Some scenes are more iconic than the movies they're in. It can even get to the point where people who haven't seen a particular movie can still recognize that movie's most important scenes.
We've all been there! There are so many movie scenes that we can all somehow recall, if only because they've been imitated, satirized, or referenced so often by everyone. Those scenes outgrow their source material and become part of pop culture itself.
Here are my picks for the best sci-fi movie scenes of all time that you should absolutely watch even if you haven't seen the films!
20. The Destruction of the White House in Independence Day (1996)
The secret of Independence Day's success comes down to its strong premise: the US fights back against world-dominating aliens.
From there, director Roland Emmerich pulls off cheeky yet iconic moments, one-liners, and shots with memorable sci-fi bits including Boomer the dog outrunning destruction, President Whitmore's speech, and "Welcome to Earth!"
However, the most unforgettable moment is the attack of the alien saucers over major cities and landmarks around the world, most notably with the White House being obliterated.
With impeccable use of scale models, this is such an over-the-top shot that it was even referenced in the second Austin Powers movie.
19. The Bookcase Tesseract in Interstellar (2014)
The possibilities of space travel remain endless. We saw this in Interstellar, which gave us some of the most breathtaking shots in sci-fi cinema, evoking the impact of classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, and Star Wars.
Everything in this film leads up to its impactful ending, where Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) enters a black hole and finds himself in a five-dimensional tesseract that transcends time.
Within that tesseract, he discovers that its time-dilating physics allow him to clairvoyantly connect with his daughter Murph using the books on her bookshelf. It's a beautiful moment that shows how Cooper's devotion to Murph goes beyond the limits of the universe.
18. The Sandstorm in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
"What a day! What a lovely day!"
Every sequence in Mad Max: Fury Road is nonstop adrenaline rush action, and every moment tops the last at breakneck pace.
There are many scenes that stand out, like the opening chase scene where Max fails to escape the War Boys, or the discovery scene that made Furiosa howl in anger, or the badass scene where the Doof Warrior unleashes his flame-throwing guitar.
But the one scene above all others is the outrageous sandstorm where thunder clashes and winds blaze while everyone speeds through at risk of their own demise. They truly lived up to Nux's battle cry.
17. The Ending Line in Soylent Green (1973)
"Soylent Green is people!"
Soylent Green is set during a period where overpopulation and pollution have reached their breaking point. The film centers on a murder investigation in a society where humans are seen as purely expendable.
On the case is NYPD detective Robert Thorn (Charlton Heston), who links his murder investigation to a grander conspiracy involving the manufacturer of Soylent Green.
But his case leads to a horrifying finale where he utters the immortal line: "Soylent Green is people!" Not only is it a shocking revelation, it represents a merciless future where the advancements of humanity come at the cost of humanity itself.
16. City Bending in Inception (2010)
"My question is, what happens when you start messing with the physics of it?"
Christopher Nolan has released several sci-fi hits, but one film remains on top as far as imaginative sci-fi goes: Inception.
Inception explored the architecture and mechanics of dreams by pulling us in with its heist premise. It all came together in an incredible way, resulting in thrills like Arthur's fight scene in the revolving hotel hallway and the tense slow-motion sequence of the falling van.
But the best scene in Inception comes near the beginning when Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) introduces Ariadne (Elliot Page) to his subconscious and grants her to ability to control the domain around her, even going as far as recreating their reality right before their eyes.
The scene is pure cinematic excitement and one of the best examples of Christopher Nolan's creativity.
15. The Ending in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
The 1955 sci-fi novel The Body Snatchers hinged on the paranoia of mankind losing control of its own humanity. It has since been adapted to film multiple times, but the best one remains the 1978 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, notably for its infamous final scene.
If you don't want to be spoiled, skip the following two paragraphs and make sure you go watch the film as soon as you can!
After his skirmish against the Pod People, Matthew (Donald Sutherland) returns to work with other duplicates of his co-workers. His friend Nancy (Veronica Cartwright) spots him outside.
But when she approaches him, Matthew points and shrieks at her—the very same sound from the Pod People. In that moment, Nancy is made clear to the horrifying realization about their humanity.
14. The Defibrillator in The Thing (1982)
"You gotta be... kidding!"
Over the decades, there have been numerous sci-fi thrillers about covert aliens taking the form of human beings. The Thing joins them with its themes of man overcoming paranoia through intuition and gunfire.
This body horror movie is one of the best in its genre with its grotesque scenes involving parasitic alien organisms that possess their hosts and disfigure their bodies.
The best scene in The Thing has Dr. Copper (Richard Dysart) trying to revive Norris (Charles Hallahan) with a defibrillator, only to get his arms severed by the Thing possessing Norris.
After the shocking reveal of the alien, Kurt Russell's MacReady ends it with a flamethrower. That "thing" really left a mark.
13. Barry Seeing the UFO in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Back in the 1970s and 1980s, alien-centered films mainly focused on their feral natures—yet even so, some of those movies still made room to explore the beauty of meeting such creatures without terror.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind cherishes this unique premise by focusing on the intimate experience that one might have when encountering such a phenomenon beyond our imagination.
It's best exemplified by the iconic shot of young Barry (Cary Guffey) witnessing the glow of the UFO from his door.
Much like the three-year-old's own stunned reaction, we're frozen but immersed in this amazing moment. It's haunting and spine-tingling, yet it brings an unusual optimism from the third kind.
12. Flying Across the Moon in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
"Not so high! Not so high!"
Who can deny the impact that Steven Spielberg had on movies? He certainly reaffirmed our admiration for sci-fi cinema through his masterpiece in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.
