The 100 Most Memorable Shots in Cinema Over the Past 100 Years

Harold Lloyd hang­ing high above the city on the hands of a sky­scrap­er’s clock. A shot through the eye on the Odessa steps. Anoth­er eye, this one read­ied for the razor blade. King Kong roar­ing atop a sky­scraper of his own. Snow White offer­ing a perch to the blue­bird. Dorothy, the Cow­ard­ly Lion, the Tin Man, and the Scare­crow skip­ping off toward the dis­tant Emer­ald City. Charles Fos­ter Kane orat­ing before his own enor­mous por­trait. Nor­ma Desmond’s unset­tling approach through ever-soft­er focus.

Roger Thorn­hill pur­sued by the biplane. Pat­ton salut­ing before the enor­mous Amer­i­can flag. Alex DeLarge star­ing, in his bowler and past his pros­thet­ic eye­lash­es, straight into the cam­era. Rocky jog­ging up the Philadel­phia Muse­um of Art steps. A cam­ou­flage-paint­ed Willard ris­ing out of the swamp. The slow-motion march of Messrs. Blonde, Blue, Brown, Orange, Pink, and White. The open­ing-night recep­tion dance after Max Fis­cher’s Heav­en and Earth. Leonidas kick­ing the mes­sen­ger into the hole. The young Mason Evans, Jr. flat on the grass, star­ing up at the skies.

Oh, and Char­lie Chap­lin using Scraps the dog as a pil­low. I could have described more of the most mem­o­rable shots of the past cen­tu­ry of cin­e­ma his­to­ry, but in the video above, which presents one hun­dred years of film with one shot select­ed from each year, they all speak for them­selves. “While many of these shots are the most rec­og­niz­able in film his­to­ry, oth­ers are equal­ly icon­ic in their own right,” writes the video’s cre­ator Jacob T. Swin­ney, “For exam­ple, some shots pio­neered a style or defined a genre, while oth­ers test­ed the bound­aries of cen­sor­ship and film­go­er expec­ta­tions.”

While the ear­li­est pic­tures here, a group start­ing in 1915 with D.W. Grif­fith’s The Birth of a Nation, have had plen­ty of time to estab­lish them­selves in our visu­al lex­i­con — even for those of us who’ve nev­er actu­al­ly sat down and watched the movies in full — the more recent selec­tions clear­ly require some guess­work: Swin­ney’s mem­o­rable shots from the past decade come from sources as var­ied as There Will Be Blood and The Tree of LifeAvatar, and The Avengers.

And some cin­e­ma purists, as opposed to struc­tur­al purists, will regret that, with these strict­ly sin­gle shots, the famous cuts (in both sens­es, when it comes to Un Chien Andalou’s eye­ball) don’t come across. Me, I’d have bent the rules to pay prop­er trib­ute to Lawrence blow­ing out the match, but that’s just one cinephile’s opin­ion. Besides, you’ve got to see it in con­text, pro­ject­ed in 70-mil­lime­ter, to real­ly feel why it can stand for all of 1962 in film — and then some.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Mes­mer­iz­ing Super­cut of the First and Final Frames of 55 Movies, Played Side by Side

Sig­na­ture Shots from the Films of Stan­ley Kubrick: One-Point Per­spec­tive

The Per­fect Sym­me­try of Wes Anderson’s Movies

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (5)
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  • Tyler says:

    Great shots in cin­e­ma his­to­ry, yet not a sin­gle per­son of col­or in the lot. Pret­ty nar­row-mind­ed edit.

  • Pep says:

    Exact­ly what I was think­ing, Tyler. If this pedes­tri­an review is to be believed, peo­ple of col­or failed to con­tribute a sin­gle mem­o­rable scene in the last one hun­dred years of Amer­i­can cin­e­ma. Big thumbs down.

  • Bergman says:

    Far too much Hol­ly­wood.

  • Judy says:

    Yes, they for­got a lot and some don’t have that lit­tle heart skip a moment as oth­ers. But it’s a good start.

  • Marion says:

    Exact­ly, there are many POC movies with incred­i­ble shots. Like Moon­light. it has some of the finest cin­e­matog­ra­phy I’ve ever seen. Dis­ap­point­ing that these films are being over­looked.

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