Top 10 Iconic Movie Scenes of the 1980s

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Top 10 Iconic Movie Scenes of the 1980s

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Mimi Kenny
These unforgettable movie moments are pure cinematic nostalgia. For this list, we'll be looking at the most impactful moments from films released in the 1980s. Our countdown includes “Ferris Bueller's Day Off”, "The Shining", “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back”, and more!
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Top 10 Iconic Movie Scenes of the 1980s



Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Iconic Movie Scenes of the 1980s.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the most impactful moments from films released in the 1980s. Although you’re probably familiar with most of these scenes, we still feel compelled to provide a spoiler warning.

What 80s movie moment sticks with you the most? Be sure to tell us in the comments!


#10: The Parade

“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986)

Some people spend their days off catching up on sleep or tidying up their homes. Ferris Bueller has bigger ambitions, like being the star of a parade. While playing hooky in downtown Chicago with best friend Cameron and girlfriend Sloane, Ferris, played by Matthew Broderick, commandeers a mic at the city’s Von Steuben Day parade, first performing a lip-sync rendition of Wayne Newton’s “Danke Schoen.” But the celebration really starts once The Beatles' "Twist and Shout" comes on. Every shot shows people of all ages looking like they're having the time of their life. According to director John Hughes, this scene was filmed during an actual parade, which makes it feel even more special. We don’t condone truancy, but we sure do love this scene.

#9: The Golden Idol

“Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981)

We’ve seen full-length action movies that are nowhere near as exciting as this one scene. In a cave full of booby traps, archaeologist Indiana Jones and companion Sapito come across a brilliant golden idol. John Williams’ strings, Steven Spielberg’s direction, and Harrison Ford’s look of determination combine for maximum tension as Jones swaps out the idol for a bag of sand. He’s soon running for his life and betrayed by his companion, who doesn't exactly get away with it. And Jones’ problems don’t stop there, as nemesis René Belloq gets his hands on the idol. This whole sequence, from beginning to seaplane escape, is a complete thrill. Moments like this separate movie characters from movie icons.

#8: “Johnny B. Goode”

“Back to the Future” (1985)

Going back in time is a surefire way to change history. With his eventual parents now smitten with each other and his existence still on the table, time-traveling teen Marty McFly, played by Michael J. Fox, takes the stage as the replacement lead guitarist at the school dance. He introduces everyone to both a new song and a new sound, playing Chuck Berry’s yet-to-be-released rock ‘n roll classic, “Johnny B. Goode.” It's not long before everyone is dancing and Berry's cousin, Marvin, is frantically ringing him. Marty eventually gets so into it, everyone is left baffled, which makes sense, given how they had never experienced anything like this before. Actual time travel might not be possible, but we’re always up for revisiting this classic moment.

#7: The Boombox

“Say Anything...” (1989)

Romantic gestures in movies don’t get much bigger than this. One dawn morning, the heartbroken Lloyd Dobler, played by John Cusack, plays Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes,” his song with Ione Skye’s Diane Court, outside of her bedroom window, from a boombox hoisted over his head. It’s a little corny, but both actors sell the complicated emotions of the moment, with Lloyd and Diane wanting to be with each other, but circumstances keeping them apart. Without a single word spoken between them, we understand how they feel about each other. How many lovesick guys found their inner Lloyd Dobler after seeing this scene?

#6: Sgt. Elias’ Death

“Platoon” (1986)

Great filmmakers can immerse viewers in the unimaginable horrors of a warzone... In this scene from Oliver Stone’s Vietnam War-set masterpiece, the titular platoon is under attack and flees for safety on a helicopter. One member who doesn't make it is Willem Dafoe's Sgt. Elias, already betrayed by Tom Berenger's Sgt. Barnes, and now futilely trying to escape North Vietnamese forces. Stone's camera captures the drama of the moment from the air and on the ground, and the image of the bloodied Elias raising his arms and looking up towards the sky before ultimately collapsing to the ground is unforgettable. Equally important to this moment is the use of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” which makes this devastating moment hauntingly beautiful.

