Special Features – The Ten Best Movie Stares

Jake Wardle selects his ten favourite movie stares…

Stares, glares, gazes… whatever you want to call them, the movies are full of them, and as far as I can tell nobody’s ever compiled a list of the best. Shocking, I’m sure you’ll agree, but true. For some, even the mention of ‘film’ will bring to mind a good stare, so it’s only fitting that those films which place similar value on the humble gawk are duly recognized…

10. Lyn Cassady – The Men Who Stare at Goats

Not, perhaps, a great film, but a damn good stare. A stare so good it gets the uncommon honour of being ‘the titular stare’. It is, as the title would suggest, a stare between a man (George Clooney) and a goat (a goat), ultimately resulting in said goat’s death. Nobody wins when a stare goes that far. But a classic stare regardless.

9. Private Pyle – Full Metal Jacket

Staring is a fairly versatile tool in film. A stare can establish a character, it can serve as a reaction, or it can signal a change in the mood or disposition of the character. Full Metal Jacket gives us the latter. Pyle’s stare is the final proof of his insanity. This isn’t the stare of a well man. This is the stare of a man pushed too far, a man holding a loaded shotgun with the absolute intention of using it. Which he does. But not before delivering a ruddy great stare.

8. Antoine Doinel – The 400 Blows

For those who believe the stare is not something to be lavished with attention, I point you to Jean-Pierre Léaud’s final look into the camera in Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows. There are few more emotive looks in film, the 14 year old capturing the same sense of ‘what now?’ that Dustin Hoffman so brilliantly showed in The Graduate. If a stare can be beautiful, then this one is.

7. Hannibal Lecter – The Silence of the Lambs

When Hannibal Lecter stares, be scared. Behind those serpentine eyes is a mind at work, calculating, formulating a plan probably involving one or more of your internal organs. In the case of this stare (a personal favourite), it’s the precursor to an escape based around the removal of another man’s face. Which is unpleasant.

6. Warden Samuel Norton – The Shawshank Redemption

We know that a stare can tell a story on its own, and Warden Norton‘s stare in Shawshank is a brilliant example of this. As he gazes down the tunnel that Andy Dufresne spent the last two decades of his life making, we see his confusion, followed by his realization, then anger, with a little bit of fear, and maybe, just maybe, a hint of admiration. It’s a revelatory stare, for him, and for us too.

5. Colonel Kurtz – Apocalypse Now

Amid the decades of disagreement over Marlon Brando’s performance in this film, not once has anyone highlighted the brilliance of his stare. Frankly, it’s an argument ender. Those who maintain Brando mumbles his way through this film need to go back and watch – really watch – his eyes when Willard delivers the fatal blow, as he stares into the distance. The brilliance of Apocalypse Now is encapsulated in that stare. Kurtz’s insanity, his regret, and most of all, the horror of what he’s seen. It’s all in there.

4. Travis Bickle – Taxi Driver

The immortal final scene of Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver gave us a great stare. Happy-go-lucky Travis Bickle, having just fought his way through a pimp’s apartment, killing everyone inside, realises he hasn’t enough ammunition left to take his own life. Disappointed, he sits down on the sofa, and upon the arrival of the police, gives one of the all-time great stares, holding a finger-gun to his temple and pulling the imaginary trigger. He’s lost his mind, and he doesn’t care.

3. Alex DeLarge – A Clockwork Orange

Surely one of the most famous stares in cinema history? Kubrick was a master of the stare. Along with the aforementioned Full Metal Jacket, 2001: A Space Oddysey is arguably a film almost entirely comprised of stares. A Clockwork Orange’s stare, though, is his crowning glory. The first shot of the film is a close up of Alex’s staring face, slowly tracking backwards through the milk bar, never breaking his stare, the nature of his character becomes fairly clear immediately. Anybody who can stare like that for so long is surely capable of great evil.

2. Frank and Harmonica – Once Upon a Time in the West

Probably the most iconic stare on this list, is that between Charles Bronson and Henry Fonda in the finale of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West. The camera switches between each actor’s eyes, as Frank (Henry Fonda, with eyes made for staring) slowly realises the mysterious gunman (Charles Bronson) is the same man who’s brother he killed years ago. Coupled with one of the greatest scores in cinema history, this is almost the greatest movie stare. Almost….

1. Norman Bates – Psycho

This is the stare. For me, the greatest stare in cinema history. A history full of great and varied stares, cataloguing every possible human emotion. But no stare says so much, does so much, as the stare of Norman Bates. As if Psycho isn’t unsettling enough, Alfred Hitchcock chose to follow the obligatory ‘detective explains everything to the audience’ scene with one of the most terrifying images in film. Norman, now 100% undeniably insane, his ‘mother’ now occupying his mind completely; he sits, and stares, and allows a fly to land on his hand, proving to the guards outside by not swatting it that he’s ‘harmless’. The image is slowly merged with a skull, before the credits roll. Eep…

What’s your favourite movie stare? Feel free to let us know in the comments…

Jake Wardle

  • lukebc

    You ALMOST had it in Once Upon a Time in the West….<br /><br />THE greatest &quot;stare&quot; in the film is when, after the scene you have posted, Harmonica returns to Jill&#39;s house(?) and it becomes clear – through the utmost HEARTBREAKING *stares* one will EVER see in cinema – that Harmonica is not staying…..

