We often say that life could never be like the movies. We never have such epic first kisses, running-through-the-airport moments, or crazy obstacles that stop us from getting what we want. At the same time, we tend to think of life in terms of the cinematic scenes that we have known and loved for ages. What can we say? We’re complicated.
No matter what our personal tastes, whether they be cheesy rom-coms to horror flicks, we can all agree that there are certain movie moments that are the best ever. They’re universally beloved and they’ve been watched over and over again throughout the decades. Check out the gallery to see the most iconic movie moments through history.
40. Sandy’s Good-To-Bad Girl Transformation: Grease
Grease is a perfect movie, from the fashion to the songs to the hilarious dialogue. There is no better moment from the 1978 movie than when Olivia Newton-John‘s Sandy appears at the end having totally transformed from a good girl into a bad girl. Danny, played by John Travolta, is completely shocked. And into it. Of course, he is.
They live happily ever after and every new generation of teenage girls swoons. And dresses up like bad gal Sandy for Halloween. It’s a thing.
39. “Is Butter A Carb?”: Mean Girls
Just like we have to adore Clueless, we also have to be down with Mean Girls. The 2004 film, written by the amazing Tina Fey, features an epic scene where Regina George, played by Rachel McAdams, can’t figure out why she keeps packing on the pounds. Of course, Cady Heron, played by Lindsay Lohan, knows exactly what’s going on: she’s trying to “break” Regina and has caused her to gain weight with her Swedish Kalteen Bars. Regina asked, “Is butter a carb?” and is totally serious. To this day, we love it, and it will definitely go down in history as one of the best movie moments ever.
38. The Infamous Shower Scene: Psycho
This iconic horror movie from 1960 has a lot of other versions — a handful of sequels, the TV show Bates Motel, a 1998 remake directed by Gus Van Sant — but this is the OG. And it’s the best.
Everyone knows the moment in the Alfred Hitchcock-directed flick when Janet Leigh’s character gets killed while taking a shower. Movie buffs adore this because there were a lot of close-up shots. We can be absolutely sure that this scene has been shown in countless film theory and history classes.
37. Drew Barrymore’s Phone Call: Scream
This 1996 horror movie is a total classic thanks to its campy tone and use of the term “meta” — aaaand also thanks to this awesome scene. When Drew Barrymore gets a phone call in the opening scene, she gets more than she bargained for. She soon realizes that a killer is on the other line and is literally spying on her from outside the house. By the time she sees her boyfriend tied to a chair and ends up hanging from a tree herself, this scene had wormed its way into our horror-loving hearts, never to be forgotten.
36. The Lift: Dirty Dancing
Dirty Dancing is a very special movie for anyone who grew up in the ’80s. The 1987 film starring the late Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey was romantic AF and nothing was better than the infamous scene when he lifts her up as they’re dancing to “Time Of My Life.” Pretty much everyone has rewatched this scene tons of times and every time, it gets even more perfect.
35. Coffee And Shopping: Breakfast At Tiffany’s
Who hasn’t dreamt of having breakfast at the Tiffany’s store? Every girl, right? This 1961 film starring Audrey Hepburn is truly iconic and classic and the opening scene is the best, most beloved one. Holly Golightly may be kind of sad and have some problems, but that doesn’t really matter because she’s glamorous AF. Seeing her standing there with her coffee and pastry is always a welcome sight, no matter how many times we’ve screened this particular moment.
34. Noah And Allie’s reunion in the rain: The Notebook
Oh, The Notebook: is it possible to love something and hate it for making us cry oceans of tears at the same time? Yup. That’s how we feel about this 2004 romantic drama starring Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling. The most adorable moment from this movie is definitely when Noah and Allie take a boat ride and it starts pouring rain. He laughs hysterically while she freaks out at first but then, of course, she starts giggling. Because it’s Ryan Gosling and that’s really the only appropriate response.
33. A Bigger Boat: Jaws
Who doesn’t know the famous line from the 1975 Steven Spielberg-directed Jaws where a character says “We’re gonna need a bigger boat?” Exactly. We all know this one. When the police chief Martin Brody, played by Roy Scheider realizes that the shark is pretty big, this is his response. Makes sense. This is one of those movie lines that a lot of other films and TV shows quote on a regular basis, so we’ve probably all heard it countless times. It’s also made a bunch of lists about the best movie quotes from all of history.
