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The Most Terrifying Moments In Nope, Ranked

"Nope," the latest horror film from Jordan Peele, follows a horse trainer and his sister who seek to capture undeniable proof of a UFO hovering over their farm. They get more than they bargained for when horses, and eventually people, begin to fall prey to the mysterious entity, which does not want to be caught on film. It won't surprise most fans to learn that "Nope" offers Peele's signature mix of character-driven storytelling and sheer terror, interspersed with moments of unexpected comedy. But this time, he brings in elements of the Western and sci-fi genres, as well as meditations on untamable nature and humanity's obsession with turning real-life horror into exploitative entertainment.

There's certainly enough horror to go around: "Nope" is packed with fear, from expertly-crafted jump scares to claustrophobic settings. The nightmare builds and builds and builds, before exploding in a cathartic display of unadulterated terror. But which scenes, you might ask, prompt the loudest screams? We're here to answer that question. These are the most terrifying moments in "Nope," ranked from the mildly frightening to the absolutely nightmarish.

Warning: Major spoilers follow for "Nope."

12. Gordy the Chimp

Wild animals aren't tools to be controlled. Yes, they can be wrangled, and they can even come to an understanding with their trainers. But they can never really be tamed — all it takes is a single extraneous variable for their true nature to break loose. Nowhere is this more evident than in the character of Gordy the chimpanzee, played by famed motion capture expert Terry Notary. In the world of "Nope," Gordy stars alongside a younger Ricky Park on a domestic sitcom about a family that adopts a chimpanzee.

The very first scene in "Nope" shows the aftermath of Gordy's rampage on the set of his show. Another early scene sees Ricky reflect on the tragedy, recalling a "Saturday Night Live" sketch featuring Chris Kattan as Gordy (presumably channeling his famous Mango character). The way the event is described, it doesn't seem so bad. But later on, Gordy's violent outburst is shown in more detail. We watch as Gordy is triggered by a balloon popping, sending him into a murderous frenzy. He injures at least two of his co-stars, even tearing the face off of one of them, all while little Ricky hides under a table. Gordy sees him, but rather than attack him, he goes to give him a fist bump, which is a trademark of their characters. At this point, security shoots Gordy to death. It's one of the film's most effective jump scares.

11. Death by nickel

One of the first scenes in "Nope" features Keith David as Otis Haywood Sr., the patriarch of the Haywood horse training family. He's having a dialogue with his son, OJ (Daniel Kaluuya), which is cut short by mysterious debris falling from the sky. As the old man looks up to see what's coming down, he's struck by what is later revealed to be a nickel. His son rushes him to the hospital, but it's too late. Otis dies before he's even listed in the opening credits.

Otis' sudden death reflects the movie's wider theme of chaos. Initially, the nickel is said to have fallen from a private airplane. Though nickels are among the most small and ordinary items around, when it falls from 20,000 feet up, it hits the ground with deadly velocity. This is described in the film as a "bad miracle," as it's unlikely enough to be statistically impossible. It's later revealed that Otis' death was probably caused by the UFO discarding its waste, rather than a private plane. This transforms the loss into the first casualty in the battle between the Haywoods and the alien, which makes Otis' death even more chaotically frightening.

10. Looking a horse in the eye

"Nope" is a sci-fi horror film about an alien and its war against the denizens of California's Agua Dulce desert. But some of the movie's most intense moments come from cold, hard reality. One of the earliest scenes in "Nope" sees OJ Haywood and his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) working as horse wranglers on the set of a Hollywood movie. While they prepare to shoot a scene, something goes horribly wrong.

OJ tries his best to get everyone on set to respect his animals. But he's not assertive enough when he tells people to stay clear of the horse's hind legs, and fails to convey the seriousness of animal safety. When a lighting technician holds a reflective ball in front of Lucky the horse, the animal sees its own distorted image in the reflection and freaks out. In a sudden burst of movement, Lucky kicks out behind himself, nearly injuring a crew member who's standing too close.

As a result of this on-set accident, the Haywoods are pulled from the movie, and the horse is replaced with a CGI animal. Still, the moment when Lucky kicks a box out of a crew member's hands with potentially deadly force is a haunting reminder of the raw power of wild nature.

