- The ticking clock that persists throughout the entire movie, reminding the audience that the soldiers don't have much time left before Germans storm the city entirely. Dunkirk was truly the Darkest Hour in 1940.
- German soldiers are never seen onscreen save for the very end when they take Farrier prisoner. The only thing viewers see is gunshots coming at Tommy in the first scene and mowing down his section one by one, and later as they shoot for training on the Dutch trawler Tommy, Gibson and others sheltered themselves in outside of the allied-controlled perimeter. Throughout the film, they seem less like a wartime enemy and more like an unstoppable force of nature.
- For every Allied soldier on the beach or everyone on the boats, German planes only means Death from Above. Stukas strafing and bombing the beaches and boats especially, with their terrifying trademark noise.
- It wouldn't be a surprise if veterans freak out every time they heard a plane.
- Imagine you're a British or French soldier. You've just been evacuated from the continent and feel safe. Then, you hear a whine in the distance, as though something overhead is in free fall. It grows louder, and louder. You look up, and see the unmistakable black shape of a Heinkel He 111 or a Junker Ju 87 "Stuka" hurtling towards you, ready to release its payload...
- Every air attack is preceded by a long, wide overhead shot of the British soldiers huddled on the beach, showing just how exposed and vulnerable they are and giving the sense of something huge and terrible, almost Lovecraftian in nature, about to strike down the helpless men from above.
- The frantic shots displaying the interiors of sinking ships, what with springing leaks, water flooding in, and passengers and crew trapped inside. Not only do they have civilian nurses and medical staff on board in addition to soldiers and seamen... not everyone makes it off. In fact, the only survivors of the sinkings depicted are male military personnel. To make it even worse, during the sinking of the hospital ship, several soldiers are trapped between the mole and the hull. Their water-distorted agonised screams as the ship sinks makes it clear they weren't quick deaths. With all the explicit details showing why staying on the deck gives one the best chances of survival on a sinking ship, many - if not all - viewers would never treat going below decks on an actual ship the same way ever again.
- Gibson drowning inside the Dutch trawler. The only thing we see is his hand when it stops moving.
- The fact he was so close to the exit.
- When the oil spill from the destroyer catches on fire towards the end, several soldiers trapped in the water burn to death, in the movie's most gruesome scene. The camera lingers on one poor bastard, trying desperately to hide under the water, until he surfaces due to lack of oxygen...only to burn to death. One soldier has the lovely choice of diving underwater and trying not to drown, or staying above and burning to death. He picks the former, and we get treated to a shot of his scared face as the fires burn above him.
- Collins crashing his spitfire into the sea, struggling to get out as he attempts to smash the window of the cockpit with his flare gun several times, only sinking further. Then he's submerged underwater for almost a whole minute until Peter shows up in the nick of time to save him. Made even worse as we first see it from Farrier's point of view, where Collins seems to be waving that he's okay. Then the Moonstone story provides a Once More, with Clarity! that reveals he was actually struggling to open the cockpit.
- A low-key example, but after the grim naturalistic palette of the beach scenes and the relatively bloodless violence thus far, there's something a little... squicky about the bright red jam on the pieces of bread issued to the soldiers in the belly of the ship they're meant to evacuate on. It almost evokes bloody bandages. Sure enough, the aid ship — and all the staff on it issuing food and drink to the exhausted, hungry soldiers — meets a terrible fate.
- Hans Zimmer's powerfully ominous score becomes almost unbearably tense and nerve-wracking in places.
- The fact that one British soldier grows so distressed by his situation that he resorts to stripping off his gear and walking into the frigid Channel as to swim for home - in rough and seemingly dangerous weather. The ambiguity of the situation forces viewers to wonder whether the man had been Driven to Suicide or was so desperate to return home that he decided to forget all about waiting for an evacuation ship. Furthermore, the man's fate is not displayed and he is last seen breaststroking out to the sea.
- This was based on a real-life account.
Nightmare Fuel / Dunkirk