Monday, January 18, 2016

Ask JKM a Question: Favorite Movie Scenes?

A regular reader named Jason asks:

Everyone has a favorite movie... but what's your favorite scene in a movie?  And why?”

Now, Jason that is one heck of a question. I don’t know that I can limit myself to one favorite scene from one movie.  That is just way too hard!

So, I’m going to punt, and list a few of my favorite scenes in film history.  Also, I'm not saying that these are the best scenes in cinema history; just some of my favorites.  There's a difference.

First, from Planet of the Apes (1968): This is my favorite film, period, and the greatest science fiction ever made. 

The final scene jumps to mind instantly, with Taylor (Charlton Heston) and Nova (Linda Harrison) riding a horse across that lonely shore-line. Suddenly, there’s a rusty outcropping in the sand, and Taylor disembarks from his steed.

He faces, above him, the ruins of the Statue of Liberty, half-buried.

That scene continues to blow me away in terms of concept, execution and, finally, meaning.

There has never been a greater ending in the history of science fiction cinema, in my opinion.  And the film's point just crashes against the viewer's consciousness like those waves against the shore.


Another one of my favorite scenes comes from John Carpenter’s They Live (1988). 

The scene I’m thinking about occurs after Nada (Roddy Piper) puts on the special sun-glasses for the first time, and sees reality as it is, not how the aliens have hypnotized the human race to see it. 

He walks a busy city street, and realizes his life has been “colorized” (a bad movie trend in the late 1980s), and worse, all of reality has been shaped to sell products; to make him spend money; to turn him into a slave.  

Billboards on the street read “Consume,” “Obey” and on the dollar bill is a legend that reads “This is your God.”

Like the Statue of Liberty moment in Planet of the Apes, this scene is absolutely devastating in terms of its composition, delivery of information, and its social commentary.  

As Carpenter observed, too many of us worship the almighty dollar, live to purchase things, and ignore the big picture as long as we have our big TV sets, and other material comforts.  The preceding sentence sounds polemical, or like a political speech.  Carpenter makes the sentiment artistic. His point hits home with pictures, and we recognize it as truth without being lectured to.

Another favorite moment or scene comes from the same director. In John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), the film ends with The Shape vanishing. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) has shot him six times, and still his body disappears. 

Suddenly, Carpenter cuts to this brilliant, crisply-edited montage, which shows us virtually every location in the film -- in reverse order, basically -- and we hear The Shape breathing…but don’t see him.   He really IS the boogeyman!  We might not see him, but he is always present!

I know that many readers are not fans of Prometheus (2012), but I love that film, and I think one of my all-time favorite horror scenes, in general, involves Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) learning that she has been impregnated by an alien life-form, and then going to a surgery machine to have it removed.  

After her abdomen is sliced open and the wriggling monstrosity removed, the surgery machine staples her belly back together. This scene is brilliant, gruesome horror filmmaking at its best, and I still remember the reaction in the theater.

In terms of Star Trek movies -- another love of mine --- one of my all-time favorite scenes comes in an underrated chapter, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984).

In this scene, Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) meets with the Head of Starfleet Command, Admiral Morrow, and asks permission to take the Enterprise back to the Genesis Planet to help the deceased but not-really dead Spock. 

Morrow begins to lecture Kirk about his career; that it stands for “rationality” not “intellectual chaos.”  He warns Kirk that this “emotional behavior” will cause him to lose everything; that he will “destroy himself.”

The camera moves to a close-up of Shatner, and we see the exact moment, the exact second Kirk tunes out, realizing he will have to go it alone, over Starfleet’s objections. Morrow asks if Kirk understands him.  He responds, truthfully, “I hear you.”  

In other words, he’s not listening, he’s planning his next move: stealing the Enterprise.

I love this particular moment because I believe it speaks volumes about Kirk’s friendship with, and commitment to Spock.

I could go on, because I have so many favorite scenes in film history. 

I love the airlock re-entry scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey (2001), the final, haunting moment of Soylent Green (1973), and the “yearning” Tatooine sunset scene in Star Wars (1977).

I’d love to read more reader favorite moments, so if anyone has one, please share!

Don’t forget to ask me your questions at


  1. John your choices are great!

    Some of my choices are:

    Star Trek:TMP(1979) Kirk & Scotty travelpod flyover of the 1701-refit in drydock.

