Top 10 Famous Iconic Film Scenes (And the Movies They Were Inspired By)


The cinema is an ever evolving art form that has made countless changes in the short time that it has existed.  Great masters and auteurs have risen and fallen, inspiring countless other filmmakers.  One of the most common ways that filmmakers pay tribute to their influences is to quote, or “homage,” their favorite movies or directors.  Whether it is a replicated character type, location, editing technique, or even entire scene, modern filmmakers keep the past alive with through mimicry and recreation.  Sometimes the influences are subtle.  Other times, they are more blatant.  Here are ten great examples of famous scenes inspired by earlier works.

10.  The Scene: Jack Nicholson chopping down the door in The Shining.

Everybody knows this scene: Jack Torrance and his family take care of an inn in the Rocky Mountains for several months.  Jack comes down with cabin fever and starts to be influenced by sinister forces in the inn.  At one point, he angrily takes an axe to a locked door separating him from his family.  One of the main reasons for its popularity was the infamous line, “Here’s Johnny,” which Nicholson add-libbed.  It has gone down as one of the most iconic scenes and memorable lines in the history of the horror genre.

Inspiration: The Phantom Carriage.

Filmed in 1921, The Phantom Carriage ranks with Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari as one of the most important silent horror films in cinematic history.  A primary influence for countless filmmakers, especially Ingmar Bergman who supposedly watched it once every year, The Phantom Carriage pioneered the use of certain special effects and narrative flashbacks.  In one scene, a man named David Holm is visited by his dead friend Georges, cursed to drive the phantom carriage ushering the dead to the afterlife for an entire year.  In order to spare his friend from the same fate, Georges forces David to confront the sins of his past, including one incident when he was infected with tuberculosis and locked in a small room by his wife so he wouldn’t infect their family.  In a drunken rage, he took an axe to the door, smashing it to pieces.  The film inspired Stanley Kubrick to recreate the scene for his film The Shining.

9.  The Scene: Jackie Chan hanging from a clock tower in Project A.

Project A will always be remembered by Jackie Chan fans as one of his greatest films.  Taking place in the late 19th century Hong Kong, it stars Jackie Chan as Dragon Ma, a Marine Police officer.  Sworn to protect Hong Kong against the threat of pirates, Dragon Ma must also fight against corrupted cops and officials.  During one of Jackie Chan’s trademark fight scenes, he finds himself stuck on the top of a clock tower.  Near the end of the fight, Jackie finds himself hanging from the hand of the clock over a precarious drop 60 feet high.  The stunt ended with Jackie letting go and falling head first through awning canopies.  Widely regarded as one of Jackie’s greatest stunts, it was also one of his most dangerous.

Inspiration: Safety Last!

One of the most beloved silent comedies of all time, Safety Last! is considered by many to be the definitive Harold Lloyd film.  Lloyd, one of the three greatest silent comedians alongside Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, plays a country boy who through a strange series of events is forced to climb up the side of a department store in order to attract customers and win the affection of the woman he loves.  Incredibly, Lloyd, who always did his own stunts, actually climbed unaided up the side of a several story department store.  At the climax of his climb, he stumbles and grabs onto the bending hands of a clock, suspending himself high above a street roaring with traffic.  The scene was not filmed using studio trickery.  That was really Harold Lloyd suspended hundreds of feet above the ground hanging onto nothing but a pair of clock hands.  The scene has rightfully gone down as one of the most iconic in cinematic history.  Jackie Chan, who was a huge fan of silent comedians, purposefully modeled his clock tower stunt after the scene.

8. The Scene: Bruce Willis running over Ving Rhames in Pulp Fiction.

Easily one of the best and most important films of the Nineties, Quentin Tarantino redefined American cinema with Pulp Fiction.  With its memorable characters, unforgettable dialogue, and creative use of non-linear storytelling, Pulp Fiction has become a cultural force to be reckoned with.  But people tend to forget that one of its greatest strengths is the frequent indulgence in absurd plot developments.  One of the film’s most irreverent and unpredictable scenes involves Butch Coolidge, played by Bruce Willis.  Butch, a prizefighter who ripped off a mob boss named Marsellus (Ving Rhames), is fleeing the city.  On his way out, he stops at a random traffic light.  Against all odds, who else but Marsellus would walk out in front of the car?  Butch spots Marsellus, panics, and runs him over in his car.

