Sometimes there are defining moments in movies, in which one scene is forever ingrained in your memory. And those movie moments become iconic; the images live on forever. For instance, when you think of Marilyn Monroe, what image pops up in your head? Is it the one of her in the white dress, holding it down so the wind doesn’t lift it up? Exactly. That was from a 1955 movie (you’ll see in the list).
Each and every one of these famous films, from the 1930s to today, have one (or more) powerful scene in which the image took on a life of its own and remains significant to this day. We’ll begin with the oldest and get to the most recent. Let’s start the show!
Frankenstein (1931) – The Icon Monster of Film
Frankenstein was loosely based on Mary Shelley’s novel. And while this film originally came out in 1931, the James Whale classic is still powerful to this day.
The image of the monster lasted for many decades, both in tributes and spoof versions of the story. The film has inspired many films after it.
Gone With the Wind (1939) – “Frankly, My Dear…”
We all know of Rhett’s iconic line, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” which was the most famous scene in the film. But it took months of convincing to put the word “damn” in the scene’s famous line.
The censors finally agreed to allow the word to enter the scene. The producer was persistent to show that the film would be a joke if the line was changed to “My dear, I don’t care.” He also argued that the dictionary definition of the word wasn’t unwholesome, only recording it as “a vulgarism.”
When you think of Casablanca, what do you think of? See the next photo!
Casablanca (1942) – The Airport Farewell
Here’s another image from film history that is still referred to today. Remember when Rick Blaine said to Ilsa, “We’ll Always Have Paris”? Yeah, of course, you do.
The star-crossed lovers of this infamous movie has been a reference for years since. The simultaneously beautiful and devastating love has resonated with audiences for generations.
Singin’ In the Rain (1952) – The Dancing Scene
For many people who find themselves walking in the rain, a memory of Gene Kelly’s unforgettable dance routine from the movie will pop up at one point or another.
The scene of him dancing in the rain was in actuality very difficult to shoot. It’s true that Gene Kelly wasn’t feeling great while filming. Rumor has it that he had a fever of 103 during the sequence. Just shows what an actor he was!
Next is that insanely popular image of Mrs. Monroe!
North by Northwest (1959) – The Plane Scene
Man versus plane was the unforgettable crop-duster scene where Cary Grant’s was pushed to the limit by mysterious attackers.
The crop duster sequence is not only one of the most memorable scenes by Alfred Hitchcock and has been argued as one of the most iconic sequences in American film history.
Next: When you Think of Hitchcock’s Psycho, what do you see?
Psycho (1960) – The Scene That Made Every Woman Scared to Take a Shower
Hitchcock was known for making unforgettable movie moments and Psycho is up there. This shower scene was frightening back then as well as today.
Did you know that it took 78 setups and 52 cuts to depict the scene in which she was stabbed to death in the shower? The scene lasts less than one minute in the movie but it took seven days to film.
Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961) – The Invention of the Little Black Dress
The film, and especially this shot, invented the “little black dress.” Audrey Hepburn wore the dress which was designed by Hubert de Givenchy.
This dress started a new standard for wearing little black dresses with pearls as an accessory. It was seen throughout the 1960s after the film was released. The dress was auctioned in 2006 for £410,000, six times its original estimate.
Lolita (1962) – The Seductive Teenager
Stanley Kubrick was pushing the limit with his adaptation of Nabokov’s famous novel. Actress Sue Lyon played Lolita, the seductive teenager Dolores.
Sue performance as Lolita earned her the “Most Promising Female Newcomer” award at the 1963 Golden Globes.
Everyone remembers Julie Andrews from the next iconic scene…
The Sound of Music (1965) – Running in the Alps
In an interview, Julie Andrews said of the famous scene: “We actually went up the mountain in big, open carts, pulled by oxen. I would sit on top of all the camera equipment, and then they’d hoist me up and up we’d go.”
Andrews said it was raining and windy when the scene was filmed and it took a week to capture it all. On the final day, the sun came out for 20 minutes in which they succeeded in getting the iconic shot.
The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (1966) – The Face of the Wild West
If Clint Eastwood is anything, he’s the face of Western films. We can still imagine his face, eyes squinting, with a cigar in his mouth. But the truth is that Clint wasn’t a smoker.
He hated smoking cigars and director Sergio Leone had to do multiple takes. Eastwood would sometimes tell Leone: “You’d better get it this time because I’m going to throw up.”
The next movie has too many iconic images to name just one.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – Combining Art and Outer Space
It’s hard to choose only one image from this groundbreaking film. The film itself was revolutionary and unlike any other film at the time. Some say it was ahead of its time.
Kubrick managed to bring grace and beauty into outer space. From Hal to the monkeys, to the images of floating in space. Almost all of the scenes in this film are memorable and iconic.
The Godfather (1972) – The Don
To this day, people are both trying to personify the Don or parodying the slow-moving, mumbling power figure that is both feared and respected at the same time.