9. Early sightings and cloud coverage

"Nope" is an expertly paced horror film, slowly unraveling the mystery of its alien entity over the course of its runtime. Whenever the UFO reveals itself, the audience gets to take in a little bit more detail. The earliest sightings are especially provocative, with OJ catching a fleeting glimpse of the craft as it retreats behind a mountain or above the clouds. The audience always gets to see what OJ sees, which makes it immediately clear that he's dealing with a bona fide alien UFO and not a large weather balloon or an experimental military vehicle.

These early glimpses of the UFO are paired with its abduction of OJ's beloved horses. This means there's no time to gaze in awe and wonder at the mysterious alien object and perhaps imagine that it might come in peace. The entity immediately asserts itself as something to be feared and treated with caution, and it only gets more menacing as the characters learn more about its true nature. Things turn truly strange when they discover the UFO generates a cloud that can be used as camouflage. While all the other clouds move across the sky throughout the day, this cloud stays perfectly still. It's a deeply unsettling image: The UFO is hidden in plain sight, constantly watching, its true purpose as yet unknown.

8. The aliens finally show their faces

One of the scariest moments in "Nope" comes when OJ has a face-to-face confrontation with the aliens, who are portrayed by men in suits, rather than CGI or animatronic effects. Before OJ even realizes they're there, the audience can see them slowly slinking about in the background, poking their heads out from behind corners. This sequence is tremendously effective, especially when one alien sneaks up behind OJ. Caught off guard, OJ acts on instinct and slugs the creature right in the face. This knocks off its mask and reveals the "alien" to be nothing more than a prankster.

Despite the comedic payoff, this scene is genuinely terrifying. At this point in the film, we have no clue what form the alien might take: A low-fi man-in-a-suit look is just as believable as an immaculate ball of light or a CGI monstrosity. This makes it devastatingly clear that despite their bravery, OJ and Emerald are acting without a compass and trying to intuit their way through an impossible situation. They want to get genuine photographic proof of alien life, but they have no idea just how dangerous their situation truly is.

7. Praying mantis

Part of OJ and Emerald's plan to capture photographic proof of the alien involves setting up a pair of security cameras around the Haywood farm, which they point at the sky. To do this, they enlist the aid of a helpful electronics store employee named Angel Torres (Brandon Perea). Shortly after OJ has a run-in with pranksters disguised as aliens, Emerald looks to one of the cameras to see if there's anything in the sky. She's shocked to find an insect-like monster in full view of the camera.

In fact, this terrifying creature is just a praying mantis that climbed on top of the equipment. But its sudden appearance marks one of the movie's few jump scares. This is a simple move, but an undeniably effective one. Unfortunately, it also blocks the camera's view of the actual UFO — though the alien also has the ability to knock out all electrical signals, rendering digital cameras ineffective at capturing its disk-shaped visage. Either way, the praying mantis has its horror timing down, as it flies away as soon as the UFO leaves the camera's range.

6. You can't tame a predator

At night, OJ sees mysterious lights shining from Ricky Park's ranch-slash-theme park. It's initially unclear what's going on, but a later scene reveals that Ricky is attempting to train the UFO to obey his commands and appear when he calls. But, as OJ puts it, "You can't tame a predator." Ricky learns this truth in one of the film's most shocking sequences.

Hoping to turn the UFO into a theme park attraction, Ricky promises 40-odd guests that they'll soon witness a true wonder. Among the guests is Ricky's former co-star, who wears a veil that doesn't completely conceal her heavily scarred face. The UFO appears, and as the guests look up at it, it creates a whirlwind that lifts them into the sky, allowing the UFO to capture them in its maw. The scene is terrifying in its matter-of-factness: The tourists die utterly pointless deaths due to Ricky's desire to profit off something that should be treated with respect and caution. Clearly, he learned nothing from the Gordy incident — and neither did his scarred co-star, for that matter.

5. The UFO's true nature is revealed

When Ricky Park and his theme park guests are lifted into the sky, the UFO reveals its true nature. It's not a vehicle for an extraterrestrial being: It is, itself, the alien lifeform. This is made clear when the theme park attendees are sucked up into the UFO's body. The process is an increasingly tight squeeze that is mercilessly depicted through claustrophobic use of negative space. As the passage reaches its most narrow point, a screaming attendee sees one of the Haywood horses, partially digested and stripped of layers of flesh. The UFO isn't just capturing people and horses — it's eating them.

