The Best Scenes in Movie History
It’s purely subjective, defining the best scenes in movie history. Not every movie is great. Not every movie is famous. But if you search hard enough, you can find a glow of emotion in cinema – sadness, exuberance, whatever – that takes you to a different level. These are the scenes that move you and simply bear repeating. I write in what I think is a cinematic way at times, because I want to write things that make people feel, too.
So here’s my list of movies that really stuck with me. They’re not all famous, or even outright good. But there are gems here that stick with me, whose incredible scenes I could watch over and over again.
The Shawshank Redemption – the beach
A beloved movie, commonly amongst the most popular ever referenced, and deservedly so. A languid, painful take on coldness and incarceration, amidst characters who shine and a friendship that develops between our main character Andy and a convict named Red. This is a story replete with villains – they abound, and seem assured of winning the day, for they have so much power over what will happen. But it should be no surprise to us that the villains get their comeuppance. They don’t win. There’s glory in the scene when our protagonist Andy escapes the prison, free after his long and unjustified incarceration, and that’s a moment well-remembered and full of feeling.
But it’s the final scene that really does the trick, as Andy’s friend Red, finally released himself, tackles the hardships of leaving the institution that he’s known for so long. Where does a man who’s been in jail for most of his life go? What does he do? On Andy’s instructions, Red makes his way down to a beach in Mexico. There, he sees his friend working on a boat. The expression on the faces of the two men as they see each other is more than enough to conclude this story – we don’t need to see what comes after. We understand. These are free men, finally, and that moment is a testament to the power of friendship, a moving force that we all crave in our lives. Remember, hope is a good thing.
Glory – he who holds the flag
We live in times of racial tension. Correction. We have always lived in times of racial tension, but now perhaps we have chosen to do something about it. Protest in the streets, raise voices, and let us remember that long ago, people did much more than that to tackle this great evil we live with.
Glory is set in the Civil War and tells the story of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment – a black Regiment that has the audacity to ask for equal treatment as its soldiers fight for the north. We realize that for these black soldiers, neither side of the war is exactly forgiving, and it’s a painful reminder of the truths that we experience to this day. In the end, the Regiment charges heavily-armed Fort Wagner, and Robert Shaw – the white Colonel of this group who has coldly but tirelessly led the men – falls to enemy fire. Seeing their leader fallen, Silas Trip picks up the fallen flag, a thing he swore he would never do given the way his country has treated him. He perishes, too. But the Regiment charges.
Fires burn. Bayonets stab. Guns fire. The Regiment rushes onto the ramparts, determined in our minds to fix this terrible problem, to finally find justice for people who for so long have had none. To finally win. But they don’t. Running into an ambush, it’s presumed that they die en masse. It’s a horrifically bittersweet moment, so unexpected and heavy, but nothing like what follows, as we see the morning after, and the bodies being buried. Our heroes, white or black, enter the same mass grave, brothers in death just as they sought to be – through pain and strife – in life. The fort, as it’s noted, was never taken. The battle was never really won.
Blade Runner – tears in the rain
Okay, how many people secretly prefer the original theatrical cut of Blade Runner to the many versions that have been subsequently released? You know, the version with Deckard’s monologue over everything, explaining his thoughts, and that includes an ending resonating of hope. Count me amongst them. I like the monologue, and its cynical tone in this futuristic blackened landscape populated by plumes of fire and under threat from artificial people (Replicants) that people made to make their life easier. We made them, and we enslaved them. Deckard hunts miscreant Replicants, finally coming face to face with their leader, Roy Batty, a homicidal Replicant seeking to extend his life – because Replicants are only given four years to live. How much can you live in four years? What can you do in that time?
There is no more emotional moment in this movie than the penultimate scene, where Deckard and Roy do battle in a building, until it becomes plain that Roy is nearing the end of his four years. He uses those final moments to save Deckard’s life, and there – in the rain – Deckard watches him die. This is a moment of humanity displayed by a creature that is not human. A speech for the ages ensues, where we hear all the things that Roy has seen, and Deckard simply sits there and watches Roy die. As the rain falls. But it’s Deckard’s ensuing monologue that carries the real emotional heft, questioning in the end what it really means to be human – wondering where we come from, how long we’ve got. What is a more important, meaningful set of questions than that? One of the best scenes in movie history, by far.
The Office (UK) – Dawn comes back
Okay, cheated. This one’s a TV show, so what? The Office (US) is wonderful but the UK version does something its successor never managed.
The UK Office denigrated and beat-down its main characters, especially Tim, the long-suffering employee of Wernham-Hogg who pined for Dawn the receptionist but repeatedly was rebuffed by her. Meanwhile, the buffoonish and yet shockingly relatable David Brent blazes through the show as the frontrunner. The Christmas episodes (Part 1 and 2) that concluded this two-season show made it seem inevitable that Tim would lose Dawn again after she visits with her fiancée. He’s not going to get the girl. He’s not going to have a happy life. He’ll lose. He’ll get one last television beat-down. We’re so sure of it until, as the Christmas party rages in the office environment, and ‘Only You’ by Yazoo blares, we see Dawn returning in the background as Tim jokes around with David and Gareth. She walks right up to him, turns him around, and magic simply ensues.
In a show designed to beat up its characters, that was merciless in its loser-ish portrayal of them, to have a moment of hope and glory like that enter such a downtrodden ecosystem of real characters is simply more uplifting than imagined. And did I mention ‘Only You’ by Yazoo? We didn’t think Tim would get that outcome, nor Dawn. But there it is. We don’t deserve this scene, a moment that spins an entire show around while making us feel ridiculously glad that we’ve been along for this ride.
More of the best scenes in movie history are coming. I have more to say!