2021 witnessed the triumphant return of theatres, and with that, films worthy of watching on the big screen came back in droves, with moviegoers hungry for new content.
This list celebrates all the movie moments this year, from super-powered blockbusters to historical dramas that left us inconsolable. Whether these films were the most anticipated superhero flick of the year, a film festival stand-out, or the worst piece of cinema in recent memory, they all share one thing in common: a scene we cannot and will not shut up about.
Here are the best movie moments to grace us with their presence this year in no particular order.
Warning: This list will include spoilers for the films discussed, including Spider-Man: No Way Home, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, and Eternals. Proceed at your own risk.
1. Chris Evans’ Cameo — Free Guy
Free Guy understands the power it wielded as a Disney property, throwing easter-eggs and cameos at us with satire authentic to Ryan Reynold’s love for fourth-wall-breaking. Then, with million dollars of licensing at its disposal, Free Guy’s grand finale gloriously assaults fans with an assortment of Marvel and Star Wars references.
This battle comes to a violent, gasp-inducing climax when Reynold’s Guy, seemingly about to be pummeled by a much buffer version of himself, reaches into his arsenal of weapons and emerges with Captain America’s iconic shield. The Marvel theme swells, and the camera mercilessly cuts to the super-soldier himself, Chris Evans, outraged at the sight of Deadpool manhandling his vibranium shield. We may never recover from this impromptu Steve Rogers reunion, and Reynolds knows it.
Free Guy managed to pull one over on its audiences to induce Avengers: Endgame-level chaos in a time of unavoidable spoilers. This scene somehow reinforces how fanservice will kill authentic storytelling while giving us one of cinema’s best cameos to date.
“What the shit,” indeed, Evans.
2. Who You Gonna Call? — Ghostbusters: Afterlife
One could argue that Ghostbusters: Afterlife is the film that Free Guy warned us about. Fortunately, no amount of authenticity-killing fan fare matters when you have the nostalgia of witnessing the four original Ghostbusters reunite on screen.
To have Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Ernie Hudson come to the aid of these recruits in their jumpsuits with the iconic Ecto-1 framed behind them is a moment — maybe even the entire moment. Their presence is a powerful nostalgic trip and ingenious box office money-grab, but the resurrected banter shared amongst these men takes us right back to the classic films.
The best moments of Afterlife explore Egon Spengler’s legacy through the spectacled eyes of his brilliant granddaughter. The scene echoes this when a rendering of Harold Ramis’ Spengler saves his teammates from a ghostly fate. It’s a tasteful, gut-wrenching tribute to the actor’s legacy and an impossible reunion made tangible.
Just as Spengler stays silent to preserve the moment, there are no words to describe the magnificent sight of all four busters standing side by side again with their proton guns raised.
3. “My Beautiful, Beautiful Makkari” — Eternals
The way Eternals could have this entire list of best movie moments if it wanted is proof that Chloé Zhao more than understood the assignment, especially when it came to Makkari and Druig.
The characters in this film are all so loveable that it is ironic the two with the fewest minutes of screen time would become the stand-out pairing of this ensemble. But there’s no denying the things we feel when Druig, with a leather jacket and weirdly hot bowl-cut, utters the words “My beautiful, beautiful Makkari” in that rich Irish accent of his. The nerve this man has to match her mischievous grin and sign, “Did you miss me?”
In a handful of swoon-worthy scenes, this fleeting interaction defines their scorching-hot chemistry instantaneously. It’s a romantic bond that goes unspoken, consuming everything as they nudge each other playfully and tilt their heads up at one another in acknowledgment — which later leads to their iconic forehead touch (a move that puts the traditional kiss to shame).
It is a testament to Lauren Ridloff and Barry Keoghan’s chemistry that two minutes of interacting stole the entire show. Oh, how Makkari’s face lights up in Druig’s presence, and he signs to her with sexual tension practically rolling off his tongue. They are jumping each other’s bones after centuries apart, and poor Kingo, tasked with the clutch comedic response, asks, “Is this new? Because I hate it.”
We certainly don’t hate how Druig and Makkari turned just four words into an epic love story.
4. “Come to Your Senses” — Tick, Tick… Boom!
