One of the most celebrated scenes in the film is the massacre of civilians on the Odessa Steps (also known as the Primorsky or Potemkin Stairs). This sequence has been assessed as a "classic" and one of the most influential in the history of cinema. In the scene, the Tsar's soldiers in their white summer tunics march down a seemingly endless flight of steps in a rhythmic, machine-like fashion, firing volleys into a crowd. A separate detachment of mounted Cossacks charges the crowd at the bottom of the stairs. The victims include an older woman wearing pince-nez, a young boy with his mother, a student in uniform and a teenage schoolgirl. A mother pushing an infant in a baby carriage falls to the ground dying and the carriage rolls down the steps amidst the fleeing crowd.
The massacre on the steps, although it never actually took place, was based on the fact that there were widespread demonstrations in the area, sparked off by the arrival of the Potemkin in Odessa Harbour, and both The Times and the resident British Consul reported that troops fired on the crowds; deaths were reportedly in the hundreds. Roger Ebert writes, "That there was, in fact, no tsarist massacre on the Odessa Steps scarcely diminishes the power of the scene ... It is ironic that [Eisenstein] did it so well that today, the bloodshed on the Odessa steps is often referred to as if it really happened."
Treatment in other works of art
The scene is perhaps the best example of Eisenstein's theory on montage, and many films pay homage to the scene, including Terry Gilliam's Brazil, Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather, Brian De Palma's The Untouchables, George Lucas' Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, Tibor Takacs' Deathline, Laurel and Hardy's The Music Box, Chandrashekhar Narvekar's Hindi film Tezaab, Shukō Murase's anime Ergo Proxy, and The Magic Christian. Several films spoof it, including Woody Allen's Bananas and Love and Death, Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker's Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult (though actually a parody of The Untouchables), Soviet-Polish comedy Deja Vu, Jacob Tierney's The Trotsky and the Italian comedy Il secondo tragico Fantozzi. The 2011 October Revolution parade in Moscow featured a homage to the film.
British painter Francis Bacon (1909–1992) was profoundly influenced by Eisenstein's images, particularly the Odessa Steps shot of the nurse's broken glasses and open mouthed scream. The open mouth image appeared first in his Abstraction from the Human Form, in Fragment of a Crucifixion, and other works including his famous Head series.
The Russian-born photographer and artist Alexey Titarenko was inspired by and paid tribute to the Odessa Steps sequence in his series "City Of Shadows" (1991–1993), shot near the subway station in Saint Petersburg.