Top 20 Defining Movie Moments of the Century (So Far)



Top 20 Defining Movie Moments of the Century (So Far)

VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu WRITTEN BY: Nick Spake
This is why we go to the movies. For this list, we'll be looking at scenes from movies released between 2000 and 2019 that defined filmmaking at its finest. Our countdown includes The Battle of Helm's Deep, The Snap, Lemon Quaaludes, The Crazy 88, and more!
Script written by Nick Spake

Top 20 Defining Movie Moments of the Century (So Far)

This is why we go to the movies. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 20 Defining Movie Moments of the Century (So Far).

For this list, we’ll be looking at scenes from movies released between 2000 and 2019 that defined filmmaking at its finest. We’re saving animated flicks for another list because there are just that many to choose from. Oh, and if case you’re not caught up on the past twenty years of cinema, be cautious of the following spoilers.

#20: Is That Everyone?

“Avengers: Endgame” (2019)

Remember when the original six Avengers assembled during the Battle of New York? The climax of “Endgame” took that iconic shot and multiplied it by infinity. As Cap prepares to go down swinging against Thanos, a series of portals open around the destroyed Avengers headquarters. Along with the Wakandan and Asgardian armies, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, and several other recently resurrected heroes emerge to supply backup. Whether you were introduced to these characters through the MCU or were reading comics long before this cinematic universe existed, this team-up was beyond anything we ever imagined possible in film. Alan Silvestri’s score adds to the gravitas, giving us all goosebumps. Few moments are more satisfying than when Cap finally says, “Avengers assemble,” leading this massive cast into battle.

#19: Coming Back for Everything

“The Social Network” (2010)

“You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.” That’s one of the best taglines ever written and we see exactly what it means in “The Social Network,” which opens with a savage breakup between Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg and his girlfriend. Yet another bridge is burned during the film’s boiling point when Eduardo Saverin confronts his former business partner. Learning that his Facebook ownership share has been diluted, Saverin drops Zuckerberg as a friend in the most poetic way possible: smashing his laptop. Although he’s escorted out of the office, Saverin assures Zuckerberg that he’ll be back for more than just his 30%. Andrew Garfield’s powerhouse performance mixed with Aaron Sorkin’s Oscar-winning dialogue amounts to an almost Shakespearean clash of tech titans.

#18: You Wanna Get Nuts?

“American Psycho” (2000)

“Hip to Be Square” is one of those songs that’s so catchy that we don’t always listen to the lyrics. Something similar can be said about Patrick Bateman, who lures people in with his charm and charisma. If people really listened to what he was saying, though, they could tell that he’s a complete psychopath. By the time Paul Allen realizes this, Bateman has already broken out his axe and raincoat. Allen’s cries for help are blocked out by the upbeat Huey Lewis and the News song, which is both horrifying and darkly hilarious. If we had to choose one image that epitomizes Bateman, it would be him smoking a cigar with one half of his handsome face covered in blood.

#17: Annie’s Head

“Hereditary” (2018)

“Hereditary” undoubtedly has the most chilling ending of the century thus far and it’s inclined to maintain that title for the next 80 years. Director Ari Aster builds tension as Peter wanders through his dark house, but all bets are off once a possessed Annie emerges and chases him to the attic. Annie repeatedly bangs her head on the ceiling and if you think that’s disturbing, wait until she breaks out the piano wire. The onlookers push Peter over the edge and out the window. Taken over by a bright light, he follows the beheaded Annie into the treehouse where Paimon’s followers await. It’s a finale that reduces the audience to jelly, uncertain what they just watched or if they’ll ever be the same.

#16: The Race Is On

“Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015)

“Mad Max: Fury Road” is essentially one high-octane set-piece that only briefly stops for gas. Of course, it’d be cheating if we put the nearly feature-length car chase on this list. So, we’re singling out the beginning as Immortan Joe and his army charge into the desert wasteland in pursuit of the Five Wives. In just a couple minutes, director George Miller delivers more memorable shots than most movies give us in their whole runtime. With Max chained to Nux’s vehicle and a minion rocking out on his flame-throwing guitar, it’s like every heavy metal album cover brought to life. The insanity is only cranked up as the drivers boldly venture into a hellish sandstorm without looking back. Such apocalyptic imagery has never been lovelier.

#15: Not Quite My Tempo

“Whiplash” (2014)

Few actors this century have proven more versatile than J. K. Simmons. In one movie, you might find him playing a caring father figure. In the next, he’s a domineering tyrant. In “Whiplash,” we see Simmons naturally transition from understated to over-the-top in the blink of an eye. Simmons plays jazz instructor Terence Fletcher, who tries to get new drummer Andrew to match his tempo. Fletcher seems patient and understanding until he chucks a chair at Andrew, which he narrowly dodges. Fletcher pulls no punches - or slaps for that matter - as he makes a college student cry. Fletcher’s teaching methods are among the most brutal displays we’ve ever seen on film. Like Andrew, though, we can’t look away from the cruel Fletcher.

