This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
A few weeks ago we published a list of traumatic moments that have appeared in family films. Of course we all enjoyed that waltz through painful childhood nightmare fuel, but the question was raised, why not do a list of slightly more positive and upbeat movie scenes instead? Thus, this: 25 of the most triumphant movie moments of all time.
Everyone has that go-to feel-good movie which they stick on when life is getting them down. Had a bad week at work? Stick Four Weddings on. Football team lose 5-0 and get soaked through on your way home? Time for Baseketball. Leave a tenner in the pocket of your jeans that just went in the wash and thus suddenly realise that life is a never-ending cycle of pain and misery that you can do nothing to stop until eventually you fall into the sweet and merciful embrace of death? Maid In Manhattan.
Films can pull us out of that funk, give us that piece of much needed inspiration and generate that extra little boost we all sometimes need. Even if a film isn’t a constant cavalcade of laughter and warmth, there can often be that one moment in a movie that will still get your blood pumping, produce an involuntary grin and maybe even a celebratory fist pump.
There were so many possible entries for this list that it proved especially tough working out what to leave out. As a result I had to exclude Molly Weasley smack-talking Bellatrix in The Deathly Hallows, the rousing final song on the battlements in Les Miserables, Daniel’s big crane kick in The Karate Kid, the final freeze frame in The Breakfast Club, Gordy pulling the gun on Ace in Stand By Me and the rousing speech to the nation at the close of The King’s Speech. I’m sure there are dozens more that could easily have made the cut as, luckily for all of us, cinema is filled with soaring moments of triumph that can’t help but give you goosebumps and put a smile back on your face.
SPOILERS inevitably lie ahead for all the films mentioned.
25. The Matrix
Forget about the lackluster sequels with their dense speeches and underground rave orgies, the first installment in The Matrix trilogy remains an outstanding sci-fi movie filled with brilliant cinematic moments. Scenes such as Neo and Trinity shooting their way through a lobby full of baddies, Morpheus teaching Neo how to fight, and Trinity dispatching of an agent at point blank range, all stand out as truly awesome moments.
However, perhaps the ultimate fist-pumping scene of the movie comes towards its end after Trinity has just kissed and revived Neo in the real world. As a result of this, back in the matrix itself, Neo rises to his feet, finally fully believing in his own abilities and realising he is indeed the one. Suddenly he is able to fully control the matrix for the first time and as the agents fire their guns at him, he stops their bullets with the power of his mind. He then sees the matrix in its real binary code state and we know that he’s finally ready.
24. Cool Runnings
I realize now that including a moment from Cool Runnings in this list ahead of say, Laurence Olivier delivering the St. Crispin’s Day speech in Henry V, speaks volumes of me as a person, but I’ve made my peace with that. As the Jamaican bobsleigh team begin their final run, already winning people over with their fast second showing, spirits and belief are high. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes on their next run as their rickety old sled begins to fall apart and they all go tumbling down the ice. Suddenly it’s all over, the dream is dead and any faith placed in lucky eggs is shown to ultimately be foolhardy.
However, like any good sporting movie, the underdogs show their indefatigable spirit and determined to finish the race one way or another, the team pick themselves up and carry their sled to the finish by foot. After a slow start, the crowd erupts into thunderous applause, with everyone from the East German jerks to Junior’s overbearing father getting caught up in the moment. It’s a defiant show of pride that you can’t help but enjoy. I’m just saying, if Shakespeare threw in a training montage with John Candy and maybe some jokes about ice, he might have made the list.
23. Back To The Future
The Back To The Future trilogy is filled with glorious moments, from the revelation that Doc wore his bullet proof vest after all, to Marty rocking out to Johnny B. Goode. Perhaps the most triumphant moment from the whole series, however, comes towards the end of the first movie as Marty seeks to ensure his very existence. His elaborate plan to bring his own parents together is thrown in to disarray by the arrival of uber-douche Biff Tannen. Biff summarily ends Marty’s awkward parked car encounter with his own mother and begins to force himself upon poor Lorraine.
Thinking he’s about to take on Marty, old George shows up as planned only to find the far more threatening figure of Biff manhandling his woman. After George doesn’t heed his warning to beat it, Biff gets out of the car and begins twisting George’s arm, laughing at his own antics and pushing Lorraine away when she protests. That’s the final straw for George who finally finds his courage and after what seems like an age spent balling his fist, he punches Biff right in the face. A definite crowd pleasing moment and one which ensures that the love story between Lorraine and George will have a happy ending after all.
