We asked top AV engineers for their favourite movie scenes to test your home cinema

KEF R11 Meta speakers in a room next to a flatscreen TV
(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

If, like us, you are a home cinema enthusiast, there's the potential for every night to be movie night. So, it's only natural, over years of watching, to make a list of your favourite test scenes, those four or five-minute clips that will show off your home cinema system when friends and family come around.

But what if your day job was to design and build the products that actually immerse us in the on-screen action?

We have reached out to some of the biggest brands in the business to ask which test scenes their own engineers use to help them refine and perfect the performance of their products, whether it's a speaker package, AV receiver or projector.

Below, you will find a list of test scenes – some classics, some completely new to us – that give a fascinating insight into what these engineers are looking for.

You might even find a good excuse to add one or two new movies to your own collection...

David Bosch – Senior Research & Development Engineer, KEF

Blade Runner | The Final Cut Trailer | Warner Bros. Entertainment - YouTube Blade Runner | The Final Cut Trailer | Warner Bros. Entertainment - YouTube
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Blade Runner (1982) – Deckard meets Rachel

One of the few examples in film history in which the soundtrack seamlessly merges into the film to become a soundscape, and one never knows where the futuristic dystopian sounds of Vangelis’s music end and when the character’s personalities begin. Maybe this is the reason why the official soundtrack includes large pieces of the film’s dialogue. Any scene in this film is a masterpiece, but the scene in which Deckard and Rachel meet is so sonically meaningful for the rest of the story, and with a few sentences, drones and pads, the atmosphere is set for the rest of the film.

Tron Legacy (2010) – Entering The Grid scene

This scene introduces both Sam (Flynn’s son) and us into “The Grid”. This is done masterfully through the epic synths and brass section by Daft Punk, delivering one of the most timeless modern soundtracks that blends the worlds of film score and electronic music, which has already become a classic.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – The Star Gate sequence scene

Undeniably one of the most iconic, fascinating and timeless scenes of film history. This powerful scene sees Dave being a passenger through space and time in a whirlpool of speed and colour delivered by the eery and chilly otherworldly music of György Ligeti’s Requiem for Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, 2 Mixed Choirs & Orchestra.

Donnie Darko (Director’s Cut) (2004) – The school bus scene

Possibly my favourite film soundtrack, because it’s just such a simple but carefully curated list of 80s songs that hit a particular zeitgeist. In this scene, Head Over Heels by Tears for Fears plays prominently while a slow-motion panning camera introduces us to all the parties involved in what will be Donnie’s demise throughout the film. I don’t know many other scenes that so eloquently use one song to put the whole story into motion.

Yoshinori Ogata – Sound Master, Marantz

Baz Luhrmann’s ELVIS | Official Trailer - YouTube Baz Luhrmann’s ELVIS | Official Trailer - YouTube
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Elvis Presley (2022) Chapter 3 – Baby, Let’s Play House

This is the first singing scene in the film and it includes a monologue, dialogue on stage, and background noise from the audience, offering many elements to check besides the singing itself.

The Greatest Showman (2017) Chapter 11 – Never Enough

This scene features a performance in an opera house, singing in front of an orchestra. It includes a conversation in the audience, a quiet scene before the singing starts, and a build-up in volume towards the end of the song. I check the signal-to-noise ratio and ensure there is no distortion or collapse as the performance reaches its climax.

No Time to Die (2021) – Chapter 3/4

At the start of this chapter, 007 stands at the grave and is caught in an explosion, temporarily losing his hearing. The sound effects vividly convey this, and the contrast between this and normal scenes is a key listening point. Following this, there is a car chase with intense sounds such as screeching tyres, engine noise, and gunfire, typical of action films. At the end of this scene, there is an effect where the sound of a bell moves from the back to the front, overhead, which is another key listening point.

Shinichi Yamauchi – Sound Master, Denon

Interstellar - Trailer - Official Warner Bros. UK - YouTube Interstellar - Trailer - Official Warner Bros. UK - YouTube
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Interstellar (2014) – Chapter 9

An extraordinary scene where a second Earth is sought from another galaxy amidst the crisis of human extinction. We check if the abnormal gravity on the spaceship as it passes through the wormhole, the impacts it encounters, and the creaking sounds inside the ship are well expressed to convey the reality and sense of dread. Additionally, we ensure that the sense of freedom and floating sensation after safely passing through the wormhole is clearly shown.

Unbroken (2014) – Chapter 1

This is one of the earliest works in Dolby Atmos, but its high level of craftsmanship has not faded even after ten years. It is an excellent piece of content that allows you to feel the realism as if you are actually in a fighter plane. We check whether the sense of the Zero fighter’s movement is seamlessly flying in all directions throughout the theatre, and how accurately that sense of speed is conveyed. Additionally, we assess whether the numerous explosives scattered across the soundstage are positioned appropriately in relation to the screen when they burst.

Mission Impossible (Rogue Nation) (2015) – Chapter 4

An elegant opera is playing in the background, right up to the death struggle and gunfight scenes that unfold just behind the stage, and both the action and the music reach their climax beautifully.

The key to playback is to have both the clarity and subtlety of the music and the sharpness and dynamism of the action scenes at a high level, and you will experience a sense of immersion and entertainment that is hard to describe.

