The 50 Greatest
Movie Moments

(of all-time)

by TV Guide

Part 1

TV Guide Magazine (March 24-30, 2001 issue) offered their list of cinematic greatness - the greatest movie moments "that make you drop the remote." "De Niro's menace. Hitchcock's malice. Meg's rapture. Maybe a line of dialogue you love or an image you can't shake...The scenes might run just a few seconds or stretch well beyond...Some are from the classiest of classics, some are from popcorn movies." The authors (Hilary De Vries, David Hiltbrand, Damian Holbrook, Michael Scheinfeld and Ray Stackhouse) apologized in advance for neglecting foreign-films.

For purposes of comparison, the TV Guide list includes almost all of the greatest movie moments published earlier on the "Greatest Films" website, at Greatest Moments and Scenes, and at the 100 Greatest Film Scenes (in 10 parts).


(Ranked in Reverse Order)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

50. Goldfinger (1964) - LASER SURGERY
The quintessential James Bond movie, director Guy Hamilton's Goldfinger has it all: a great theme song, the best gadgets, the most memorable villains and, of course, Sean Connery at his coolest and nastiest. Goldfinger can also claim the most famous scene in all of Bond-age, wherein Agent 007 is strapped down in a spread eagle with an industrial laser veering straight for his manhood. The bons mots fly: "You've made your point, Goldfinger," Bond says, dry as vermouth. Then later, "Do you expect me to talk?" to which Goldfinger so memorably responds, "No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die."

49. Heat (1995) - TWO GODFATHERS
About halfway through this highly charged crime-caper opus, Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) pulls over a car driven by master criminal Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) and offers to buy him a cup of coffee. For the next six minutes, viewers are treated to a long-awaited clash of acting titans. Pacino and De Niro, arguably the premier actors of their generation, had never appeared together on-screen (though they both starred in The Godfather, Part II). The pairing was worth the wait. The coffee talk simmers with foreboding, all but guaranteeing that these two characters will meet again under less pleasant circumstances. No shouting, no scene stealing. Just two pros at the top of their game.

48. The Matrix (1999) - FREEZE FRAME
The Wachowski Brothers' tale of cyber-messiah Neo (Keanu Reeves) and his head trip down the alternate-reality rabbit hole introduced cutting-edge technology that sent ancient martial arts (and movie effects) into the 21st century. Reeves trained for four months with choreographer Yuen Wo Ping, and the mano-a-mano finale between Reeves and Hugo Weaving set the standard by which all action scenes will be judged for years. Effects such as the midair freezes and rotating camera angles have inspired Mission: Impossible 2, Charlie's Angels, and even Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. As Keanu would say, "Whoa."

