What is the Meaning of “Iconic”?

I had planned originally to write an article on this topic but, as usual, pictures seem to speak louder than words. And so, I invite you on a wander through the most memorable moments of cinema. In this video, I have tried to include only the very best; these images have stood not only the test of time, but have, I believe, somehow weaved themselves into our collective subconscious over the years. Whether they be scenes, stars, or sometimes simply a certain “look” accomplished, all remain ingrained in our hearts and minds, continuing to thrill, to transfix and to inspire .


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  1. I agree with the iconic status of every single clip you selected. What’s great is that each has retained its original impact despite being parodied, pastiched or homaged so frequently.

    1. Very glad to hear it! And yes, that is a very astute insight; no matter how many times we see these various images imitated and referenced, their original power still continues to endure.

  2. Thanks. This is a great compilation. Your selection shows the enduring power of the face. More than event movement and sound, the human face is the most iconic image in movies.

    1. Yes, I always thought that the face itself is one of the most powerful devices a filmmaker can possibly have. Moreover, the close-up of a face in motion is something quite unique to the art of cinema. Even in the relatively closer art forms of theatre (which retains a distance from the audience) and photography (which of course is static) it is impossible to capture that same effect.

  3. Thanks for including the Trevi Fountain scene Rachel, as Ekberg is iconic to me!
    That was a wonderful tribute, and seamless in execution, so you are to be rightly congratulated. I might have included the ‘Odessa Steps’, and perhaps the Brooklyn Bridge, to the strains of ‘Rhapsody In Blue’ from ‘Manhattan’. But that would be picky…
    Best wishes as always, Pete.

    1. Thank you Pete! And yes, those too are extremely iconic images. While making this montage, what struck me particularly was just how many memorable moments of cinema there are! Perhaps I’ll do a part two some day :)

      1. When you get to part 2, can you squeeze in Orson Welles smiling under the light in ‘The Third Man’? (Please…) And I haven’t even started on the Japanese films yet!
        Best wishes from Norfolk, Pete.

      2. “perhaps the Brooklyn Bridge, to the strains of ‘Rhapsody In Blue’ from ‘Manhattan’”

        Whenever I think of iconic cinema, that’s always the first thing that comes to my mind. Nevertheless, this is still a great selection of scenes! You’re spot on too; who knew a 4 minute montage could make you appreciate cinema so much!

  4. Wonderful stuff – except for the Keaton and Chaplin films – I’ve seen all the rest. When you think about your own life, and the time spent watching films – the names are unforgettable.

    Keaton, Chaplin, Lloyd, Garbo, Eastwood, Fonda, Nicholson & Duvall, Brando, Marvin, Ewell & Monroe, Hepburn & Peppard, Garland, Kelly, Dafoe, McDowell, Swanson, -von Sydow & Death, Ekberg, Mastroianni, Loren, Grant, Deitrich. Cooper, Davis, Bogart, Chaplin

    Thanks for bringing forth those wonderful clips that evoke the memories.

    1. Thanks Mike! How right you are about the names of these stars —as I skim down the list you have written, I can actually picture perfectly those same images of the montage that are, like the actors themselves, simply unforgettable.

  5. Thank you. Very eloquent. Glorious “iconic” images from the history of cinema. I guess we would all make the compilation slightly different, but some of the clips, we’d ALL want to include.

  6. It’s difficult to explain the emotions I felt while watching your work.First, I felt a bit sad that most of the actors and actresses from your video clip are not among us anymore, but then at the same time, I felt pleased and content that they had left these film behind for us to enjoy.Thank you Rachel. I’m looking forward to part two!

  7. A fantastic montage for a wonderful article Rachel. You’ve conjured many wonderful memories for me of time spent in movie theatres, at film archives, on the couch late at night (or exceptionally early in the morning). A picture does speak louder than words, and there are obviously so many indelible moments to choose from. We all have our favourites, so I’m hoping for a Part 2 – with perhaps a nod or two to the Master of Suspense, Sir Alfred Hitchcock.
    All the very best, Phil

    1. A part 2 is shaping up to be a pretty popular request. I guess I’ll have to get to work on one some time :) I actually had some thrilling Hitchcock clips all selected and ready, but then I thought that perhaps you all would’ve had enough of a shock after seeing Jack Nicholson’s deranged face popping through the door :) So yes, definitely something from Hitch next time round!

  8. Nice article, I think your pics are brilliant, “iconic” is one of those words that is very overused at the moment, so it’s refreshing to see something like this that attempts to shed some light on its meaning.

    1. Actually, I think it was exactly that kind of thing that prompted me to make this montage. The word “iconic” is a very powerful one, but its meaning has almost been obscured over the years, with the label “iconic” plastered on every Tom, Dick and Harry.

  9. Rachel, That was truly amazing, and very much appreciated. I was surprised by the fact that at some point or another I nad seen almost every one of those movies. Granted that 80+ pct of them I saw on TV. But they were all familar. Thank you, btw the score you choose was very fitting. Take care, Bill

    1. Thank you Bill —your kind words always mean a lot to me. I’m also very glad to hear that you recognised and have seen these movies —that was the goal of the video, and so your comment has just doubly made my day :) All the best, Rachel

  10. I think enough of value and significance has been said by my fellow commentators, so just wanted to thank you for my four minutes of visual treat :)…oh, and I really, really liked the sharp editing :D

  11. Any movie that resonates and lasts inside someone on a personal level is iconic. But that varies. For example, seeing Greta Garbo in the first 30 seconds. I don’t think iconic, I think harsh, cold. I have never been able to warm to her, and I can think of a hundred movies that mean more to me than hers. So I might speak about what I think is iconic, but iconic as a whole is so very subjective.

    1. I understand what you mean Christy; on one level, what is iconic for some is definitely forgettable for others. However, I personally wouldn’t say that for something to be “iconic” it needs to resonate for a particular individual —the very fact that you know that the woman is Garbo, some 80 years after this film was released, is perhaps argument enough that her image has lasted and crossed into an iconic status.

  12. Really enjoyed reading this Rachel, you’re very talented. I’ve done a review of the new Spider-Man, check it out when you have a spare minute! Love to have some new stuff from you soon :)

  13. Iconic really has no meaning in this sense. It is a very personal ‘feeling’ . My icons come from a different era, that does not mean that The Blues Brothers or Saving Private Ryan are better or worse movies or the stars are better than those of another generation.
    Each generation has their icons, some do translate to younger generations, some don’t. But I think that applies to music more than movies.
    And lets face it to be a real genuine 100% icon you have to die young. If Brando had died young we would not have imagined the terrible physical state he would get into as seen in Apocalypse Now. He would always have been a cool guy, in a cool leather jacket, on a cool motorbike. For people of his generation that is what he is, for my generation its the Apocalypse Now image.

  14. some amazing films there!! they are iconic because you can see a clip of only seconds and know what the film is. I would add From Here to eternity on that list with the scene between Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr and would also add Ben Hur and Spartacus. It’s amazing that the list doesn’t really get into the 90’s? is this because iconic films have to be a certain age or is it because iconic films are no longer made?

    1. Your suggestions are certainly worthy additions. It’s actually rather surprising that there are so many scenes which have crossed into the realm of the truly iconic – I guess I’ll definitely have plenty of material to choose from for my next montage!

      As for why the list rarely references more recent films, I would think that it is probably a bit of both of your suggestions. The most iconic films have a certain look about them that clearly call forth memories of a very different time and place – this very unique effect needs most of all the passage of time to reach a certain optimum impact.

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