Here’s a fun fact: Marlon Brando wanted to make Don Corleone look like a bulldog, so for his audition, he stuffed his cheeks with cotton. For the actual filming of the movie, he wore a mouthpiece made by a dentist.
Next, De Niro’s most memorable scene.
Taxi Driver (1976) – “You Talkin’ to Me?”
The scene when De Niro’s character Travis Bickle is practicing his lines for his awaited confrontation with the gangsters and pimps is chilling. And amazingly, the famous line wasn’t in the script.
De Niro completely ad-libbed the scene where he’s talking to himself in the mirror was complete. The screenplay details said, “Travis looks in the mirror.” De Niro came up with the whole monologue on a whim. Pretty impressive considering its eternal fame.
Rocky (1976) – The Steps to Victory
This scene has forever been parodied as well as respected as one of the best moments of victory in film history. Rocky Balboa, the local kid training for a fight went from rags to riches.
The stairs he ran up were at the Philadelphia Art Museum. Those steps are now officially known as the Rocky Steps.
The next image is by far one of the most memorable as well as most chilling!
The Shining (1980) – “Here’s Johnny!”
This image, which came near the end of the film, perfectly represents the result of a stir-crazy isolated man who was slowly losing his mind.
Apparently, the infamous “Here’s Johnny!” scene took three days to film and they had to use sixty doors. Nevertheless, the result was cinematic perfection.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) – Flying Past the Moon
The scene where ET makes Elliot’s bike fly is one to be remembered. The silhouetted image against the moon ended up becoming the logo of Steven Spielberg’s production company Amblin Entertainment.
The moon silhouette image is by far the most famous scene from the movie.
What would you say is Scarface’s most iconic image? See the next photo to find out.
Scarface (1983) – “Say Hello to My Little Friend”
When it comes to gangster films, Scarface is up there with being one of the pioneers. And Pacino’s famous line “Say hello, to my little friend” is repeated by almost every wannabe gangster today.
Pacino tried to get the line just right, doing multiple takes. But the result was epic.
Back to the Future (1985) – Making Time Travel Look So Easy
The movie’s shot with the shows the time-traveling DeLorean speeding off with fire was the one taught millions of children that time travel can be achieved at a speed of 88 miles per hour.
After the film was released, body kits were made for DeLoreans to make them look like the time machine from the movie.
Next, the scene that Meg Ryan became famous for.
When Harry Met Sally (1989) – The Orgasm Scene
This movie was famous for this scene alone. No one will forget the orgasm scene played by the otherwise wholesome actress Meg Ryan.
The scene was filmed at Katz’s Deli, a real restaurant on New York’s E. Houston Street. The table that they sat at in the scene now has a plaque on it that reads, “Where Harry met Sally…hope you have what she had!”
Home Alone (1990) – America’s Favorite Boy Next Door
Macaulay Culkin was so famous at the time that every kid would look in the mirror and mimic him by putting their hands on their cheeks and screaming.
Here’s a really cute fact: Catherine O’Hara, who played his mom in the movie, revealed in 2014 that Macaulay Culkin still calls her “Mom”. How cute!
The last scene of the next movie is one for the history books.
Thelma and Louise (1991) – The Last Scene
Ridley Scott actually filmed a longer ending where the car is seen falling into the canyon, with a depressing B.B. King song playing in the background. But he chose the more upbeat ending with the car frozen in time on its descent and Hans Zimmer’s score as the music.
At one point while filming, Ridley Scott entertained the idea of changing the ending to have Thelma survive after being pushed out of the car by Louise right before she drives off the cliff. It didn’t happen though.
The Silence of the Lambs’ Film (1991) – A Psychopath in a Muzzle
Anthony Hopkins succeeded in scaring the bejesus out of everyone in this iconic film. He really embodied a psychopath and gave us a glimpse into what a killer’s mind is made of.
Interestingly enough, he and Jodie Foster only appear in four scenes together throughout the entire film.
If you think of Sharon Stone, you probably think of the next scene.
Basic Instinct (1992) – The Leg Crossing
Stone’s infamous leg-uncrossing scene was not in the original script. The director thought of it while shooting, based on a memory of his college years, when a woman at a party he was at did the exact same thing to embarrass him.
Sure, Sharon Stone has played better roles in other films, but none are as memorable as this one.
Jurassic Park (1993) – T-Rex vs the Car
This was one of the first CGI-using thrillers that kept all of us on the edges of our seats. And none more than the T-Rex vs the car scene.
While filming, the T. Rex would malfunction sometimes because of the rain. Producer Kathleen Kennedy said, “The T. Rex went into the heebie-jeebies sometimes. Scared the crap out of us. We’d be, like, eating lunch, and all of a sudden a T. Rex would come alive. At first, we didn’t know what was happening, and then we realized it was the rain. You’d hear people start screaming.”
