Creating a memorable scene is an inexact science. What works for one movie may not work for another, and it’s a formula that studios and filmmakers have been struggling to perfect for decades. A memorable moment can be an especially great scene in a high quality movie or it can be a scene that manages to be good despite everything else in the picture. Some scenes have even managed to eclipse the movies they come from, being adopted by popular culture and summing up the movie in the minds of the general public.
With all that in mind, here are 15 Movies You Only Remember That One Scene From.
15. “You’re the man now, dog!” – Finding Forrester (2000)
After his ill-advised shot-for-shot remake of Psycho in 1998, director Gus Van Sant tried to regain some ground with Finding Forrester, a story about a teenager named Jamal Wallace (Rob Brown) who is invited to attend Mailor-Callow, a prestigious private school, based on his high test scores and skills on the basketball court. He strikes up an unlikely friendship with reclusive author William Forrester (Sean Connery) who helps to encourage and refine Jamal’s innate writing abilities.
Whilst it received a good bit of buzz and positive reviews when it came out, Finding Forrester has largely been forgotten in the sixteen years since. However, one scene, where Forrester mentors Jamal on how to write on a typewriter had an unexpected legacy. Sean Connery speaking the line “You’re the man now, dog!” in his instantly recognizable Scottish tones inspired the once popular website yourethemannowdog.com (YTMND) and became an internet meme before memes really became a “thing”. Whether people still remember the source movie is up for debate, but the typewriter scene and Connery’s one particular line have an undeniable place in internet history.
14. Death by teacup – The Chronicles of Riddick (2004)
It’s fair to say that whilst the character has his fans, nobody loves Richard B. Riddick more than Vin Diesel himself. Since the character’s first appearance in the sci-fi horror Pitch Black, Diesel took it upon himself to use his star power to help the sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick, get made. The end result was an underwhelming science-fiction film a little bit too in love with its own lore to do much actual storytelling.
The best scenes in the series have always been the ones where Riddick demonstrates his skills as a badass killing machine, and Chronicles has a doozy. Riddick (Diesel) is captured and taken to the prison moon Crematoria. While there, he saves a woman named Kyra (Alexa Davalos) from some prison guards by threatening to kill the leader with a tea cup. The guard balks at this and comes at Riddick with a knife. Ol’ Ridders slams his metal cup on a nearby rock, creating a jagged edge that he then jams into the guard’s chest before giving it a twist for good measure. The guard falls back dead and the others look suitably terrified when Riddick stares them down and places a sardine can opener on the rock with great purpose. You’d be hard-pressed to remember much else about the movie, but the teacup scene is a classic.
13. Train sequence – The Lone Ranger (2013)
When it was released in 2013, The Lone Ranger failed to live up to box-office expectations and became a high profile and costly bomb for Disney. Obviously, box office performance and the quality of the movie rarely go hand-in-hand, but The Lone Ranger didn’t do itself any favors in that department either, with the general consensus being that it was a confused mess of a film that somehow managed to be too bland, weird and overlong for a PG-13 summer blockbuster.
However, the movie got an unexpected shot of awesome and bucked up its ideas for the final action sequence. After hours of not-quite-working action and stilted interplay between Armie Hammer’s Ranger and Johnny Depp’s Tonto, the film culminates in a fun and memorable train sequence, scored by Hans Zimmer’s great reworking of the famous and stirring William Tell Overture. It’s better than it has any right to be, and serves as an example of the tone and sense of adventure the rest of the movie should have tapped into from the start.
12. “You maniacs! You blew it up!” – Planet of the Apes (1968)
Everybody knows the twist ending in Planet of the Apes, even if they haven’t seen the movie. It’s one of the most widely known spoilers ever and has been parodied and spoofed so often it’s almost impossible to go into the film without knowing what happens. 99% of people reading this will know what we’re talking about. For that 1%, sorry to be the ones to do this, but we’re going to go ahead and chat about the ending.
