bug-eyed Schwarzenegger puppet. Its brief appearance is so gross and so effective that it provides its own terrifying shorthand: Every time someone in the Martian colony looks outside at the red-dust landscape, we know exactly what’s at stake if the air fails. The good news is that by the time Schwarzenegger’s hero is watching the megalomaniac Cohaagen fall unprotected onto the Martian sands and boil to death from the inside out, you know what’s coming, and can either revel in the effects wizardry or cover your eyes. [Genevieve Valentine]

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11. Loosen gun-control laws

One of the nastiest but most singular entries in the early-’80s slasher cycle, William Lustig’s Maniac, is distinguished by its grimy New York backdrop, its adoption of the killer’s perspective, and its graphic depiction of a human head being blown to smithereens by a double-barrel shotgun. Makeup maestro Tom Savini, who had previously exploded a prosthetic head for Dawn Of The Dead, plays the poor sucker shot at point-blank range by the film’s rampaging Son Of Sam type (Joe Spinell). To achieve the effect, Savini fired live rounds at a food-filled cast of his own face; the scene was reportedly filmed guerrilla style, over just an hour and without a location permit. More interesting than the logistics of the shoot are the logistics of the shooting: Obviously never subjected to a background check, Spinell’s plainly deranged sleazeball is a poster boy for gun-control legislation. For shame, fictional Brooklyn firearm dealers. For shame! [A.A. Dowd]

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12. Let gravity (and church spires) do the work

With its pastoral setting, Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz reaps huge laughs from sudden, comically shocking violence even more effectively than the more expected zombie-chomping of his classic Shaun Of The Dead. When London supercop Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) find himself exiled to the seemingly sleepy hamlet of Sandford, his hyper-attuned crime-fighting instincts immediately lead him to suspect that a series of bloody local accidents are, in fact, the nefarious acts of a hooded serial killer. Cementing his suspicion is the final fate of local newspaperman/gadfly Tim Messenger (Adam Buxton) who, right at the instant he’s about to spill some particularly incriminating beans at a church-restoration fair, is grotesquely head-squished by a plummeting stone spire. For one gasp-inducing moment, it leaves him staggering around the serene churchyard, looking like an inverted cousin to Silent Hill’s Pyramid Head, before collapsing with a final, copiously geysering blood spurt. Yes, it takes some preternatural timing and luck to accomplish, but, as the movie’s villains prove, anything is possible in pursuit of “the greater good.” [Dennis Perkins]

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13. Drive recklessly

Thirty years after the release of The Toxic Avenger, it’s easy to forget that Troma Entertainment’s mascot, Saturday morning cartoon character, and action-figure huckster The Toxic Avenger—or Toxie as he’s lovingly referred to—was originally the star of an insanely fucked-up movie. The story of mild-mannered nerd turned environmental superhero Melvin Junko contains all manner of cartoonish violence, with unique tools of carnage that include deep fryers, bench presses, and milkshake mixers. The most disturbing scene involves Toxie’s nemeses Bozo, Slug, and Julie, playing their own version of Death Race 2000. The game grants points for hitting and killing dogs, babies, and kids under 12. After a drunken and drugged Bozo viciously plows into a youngster on a bike, he backs over the head, obliterating the kid’s noggin in a splatter of gore and brains. Troma president and film director Lloyd Kaufman pulled off the stunt simply enough: with a cantaloupe loaded with cranberry sauce. The effect is shockingly realistic, and a credit to Troma’s thrifty indie spirit. [Drew Fortune]

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14. Repurpose a broken appliance

The 2009 remake of Wes Craven’s grimy The Last House On The Left is a fundamentally different film than its forebear, thanks to a plot deviation that reframes the characters’ actions. In the original, a quartet of nomadic sociopaths has the misfortune of choosing to wait out a torrential storm at the home of the Collingwoods, whose daughter, Mari, they’d raped and murdered just hours before. Both films build to a bloodbath as the Collingwoods discover their daughter’s attackers are under their roof, but in the remake, Mari crawls home—brutalized but alive. The tweak turns the film from a straightforward story of vengeance into a survive-the-night thriller in which the parents kill their boarders mostly to save their daughter. But lest the audience think the Collingwoods don’t know how to balance work and play, Krug, the murdering cult’s ringleader, regains consciousness after a struggle and finds his head inside a really old microwave. He’s been surgically paralyzed by Mr. Collingwood, who proceeds to zap Krug’s head until it explodes in the appliance—a faulty piece of machinery briefly referenced early in the film when the missus nags the mister about fixing its broken door. Years from now, he’ll tease her every time she urges him to fix something: “But what if we need the broken rain gutter to kill an intruder?” [Joshua Alston]

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15. Choose the THX sound experience

In the fifth-season Simpsons episode “Burns’ Heir,” the family goes to see Siskel & Ebert: The Movie at the local Aztec Theater. The scene opens with the familiar, deafening roar that used to accompany THX’s “The Audience Is Listening” logo. As the sound grows louder and louder—as it always really did—eyeglasses shatter, an exit sign splinters into shards, a whole set of teeth ruptures, and, finally, a head pops like a balloon. (The audience roars with approval, save for Grandpa, who demands they turn the volume up.) George Lucas apparently loved the gag, and turned into it into an actual THX trailer; refusing to take the hint, the ILM mogul kept the audio at decibels only Abe Simpson could appreciate, the stamp of superior sound presumably exploding a few more heads in the years that followed. [A.A. Dowd]

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