This 1982 film was a bona fide blockbuster that set all kinds of standards and benchmarks for films that would follow it. Furthermore, it had so many memorable aspects like E.T.'s glowing finger, the blooming of the flowers, and a young Drew Barrymore.
Those scenes speak to the magic of films, yet they're all summarized by the iconic flying-over-the-moon shot. When Elliott takes E.T. for a ride on his bike, he soon experiences the extent of his powers—and that enchanted sequence became a defining moment.
11. The DeLorean's First Trip in Back to the Future (1985)
"Are you telling me that you built a time machine... out of a DeLorean?"
What was once an automobile steeped in ridicule became an antique icon that will always be associated with one of the most beloved science-fiction movies of all time.
The DeLorean serves as the main time machine in the Back to the Future franchise, which went from craptastic to fantastic once Doc Brown mounted his flux capacitor and enabled time travel.
He demonstrated its time-traveling capability by speeding it past him and Marty on camera. The result? An awesome shot of the DeLorean skidding past the duo and leaving a blazing trail.
10. The Plava Laguna Diva Dance in The Fifth Element (1997)
The Diva Song scene from The Fifth Element almost didn't make it into the movie. The canisters of film negative for the sequence fell off an airplane onto the tarmac at LAX during transport.
Then they were run over by a forklift.
We're talking about the biggest, most expensive, most impossible-to-reshoot scene in the entire movie.
Luckily for us, those film negatives were able to be salvaged. We all came so close to missing out on Milla Jovovich beating up space goons to an alien pop-opera soundtrack. Phew!
9. The T-Rex Breakout in Jurassic Park (1993)
Remember the rippling cup of water in Jurassic Park? Well, it took some ingenuity to accomplish.
The special effects guys couldn't figure out how to get the water to ripple without dropping something in the cup.
The solution? Pluck taut guitar strings that were attached through the bottom of the cup. This vibrated the water and produced the simple but terrifying effect.
The whole sequence—the slow build up leading to a T-Rex eating a guy sitting on a toilet—isn't just awesome. It's one of the most memorable scenes in all of cinema history.
8. The Goodbye in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
"I know now why you cry, but it's something I can never do."
This is the scene that made us all feel sad for the death of a machine designed to destroy humanity.
James Cameron made audiences relate to this flesh-covered metal skeleton so much that even the Terminator's cheesy final gesture—a thumbs up—was welcomed by audiences.
7. The Deactivation of HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
"Dave, stop. Stop, will you?"
HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey is possibly the most universally known AI figure in fiction. It cemented a fear of artificial intelligence into the minds of audiences for decades.
When searching for a voice actor to play HAL, Stanley Kubrick sent out an assistant to find someone with a voice that would be "neither patronizing, nor is it intimidating, nor is it pompous, overly dramatic or actorish. Despite this, it is interesting."
Kubrick ultimately settled on Douglas Rain for the voice of HAL, and that choice made film history. I have yet to come across a more chilling sequence that involves unplugging a computer.
6. Tears in Rain Monologue in Blade Runner (1982)
"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe."
You know when a line of dialogue is well-written when it outshines an entire movie's worth of visually stunning sci-fi imagery. The Replicant's soliloquy at the end of Blade Runner does exactly this.
Rutger Hauer's performance as the lead replicant is menacing and intense. As he is just about to kill the man sent to destroy him, he inexplicably stops. While cradling a pigeon, he delivers some of the most eloquent and profound dialogue ever put on screen.
Then he dies, leaving the audience to contemplate the blurry lines between human and machine—between consciousness and artificial intelligence.
5. Bullet Time in The Matrix (1999)
This scene amazed audiences at the time and still influences the way action movies are shot today.
The circular "bullet time" slow-motion effect was achieved with the use of 120 still cameras. Each of these cameras was mounted onto a specialized rig that used a motion-controlled laser-pointing system to find the exact angles and focal distances.
The final product speaks for itself and still looks great today.
4. The Chestburster in Alien (1979)
"Don't touch it, don't touch it!"
The Alien chestburster scene is known for genuinely shocking the cast who were involved.
They had gone through the scene a few times, but it was only on the final take that a huge amount of fake blood shot all over the actors—which they weren't expecting at all.
This resulted in true reactions of fear and disgust from the cast, and gave us one of the most iconic sci-fi movie scenes that still freaks people out to this day.
3. The Reveal in Planet of the Apes (1968)
"You blew it up! God damn you! Damn you all to hell!!!"
The twist of all twists. The ape planet... was Earth all along!
Charleton Heston was left to despair among the ruins of the Statue of Liberty half-buried in the sand. The audience was left to despair with the later installments in this franchise.
At least we have this scene to make it all worth it. The series never lived up to this moment again.
2. "Khaaaan!!" in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
One of the most iconic scenes in film history. No one-word movie quote is as universally recognizable, except possibly "Rosebud" from Citizen Kane.
A lot of people born after 1985 have probably encountered references to this scene multiple times before they actually get around to seeing the movie itself.
And when you finally see it, prolific scenery-chewer William Shatner does not fail to live up to the hype.
1. "I Am Your Father" in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
"No, I am your father!"
It's the movie revelation that has been shocking children for decades—Darth Vader is Luke's father!
The next shocking revelation comes when they realize Luke made out with his sister earlier in the movie. The very same movie.
George Lucas could easily have left that moment out and the story would not have suffered in the slightest. Instead, he had to make it weird. But this scene? One of the most memorable in film!