32. What She’s Having: When Harry Met Sally
Nora Ephron‘s 1989 romantic comedy poses a crucial question: can a guy and a girl ever just be just friends? Decades later, we still haven’t answered it, maybe because there really is no good answer. While we may not have solved that great mystery, we do know that the scene where Meg Ryan‘s character pretends to have The Big O while eating lunch is one of the best movie moments ever. When a customer sitting near her goes, “I’ll have what she’s having,” it’s a total cinematic slam dunk.
31. No Place Like Home: The Wizard Of Oz
The Wizard Of Oz may have been made in 1939 (and, sure, it looks a bit dated) but its movie magic is still going strong. It’s hard not to be transported back to the first time we saw it as kids when we thought that it was the most incredible movie ever. It’s impossible not to think of the moment when Dorothy clicks her sparkly red shoes together and says, “There’s no place like home,” as one of the most iconic movie moments ever. It just doesn’t get much better than this.
30. Gin Joints: Casablanca
This 1942 movie is widely considered to be one of the most romantic movies ever, and like Jaws, it has a lot of lines that are often quoted in pop culture. When Humphrey Bogart‘s character Rick Blaine says, “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine,” it’s hard not to swoon. There are so many other great lines from this flick, too, like “We’ll always have Paris” and “Play it again, Sam” but the gin joint one is definitely beloved by many. We can all relate to unexpectedly seeing someone from our past again, so when Rick sees Ilsa (played by Ingrid Bergman) in the bar, it’s love at second sight.
29. The Ending: Gone With The Wind
No one can call themselves a true movie fan without having seen the 1939 film Gone With The Wind. The story of the spunky Scarlett O’Hara and Clark Gable is truly classic. While the whole movie is still respected and critically acclaimed to this day, it’s the ending that really drives the whole message home. Rhett walks out on Scarlett, and while she’s crying and totally heartbroken, she decides that she’s going to change his mind. She doesn’t believe that they’re going to be apart forever. To our modern eyes, this is like a giant step back for women’s lib, but at the time, it was kind of an independent move. Kind of. It was the ’30s, okay?
28. Turning Head: The Exorcist
It’s almost Halloween and it’s the perfect time to rewatch The Exorcist… or at least the scene the little girl’s head turns around. As in, all the way around. Of course, a demon had taken over her body, but still. Super creepy.
This film from 1973 has totally gone down in history as The Scariest Horror Movie Ever™ and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be replaced anytime soon. Just thinking about this is enough to make us shiver, so maybe we’re not going to be screening it again…
27. Jack Nicholson Goes Nuts: The Shining
Before Stephen King‘s “It” was turned into a blockbuster horror movie — as in, way before — the film adaptation of his book, “The Shining” was making waves in 1980. The Stanley Kubrick-directed movie features a family staying a hotel that is not what it seems. Eventually, the dad character played by Jack Nicholson goes nuts, and it’s a moment that has been put on pause ever since. Mostly because we’re too afraid to keep going. It’s often the thing that people remember most from the film.
26. Dance It Out: Saturday Night Fever
In 1977, the year before John Travolta was Danny Zucko, he starred in Saturday Night Fever and brought some serious moves. The most beloved scene is when he dances to The Bee Gees’ song “Stayin’ Alive.” We can practically hear the screaming teenage girls whenever we watch this moment.
Thankfully, it’s on YouTube and we can check it out whenever we need an instant mood boost because it just makes everyone super happy.
25. Flying Plastic Bag: American Beauty
Yeah, this 1999 drama was a bit creepy (no one wants their BFF to hit on their dad — or the other way around — ugh), but Kevin Spacey does a really great job. It’s interesting that the most remembered moment from this particular film doesn’t even involve any actors. The scene where a plastic bag is flying in the wind with a bunch of colorful leaves is beautiful and haunting. This is definitely another one that film students love to break apart and analyze. Maybe this is what Katy Perry is talking about in her song “Firework”?
24. Ghosts On The Field: Field Of Dreams
Our dads totally loved this film when we were kids, and for good reason: Field Of Dreams is, well, pretty dreamy. The 1989 Kevin Costner vehicle about a man who builds a baseball field is most famous for one scene: when a bunch of ghosts play the game. This is not for the cynical at heart. It’s best to suspend our disbelief and just agree that this is a really cool scene.