Many are recognizing Andrew Garfield for his role as the late great artist Jonathan Larson in Tick, Tick… Boom!, and rightly so.
The movie is brimming with musical numbers that act as emotional tributes to an artist gone far before his time. However, the genuine stand-out moment in a film filled with otherwise phenomenal performances is the song “Come to Your Senses.” Alexandra Shipp and Vanessa Hudgens are absolutely show-stopping in a movie that centers around Garfield and his portrayal of an artist running out of time.
The seamless and moving transitions between Shipp and Hudgens are effective, highlighting the urgency of the message conveyed. The lyrics themselves are a call to arms for a relationship on the rocks that is still, by all accounts, worth fighting for. Although Garfield does not actually sing in this number, it becomes clear this is a moment for his character to take a pause and face a healthy dose of reality.
This number is an absolute stand-out in a movie full of phenomenal songs.
5. James Bond’s Farwell — No Time to Die
Regardless of your feelings for this final Daniel Craig outing, one must appreciate the explosive fireworks that close out this installment.
There’s nothing more powerful than the ultimate sacrifice as No Time to Die forces Bond to the horrifying realization that if he were to live, he would put those he loves at risk. So Bond gives the order to set the villain’s lair ablaze while he is still on the island, his lover watching his demise play out from afar.
Our Bond Girl’s parting words to him are the real gut-punch here. “She does have your eyes,” Madeline says, confirming that Mathilde is his daughter, and Bond lets his parting words, “I know,” echo through the theatre as the missiles begin to rain down around him.
It marks the first time in 59 cinematic years that Bond has paid the ultimate price. His death comes at a crucial moment as Daniel Craig moves to other roles, and James Bond looks to settle down with a family. Yet we leave this version of 007 looking truly at peace with his decision as Craig commands the screen one last time.
For a franchise incapable of dying, No Time to Die gives us an irrevocable farewell that goes out with one hell of a bang.
6. “I don’t get my period, dipshit” — Black Widow
Because the gorgeous masterpiece that is the opening credits of Black Widow does not technically qualify as a “scene,” I turn to the next best thing – Yelena Belova being a comedian in times of peril.
When Alexei is punched for being the worst fake father, he responds as all weak men do with, “Why the aggression, huh? Is it your time of the month?” Yelena wastes no time tearing into his inability to understand what a hysterectomy is, retorting, “I don’t get my period, dipshit. I don’t have a uterus.”
It is a fact he should know, given Alexei is the one who delivered Natasha and Yelena to the Red Room, an organization that forces its widows to undergo an invasive hysterectomy to ensure they can never reproduce. Unfortunately, the film’s script also overlooked this imperative fact. Still, writer Eric Pearson insists the offence joke demonstrates how out of touch Red Guardian is. So instead of removing the line from the film, director Cate Shortland decided to have the scene challenge it.
Ultimately, Florence Pugh’s improv anatomy lesson made the final cut and turned what could have been one of the biggest blunders of the story into one of this year’s stand-out scenes.
She dismisses Whedon’s previous missteps when discussing Natasha’s lack of ovaries while regaining agency of period jokes in a way that plays to her comedic timing. Yelena using expressive hand gestures to describe the process of having all her reproductive organs yanked out and chopped to pieces, will never stop being morbidly funny.
7. Jamie Dornan Singing “Everlasting Love” — Belfast
Jamie Dornan serenading Caitríona Balfe in Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast is a defining movie moment of 2021. It comes at the absolute perfect moment in the movie after the audience has followed this family through tragedy, heartbreak, and violence.
Dornan’s rendition of “Everlasting Love” is electric and a perfect character beat for a man who spends the entirety of this film trying to do right by his family. Dornan and Balfe’s chemistry is evident throughout, and this moment is a perfect encapsulation of both of their talents. It is a breathtaking glimpse of joy and only enhances the emotional journey the audience has been on up until this moment.
It hasn’t hurt at all that Dornan continues to oblige requests at red carpets and during press appearances to serenade audiences around the world while promoting the movie. In a film filled with gorgeous cinematography, music, and style, this scene has made such an impact on audiences. It will likely solidify itself as an iconic movie moment not soon forgotten.
