The 25 Greatest Movie Scenes of All Time

8. The Mirror – Burning barn

Andrei Tarkovsky is terrific at making imaginative moments that could only exist within films. Within his poetic collection of memories, The Mirror, the part that gets discussed the most is the early scene of a family barn that burns down. Through a long take, we are zoomed in towards various parts of a house, only to be led outside and see the stunning destruction of the family barn.

There is no talking. There is no music. There is only the sound of fire, rain and ambience. A pail of water is fetched, only for the mission to be abandoned. The family stop and stare, because there is nothing they can do to stop it. It is ruination, but it is also majestic.


7. Raging Bull – “You never got me down, Ray”


There is much fighting inside and outside of boxing rings in Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull. The most common battlers are Jake LaMotta and himself. In the final fight between LaMotta and Sugar Ray Robinson (one of his most frequent rivals), Jake’s brother Joey watches from home. Joey is disgruntled and damaged by Jake, but he still watches; he declares the moment that Jake landed his last shot, as he knows his brother well.

Little do we know that this would be his final hit ever. Jake throws the fight, and gets relentlessly pummeled. This pugnacious sacrifice was a self-retaliation after putting his loved ones through constant hell. He continues to stand until the bitter end, fulfilling his promise to Ray that he wouldn’t be knocked down. He fails himself, though.


6. Chinatown – “My sister and my daughter”

Faye Dunaway, Chinatown

The pitch perfect screenplay in Roman Polanski’s Chinatown is full of so many twists, that you may feel nauseated. Without knowing who can be trusted, Gittes begins to lose his temper with Evelyn Mulwray, who has been two faced the entire film. She proclaims that her late husband’s mistress is only her sister. Eventually, Gittes doesn’t buy the tale, and gets told that she is actually Evelyn’s daughter.

Gittes begins to unnecessarily strike Evelyn, and she begins to flip between both answers. Eventually, a struck down Evelyn shouts from the floor that the girl in question is both her sister and her daughter. The violence stops, because this is a statement no one would ever lie about. In one statement, a history of abuse emerges, and the film gets way more dark than it initially was (which was already dark to begin with).


5. Casablanca – Airplane getaway


No romantic epic will ever come close to Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca, because the film deals with the repercussions of a previous relationship to fuel the subsequent actions in a different scenario. Love is shown through the resolutions of Rick towards his former partner Ilsa.

The ultimate statement of deeply internalized love is the final getaway scene, where Rick gets Ilsa and her husband to safely evacuate to Portugal. There are many quotable lines from this portion of the film, but they are memorable because each and every line carries a history of adoration and hurt within each word. Very few films contain the amount of passion that Rick’s act of selflessness displays.


4. Psycho – Approaching Mrs. Bates


It might seem sacrilegious to not have the shower scene here, especially because it broke so many cinematic regulations. However, I think the final twist is a highly understated moment that also changed cinema. Alfred Hitchcock utilized Psycho to go against the saturated ways of a sterile Hollywood in every single way. The climactic moments where Lila approaches an immobile Mrs. Bates are, to this day, dizzyingly frightening.

The slow spin around of the chare, and the eyeless corpse that still manages to stare back. A delirious Norman saunters forwards with a knife in the shadow coated room. These are territories that, like the shower scene, were shocking for their times. The shower scene has been analyzed to the point of familiarity. The revelation of Norman’s dead mother will never sit easily.


3. 2001: A Space Odyssey – Shutting off Hal 9000

2001 a space odyssey

Stanley Kubrick’s films are usually spectacular as a complete whole. If one film could be split into identifiable moments, it’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. You have the mesmerizing dawn of man era that leads all the way up to the still-breathtaking star gate sequence. In between is a scene that is full of so many different emotions, you will not know how to feel at first.

As David Bowman manages to get back inside of the space station as the lone survivor of the Hal 9000’s murdering spree, he aims to shut down the Hal 9000 for good. Hal displays signs of fear, but we cannot trust the monotone voice, especially after its previous dangers. As David slowly dismantles the Hal’s processing, Hal’s voice deepens, and its memory disappears. It reboots and sings a song while dying. It is overwhelming, to say the least.


2. City Lights – Seeing the Tramp for the first time

city lights

Charlie Chaplin has never been understated, but it does feel good to know that his works are being championed as being the cinematic works of genius that they are. To this day, City Lights remains one of the most emotional experiences one can have. The Tramp adores a blind flower seller, especially because she is the only person to not repel him. By the end of the film, she has her sight restored. She welcomes the Tramp into her store, not knowing who he is.

Once she finally feels his shirt, she has a rush of memories return to her. She asks if it is him, by a simple “You?”. He nods. She confirms she can finally “see now”: a message with two purposes. It is a moment that is still difficult to watch without needing a tissue or two.


1. The Godfather – The restaurant

Michael shoots Sollozzo and McCluskey from The Godfather

There is no scene in history as well executed as Francis Ford Coppola’s restaurant sequence in the first Godfather film. Michael Corleone’s change of heart has already begun, as he is slowly turning from the most innocent son into the devil incarnate. He is aimlessly led in a car containing Sollozzo (his family’s enemy) and McCluskey (a crooked cop acting as a bodyguard). He is led to the restaurant that his family rigged with a planted gun, so there is some relief there. Now all he has to do is fulfil the plan of executing Sollozzo (and take down McCluskey too).

The passing trains. The extreme close ups. The uneasiness on Michael’s face. There is no tension greater than within this scene here. Finally, the acts have been committed, and it is hideous to witness. Michael barges out, and we see the corpses positioned like a renaissance painting’s composition. This is brutal, pure cinema. It may very well be the greatest scene of all time.

Author Bio: Andreas Babiolakis has a Bachelor’s degree in Cinema Studies, and is currently undergoing his Master’s in Film Preservation. He is stationed in Toronto, where he devotes every year to saving money to celebrate his favourite holiday: TIFF. Catch him @andreasbabs.