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The Thirteen Greatest Caves in Movie History

Have you ever noticed that a cave is pretty much always significant in a movie? Like, if a character ever goes near a cave, there’s basically a 100 percent chance that something awful will happen to them — either they’ll be attacked by mutants or gargoyles, or they’ll go nuts and accuse a kindly Indian doctor of rape, or they’ll vanish into sensory nothingness for seven years. And with two cave movies coming up — today’s Sanctum and this April’s Werner Herzog documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams (both made, interestingly, in 3-D) — now seemed like an appropriate time to count down cinema’s thirteen greatest caves. And here they are.

Earlier: Rocks of Ages: The Thirteen Greatest Movie Performances by Boulders

Most of us think of caves as places that must not smell particularly nice. But for Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the serial-killing anti-hero with a superhuman sense of smell in Tom Tykwer’s adaptation of Patrick Suskind’s novel, a cave is the only real getaway from the overwhelming stench of humanity. (It helps, of course, that Grenouille has no smell of his own, being pretty much devoid of anything resembling morality.)
Billy Wilder’s masterful film, in which Kirk Douglas’s washed-up journalist tries to revive his career by spinning a publicity and political circus out of the story of a man trapped inside a cave, was not just prescient in its portrait of a media culture run amok, but also in its depiction of the immediate power of the human interest story. It also gave us the unforgettable (and decidedly non-cave-related) line: “I met a lot of hard-boiled eggs in my life, but you - you’re twenty minutes.”
It’s not particularly well-remembered today, but we were pretty much scared to death as kids by this admittedly goofy 1972 made-for-TV movie, which posited a small outpost of gargoyles from Hell living in a bunch of caves near a small Southwestern town, and basically just wanting to be left alone.
Caves can make people do scary things, and in David Lean’s adaptation of E.M. Forster’s classic novel, the Marabar Caves provide the fulcrum on which the story turns – as Judy Davis’s Adela Quested is disoriented and scared by the caves and then accuses Victor Banerjee’s Dr. Aziz of attempting to rape her inside them. For better and for worse, “the caves made me do it” does not fly as an alibi in today’s judicial system.
Really, a movie called The Cave in a slideshow of movie caves should be a bit higher on this list, except for the fact that this super-lame thriller, in which a group of divers are attacked Descent-style by a bunch of strange creatures in a network of underwater caves, doesn’t actually take full advantage of the terrifying potential of what can happen in dark, dank, closed-in spaces. Still: Good title.
We were too drunk and/or high when we saw it to make much sense of it, but we’re pretty sure that the mythical snake living in the caves beneath a stately English home in Ken Russell’s rather loose adaptation of Bram Stoker’s lesser-known novel was meant to be somehow symbolic. That it’s tended to by noblewoman and ‘80s sex symbol Amanda Donohoe in full-on dominatrix gear pretty much seals the deal.
We always knew Michael Mann was a romantic, and perhaps the most romantic scene in his filmography happened in a cave, under a waterfall, as Daniel Day-Lewis told Madeleine Stowe that he would find her – just before jumping off a cliff and letting her be taken prisoner by vengeful Indians.
The Bat-Cave needs no introduction, obviously. But Christopher Nolan’s Batman reboot added a compelling twist to the superhero’s iconic lair by building it on the site of a traumatic childhood incident that underlined Bruce Wayne’s paralyzing fear of…bats.
Some caves are protected by cave trolls, some by humanoid albino mutant thingamabobs. But perhaps the deadliest cave dweller in all of cinema is the Rabbit of Caerbannog, which lays hilariously bloody and gruesome waste to a number of King Arthur’s crew in the Pythons’ timeless classic. Seriously, don’t let the fact that it’s just a rabbit fool you.
All three of the original Indiana Jones films have prominent caves in them, so it’s fitting that the whole series basically started off inside a cave – the same one in which, might we add, Indy also came across the greatest boulder in film history.
Technically not a cave, which is also what makes this one of the most iconic cave scenes in the movies. Han Solo and co. fly the Millennium Falcon into a cave on a large asteroid, only to discover that, well, this cave seems a bit different.
The Mines of Moria battle sequence from the first LOTR movie was the first thing we ever saw from Peter Jackson’s magnum opus –the studio used a reel featuring this section of the film to promote it well in advance of its premiere. And with good reason, too: Somehow both claustrophobic and majestic, sad and frenzied, this was arguably the highpoint of the entire series. That terrifying Cave Troll certainly helped.
Okay, this is it – the gold standard by which all movie caves will have to be judged by. Neil Marshall’s film is, of course, very very scary, but it’s also kind of ingenious – continuing to build the tension between its characters even as it’s terrifying the crap out of us by having mutant cave monsters chase them around.
The Thirteen Greatest Caves in Movie History