Most Famous Movie Scenes of All Time

Aug 14, 2020Eric

Movie scenes can become famous for many reasons. They can reveal deep emotional truths via the actor's performances, cinematography, or dialogue. They can also be grand spectacles that encapsulate the talent and imagination of the director who pulled out all the stops to create something magical. They can be both and so much more. The history of the cinema has many such scenes, and there are hundreds, if not thousands of them, that had stood the test of time and are as memorable today as they were when they came out. 

Moonlight (2016) - Baptism Scene 

Image Credits: YouTube/Tin-Man Films - A24/Moonlight

There are many memorable scenes from this 2016 Best Picture Oscar winner. The first section of this story told in triptych contains the first of many. It shows young Chiron gives himself over, physically and spiritually, to Juan, the first person in his life to show him any real love. The act is less a baptism, and more a moment of joy before the still-innocent Chiron has to face the enormous challenges that await him. 

The Dark Knight (2008) - Joker Reveal 

Image Credits: YouTube/Batman on Film - Warner Bros./Batman: The Dark Knight

The entire opening scene of this 2008 comic-book/action blockbuster could be considered a masterpiece on its own. But the almost balletic bank robbery that opens this most celebrated of Batman films is perfectly capped off by the reveal of the Joker's face. Heath Ledger's gleefully deranged Joker smiles down at his victim, fittingly announcing the reign of terror he is about to rain down on Gotham.

Gone With the Wind (1939) - Rhett Leaves Scarlett 

Image Credits: YouTube/Movieclips - Warner Bros./Gone With the Wind

This sprawling Civil War epic runs over three hours long and features many memorable scenes, but none more delicious and satisfying than the final scene. After their decades-long love affair comes to an end, an exasperated Rhett Butler leaves Scarellet to her own devices and utters an immortal line to show just how done he is with her. 

Alien (1979) - Unexpected Dinner Guest 

Image Credits: YouTube/Illustrated Fiction - 20th Century Fox/Alien

The dinner scene in the middle of Ridley Scott's 1979 sci-fi/horror masterpiece surprised almost everyone. Most of the cast (except for John Hurt) wasn't aware of what was about to happen, which was Scott's plan - to maximize the terror on the actor's faces when the Alien finally appeared. 

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) - Vader and Luke Fight 

Image Credits: YouTube/Skip3579 - LucasFilm/Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

This scene is famous for its enormous plot reveal of something no one going into this movie expected. The sequel to 1977's original "Star Wars: A New Hope," "The Empire Strikes Back," was only thought to be a fun-time summer blockbuster. Even the cast was not aware of the plot point until the scene was shot. The scene is also pivotal to the Star Wars franchise as the reveal allowed for the universe to expand up until today. 

Pulp Fiction (1994) - Adrenaline Shot 

Image Credits: YouTube/Movieclips - Miramax/Pulp Fiction

The "adrenaline shot" scene from Quentin Tarantino's second film and some might say, his best, "Pulp Fiction," is also an apt metaphor for what the director did to the movie industry with his shambolic, fragmented masterpiece. The scene is a perfect showcase for the director's many influences drawn from the world of slapstick comedies, Hong Kong action films, as well as his own comic and twisted imagination. 

Forrest Gump (1994) - Park Bench Scene 

Image Credits: YouTube/The Take - Paramount Pictures/Forrest Gump

This Robert Zemeckis film about a simple man's journey through American history came out in 1994 but has never left the cultural memory. With nearly every scene and line of dialogue now etched into the collective pop-culture consciousness, the park bench scene where we are first introduced to Gump and his ingratiating box of chocolates still serves as one of the best character introductions in the movies. 

Jaws (1975) - Boat Scene 

Image Credits: YouTube/Movieclips - Universal/Jaws

Roy Scheider's memorable line reading, as Captain Brody - "You're gonna need a bigger boat" - is the utterance of a man who has seen terror up close. The scene marks a sudden and jarring change of tone for the film, as before, the film had transitioned to an adventure tale that seemed to have no stakes involved. With the Great White's unexpected appearance, everyone, including Captain Brody started to take things a little more seriously. 