  • Cashew

    Interesting that you didn&#39;t mention the notability of FMJ&#39;s stare in what is termed the &quot;Kubrick Stare.&quot; Jack Nicholson put on an equally awesome one in the end scene at the maze even sporting a frozen one. Nicholson as well had a great blank stare post-lobotomy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo&#39;s Nest. A stare that showed the very spark of life robbed from a vibrant figure.<br />

  • http://flickeringmyth.blogspot.com/ Flickering Myth

    Hi Cashew, some great suggestions there. Jack Nicholson has certainly pulled a few amazingly sinister stares in his time, especially The Shining. And you are right about Kevin in Sin City, very creepy <br />- Gary

  • Wael Khairy

    What about the driver&#39;s stare in &quot;Drive&quot;…right after he delivers the line: &quot;How ‘bout this. You shut your mouth, or I’ll kick your teeth down your throat and I’ll shut it for you&quot; a vicious stare follows and the guy in the bar backs off.

  • Jchasse677

    Robert DeNiro, &quot;Goodfellas&quot;, when he realizes that he&#39;s going to have to whack his associates on the Lufthansa robbery.

  • Michael Farthing VC

    Great article!

  • Mattscope

    What about the existential stare that Mark Wahlberg does in Boogie Nights… at least it&#39;s the stare with the best soundtrack<br />http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVaX7hPacIU

  • Viktorc_999

    Christian Bale&#39;s stare at the end of &quot;American Psycho&quot; always gets me.

  • PubbyPab

    Finally–an IMDb-linked movie list that finally lives up to its title! Most of them are disappointing, but yours is excellent. You had me at &quot;The 400 Blows&quot; and &quot;Once Upon a Time in the West&quot;.<br /><br />My personal favorite film stare is Enid&#39;s at the end of &quot;Ghost World&quot; when she sees Norman ride away in the bus and must face the fact that all bets are off in

  • Sandip

    Love your list, but I would say Clint Eastwood/ Eli Wallach/ Lee Van Cleef Mexican stand-off stare is IMO more popular, and more fitting since Clint has a number of iconic stares and should figure on the list (The Unforgiven, Dirty Harry X 3, Dollars trilogy, High Planes Drifter etc etc). <br />Al Pacino in either of the Godfather movies in a massive number of instances, but what stays is the

  • Jimmers

    Great list, unfortunately you left off the best &quot;starer&quot; in hollywood, Bruce Campbell.

  • Ray

    Brad Pitt&#39;s stare at Stephen Rea in Interview with A Vampire is a good one, too.

  • ria hoek

    All best stares are American?

  • Lub

    Such a list as this is incomplete when Butch&#39;s stare is absent. You know the one. When Vince is walking away to go sit down with Marsellus. Not only is it the best Bruce Willis stare of all time, but it&#39;s one of the top 10 greatest cinema stares of all time.

  • bigmanelder

    A damn good list, I must say. What about Bob Hoskins at the end of The Long Good Friday?

  • http://twitter.com/German_XD German Torres

    This list is missing Giulietta Massina&#39;s stare at the end of &#39;Nights of cabiria,&#39; Ingrid Thulin&#39;s in &#39;Winter Light&#39; and Anna Karina&#39;s wink to the camera in &#39;Vivre Sa Vie&#39;

  • http://flickeringmyth.blogspot.com/ Flickering Myth

    Great call on Bob Hoskins in The Long Good Friday – definitely the most furious stare in the history of cinema! Almost burns a hole through the screen! <br />- Gary

  • http://flickeringmyth.blogspot.com/ Flickering Myth

    Thanks for the compliment, glad you enjoyed the list!

  • gary

    How could you leave out Clint Eastwood

  • Archibald

    Not to be too nit picky but Pyle isn&#39;t holding a shotgun, it&#39;s a rifle.

  • Classic Steve

    Not in &quot;The 400 Blows.&quot;

  • http://flickeringmyth.blogspot.com/ Flickering Myth

    &quot;This is my rifle. There are many like it but this one is mine…&quot;

  • http://flickeringmyth.blogspot.com/ Flickering Myth

    Nor The Silence of the Lambs or A Clockwork Orange

  • T_k_matthews

    Michael Corleone staring out over Lake Tahoe after he&#39;s had his brother killed, helping to solidify his business position, but having lost, at the end of two movies, his soul.

  • Bilbomurphy

    Seriously, no rules of attraction! that scene were james van der beek moves in for the kill on kate bosworth at the end of the world party like some predator, with that demonic, cold, shark eyed stare, it&#39;s a truly chilling image and the moment you realised that dawson leary was truly dead.

