Apocalypse Now was an impressive if not problematic feat in filmmaking, with the torturous process of making the film being documented in Heart of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse. The pain was nonetheless worthwhile, as typified by this scene where the Air Calvary helicopters swarm and flatten a Vietcong village as Wagner’s “Flight of the Valkyries” blasts out of the speakers. A captivating spectacle which showcases the madness both of war and filmmaking.
The chariot race, Ben-Hur (1959)
Shot by champion rodeo rider and one of Hollywood’s original and most famed stuntmen Yakima Canutt, who also selected and trained the actors and even designed the track in this grueling scene. Without Canutt, cinema would be missing one of its grandest scenes: a scene that showed the possibilities of what could be captured on celluloid. Ben-Hur is one of cinema’s great epics, and this nine-minute scene is, in itself, a mini epic. If you catch the start of the scene, you will be compelled to watch it to its end.
‘Here’s looking at you, Kid’, Casablanca (1942)
There are so many iconic moments and quotes to pull from Casablanca, but this farewell scene at the end of the film takes the cherry as it includes four of the most quoted lines in cinema history; quite the epic feat in scriptwriting. Humphrey Bogart‘s Rick helps the love of his life Ilsa, played by Ingrid Bergman, escape from the Nazis with her husband. A noble and selfless gesture which shows the heartbreak that can go alongside true love.
Baptism of Fire, The Godfather (1972)
Perched steadily in the top three of IMDB’s top 250 for the past decade, The Godfather contains more than its fair share of quotable lines and iconic imagery, but it is this scene that packs the greatest punch and signifies the change in Michael Corleone, making it as much his baptism as Godfather as it is the physical baptism of Connie‘s son: the bloody end to the Five Families War which crowned the Corleones as the undisputed victors.
‘Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn’, Gone With the Wind (1939)
The scene created somewhat of a stir amongst viewers when it was first shown due to its unceremonious use of the word “damn”. This cutting goodbye wouldn’t have had the same impact had it been something lighter as was originally planned, despite the line featuring in the original book. Gone With the Wind is undoubtedly a classic, and few films can proudly hold the claim that they have inspired thousands of break-up speeches the world over.
Flying Bikes, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982)
A scene that is surely responsible for a rising number of bike injuries in the first half of the 1980s. E.T. The Extra Terrestrial is one of Steven Spielberg‘s best, and it exemplifies his particular brand of heart-warming fare that is enjoyed by people of all ages. When E.T. makes the bikes of his human friends airborne in order to escape the pursuing authorities, the audience’s hearts, along with the on-screen bikes, soar. There is no greater love than that between a boy and his alien.
The Statue Of Liberty, Planet Of The Apes (1968)
The original version of Planet of the Apes features one of cinema’s most startling twists. In a role that reignited Charlton Heston‘s career, we see the remains of an earth-like planet where humans are enslaved by apes, much to the horror of Heston’s Taylor. The reveal of the Statue of Liberty slowly brings about the realization of what has really happened to Taylor and to the audience. The final speech was written by Heston and, after some lengthy battling with censors, was able to bring real gravitas to the ending, underlining the scene’s true iconic status.
The shower scene, Psycho (1960)
Alfred Hitchcock at his suspenseful best. This is a notable moment in horror in that the violence is all implied. The audience doesn’t see the murder, simply the shower, the knife, Janet Leigh‘s reaction, the blood, then the body. Horror filmmakers have taken note ever since. From the Bernard Hermann score to the unsettling framing of the shots and the final blood-curdling scream, Psycho‘s shower scene is a perturbing watch that made many rethink their bathing rituals.
Philadelphia Steps, Rocky (1976)
There’s nothing quite like a good montage, and the training montage in Rocky is the undefeated champion of cinema. Set to Bill Conti‘s now-legendary “Gonna Fly Now”, we follow Rocky Balboa as he trains through the streets of Philadelphia. He finally conquers the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum, a feat that had surpassed him earlier in the film, in a triumphant display of willpower. The scene is also notable in being the first use of Steadicam, which was developed specifically for this sequence, in a film.
‘Here’s Johnny!’, The Shining (1980)
Another scene that showed the capabilities of Steadicam, although this time instilling an altogether different feeling in the audience. Whereas Rocky‘s montage brought empowerment, The Shining‘s chase scene brings feelings of terror. It is successful both as a suspenseful and a surprise scene, with the chase keeping viewers on the edge of their seats while the axe coming through the door knocks them straight off. As Jack Nicholson peers through the door and says this famous line, we see that this is a man that has well and truly gone over the edge.
‘Singing in the Rain’, Singin’ In The Rain (1952)
What a glorious feeling! Gene Kelly performed Singin’ in the Rain‘s titular song while suffering from a fever of over 101, so who knows just how great this scene could have been had he performed it at maximum health. It’s hard to watch this scene without a smile on your face as you watch Kelly jump giddily on lampposts, splash through puddles and generally bemuse passers-by. You will be hard-pressed to find a better portrayal of the feeling of falling in love.
End scene, Some Like It Hot (1959)
Ask any comedy writer and they will tell you that you should end a scene or a joke with a tag, and the final line in Some Like It Hot is the perfect example of how to do this. It is no wonder that it is often regarded as the best comedy ever to be put to film. The final line almost didn’t make it into the film, as one of the screenwriters originally put it in as a place holder while they tried to think up something better. “Well, nobody’s perfect.”
‘Luke I am your father’, Star Wars Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
If you give most people an empty toilet roll tube and a quiet space, you will find that they will breathe deeply down it and utter these immortal words at least once in their lives. This is iconic both in terms of the cultural impact of the line and what it meant for the Star Wars series as a whole: the villain and the hero are father and son, an earth shattering shock to audiences. While the fight scene keeps you at the edge of your seat and the cinematography is breathtaking, it is Mark Hamill‘s anguish that steals the scene.
‘You Talkin To Me?’, Taxi Driver (1976)
In case there was any doubt before, it was his performance in Taxi Driver that cemented Robert De Niro‘s place as one of the all-time greatest actors in cinema history. This scene, performed menacingly in front of a mirror, is the tipping point of Travis Bickle‘s descent into becoming a deranged psychopath, just before he goes on his murderous rampage. Sometimes it is the more still moments that are the most chilling, and Bickle threatening his imaginary adversary is one of cinema’s most unnerving moments.