Charlton Heston plays an astronaut named George Taylor. His ship and crew crash land on an alien planet after an epic voyage. It doesn’t take them long to find out that on this planet, humans are primitive and the place is run by intelligent ape overlords. The film ends with a shot of the Statue of Liberty on a beach, meaning that Taylor isn’t on some far-off alien planet, but a future Earth after a nuclear war. Taylor sinks to his knees and curses humanity’s mistakes before the credits roll. It’s one of the great gut punch endings in cinematic history, and it’s remembered far more than the rest of the movie. The scene’s fame means that crucial elements are often overlooked, including the brilliant Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) and the clues to the great reveal dotted throughout the film’s runtime. While it may not have the element of surprise any more, it’s still a memorable and well-executed parting shot.
11. Intimate interrogation – Basic Instinct (1992)
Basic Instinct was a controversial film for all sorts of reasons when it was released in 1992. The erotic thriller stirred up several groups thanks to its graphic portrayals of sex and violence. The movie also garnered widespread criticism and protest from the LGBT community for its negative portrayal of gay characters. It was basically the perfect mixture of outrage and free publicity to gain notoriety and set box-office tills ringing to become one of 1992’s biggest films. It even managed to out-gross the highly anticipated Batman Returns.
But let’s be honest: the infamous interrogation scene is the one bit that stands out above everything else in the movie. Sharon Stone’s icy-cool Catherine Tramell is interrogated by the cops about the murder of a retired rock star. Despite being accused of a serious crime, Tramell is unruffled and somewhat playful, using her beauty and raw sensuality to own the room. In perhaps one of the most paused moments in home video history, Tramell uncrosses and recrosses her legs, revealing a lack of underwear and causing Michael Douglas, Wayne Knight, and the other assembled cops to gulp and sweat profusely. While the scene lives in infamy, the rest of the movie has been somewhat forgotten by pop culture, perhaps one of the reasons behind the belated 2006 sequel flopping harder than a cardboard umbrella in a rainstorm.
10. Bomb rodeo – Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Stanley Kubrick’s black comedy political satire Dr. Strangelove is an iconic piece of movie history. It was a sideways look at the growing Cold War fears between the U.S. and the USSR and concerned a crazed general’s plan to initiate a nuclear strike on Russia and the attempts by the President and a room full of his advisers to prevent a nuclear apocalypse.
Whilst the film is known for its great sets, striking black and white look and its witty dialogue, the one scene that sticks in everyone’s mind occurs near the end of the movie. A B-52 bomber, commanded by Major Kong (Slim Pickens) has been hit by a missile which damaged the aircraft and knocked out its communications, making the President’s recall order go unheard. As the bomber approaches its target, Kong desperately tries to fix the broken bomb bay doors whilst sitting on one of the nukes. Kong eventually succeeds, but the bomb drops with him still sitting on it. As the nuke falls, he rides it like a rodeo cowboy, whooping and hollering all the way down to oblivion. It’s such a famous scene, it’s almost eclipsed the movie entirely in the public’s consciousness, despite the film having so much more to offer, including Peter Sellers giving powerhouse performances as three separate characters.
9. Curb stomp – American History X (1998)
For such a well-regarded movie, American History X had a lot of trouble behind the scenes. After seeing the first cut of Tony Kaye’s film, distributors New Line Cinema gave him pages upon pages of notes which the director rejected, throwing what he refers to as a “hissy fit”. This hissy fit was a costly one, as he was locked out of the editing room, with Ed Norton masterminding the final cut. Kaye went on to publicly denounce the movie, trying to either be credited as the old Hollywood in-joke pseudonym Alan Smithee or as “Humpty Dumpty”. Neither ended up happening.
American History X is a great film with an especially brilliant performance by Edward Norton. However, the one scene that everyone talks about is when the eldest neo-Nazi brother Derek (Norton) catches some people trying to steal the family’s truck. Due to the film’s non-linear approach, we don’t get the full story about what happened until later. Derek shoots one of the thieves dead and wounds the other, before dragging him over to the curb and ordering him at gunpoint to put his teeth on it. The man complies and before Danny (Edward Furlong) can stop him, Derek stomps on the man’s head, hatecriming his way to lengthy prison sentence. It’s an incredibly shocking and wince-inducing scene that has become infamous outside of the film and has somewhat overshadowed the movie’s themes of redemption due to its sheer power. After he gets out of prison, the movie focuses more on Derek desperately trying to prevent his brother from following the same path he did. The movie’s lessons about hate and ignorance and how they’re passed down through the generations still need to be listened to and learned from, especially if the comments on the scene on YouTube are anything to go by.
