Subwoofering: 15 Movies with Killer Bass

A recent article in the trade publication CE Pro surveyed several industry experts on the material they recommended to check out your subwoofer. I’ve now lost the article in preparing for my cross-country move—almost complete except for the small detail about getting the household furniture and goods delivered! But I do have some ideas of my own which may or may not overlap with that now missing article. I’ll concentrate here on movie soundtracks, in which the benefits of a subwoofer will be most obvious even with the largest main L/R speakers most listeners are likely to be using.

The observations here were made largely in my previous, 15.5’ x 27’ x 8’ home theater. I’m still separated from my Blu-rays / DVDs by some 2,300 miles, as they remain in storage awaiting shipment to my new house. But prior to them being picked up I made my first inventory of the collection. The resulting list was a great memory jogger. So here are my recommendations. Many of them make the grade largely because of one or two scenes seared into my head, though this was more than sufficient.

War of the Worlds (2005) – While the 1953 original remains a superior re-imagining of H.G. Wells’ classic tale, it’s hardly as technically advanced as this 2005 Steven Spielberg effort. And it’s nowhere near as sonically spectacular. The scene where the Martian machine emerges from the pavement early in the film is as likely to make your subwoofer (not to mention your house) cry for mercy as anything on this list.

Apollo 13 – The launch of the Saturn 5 rocket in this film remains a one-of-a-kind scene. Yes, it has great bass as you might expect. But James Horner’s score for this scene (and also throughout the movie—even if he did steal some of his cues from his earlier music for Sneakers) also belongs on a list for great film music moments.

Flight of the Phoenix – The crash scene here is one of the more terrifying you’ll ever see, with bass almost to die for. There are plenty of other great bass moments scattered throughout. The film itself was critically savaged (perhaps in deference to the 1964 James Stewart original, which adds “The” to the title), but it’s still good for a superb audio and video experience.

Oblivion – Critics yawned, but regardless of that this was still one of my favorite films of 2013. In an early scene when Jack lands his chopper in the wrecked and decayed stadium, the bass as he swings it past the camera and behind the viewer is another subwoofer killer. I’ve had more than one well-reviewed subwoofer rattle in pain trying to reproduce this sequence at 3-5 dB below reference in my former 3,300-cubic- foot home theater room.

Thor – This was probably my favorite superhero film of the recent past, and like most origin stories it is (in my opinion) better than subsequent titles with the same character. There’s plenty to like here on the bass front, and the music score for the end titles as the camera swoops through the cosmos is among my favorites. Or at least it is in the orchestral cues that open the titles, until it transitions to annoying heavy metal rock about halfway through the credits (just after the image is flipped 180 degrees and an extended brass chord is heard on the soundtrack).

The biggest bass thumper comes where you might not expect it, early in the film as Thor flips over the banquet table and it thunders to the floor. Later in the scene, if your sub is up to it, you’ll hear some low frequency throbs in the background as Thor and Loki converse. Does this indicate a power generator in the distance (the film treats the kingdom of Asgard and its occupants more in a sci-fi manner than as Norse gods in a heavenly realm). Or, more likely, is it noise in the soundtrack that the sound mixers didn’t hear because their monitors couldn’t go low enough. I doubt if it was audible in most theaters.

The Abyss – Much of my memory of this soundtrack suggests that the most impressive bass is in the music score, particularly as the pseudopod invades the submerged drilling rig and, later, as Bud makes his big dive. I also have these music cues on the CD soundtrack album and they’re among the bass passages I often pull out for low-frequency music testing. Fans still wonder, however, when this DVD-only release will ever come out on Blu-ray.

Bolt – This is probably my favorite second tier (and unsung) computer animated feature. It offers plenty of bass. The most startling sequence comes a couple of minutes into the film, just past the opening scene. The plot makes Bolt a super dog in a TV show. But Bolt doesn’t know that it’s all fake (shades of The Truman Show!). As Bolt is “transformed” (clearly an intro to the show) we hear huge, dynamic musical crescendos punctuated by powerful bass drum whacks. This is followed by a chase scene including some killer low throbbing from slow-motion helicopter blades. The entire opening sequence makes for a terrific home theater demo (if your sub is up to it!), complete with both G-rated action and humor.

Crimson Tide – Some folks recommend U571 as a great bass demo, and it is. But the film also has its share of low-frequency explosiveness. To say more would involve spoilers, but this film is about as tense as it gets for submarine thrills. It’s also my favorite submarine film (though for drama Das Boot is a very close second).

Bass Short Takes
Gettysburg – Despite the bad beards, the artillery barrage that precedes Pickett’s Charge is among the most realistic (powerfully crisp, without boominess) ever captured on film. But I hasten to add that I’ve never been through a real one!

Master & Commander: The Far side of the World – Ditto here on the crispness of the deep bass cannon reports in this film. There’s also great bass in the music track.

How to Train Your Dragon – I won’t be specific here to avoid spoilers, but there’s great bass here throughout, particularly in the closing scenes.

Jurassic Park – It’s now 22 years old (time flies) but has there been a more classic and frightening sequence since the night T-Rex attack?

Titan A.E. – Another DVD-only animated film that’s never made it to Blu-ray. The chase through the ice field was once a prime demo sequence at home theater shows, and it remains reference quality.

Tron Legacy – A mediocre film, but the bass here is a subwoofer killer throughout. This is another demo that has rarely made it through my system without producing unhappy rattles from a variety of subwoofers.

Titanic – James Cameron’s lengthy 1997 take on this classic tragedy doesn’t charm everyone, but from its music to its effects (including growlingly powerful bass) it remains an audio/video stunner. Spoiler Alert: The ship sinks.

COMMENTS
prerich45's picture

"9" IMHO is the movie for bass-heads! This movie has impressive bass through out.

Rob Sabin's picture
Thanks for sharing--a few on here I've not heard before that I'll have to seek out and/or pay more attention to the bass track. Sathishdht: thanks for sharing your adds, but please lighten up. The man didn't say it was a list of every great bass-shaker ever produced, just a bunch of his favorites...
instybob's picture

War of the Worlds "break out" is insane!

Check Out:
The Incredibles
Speed (first bus explosion)
Forrest Gump (in Viet Nam)

huber13's picture

"Event Horizon" has lots of spaceship shaking bass and loud thuds. It's a great SIFI horror thriller too.

DeepPurple23's picture

Thanks for the article, I thought a couple were spot on, Oblivion has several spots including when the bots are sounding their warning,very low frequency. But the equipment tester for both amp and sub, is the pod race scene from the Star Wars: The Phantom Menes.

frankzilla's picture

While this list is OK, please check out the definitive list and graphs at:

http://data-bass.ipbhost.com/index.php?/forum/4-bass-content/

They measure the bass content of movies with an objective system, right from the digital bits on the disc. There's even a Google spreadsheet of all 350+ movies you can sort to view the tops in each of the four rating categories.

Jonasandezekiel's picture

The best, most intense low frequency bluray was the movie Cloverfield. It just kicks the tar out of myJL Audio sub.

electronicaz's picture

Watched the new "It" film last night. Bass-tastic. Whenever any 'shock' occurred the amount of bass on the slamming sound effect was through the roof/wall/floors. Scared the crap out of me the 1st time! Marvelous! I'm now re-watching "Prometheus" and my memory serves me well. There is an almost incessant boom throughout. Great for weirdos like me who could just sit in a corner of BOOM indefinitely.

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