8. Wenwu and Ying Li’s Meet Cute — Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Shang-Chi’s opening scene is quite the mic drop.
When Ten Rings leader Wenwu, played by legendary actor Tony Leung, conquers all but the village of Ta Lo, he sets out to locate the entrance. Instead, he finds a female warrior by the name of Ying Li. Despite her intimidating mask, he sees her as an easy opponent. However, Ying Li has mastered the art of manipulating air and matches Wenwu’s force with a cunning and weightless form of martial arts.
It’s a fight scene, unlike anything the superhero blockbuster genre has produced and visualizes the importance of authentic cultural storytelling. The fight is sleek, slowing movements and using airflow to reposition the lens constantly. It forces our two subjects to rely on their wits. Even then, it is clear Ying Li’s defence style is far more potent than Wenwu’s aggressive combat. She is a goddess as she skirts around the clearing, a playful smile on her lips and the ten rings easily within her control.
It is an epic battle for Ta Lo that spirals into the cutest of meet-cutes as the two begin to fall in love and their opposing desires succumb to scorching chemistry. The energy between Leung and Fala Chen is ridiculous, with each longing glance lingering long enough to drive that sexual tension home.
There is no dialogue but the heart of their relationship, and the lasting implications of their worlds colliding sets the rest of the film up for success.
9. The Gucci Prayer — House of Gucci
House of Gucci is a peculiar movie in that its cast is spectacular, but the film itself doesn’t quite embody that same glamour. However, the bejewelled satire biopic certainly had enough stand-out scenes to draw people in with a memorable trailer and a chaotic sex scene between Lady Gaga and Adam Driver that will live on in all its cinematic greatness.
However, when it comes to this year’s stand-out scenes, all it takes to put House of Gucci on this list is Lady Gaga being her incredibly talented self and one impeccably improved line.
As this cunning and fiercely dramatized version of Patrizia stands before Paulo, she feels compelled to ensure this man she is many things but a saint. So, without missing a beat and her hands moving in a mock prayer motion, Gaga swears on her new family inheritance with the mantra, “Father, Son, and House of Gucci.”
It is a line that has become more iconic than the film itself and one entirely ad-libbed by Gaga while filming bites for the trailer. However, the prayer suited the scene so well that the director kept it in the final cut. With many of the actress’s lines from this film taking on a life of their own, Lady Gaga has solidified herself as a powerful force within the academy.
10. Meeting of the Spider-Men — Spider-Man: No Way Home
Spider-Man: No Way Home saved the best movie moment for last. The film’s long-awaited premiere finally answers whether or not Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire return to the spidey-verse with one unforgettable reveal.
There is shock as we witness Ned and Mitchelle call out for Peter Parker with Doctor Strange’s portal ring, and the Spider-Man that answers is not Tom Holland. Of course, everyone had their suspicions but witnessing a tall figure in The Amazing Spider-Man costume approach is still baffling. We stifle back gasps as the hero yanks the mask off, and we are left starring at Garfield’s joyous face.
As far as entrances go, No Way Home more than understood the assignment here.
What ensues is a reminder of why The Amazing Spider-Man movies never understood Garfield’s greatness as he refuses to crawl across the ceiling for Michelle and adorably gives in after being pelted mercilessly with bread rolls. After seven years, Andrew put on that expensive suit just to swat away invisible cobwebs for Ned’s grandmother. We never deserved this man.
Then Macquire appears like an ethereal hallucination from nostalgia’s past. The original web-slinger is cool, calm, and collected as he introduces himself as Peter Parker to Zendaya’s MJ, but we are understandably a mess in his presence. Marvel giving Macquire the right to claim his throne as the first Spider-Man is one of those theatre experiences you never forget.
No Way Home boasts an infinite number of extraordinary scenes featuring the three generations of spider-men — like the masterpiece that is Andrew’s Peter saving MJ and then breaking into tears. However, this first meeting speaks to the greatness of their historical union. Andrew and Tobey are not only in this movie. They kill it in this movie, stepping effortlessly back into the Spider-Man persona like time never moved, and we are those same wonder-struck children watching them onscreen.
No cinema experience can top that feeling.
What movie moments top your list this year? Share your picks in the comments below!
Additional contributions from Justine Kraemer.