The Movie: 'Frankenstein' (1931)
The Scene: "Quite a good scene, isn't it?" Doctor Victor Frankenstein (Colin Clive) implores his audience while hovering protectively over the shrouded human form that he stitched together from stolen cadavers. "One man, crazy. Three very sane spectators."
Frankenstein's corpse creation is hoisted through a hatch, into the night sky during an electric storm. One lightning blast later and the form is lowered back down into the doctor's lab. A moment passes, then...a twitch. The monster's hand lifts, and Frankenstein looks on, fascinated.
"It's alive!" he declares in hysterical fear and elation. "It's alive! In the name of God, now I know what it feels like to be God!" Frankenstein reels with the mad rush of creation, and a single unreal moment is made so real on film that it still holds every ounce of its raw power almost 80 years later.
Why It's Iconic: It's the exact moment when a well-intended idea goes very, very wrong. 'Frankenstein' isn't really faithful to its source novel, but if there's one scene that manages to encapsulate Mary Shelley's railing against scientific hubris, it's this one. No other Frankenstein film has outdone James Whale's laboratory centerpiece, no matter how hard they've tried, because there's real madness here and true horror in the quiet form of Frankenstein's resurrected corpse.
Special attention should be paid to the performance of Colin Clive as Dr. Frankenstein, who, along with his creation, really comes alive in this moment. Clive's Frankenstein is already arrogant, with a flair for the dramatic, so when he gets to deliver his lines in this moment, he delivers them like he's shouting directly into the face of God Himself. Clive was never better than in this scene, even when he got the chance to replicate it somewhat in the sequel 'The Bride of Frankenstein.'
Imitators/Flatterers: It's impossible to count the number of references to 'Frankenstein's' lab scene (though IMDb tries hard). Like most horror films, its most memorable homages are found in comedies. 'Weird Science' played colorized clips from the film (and its sequel) while teenagers Gary and Wyatt created their perfect woman. Most famously, Mel Brooks spoofed the scene with Gene Wilder as the doctor in the comedy classic 'Young Frankenstein.'