Sunday, October 23, 2011

Ten Iconic Film Images

 I decided to do this post on iconic film images after an un-named blog I visit directed me to another un-named blog. Once there an un-named blogger posted what they considered to be their top ten iconic film images. Well to be bluntly honest I wasn't impressed with what I saw. To me they were more favorites rather than well thought, reasoned images. Certainly none were what I could honestly call 'iconic'. Some were so obscure I didn't even  know them! So it got me to thinking. What would I consider my top ten iconic film images? Believe it or not it wasn't, as I quickly found out, an easy task. First of all I have my own particular favorites. But I wanted to be more definitive rather than make the mistake I thought this un-named blogger did.

 Now I'm not trying to be a presumptuous arsehole here but what I have come up with here are ten of what I consider genuinely iconic images. I've done so through a certain criteria. Firstly, and crucially, they must be instantly recognisable to a wide cross section of film watchers. To me an iconic image cannot be one from a film only a certain type of film goer has watched. Iconic isn't from some obscure film, from an obscure studio, from an obscure director, no matter how good the film may or may not be. Secondly it must have had an impact, not only in becoming seared on the cinematic world's collective world but to have also entered the realms of popular culture. That is what an icon is. Immediately identifiable to a wide range of people and accessible to all.

 Again I stress this is not a list of personal favorites. But suffice to say several are, but are included due their own merits and not on how I feel about them. There are several I had to discard for this reason because they don't fit within the criteria I laid down. For instance the cliff jump from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which is certainly iconic ( and a personal favorite, certainly  top three with me ), but one I had to leave out. But it would certainly rate very highly in the top best of lists if I had to go past only ten. Marlon Brando as Don Corleone is certainly an iconic image, but again against the ten I have selected not quite iconic enough.

 And here I must stress something else. It is not the scene itself that I'm concerned with but with the certain image a particular scene produced. For instance Ursula Andress was in many other bikini scenes in Dr. No besides the iconic one of her walking out of the surf. That scene alone is the iconic one over the others with her and ' that bikini '. Hopefully I have set the idea in your minds as to what I'm driving at. I'm sure we all have differing ideas. But after the disappointment of what I saw on that un-mentioned blog I thought I could come up with better. I hate to say it but this blogger quite clearly stressed that they considered their choices as ' the best '. I disagreed with what I saw.

So preamble over read on!!

1. Ursula Andress, Dr. No
 For me this is quite simply the most iconic film image ever! I reviewed 1961's Dr No recently and went into greater detail about this scene. Why is so iconic? Simply put it is so instantly recognisable to a wide cross section of film watchers. Think about it. How many people can honestly say that they can't name the actress or the film it is from? And that is the crux of it. Sean Connery may have been the star, and this a Bond film, but quite simply put Ursula Andress and 'that white bikini'  have stolen the show. Again think about it. Which image immediately springs to mind when you think of Dr. No? Exactly!! Andress' when she first walks out of the surf on Crab Key!! Parodied? Oh yes!! ( Even the Bond franchise knows the power of this image having parodied it with Halle Berry in Die Another Day  and Daniel Craig in Casino Royale ). Controversial in its day it is now truly iconic. And as we shall see several of these images, whilst controversial, came to define what iconic meant.

2. Marilyn Monroe, The Seven Year Itch
 Hmmm ( or is it mmmmm!! ) what is it with thighs and iconic images??!! Anyway this was a difficult choice to place in only second spot. Why?? Well unlike Andress in Dr. No it must be faced that many people, whilst instantly recognising Marilyn Monroe, may possibly be unable to name the film it is from. I mean personally I haven't seen The Seven Year Itch and yet I know the image. In fact I knew the image so well that I had to search around to find which Marilyn film it was from! The problem for the film itself is the image has over shadowed it somewhat. Again as we have already seen with Andress and Dr. No this isn't the only film to suffer this. So you see my point about Andress image being slightly more iconic just in sheer nameabilty as an actress and the film her scene is from. But seriously Marilyn's famous New York grate scene, more than any other, defines the word iconic. This has entered popular culture no end and the parodies have been endless. Even the recent Smurfs movie sees Smurfette doing her own ' grate ' scene!! And if that isn't enough this very dress, from this very scene, earlier this very year sold at auction for a staggering US$4.6 million!! Is that iconic enough for you? Compare that to the paltry US$64,000 for Andress' bikini of a few years back!

3. The shower scene, Psycho
 Again controversial for its depiction of other words...more thigh!!!!! Mmmmm thigh! Not that I mind even though most it is done by a body double and not Janet Leigh herself. But whilst the whole scene is famous beyond words its most enduring image is not of Janet Leigh, or her scream, but of the silhouetted knife wielding 'mother' of Norman Bates. But unlike Marilyn Monroe's image above I'm sure almost everyone can not only name the two actors, but also the film the scene is from, and probably just as likely, the fact they have seen Psycho. Maybe though its most enduring legacy is that this is the grandfather of the 'slasher' films. Wannabes like Jason,  Freddy and Michael all owe their existence to Norman Bates. But none, I repeat none, have even come close to Psycho. It is an undisputed masterpiece and in the AFI's top 100 greatest films. Yes this is an iconic image from what could quite possibly be the best known, most talked about scene, in cinematic history.

