10 Of The Most Powerful Movie Moments That Will Stay With You Forever

The most powerful movie scenes come from The Green Mile, A Star is Born, and The Shawshank Redemption.

By Jonathan Klotz | Published

Movies are filled with lasting images and moments that linger long after the credits have rolled, but the films on this list, have lingered for years and even decades. Hollywood wants every movie to have the lasting power of these 10 scenes, but we’re lucky if a classic comes every few years. From quiet moments to heart-breaking romances, every scene on this list has proven to be influential, powerful, and in some cases, genre-defining.

10. The Eulogy – The Fault In Our Stars (2014)

The Fault in Our Stars is one of the most successful YA adaptations of all time, starring Shailene Woodley as Grace and Ansel Elgort as Gus, two teens that meet at a cancer support group. Following a trip to Amsterdam, where they seek out the reclusive author of an unfinished novel, the pair fall in love, which is complicated by the sudden return of Gus’ cancer. While their love is cut short with tragedy, it’s what comes next that haunts moviegoers to this day and remains one of the greatest romantic scenes in Hollywood history.

Hazel and Gus wrote eulogies for each other, and at the very end of the film, Hazel receives the eulogy that Gus wrote for her. In voice-over, Ansel Elgort reads it out loud, while Shailene Woodley can be seen on screen going through a cavalcade of emotions in under two minutes, a journey the viewer experiences with her. No film before or since has captured the doomed teen romance better, and no film has devastated viewers quite like The Fault in Our Stars.

9. Shallow – A Star Is Born (2018)

Lady Gaga Bradley Cooper A Star Is Born

“Shallow,” as performed by Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in their roles of Jack and Ally, is an amazing song made even better by the first concert scene. Jack asks Ally to join him on stage, and in the film’s greatest moment, she does, blowing the crowd away with her singing. A Star is Born is the latest in a long line of remakes, marking the fourth time Hollywood has adapted the story, but it’s in this early concert scene, the 2018 version surpasses all of the others.

Lady Gaga, an award-winning singer with multiple number-one hits, does an amazing job pretending to be a nervous amateur, from the opening warble to a missed high note later on, but the song is hypnotic. This one three-minute scene sells the audience on the growing romance between Jack and Ally, powering the rest of the film with the electricity generated by this performance. No film features a better musical performance by its stars, and few can come close to the chemistry between Cooper and Gaga, which makes this scene one of the greatest ever committed to film.

8. The Last Ride – Furious 7 (2015)

No one knew how the crew behind Furious 7 would handle the passing of Paul Walker during filming. The tragic car accident was on everyone’s minds watching his final movie, and then, at the very end, Vin Diesel (he’s not Dominic Toretto at this moment) drives away with a digitally-inserted Paul Walker from an earlier film (and again, he’s not Brian O’Conner). The following scene provides the cast, the crew, and the audience with catharsis as Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s “See You Again” plays over a collection of moments from the franchise, ending with the most beautiful, poetic way to say goodbye.

Instead of killing off Brian, the road diverges, with his white car going in one direction while Vin Diesel keeps going forward, a simple, elegant metaphor communicating everything without words. When this played in theaters across the globe, there was not a dry eye in the house, and to this day, a generation will start tearing up every time they hear “See You Again.”

7. The Circle of Life – The Lion King (1994)

The Lion King is filled with amazing moments, from the death of Mufasa to the sheer joy of “Hakuna Matata.” Still, it’s the incredible opening scene with Elton John singing “Circle of Life,” the audience is introduced to life on the Serengeti for the first time that has stayed with audiences. The power of movies comes from combining an auditory and visual experience into one, with the hand-drawn visuals combined with the score to paint one of the most beautiful pictures in movie history.

How often have you seen the opening scene parodied? In fact, to this day, nearly….30 years….since it’s original release, holding something up high over your head to present it to a crowd will bring back memories of this moment. The Lion King is a classic for a reason, but this opening scene ranks up with some of the best in history.

6. Carpe Diem – Dead Poets Society (1989)

The Dead Poets Society took on new meaning after the passing of Robin Williams, and now a new generation has grown to appreciate the lessons taught by his character, Mr. Keating, the most important of which is simple: “Carpe Diem. Seize the Day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.” This scene, from 1989, has proven to be timeless. As the boys lean in, Mr. Keating whispers his advice as if the photos on the wall inspire the assembled young men, but really, it’s the audience that heard the words and took them to heart.

What makes this one of the most powerful moments that stays with the audience is that, well, how many people have never seen the scene itself but know the words? It’s a universal theme, and this simple scene lays it out so well, inspiring the audience and making everyone think of a teacher who also inspired them. Few scenes can cause such deep reflection upon its viewers, but then again, Dead Poets Society is a movie unlike any other.