Inspiration: Psycho

The film Psycho is remembered for many different things: the shower scene, Norman Bates, the twist ending.  But most people forget a smaller, but nevertheless significant scene near the beginning.  At the start of the film, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) steals $40,000 from her employer, intending to use it to marry her boyfriend.  As she flees from the city, Hitchcock indulged in several suspenseful elements to raise the tension.  These include a nearly omnipresent police officer and a scene where she switches cars.  But many forget that she also has the misfortune of running into her boss crossing the street as she leaves the city.  It’s a great scene because in a moment we are convinced that Marion has been busted.  But she gets away only to end up at the Bates Motel.  Tarantino has always been notorious for mimicking/homaging/replicating scenes from his favorite movies.  But almost nowhere in his entire career is this more blatantly obvious than when he replicated this scene.

7.  The scene: The Man with No Name guns down a bunch of thugs and buys their coffins in A Fistful of Dollars.

In 1964, Italian director Sergio Leone and actor Clint Eastwood rewrote the rules of the Western genre with their film A Fistful of Dollars.  Wanting to make a film that stood in sharp contrast to the tired conventions of Hollywood Westerns, Leone created a film that was visceral and violent.  But arguably the most important contribution to the Western genre was Clint Eastwood’s character known as The Man with No Name.  A morally ambiguous character in a genre known for moral absolutes, The Man with No Name was a mean, weathered character concerned primarily with his own well being.  In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, Eastwood guns down a group of criminals in the city streets.  But before he does, he orders a number of coffins from a local undertaker, confident in the knowledge that they will die and he will survive.

Inspiration: Yojimbo

Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961) is easily one of the most important samurai films ever made.  Starring the legendary Toshir? Mifune as a wandering ronin, or masterless samurai, the film watches as he arrives in a town torn apart by two rival gangs.  He proceeds to play each gang against the other for his own benefit.  A Fistful of Dollars was actually an unofficial remake of the film, copying Yojimbo’s formula and adapting it to a Western setting.  Everything from the plot to the seminal character of The Man with No Name was lifted from Yojimbo.  In fact, A Fistful of Dollars was such a close remake of Yojimbo that Kurosawa and screenwriter Ryuzo Kikushima successfully sued for 15% of the film’s worldwide gross.  But nowhere are the similarities between the two films more evident than the scene where Mifune orders coffins for a group of gangsters that he soon kills.

Sidenote: Interestingly enough, the film Yojimbo was itself an unofficial adaption of the American film noir entitled The Glass Key (1942), a film version of pulp fiction writer Dashiell Hammett’s novel Red Harvest. So, in summary, A Fistful of Dollars is an Italian Western based off a Japanese samurai film based off an American film noir adapted from an American novel. Confused yet?

6. The Scene: The Opening Credit Crawl from Star Wars

Arguably the most famous opening credits in the history of cinema, everyone remembers the opening credit crawl from the Star Wars movies. It starts with the words, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….” The screen goes black and then the title “Star Wars” appears accompanied by the first blasts of the Star Wars Main Theme by John Williams. As the theme continues, an opening crawl of text scrolls vertically across the screen and disappears in the background. Parodied numerous times, the opening credit crawl was one of the reasons why the Star Wars films had such an epic tone. They made the audience feel like they were involved in a massive storyline full of magnificent forces of good and evil. Fondly remembered by fans, the short recaps of storyline that precedes each film is justly recognized as an ingenious work of filmmaking.

Inspiration: Flash Gordon serials

There were three Flash Gordon serials in the late 1930s and early 1940s: Flash Gordon (1936), Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (1938), and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940). Each were adaptations of the comic-strip character Flash Gordon. The serials followed space explorer Flash Gordon as he battled against the forces of evil led by Ming the Merciless. The Flash Gordon serials were massive inspirations to George Lucas. Nowhere is that influence felt more than in the opening credit crawls which were directly copied from the Flash Gordon serials.
Sidenote: Below is a link to a short clip comparing the two opening credit crawls. The film also contains many other fascinating comparisons revealing other sources of inspiration for George Lucas’ Star Wars.

5.  The Scene: Simba talks to a vision of his father Mufasa in the clouds in The Lion King.

Disney’s The Lion King (1994) remains to this day as one of Disney’s most successful films.  Holding the record for the highest grossing traditionally animated film in history, The Lion King tells the story of Simba, a young lion cast into the wilderness after his father, Mufasa, was killed by his uncle Scar.  After Simba grows up, he takes control of the throne away from his evil uncle.  The film contains several memorable scenes: the opening scene where Simba is introduced to the world, the stampede where Mufasa dies, and when Scar assembles his troops in an image eerily reminiscent of the Nazi Nuremberg Rallies.  But one of the most beloved scenes is when Mufasa appears to Simba as a cloud and talks to him and inspires him to reclaim the throne as King of the Pride Lands.