22. Dead Poets Society
This unforgettable scene has taken on added poignancy since the sad passing of Robin Williams, with its themes of reverence and gratitude feeling particularly apt. The scene comes at the film’s end after Williams’ inspirational teacher John Keating has been fired from a stuffy old-fashioned prep school and blamed for a pupil’s untimely demise. As John collects his personal belongings, his class is being taken by crusty old Headmaster Nolan, an archaic bully who seeks to stamp out the individuality and spontaneity that Keating tried so hard to promote.
As Keating walks out, Todd (a young Ethan Hawke) reassures him that the pupil’s death was not his fault and then, in defiance of his headmaster, stands on his desk and recites the immortal words “O Captain! My Captain!”, before being joined by his classmates one by one. This one simple line from Walt Whitman’s poem shows both the level of respect the students have for their teacher as well as their sadness for him having to leave.
21. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
In his unforgettable turn as Randle McMurphy, Jack Nicholson is the embodiment of an anti-authoritarian rebel. He refuses to be ground down by Nurse Ratchet and the system, all the while encouraging his fellow patients to join him in fighting the power. They may try and break his spirit but he steadfastly refuses to be broken.
The power struggle between him and Ratchet ends with his fellow patients changed for the better but McMurphy himself lobotomised. As the film heads towards its end, the stoic Chief Bromden sees his friend now stuck in a vegetative state and as an act of mercy, smothers him with a pillow.
While Nurse Ratchet may have bested McMurphy in one regard, she can’t remove the positive impact he had on those around him, a fact exemplified when Chief rips up the water fountain and launches it through the window before leaping to his freedom. A symbolic victory for the inmates over the system at long last.
20. The Full Monty
It’s grim up North. Factories are closed down, work is scarce and good honest men are left on the scrapheap. Inevitably, they then soon turn to stripping to pay the bills. It’s a tale as old as time. Peter Cattaneo’s endearing British comedy drama has been lost in the sands of time somewhat, eclipsed by more commercially popular British comedy dramas that followed.
It remains a wonderfully entertaining story though as Gaz, Dave and the gang battle unemployment and rediscover their pride in the most unexpected of ways. Hearts-suitably warmed, it builds to that unforgettable crescendo as the guys embrace their new roles and have the time of their lives as they decide, for one night only, to go the full monty. The struggles they have faced in their private lives are instantly forgotten and for those few minutes, as Tom Jones belts out You Can Leave Your Hat On, they beam with pride.
19. Almost Famous
Cameron Crowe’s endless mixtape of 70s rock classics is put to perhaps its greatest use since Alice Cooper’s School’s Out christened the start of Dazed And Confused. In this cheesy but also strangely life-affirming scene we join the band Stillwater at a tense time. They’ve just had a major falling out as lead guitarist Russell Hammond skulks back on the tour bus and faces the disappointed stares of his pissed off bandmates. The band is truly at breaking point.
As they drive away in stony silence, Elton John’s Tiny Dancer begins to play on the tour bus and seems to go almost unnoticed at first. Slowly but surely though, everyone on the bus begins to join in and by the time the chorus arrives, the entire group are belting out every word with big cheerful smiles. It’s a wonderful moment of togetherness that comes when it is needed most. The band is in dire straits, but thanks to the unifying power of rock and roll they are temporarily reminded of what brought them together in the first place.
18. Singin’ In The Rain
This oft imitated but never bettered dance sequence from is pure, uncut, distilled happiness in a dance routine. The gleeful exuberance that emanates from every toe-tapping second is a joy to behold as Gene Kelly’s Don Lockwood skips and twirls his way through the rain, filled with giddy glee and without a care in the world.
Famously, Kelly performed this routine with a 100-degree fever, but ever the consummate professional, you wouldn’t know it to watch him go. From start to finish, Kelly shows why he was such a huge star, delivering a mesmerising performance which perfectly encapsulated the simple joys of falling in love.
17. To Kill A Mockingbird
Gregory Peck’s performance as Atticus Finch, in this 1962 adaptation of Harper Lee’s timeless novel, gave us a true screen icon and a symbol for equality and justice. Atticus passionately defends a wrongfully accused black man at a time when merely being black was enough to condemn a man before a jury. Throughout the case he faces intimidation and threats from townspeople. Atticus cares not about colour however, only about what is morally right as he seeks to convince the jury that they need to see past their own prejudices.