5. John Coffey’s Execution – The Green Mile (1999)

Michael Clarke Duncan gives the performance of a lifetime in The Green Mile as John Coffey, an innocent man accused of murder, waiting for his turn to be executed. Tom Hanks is Paul Edgecomb, the head guard that has witnessed Coffey perform miracles but is forced to go through with the execution. The long scene is the most powerful execution sequence in movies, with Coffey’s pitiful plea to not wear a hood because he’s scared of the dark, heightening every beat that comes after.

Other executions occur over the runtime of The Green Mile, one of which is normal, the other is horrific, but neither can compare to the overwhelming sadness and feeling of loss like John Coffey’s execution. The pain on the face of Hanks’ character, combined with the sadness and acceptance displayed by Duncan as Coffey, is juxtaposed with the gallery of callous onlookers. Not seen on the screen is the reaction of the audience, as this execution stays with everyone that watches it.

4. Lieutenant Dan Finds Peace – Forrest Gump (1994)

Perhaps the quietest moment on this list, and one that was overlooked when the film was first released in favor of Forrest Gump’s wacky adventures through American history, but the one that stuck a lasting chord with viewers was when Lieutenant Dan went overboard and swam. Gary Sinise plays the abrasive former Army officer who lost his legs in Vietnam and was in a drunken stupor when Gump, in Tom Hank’s second (but not last) appearance on this list, found him, is an underrated performance. There’s little dialogue in the scene, but Forrest’s narration makes it clear what’s going on, “He never said so, but I think he made his peace with God.”

Lieutenant Dan has gone on to represent the poor way America handled Vietnam veterans and how the country could do better moving forward, with Gary Sinise becoming an advocate for everyone that put on a uniform in service of the country. This scene comes after seeing Lieutenant Dan’s anger many times, but the look on Sinise’s face as he swims in the water, combined with the gorgeous ray of light piercing the clouds behind him, creates a stunning visual. In a movie filled with powerful moments, it’s the quiet one that stands out the most.

3. “I Didn’t Do Enough” – Schindler’s List (1993)

Oskar Schindler, played by Liam Neeson, saved over 1,100 lives during World War 2. Schindler’s List is based on the true story of the German-Industrialist that spent his fortune saving lives but at the end of the film, he breaks down in a heart-wrenching monologue about how he could have sold a pin to save just one more person. To the assembled crowd and the audience, it’s clear that he did everything possible to save as many lives as possible, from ordering all munitions to be faulty and not work to bribing German officials, which makes his emotions at the end all the more powerful.

Schindler’s List shone an important light on the only former Nazi buried along the slopes of Mt. Zion, the highest honor that can be given to someone by the government of Isreal. Liam Neeson’s monologue, barely making words through tears and emotion, provided the final lasting impression of a movie filled with striking and disturbing visuals.

2. The Escape – The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

One of the greatest twist endings in movie history comes from The Shawshank Redemption, a depressing film about Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) suffering unjustly in prison for 19 years. From brutal beatings by inmates and guards to the sadistic treatment at the hands of the warden, Andy never loses hope, and just when it seems like everything is going to go wrong and the film will have a downer ending, there’s a twist. Andy escapes, and in the final scene, Red (Morgan Freeman) monologues what happened after chipping away for years to form a tunnel hidden by a poster actually worked.

All the villains get their comeuppance, and Andy and Red reunite on a beach in Mexico, supported by the warden’s money, and that’s when it hits that the movie is about never giving up. The Shawshank Redemption is one of the greatest movies ever made, with the amazing finals scene putting a bow on the whole story, and if it were changed even a little bit, the entire film would suffer.

1. D-Day – Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Plenty of films have glamorized war, but Saving Private Ryan was the first to present the spectacle of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France, in such a horrific fashion. Tom Hanks has given plenty of award-winning performances, but as Captain John Miller, he shines during the lengthy opening scene, the longest one on this list. It starts with a shot of Hanks, and then 40 minutes later, it ends with a shot of Hanks, and in between is the greatest depiction of World War 2 ever created.

Saving Private Ryan was so realistic it bothered combat veterans, with small moments, from the radio operator losing his face when no one is paying attention to a soldier that drowns due to the weight of the supply bag stuck around his body. No movie will ever capture what Steven Speilberg did during this incredible segment, which should also be noted; it has no triumphant musical score, just the screams of men, the whirring of bullets, and the ominous buzz of bombs sailing through the air. Not just the most powerful moment ever, but one of the greatest scenes of all time, the opening of Saving Private Ryan still holds up 25 years later.