The Duellists: The final duel
When Ridley Scott won the Best Debut Film award at Cannes for his meditative historical drama The Duellists, he was already almost 40 years old. Perhaps that’s why the film’s ending feels so mature and elegiac, as the cycle of retributive violence between two Napoleonic-era Frenchmen (Harvey Keitel and Keith Carradine) comes to an end with a single act of conditional mercy and a gorgeous shot of Keitel gazing out over a landscape worthy of any Barbizon painter.
Alien: The chest-burster
The xenomorph’s life cycle is a convoluted, not particularly logical sequence of necessary conditions that would make Darwin wonder how this thing is still around. But even if natural selection isn’t its strong suit (you need a queen and a steady supply of host bodies?) it certainly knows how to make a fantastic entrance. The first — but not last — shocking burst of sudden violence on this list is an image that was burned onto our collective psyche, as an infant alien pulled a ”Heeeeerrrre’s Johnny” on John Hurt’s ribcage.
Blade Runner: The final scene between Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer, ''Like tears in rain...''
An existential last gasp and perhaps the greatest death scene in cinema, replicant Roy Batty’s final soliloquy is moving in both its humanity and brevity. Actor Rutger Hauer slashed the original, more operatic monologue in half, writing much of the final version himself: ”I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.” (Bonus factoid: The line is thematically similar to a 1967 song ”Rain and Tears” by Aphrodite’s Child, co-written by future Blade Runner composer Vangelis.)
1984 Apple commercial: The hammer throw at Big Brother
Sure, those black, monolithic iPods were more reminiscent of 2001 than 1984, but back when Apple was just beginning to put its machines in people’s homes, this groundbreaking — and bank breaking at $1.5 million — Super Bowl spot featured a symbolic hammer to the face of Big Brother. (After all, you can’t think different when the Thought Police are around.) Scott brought his own brand of atmospherics — as well as his previous experience as an ad director — to the commercial, and made it his own.
Black Rain: The decapitation of Andy Garcia
Andy Garcia’s detective loses his head to a group of Yakuza motorcyclists as his partner (Michael Douglas) watches in the dramatic fulcrum of Black Rain. Dark, smoky, and rain-slicked, Scott’s vision of Japan echoes Blade Runner‘s futurescape — the sci-fi cathedral backdrop of Los Angeles’ Ennis House features prominently in both films.
Thelma & Louise: The ending, where they drive off the cliff
Like a distaff version of the freeze-frame fatalism at the end of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis’ two buddies end their feminist road trip by driving off a cliff and into the sunset one last time.
G.I. Jane: Demi Moore's self-administered buzz cut
Only a year after going all girly in Striptease, Demi Moore shaved her dome for Scott’s serious Private Benjamin. Even if the reviews weren’t kind — Moore even got a Razzie nomination — the image of the actress mowing her trademark raven locks was indelible. Natalie Portman and Vin Diesel soon followed suit.
Gladiator: ''Are you not entertained?''
Gladiator was a bit of a comeback for Scott after a luckluster ’90s, and the film is filled with wham-pow spectacle. But when Maximus survives a melee and barks out his challenge to both the audience in the Coliseum and the one in the theater, we want to bark back in the affirmative.
Black Hawk Down: The defense of the helicopter
Scott chose to solely take the perspective of the American soldiers in Mogadishu, and so the facelessness to which he reduces the hordes of Somalian combatants (and civilians) limits Black Hawk Down‘s impact as a war film. Still, the scene in which the original crew of the downed helicopter must fend off throngs of attackers is heart-pounding and feels, for better or for worse, as if it were lifted straight out of a zombie film.
Kingdom of Heaven: The Siege of Jerusalem
Like Blade Runner, Scott’s epic about the Crusades benefitted from some post-release tinkering and a longer director’s cut. But even if you couldn’t bear to watch 144, let alone 194, minutes of Orlando Bloom hacking his way through the Middle Ages, the centerpiece battle, the three-day Siege of Jerusalem, is an impressive feat of grand-scale moviemaking.
American Gangster: Frank killing Tango in the middle of the street and then going back to dinner
How many times have you seen a protagonist hold a gun up to someone’s head as a threat? Hundreds. How many times have you seen them actually pull the trigger? That number’s a lot lower. That’s part of what makes the scene in which Harlem kingpin Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) confronts Tango (Idris Elba) in the street over money he owes him, and without hesitation blows him away in front of a crowd of onlookers, so jarring. Then he returns to a diner to finish his meal, and replenish the ice water that must run in his veins.
Prometheus trailer: Everything
Even if the movie doesn’t fulfill all of our (admittedly sky-high) expectations, the trailer for Prometheus is a work of art in and of itself. Spare dialogue, haunting visuals, teases for Alien fans, and a horrible, crashing momentum punctuated by silvery, robotic shrieks: It left the jabbering kids sitting in the front row of my theater dead silent, which is more than I can say for anything that came after.