Inspiration: Kimba the White Lion

Now, it would stand to reason that I should list Shakespeare’s Hamlet as the inspiration for the scene when Mufasa appears in the clouds.  After all, the story is closely modeled after Hamlet.  But I want to draw comparisons to an anime show from the 1960s called Kimba the White Lion.  It is stunning to watch Kimba because it appears that Disney created The Lion King as a carbon copy of the show.  The characters, settings, and storylines are almost exactly the same.  One of the most obvious scenes is when Kimba communicates with his own dead father who takes the form of an apparition in the clouds.  There have been many claims that Disney deliberately copied Kimba, but to this day Disney has denied all accusations of plagiarism.  Watch the clip below, which shows many of the two’s other similarities, and decide for yourself.

For the clips concerning the dead fathers, go to 1:51 and then 2:12.

4.  The scene: Indiana Jones crawling underneath a jeep in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.

There are many scenes from the original Indiana Jones film that have become pop culture staples: Indiana being chased by a giant boulder, the face melting scene, etc.  But another great scene is the epic truck chase where Indiana fights off a group of Nazis in a convoy.  The entire scene is brimming with suspenseful moments, but none are more eye-popping then when Indiana grabs the front of a truck and lets himself get pulled underneath it.  As the truck veers crazily down the road, Indiana is forced to hang on for dear life as his body is dragged along the ground.

Inspiration: Stagecoach

John Ford’s classic Western Stagecoach was a watershed moment in the history of the genre.  For the first time the Western was treated as something more than B-grade pulp.  It follows a group of eclectic strangers (including John Wayne as The Ringo Kid) as they travel in a stagecoach through dangerous Indian territory on their way to safety in the New Mexico territory.  The climax of the film involves a daring chase where the stagecoach must fight off an attacking group of Apache warriors.  The most famous part of the chase was when an Indian (played by legendary stuntman Yakima Canutt) leaps onto the stagecoach’s horses and then onto their yolk.  He is quickly shot and falls beneath the horses’ stampeding feet and is run over by the stagecoach.

3.  The scene: The opening tracking shot of the Copacabana nightclub in Boogie Nights.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights was a stunning look at the Golden Age of Pornography in Southern California during the late-sixties to the early-to-mid 1980s.  It follows the story of Eddie Adams, a high school dropout who rockets to the top of the porn world under the alias of Dirk Diggler.  The film contains a relentless energy, evident from the very first shot that takes the viewer on a tour of the club that Eddie Adams works at.  The shot is impressive because it is one long take that moves like a breeze throughout the entire set.  But it also serves to introduce most of the film’s prominent characters.

Inspiration: Goodfellas

Paul Thomas Anderson has said that the opening shot of Boogie Nights was a homage to the infamous tracking shot in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas.  Easily one of the most important tracking shots in cinema history, it follows Henry Hill, a new gangster, and Karen Hill, his wife, as they maneuver their way through the back entrance of the Copacabana club.  The scene itself demonstrates their characters’ descent into the gangster lifestyle. A technical masterpiece that weaves its way through tight spaces, crowded rooms, and long hallways, Scorsese had to film the difficult scene eight times before they got it right.  It set the milestone for the modern day tracking shot.

2.  The Scene: The tour of the Belafonte in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

In Wes Anderson’s fourth film, we follow sea captain and oceanographer Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) as he treks through the sea in search of the illusive Jaguar shark that ate his partner Esteban.  In one scene, Steve Zissou breaks the fourth wall and gives a guided tour of his ship named the Belafonte to the audience.  The Belafonte set is a gigantic cross-section of a ship, allowing the audience to see simultaneously into every room and compartment.  In a long continuous take, the camera pans from side to side, showing all of the rooms and their inhabitants.

Inspiration: Tout Va Bien

The infamous Belafonte set was directly inspired from the sausage factory from Jean-Luc Godard’s Tout Va Bien. During the film, an American journalist named Susan (Jane Fonda) and her husband Jacques are trapped inside the aforementioned factory when a strike breaks out when they attempted to interview the manager.  Intended to promote Godard’s Maoist politics through the use of traditional Western cinematic structure, the film attempted to use the strike as a metaphor for class struggle.  The cross-sectioned sausage factory allows the audience to see all of the different stages of the strike as the camera dollies back and forth. But believe it or not, Tout Va Bien did not originate the idea of a cross-sectioned set.  This piece of revolutionary cinema was inspired, in fact, by a Jerry Lewis comedy.