23. “I’m Flying”: Titanic
Who hasn’t seen Titanic?! We all grew up with this romantic disaster movie, which came out in 1997, and have probably seen it way too many times to count. Sure, it’s depressing AF, but scenes like this one make up for it. When Rose (Kate Winslet) stands at the front of the ship and says that she’s flying, with the adorable Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) holding her, it’s almost too much to take. It’s so good. It’s safe to say that this is the best moment from this movie, except for…
22. Jack Draws Rose Naked: Titanic
Yup, this movie has so many amazing scenes, it needs to be mentioned twice. When Jack and Rose meet, the chemistry is through the roof and they flirt constantly. The scene when he draws her lying on a couch totally in the nude is definitely one of the most iconic movie moments through history… probably one of the most paused movie moments as well! While we might have been way too young to really get this scene when we first saw the flick, we can definitely appreciate its romantic significance today. We might have even pictured ourselves as Rose in this scene. Just saying.
21. Tai’s Makeover: Clueless
Every ’90s kid has to love the 1995 comedy, Clueless. It would be illegal not to. When Alicia Silverstone‘s Cher Horowitz makes over new girl named Tai (played by the late Britanny Murphy), it’s movie gold. Sure, there are a few less-than-feminist tones in this scene, like the idea that a girl isn’t good enough unless she looks ~conventionally beautiful~, but we love this movie too much to get bent out of shape about that. It’s a fairly innocent moment. It was the ’90s, after all.
20. Coming back from hell: Heathers
In an ’80s classic filled with crazy moments, this is the most memorable. When Heather Chandler — played by the ever-bitchy Shannen Doherty — remarks that Winona Ryder‘s Veronica looks like hell Veronica replies: “Yeah? I just got back.” Boom. Iconic. And a totally crazy and nonchalant thing to say after your boyfriend almost blows up the entire high school because OMG that just happened.
19. Marilyn’s dress blows up: The Seven Year Itch
Can you think of an image that’s more pervasive in pop culture than Marilyn Monroe‘s dress blowing up in The Seven Year Itch? I’ll wait. Yeah, didn’t think so. When Monroe steps over that sewer grate and tries to keep her dress from revealing everything underneath, she became permanently ingrained in pop culture history. Her flirt laugh, the frilly dress. The stars aligned with this classic moment and made Monroe one of the most iconic people in history.
18. “Luke, I am your father”: The Empire Strikes Back
When it comes to quotable movie moments this one takes the cake. Even non-Star Wars fans know this famous line. Though this iconic line actually doesn’t exist: it’s a total Mandela Effect. He actually just says, “I am your father” — no “Luke” to be heard. But that hasn’t stopped this insanely popular line from being one of the most quoted in movie history.
17. “Say hello to my little friend!”: Scarface
You wouldn’t think a scene of a gangster shooting up his enemies would breed a classic quotable line, but here we are. “Say hello to my little friend” is used in popular speech like all the time now for random little things. Sure, we aren’t all Tony Montana (Al Pacino), but we can pretend we’re badass telling people to say hello to our pens and pencils.
16. E.T. and Elliot ride the bike into the moon: E.T.: Extra Terrestrial
No film scene is more nostalgic to a ’90s kid than that of E.T. and Elliot (Henry Thomas) flying on his bike into the sky over the backdrop of the moon. As the two plan their escape from the government goons who are trying to take the adorable little alien away, you’re left rooting for the two to fly away. And when E.T. does fly them into the sky? Absolutely magical.
15. “You talkin’ to me?”: Taxi Driver
Who hasn’t stared at themselves in a mirror reciting this line, trying to look badass?! It’s one of the most quotable lines in all of movie history and makes for one hell of an iconic scene. It’s also the line that totally made Robert De Niro and we can all be thankful for that.
14. “Well, nobody’s perfect!”: Some Like it Hot
When two musicians are on the run from some gangsters they disguise themselves as women to lay low. They soon start to fall for their new friend played by the one and only Marilyn Monroe. Unfortunately, millionaire Osgood (Joe E. Brown) starts to fall for one of them thinking they’re actually women. In the film’s final scene, “Daphne” reveals she is actually a he and Osgood gives an all-time positive response: “Well, nobody’s perfect!”
13. George runs through town shouting “Merry Christmas!” when he realizes he’s alive: It’s a Wonderful Life
The OG feel-good Christmas film. James Stewart stars as George Bailey, a distressed man who plans to commit suicide on Christmas Eve. When his guardian angel shows him all the lives he has touched he realizes living is better than dying. His guardian angel grants him another chance leading to the iconic scene of George running through the town shouting “Merry Christmas!” and spreading his joy at having another chance at life. It’s happy and merry and perfect for when you want a great holiday cry.
