The 60s was an era of film that took the leaps that were made during the preceding decade and built on those advancements to help the medium grow into a juggernaut of entertainment. Westerns, comedies, historical epics and other genres all thrived during this time while science fiction evolved into one of the premier genres of film and a man known as James Bond made his cinematic debut. Throughout this decade some of the most quotable lines, iconic filming styles and even some of the most terrifying and graphic horror scenes for the time all left a lasting impact as iconic examples of the magic of filmmaking at its best. Today we time travel back to the 60s and explore the best movie moments I could find that remain iconic, memorable and often imitated but never truly duplicated to this day. These are my picks for the Top 10 Movie Moments of the 1960s.
For this list I looked at famous movie moments that premiered on the big screen from 1960 through 1969. These are the moments that introduced us to memorable characters, lasting concepts, revolutionary filming styles and more. During this decade visuals and deeper elements to storytelling helped push filmmaking in a new direction and the ideas of franchises and more graphic cinematic sequences tested the limitations of the medium and what viewers would be willing to accept as part of the art. This is part of a series of lists spanning the decades of film which will all culminate to my picks for the Top 20 Movie Moments of All Time at the end of September. The top FOUR moments of every list will be considered for the ultimate list later this month.
For the sake of this series iconic moments are considered any brief or extended moments in a single project that have left a lasting impression on viewers. These can be monologues, one-shots, or several minutes of filming as long as everything is set in one place and takes place in succession before changing to a new setting, idea or perspective.
So, let’s dive into a decade that pushed the boundaries of film as a visual artform and a tool for social commentary. What is your favorite movie moment from the 1960s? Let me know in the comments below and be sure to check back all throughout the month of September to see my other lists spanning the decades. If you’d like to catch up you can view my first two lists of Classic Movie Moments and 50s Movie Moments.
10. Bonnie and Clyde are Gunned Down, “Bonnie and Clyde”
A slightly obscure pick for this list when you consider some of the moments I decided to leave out, this impressively shot scene from the 1967 classic “Bonnie and Clyde” shows the final moments of the famed criminal duo after they have been hunted down and they walk into a trap. There’s great buildup to the scene as Bonnie and Clyde seem at peace with their situation, but when they stop beside the road to help a man with a flat tire they soon realize they have been tricked and share a quick moment where they seem to understand the hopelessness of their predicament with Warren Beatty’s Clyde sharing a concerned expression while Faye Dunaway’s Bonnie simply smiles as if to say “well honey, it’s been a good ride”. The two are then shot to death in a spray of bullets with the legendary performers bringing to life one of the most famous death scenes in all of film. It looks like they feel every bullet and the viewer can feel every shot as well. This moment helped “Bonnie and Clyde” become a counterculture icon of “New Hollywood” and was a big part of the film’s many instances of bucking traditional taboos of the industry. It’s a classic death scene that remains just a poignant over 50 years later.
9. The First Bond Girl, “Dr. No”
There are a LOT of moments in this 1962 classic that I could have chosen for this list. “Dr. No”, being the first Bond film, established many tropes of not only the Bond franchise but spy films in general. However, by far the most deserving moment for this list is the introduction of the first Bond girl Honey Rider, played by Ursula Andress, who meets the famed spy on a beach while collecting shells. Ryder is shown wearing a white bikini while also having a sheathed knife by her side. This moment not only established the nature and image of a “Bond Girl” but the bikini itself became an iconic piece of clothing today cited as one of the most famous pieces of swimwear ever. The image of Honey Ryder came at an important time in American history during the sexual revolution of the 60s and presented a strong, independent woman in revealing swimwear when that idea had yet to truly be accepted in the general public. Today Honey Ryder’s debut as she walks into the screen is considered to be one of cinema’s most iconic and erotic moments and I can promise many men who see this film even on repeat viewings can probably relate to James Bond’s expression as they watch the moment unfold.
