Red hot cinema: The five best lasers in movie history

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In real life, lasers are used in everything from science and medicine to shopping and media, but as it applies to the movie business, they’re more often than not associated with action sequences and effects-heavy set pieces.

Obviously, the mundanity of scanning a barcode doesn’t possess much in the way of inherent cinematic potential, but the laser has been applied to some of the most memorable sci-fi epics and espionage thrillers ever made when artistic license is applied to the things they’re capable of.

They can blow up whole planets, force thieves to dance their way around them during an elaborately staged heist, regularly plunge Tom Cruise into a state of mortal peril, or simply be used as a firearm that easily burns a whole through a human – or alien – body.

However, lasers have become so prevalent that it takes a truly unique approach to go down in the history books as one of the best-ever deployments of the technology in cinema, something the following five all pulled off with aplomb.

The five best lasers in movie history:

5. Congo (Frank Marshall, 1995)

Thanks entirely to Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton’s bibliography became big business in Hollywood, which ended up backfiring when both Congo and The 13th Warrior could best be described as noble misfires.

Is Congo a good movie? No, it most certainly is not, but it’s damn sure an entertaining one. Whether it’s Tim Curry’s deliciously hammy performance or Delroy Lindo establishing dominance over his prized sesame cake, it’s so unintentionally kitschy that there’s plenty of fun to be had.

Never is that spirit captured better than in the climactic action scene, where a primatologist finds themselves surrounded by a horde of murderous gorillas. How does Laura Linney’s Karen Ross rectify the situation? By stuffing a rare diamond into a prototype laser, turning it into a weapon, and mowing those motherfuckers down. It doesn’t make sense, but it’s glorious nonetheless.

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4. Austin Powers in Goldmember (Jay Roach, 2002)

Paying off a running gag that spanned the entire trilogy, Mike Myers‘ Dr. Evil finally realises his dream when he discovers his sharks have frickin’ laser beams attached to their friggin’ heads at long last.

In a desperate plea for his father’s affection, Seth Green’s Scott Evil gives his chrome-domed old man exactly what he’d wished for, and it only takes a second for the laser sharks to unleash their previously unfulfilled potential.

A poor, hapless goon in the shortest of short shorts is summarily blown away by the shark-mounted laser, and it’s easy to see why Dr. Evil was almost overcome with the emotion of his vision being achieved.

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3. Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman, 1984)

Probably not the safest equipment in the world, Ghostbusters nonetheless made the wearing of a portable particle accelerator look cool as hell, and busting made them feel really good when the central quartet unleashed the proton pack to its fullest capabilities.

Although it was stated in no uncertain terms that the streams should never be crossed, at the end of the day, there’s only one way to prevent New York City from falling victim to a supernatural invasion, and it’s by doing exactly that.

The proton packs have become one of the most integral parts of the Ghostbusters mythos over the last 40 years, but it’s never looked better than it did in the 1984 original despite those intervening decades of technological advancement.

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2. Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977)

As a sprawling sci-fi saga, there are plenty of lasers to be found across the Star Wars universe, but none of them can hold a candle to the original Death Star, reducing the entire planet of Alderaan to smouldering space rubble.

It was, in fact, no moon, but a laser so goddamned gargantuan it required a moon-sized spacecraft big enough to not just contain it but let it rip on any planet the evil Empire decided wasn’t worth orbiting anymore.

The easiest way to encourage Princess Leia to talk is by obliterating her home world, or so they thought. Instead, it only emboldens the Rebel Alliance to take down the Emperor and his forces once and for all, even if it took another two movies to get there in the end.

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1. Goldfinger (Guy Hamilton, 1964)

The single most iconic laser scene in cinema history obligates the single most iconic laser in history full stop, and it’ll take some doing for James Bond barely escaping his arch-nemesis torching his testes in Goldfinger to be dislodged from the summit.

Does 007 really think the malevolent Auric Goldfinger expects him to talk? Of course not; he expects him to die. The cultural impact of any scene can often be measured by how often it’s lampooned and imitated, which, by extension, places Goldfinger in a class of its own.

There have been 25 official Bond flicks and several more unauthorised or unofficial offshoots beyond that, and yet, six decades on the laser sequence remains one of the most unforgettable moments in the franchise’s existence.

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