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Top 10 Most Iconic Scenes in British Cinema

VO: Ashley Bowman
Written by Richard Bush Even if you haven't seen the movie, everyone knows these memorable moments. Welcome to WatchMojo UK and today we’re counting down the top 10 most iconic scenes in British cinema. For this list, we’re focussing on those timeless, instantly recognisable and endlessly quotable scenes from British films. We’re limiting the list to just one entry per franchise and by British, we mean any film that was heavily influenced by a British setting, studio head or production company. Also, a quick spoiler alert is necessary. Special thanks to our user RichardFB for submitting the idea on our interactive suggestion tool: WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Top 10 Most Iconic Scenes in British Cinema


Even if you haven't seen the movie, everyone knows these memorable moments. Welcome to WatchMojo UK and today we’re counting down the top 10 most iconic scenes in British cinema.

For this list, we’re focussing on those timeless, instantly recognisable and endlessly quotable scenes from British films. We’re limiting the list to just one entry per franchise and by British, we mean any film that was heavily influenced by a British setting, studio head or production company. Also, a quick spoiler alert is necessary.

#10: Queuing at the Dole Office
“The Full Monty” (1997)


Who said job searching can’t be fun? In training for a striptea se showcase, this gang of misfits makes their routine trip to the unemployment office. Whilst waiting in line, Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff" comes on the radio, which just so happens to be one of their rehearsal favourites. Instinct kicks in and hip-thrusts ensue, leaving Robert Carlyle's Gaz to admire his musical entourage from a distance. Gotta love that turn.

#9: “What have I done?”
“The Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957)


Although a war film with very little action, this movie’s two-and-a-half-hour running time is filled to the brim with dramatic encounters and first class acting - and it all culminates in this nail biting finale. With explosives rigged to blow and Alec Guinness’ Colonel Nicholson undecided on what's the right thing to do, we get this desperate delivery followed by a tense stumble to a detonator switch. And it all ends in a bang!

#8: Burnt Alive
“The Wicker Man” (1973)


You think you’ve had a bad day? When Sergeant Howie realises that his investigation into the disappearance of a girl has basically been a waste of time - and that he’s now a lamb on his way to the slaughter - he reacts like any of us would. Forced inside a giant effigy and burnt alive, the slow, tense moments beforehand, the terrified look on his face and the pure elation of the onlookers, all make this one of the creepiest and most memorable scenes in cinema.

#7: The Cliffhanger...
“The Italian Job” (1969)


British cinema has given us many tense endings, but “The Italian Job” takes the gold bullion. Making off with a bus full of riches and traversing the winding mountainous roads of the Italian Alps, suddenly, everything goes pear shaped for Michael Caine’s Charlie Croker and co. and the prize money hangs in the balance. Don’t move, don’t breathe, don’t even blink.... Michael Caine’s Charlie Croker edges closer, but it just keeps slipping from his grasp. On the edge of our seats, we’re left with Croker announcing…

#6: A Real Eye-Opener
“A Clockwork Orange” (1971)


To one of cinema’s most infamous torture scenes, and a moment that will make your teeth itch. In a bid to brainwash Malcolm McDowell's Alex into rejecting violence via the new Ludovico technique, doctors pin his eyes open and force him to watch graphic physical and sexual abuse, all to the soundtrack of Beethoven. And due to the drugs in his system, it doesn't take long for him to start feeling sick - but, he can’t look away! McDowell actually suffered temporary blindness due to a scratched cornea whilst filming this scene. Jeez.

#5: Choose Life
“Trainspotting” (1996)


Law-breaking chaos and a killer soundtrack set the tone for Danny Boyle’s 1996 hit about heroin addiction. And thanks to a dramatic monologue from Ewan McGregor’s Renton, this opening sequence has stuck with film lovers for decades. Introducing the film’s characters along the way, this intro’s fast-paced, seamlessly intertwined shots make for some of the most satisfying visuals ever put to film. And Renton’s nihilistic rant makes us all question our own materialistic creature comforts.

#4: Musical Crucifixion
“Monty Python's Life of Brian” (1979)


We were spoilt for choice with memorable moments from the Python films, with oodles of sketches and unforgettable one liners. But today, we’ve gone with the lighthearted ending to their satirical storm on religion. Crucified and awaiting death, Brian looks on as his fellow sufferers break into song, delivering what is now one of the most recited tunes ever, heard anywhere from football matches to funeral wakes. And it’s proof that the Pythons can put a humorous spin on just about anything.

#3: Rodeo Bomb
“Dr. Strangelove” (1964)


Filled with farcical nuclear war negotiations, “Dr. Strangelove” has political satire coming out of its ears. Although Peter Sellers steals the show with his numerous roles, we’re focussing on Slim Pickens’ portrayal of Major T. J. "King" Kong and his dramatic demise astride a cataclysmic bomb - it’s a scene that’s been parodied countless times. Fiddling with wires and ultimately finding himself atop a nuke as it’s about to be deployed, he sets off, hat in hand and rides it into oblivion.

#2: Chestburster
“Alien” (1979)


The fact that we see only fleeting glimpses of the famed creature throughout this film is exactly why this scene works so well. In a word, suspense. Just when we think we know what’s going on, Ridley Scott hits us for six. In this scene, the crew celebrates the return of Kane, who’s seemingly unharmed after an extraterrestrial encounter. But, we all know it’s not that simple. Taking a few mouthfuls of food, it doesn't take long for things to take a dramatic turn. Heartburn’s a bitch.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few Honourable Mentions.

Harry Lime’s Entrance
“The Third Man” (1949)

Perfumed Ponce
“Withnail and I” (1987)

Sherif Ali’s Well
“Lawrence of Arabia” (1962)

#1: The Bone
“2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968)


A simple scene in its essence, but one that insightfully points to mankind's destructive tendencies. Depicting the moment an ape discovers the catastrophic capabilities of using a tool as a weapon, it is essentially the pivotal point in history where war and conflict become a means of resolution. Together with its slow motion cinematography and a booming Richard Strauss soundtrack, it is one of the most memorable and significant scenes in history. And that transition to space - awesome.
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