47. When Harry Met Sally... (1989) - FAKING IT
Meg Ryan's afternoon delight in a crowded New York deli personified man's deepest fear: that it (yes, it) can be oh-so-convincingly faked by the opposite sex. Lovable goofiness gave way to an untapped sexual oomph as Ryan wryly dimmed her good-girl aura for an ecstatic impromptu performance over one hell of a sandwich. Realizing his prowess is no match for a woman waxing orgasmic, Billy Crystal has a look of mortified excitement that says it all. But Estelle Reiner, mother of director Rob Reiner, gave the scene its real climax: As a customer placing an order at the next table, she deadpanned, "I'll have what she's having."
46. Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1963) - NUCLEAR RODEO
Gliding from savage satire to faux-documentary realism, Stanley Kubrick's devastating black comedy about nuclear annihilation remains the ultimate Cold War time capsule. While an inspired Peter Sellers gets the spotlight in three showy roles, the most memorable moment belongs to character actor Slim Pickens. As Air Force Major T.J. "King" Kong, Pickens rides a nuclear missile like a bucking bronco, smacking it with his cowboy hat until it explodes into a massive mushroom cloud. Yahoo.
45. Big (1988) - PIANO MEN
Why does everyone love Tom Hanks? Because he knows how to hit just the right notes, of course, as he displayed with giddy abandon in Big. In his tender, goofy turn as a 12 year-old trapped in a grown-up's body, Hanks (along with his boss, played by Robert Loggia) performs a crowd-rousing rendition of Heart and Soul on a floor-size piano keyboard in a toy store. Today (which seems a lifetime later), the scene holds up as a sweet salute to boys and their toys, no matter how big.
44. Star Wars (1977) - THE CANTINA
While the lightsaber duels, blaster battles and dogfights drew the oohs and aahs, a visit to a bizarro-world cantina packed with a menagerie of grotesque and hilarious aliens - or "a wretched hive of scum and villainy," as Obi-Wan Kenobi described it - immediately became everyone's favorite scene. A space-age homage to the barroom brawls of vintage Westerns, the bit was spoofed on TV shows and commercials, while the phrase "This looks like something out of the Star Wars bar scene" remains an apt description for all places freaky and geeky. The once dazzling special effects now seem quaint (director George Lucas found it necessary to provide a digital makeover for the 1997 rerelease), but cafe society has rarely been such fun.
43. There's Something About Mary (1998) - HAIR GEL
"Is that hair gel?" Those four simple words had a nation howling in giddy horror. And while it may be hard to find the highest (or is that the lowest?) point of the Farrelly brothers' gross-out comedy smash (though Matt Dillon electrocuting that poor pooch is right up there), there's no doubt that this hair-raising moment forever redefined the gag in sight gag. The sticky situation, handled with angel-faced purity by Cameron Diaz as the titular marvel, comes together when we finally witness the awesome holding power of Ben Stiller's, um, handiwork. Truly a seminal moment in film history.
42. Dirty Harry (1971) - THE QUESTION
Clint Eastwood's Detective Harry Callahan - he of the Elvis hair and cobra stare - has had a busy morning infuriating his superiors and mouthing off to the mayor. So when a bank robber interrupts his hot-dog lunch, Harry's in a dirty mood. He strolls up to the lone survivor of a bloody shoot-out, whose hand is reaching for a shotgun. Says Harry, "I know what you're thinking: 'Did he fire six shots or only five?' To tell the truth, in all the excitement, I kind of lost track myself. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do you, punk?" There, then, is our introduction to the best of all action-film characters.
41. Alien (1979) - THE GUT BUSTER
We knew something was coming, we just didn't know what. That face-hugging alien critter on John Hurt's mug couldn't have just vanished, but who expected it to reenter the movie in such a heart-shattering way? Filmed in one take and mostly ad-libbed, the messy mess-hall sequence from Ridley Scott's deep-space scarefest shattered the claustrophobic tension among the Nostromo crew (including Sigourney Weaver in her first lead role) and introduced us to the grisliest parasite ever. When you see this scene again, keep an eye on Ian Holm's character as Hurt starts hurting: His subtle expression suggests that he isn't surprised by the uninvited dinner guest.
40. High Noon (1952) - THE SHOOT-OUT
Just about every great Western features a confrontation between the white hats and the black hats on a deserted, dusty street, but none did it better than High Noon. Conceived as a political parable by writer Carl Foreman (later blacklisted), this morality play turns the Western genre's conventions inside out. With stark black-and-white photography (by Floyd Crosby, father of rocker David Crosby), virtually no action until the finale and the ending more bitter than sweet. Fred Zinnemann's taut classic builds suspense until the moment when Marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper) is forced to stand alone against four desperadoes. In his Oscar-winning performance, Cooper makes pained expressions betraying his fear until everything explodes in the showdown of all showdowns.

39. Saturday Night Fever (1977) - THE SOLO
Who knew that shaking his groove thang would turn Vinnie Barbarino into the king of Hollywood? Fuhgeddabout the hair, the gold chains, the Brooooooklyn accent - John Travolta's Oscar-nominated hustle made him a superstar, and he shines brightest in his sexy solo to the Bee Gee's You Should Be Dancing. Travolta's Tony Manero parted the disco crowd the way Moses did the Red Sea, sending a new musical style into the mainstream. Decades after disco, the image of this patron saint of polyester is staying alive.
38. The Deer Hunter (1978) - RUSSIAN ROULETTE
Two scenes of Russian roulette are played out in Michael Cimino's acclaimed Vietnam War epic, but it's the first one that caught (and still catches) us off guard. A trio of American POWs (Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Savage), old friends from the same Pennsylvania steel-mill town, are forced by their captors to engage in the hideously sadistic game, and the audience suffers right along with them. The film was criticized for the depiction - no incidents of that particular torture were ever verified - but nothing can detract from the scene's nerve-shredding tension. The gunplay remains a powerful allegory for the cruelty and senseless suffering in Southeast Asia.

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