Despite his best efforts, Tom is ultimately found guilty as expected. This awful miscarriage of justice is a tragic moment for sure as Tom is taken away and the white jury and onlookers filter out. As Atticus goes to leave however, the black faces seated in the upper echelons of the courtroom remain and recognising his heroic work and noble intentions, they one-by-one begin to rise to their feet. The local Reverend’s words to young Scout, “stand up…your father’s passin’”, speaks volumes about the level of respect felt towards her dad. A wonderful life-affirming moment that emphasises the invaluable importance of standing up for what is right.
It may not be the most historically accurate movie on this list, in fact it trails both Lord Of The Rings and Star Wars in that regard, but few would argue that Mel Gibson’s Braveheart didn’t still provide truly thrilling cinema. Taken purely as a thoroughly entertaining piece of fiction, the movie is filled with rabble rousing defiance and a classic David vs Goliath style narrative. Only in this instance, David is armed with ferocious kilt wearing Scots, rather than a slingshot.
Perhaps its most rousing moment of all comes in the form of Gibson’s William Wallace and his address to the assembled troops before the battle of Stirling Bridge. They may be outnumbered and many look understandably terrified at the vast English army standing before them, but as Wallace gives them THAT speech you see their spirits rise and before you know it they are screaming like bloodthirsty warriors. Because you see, “they may take our lives, but they’ll never take …our freedom.”
15. Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King
There are plenty of powerful moments in Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy. From Eowyn taking down the Witch King of Angmar, to Aragorn leading his people into one final charge “for Frodo.” The moment that always hits me, though, is the emphatic ride of the Rohirrim during the battle of Pelennor Fields. As the battle rages on and the city’s defences hang by a thread, the sight of the vast Rohirrim amassing atop of the nearby hill is a truly welcome sight.
Until this point the orc army was largely untroubled, but as they turn and see what awaits them, the look of panic in their eyes is clear. The armies of man are putting their differences aside and fighting as one. They may still be vastly outnumbered, but the Rohirrim ride headfirst into the enemy free of fear and filled with a steely determination. Howard Shore’s stirring score drifts perfectly in the background of this entire sequence as Théoden and his army stare evil in the eye and give no quarter.
The entire Rocky saga is basically a series of triumphant moments interspersed with the odd training montage and a clunky robot. It’s hard to choose just one first-pumping moment from them all, but I think I have to hand it to the finale of the 1976 original. After 15 gruelling rounds of a fight he was meant to stand no chance in, Rocky has absorbed all the punishment he can take and fought harder than anyone thought he could. As Apollo Creed is declared the winner via split decision, Rocky doesn’t care one bit. Instead he calls out for Adrian, knowing he’s done what he set out to do and proven that he could go the distance.
13. Jurassic Park
When it came to picking a fittingly triumphant moment from Jurassic Park, I very nearly went with the closing moments where our endangered heroes are saved at the last minute by a surprisingly stealthy T-Rex. However the scene in the movie that is truly special is the simple moment when Doctors Grant and Sattler get their first glimpse of a real-life, living and breathing dinosaur. It’s masterfully shot by Spielberg and as the experts look on aghast, the camera finally pans out and lets us in on the subject of their astonishment as a massive Brachiosaurus makes its way across the screen.
This was classic Spielbergian magic at his finest, cinematic awe and wonderment backed up by John Williams’ unforgettable score.
This moment is basically the granddaddy of inspiring movie moments. It’s a movie scene that’s so famous, even if you’ve got absolutely no idea who or what Spartacus is, you still know about this scene. After the army of former slaves are outnumbered and defeated in battle by the powerful Roman army, the survivors are surveyed by a Roman general who demands they turn over their leader Spartacus or face execution. Kirk Douglas’ character won’t allow his friends to be slaughtered and so stands up to announce, “I’m Spartacus.”
However, such is the loyalty of his soldiers and the love they have for their leader, each one in turns rises to their feet and likewise claims, “I’m Spartacus”. A spectacular demonstration of a defiant brotherhood in arms, refusing to bow down to their oppressors until the very end.
When it comes to movie bad guys, Joaquin Phoenix’s Commodus is amongst the very worst in the total and utter bastard stakes. He’s murdered his own father, abuses his own sister and ordered the brutal murder of our hero Maximus’ family. The bulk of the film up to this point has seen Maximus picking himself up from his grief and fighting his way from the bottom right up to appearing at the Colloseum. He has faced death and operated in dire circumstances in order to get one step closer to the man who killed his family.
