There are so many truly iconic moments of cinematic history, but still, nothing stands above these, the top 10 most iconic movie scenes of all time.
10. Taxi Driver (1976) – You Talkin’ To Me?
It’s a hugely unnerving scene from Martin Scorsese’s legendary study of a man’s descent into madness, Taxi Driver, but one of the most well-remembered of all time.
It’s the pivotal point in the story when our anti-hero, Travis Bickle, begins to go completely insane, in a scene that is both brilliantly directed and acted. Robert De Niro, who plays Bickle, is astonishing in this moment, and single-handedly turns this man into a terrifying menace, whilst director Scorsese ingeniously uses the mirror in Bickle’s apartment to show his now double personality as he becomes madder and madder.
9. Inception (2010) – The Final Scene
After two and a half hours of mind-bending action and intrigue, Christopher Nolan finishes the psychological thriller ‘Inception‘ on an incredible note, catching you out one last time, when you least expected it.
The film may have only been released five years ago, but it’s definitely become one of the greatest movie endings of all time in that short period. Following his journeys throughout the dream world, Dom Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, returns home to his two children. However, he spins his totem, a method of checking whether he is in the real world or the dream world, one last time, and as he runs off to meet his kids, the camera zooms in on the spinning top as it begins to wobble, signifying he may be in the real world. However, Nolan cuts to black before a definitive answer is given.
To this day, nobody really knows whether Cobb was in the real world or not, and nor will anyone ever know, and that’s why it’s a simply amazing movie scene.
8. The Seven Year Itch (1955) – Subway Grate
Billy Wilder’s ‘The Seven Year Itch‘ may be a fluffy romantic comedy, but it features one of the most iconic movie images of all time, as Marilyn Monroe walks over a subway grate in a white dress as it blows up to her delight.
It’s actually a case of the individual image being more famous than the entire movie, and although the scene doesn’t really play a significant role in the film’s overall story, it’s the definitive image of one of cinema’s most legendary figures, Marilyn Monroe, and something that has been put on posters across the world, and parodied countless times.
The Seven Year Itch is actually a good film, however the main reason you’ll want to see it is to witness this iconic movie moment.
7. Citizen Kane (1941) – Rosebud
From the often-labelled best movie of all time, Citizen Kane, comes definitely one of the most iconic movie moments of all time, at both the beginning and the end of this legendary film.
The film opens with the death of Charles Foster Kane, as he utters his last words: ‘Rosebud’ and sends a snowglobe smashing to the floor beneath his deathbed. The opening in itself is fascinating enough, but it ingeniously sets up the entire film, as a group of journalists investigate Kane’s life to find the true meaning of Rosebud.
And then, at the very end of the film, ‘Rosebud’ comes full circle following Kane’s death, as we finally discover the meaning of the word in one of the best plot twists ever, and one of the most mesmerising movie moments.
6. King Kong (1933) – The Empire State Building
In one of cinema’s earliest action-packed blockbusters, one of the most recognisable and amazing movie moments ever was born, King Kong‘s ascent of the Empire State Building and battle with biplanes attacking atop the skyscraper.
Even for a film made over 80 years ago, the stop-motion is believable enough to not make you laugh, but it’s the incredible emotion of this scene that is most important for making it so engrossing, as you begin to sympathise for Kong as he declares his love for the actress Ann Darrow, he is struck down by biplanes, and falls to his death.
And then, as one final emotional blow, filmmaker Carl Denham looks at Kong’s dead body and sombrely notes: ‘It wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast’.
5. The Shining (1980) – Here’s Johnny!
Stanley Kubrick has made so many iconic movies, all with legendary moments that will be remembered for eternity, but there is nothing quite like Jack Torrance’s terrifying attack in the bathroom in 1980’s The Shining.
The scene is the point where we finally see how genuinely insane Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson, has gone, turning to breaking the bathroom door down with an axe in order to kill his own wife, and then, upon seeing her, sadistically shouts: ‘HERE’S JOHNNY!’ as she screams for her life.
It’s a scene full of brilliance, from Jack Nicholson’s petrifying performance to Stanley Kubrick’s fast-cutting direction to make a hugely intense scene, further helped by the piercing score behind.
4. Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981) – Boulder Run
In possibly the best adventure movie of all time, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, comes the brilliant moment where Indiana Jones, having just successfully swiped the treasure of the Golden Idol and evaded all of the booby traps on the way, finds himself caught out one last time.
Right at the beginning of the film, we’re thrown right into some of the most nail-biting action you’ll ever see, and as we watch Indy run only millimetres ahead of a humongous boulder set up to crush trespassers, we fear for his life so much despite only having met him a few minutes ago.
It’s a great tribute by Steven Spielberg to the classic adventure serials of the 1930s, but this scene has created its own new legend, being consistently seen as one of the greatest movie moments of all time.
3. Gone With The Wind (1939) – Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn
Gone With The Wind is arguably the most epic movie ever made, spanning four massively captivating hours and a lifetime as Scarlett O’Hara attempts to keep herself strong in the face of all the adversity the world throws at her.
Throughout, however, we learn that Scarlett isn’t the greatest hero of all time, and is in fact an arrogant and strict woman who manipulates others to get her own way. That’s why, at the very end of this film, we see her husband Rhett Butler, played by Clark Gable, finally tell her like it is.
As Scarlett is on her last legs, she desperately attempts to fool Butler into staying by telling him she loves him, only to be met with the iconic line as he exits the house: ‘Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn’, and then walks away into the mist.
After four brilliant hours, there’s simply no greater ending than this one.
2. The Empire Strikes Back (1980) – ‘I am your father’.
The endlessly misquoted line: ‘Luke, I am your father’ (it’s actually: ‘No. I am your father’.) is still the most amazing movie plot twist of all time.
In the second Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker engage in an epic lightsaber battle above Cloud City, in arguably the best fight of the entire Star Wars saga, only to end with Luke losing his hand and being forced to dangle above a seemingly bottomless chasm, where it appears that the Dark Side has won, and there is no hope for our heroes.
And then, as Luke screams at Vader for having killed his father, the Sith lord declares to him: ‘No. I am your father’. It’s a plot twist that stunned audiences at the time, and made Star Wars the legendary series it is today, and although everybody knows it already now, it’s a scene that is absolutely incredible to watch regardless.
1. Psycho (1960) – The Shower Scene
It’s my favourite movie ever, but the shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s chilling slasher film ‘Psycho‘ is definitely one of the most famous of all time.
A brilliantly shot sequence that took over 7 days to film, for only 40 odd seconds of footage, the scene consists of fast cuts that imply, but never directly show, violence and nudity, something that was completely banned in films in 1960. If you watch the scene closely, there is not one shot of nudity, nor a time where a blade enters the skin, just a series of ingeniously crafted images to make one of the most shocking scenes ever witnessed.
It’s also iconic for its completely unexpected timing. To kill off your leading lady halfway through a film was totally unheard of, but was an amazing technique Hitchcock used to make one of the biggest surprises you’ll ever have.
Finally, the scene is accompanied by a haunting, piercing score that has since defined the horror genre as a whole, and is instantly recognisable no matter how old you are.
There’s so much to say about this scene along with that, so much that they even made an entire documentary about the one scene, but anyway, it’s clear that Psycho’s shower scene is simply the most groundbreaking, shocking and definitely iconic movie moment of all time.