Our 15 Favorite Movie Moments of the Decade

(This article is part of our Best of the Decade series.)

The /Film team has been busy ranking the 100 best movies of the decade, but one thing became clear as we assembled our lists: there was something missing. Sure, those films were the best of the past ten years, but they didn’t account for many of the individual scenes that have truly stuck with us. Sometimes, a flawed movie or simply a very good movie can leave a lasting impression or feature a character or performance or sequence that lodges itself in our mind and will not leave. So welcome to the list that celebrates that.

This is not a list of the best films of the past decade (although there is some crossover). This is a list of the singular moments that, for one reason or another, defined our personal relationship with the past ten years of cinema. 

Sing Street brothers

Brendan’s Fist Pump in Sing Street

Sing Street, the semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story from Once director John Carney about the formation of an unlikely band in 1980s Dublin, is one of my favorite films of the past decade. While the music is great throughout (“Drive It Like You Stole It” is the breakout hit, but all of the songs rule) and the budding romance between frontman Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) and aspiring model Raphina (Lucy Boynton) is complicated and charming, the film’s true heart is in the relationship between Conor and his older brother, Brendan (Jack Reynor). Brendan serves as something of a life coach for Conor, teaching him not only about girls (“No woman could ever truly love a man who listens to Phil Collins”) but about music, expanding Conor’s musical horizons with new bands and pushing him to move beyond cover songs and into the more artistically dangerous waters of writing his own songs.

With his long, scraggly hair and devil-may-care attitude, Brendan is a college dropout and the screw-up of the family. In one of the movie’s most explosive scenes, he explains to Conor how, as the oldest child, Brendan had to carve a path through the jungle of their dysfunctional family and that Conor’s success is partially because of the sacrifices he made. You can tell Brendan still loves and supports his brother, but as a former musician himself, there’s also some resentment at the fact that Conor has an opportunity that Brendan never had.

That’s why the ending of the movie is so affecting. Armed with nothing but a demo tape and some modeling photos, Conor and Raphina decide to sail off to London to pursue their dreams. Brendan aids in their escape, driving them to the docks and giving Conor some last minute advice. As the pair sail off into the rain, Brendan watches quietly from the shore before bursting into celebration. There’s such purity in his fist pumps and jumps of joy: genuine excitement for his brother, of course, but also a sense that his screw-up life has all been worth it because it led to this moment. All of his sacrifices, enduring the early days of their parents’ volatile relationship, and his missed opportunities have resulted in these crazy kids getting to throw caution and logic to the wind and just go for it. It’s a pure celebration of the pursuit of passion, and it gets to me every single time. (Ben Pearson)

 “This is our Furiosa” in Mad Max: Fury Road

There are so many incredible scenes in Mad Max: Fury Road. Hell, the entire movie is made up of them. But the one that always stands out to me is the rare moment where the film slows down for a moment. Fury Road is a propulsive film – a feature-length chase that almost never lets up.

Until it does. After a long, harrowing journey, renegade Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who is helping usher a group of women forced into sexual slavery escape from captivity, finally brings her vehicle to a stop. In the middle of the desert, she’s suddenly reunited with the tribe of women she was stolen from some time ago. “Seven thousand days,” she says she’s been gone, “Plus the ones I don’t remember.”

The women embrace her as one of their own, and Theron’s performance in this moment is remarkable. Her blazing eyes cutting through the dirt on her face, she’s finally where she belongs. And then the rug is pulled out from under her: she’s told the place she was attempting to find, an almost mythical “green place”, is no more. The world she remembers from her youth is long gone, destroyed, devastated. A memory of a dream. Furiosa staggers out into the sand and lets out a scream of rage, and hurt, and loss. It’s almost unbearable in its bruised beauty. Yes, Fury Road is loaded with great action, but it’s this one moment – a moment of joy quickly shattered – that stands out the most, and feels the most important. (Chris Evangelista)

The De-gloving in Gerald’s Game

I’ve never seen an audience react quite like they did to the climactic moment of Mike Flanagan‘s Gerald’s Game. Most viewers would see this Stephen King adaptation at home on Netflix. I saw it at Fantastic Fest, where the most upsetting act of cinematic violence I’ve ever seen could play out on a massive screen in front of a packed house.

If you’ve seen the movie, you know the moment. Jessie (Carla Gugino) has been handcuffed to a bed in her isolated country house for days. Her husband is dead from a sudden heart attack. No one is coming to save her. She will die. Unless she does something. Anything. She manages to get a hold of the glass of water on the headboard. She manages to break it. She manages to hold onto one razor-sharp shard. She manages to angle it right at her wrist. And then she begins to cut.