#14: “You’re a Wizard, Harry.”

“Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” (2001)

For anyone who grew up with J. K. Rowling’s bestselling books, chances are you’ve fantasized about receiving an acceptance letter from Hogwarts, whether it was delivered via owl or the Keeper of Keys himself. The Wizarding World may be fictional, unfortunately, but this scene made our dreams come true. A decade after bringing him to the Dursleys, Hagrid returns to young Harry Potter with a letter, a cake, and a major bombshell. We still get giddy when Hagrid says those four words that changed Harry’s life, or our lives, forever: Opening Harry’s eyes to a whole new world of wonder, this scene has defined childhood for many and it will continue to do so for generations to come. It’s the very definition of movie magic.

#13: What’s in the Basement?

“Parasite” (2019)

“Parasite” is one of those films that constantly leaves the audience asking, “where’s this going?” As the lower-class Kim family cons their way into the wealthy Park family’s lives, it would seem that all the pieces have fallen into place. Just when you think you have this movie figured out, though, the Kims are paid a visit while basking in the Parks’ house. Who should they find at the door but Moon-gwang, the old housekeeper who the Kims got fired. Moon-gwang claims she left something behind, but it turns out to be someone: her husband, who’s been living in the underground bunker nobody else knew about. A power struggle soon emerges between these two struggling families as an already insane situation spirals out of control.

#12: The Final Words

“Lost in Translation” (2003)

“Lost in Translation” is all about communication as two unlikely people find love and understanding in a foreign country. Going through difficult periods in their respective lives, Bob and Charlotte discover that they speak the same language, both in a literal and a deeper sense. So, it’s only fitting that the final words between these two are kept between them and nobody else - the audience included. While there’s been much discussion about what Bob whispered into Charlotte’s ear, this ending is better left ambiguous. All we need to know is that Bob and Charlotte have each matured through their all too short-lived relationship. The vacation may be over, but both will return to their lives feeling a little less lost. Parting is such sweet sorrow.

#11: The Snap

“Avengers: Infinity War” (2018)

The climax of “Endgame” wouldn’t have packed such a powerful punch if it hadn’t been for the snap at the end of its predecessor. Not since Han Solo was frozen in carbonite has a cliffhanger to a major blockbuster left us more shocked. Where Han Solo was one character, however, Thanos wipes out half of the universe’s population in one fell swoop. This extends to Black Panther, Groot, and… NO, not Spidey! In the back of our heads, we knew that these fallen heroes would likely return somehow, but that didn’t make watching them disintegrate any less devastating. Honestly, can you think of an ending that inspired more gasps or dropped jaws? Even with “Endgame’s” happy resolution, this scene still shreds us to pieces.

#10: Call It

“No Country for Old Men” (2007)

The scariest characters can strike fear with even the simplest of gestures. A coin toss doesn’t sound especially intense, but when the coin belongs to Anton Chigurh, it’s the most frightening thing possible. After a gas station clerk asks Chigurh one too many questions, his fate boils down to heads or tails. Alfred Hitchcock firmly believed that when a bomb suddenly goes off in a movie, it’s a surprise. When the audience knows that the bomb is there, though, it’s true suspense. Chigurh is a ticking time bomb and the clerk has no idea just how close he comes to detonating him, but we do! Thankfully, the clerk chooses wisely and Chigurh exits peacefully, leaving us to catch our breath.

#9: “Hello Stranger”

“Moonlight” (2016)

Now an adult drug dealer, Chiron feels trapped in a life that he never wanted. Chiron has spent years hiding his true self from the rest of the world. During his youth, however, he opened himself up to Kevin, a friend and much more. When Chiron reunites with Kevin at a diner, neither is sure what to expect. Chiron is especially confused as to why Kevin called him out of the blue. As it turns out, he was inspired after hearing the song “Hello Stranger.” Allowing the music to do all the talking, Kevin lets Chiron know what’s in his heart. The song also speaks to Chiron on a nostalgic and romantic level, showing him that he doesn’t need to go through life alone anymore.

#8: Lemmon Quaaludes

“The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013)

Even with Jonah Hill in a supporting role, we didn’t expect to laugh as hard as we did throughout “The Wolf of Wall Street.” The funniest sequence comes when the Lemmon Quaaludes kick in, hindering Jordan Belfort’s speech, body, and consciousness. Merely going down the stairs and opening the car door becomes an arduous journey for Belfort during “the cerebral palsy phase,” as he puts it. His troubles aren’t over when he gets home, as Jordan needs to pry an intoxicated Donnie off the phone. The distraught Donnie nearly chokes on deli meat in the process, but Jordan snaps into action thanks to his own brand of “spinach.” A Lamborghini might’ve been destroyed, but it was worth it for this priceless bit of comedic gold.