8. “Frankly, my dear…” – Gone With The Wind (1939)
Very few films achieve the cultural status that Gone With The Wind has. It’s probably one of the most famous films ever made and one of the highest grossing films of all time (number 1 of all time when adjusted for inflation). Surely every scene and line should be firmly ingrained in people’s minds, right? Well, apparently not. The film hasn’t quite stood up to critical re-evaluation over the decades and placed a lowly 97th in the BBC’s 2015 poll of the 100 greatest American films. There is evidence to support the fact that it doesn’t have the same longterm viability as titles like Casablanca (number 9) and Citizen Kane (number 1) and that it’s falling out of favor with critics and new audiences alike.
Having said all that, the ending is still as iconic as they come. Rhett Butler (Clark Gable at his most dashing), after several personal losses and years of pining for her, has finally had enough of Scarlett O’Hara’s (Vivien Leigh) ways. Scarlett makes a last ditch attempt to get him to stay, desperately asking where she’ll go and what she’ll do without him. In a moment of pure cinema and what must still be one of the greatest figurative mic drops ever, Rhett turns to her and says the immortal line : “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” before walking off.
7. Shower scene – Psycho (1960)
People who check into the Bates Motel are unlikely to check out. If we’re talking about iconic movie scenes, the shower scene in Psycho has to be up there as one of the most well-known. The sequence has become so famous, it’s likely that people will see an homage or a gag based around it before they see the actual movie.
Everything from the shots used, the cuts made, and the music, all the way down to Janet Leigh’s scream are such iconic parts of movie history that they’re hard to escape (which is probably the reason why your remake flopped, Mr. Van Sant). However, the scene is so recognizable, it arguably outshines the rest of the movie. More foten than not, you’re going to find more people who know about the shower scene and are able to do a terrible impression of Bernard Herrmann’s screechy score than those that will know about the film’s big twist ending.
6. Magnum speech – Dirty Harry (1971)
Clint Eastwood is an undisputed cinematic badass. Outside of his Western roles, he’s probably best known as “Dirty” Harry Callahan, a loose cannon cop who doesn’t play by the rules but gets results, dammit! Dirty Harry was so successful it spawned four sequels and invented an entire genre of films centering around maverick cops with large, over-compensatory hand cannons.
However, when pressed, you’d struggle to find many people who could recall the plot of Dirty Harry. They’d be able to give you Callahan’s speech, but even then, might mix it up with the “Go ahead- make my day” spiel from the sequel, Sudden Impact. Harry Callahan’s lunch is rudely interrupted by a bank robbery and he whips out his .44 Magnum to teach the crooks the meaning of personal time. Eastwood is a lot more casual in the actual scene than you may have been led to believe from parodies and impersonations. The actual monologue still ranks as one of the best tough guy speeches ever committed to celluloid. The robber’s reaction to the gun being empty never gets old either.
5. Life of a bullet – Lord of War (2005)
Lord of War centers around Nic Cage’s morally bankrupt international arms dealer Yuri Orlov. Writer/director Andrew Niccol nearly always has some kind of political point to make with his films and Lord of War is no exception, wasting little time in setting out its stall and giving audiences an idea of what kind of movie they’ve sat down to watch.
The credits sequence of the movie shows the journey of a single bullet, starting life being made in a factory, being shipped internationally, to finally making its way into the hands and gun of an African warlord — before being finally and upsettingly shot into a child’s head. It’s a powerful and arresting sequence, afforded an added layer of poignancy with the usage of “For What It’s Worth”, the famous Buffalo Springfield anti-violence protest song. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn’t really measure up to the impact of the opening, but that doesn’t take away from the grim and affecting beginning.