4. Burt Lancaster & Deborah Kerr, From Here To Eternity
 Mmmmmm even more thigh...and I ain't talking about Burt Lancaster's hairy pins!!!! Again just how iconic is this???? In all honesty after just three images I'm finding it difficult in how to keep finding plaudits!! But this image really doesn't need any does it? We all know the film and the actors. And like the previous iconic images it follows it has been parodied and imitated endlessly, but never beaten. Funnily enough when at the flicks seeing Real Steel the other day the trailer for the new Twilight film played. In it there was a scene that parodied this except in a waterfall. But its nod to Lancaster's and Kerr's scene is unmistakable. Again what an uproar this created in 1953. Even today it is still a seriously provocative scene. Iconic is quite simply the only word for it and has come to define the whole film. Like the previous three images, whose image defines their respective films, this is the one that instantly comes to mind when From Here to Eternity is mentioned.

5. Shirley Eaton, Goldfinger
 Unlike Ursula Andress the name Shirley Eaton is relatively obscure to most. This is unfortunate because she has left us with one of cinemas most enduringly recognisable images. One look and almost anyone can instantly name the film. As a Bond fan it is with delight that I include this image because it just shows the sheer enormity of the Bond phenomenon in that it has left two iconic images on our memories. Oh has thighs!!! Mmmmm smooth gold painted ones ( imagine my tongue hanging out Homer Simpson style!! ). The thing here is that the franchise itself knows the power and instant draw card of this image, and paid homage to in Quantum of Solace where the utterly yummy Gemma Arterton was covered in black paint. Of course her character ' just Fields ' was drowned in oil. I really liked this oil homage scene from a Bond film that was somewhat maligned even though it made 1/2 billion at the box office!! As to the image above, iconic? Absolutely. For me personally, superb, just superb.
6. The bike jump, The Great Escape
What no thighs? Bugger this just will not do!! But anyway again what is there to say? One look at the image says it all. Even though it is not Steve McQueen who done this iconic stunt it is his character in the film. McQueen is an iconic movie star and even though he is the flaw within an otherwise fine film this image is instantly recognisable. It is just so iconic on so many levels. As a stunt and as an image but also as a scene within a very good film. Unfortunately in many ways it has overshadowed the whole film and has come to define it. In our collective memories this image is the one that instantly comes to mind. This is the films major flaw and one I explored in great depth in my recent review. Iconic yes, but with an unfortunate undertone to it. ( This has got me to thinking of the top ten iconic film stunts of which this would be one ).

7. Slim Pickens, Dr .Strangelove
 Just how iconic can an image get??!! This is such an instantly recognisable image that certainly comes close, but doesn't quite define, Stanley Kubrick's 1964 masterpiece. I think Peter Seller's brilliant three pronged performance also are instantly thought of when this film is mentioned. And rightly so ( but even George C Scott's performance is masterful as the deranged general ). In such a great film it is a case of brilliant performances that are not overshadowed by the image it is most famous for. If anything when I look at it it conjures up the whole film with Slim Pickens' nuke ride. This was a film I was fortunate enough to see on the big screen three years ( I also saw A Clockwork Orange in the same theatre way back in 1991 ). I consider it Kubrick's best film and one that has left an image that has been parodied any number of times. Again how many don't know the image or the film? Iconic? You bet your sweet ass it is!!

8. Julie Andrews, The Sound Of Music
 Where are your thighs Julie?? Come on this iconic image-ville and female thighs are mandatory to iconicness....seemingly!!! Anyway I cannot ever, ever, ever tell you how much I abso-fucking-lutely hate this film!! Seriously this would be near on number one as the film I hate the most!! ( In fact I don't like musicals in general but I make an exception for the wonderful, delightful, masterful The Wizard of Oz ). I have come to this point because for soooo many Christmases in a row this played on NZ telly. This and Jaws would have to be the MOST heavily screened films on NZ telly over the years. Every bloody Christmas I had to endure Julie Andrews run up that god forsaken hill, spread her arms and warble out those hateful lines 'The hills are alive to the sound of music.' Honestly cutting my danglies of with a rusty razor blade holds more appeal than EVER sitting through that scene again!! No kidding, but when ever I see it I run screaming from the room with my hands over ears. I can be found later hiding under my bed as a quivering nervous wreck!!!!!!!! But The Sound of Music is undoubtedly a great film and I do acknowledge it as such. The image above again is incredibly iconic just because it is so instantly recognisable. But it goes a bit further than just being able to name the actress and film because there is 'that' ( arrrrgggggghhhhhhh ) song as well. Now if you don't mind I want to crawl under my bed for a while as I can hear it in my mind right now!! Nooooooooooooooooo!!

9. E.T
  Enough said. For you who lived through E.T and saw in it on the big screen in 1982 you will understand this image more than those who didn't. From a film with an unbelievable amount of heart this image is so iconic it has quite simply defined the 1980's as a decade. Anything to do with the 80's would be incomplete without this image. In 1982 E.T was more than a film, it was an event, and one of the few films that you lived through and experienced rather than just watched. The first three Star Wars films were very much like. And certainly the Bond films once had this as well.