#7: The Pale Man

“Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006)

The designs for most modern movie monsters tread on familiar territory. There isn’t another monster in cinema that looks quite like the Pale Man, however, what with his sagging skin, slender body, and unique eye placement. Even when completely frozen, he can overwhelm anyone with dread. Akin to the Garden of Eden, naive Ofelia goes against the faun’s warning and eats two grapes, waking the creature up. Sticking a pair of eyes in his palms, the Pale Man consumes two fairies. As if that wasn’t enough nightmare fuel for one lifetime, he proceeds to pursue Ofelia, who barely escapes with her last inch of magic chalk. Everything about this scene, from the atmosphere, to pacing, and to production values, puts the dark in dark fantasy.

#6: The Crazy 88

“Kill Bill: Volume 1” (2003)

Quentin Tarantino is frequently praised for his inventive use of dialogue, but his movies are driven just as much by visual storytelling. From a directorial standpoint, the Bride’s showdown with the Crazy 88 just might be Tarantino’s masterpiece. The choreography, the camera angles, the stunt work, the sound design, the unbelievable amount of bloodshed, it all builds to a tour de force of action. Tarantino pays homage to a variety of different styles and genres, ranging from martial arts to grindhouse. At the same time, the sequence is pure Tarantino and no other director - living or dead - could conceivably bring it to the silver screen. In typical Tarantino fashion, the music selections are also oddly perfect for this bombastic setup.

#5: The Sunken Place

“Get Out” (2017)

From the moment Chris arrives at his girlfriend’s parents’ house, something is clearly amiss. Matters go from unsettling to soul-crushing as Chris sits down to a hypnotherapy session with Missy. The family matriarch literally gets inside his head as she stirs her tea, which only grows more nerve-wracking as the scene plays out. Thinking of his late mother, Chris becomes paralyzed with fear, unable to wipe the tears flooding from his wide eyes. Missy submerges Chris into a dark limbo where nobody can hear his cries for help. Not only is this a harrowing image, but it ingeniously encompasses the film’s themes of marginalization and the system that’s been keeping people of color down. Jordan Peele gets all of this across through unforgettable visuals alone.

#4: The Hallway Fight

“Inception” (2010)

“Inception” stimulates the mind in more ways than one. The ending still has us lying awake at night, wondering if the top ever fell over. When the film isn’t asking us philosophical questions, its technical wizardry is leaving us in total disbelief. This is a film where you’re constantly asking, “how did they do that?” In the case of the spinning hallway fight, the answer surprisingly isn’t “CGI.” Turning to practical effects, the filmmakers constructed a rotating set to make this zero-gravity showdown a reality. This masterclass of special effects, choreography, and cinematography accumulates to an image that will forever stick in your head. It just goes to show that if you can dream it, you can do it, at least on the silver screen.

#3: The Battle of Helm’s Deep

“The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” (2002)

“The Lord of the Rings” set a new gold standard for epic set pieces and the Battle of Helm’s Deep may be the most ambitious action sequence Peter Jackson ever pulled off. This is a textbook example of how to shoot a giant battle at night. Instead of shrouding the action in darkness, Helm’s Deep is draped in an atmospheric blue. The audience never has trouble making out the imagery and this is definitely a battle where you want to see everything. The remarkable stunt work and sheer scale of the battle aside, it’s our emotional investment that makes the sequence gripping. Gandalf manages to top his standoff against the Balrog from the first film as he rides in with reinforcements, ushering in a bright new day for our heroes.

#2: “I Drink Your Milkshake!”

“There Will Be Blood” (2007)

After stripping Eli of his dignity and faith, Daniel Plainview reveals that he’s also drained the land up for sale of its oil. Breaking down, Eli pleads with Daniel to have mercy. And how does the oilman respond? He makes fun of him like a schoolyard bully, boasting about how he’s slurped up Eli’s milkshake. Daniel isn’t content with seeing Eli squirm. He paints his bowling alley red with Eli’s head. This movie isn’t called “There Will Be Blood” just because of its greed and capitalism themes! Daniel Day-Lewis’s Oscar-winning performance, coupled with Paul Thomas Anderson’s commanding dialogue, results in a finale that’s haunting, darkly humorous, and completely bonkers. It’s capped up with some of the most appropriate last lines in any motion picture.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

The Chest Wax
“The 40-Year-Old Virgin” (2005)

Club Silencio
“Mulholland Drive” (2001)

Clap Clap
“The Conjuring” (2013)

“I Wish I Knew How to Quit You.”
“Brokeback Mountain” (2005)

The Roads Not Taken
“La La Land” (2016)

#1: The Interrogation

“The Dark Knight” (2008)

Whatever the medium, Batman and the Joker’s dynamic is the stuff of legend. This hero and villain are so well-defined that you just need to put them in a room together and see what happens… which is exactly what Christopher Nolan does here. With Harvey Dent missing, Batman interrogates the Joker, although it could be seen as the other way around. While they may be polar opposites on the surface, the Joker views Batman as his kindred spirit. Two forces cut from the same cloth that can’t exist without the other. The Joker’s goal is to bring Batman down to his level. While Batman doesn’t break his one rule by taking the Joker’s life, his spirit is broken as this dark night turns to dawn.