Gravity is a movie built almost exclusively out of panic attacks, with just enough easing up to make sure the movie can catch you off guard again to give you a brand-new arrhythmia. But which moment racked the most nerves? We went through the film and ranked its 26 standout tense moments from least to most anxiety-inducing. Make sure you have at least 5 percent oxygen, take deep breaths, and dig in.
26. After floating to shore, Stone has trouble standing up.
Some have wondered, “But how far a walk is it to civilization?” But really, the viewer can safely assume she’ll be okay from here on in, assuming some lingering space debris doesn’t fall on her head.
25. Kowalski finds a twirling Stone after their station is hit, bumps into her, and tethers them together.
Everything feels safe for a moment, here in Clooney’s arms.
24. Trapped in the Russian escape pod, Stone radios for help and reaches someone speaking Chinese … but it’s just a random Chinese person and his dog.
Sure, this was a disappointment, but hardly life-threatening in and of itself. And any lingering tension was abated when Ryan and the puppy started baying at each other; it was like a little space Hallmark ad.
23. After Stone turns off the O2 in the Russian space station and waits for death, Kowalski opens the latch and pops in.
If this weren’t her imagination, it would’ve been an intense way to kill her. Instead, I got distracted wondering if I’d get the kissing scene everyone had been expecting since seeing the cast listing.
22. Floating beads of fire in the Russian space station.
This would’ve been terrifying if it weren’t so goddamned gorgeous.
21. The Russian escape pod gets Stone near the Chinese space station, but not exactly there. She has to make a jump for it and use the fire extinguisher to reach her goal.
If it’s good enough for Wall-E, it’s good enough for Sandy. Any Pixar connections automatically defuse unhappiness.
20. Stone, attached to a space station only by her tangled foot, holds onto Kowalski by a tether. Knowing that if they stay together they will both get pulled loose, he lets go.
In a movie filled with space really fucking with humans, it was nice to see a bad thing happen to a human who was acting on his own volition.
19. It’s time to drive the Russian escape pod to the Chinese space station, but it won’t move. Ryan taps the gauge, which reveals the pod is out of fuel.
This should be devastating, but it plays out like perfect sitcom slapstick. Ryan even says, “You got to be kidding me,” like a class-cutting Zack Morris seeing Mr. Belding stroll into the Max. I’m surprised it wasn’t soundtracked by a sad trombone.
18. On the way to the Russian space station, Stone’s O2 red-lines. Kowalski says there is still some in the suit but that she has to calm down to make it last.
“It’s important to calm down or your death is inevitable. So it’s simple: Just think about how life-or-death the stakes are, and then take long slow relaxing breaths. And when we’re out of this, I’ll take you to a buffet and you can think about not eating.”
17. Her suit filled with her own CO2, Stone struggles up the Russian station to get into the airlock.
This right after watching her space mentor drift off into oblivion. Is “asphyxiation” the stage of grief after or before “bargaining”?
16. She has to detach from the aflame Russian space station.
At this point, you can feel NASA recruitment levels dropping, and not just because of the government shutdown.
15. After Kowalski and Stone try to land on the Russian space station and fail to grab hold of anything, Stone catches her foot onto a parachute strap that was caught on the station.
Not only is she hanging by parachute string, but she would have to do a super-hard space-sit-up to get up. Suddenly I’m anxious and insecure about my core.
14. Stone rushes to blast off in the Chinese escape pod while the space station destructs around her … but the instructions are all in Chinese.
Have you ever had a friend recommend an authentic Chinese restaurant, and you get there but the menu is all in Chinese? You know that you’d recognize the dishes in English, but you’re still scared that if you mis-order, you might die. This is just like that, if some dishes were so spicy that they would liquefy your body from the inside out.
13. Kowalski and Stone see the first chain-reaction storm of debris fast approaching.
This is antithetical to everything the Millennium Falcon taught us about how easy it is to steer around asteroids.
12. During the first debris storm, Stone is stuck to a spinning platform.
All the fear of being helpless in space, paired with the carnival anxiety that a Gravitron will go haywire while you’re on it.
11. Stone gets the Russian escape pod to detach from the station, but the parachute is tangled and she keeps on crashing into the space station.
Have you ever looked at a yo-yo and thought, Man, your life must be terrible? Well, at least it’s not in space.
10. Stone crashes into Shariff, and we see the giant hole in his face.
“How do we raise the stakes, son?” Alfonso Cuarón asked his screenwriting partner and son Jonás Cuarón. “I don’t know, papa. How about we show that happy, Harvard-educated family man with a shard-size hole through his face?” “But how will it give the world the same nightmare forever?” “We could make it fill up the entirety of an IMAX screen.” “I have never been prouder of you, my son!”
9. Stone’s escape pod shakes and heats up as it reenters the Earth’s atmosphere and random parts of the panel start smoking.
Why is the Chinese escape pod, whose sole purpose is to safely enter Earth’s atmosphere, nearly falling apart and/or catching on fire for doing just that? It feels like the technology the fictional Chinese used to make the pod is shoddier than what Cuarón used to make the movie.
8. Ryan tries using the Russian radios but hears alarms: The station is on fire!
This is what we get for oohing and awing when we saw those gorgeous fire beads before. Remember the law of Chekhov’s fire beads.
7. Ryan tries to put out the fire with a fire extinguisher, but it malfunctions, blowing her back so she hits her head and gets knocked unconscious for a second.
Does nothing ever work in space?!?!
6. Out of propellant, Kowalski and Stone crash into the Russian space station hard and scramble to get a handhold before drifting off into space yet again.
I’m no astronaut, but I’m pretty sure “fly at a super-high speed into a giant broken space station and hope you accidentally grab onto something so well that you don’t immediately lose your grip when the person you’re tethered to flies past” is the worst plan a handsome person ever thought of.
5. After Stone’s splashdown, she tumbles into the water and can’t swim because her suit has filled up and is weighing her down.
This is the equivalent of the end of the slasher movie when the heroine hugs her boyfriend, thinking it’s all over, and then the killer leaps up from behind the couch, the ax through the head not having killed him. That, except wetter.
4. But more tense was the moment that preceded it, when Stone opened the pod door and the craft was filled with water.
This is the harshest welcome to Earth since Will Smith in Independence Day. And the sounds cutting in and out! The Oscar for Most Sound-Mixing-Induced Nightmares goes to everyone.
3. As Stone and Kowalski explore their destroyed ship, we see a Marvin the Martian toy float calmly by and then … blammo: a human head crashes into Stone.
“Ha-ha! What a nice bit of irony and levity to cut the film’s tens— AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”
2. Stone is struggling to detach the parachute from the escape pod so she can depart from the Russian space station. But then the debris comes around for the second time!
Below is a picture of a sitting duck. Now imagine it surrounded by incoming metal shards.
1. Ryan detaches from her platform and flips and flips and flips …
Ryan never gets more helpless than this. A lack of control is at the heart of most fears (we’re all going to die one day, regardless of what movies we decide to see or blog posts we read and write yada yada yada). And we, the viewers, are stuck with her, in her helmet, wondering if the flipping will ever end. If you hadn’t read any reviews, it was hard not to think that the movie was going to be 90 minutes of a flipping Sandra Bullock crying and slowly dying. I don’t want to talk about it anymore — I’ve already had my Gravity-induced panic attack.