    Star Trek:The Final Frontier(1989) Kirk & co. shuttleraft arrival from Yosemite Earth into the 1701-A hangar deck greeted by Scotty.

    Superman:The Movie(1978) Superman flies up to catch Lois Lane and the Daily Planet helicopter falling from the top of the Daily Planet building as the New Yorker/Metropolis citizens cheer.

    Escape From The Planet Of The Apes(1971) splashdown recovery of ANSA Liberty 1 (Taylor's spaceship) in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California by present day U.S. Army and opened on the beach...


  2. John your choices are great!

    Some of my choices are:

    Star Trek:TMP(1979) Kirk & Scotty travelpod flyover of the 1701-refit in drydock.

    Star Trek:The Final Frontier(1989) Kirk & co. shuttleraft arrival from Yosemite Earth into the 1701-A hangar deck greeted by Scotty.

    Superman:The Movie(1978) Superman flies up to catch Lois Lane and the Daily Planet helicopter falling from the top of the Daily Planet building as the New Yorker/Metropolis citizens cheer.

    Escape From The Planet Of The Apes(1971) splashdown recovery of ANSA Liberty 1 (Taylor's spaceship) in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California by present day U.S. Army and opened on the beach...


  3. woodchuckgod7:41 PM

    Let's see :

    1.) The Matrix series : The conversation between Neo and The Architect in Reloaded. I very much enjoy the action setpieces in this series, but this one scene is pivotal. Without this - there's so much less to inform the rest. Across all three movies - this scene here is the keystone, if you ask me.

    2.) Dark Star - Alien in Elevator Shaft vs. Pinback. 'Nuff said.

    3.) Escape from LA - Global code for the Sword of Damocles. Nihilistic, and the perfect response from a Snake who's just plain tired of the bullshit.

    4.) Guardians of the Galaxy - The impromptu prison break. Not just a fun setpiece, but some good laughs, and little touches of character flavor.

    5.) Let the Right One In - The peaceful, serene, swimming pool...

  4. John,

    I see it is time for some nostalgia!

    Taking SGB's lead, here are some scenes that stand out in my memory:

    Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981): Indiana Jones, holding a bag filled with sand, fingers fluttering, as he prepares to snatch the golden idol from its resting place, his face a mixture of anticipation, exhilaration and greed. A perfect moment, and we're right there in that temple with him.

    Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977): Roy and Jillian finally arrive at Devil's Tower. The reveal, the music, Jillian's "I don't believe it's real;" the culmination of their sacrifices to be there, and yet their journey is only beginning.

    The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951): Gort's first appearance. Do I really need to say anything more?

    My favorite, however, is this:

    Superman (1978): The last scene in the movie. Superman flies past the camera, but just before he soars away, he looks right at us, the audience, and smiles. I'll never forget the first time I saw that.


  5. A few of my favorite scenes:

    In JAWS when the shark is finally seen. I know everyone quotes the "bigger boat" line that follows but the reaction on Brody's face is one of my favorites in film, and when we finally are privy to just how big ol' Bruce is.

    The horse head in The Godfather isn't my "favorite" in the truest sense of the word but it gets the most visceral reaction from me - ever. Still can't get it out of my head after all these years.

    I love when Chief throws the massive sink fixture out the window in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Just love it.

    And I love the scene in 1989's The Woman in Black in which Arthur Kidd is in the graveyard and he feels the hair raise on the back of his neck and turns to see the ghastly apparition standing there. Perfection.

    Sooo many more - too many to list!

  6. I love these discussions: I will share a few of mine.

    The scene in Close Encounters when Roy's wife and kids have left, he's ripped his house apart, a pile of dirt in his living room, and the Beer commercial plays in the background, then the news report on Wyoming. So surreal
    and atmospheric, not to mention brilliant plotting.

    The opening shot of A Clockwork Orange.

    Spock's sacrifice in The Wrath of Khan.

    When Ash malfunctions in Alien - still chills me to the bone.

    And, I gotta go with the final sequence in Force Awakens, it really worked for me.


  7. Anonymous7:45 AM

    That yearning binary sunset scene in Star Wars is surely a memorable one.

    When they get to the zone in Tarkovsky's Stalker and the world shifts from black and white to colors. That feeling of revelation and peace!

    Apparently there has to be Star Trek scene in these lists. Mine is the one where Picard meets Kirk making an omelette in Generations. It has such a great "at home" atmosphere, these two great captains just being in the kitchen.

