40 Most Memorable Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror Movie Moments of 2023

when evil lurks, barbie, guardians 3, spiderverse

Do you know what moments these refer to?
Image: IFC, WB, Marvel, Sony

A moment can make a movie. You’re sitting there, you’re watching something, it’s fine, and then boom: a scene or shot happens, and instantly something you thought was just okay becomes amazing.

That’s the level we were aiming for in the annual rundown of our favorite moments from sci-fi, fantasy, and horror films this year. Moments that stand out among the rest. Moments that elevate a film. Moments that, in the years to come, we’ll still remember when we’ve long forgotten everything else that happens.

From big hits like Barbie and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, to smaller movies like When Evil Lurks and Polite Society, here are our 40 favorite moments from movies in 2023, in no particular order.

Spoiler alert. Obviously.

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For children of the 1990s, there are two things everyone likes. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Blackstreet’s hit single “No Diggity.” The idea to put the two together in a gorgeous, exciting montage was an absolute stroke of genius and the moment Mutant Mayhem revealed itself to be even better than expected. The match cuts! The action! Brilliant.

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Screenshot: Toho

Godzilla’s biggest assault in Minus One is, naturally, defined by screams. The shrieks of Ginza’s populace as they scatter beneath the footsteps of this titanic monster, the roar of ineffective tank fire in return, and then, of course the dual, howling rages of Godzilla and Koichi alike as they are buffeted by the devastation in the wake of Godzilla’s heat ray leveling the district: one triumphant, one broken by despair and anger. It’s an incredible, horrifying scene, awesome in its display of the potent imagery of Godzilla as the manifestation of our nuclear anxieties.

Picking up the Spider-Verse sequel with Gwen rather than Miles was a bold move, but it’s an important one that pays off as a way to bookend Across in this story’s middle chapter. It blends an efficient recap of the first movie with setting the stage for Gwen’s character arc across this film, cleverly framing it through her perspective; it’s also visually remarkable, to boot, and backed by that incredible, thrumming guitar of Gwen’s leitmotif that just keeps building and building her rage until she snaps back to reality mid-drum session.

Say this much for Ryan Gosling: he knows how to commit to a bit. Whenever he takes on a comedic role, he ends up running away with the movie. In Barbie, his musical sequence that transitions the film to its third act is so silly and utterly ridiculous that you can’t help but be impressed at his range. He may be one Ken among many, but among those, he’s the perfect 10.

Maybe the smartest, most subtle thing James Gunn did in Vol. 3 was let the audience into the family. At the end of the film, for the first time in the MCU, we hear Groot say words that aren’t “I am Groot,” The implication is that finally, we understand his language too. We’re part of the family. It’s one of the best payoffs in the entire franchise.

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Image: Shudder/IFC

By the time the main characters in When Evil Lurks leave their farm for the nearest city, intent on scooping up family members and fleeing the demons in their midst, you already have an uneasy feeling about what’s to come. But you never expect what happens in maybe the greatest jump scare of 2023, when a hulking but seemingly friendly dog suddenly pounces on one of his young owners—a scream-worthy moment that does more than just shock the audience, it establishes that all bets are off, and the sinister forces in When Evil Lurks are here to annihilate all your expectations.

M3GAN’s performing skills are established early; they’re a logical part of the programming that makes her an irresistible robot bestie for young girls. What you don’t expect is that once she morphs into a rampaging maniac, she’ll incorporate them into her stalking. Actually, you might expect it, since the scene was spotlighted in the trailer, but even if you know it’s coming, the dance—a perfect blend of sassy flair and sheer terror—is nothing less than killer.

Blue Beetle is a movie that was originally meant for HBO Max, and it shows in its scale. While it’s got some decent CG-boosted fights toward the second act and to close out the film, its best action beat sees Jaime go up against a squad of mercenaries using a number of melee weapons at his disposal. It’s some modestly budgeted, crunchy action that gives just enough original flair while also definitely inspired by some of the character’s Injustice 2 move set, and it rules.