10. George C. Scott, Patton
 Ah yes how can this not be called iconic?! That flag is huge and absolutely dwarfs George C. Scott who is in the second film to make this list! Of course the film is regarded as one of the greats and this scene, like the other 9 so far, has come to define it. When ever Patton is mentioned it is this flag scene and the speech that  come to mind. It is iconic because again the actor and the film are instantly recognisable to a wide cross section of people. What?? There is actually a whole film that follows this scene??!!!

 Well there it is, my top 10!! Believe me folks it wasn't as easy as you'd think to come up with just 10. Give it a go if you don't believe me. Like I stated these are not personal favorites but images I think truly iconic with an enduring legacy. One look at them says it all. And what must be remembered is that the images are not necessarily from great scenes. There are far greater cinematic scenes than some of those above which haven't produced an iconic image. But in saying that 6 out of the 10 are out of films on the AFI's top 100 greatest films list. And as an example of how difficult this was I thought I throw in two more. They are examples of instantly identifiable images which ask the question, just great scene or iconic image as well?

Rob Scheider, Jaws
 Jaws. The name alone conjures up any number of images and feelings among us all. An iconic film with an iconic theme da dum da dum da dum in ever increasing tempo. You ALL know it.!! I think along with Psycho this would have to be one of the most watched and talked about films ever made. Its place in popular culture cannot be disputed and again it is on the AFI's top 100 greatest films list. Whether it is a great film or not is a moot point because it's place in our collective memories is permanently cemented. My iconic image from the film is the one where Rob Scheider's character turns around and sees the shark for the first time. Unfortunately I cannot find a shot of the precise moment but it is soooo identifiable. The image above is only seconds before it. The look on his face is priceless and we all know the immortal words he next splutters out to Robert Shaw ' You are going to need a bigger boat '. A true Mastercard moment and black humour at its finest.

Linda Blair, The Exorcist
 This seminal horror has several memorable scenes, from Reagan spider walking down the stairs ( a genuinely creepy sight ) to her levitating. But in a film with so many creepy moments the 360 head turn must rate as the best known, which has left an iconic image in the process. But again just how iconic is it and how great? Is it good enough to actually be called ' great' ? Possibly not becasue a whole wealth of people do not watch horror films so this would be unknown to them. And this is the point. But like so many images it is the one that is instantly talked about whenever the film is spoken off to those who have watched it ( conversely there are many who haven't seen the film and yet still know the scene ). I couldn't believe my eyes when I first saw it over twenty five years ago!! Even today it chills my blood and The Exorcist is an iconic film all by itself. Many have come and tried to take its crown but none have been able to capture the sheer atmosphere of evil and genuine creepiness of this great horror. Often imitated...but never, never beaten! The Exorcist is to horror films like Paranormal Activity and The Exorcism of Emily Rose etc what Psycho is to the abundance of ( way inferior ) slasher flicks.

So what say you?? What are your most iconic film images? Hopefully I have set a criteria and you get my point. Whilst I'm not asking you to agree with my choices I'm sure you can see where I'm coming from. A great scene does not necessarily equate to producing a great enduring image. I mean I couldn't think of one from great films such as Casablanca or Gone with the Wind. The Wizard of Oz has so many wonderful images it was impossible to pick one I could consider iconic. I mean most scenes included the yellow brick road and that alone couldn't be considered iconic.

 Seriously give this some thought because it isn't easy!!!


  1. Very good, I must admit I had forgotten some of these but good memories, my favourites are Jaws and Goldfinger..any chance of a link to the other blog to see what he considers the best.

  2. Brilliant read as always Brent :-)

    All recognisable even with my limited knowledge of the classics

    K :-)

  3. Thanks Karina. Now that I have done it I keep thinking of others and wonder if they should have been included instead. It is not an easy choice to pick just ten. I think the first seven are fairly difinitive though.

  4. I am tempted to do it too - will have to have a think although my list will be pretty standard I think!

  5. Nice write-up! The Psycho shower scene is a classic.

  6. Ah karina welcome to headache land because it isn't easy. SeveralI wish I had put in instead..3 to be exact. But I may do another post like it after some net surfing saw me bump into some other interesting ideas of film images.

    Thanks Ty. A lot of work not helped by two glitches by Blogger that saw the first two attempts delete before my eyes as I was typing them. I kid you not. Psycho is definitey a classic and deserves to be there as it is truly iconic. I have seen other lists on the net do similar things and ALL the images I have on their lists but these people went up to 50!

  7. The humanoid ape standing upright and throwing the animals bone into the air from, 2001 A Space Odyssey? I always think of that one...

    And charlie chaplin and the girl,with their backs to the camera,walking down that country road is another one off the top of my head...

  8. There are plenty to pick from and it isn't easy. My point is that they must be known to a wide cross section of people and not just film aficianados. In my ten there are three I would now change if I had the chance to do it again.
    I could list at least 50 I'd call genuinely iconic but judging them from 1 to 50 would be too dificult and time consuming.