Inspiration: The Ladies’ Man

One of Jerry Lewis’ seminal comedies, The Ladies Man tells the story of Herbert H. Heebert.  At the start of the film, good-natured but shy Herbert loses his girlfriend.  As a result, he develops a crippling fear of women.  Wackiness ensues when he gets a job as a caretaker at a women-only boarding house.  The boarding house was constructed as a series of cross-sections, allowing the camera to observe all of the girls at once.  This leads to one of the film’s greatest scenes where the girls all wake up in the morning and prepare for the day.  The camera glides between all of the rooms and watches as the boarding house erupts into an ant-farm of activity.  The catchy jazz tune that accompanies the scene doesn’t hurt, either.  The scene in question is listed below, albeit dubbed in Spanish.

1. The scene: A baby carriage rolls down a staircase during a climatic shootout in The Untouchables.

Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables is a wild retelling of 1920s Prohibition agent Eliot Ness’ struggles to take down Al Capone. To do so, he handpicks a team of agents to create The Untouchables, a crime fighting unit capable of dealing with the legendary mob boss. In one of the film’s climatic scenes, The Untouchables go to Union Station in Chicago to apprehend Walter Payne, Capone’s accountant. What results is a wild shootout. In the midst of the firefight, a woman at the top of a flight of stairs loses control of her baby carriage. The carriage rolls down the stairs with the baby still inside.

Inspiration: The Battleship Potemkin

One of the most influential films ever made, The Battleship Potemkin is a 1925 silent film that presents a dramatized account of the 1905 mutiny of the crew of the Russian battleship Potemkin against their Tsarist officers. Noted for its pioneering use of film-making techniques (in particular the use of montage), the film’s most celebrated scene is the Odessa Steps Massacre. In it, a group of the Tsar’s Cossacks massacre a group of civilians. One of the victims of the fictionalized massacre was a mother who knocks her baby carriage down the famous flight of stairs. The scene has been quoted and replicated literally dozens of times. The most famous is the shootout in The Untouchables.

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    All very good.You could probably make a whole movie out of the scenes Tarantino imitated, the opening of the case with a shining gold hue, the back of Marcellus head as he speaks to Butch, etc.

  2. Actually, Harold Lloyd in "Safety Last" was not "hundreds of feet" in the air. The building he is on was actually on a hill, and he was three stories high tops, with ample cushioning in case he fell.

  3. Thanx for mentioning Kimba and his stolen story. I watched Kimba faithfully until they took it off the air (when I was 5: I cried for the 3 weeks following the cancellation at the time Kimba was supposed to come on). I took Kimba pretty seriously so, as you may imagine, I was indignant when I saw Lion King (or Lying King as we called it). I still don't completely understand how Disney was able to get away with plagiarizing Kimba with no repercussions.

  4. Confused yet? Yes.

    Dashiell Hammett's first novel was "Red Harvest," about the gangs of Butte, but later he wrote another called "The Glass Key," about the gangs of Baltimore. Was "The Glass Key" (the movie) based on "Red Harvest" or "The Glass Key" or some combination of both?

  5. Awesome list Nathanael, in particular number 8.

    I had pointed out this exact similarity years ago as I had never heard anyone else mention it.

    You could probably make a whole movie out of the scenes Tarantino imitated, the opening of the case with a shining gold hue, the back of Marcellus head as he speaks to Butch, etc. etc.

    I remember watching that scene with the Willis character sitting in his car at that stop, and as Marcellus walks by in front of his car, he almost makes it past the car but then pauses and turns to look. When I saw that, I was like, hmmm, that looks like it came from Psycho.

    Here's also a list of great tracking shots:

    • Aww…Thank you! I always like getting compliments for my work.

      I actually spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to figure out which Tarantino reference I would use. I eventually settled on the "Psycho" reference because…well…I could find video clips online that compared the two.

      The thing about Tarantino is that he very rarely actually copies other movies. He takes elements, plot points, and character traits from other movies and synthesizes them into his own films. It's very hard to find any instances where he copied another movie shot by shot.

      Also, thanks for the tracking shot list. I actually had already come across it while I was doing research for this list.

      • You are welcome Nathanael.

        I agree about Tarantino, he takes elements and ideas from other films and somehow makes it all original in his movies. One of his more popular ones is the 'Mexican Standoff' between armed opponents.

        In terms of the similarity between that scene in Psycho and Pulp Fiction, wasn't there also a similar sequence in Taxi Driver? I think it happened when Travis first 'meets' Jodie Foster's character as he almost runs over her at an intersection. I'm trying to find it on YouTube.

  6. Great list! That short clip from THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE was terrifying to watch, even from just a YouTube clip.

      • Blast! Netflix doesn't carry THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE and I refuse to watch a film that looks so good on YouTube or some other website. That movie deserves to be watched on a large screen TV at night with the lights out. I'll keep my eye out for it.

        Thanks, Nathanael!