Ah, the humble gas/petrol station (as a Brit I’m keeping petrol in there, but also gas to please my American friends). Screenwriters love it as a setting for scenes. Perhaps because, in road movies at least, it offers a way for the characters to have a break from one another, to encounter others, assess their situation, that sort of thing.
Here are five I like, from action and comedy to sci-fi.
Romeo + Juliet (1996)
‘Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?’ This scene is easily my favourite gas/petrol station scene. Baz Luhrmann, for all his shortcomings as a director in some ways, completely nailed this scene. It’s the perfect location where two warring families might encounter one another. And also a fantastic way to introduce two key characters, Benvolio and our delicious antagonist, Tybalt.
Magic Mike XXL (2015)
This may be the ultimate bromance scene, or at least up there with the greats. Joe Manganiello’s Big Dick Ritchie is doubting himself and has lost his way as a performer. Mike (Channing Tatum) tells him that he’s born to be a male entertainer, and his challenge is to make the gas/petrol attendant smile. What follows is a wonderfully sweet and heartwarming scene about men supporting each other in a non-toxic way – something you rarely see in movies.
Ben Stiller’s dumb model Derek Zoolander is feeling down, so his equally dumb friends take him for orange mocha frappuccinos. They pull into a gas/petrol station and start squirting each other with water. Two unimpressed attendants watch on. Then Zoolander sees a man throw away a magazine with him on the cover. He walks over and reads the caption, which says ‘model idiot’. He glances back to see his friends now spraying each other with gas/petrol. Then one of them lights a match…
Super 8 (2011)
A monster thriller movie directed by J.J. Abrams and produced by Steven Spielberg was always going to be a winning formula. Super 8, if anything, is underrated. I’m not sure enough people talk about how great it was. In this scene a Sheriff refuelling his car notices something strange happening. It cuts to the gas/petrol station attendant inside listening to music. He realises something is up and heads outside. The Sheriff is nowhere to be seen. Then he sees the monster and runs, but it’s too late.
In a standout climactic scene in Gareth Edwards’ atmospheric sci-fi drama the two main characters Andrew (Scoot McNairy) and Samantha (Whitney Able) encounter two giant aliens. We expect things to go badly, but as the scene develops it turns into something quite beautiful… a kind of mating ritual between the aliens.