The 10 Best Traps in Movie History

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Whether inspired or indicative, the 10 snares suggested here have kept many a moviegoer on the edge of their seat.

Trickery. Movies are built on and out of it. The twist ending. The unusual casting or the actor playing against type. Even stories can create their own magic through their use of ideas and invention. One of the most popular, especially in certain genre titles, is the trap. Villains love to set up such ambushes as part of their devious plans, while heroes occasionally use same to defeat their foes. The more criminally insane often employ these concepts as a way of teaching the immoral or uncaring victim pool a lesson, while the police implement similarly styled subterfuge to discover such psychosis. In fact, one franchise, the one built out of James Wan and Leigh Whannel's game changing suspense thriller Saw, went from being about a madman with a mission to all about the traps. In fact, few fans can remember the mythology. Most remember the various cruel contraptions Jigsaw uses to meter out his revenge.

Therefore, we think it's time to celebrate these moviemaking mechanics with one of our patented lists. This time around, in celebration of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire arriving on DVD, Blu-ray, and Digital HD on 7 March, we have to come up with some clear caveats. First, we aren't talking about mere set-ups. Putting a policeman in a dress hoping a rapist will target him is not our idea of a true "trap." Secondly, we had to limit Saw's influence on the final tally. From rotting pig grinders to gun barrels against door peep holes, these movies could easily make up their own compendium (hey...). Finally, we are dealing with contemporary films here. Certainly there were times in the past when the idea was used, but it's better to limit our scope to what's happened in the post-modern era. With that being said, here is out list of the 10 Best Movie Traps of All Time. They may not be the most inventive or terrifying, but all have an impact that lingers long after other elements of the movie mentioned have faded away.

#10 - The Title Spa (The Drowning Pool)

This is a bit of a stretch, but it still qualifies. When Paul Newman's character, private investigator Lew Harper, is trapped with a target's wife in the above listed locale, he tries everything to escape. Finally, he decides to flood the entire room, hoping the pressure will pop the door and/or windows. Placing clothing in the drain, he turns on the massive spigots and lets the entire space fill with water. It's tension upon suspense until some suspicious character's return, hoping to get Harper to "talk". They get something instead. A bit fat liquid surprise.

#9 - The Needle Pit (Saw II)
Of all the Saw traps -- and there are literally dozens to choose from -- we picked this as one of the most horrific. It's not the most ingenious. It's not the most complicated. In fact, it's just a hole in the floor of a random room filled with disgusting used syringes. The point is, Jigsaw sets this up as a test of one of his disciples, and when a pissed off drug dealer throws her in to find the key (the "needle in a haystack" so to speak) the agony on her face is very real. So is the psychological trauma.

#8 - The Laser Hallway (Resident Evil)

While Paul W. S. Anderson's adaptation of the popular video game made some fans angry, others have turned it into one of the longest running and most successful franchises in film. While the sequels seem to rely more and more on big budget action, the original movie had some ingenuity to it, including this bit where a wary computer trying to protect itself unleashes a dissection distraction for the military men trying to infiltrate its secrets. The F/X may be a bit CF-corny, but the end result is one of the most memorable elements in the entire movie.

#7 - The "Trick" Island (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire)

If the first Hunger Games was all about survival, the second version of the dystopian phenom (arriving on home video today) was about rebellion and fighting the system. To that extent, in order to keep the competitors in line this time around, the entire arena -- a Truman Show like island -- is one big trap, with timed floods, poisonous fog, etc. used to control/kill off the competitors. Eventually, our heroine and her allies figure out the atoll's timepiece tech specs, leading to a major reveal, and the moment when the entire franchise turns from kids killing kids to kids taking on the Establishment.

#6 - 55 MPH or BOOM! (Speed)

It's an idea so simple it's surprising no one else thought of it. A disgruntled cop, hoping to get the money his agency failed to deliver, sets up a bomb on a city bus. He then lets everyone know that if the vehicle travels at less than 55 MPH, the entire blows sky high. Placing a policeman on the bus only ups the ante, as does the desire for those involved to thwart the explosive plan. In the end, our villain has more mischief up his ornery sleeve, but his initial trap takes the four wheel drive cake.

Next Page





'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.


Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.


3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".


'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.