While the audience is spared the sight of people being slowly and hideously digested, OJ hears their guttural screams of anguish as he sees the UFO fly by. He's able to hide from it and even track it, thanks to the unceasing shrieks of victims being absorbed for their nutrients. It's a deeply unsettling moment, made even more harrowing by the incredible sound design. Hearing the dying screams of dozens of people ripple across speakers is a morbid delight.

4. Trapped in the car

Before the truth of the UFO is revealed, OJ suspects it might not be a ship, but the alien itself. Once his suspicions are confirmed, he resolves to use his animal training skills to defeat it. He also discovers that the UFO only eats people who look directly in its eye. As he drives his pickup truck in the rain, he's accosted by the UFO. At first, he only notices this because the rain stops falling on his car, despite the fact that he can still see it plummeting in the distance. He slowly opens the door and peeks outside, only to see the UFO hovering above him. He mutters the movie's title to himself before he closes the door again and waits the UFO out. Since he doesn't look directly at its eye, he's not attacked.

Part of the mystery of the UFO is its strange behavior. Like a wild animal, it can never be fully understood — but it can be dealt with, as long as its potential wrangler keeps his cool. Through it all, OJ does indeed keep his cool and live up to his father's legacy as a great Hollywood animal trainer. Sure, the alien is a bit different from a horse, but the same general principles apply: Don't look it in the eye, and always maintain control. This allows OJ to formulate a plan to defeat the UFO. As he puts it, "If it has a spirit, it can be broken."

3. UFO vomit

After the UFO finishes digesting the people from Ricky Park's ranch, it hovers over the Haywood house. OJ is stuck in his car, but Emerald and Angel are trapped inside the building. Suddenly, the UFO begins spewing metal and blood from its mouth. This nauseating deluge can only be described as UFO vomit. It's not just gross, either: The imagery of keys falling from the sky evokes the death of Emerald and OJ's father in the film's opening. Is the UFO telling them that it's responsible? Or is this just a wild beast doing what its digestive system dictates must be done? Either way, the sight of gooey blood dripping down the windows of the house feels like a sci-fi twist on horror classic "Evil Dead." Emerald and Angel have no choice but to endure their film's sudden acknowledgement of the haunted house genre.

Fortunately, Emerald, Angel, and OJ all survive the night. When morning comes and the UFO leaves, they abandon the ranch and resolve to come up with a plan to capture the UFO on film and take it down once and for all.

2. The impossible shot

For the final showdown with the UFO, OJ, Emerald, and Angel recruit Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott), the cinematographer from the film OJ and his horse briefly work on in the film's first act. Holst is obsessed with the idea of capturing an impossible shot; one of his earlier scenes finds him looking at footage of a tiger and a giant snake engaged in a fight to the death. As it turns out, Holst's impossible shot is a doomed mission.

After capturing the UFO on film using his handmade analog camera, Holst decides this footage still isn't enough for him. Thus, he abandons Angel and draws the UFO's attention, filming continuously all the while. He keeps rolling even as the UFO lifts him up with a whirlwind and devours him whole. Does Holst intend to die in this horrifying moment? It's left ambiguous. Moreover, the movie doesn't reveal whether or not any of his footage survives the attack. But even if nobody gets to see it, he certainly does manage to film his so-called impossible shot.

1. The UFO's true form

After killing Holst and attacking Angel (who survives through sheer luck), the UFO turns its attention to the Haywood siblings. As it seeks eye contact to lock on for the kill, the creature slowly abandons its flying saucer shape in favor of what is likely its true form. Its ribbon-like appendages evoke the inflatable air dancers OJ uses to herd and wrangle it, which might imply the UFO is simply mimicking the arm-waving tube men. It's also possible that it doesn't even have a true form, and merely shapeshifts to whatever look is most effective in any given situation. Either way, it's big, mad, and hungry.

While it undoubtedly cuts an intimidating figure, the UFO isn't too smart. The siblings are able to defeat it by tricking it into devouring a giant balloon of Ricky Park's cartoon likeness, which promptly explodes, causing critical damage. While the audience doesn't get to see if it's killed by the explosion, it's a safe bet that it won't be attacking humanity again. Best of all, Emerald is able to use the theme park's upward-facing tourist camera (placed at the bottom of a well) to snap a photo of the UFO, finally securing irrefutable proof of extraterrestrial life.