Top 20 Most Epic Movie Moments of All Time
WRITTEN BY: Matt Demers
These moments had everyone's jaw on the floor. For this list, we're looking at the most intense, impactful, and awe-inspiring occurrences across all genres of film. Our countdown includes "Avengers: Endgame", "The Dark Knight", "Saving Private Ryan", “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”, "Back to the Future", and more!
Welcome to WatchMojo and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 Most Epic Moments in Movie History.
For this list, we’re looking at the most intense, impactful, and awe-inspiring occurrences across all genres of film. And, since we’ll be discussing specific sequences in detail, this is your spoiler alert!
Be sure to let us know in the comments which epic instance left your jaw on the floor?
#20: Thumbs Up
“Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991)
There’s no question the blockbuster “Terminator” franchise is chock-full of epic moments. Whether it’s Arnold’s “I’ll be back” declaration or the many adrenaline-fueled chase scenes, these sci-fi/actioners pack major punches throughout. But, its most impactful moment comes courtesy of a surprisingly emotional self-sacrifice in James Cameron’s second installment. With the enemy defeated and the T-800’s mission successful, the Terminator must now ensure no future technology is left behind – including himself. As our hero takes the slow descent into a lava-level smelter, we get one final message – a thumbs up. We’re not crying over the death of a cybernetic assassin – you are!
#19: Graveyard Standoff
“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” (1966)
Heralded by many as the ultimate Spaghetti Western, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” is perhaps most remembered for its epic graveyard scene. And it’s for good reason, seeing as how it perfectly caps off this Clint Eastwood-starring film with the showdown of all showdowns. It all starts with the character Tuco frantically searching through a Civil War-era graveyard for the location of buried gold. It soon becomes clear, however, that the fortune’s true whereabouts will need to be “earned.” An intense three-way Mexican stand-off and brazen gun battle later, it’s safe to say audiences received the real treasure with this movie moment!
#18: Godzilla Attacks
With over 30 films to his name, Godzilla has laid quite the path of destruction in his wake. But of all his motion picture carnage, it’s the King of Monster’s first attack that serves as the most epic. Given the technical limitations in 1954, the filmmakers used miniature sets and "suitmation" to convey the monster’s mammoth scale. Suffice to say it worked, as Godzilla’s initial attack transfixed audiences of the time with a whole lot of on-screen obliteration. Be it breaking through electrified barriers, battling fighter jets, or unleashing a devastating inferno upon Tokyo City, this monster-sized assault set the tone for years to come.
You know a movie has done its job when a single spoken word induces major goosebumps! This was definitely the case in Mel Gibson’s 1995 war epic “Braveheart.” The film sees Gibson’s William Wallace valiantly lead the Scots in the First War of Scottish Independence. Eventually captured for his daring acts, Wallace is tried for treason, and subsequently sentenced to a public beheading. But, even while being brutally tortured, the courageous warrior refuses to yield to the King. And when offered the chance to simply say, "Mercy," for a quick death, Wallace chooses ANOTHER word instead! When it comes to final statements, they don’t get more epic than this.
#16: Hans Gruber’s Death Drop
“Die Hard” (1988)
With on-screen movie deaths a dime a dozen, it takes a truly epic final exit to stand the test of time. You’ll need not look any farther than the action/thriller “Die Hard” however, as the last moments of terrorist baddie Hans Gruber will get permanently etched in your brain upon viewing. It’s all thanks to director John McTiernan’s up-close shot of the villainous Gruber as he falls to his death at the hands of Bruce Willis’ John McClane. And while it’s been revealed that actor Alan Rickman was purposely dropped early while filming the scene to get a genuine reaction, it remains a testament to this film sequence that Han’s final moments can still be easily recalled some three-plus-decades later!
#15: For Frodo
“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003)
When delivering an epic battle speech, it’s best to save a little inspiration for yourself. Well, it worked for Aragorn in the final entry of “The Lord of the Rings” film series. With the ultimate battle of Middle Earth at its boiling point, members of the Fellowship gather around Black Gate alongside the remnants of humanity. The goal - march towards Mordor and distract Sauron in order to provide Frodo and Sam a chance to sneak in and destroy the One Ring. As the gate opens and the army prepares to charge, Aragorn emboldens the soldiers with his words, saving a final whisper of motivation for himself – “For Frodo.”
