“Goodfellas: 10 Most Iconic Moments, Ranked”
Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, his breakneck-paced biopic of mobster Henry Hill, is arguably his finest and most memorable film. Scorsese’s goal with the movie was to make it feel like a two-and-a-half-hour trailer – jumping all over the story’s timeline with an unparalleled manic energy – using Jules and Jim’s opening montage as a guide.
The way Scorsese saw it, this was the only way to capture the craziness of the mafia lifestyle on film. As a result of every scene being distilled to its essential components, the movie has a ton of iconic moments. So, here are Goodfellas’ 10 Most Iconic Moments, Ranked.
10 The Ending
At the end of Goodfellas, Henry Hill avoids jail by selling out all of his friends and going into witness protection with his family. In his voiceover narration, as the camera pans across an average suburban neighborhood to his new house, Henry explains that, while he’s not in prison, he still feels imprisoned, because he’s become just like everybody else. The glamor of the mobster lifestyle is gone.
Then, we see a shot of Tommy firing a gun at the camera against a black background, a la The Great Train Robbery, symbolizing the target on Henry’s back. It was an unforgettable ending.
9 Tommy kills Spider
Tommy’s rivalry with Spider led to some really intense scenes. There was the moment when Tommy ended up shooting Spider in the foot. In their follow-up meeting, Tommy made fun of Spider for wearing a cast on his foot. When Spider told Tommy, “Go f*ck yourself,” he sealed his fate. The other guys thought it was funny, but Tommy just opened fire.
Michael Imperioli played Spider and would go on to become an icon with his role as Chris in HBO’s The Sopranos. He was one of many actors from the cast of Goodfellas that David Chase recruited for the series, having been heavily influenced by the film.
8 The pistol whip
The first instance of Karen being enraptured by Henry’s criminal lifestyle comes when one of her neighbors attacks her and she calls Henry to pick her up. Henry asks her to identify which guy did it and then walks over to his driveway to confront him.
At first, the guy acts cool, saying, “What do you want, f*cko?” but then Henry takes out his pistol and repeatedly smacks it into the guy’s face. Then, he tells him, “I swear on my mother, if you touch her again, you’re dead!” He walks back over to Karen’s house and gives her the blood-spattered pistol to hide.
7 Billy busts Tommy’s chops
The bar scene in which Billy Batts gives Tommy DeVito a hard time starts off funny. But it quickly becomes tense when Tommy’s offense begins to show. Billy doubles down on insulting Tommy: “Hey, Tommy, if I was gonna break your balls, I’d tell ya to go home and get your shine box.” The scene ends with the brutal murder of Billy at the hands of Tommy, Jimmy, and Henry.
Tommy starts kicking him to death, and Jimmy and Henry join in to support their friend. This ends up landing them in huge trouble because Billy is a made man and killing made men is strictly prohibited.
6 Henry wakes up to Karen pointing a gun at his face
Rather than vindicate Henry Hill’s domestic violence and extramarital affairs, Goodfellas sympathizes with his wife Karen. Just like we are, as viewers throughout the film, Karen was seduced by Henry’s lifestyle, only to find that the reality of it isn’t very glamorous. In one scene, Henry wakes up to the sight of Karen holding a gun in his face.
It’s a tense moment, and as Henry talks Karen down and eventually overpowers her, we feel even worse for her. During one of the takes for this scene, the gun apparently flew out of Lorraine Bracco’s hand and hit cinematographer Michael Ballhaus in the head.
5 “As far back as I can remember…”
In the opening scene of Goodfellas, Henry, Jimmy, and Tommy drive out into the countryside in the middle of the night with Billy Batts’ body in the trunk. Billy turns out to be alive, and Tommy stabs him with his mother’s kitchen knife until he isn’t.
Illuminated by the car’s red lights, Henry looks down at the bloody corpse. In voiceover, he says, “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” In that instant, Tony Bennett’s “Rags to Riches” comes on the soundtrack and we dive into the movie. The juxtaposition of Henry’s childhood dreams of being a powerful criminal and the grisly reality of that life straps us in for the ride.
4 Tommy gets whacked
It’s easy to understand the reasoning behind whacking Tommy, but it’s still a shocking moment. And the way they do it is so brutal. They lead Tommy to believe he’s getting made. So, he dresses up in his finest suit, he celebrates with his mother, and then he’s driven to what he thinks is his initiation ceremony.
As he enters an empty room, he realizes what’s going on – he’s had the wool pulled over his eyes – in the split-second before he’s shot in the back of the head. Henry’s voiceover explains that, to add insult to injury, they shot Tommy in the face, so his mother couldn’t have an open casket at the funeral.
3 A helicopter starts following Henry around
The frantic, feverish climactic sequence in Goodfellas is some of the most intense filmmaking of all time. There are a handful of soundtrack changes – from Harry Nilsson’s “Jump into the Fire” to George Harrison’s “What is Life” to Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy” – as Henry buries himself in coke, darts all over town, and becomes paranoid that the feds are following him in a helicopter.
This might be the best cinematic portrayal of paranoia ever put on film. Scorsese even spends a few shots lingering on Henry, not matching his eyeline with a shot of the helicopter, to create the sense that it might be in his head.
2 “Funny how?”
This scene was reportedly improvised from an experience that Joe Pesci had when he was working as a waiter and he told a mobster he thought he was funny. Tommy tells a table full of friends a story about insulting a well-built man who beat him up, and when he came to, he did it again.
Henry tells him he’s funny and the atmosphere suddenly turns tense. Tommy rants, “How the f*ck am I funny? What the f*ck is so funny about me?” After a few seconds, Henry catches on that Tommy’s messing with him and they burst into hysterical laughter.
1 The Copacabana tracking shot
There’s no question that the most iconic moment in Goodfellas is the long tracking shot that follows Henry as he takes Karen to the Copacabana nightclub. They arrive at the club and there’s a long line of customers coming out of the door. Henry takes Karen through a side door and they take a secret entrance into the kitchen.
The staff bring out a table just for them and place it right in front of the stage, all set to the sounds of the Crystals’ “Then He Kissed Me.” It’s a very seductive view of Henry’s lifestyle. We can see why it consumed him, and why Karen went along with it.
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