4. “That’s not a knife” – Crocodile Dundee (1986)
It’s hard to explain just how big Crocodile Dundee was when it came out in 1986. It was a simple fish-out-of-water comedy about a weathered Aussie bushman and hunter Mick “Crocodile” Dundee (Paul Hogan) coming to New York. It was an Australian film made specifically to appeal to American audiences that became a worldwide megahit. It was one of the biggest movies of the year, second only to Top Gun, and beating out Aliens, Platoon and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It was a short-lived phenomenon however, as Crocodile Dundee II and the much later and much, much worse Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles failed to grab the same crazy numbers that the first one did.
The movie doesn’t hold up particularly well, but the one moment that people who haven’t even seen the film know about is the knife scene, where Dundee and Sue Charlton (Linda Kozlowski) are rounded on by a gang of would-be muggers. The gang leader produces a pocket knife and demands Dundee’s wallet. Mick is unfazed, and after being questioned by the scared Sue, he says the incredibly famous line “That’s not a knife…” before producing a much bigger and scarier looking Bowie knife and saying “That’s a knife!” before shredding the mugger’s jacket and causing the gang to run off. You know you’ve made it when you inspire a great Simpsons gag.
3. Suspended suspense – Mission: Impossible (1996)
Quick! Without looking it up, what do you remember about the story of Brian De Palma’s Mission: Impossible movie? Yeah, that’s what we thought. The finer details of Mission: Impossible‘s plot are hard to recall thanks to the movie’s intentionally complicated yarn full of betrayals and fake-outs.
However, the one scene that sticks in people’s minds is the sequence where Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is slowly lowered down on cables into a ludicrously over-protected CIA vault full of sensors to steal a list containing the covers of undercover agents. It’s a great sequence that has lost none of its armrest clawing tension in the twenty years since its release. The rest of the movie may be a blur for most people, but thanks to the scene’s strength, the continued popularity of the series, and numerous parodies in movies like Shrek 2, the suspended hacking sequence won’t be forgotten any time soon.
2. Shark surprise – Deep Blue Sea (1999)
Samuel L. Jackson loves his speeches. Good thing too, because he’s a master of them. If you need someone to deliver an intense, wide-eyed monologue, Jackson’s your man. Renny Harlin and the makers of Deep Blue Sea clearly thought along the same lines when they cast him in their shark movie. Deep Blue Sea concerns a scientific experiment gone wrong. What was intended to be a cure for Alzheimer’s disease ended up spawning genetically engineered super sharks much smarter and a lot more aggressive than your regular toothy terrors.
After some grisly deaths, the remaining team tries to formulate some kind of escape plan, but immediately start throwing blame and shouting over each other. Russell Franklin (Jackson) overrides the chatter and starts telling a story about his past to emphasize the importance of teamwork and unity. The speech slowly rises in intensity before a shark bursts out of a nearby pool and grabs Russell, dragging him into the water and leaving a stunned group of helpless onlookers behind. For added nastiness, we’re then shown the shark literally splitting his Samuel L. Snackson (we’re sorry) with another shark. It’s unexpected, brutal and a little bit funny – all key elements to ensuring that the scene will live longer than the whole movie will.
1. Russian roulette – The Deer Hunter (1978)
The Deer Hunter is 183 minutes long, yet most people only remember about 3 of them. It’s a crying shame, as the whole film is a sweeping epic with fantastic, well-rounded performances from Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep, and the final performance of John Cazale’s career (he died before the film was released).
The Russian roulette scene has lost none of its power, however, and it’s easy to see why it has continued to capture people’s imaginations. It’s an unbelievably tense scene as Sgt. Mike Vronsky (De Niro) and Cpl. Nick Chevotarevich are forced by their captors to “play” the terrifying game. Even if you know the outcome, it’s still a ridiculously hard scene to watch, and the tension gets ratcheted up to near-unbearable levels. Whether people would be able to name any other scene from the movie is up for debate, but once you’ve witnessed the Russian roulette scene, it leaves an indelible mark on your brain. Nothing encapsulates “that one scene” better than the nerve-shredding roulette sequence.
Can you think of any other scenes that completely outshined their films? Let us know in the comments.