In a weird way, great scenes are even more indelible than great movies. When an entire film is awesome—like all of these, for instance—you’re often held rapt from start to finish, but you don’t see the trees for the forest. And when a great performance comes along—like these remember that one person in that one role, but can’t pinpoint any single definitive moment. A killer scene is that moment. Scenes can work for any number of reasons. Maybe it’s the dialogue. Maybe it’s a car chase. Maybe it’s the incendiary presence of Denzel Washington. (If Denzel or Daniel Day-Lewis are in your scene, the odds of greatness increase dramatically.) Here are 20 scenes that stand on their own. We’ve included YouTube clips when possible, and trailers when the movie studios are too lame to allow their best scenes to go viral.
20. Slumdog Millionaire (Jamal chasing Latika)—a love scene and an action scene all rolled into one. Too bad it ain’t on YouTube. Here’s the trailer.
19. O Brother Where Art Thou? (“Man of Constant Sorrow”)—George Clooney and pals record an old-timey smash that, out here in the real world, causes a full-on revival of American roots music.
18. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (fight scene in the trees)—A bit of magical realism transformed this fight scene into a kind of treetop ballet.
17. High Fidelity (Jack Black berates a customer)—This alarmingly lifelike encounter depicts the stereotypical record-store clerk in all his snotty glory.
16. American Gangster (Denzel and Russel Crowe, in conversation)—A summit of two A-list actors, just sitting around a table shooting the breeze about incarceration.