#14: Say Hello…
What happens when you ambush a cutthroat drug lord? You get one heck of a surprise! Following a Cuban refugee’s rise to the top of a fruitful cocaine operation, Brian De Palma’s “Scarface” is an unadulterated showcase of all things 80’s excess. But, it’s the gonzo ending that puts the cherry on top of this gangster film. With hired assassins waiting outside his office, Tony Montana, played expertly by Al Pacino, takes matters into his own hands by turning to a grenade launcher for help. The numbers are too many, however, and Tony is repeatedly shot by his attackers, falling to the waiting fountain below. Talk about going out with an epic fight!
#13: The Shark Explodes
Devouring the box office competition during the summer of ‘75, Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” became the quintessential blockbuster - one stuffed to the gills with epic sequences. And while the titular great-white shark causes all kinds of extreme terror for unsuspecting beachgoers, it’s the creature’s own demise that takes the cake. Occurring in the film’s climax, police chief Martin Brody and company attempt to take out the menace once and for all. Things don’t go as planned, however, leaving Brody to improvise with a pressurized scuba tank and rifle. I guess you can say the results were so explosive, it blew audiences’ minds in the process!
#12: Neo’s Bullet Dodge
“The Matrix” (1999)
Sometimes a movie moment is so epic, it influences the entire film industry. Well, “The Matrix” features many such instances, but it was the Wachowskis’ ability to showcase the apparent bending of time and space that left the biggest mark. And while not the first to use the technique, they surely popularized it. In its most infamous occurrence, we see Keanu Reeves’ Neo face down a barrage of bullets from “Agent Smith” upon a building rooftop. Here, our hero turns away from the projectile’s trajectory, effortlessly dodging it, all while bending his body with impressive form. Equally impressive is Neo’s ability to STOP bullets. No wonder he’s the chosen one!
#11: Reunion on the Beach
“The Shawshank Redemption” (1994)
A beloved movie like “The Shawshank Redemption” is naturally going to have a memorable ending – or in this case, an epic one. The film tells the story of Andy Dufresne, a banker who is sentenced to life in the Shawshank State Penitentiary. Befriending fellow prisoner Ellis "Red" Redding, Andy tells his newfound confidant about his wishes to escape and retreat to a quiet paradise in Mexico. Red initially dismisses his friend’s dream, but not before getting instructions on what to look for when released. And so, when Andy does escape, and Red is paroled after forty years, the prison pals are reunited in what is perhaps cinema's most heartwarming reunion EVER!
#10: Joker’s Interrogation
“The Dark Knight” (2008)
When Christopher Nolan took the “Batman” film franchise in a more gritty and grounded direction, he also created some of the most intense moments in the Caped Crusader’s history! Exhibit A – “The Dark Knight’s” infamous interrogation scene. When Bruce Wayne’s childhood friend, Rachel Dawes, and District Attorney, Harvey Dent, are snatched by the Joker’s men, Batman confronts the sadistic clown in a Gotham PD interrogation room. Joker goads Batman at first, but it isn’t long before "Bats" goes off on the deranged criminal with a brutal assault. It’s an epically shocking and visceral scene in a movie full of them. Need we remind you of Joker’s “disappearing pencil trick?”
#9: Runaway Train
“Spider-Man 2” (2004)
With multiple reboots and an animated film under his belt, Spider-Man’s most epic onscreen battle isn’t with the Green Goblin or Mysterio, but rather a runaway train! Taking place in “Spider-Man 2,” our friendly neighborhood superhero takes on Doctor Octopus atop a moving subway train. But, when Spidey finds out the mad scientist destroyed the breaks, he knows what he has to do – stop the train and save the people. And so, in the ultimate embodiment of what makes a hero, Spider-Man puts himself in front of the speeding vehicle and musters everything he has to bring it to a halt. It all harkens back to those infamous words from Uncle Ben the film prior. You know the ones!
#8: Parting of the Red Sea
“The Ten Commandments” (1956)
It’s one thing to read about an epic occurrence, but it’s another to actually see it! Let’s just say 1956’s biblical classic, “The Ten Commandments,” didn’t skimp on the dazzling visuals. Telling the story of Moses, the film depicts the prophet’s true Hebrew heritage and Godly mission. The scene that’s most remembered, of course, is the parting of the Red Sea. With a raise of his hands and a call to the heavens, Moses splits the sea in two. Perhaps just as epic, however, is how it was achieved. The filmmakers used large tanks filled with water and gelatin (for consistency), only to have the flood footage shown in reverse. Simply divine!