    Audition, when the Asami and Aoyama walk and she says that she's not a clingy kind of girl. The atmosphere is serene and gives us a false sense of security.


  8. Favorite Moments...

    I'd have to say the top spot is the Mothership reveal in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Really, the whole last act of that film continues to give me chills every time I see it.

    Another Search For Spock moment is when Kirk finds that his son has died. He reaches back for his command chair, misses and stumbles. It's a truly lovely moment that strips away all that Kirk holds dear. A close second is the destruction of the Enterprise and Kirk's "My God, what have I done" moment.

    The whole man-hunt scene at the beginning of The Planet Of The Apes when it's revealed that its apes who are hunting humans.

    The brachiosaur reveal in Jurassic Park was HUGE as well...I finally felt that I was watching a real, living, breathing dinosaur and it was just incredibly beautiful.

    I should also add a number of scenes from various Harryhausen films but I really can't sort out which is my favorite.

    It's no mystery that all these scenes are from my childhood. I'm not certain that there are any scenes recently that could match that sense of wonder that affects you when you are young.

  9. Blade Runner Rutger Hauer/ Harrison Ford Tears In Rain gets me every time. I just love that scene and that monologue, the dove, the lighting. I love everything about that scene and that film in general.

  10. So many favorite genre scenes:

    - the cantina in "Star Wars." It's a scene full of humor, danger, and wonder.

    - Clark Kent picks up Lois Lane for their date in "Superman: The Movie". I'm still amazed when Clark takes off his glasses and straightens up and becomes Superman again... then just as quickly shrinks back into Clark Kent. Reeve was so incredible there.

    - the rescue of Dejah Thoris in "John Carter." As JKM points out in his review of the movie, this is a scene where John Carter can exult in his newfound abilities, where there is literally nothing holding him back.

    But my absolute favorite movie scene of all? Matthew Broderick lip-synching to "Twist & Shout" at the parade in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."

  11. One of my favorites is the start of the duel between Vader and Luke in "Empire Strikes Back". I love the lighting, the dialogue, the way the scene is shot and edited. It is an iconic moment for that film and the series. I'm going to have a blog post dissecting that scene coming up in a few days. But it is really one of my favorites.

    Another favorite is from the original "Ghost in the Shell". The final scene where the newly created being steps out of the house and looks down at the city, and says "The net is vast and infinite" always sends a chill down my spine. What does this new lifeform (that we helped create) have in store for us. Great stuff.

    One of my favorite films from the 1980s is "Amadeus", and the scene where Salieri gets his first look at Mozarts actual work and the way he describes it. The look of ecstasy in Abraham's face followed by pure jealousy is wonderful. Love that movie, but that moment is so great.

    And to throw in a comedy scene. "Galaxy Quest" has so many great lines and moments, but one of my favorite is when Tim Allen is being pursued by the giant Rock Monster. Allen Rickman tries to help by telling Allen to figure out the Rock Monster's motivation. Allen protests and Rickman gives him an exasperated "You were never serious about the craft!" I love that line and the delivery and everything about that scene. Great stuff.

  12. Man, I love your blog, and your writing and I love genre films, but wow did I HATE Prometheus!!!!!!

  13. Anonymous5:23 AM

    John, you know me as a horror guy but I'm going to step outside our beloved genre momentarily with a few personal favourites I've recently revisited.

    - The final shot in Taxi Driver. Just as we're beginning to relax after some semblance of order is restored, Travis momentarily scares the crap out of himself when he catches a glimpse of his own eyes in the rear view mirror.

    - So many cinematically stunning sequences to choose from in Boogie Nights, but one that sticks way out is from the "Long Way Down (One Last Thing)" sequence. As we're waiting for a drug rip-off to go horribly, horribly wrong, P.T. Anderson lets the camera burn a hole in coked-up, stressed-out Dirk Diggler seemingly for an eternity while "Jesse's Girl" is sporadically punctuated by firecrackers. Will his head explode first? Or mine?

    - From Bogdanovich's masterpiece The Last Picture Show, Sam the Lion's simple, low-key and achingly beautiful reminiscence about a lost love: "If she was here I'd probably be just as crazy now as I was then in about 5 minutes. Ain't that ridiculous? (Pause) Naw, it ain't really. 'Cause being crazy about a woman like her is always the right thing to do. Being an old decrepit bag of bones, that's what's ridiculous. Gettin' old."

    - John W. Bowen


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