12. “Funny, like a clown?”: Goodfellas
At this point in this mob movie viewers start to think that gangsters aren’t too bad. They have great food, lots of money, and are pretty lighthearted. Until this scene. When Ray Liotta‘s Henry tells fellow mobster Tommy (Joe Pesci) that he’s funny Tommy doesn’t find it amusing and his temper flares. “I’m funny how?” he asks, “I mean, funny like I’m a clown? I amuse you?” The scene is frenetic and tense, showing just how volatile these Wiseguys are.
11. McLovin’ is born: Superbad
Chicka Chicka yeah, fake ID! This will forever be the ultimate high school movie. This scene is immortalized forever among all teenagers who wish they had a fake ID — except maybe with a less ridiculous name on it. It’s hard for new films to be considered “classics” but this scene through Superbad into the same ranks as Dazed and Confused and Clueless so it’s totally important.
10. Dancing in the ’50s cafe: Pulp Fiction
As a precursor for the insanity to come this scene is a brief moment of levity before all hell breaks loose. Mia (Uma Thurman) and Vincent (John Travolta) twist around the restaurant, while Vincent tries not to fall in love with his dancing partner. It’s sweet and silly, and almost takes you out of the fact that you’re watching a hella violent film.
9. “You’re a wizard, Harry!”: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
We all wished a big, hulking giant would tell us we were wizards after watching this scene. The magic of Harry Potter came alive in this first film and this scene remains the most memorable of the entire film franchise. It’s also been meme’d to death at this point in about a million hilarious ways. You’re a lizard, Harry!
8. The ending: Shawshank Redemption
When Andy (Tim Robbins) escapes from prison, viewers can’t help but cheer. But what about his prison BFF, Red (Morgan Freeman)? The end of the film sees the two being reunited outside of the jail: one as an escaped felon, the other being out on parole. Both soaking in that beautiful Mexico sun and bright blue sea. It’s a friendship love story for the ages and one of the biggest tearjerkers in film history.
7. “You shall not pass!”: The Lord of the Rings
A scene becomes truly iconic when you can use lines from it in everyday life, and this is definitely one of those scenes. Everyone’s uttered the line as they block a friend from walking by them or mess with their dog. It’s just part of life now. Even people who haven’t seen the film know this famous moment. It’s become more than a movie scene, it’s a cultural touchstone.
6. Rocky montage around Philadelphia: Rocky
As far as movie montages go, this one takes the cake. There are few movie scenes more inspiring or triumphant than Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) finally running up the steps at the Philadelphia Museum and raising his fist in success. Montages have become the norm in movies, usually playing the same soundtrack song, all because of this famous montage moment.
5. The joker makes a pencil disappear: The Dark Knight
Heath Ledger‘s crazed portrayal of the Joker is iconic in and of itself, but this scene is one of his best. He captures the unpredictability of the Joker perfectly as he makes a pencil “disappear” by smashing a guy’s head on it until he was lodged in his cranium. Brutal. And totally memorable. That’s how you make your villainous turn one of the best in history.
4. “I drink your milkshake”: There Will be Blood
Sometimes a scene so intense, and strange, comes along that it can’t help but blow up. This is the most memorable, and most talked about scene from the film for its crazy energy and even crazier standout line. Daniel Day Lewis delivers his analogy with such grand energy you can’t help but be drawn in. On paper, it’s a silly line, but in practice, it’s just right.
3. Singing “Tiny Dancer”: Almost Famous
Movie sing-alongs can go two ways: totally awesome, or a complete tone-deaf disaster. In this case, it’s awesome. After a rough night of fights and drugs the band, the groupies, and the roadies all come together on the bus to bust out a rendition of this classic Elton John jam. In a movie about music being cathartic, this scene truly shows the power of a song. Sure, it doesn’t fix everything, but music can always be the thing that brings people together.
2. Upside down kiss in the rain: Spider-man
One of the most iconic kisses in movie history — despite the fact that it looks totally uncomfortable. It’s hard to nail romance in superhero movies. Women are relegated to the side or just made into victims. And while M.J. (Kirsten Dunst) is definitely a damsel in distress, she’s also strong, layered and memorable. Plus, you know most of us have actually tried to recreate this kiss to see if it’s actually sexy. (It’s not.) Even so, it’s insanely romantic to think a mysterious superhero will come save you and then kiss you in the rain. Totally fantasy material.
1. Getting Waxed: The 40-year-old Virgin
Oh, Kelly Clarkson! Steve Carell‘s hilarious turn as an adult virgin is never funnier than in this scene. Carell’s Andy gets his chest waxed and definitely doesn’t expect it to be as painful as it is. His screams of pain — and fav pop stars — completely make the movie and definitely didn’t hurt Carell’s career.