#7: Catching Lightning
“Back to the Future” (1985)
When it comes to epic races against time, nothing beats the electrifying climax to Robert Zemeckis’ sci-fi/adventure flick “Back to the Future!” It all boils down to Doc and Marty needing to capture a lightning strike in order to power the DeLorean time machine – not to mention preserve the future in the process. Luckily, Marty remembers that the courthouse clock tower is still broken in 1985 because of a blast of lightning that occurred in 1955, the same year our young hero has traveled to. When the storm finally arrives, it’s a rush to the scene, where Marty recalibrates the DeLorean and with the help of Doc, catches the ultimate bolt of lightning to send him on his way! “Great Scott” indeed.
#6: Here’s Johnny
“The Shining” (1980)
Only in Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterwork, “The Shining,” could a phrase that filled millions with happiness be turned into something so sinister. With Jack Torrance’s sanity completely deteriorated thanks to the supernatural forces at play in the Overlook Hotel, the deranged dad goes on a ferocious rampage. Unfortunately, it’s his wife and son in the crosshairs. On the hunt, Jack strikes a bathroom door with a fire axe, only to look through the hole and utter a familiar phrase – one used to welcome a certain talk show host to the stage. Suffice to say, the line became instantly memorable, transforming the late-night catchphrase into an epically devilish greeting!
#5: Climbing the Empire State Building
“King Kong” (1933)
What do you get when you cross a famous landmark with a mammoth gorilla? Why, one heck of an iconic movie moment of course! In 1933’s "King Kong,” audiences were treated to an epic adventure like none before. After a film crew captures a giant gorilla-like monster and takes him to New York City to be exhibited, the titular beast escapes. Climbing the now famed Empire State Building, Kong swats away an onslaught of attacking airplanes. But, with the gunfire proving too much, the creature plummets from the skyscraper. Seeing as how he only scaled the building to protect his beloved Ann, however, this would ultimately be a case where “beauty killed the beast.”
#4: Avengers Assemble
“The Avengers” (2012)
It was the moment superhero fans had been waiting their entire lives to see. And when it finally happened in 2012’s “The Avengers,” it didn’t disappoint! Building over the course of four years, Marvel’s greatest heroes finally united on cinema screens to save the world - naturally. Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, Thor, Hawkeye, and the Hulk all descended on New York City to combat the invading Chitauri aliens and evacuate innocent civilians – BUT, not before an epic wrap-around camera shot that showed each hero in their battle-ready stance. Breaking ALL the records at the time, it’s clear that having the Avengers assemble in one mega movie changed the game for everybody! Shawarma, anyone?
#3: Paternity Reveal
“Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back” (1980)
Movie reveals don’t get more epic than this one! And yes, while the “Star Wars” franchise has delivered many other impactful movie moments – look no further than Luke’s edge of your seat trench run in “A New Hope” – there’s something to be said for a ground-breaking plot twist. Following the heavily anticipated lightsaber duel between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in “The Empire Strikes Back,” the evil “Dark Lord” lets fly a rather startling revelation - shocking not only Luke, but audiences alike. Just imagine how many times this scene was re-created in schoolyards and living rooms over the years!
#2: D-Day Invasion
“Saving Private Ryan” (1998)
Cinematic shock and awe is perhaps never more prevalent than in the hauntingly realistic opening to Steven Spielberg’s celebrated war drama “Saving Private Ryan.” The epic sequence, which takes place during World War 2’s D-Day invasion of Normandy, continues to be a sobering reminder of the horrors of war. For twenty-some-odd minutes, we follow Allied soldiers, led by Tom Hank’s Captain John H. Miller, as they arrive on boats and engage in a brutal battle on France’s Omaha Beach. The scene’s graphic portrayal and intensity would go on to influence just about every war genre film that followed!
Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
“Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015)
Entering No Man’s Land
“Wonder Woman” (2017)
Twisty Hallway Fight
Crossing the Streams
#1: Heroes’ Return
“Avengers: Endgame” (2019)
More than just a movie, “Avengers: Endgame” served as a momentous cultural moment. Not only did it satisfy fans by paying off the many MCU films that preceded it, but in the process, delivered a finale for the ages! The epic-ness actually began the year prior with “Avengers: Infinity War,” where we were treated to such awe-inspiring moments as Thor’s arrival in Wakanda and Thanos’ universe-altering snap. However, nothing was to top the sheer awesomeness that was to come in this follow-up. For starters, Captain America did the unthinkable by wielding the mighty Mjolnir! But, when the portals opened and the “snapped heroes” returned, there was nothing we could do but cheer – in-between wiping away tears of joy of course.