  • MyNameIsVincent

    Malcolm McDowell, Anthony Hopkins, Jean PierreLeaud… not Americans…unfortunately.

  • Stinkerino

    Wonderful list!

  • Craiglbarrow

    what about Come And See???????

  • R Saeba 78

    I agree, the list can&#39;t be validated unless it contains a stare by Clint

  • Dtizzlefosho

    How about Jake Gyllenhaal (or however you spell) it, staring at himself/Frank the rabbit is Donnie Darko?<br /><br />But great list, no less. Thoroughly enjoyable.

  • stareeeeeee

    there should be a clint stare i agree, and also there should be something by denzel

  • Mark Levine

    Tom Cruise in Magnolia, during his interview.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Grant-David/1267768511 Grant David

    LOTR Fellowship of the Ring. Frodo after Gandalfs fall!

  • Ckotcher2002

    definitly!!! I was thinking that too! sooo much is going through his coke addled mind in that shot.

  • Ckotcher2002

    One of the great &quot;stare-er&#39;s&quot; to me in film is Tom Hanks–esp in &quot;Philidelphia&quot; when he comes out of Denzel Washington&#39;s office…Denzel refuses to take his case and Tom&#39;s character, dying of aids just gives this stare of hopelessness like nothing ive ever seen..just staring into space for a full minute almost as he begins to weep..Breaks my heart…=(

  • Petra Sphinx

    I like the one he does at the very end when he&#39;s sitting in the car completely still, not blinking, and you don&#39;t know whether he&#39;s alive or dead… that&#39;s hard to do.

  • Jeff Howe

    Agree with your Psycho pick – one of the greatest last scenes in film ever.

  • The Wet Bandit

    No Dirk Diggler at Rashid Jackson&#39;s house in Boogie Nights? No love for Gosling in Drive? No De Niro slow-mo while Sunshine of Your Love is playing in Goodfellas? Shameful.

  • Animeplay1

    Christopher Walken in &quot;True Romance&quot; (or pretty much anything, really) trumps them all.

  • dirtyd

    Kind of a silly pick, but any one of Ben Stiller&#39;s stares in Zoolander should be up there. Tells you everything you need to know about the character.

  • http://www.facebook.com/SMONH Sean O’Brien

    Tom Hanks stare in &quot;Philadelphia&quot; as he leaves Denzel&#39;s office. The hopelessness of that look always stuck with me

  • Dave

    How about Fess Parker as Davy Crockett grinning down a bear in the 1954 classic &quot;Davy Crockett and the River Pirates&quot;

  • Guest

    Ignoring the fact he went off the deep end years ago now, I&#39;ve always thought that Mel Gibson had a stare that would scare away a pit bull.

  • ganderman1

    Charlie Chaplin and Virginia Cherrill&#39;s mutual stare at the end of CITY LIGHTS — that is, if women are allowed on the list. ;-)

  • roldwell

    Nurse Ratchet staring down Jack in One Flew Over a Cuckoo&#39;s nest, right after she passive aggressively destroyed the group therapy session.

  • Double T

    Yes! Denzel in &quot;Glory&quot; while being whipped. He glares at the camera as tears well up but he does not show pain.

  • Lawrence Brian Schwartz

    The stare that does it for me is Al Pacino from &quot;The Devil&#39;s Advocate&quot; in which before Kevin Lomax [Keanu Reeves] makes the decision to call Melissa Black as the sole witness to Alex Cullen&#39;s whereabouts for three murders (where later we find out she lied about this,) Al&#39;s character John Milton stares coldly [and brilliantly] at Kevin. Kevin looks for behind him for help,

  • Wil

    Although the 2-way stare between Fonda and Bronson in Sergio Leone&#39;s &quot;Once Upon a Time in the West&quot; is indeed a great one with a deeply rich subcontext of revelation and realization, for sheer tension it&#39;s hard to beat the 3-way stare between Eastwood, Wallach, and Van Cleef that initiates the final gunfight in Leone&#39;s earlier &quot;The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly&quot;.

  • Chalkeevthunder

    What about that one nun from Black Narcissus?

  • Bunza_299

    Raymond Burr across the the courtyard into Jimmy Stewart&#39;s apartment when he catches Grace Kelly – Rear Window

  • Tj19

    Cate Blanchett at the end of Elizabeth.<br />Uma Thurman in Kill Bill.

  • http://flickeringmyth.blogspot.com/ Flickering Myth

    Guys, just wanted to say thank you for all of the great comments, some wonderful movie stares mentioned!

  • Mimosa

    Guy Pearce – Memento ending. Those blank stares. Just brilliant. Choi Min-sik – ending of Oldboy. Subtle stare. One of the greatest. Great list by the way. My favorites are Alex De Large, Travis Bickle, Norman Bates, and Anthony Hopkins. I like to include HAL&#39;s stare. Yeah, he&#39;s staring.