This is the moment you knew Honor Among Thieves absolutely got Dungeons & Dragons. It’s an incredible set-up to a gag that builds over the opening scenes, establishing the roguish humor of our heroes, throwing a loving curveball to an esoteric D&D race, and of course giving us the most perfect ass-pull of a character name that feels like a Dungeon Master made it up for an NPC on the spot mid-improv. Oh Jarnathan, indeed.

Each Indiana Jones movie ends with something out of this world and Dial of Destiny is no different. Though Voller thinks they’re going back in time to Nazi Germany, instead the characters end up in Italy, circa 212 BC. Seeing an Indiana Jones movie interact with basically a gladiator movie is simultaneously shocking and highly entertaining.

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Image: Marvel Studios

More than most of the MCU flicks thus far, The Marvels is an extremely goofy movie working off a very comic book-like premise. In between the constant place-swapping, Carol, Monica, and Kamala return to SWORD Base only to realize it’s been basically invaded by a new litter of alien cats. What follows is the trio—along with Nick Fury and the Khan family—work to evacuate the base by having everyone get eaten by cats. Equally horrifying and hilarious, it’s one of the most “What the hell is this?” scenes in recent MCU memory, and raises some troubling questions about cats and personal storage.

In Barbie, America Ferrera delivers the Greta Gerwig signature monologue and it’s the best one yet. As Gloria, Ferrera represents the modern woman who contains multitudes in a society that’s run by the patriarchy, feeling the weight of all the contradictory expectations women are expected to hold true to. In her speech, the pent-up frustrations of all womanhood, all our mothers, our sisters, our friends, and our daughters come spilling out. It’s breathtaking and cathartic, and proves Ferrera is one of our greatest performers as Barbie’s MVP.

Before we saw John Wick: Chapter 4, everyone was talking about this staircase scene. Watching the movie, we were waiting for it, and waiting, and waiting… until the end, when we realized it was worth it. John has to fight up a flight of stairs to reach his goal and just keeps getting knocked down. The scene is brutal, hilarious, and the centerpiece of an already incredible movie filled with memorable moments.

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is a decent enough time at the movies. Fun action, great effects, everything you want in a Transformers movie. But it gets just a tiny bit better when, in the very last scene, we realize this is setting up a potential crossover with G.I. Joe—meaning fans left the theater on cloud nine, imagining the 1980s possibilities.

Godzilla’s re-emergence in Minus One comes after we have spent a good chunk of the early acts of the film watching protagonist Koichi reckon with the trauma of both what he saw that night on Odo Island and the state of Tokyo in the wake of the war’s end. It makes the beast’s re-emergence, chasing down the fishing boat Koichi and his fellow colleagues are using to decommission deep sea mines, filled with even more tension than any good monster chase should have in the first place: it makes it feel like Godzilla isn’t just an unstoppable force of nature, but one intent on ruining the life of this one traumatized man in particular.

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Screenshot: Studio Ghibli

There are so many memorable, weirdly gorgeous scenes in Hayao Miyazaki’s latest Studio Ghibli film. Every single one of them out of context probably makes no sense. However, the film’s second act unfolds when Mahito follows the seemingly untrustworthy Heron (played with aplomb by Robert Pattinson) into his grand uncle’s realm in a stunning, through-the-looking-glass moment. He and an older women get sucked into a quicksand-like dark goopy portal. When they make it to the other side the older woman is now younger and she saves Mahito from entering a graveyard too soon. They’re basically in a multiversal hub his great grand-uncle oversees filled with wondrous creatures, freaky little guys, and dangerous birds.

The third Guardians movie is undoubtedly Rocket’s story, and it reaches an emotional climax unlike anything Marvel has nailed in years when our irascible raccoon friend gets the chance to contemplate his fate and say goodbye to his friends who were experimented on by the High Evolutionary. It’s an incredibly bittersweet, cathartic moment, one that makes Rocket’s impending vengeance against the Evolutionary all the more potent.

Going into Mission Impossible 7, so much was made of the motorcycle jump, you would have bet that was going to be the best moment in the movie. Only, it’s not even close. The best moment is when Ethan and Grace seem to survive a train crash, only for train car, after train car, after train car, to fall down around them as they climb up and narrowly avoid death time and time again.