Remember which movie featured the little girl in the red dress? See next…
Schindler’s List (1993) – The Girl in the Red Coat
The film was shot only in black and white, so the sudden sight of color when you see the little girl walking in a red dress was one of the most memorable and iconic images of the intense movie.
Stephen Spielberg made the actress who played that little girl promise to him that she would wait until she was 18 to watch the film.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994) – When Andy Escapes
We were all rooting for Andy when he was tunneling through sewage and came out on the other side into the rain. The moment he met salvation in the rain and met his freedom was really powerful.
Apart from this specific scene, the entire movie is a masterpiece and worth watching again!
The next film involves a dancing scene to remember.
Pulp Fiction (1994) – The Dancing Scene
When the pair took the stage to perform their impromptu dance, the world was captured. Uma Thurman with her short black hair dancing with John Travolta can never be undone.
Their dance wasn’t improvised though. It was copied from the dance performed early in Fellini’s classic 8½ (1963) by Gloria Morin (Barbara Steele) and Mario Mezzabotta (Mario Pisu).
Forrest Gump (1994) – Too Many to Choose From
When you close your eyes and think of Forrest Gump, chances are you’re going to come up with a few images in your mind. And him sitting on that bench is one of them.
Other than the bench, we have him running, or the feather falling. Or him sitting with his son in front of the TV.
Everyone in the world knows the next scene!
Titanic (1997) – The King of the World
What a first date for the two young lovers! Is there any girl who didn’t want to be Rose in that moment? Or boy that would have loved to feel the freedom and power Jack had in that instant?
Did you know that the line “I’m the king of the world!” was ad-libbed by Leonardo DiCaprio? It was voted as the #4 of “The 100 Greatest Movie Lines.”
There’s Something About Mary (1998) – Hair Gel
This hilarious movie had a shockingly funny scene that involved, well, hair gel. And after this scene, you can never look at hair gel in the same way again.
Fans of this movie might also remember the zipper scene. That scene was actually based on a real incident when the Farrelly brothers’ parents had to help a young man who caught himself in his zipper at one of their sisters’ parties. Ouch!
Next: when you think of the Matrix, what comes to mind?
The Matrix (1999) – When Time Stood Still
Nowadays, almost every action thriller will try to emulate what the Matrix basically pioneered. But back in 1999, most of us had never seen anything like this.
The sequence used a very old method of using still images to capture the effect. The crew set up hundreds of cameras to achieve the “Bullet Time” sequence.
The Blair Witch Project (1999) – Close-Up Horror
This movie started a whole new trend of found-footage horror. Is there anyone who doesn’t remember the close up of her face when she was saying her farewell?
The close-up of Heather Donahue’s face was unintentional. She planned to have her whole face in the frame, but she accidentally zoomed in too much. The directors like how the ‘closeness to all the tears and phlegm’ added to the ‘ugly realism’ of the scene. And obviously, they kept the shot. And it worked!
Something was in the air in the year 1999. See the next film from this year.
American Beauty (1999) – A Girl and a Bunch of Roses
Akin to Lolita, Mena Suvari played a sensual seductive teenager that lured Spacey’s character so effortlessly.
Kirsten Dunst was considered for the role of Angela Hayes, but she turned it down. Why? She said it bluntly: “I didn’t want to be kissing Kevin Spacey. Come on! Lying there naked with rose petals!?”
Fight Club (1999) – Brad Pitt’s Abs
Talk about another fantastic film that is still celebrated today. And not to mention that every time you see the film, you always notice something you didn’t the previous time.
Anyways, when it comes to remembering the most iconic image from this incredible film, we only have one word: Abs.
Next, an adorable scene of a couple that actually became a real-life couple from the movie.
The Notebook (2004) – The Kiss in the Rain
Are these two not the cutest couple ever? Come on. It doesn’t get any more adorable than them. And the best part is they became a real couple from meeting on this film!
Their scene together in the rain, when he tells her he loves her still and always had still gives us goosebumps today.
Inception (2010) – The Spinning Top
Yes, we know that this phenomenal film has tons of unforgettable scenes. But one of the longest lasting was literally the last image of the film: the spinning top.
That spinning top is what stays with us as the audience. So the question is: is it a dream or is it the reality? What sucks is we will never know!
Gravity (2013) – Floating in Space
The cinematography of this film won awards, so it is no wonder that many images from this movie are going to stand out. But one of the best is when we see Clooney just floating in an endless nothingness of outer space.
That scene just had us all holding our breaths, imagining yet not wanting to imagine what it would be like to be him.
The Revenant (2015) – The Bear Scene
Finally, our beloved Leo wins an Oscar for his performance! As amazing as the movie is in its entirety, there is one scene that stands above the rest. And that’s the bear scene.
No, it wasn’t an actual bear – it was done by computer effects and superimposed by a man playing the bear with sensors all over his body.