Phil Millross – Business Manager & Mix Engineer, PMC Pro

Top Gun: Maverick - Official Trailer (2022) - Paramount Pictures - YouTube Top Gun: Maverick - Official Trailer (2022) - Paramount Pictures - YouTube
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Top Gun Maverick (2022) – Chapter 14, Dog fight scene

Towards the end of the movie, the dog-fight scene creates the feeling of a claustrophobic cockpit with excellent vocals, even though the pilots' voices are recorded from within their oxygen masks. The fighter jets' sound design, separation, and panning ensure that you feel like you are in the cockpit of Tom Cruise's FA-18 Super Hornet. It is an excellent test of dynamics and, on a great system, almost gives you motion sickness!

The Dark Knight (2008) – Chapter 1, Bank heist

The opening scene of the movie is an oldie but a goodie. The soundscape is staggering, blending subtle and punchy sound effects and the 'metronome-style ticking' within Hans Zimmer's score. The atmosphere builds impressively until the bank robbery scene concludes with an epic school bus crashing through the wall. Each sound is clean, well-defined, and has been meticulously crafted to create an all-encompassing immersive sound stage.

House of Dragon (2022) – Episode 9, Season 1, Meleys’ final roar

The music in this series is a beautiful cinematic score by Ramin Djwadi. You hear the roar of the dragon Syrax in episode 1, but the final roar of Meleys in episode 9, season 1 is a real test of a system. It is a special memory for me as I was at Warner Brothers during the final mix, and that part stood out. The sound design is exceptional as each dragon has its own individual sonic texture and character, some subtle and some not. This scene is a prime example of well-crafted impact and scale; we can't wait to see what season 2 has in store.

James Todd – Senior Global Product Line Manager, Harman Luxury Audio

Monsters, Inc. (2001) – Door chase

Home Cinema is for the whole family, and this is a personal favourite as I am a fan of Pixar movies from this era. The soundtrack for this film is remarkable, and this scene highlights it with the dynamic sounds of slamming doors, Boo’s giggles echoing around the massive warehouse, and the rush of the roller coaster ride of the door-moving mechanisms. Get this scene right with well-optimised subwoofers for dynamics and the right speaker array for that sense of scale inside the huge warehouse.

Hanz Zimmer Live in Prague (2017) – Pirates of the Caribbean Suite

One doesn’t need to listen to the entire suite when evaluating the performance of an immersive system, but it is hard not to. It’s a dynamic and rambunctious suite with a soft middle. The first and final pieces are orchestral layers of raspy brass with pounding drums and a choir to finish, all led by Tina Guo on cello. When testing a system, it is ideal for evaluating subwoofer configuration and channel balance, as all loudspeakers are busy delivering the dynamics of this music performance into a room.

Ready Player One (2018) – The race

We have been using Ready Player One for evaluation and demonstrations for nearly six years because of its incredible Dolby Atmos soundtrack. This scene is a classic go-to for highlighting subwoofer dynamics, front loudspeaker dynamics, and fast-moving immersive audio. A great system will have no limits while not perforating your eardrums with distortion.

Paul White – Head of Product Management, Visual Instruments, Epson Europe

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 3D - Official Trailer - YouTube THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 3D - Official Trailer - YouTube
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The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) – Chapter 7

This scene in Times Square, shows a difficult high-contrast scene that provides a good test of a projector’s HDR capabilities, with bright neon at night time, the detail and colour gradation of the neon panels against the night-time sky allows for suitable comparisons and a test of HDR performance.

Lion King (2019 – Live Action) – Chapter 1

This scene featuring Mufasa, allows us to freeze the frames and look at the detail within the lion’s fur, whiskers and eyes – all providing an examination of the projector’s resolution-reproduction and sharpness that can be enjoyed with highly detailed scenes. It's key to being able to show intricate details and fine textures accurately.

Oblivion (2013) – Chapter 8

The scene with Morgan Freeman is one of my favourite scenes to be able to really test contrast ratio performance. Initially, Morgan Freeman is in total darkness; then he lights his cigar with a match, providing illumination to his face and glasses. However the light from the match is very bright and the details that you want to see are subtle, while the background remains totally dark. The differences between the light on his face, the glare on his glasses and the totally black background are a real test.

Peter Comeau and the Wharfedale design team

The Dark Knight (2008) – Joker’s lorry flip

This is one of the Wharfedale design team’s go-to test scenes for speakers and subwoofers. The brilliant soundtrack, composed by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, keeps viewers engaged and their hearts pumping. For all-round dynamics, this scene really tests the mettle of your speaker system.

When the second bazooka shot is fired by the Joker, played by the brilliant Heath Ledger, and Batman arrives to do his thing, the movie really gets going! Fast forward to 1hr 18m and when the Joker’s lorry does a front flip, your subwoofer(s) should shake the room, likely inducing a noise complaint from your neighbours!

Baby Driver (2017) – Bank heist getaway

The synchronisation of music with the on-screen events of the opening scene creates a compelling experience, demonstrating the power of a well-curated soundtrack in film storytelling. Any home cinema system truly able to pull off this soundtrack requires an abundance of scale, pace, timing, dynamic ability and midrange expression, creating an engaging soundfield and immersing the viewer in the music’s energy without biting their ears off.


This week: celebrating Home Cinema Week on What Hi-Fi?

The nine best musical movies to test your surround sound system

14 ways to upgrade your home cinema without spending a fortune

The ideal home cinema sound system may not be what you think it is

Andy Madden

Andy is Deputy Editor of What Hi-Fi? and a consumer electronics journalist with nearly 20 years of experience writing news, reviews and features. Over the years he's also contributed to a number of other outlets, including The Sunday Times, the BBC, Stuff, and BA High Life Magazine. Premium wireless earbuds are his passion but he's also keen on car tech and in-car audio systems and can often be found cruising the countryside testing the latest set-ups. In his spare time Andy is a keen golfer and gamer.