My friend to my left sunk deep into his seat, audibly whimpering. The woman to my right averted her eyes. Gasps and cries and screams filled the theater as everyone realized what Jessie was try to do, what she was going to do, to escape her predicament. What makes the moment so powerful is not just that it’s one of the most gruesome and impactful scenes of violence ever created – it’s that we know Jessie so well by this point and know that this is truly the only way for her to escape. We can only imagine the pain and the suffering as the flesh on her hand peels back, offering her the leverage to escape. And Flanagan’s camera, unflinching, allows us to experience this nightmare right alongside her. The camera lingers not out of cruelty, but out of love. We’re here for her. We’re here with her. And boy, does it hurt. (Jacob Hall)

The Avengers Assemble in Avengers: Endgame

There’s an entire decade of movies that came before this scene hit the big screen in late April of 2019. That’s true both of all the movies that have been released in theaters since the 2010s began, but also since the Marvel Cinematic Universe began with a hope and a prayer back in 2008 with the release of Iron Man. But this scene isn’t just the epic finale of the summer blockbuster that is Avengers: Endgame. It’s the culmination of an era of superhero movies, the conclusion of a grand experiment, and the thrilling end to a master plan that first tantalized audiences during the credits of The Avengers in 2012.

Here, we have Captain America, the first Avenger in history, standing toe-to-toe with Thanos and his massive army. We know he can do this all day. There’s no giving up from Steve Rogers. He’s lost nearly everyone who means something to him, and yet, he still has something to fight for. His uniform is filthy. His mouth his bloody. His shield is broken. He’s outnumbered. And yet here he stands in the waste of Avengers headquarters, dust and debris blocking out the sun. Then suddenly, Cap hears something. It’s the voice of his old pal Sam Wilson. And with a cheeky callback to the “On your left” line from Captain America: The Winter Soldier, all of the Avengers snapped away in Infinity War start to appear through dozens of portals, each of them poised for revenge on the titan who dusted them away for five years.

This moment may very well have been the first time that I’ve cried tears of joy in a movie theater. There are plenty of movies that I’ve loved, and more than enough movies that have pulled tears from my eyes. But never have I been in so much awe of something that I never thought I’d ever seen on screen. All of The Avengers are joined by countless warriors from around the globe (and galaxy), and they’re all ready to stand against Thanos and his armies. This is a comic book dream brought to life through blood, sweat and tears spread across 11 years of movies from Marvel Studios, and it’s a miraculous moment in blockbuster history.

If you want to know how this scene came together, read our extensive oral history on the sequence right here. (Ethan Anderton)

No Man’s Land in Wonder Woman

I remember speaking with someone about the “No Man’s Land” sequence in Wonder Woman soon after the film came out in theaters. “What is the point of that scene?” they said. “She doesn’t do anything.” It’s a sequence that, on paper, seems like a waste of time. Diana (Gal Gadot) is being ushered through the trenches at the battlefront by Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) when she hears of a village that has been taken by German soldiers. The problem: that village lies across a desolate waste of land separating the Allied troops and the German troops dubbed “No Man’s Land.” She insists on running to the rescue of the village, but Steve insists that they continue on their mission. “We can’t save everyone in this war. It’s not what we came here to do,” he argues to her. Jaw clenched, Diana lets down her hair and sheds the restrictive outfit hiding her armor — the uniform she truly feels comfortable in, wielding her femininity (the loose flowing hair!) and her masculine qualities (the shield!) in equal measure. “No, but it’s what I’m going to do,” she says, climbing up the ladder and beginning her march across No Man’s Land.

There is one moment in every (good) superhero movie where there is a “becoming.” They don their cloaks, accept their duty, and blazing-eyed, head into battle. “No Man’s Land” is the most sincere, powerful “becoming” of a superhero in years. So many recent comic book movies try to undercut that moment with a joke, but Wonder Woman doesn’t have an ironic bone in its body, and it’s never more apparent in this moving, empowering scene. Diana slowly makes her way across No Man’s Land, deflecting bullets, flipping over tanks, and — Steve realizes — drawing gunfire. He’s the first to follow her headlong into battle, and soon the rest of the soldiers follow. It’s the purest distillation of Wonder Woman’s aspirational qualities — her ability to inspire, to make people want to be better than they are. Finally, at least for this brief, shining moment, humans live up to the eternal optimism that Diana holds for them. (Hoai-Tran Bui)

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