Apocalypse Now (1973) - Helicopter Attack Scene 

Image Credits: YouTube/JoBlo Movie Clips - American Zoetrope/Apocalypse Now

This memorable scene from the Vietnam War epic "Apocalypse Now" features an extended action sequence punctuated with a memorable line of dialogue from Robert Duvall's war-obsessed and aptly named Colonel Kilgore. After a lull in all the destruction he has wrought, the Colonel stands shirtless in front of his men and waxes poetic about the glories of war. 

Pulp Fiction (1994) - Jules Quotes the Bible 

Image Source: YouTube/Movieclips - Miramax/Pulp Fiction

"Pulp Fiction" is too much of a memorable movie to have only one scene on this list. Samuel L. Jackson won an Oscar - mostly based on this scene - for his portrayal of Bible-quoting bad guy, Jules Winnfield. Tarantino's direction, Jackson's towering performance, and the scene's irreverent dialogue all serve as a masterclass on how to create a memorable scene in any movie. 

The silence of the Lambs (1994) - Introduction of Lecter 

Image Credits: YouTube/Romthirty - Orion Pictures/The Silence of the Lambs

The scene where young FBI agent Clarice Starling meets the incarcerated Hannibal Lecter is one of the greatest character introductions of all time. The mesmerizing Anthony Hopkins portrays the madman with an unblinking intensity, a coil of rage wound so tightly he could spring at any moment. 

Rocky (1976) - Training Montage 

Image Credits: YouTube/Movieclips - MGM/Rocky

From the first few opening notes of Bill Conti's iconic "Gonna Fly Now," we know that this scene is going to be memorable. The music builds like Sylvester Stallone's character, Rocky, in intensity and volume, as Rocky runs through the pre-dawn streets of Philadelphia. It builds until the climax where Rocky stands triumphantly above his city and marvels at his own accomplishment. 

The Matrix (1999) - Neo Becomes Neo 

Image Credits: YouTube/Jesus Christ Denton - Warner Bros./The Matrix

A scene becomes memorable for so many reasons, and this scene from the action/sci-fi masterpiece "The Matrix" hits all those targets. Not only is the scene a benchmark in the use of innovative special effects, but it also comes at a desperate time for the film's hero Neo. The scene is the first, but not last, confirmation of the film's prophecy that Neo truly is the savior of humanity. 

Saving Private Ryan (1998) - Opening Scene 

Image Credits: YouTube/Impact Scenes - DreamWorks/Saving Private Ryan

The opening scene of Steven Spielberg's WWII epic is a frighteningly realistic depiction of the 1944 D-Day invasion. The entire scene was filmed with over 100 Irish soldiers as extras, and the entire cast spent six weeks in boot camp to prepare for the grueling sequence. The preparation paid off as the scene methodically and unsparingly portrays a nightmare scenario that, for many young men, was all too real. 

Psycho (1960) - Shower Scene 

Image Credits: YouTube/Movieclips - Universal/Psycho

Alfred Hitchcock's most financially successful movie was a first in many ways. It was the first movie to show someone doing something as scandalous as flushing a toilet, while its most terrifying and violent scene is also its most sanitized. Despite Vivian Leigh's character meeting her demise while showering, the scene does not include any nudity or other questionable content. Still, the quick cuts (film cuts) and the screeching violins on the soundtrack were more than enough to fill us with horror, proving that less is more. 

Were there any famous movie scenes that we missed? What are your favorite movie scenes of all time? Let us know in the comments section below. Famous movie scenes stay with us for so many reasons. They mark important moments in a character's journey or introduce villainous characters and also showcase a director's skill in marshaling all their talents to shoot a perfect shot. The scenes can range from having long, indelible lines of dialogue to being completely wordless, relying instead on images, music, photography, and performances to stay in our minds forever. 

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