When he finally appears incognito at the Colloseum before Commodus and gains an unexpected victory, the Emperor comes down to meet him. Maximus opts not to kill Commodus, and instead removes his helmet, fixes him with an icy stare and makes one of the most badass speeches of all time: “My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions and loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son. Husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.”
YOU’RE DAMN RIGHT YOU WILL MAXIMUS.
I will freely admit right now that Casablanca is my all-time favorite film, so it’s somewhat inevitable that I include it on this list somewhere. The whole movie is a big unequivocal two fingers at Nazi Germany, an inspirational wartime love story filled with thinly veiled political subtext. At the film’s much loved climax, after Ric has made the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good and let his love fly away, the evil German Major Strasser arrives and tries to get in the way. Ric duly shoots him, emphatically sealing his own entry into the resistance.
As assorted policeman arrive on the scene, Claude Rains’ wily Captain Renault meets Ric’s stare and announces, “Major Strasser’s been shot……round up the usual suspects”. The two men have finally picked their side, and just to ever-so-subtly drill the point home, Renault slams a bottle of ‘Vichy’ water into a bin. It’s an emphatic and victorious statement of intent that would have been even more acutely felt by its initial wartime audience.
Writer Stephen Beresford’s comedy-drama revolves around the true life story of lesbian and gay activists raising money to support striking miners in a struggling remote Welsh town. The two diverse groups are wary of one another at first, but soon the residents of the village of Onllwyn and Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) form a close bond. This unlikely alliance proves fruitful, though eventually the miners are defeated and return to work with their heads held high. It’s a film about fraternity, camaraderie, strength in unity and people from all walks of life bonding together to fight a just cause.
The whole film is basically one long triumphant moment; however the one scene that gets me every time comes at the finale when at a London Gay Pride rally, the LGSM are preparing to march. In a joyous act of solidarity, a contingent of villagers from Onnllwyn arrives in the nick of time to join in as well. Already that’s a nice heart-warming moment in itself, but then it is revealed that several busloads of miners have also arrived to march in solidarity. As the two groups march loud and proud and the onscreen titles explain to us of the lasting impact this unlikely alliance had, it’s an inspiring moment that creates a fitting ending to a wonderful film.
There are few movie moments that perfectly capture a mood or emotion as well as this one in Spielberg’s classic ’80s family adventure. As Elliot, Michael and co. peddle their little hearts out to escape the government agents who are hot on their tail, E.T. uses his extra-terrestrial powers to lift them up and into the air to avoid a roadblock. As John Williams’ fantastic score soars in the background, Elliot and friends fly across the sky, silhouetted against the setting sun leaving walkie-talkie totin’ government agents in their wake.
In that one moment, Steven Spielberg, the Hollywood master of the feel-good family movie, delivers a moment that is pure, unabated childhood wonderment.
7. Raiders Of The Lost Ark
A truly emphatic moment in Spielberg’s ultimate adventure here as an exasperated Indy runs into a particularly adept swordsman in a bustling market place while he’s desperately trying to get on with the business of ark raiding. Indy responds to his opponent’s showing off with a wonderfully abrupt gunshot straight from the hip.
Normally I wouldn’t celebrate cold-blooded murder with a fist pump and a smirk, but in the defence of Henry Jones Jnr, the big guy with the fancy sword definitely started it. The story behind this scene in Raiders is well documented: a desperately unwell Harrison Ford decided the sequence needed a shorter conclusion and thus a legend was born. While it may have been born out of desperation, it’s an iconic moment that cements Indy as an undeniable badass and reminds us all that he is always one step ahead of the bad guys.
In this classic 1964 war movie, the Battle of Rorke’s Drift during the Anglo-Zulu war was brought to life with varying degrees of historical accuracy. The film depicts the brutal and unrelenting stand of around 150 British soldiers, many of whom are sick or wounded, as they decide to defend their field hospital against 4000 Zulu warriors. Wave after wave of attacks begins to drain the soldier’s morale and with numbers dwindling, things look increasingly desperate.
As the Zulus approach once again, they begin to sing a war chant. Refusing to be intimidated, the response of the remaining men was an impassioned rendition of Welsh military anthem Men Of Harlech. The defiant gesture summed up the resolute nature and unflinching bravery of the remaining soldiers.
