The Greatest Movie Scenes That Shaped Us

When I was 7 years old, a movie about darkness and light forever changed my path in the universe. I became a scoundrel in love with a space princess with cinnamon rolls on her head. I flew a stoned space freighter with a giant walking dog as my best friend and a disgruntled, petulant Jedi with mommy issues froze me in carbonite. To list just 7 of the greatest movie scenes that shaped me, you had to start with over 100 and cross a few great movie moments off the list. If my head was in a better place, it could have been a very different list – but it hasn’t been that kind of summer.

Over the past five decades, I have submitted myself to almost 5,700 movies and with a film collection approaching nearly 3,700 titles, I’ve invested most of my life in filmmaking. When I wasn’t taking pictures in the fold and pretending to be Ken Dryden, I would sneak out of class and walk down Eglinton Avenue in Toronto to the Eglinton Theater enjoy hundreds of movies during my childhood and adolescence.

While in Toronto recently luck had me walking past the former Palace of the Movies which is now an event space for weddings, bar mitzvahs and corporate functions and just seeing the building for the first time in many years aroused a lot of emotions.

Elington Theater inside

What makes a movie scene great? Its popularity as a piece of pop culture is certainly a big deal, but that doesn’t mean it made a big impression on me.

Tom Cruise slides across the living room floor in his underwear in Risky business the lip-synch with Bob Seeger was a memorable scene because I was doing the same thing at the time; I just lacked the courage to do it with my dad’s McIntosh system because he could tell when someone was hitting him from 1,000 miles away while on vacation with my mom. It was a fun scene, but not one I still think about almost 35 years later.

Please add yours in the comments section, but these scenes hold special meaning to me.


Mark Spitz never gave me swimming lessons at Forest Valley Day Camp, so when my dad threw me into the waters off Cape Cod in July 1976, my body immediately went into panic mode. The water was only 2-3 feet deep, but my brain still hadn’t accepted the concept of being eaten by a great white shark after watching Jaws the year before. I watch the movie once a year and I always stand on the beach just a few blocks from my house on the Jersey Shore and watch the waves and marvel. Available on Amazon.

Lawrence of Arabia

After crossing the Sinai and standing on the shores of Aqaba staring at Eilat during dinner with Israeli and Jordanian associates, my appreciation of David Lean’s epic tale is very different at 52; I first watched the movie as a kid on a 28 inch Zenith which really didn’t do the movie justice. When the film was restored and released as a limited run, I made an appointment with me to see it. She hated it. I barely noticed she was there. Barbaric and cruel. Available on Amazon.

Double Indemnity

Almost 78 years have passed and few movies can match the brilliant screenplay of this Billy Wilder gem. Dialogue is everything and Hollywood has seemingly forgotten that a movie demands it be awesome. Barbara Stanwyck could have charmed (or scared) anyone, and her fiery delivery in this noir classic is rivaled only by the brilliant performances of Edward G. Robinson and Fred MacMurray. It’s somewhat appalling that an entire generation of moviegoers probably never saw this cinematic hell that broke all the rules and changed American cinema forever. Available on Amazon.

Walk in laughing

It must have been the wind. Elaine May was both beautiful and hysterical in this long-forgotten Carl Reiner film. If you’ve ever performed live, this is the worst case of stage fright in movie history. Reni Santoni has had a pretty successful career post, but his performance in the opening night scene makes it one of the funniest moments on screen. Goodbye Angela. Thanks Harriet.

Stalag 17

William Holden finally got the recognition he deserved with Stalag 17, and Sefton barely makes it out alive after the final confrontation and escape. The film has inspired countless WWII escape dramas and Hogan’s heroes which kept the film’s memory alive for another generation to explore. My favorite movie of all time and a final scene that has few rivals for tension and dialogue quality. Available on Amazon.

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Come off

Indiana has once again become popular as a setting for stranger thingsbut my cinematic memory takes me back to smaller movies like Hoosiersand Come off who defended the oppressed; the footage of the championship game and the winning basket is certainly an emotional lift, but the final moments of the race where the Cutters win the famous bike race in their hometown against the wealthy and snobbish kids of Indiana University are a real moment of triumph for working-class children. Dennis Quaid and Paul Dooley are particularly strong in the film and this one has never lost its charm. Available on Amazon.

Dr Strangelove: or how I learned to worry and love the bomb

The most important anti war movie apart from paths of glory, and another masterpiece from Kubrick who directed both films. An all-star cast makes this film dark, funny and scary no matter your date of birth and it’s hard not to marvel at performances from Sterling Hayden and Peter Sellers who shoot one great scene after another. There’s an intelligence and a hard edge to the dialogue that makes the film resonate even more as Russia, Ukraine and NATO fight unnecessary conflict overseas. A surprisingly bad idea. Available on Amazon.

Andrea G. Henderson