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Screenshot: Peacock

Casting Matthew Lillard in Five Nights at Freddy’s and then revealing him as big bad William Afton was executed perfectly. When he shows up in the Spring Bonny villain costume in the film’s final showdown, it’s so badass and scary. But the best wink at horror fans came when Lillard—paying homage to his role as Stu Macher, one of Scream’s original Ghost Face killers—wipes the blade with his hand, just like he did in the Wes Craven classic slasher.

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Screenshot: Warner Bros.

There are all manner of weapons deployed in Evil Dead Rise, including a chainsaw, but since the film’s central setting is an apartment, Rise took a page from the Evil Dead entries that came before and made great use of its surroundings to raise maximum mayhem. Trapped in a kitchen with a Deadite? Better keep that cheese grater close, lest your own flesh be subjected to some agonizing excoriation.

In a movie packed with pretty amazing music drops, an action sequence set to the legendarily memed version of 4 Non Blonde’s “What’s Up?” isn’t just a remarkable thing to exist, but somehow the best of the best in Mutant Mayhem. Paired with the manic action of the scene as our turtle heroes try to make a break from their would-be mutant foils, it’s a raucous blend of hilarity and tension when big bad Superfly makes his threat to the TMNT feel truly real.

If you’ve ever had a sibling, you’ve probably thought at some point: “I kind of want to fight you.” Ria and Lina Khan, the sisters at the heart of Polite Society, love each other very much. That doesn’t stop them from taking the time to beat the hell out of each other in a way that other action movies would use to open a movie. And in true sibling fashion, their parents just tell them to keep it down but otherwise opt to stay out of it.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse all builds to a singular moment. It’s when Miles is running away from all the Spider-people, he’s on the train heading towards the moon, and Miguel finally grabs him. In this moment we learn the truth—that all of this is Miles’ fault—and that Miles rejects that truth, growing into the Spider-Man he knows he can be. It’s powerful, it’s exciting, and we’re getting goosebumps just thinking about it.

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Screenshot: Lucasfilm

You don’t think Marion is going to appear in Dial of Destiny. It’s clear that she and Indy have separated and that it crushed him. But, once he gets back from traveling in time, Helena brings Marion back and we see all the choices of his life come together in this one perfect moment. A moment that echoes Raiders of the Lost Ark. And it’s hard not to tear up.

Gif: Toei

Even if The Flash had been good, its superspeed could never match the actual best superspeed scene in superhero cinema this year. A dazzlingly stylish and inventive reckoning of the power as Kamen Rider Ichigo and the villainous Wasp Aug duel in a flurry of herky-jerky movements that vacillates between unseeable speed and slow-mo with each clash of their weapons, in a film filled with brutally heightened action, it’s the most jaw-dropping fight of them all.

Hey, women’s healthcare is important. Barbie getting her new body checked out shows that a visit to the gyno is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s such a boss way to end a film. Thank you, Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie.

You really thought there’d be a Paul King movie where we didn’t cry? Wonka’s fun musical origin story takes off with Timothée Chalmet providing his own endearing take on the confectionary genius. The build to the moment where he sings “Pure Imagination” is teased throughout the film, with the main refrain embedded in the score like a thought just about to take full form. The pull at your heartstrings begins as he discovers the golden ticket his mother left him in his last chocolate bar from her. And then he turns to his best friend Noodle, singing “Come with me… and you’ll be…” as he leads her to find her own mother. There’s not a dry eye in the house because honestly, the context it’s presented in is so unexpectedly perfect, beautiful and fulfilling.

Despite what that initial marketing made it seem like, the romantic elements of Elemental do work very well. Seeing Ember and Wade fall for one another is genuinely charming, and the movie does the right thing in letting them both breathe before they reach a point of emotional realization of what’s between them. It’s incredibly sweet to watch them feel out the boundaries of what could happen between them, made all the all the more touching by the fact that Wade is so gone for her and has no problem verbalizing that at any potential moment.

