The main villain, Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper) is a maniacal, crazed criminal and an elusive terrorist bomber extortionist. His cold, evil, crazy, menacing, hateful, ruthless, psychopathic and sadistic personality can be frightening and somewhat scary.
An elevator (without passengers) is stripped of its cables and crashes down onto the floor. The scene in which police officers rescue the elevator passengers from the car may be considered "intense." The bomb planted in the elevator shaft can be scary and frightening to the audience.
The elevator scene is followed by a hostage sequence, where one of the SWAT officers is held captive by a suicide bomber Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper), a maniacal criminal. Officer Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves) shoots his partner Officer Harry Temple in the leg to get the bomber to let go of Harry. The bomber then runs through the door, and it is implied that he commits suicide, but later it is seen that he did not. This may be considered "intense".
A variety of high-speed chases (both by car and by train) appear throughout the film. In particular, there is a Santa Monica rapid-transit city bus that has a C-4 bomb with a detonator linked to a speedometer, set to explode if the vehicle goes below a certain speed after arming. Jack also claims that there is "enough C4 to put a hole in the world" after it's a really big bomb. Thus, the bus must careen through the busy bustling city streets in the city and suburbs of Los Angeles in the morning rush hour peak, largely with a driver inexperienced with this kind of vehicle, unable to slow down for anything. As a result, the bus has numerous glancing collisions and has several near misses with pedestrians as they scramble to get out of its way even while the police struggle to minimize the danger. The closest call is when it strikes a baby carriage, but after a few horrifying seconds of it shown flying around in slow motion, it lands on the ground revealing it was only containing cans of milk and water.
Throughout the movie, one frightening and intense challenge builds up right after another and the lead characters are involved in a life-and-death situation (vitally or gravely serious problem with an unexpected solution), some which end badly such as Harry's death along with the other LAPD SWAT officers hunting down the bomber at his old home. Also, after driving on an empty freeway, Helen dies after trying to escape, falling to her death under the bus and getting run over. After her death, it's a heartbreaking scene, especially in the film. Later, there is another problem where there is a 50 foot gap in the freeway, but they cannot slow down and stop safely or change lanes. The heroes accelerate the bus up to top speed and manage to jump the gap.
Later, Jack unsuccessfully tries to diffuse the bomb under the bus while at the airport, ad after the cable connecting the towed sledge breaks, Jack nearly gets run over but incredibly survives. This can also be frightening and intense. Also, Jack punctures the fuel tanks with a screwdriver in the process, as the only means of hanging on and not getting run over. This creates another problem, but they manage to fool the villain long enough to escape the passengers from the bus. But during the rescue, as they are transferring the last bus passenger, the right rear tire of the bus blows out, and the bus passenger hangs on for dear life while being dragged across the tarmac at high speed. Amazingly, he is not run over and is pulled aboard to safety. Meanwhile, Jack and Annie are stranded but after fixing the positions of the steering wheel and the gas pedal, using a rope and room stick and escape to safety via a floor access panel.
Midway through the movie, the empty, out of fuel and out of control bus rams into a cargo plane in an airport and explodes.
After Howard realizes he has been fooled, he becomes irate and throws an angry outburst. Though it's brief, it can also be scary.
Later, after going underground, Annie is shown to be strapped with a vest rigged with explosives and dynamite. It's heartbreaking when she turns around and reveals herself. The standoff and the argument between Jack and Howard underground over Annie and the money bag can also be intense.
Later, Howard hijacks a Los Angeles Metro Red Line subway train. His true colors are fully shown as he shouts and shoots his gun in the air, and he even shoves Annie in the train and handcuffs her to a pole inside one of the train cars while ordering everyone off the train and the driver to set the train in motion at gunpoint, all in cold blood. Jack catches up and boards the train at the last second, after nearly getting hit and killed by the guardrail and the wall. Though it's nearly the end of the film, the tensions have risen to it's ultimate climax, particularly because Jack has no backup cops to support him, and the villain is using a dead man's handle type of device, so killing the villain without killing Annie is proving to be very difficult. later, Howard sadistically kills the train driver
While Jack climbs on the roof, Howard intimidates and scares Annie to the point where she becomes hysterical, hopeless and almost in the brink of tears and teases her for being a woman. And he does so without any mercy, sympathy or pity. Howard attempts to bribe to Jack by offering some of his ransom money but is enraged when the paint bomb explodes, splattering purple paint on his face, his police uniform and most importantly, his money, ruining it. Howard loses his temper and angrily fires at the ceiling but Jack manages to evade the bullets, however, he loses his pistol in the process. Howard's gun runs out of bullets so he angrily climbs on the train roof towards Jack to kill him.
The fight on the train can be really frightening and intense, now that the film has risen to it's highest climax. Jack and Howard exchange blows. Howard pins Jack down and beats Jack up but Jack wins the fight by forcing Howard head up towards an oncoming train signal light, decapitating his head.
Finally, there is one last problem. The tracks aren't finished and dead ends. The control panel of the train is completely shot up with bullets when Howard murdered the train driver. With no way to stop the train, and no way to unlock Annie from the pole (since the keys are with Howard's corpse, which is completely gone by now). So Jack accelerates the train to full speed as there is a slight chance the train can jump the track and make the 90 degree curve ahead and he and Annie brace themselves for death. The train picks up speed and derails through a construction site, up onto Hollywood Boulevard and skids to a stop. Aazingly, they both survive the crash.
Amazingly, only about twelve people are seen killed in this film; while others no matter how close they come to death, surprisingly survive. But these scenes are pretty intense and might disturb certain viewers who are prone to motion sickness and/or claustrophobia. And the deaths of the characters who don't survive throughout the film can be very emotional, heartbreaking and unsettling.
Recommended for ages 15+