8. The Bullet Proof Vest, “A Fistful of Dollars”
I originally considered the standoff scene from “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” for this list but when fans often think of Sergio Leone’s “Dollars” Trilogy it’s the bullet proof vest that is usually the first moment that comes to mind. The trilogy helped define the spaghetti western genre and 1964’s “A Fistful of Dollars” started it all. Among its many memorable moments is the closing standoff that solidified the badassness of Clint Eastwood as it was the legendary actor’s first starring role as the Man With No Name, known as the Stranger in this installment. This iconic moment sees the Stranger approaching the final confrontation having equipped himself with a steel chest-plate beneath his poncho. His opponent aims for the heart leading the shots to simply ricochet as the Stranger takes aim and fends off the assailants in style. The moment is without a doubt the most memorable in this iconic trilogy and was even mimicked and directly referenced in the “Back to the Future” trilogy years later. It’s a fitting conclusion to a thrilling western film and quite possibly the most well-known case of bullets versus a bullet proof vest in all of cinema.
7. The Seduction, “The Graduate”
The 1967 film “The Graduate” is as legendary as it gets. It’s artistic, socially relevant even today and contains some of the decade’s most respected performances. While it’s final scene with “Sound of Silence” playing as two lovers ride off into an uncertain future is certainly a memorable one I chose to include one of the movie’s first big moments on this list instead. “The Graduate” stars Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin Braddock who is fresh out of college and uncertain about his future. Braddock gets the opportunity many men have come to fantasize about when he has the chance to engage in an affair with a woman who just happens to be married to his father’s business partner. Mrs. Robinson’s attempt to seduce Braddock is filled with tension and delightful discomfort not to mention some awesomely quotable dialogue. It went against convention of the time normalizing the idea of extramarital affairs and essentially popularizing the male fantasy of an older, likely married woman finding interest in a younger male. There are many great moments that stick from “The Graduate” but it’s this one that encompasses almost everything great about this movie and who can forget that perfect shot framed by Mrs. Robinson’s leg?
6. Riding a Nuclear Bomb, “Dr. Strangelove”
“Dr. Strangelove” is one of the most notable comedies of the 60s (released in 1964) and was meant to satirize the Cold War conflict with commentary of politics and mutually assured destruction. There are many notable and often quoted scenes in this project. I mean who can’t resist yelling the ironic quote “gentlemen you can’t fight in here, this is the war room”? But when we talk about specific movie moments few if any scenes from this film are as notable as the nuclear bomb ride. The scene takes place in the closing moments of the film as bomber commander T.J. Kong repairs the door in his plane allowing the bomb to fall. Unfortunately he is sitting on top of the bomb so he goes down with it and resigns to his fate riding the bomb like a rodeo bull waving his hat in the air in a fit of joy at what he has done essentially sparking nuclear war. I personally always saw this moment as a symbolic representation of the trigger happy hands of politicians and the joy they and some who see the military as a war machine find in creating conflict. The beauty of this scene is it leaves a mark for so many reasons. Some see it like I do as some sort of symbolism, some see it as just an amusing and ridiculous moment meant to help cap of an amazing comedy. This is probably why it’s the one scene from “Dr. Strangelove” that you’re familiar with even if you have yet to see the film.
5. “The Hills Are Alive”, “The Sound of Music”
One of the most iconic musicals of all time is 1965’s “The Sound of Music” which sports many great moments but its most iconic is by far the very first scene of the film where Julie Andrews as Maria von Trapp immediately brings the audience into the film with her singing of the titular track. Her beautiful performance immediately grips viewers and promises something grand and epic while also speaking to the optimism and personality of her character which carries throughout the film. The view of Andrews in an open field with the hills in the background and her arms wide open singing those immortal words has been forever etched into the history books as a snapshot of classic cinema and today it’s still impossible not to hear her amazing performance even when just seeing a picture of this iconic scene. It’s movie making magic that promised something big and delivered earning “The Sound of Music” multiple Oscars including Best Picture and won Andrews a Golden Globe. Even if you’ve never seen this amazing film you know this moment, you know this song, and few can ever help but sing along and revel in the majesty of the cinematography in those opening minutes.