Rocket is saved. They can escape. But the Guardians decide, no, they have to stop the High Evolutionary once and for all. And so we see that fight in an epic long take that shows every single member of the team at their full powers, as James Gunn’s camera whips and twirls all over the room with the Beastie Boys blaring on the soundtrack. One of the most beautiful shots—even though yes, we know it’s stitched together—in recent Marvel memory.

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Image: A24

One of the “rules” the kids in Talk to Me follow sets a time limit on how long they can be possessed. When one of the characters extends his visit to the other side, he’s hospitalized after a ghastly suicide attempt—leading to the film’s single most shocking moment, when we get a glimpse of exactly what’s guiding his behavior. It’s just a glimpse, but it’s the most jaw-dropping depiction of a soul being tortured in hell since the similarly jarring sequence in Event Horizon.

Imagining a wizard’s failing concentration check on an illusion spell as what can only be described as VFX going intentionally, hilariously wrong, Simon’s magical illusion of Edgin as a distraction for Neverwinter’s guards is one of the goofiest, funniest moments in a movie this year. It’s just Chris Pine’s face melting, but it’s so clever and yet so stupid.

Normally in superhero movies, that initial moment where the hero zips around town (or the planet) with their powers is meant to be promising, or at the very least kind of fun. That’s… not really the case in Blue Beetle: watching the Scarab transform Jaime’s body for the first time is a little horrific. Likewise, seeing it take him for a joyride to fly around and get its bearings is terrifying and it becomes clear that his great power may come with greater terror.

Ariana DeBose can do it all. As Asha in Wish, she is the embodiment of pure empathy and love for others. With “This Wish” she questions why things are the way they are and how can she act to make things better. The song by Julia Michaels encompasses the core of Disney “I want” songs that came before it.

Compared to previous films, Scream 6’s Ghostfaces are much nastier and considerably more relentless. When the gang make it to Kirby’s Ghostface museum, it’s not long before the new killers invade and do what they do best. More than the grand reveal and the constant cat-and-mouse-ing, what stands out is watching the dual Ghostfaces do a simultaneous knife swipe, which is both threatening and extremely cool.

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Image: Lionsgate

Rachel Zegler is that girl. No matter what anyone on the internet says, her performance as Lucy Gray Baird was on another level every time she sang. The theatrically trained actress sang all of Lucy’s songs live take after take, but the most show-stopping of them all? The finale of her Hunger Games competition where she sings away snakes that nearly engulf her. Sure, most of them were CG, but still there had to be some real snakes up close because those reactions were so believable.

The Venture Bros. loves to take its sweet time answering questions, and Radiant is the Blood of the Baboon Heart seemed like it would avoid answering who Hank and Dean’s birth mother is. With how much Rusty and Ben Potter affirmed that it just matters that they’re loved, maybe this was one answer that would die with the show. So it was genuinely surprising that the film’s post-credits stinger revealed that Rusty wasn’t lying: he loved his sons very, very much.

For a movie called They Cloned Tyrone, there appears to be none of him in the sci-fi comedy. The entire time we spend with John Boyega’s Fontaine, there’s no mention of it being a nickname, and the “original” Fontaine isn’t named Tyrone either. The actual reveal of who Tyrone is and how he fits into things is a great closer to the film and is an appropriately playful answer to an oft-asked question of what happens next in movies like these.

You know Abuelita means business when she puts her guerrera braids down and marches in to protect her grandson Jaime and provide him backup in his first major fight as the Blue Beetle. Abuelita kicked so much ass in this scene, no chancla needed.

Halle Bailey was a revelation as Ariel in Disney’s live-action The Little Mermaid. Her voice shone spectacularly above all else, especially in her performance of “Part of Your World.” It’s now on our playlist rotation as the new gold standard of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s beloved Disney ballad.

When it comes to mainstream horror movies, kids and dogs are often viewed as off-limits: they can be in danger, but they have to get out of it squeaky clean. That’s not the case in Last Voyage of the Demeter. Not only does Dracula quickly snatch up a dog, he later chows down on a child as he gets closer to full power. And when the crew holds a funeral for the boy… well, what was already a mean plot turn gets a little meaner. Like the Dracula of the film, it’s nasty in the best type of way.