#5: At the Restaurant

“When Harry Met Sally…” (1989)

Sexually charged movie scenes can take place outside of the bedroom, and one of the best examples comes from this rom-com classic, written by Nora Ephron and directed by Rob Reiner. While at a deli, friends with feelings for each other, Harry and Sally, discuss women’s pleasure, with Harry, played by Billy Crystal, saying he knows when a woman is putting on an act. To make a point, Sally, played by Meg Ryan, works herself into a frenzy to the shock and intrigue of the whole restaurant. This commentary on bedroom etiquette is still relevant, and Ryan’s boundless enthusiasm is irresistible. In the words of this patron, played by Reiner’s mother, Estelle, we’ll have what she’s having.

#4: “Here’s Johnny”

“The Shining” (1980)

Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, about a hotel caretaker who goes on a murderous rampage, stands apart from horror movies both then and now. We could pick any number of sequences from this classic, but most impactful involves two words improvised by star Jack Nicholson. When Nicholson’s Jack Torrance finds his wife, Wendy, played by Shelley Duvall, locked in the bathroom, he takes his ax, and starts swinging. To complete his entrance, he recites Ed McMahon’s classic introduction of “Tonight Show” host Johnny Carson, right before Wendy defends herself. Nicholson, who had real-life firefighting experience, chopped down an actual door for this scene. Scary, funny, and completely original, this scene has it all.

#3: “Say Hello to My Little Friend”

“Scarface” (1983)

All great actors have energy, but Al Pacino has something else. In this unbelievably violent scene at the end of Brian De Palma's "Scarface," drug kingpin Tony Montana, played by Pacino with next-level commitment, takes his proverbial last stand when his mansion is overrun by men sent by colleague-turned-enemy Alejandro Sosa. Pacino’s line right before he starts firing is ingrained in movie history. But there's more to this than just a great line. While the violence can feel excessive, it’s needed to make a disturbing point about the cost of greed. As Tony Montana’s power grows, so does the danger around him, and eventually, he has nowhere to go but down, and that’s exactly where he ends up.

#2: Bike Chase

“E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982)

Few directors understand how to create wonder quite like Steven Spielberg. In this timeless story of friendship, Elliott, played by Henry Thomas, makes friends with a lost alien creature, wanted by the government. With agents in hot pursuit, and Elliott and his friends on their bikes trying to get E.T. back to his spaceship, they need nothing short of a miracle. That’s exactly what they get as E.T. uses his telekinetic powers to send their bikes soaring through the air. The very thought of the silhouetted bikes flying in front of the moon is enough to choke us up. There’s one other miracle present, and that’s the fact that a moment as beautiful as this one exists.


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

Final Dance, “Dirty Dancing” (1987)
We Had the Time of Our Life, Too

Tears in Rain, “Blade Runner” (1982)
One of the Most Beautiful Monologues in Movie History

Dance Party, “The Breakfast Club” (1985)
When the Principal Is Away, the Kids Will Play

Clifftop Duel, “The Princess Bride” (1987)
A Perfect Mix of Exciting & Playful

Wax On, Wax Off, “The Karate Kid” (1984)
No One Gives Guidance Like Mr. Miyagi

#1: “I Am Your Father”

“Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back” (1980)

When audiences went to see the second installment in the legendary “Star Wars” franchise, they had no idea what they were in for. At the end of a lightsaber duel, Jedi-in-training Luke Skywalker loses his hand, and then something even worse happens. He learns that the villainous Darth Vader didn’t physically kill his father, Anakin, as Obi-Wan Kenobi led him to believe. He is his father. When we first saw this, we felt just like Mark Hamill’s Luke, in total shock and disbelief about the news, but realizing its truth. This secret was so well-kept that most people working on the film thought the revelation was that Obi-Wan killed Luke's father. And with that, “Star Wars” - and movies in general - changed forever.
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