5. Star Wars
The Star Wars movies are filled with countless iconic moments and at the end of A New Hope comes arguably the most triumphant of them all. Han has seemingly shown his true colors and ditched out on the rebellion. The battle rages on regardless and as the rebels suffer heavy losses, that exhaust port /critical design flaw remains distinctly untroubled. The rebel base is in range and all is looking fairly lost. Luke is giving it one last try but as he zooms down the trench, Darth Vader and a couple of TIE fighters are gearing up to take him down.
Just when you think Luke is done for, with a gleeful “yehooooo” from its captain, the Millennium Falcon swoops in out of nowhere and clears house leaving Luke with a clear run on the target. “You’re all clear, kid. Now let’s blow this thing and go home.” YEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH. Good beats evil. Rebels beat Empire. All is right with the world.
4. The Shawshank Redemption
As Morgan Freeman’s narration puts it, “Andy crawled to freedom through five hundred yards of shit smelling foulness I can’t even imagine.” Andy Dufresne has a pretty torrid time of it throughout his spell at Shawshank. Wrongfully imprisoned, sexually assaulted, beaten and kept in solitary confinement, it’s fair to say you can’t help but feel sympathy for his plight.
All that trauma he has faced though, all the injustice and misery, is all exorcised in truly emphatic style when it is revealed that through patience, perseverance and incredibly nimble poster re-attaching, he has chiselled his way to freedom. The sight of him crawling out into the mud and raising his arms aloft to the sky will never fail to give you goosebumps.
Ellen Ripley has a right old time of it dealing with the aliens in James Cameron’s all-action sci-fi sequel. She can’t get a minute’s peace without an alien ripping something to shreds. While Ridley Scott’s original was perhaps the more tense and nerve-wracking of the pair, Cameron’s sequel certainly upped the alien ante. Ripley and the band of marines are stalked mercilessly by a whole band of aliens (I’m not sure what the collective term is for a xenomorph), and by the film’s close, only Ripley, android Bishop, Corporal Hicks and Newt remain.
Just when you think it’s all over and they are finally free aboard the Sulaco, the Alien queen pops up and tears Bishop in half. As she closes in on Newt, Ripley straps on an exosuit and squares right up to the alien queen and mutters one of the coolest lines in movie history: “Get away from her you bitch!!!”, before ejecting it out of the airlock. A cathartic moment of victory after so much terror and destruction.
2. Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade
The original Indiana Jones movies are right up there amongst the all-time great feel-good movies. Sometimes you just need a bit of escapist adventure and a rugged Doctor punching the shit out of some Nazis. One of the many winning ingredients that made these films such a success was John Williams’ magnificent score and specifically the unforgettable Raiders March. It’s perhaps one of the most stirring pieces of film music out there, instantly whipping you up and filling you with a sense of victory.
The Indy movie moment where the Raiders March is used to strongest effect comes at the very end of The Last Crusade. The battle between good and evil has been won. The Nazis have been made to look like pricks once again, Walter Donovan has suffered from a fairly irreversible bout of ‘old before his time’, and the Jones boys have finally bonded. All is well with the world. To close us out, our band of heroes literally ride off into the sunset as Williams’ rousing score kicks up in the background. The perfect way to close one of the great cinematic adventures.
1. It’s A Wonderful Life
Like any sane person, I watch It’s A Wonderful Life in the week or so before Christmas every year without fail. Every year at the very same point in the movie, a lump appears in my throat, a smile spreads across my face and for a few minutes at least I vow to be a better person.
That moment comes at the film’s finale after James Stewart’s George Bailey has realised he wants to live again and that he really has led a wonderful life. He may have a bumbling fool of an uncle who has led him into potential financial ruin, but he has a family he loves and friends he cares for. Life is beautiful once more as he rushes home through the snow giddily shouting greetings to everyone he meets.
George’s sheer thrill at being alive is always a joy to behold, but it’s a specific moment back at the Bailey’s home that really gets me. As Mary arrives with the townfolk in tow, you can’t help but smile as the people of Bedford Falls rally round to help out a man who has given them so much over the years. Then, in case you weren’t already suitably warmed, his war-hero brother Harry Bailey arrives on the scene and proposes to the room: “A toast…to my big brother, George. The richest man in town.” Gets me every time. He is the richest man in town folks, I mean, not in financial terms, Potter could literally buy and sell him a hundred times over, but in what really matters, friendship and happiness, he has more than one man could ever need.