4. Breakfast and Window Shopping, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”
The 1961 award winning “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” starts off with this notable introduction scene that is probably one of the most famous opening character moments in all of cinema. Audrey Hepburn plays Holly Golightly in the film and we get our first look at Holly as she exits a taxi and calmly begins to enjoy her breakfast as she looks at the many items in the window at Tiffany & Co. in New York City. It’s a simple scene overlaid by the opening credits but it tells us everything we need to know about Holly. She’s a socialite dressed in elegant attire who doesn’t mind indulging in a store bought bun and coffee but is still obsessed with the products in the Tiffany store. She’s the perfect combination of casual and sophisticated and as we come to understand her obsession with money and the reasons behind it, both selfish and selfless, this first showing of her personality and image becomes an even more poignant character introduction than it was at first glance. Not to mention that she is literally eating breakfast at Tiffany’s. It’s a neat and simple moment that has stuck with fans for decades as it introduces a role that helped earn Audrey Hepburn an Oscar nomination and challenged her to play against her own personality to pull it off.
3. The Dawn of Man, “2001: A Space Odyssey”
Going back to Stanley Kubrick, the legendary director had a lot of great success in films prior to his groundbreaking science fiction piece that revolutionized conceptual storytelling and visual effects. “2001: A Space Odyssey”, released in 1968, is filled with visual brilliance and style but it’s the opening sequence that gets the nod here known as “The Dawn of Man”. While yes this sequence doesn’t completely fit my rules for this list as it shifts between days and locations nearby to each other pick any one monet in this 9-minute opening and they all fit here. The sequence features ancient hominids finding a monolith that seemingly influences them to utilize bones as weapons thus exploring the origin of man’s use of tools to solve their problems while also asking questions of our origins that, honestly, remain unanswered throughout the rest of the project. Topping it off is the soundtrack. That epic, iconic and often overused overture called “Also Sprach Zarathustra” or simply the “Space Odyssey Theme” speaks to something grand and significant happening on screen as if the evolution of man is the start of something much more profound and important still to come. “A Space Odyssey” is a spectacular film that revolutionized the art for years to come and adding in scenes like this is why the film remains one of the genre’s all time best.
2. The Big Twist, “Planet of the Apes”
How could this not make this list? Released in 1968, the same year as “A Space Odyssey”, “Planet of the Apes” practically founded the concept of the epic movie twist with one of the most iconic movie moments in history in its conclusion. After everything that Charlton Heston’s George Taylor goes through in this film he soon finds himself staring down an unfortunate truth as he rides along the shoreline to his freedom with Nova. The two come across what’s left of the Statue of Liberty revealing to Taylor, and the audience, that the setting has not been an alien planet as originally assumed. Taylor is on Earth years after a nuclear war leading Taylor to fall to his knees and condemn humanity with a slew of now famous movie quotes. Heston captures the moment perfectly as a man who understands the unfortunate realization he has come to. Humanity destroyed itself, there is no way home for Taylor, and any hope he had of returning to the life he once knew is now extinguished. Not only is he trapped in a reality where he must fight to survive, that reality is the result of man’s own hand and he can do nothing to change that. It makes up one of the most iconic movie twists of all time and one of the most iconic moments ever put to film.
1. The Shower Scene, “Psycho”
There could be no other. Not from the 60s anyway. Alfred Hitchcock brings us the top moment on this list from the oldest film featured, 1960’s “Psycho”. One of the most iconic horror movies ever released, “Psycho” turned the tables on audiences by killing off its major character and lead actress in only the first act. It’s that immortal moment that earns the top spot as we see who we are led to believe is Norma Bates taking a knife to Marion Crane while she is in the shower. For the time it was a brutal murder scene accented by the dark blood flowing into the drain (which was really chocolate syrup). It was considered graphic and ushered in a new era of horror with more detailed violence incorporated into stories. The moment went down in history as one of the most recognizable scenes ever and inspired many parodies, imitations and callbacks to the murder that continue to pop up decades later. I don’t think there’s any real movie fan who doesn’t know of the shower scene and its impact on cinema. It’s a fantastically and creatively shot moment that not only defined its film but redefined the limitations of an entire genre to the point where “Psycho” is often considered among the greatest cinematic achievements ever.