Humans have always loved quoting famous lines. It’s a way of communicating larger meaning in a short burst. It’s a way of making you look intelligent and quick-witted, and it’s just super fun. Movies have brought us some of the best and oft quoted lines. These days, films are taken in far more than books and the quotes are much more memorable, if only because there are less of them. We all use film quotes, but do we always understand what we’re saying? Obviously, if we sat down and thought about it, we can work out the meanings of the words and their sum total. But what about context? What about the setup for the line? All of this is typically lost when people throw around movie quotes in everyday life.
Now, we didn’t want to go through and pull out random quotes and explain why they’re misused. That wouldn’t be fun at all. We decided to select the biggest quotes in the industry. Each of the quotes on this list are usually misused in some way. Now, some have had their meaning changed over time. Some changed because of the films they were used in. Others changed after because of all of us idiots misusing them. Many of these quotes are so integral to the message of the film they’re from that it’s actually pretty remarkable they’re misused and misunderstood. Either people aren’t thinking about how they’re being used or they are blatantly overlooking how the meaning is connected to the film. Or maybe, we’re just blowing this way out of proportion. Either way, this exercise was fun. Here are 15 Famous Movie Quotes That No One Ever Uses Correctly.
15. “You Had Me At Hello” – Jerry Maguire
We will admit that this quote has multiple meanings. We won’t outright deny that the common understanding that Renée Zellweger’s character, Dorothy, is talking about love at first sight. But, that’s really not what’s going on here. Dorothy and Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) are already together at this point. Maguire already “had her,” so to speak. The line comes at a point after Jerry and Dorothy have drifted apart. When she says, “you had me at hello,” it’s when Jerry has come to get her back. More than anything else, she is accepting his apology “at hello.” By him coming back, by him walking in the house and saying anything, he’s shown that he wants to fix things with her and she’s down for that.
14. “I Drink Your Milkshake” – There Will Be Blood
It’s unlikely that people use this quote incorrectly if they’ve seen There Will Be Blood. But we wanted to include it because it has an interesting history. The film’s director, Paul Thomas Anderson had Daniel Day Lewis deliver this excellent line because he came across it in the transcripts of the 1924 congressional hearings over the Teapot Dome scandal. In these hearings, Senator Albert Fall was defending his conviction of accepting bribes. He was accused of taking money for the rights to drill oil on public lands in Wyoming and California. To explain oil drainage, the same thing that Day Lewis is explaining to Paul Dano’s character in the film, Eli, Fall said, “Sir, if you have a milkshake and I have a milkshake and my straw reaches across the room, I’ll end up drinking your milkshake.” What this is getting at is the “rule of capture” in oil drilling. This rule states that a landowner can “appropriate the oil and gas that have flowed from adjacent lands without the consent of [that] owner” as long as the drilling takes place above ground on the original landowner’s property.
13. “Every Living Creature On Earth Dies Alone” – Donnie Darko
This is the line that is told to Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) by Roberta Sparrow, Grandma Death, in Donnie Darko. Donnie tells his psychiatrist this and then reflects on a story about his dog dying underneath the porch. Donnie, like most of the viewers, sees this as a comment about the lack of a higher power, a distressing thought for many. But the entire point of the film is embedded in this line. In order to save the primary universe, Donnie must sacrifice himself. He knows this and he creates Frank in his mind to help convince himself to complete this task. But he’s afraid to go through with it. It would make sense that Donnie has failed to complete this mission many times before because of this fear. What Roberta Sparrow says to him isn’t meant to be sad. It’s meant to be liberating. Donnie is afraid to die alone, but he doesn’t need to be because it’s something that everyone has to go through alone.
12. “If You Build It, He Will Come” – Field Of Dreams
First off, let’s just get the quote right. Admit it. You’ve been saying “If you build it, they will come” this entire time, haven’t you? Who’s they? Most viewers of the film would assume that “they” refers to the ghostly baseball team, but the capitalists out there would argue that “they” refers to the fans that come, the huge lineup of cars that want to pay to watch the game. After all, building that damn field almost bankrupted the family in the film, so paying customers are important. But it’s not “they,” it’s actually “he.” This is an extremely important quote because the “he” is assumed to Shoeless Joe Jackson, played by Ray Liotta. The entire film is built around this belief. Then, in the end, we realize that “he” is actually Ray’s (Kevin Costner) father. Building this field brought him closure with his father. So the quote is best used as a symbol of reconciliation, not capitalism.
11. “What We’ve Got Here Is Failure To Communicate” – Cool Hand Luke
The line uttered from the Captain, the sadistic prison chain gang boss with an incredible accent, in Cool Hand Luke is not meant to mean what most people think it means. Most people use it as a way of describing an impasse, a verbal stalemate where neither side is willing to budge. Because neither side accepts the other’s, well, we would have “failure to communicate.” The actual line is meant to be more sadistic than that. Because the Captain feels that it is impossible to communicate with Luke, he beats the crap out of him. So, next time you’re about to punch someone in the mouth, utter this line and see if they brace themselves.
10. “O Romeo, Romeo, Wherefore Art Thou Romeo?” – Romeo + Juliet
Yeah, we realize that Baz Luhrmann did not originally write Romeo and Juliet, but this is a discussion about movie quotes and this quote was in a movie. It’s also one of the most recognizable and misused quotes in the English language. If you don’t know anyone who quotes Shakespeare, then that’s your loss. So, this quote is not asking where is Romeo. Shocked? Don’t be. Juliet, in this case played by Claire Danes, is asking “why are you Romeo.” This is an extension of the “what’s in a name” speech. She wishes he was named something else. She wishes that he was not a member of the Montague family, the enemies of her Capulet family. Words are fun.
9. “Here’s Looking At You, Kid” – Casablanca
This one is a little different because Casablanca has been a major contributor in making this quote what it is today. Before Casablanca came out, the toast “here’s looking at you” was quite common. After the film, it became even more common. Most take it to mean, “here’s to us being here together” or “here’s to your beauty.” Truthfully, there are several interpretations and all of them work. There’s even talk that it represents an all-face hand in poker, which is completely untrue. There’s rumors that Humphrey Bogart used it because Ingrid Bergman watched their poker games during down hours. But that makes no sense, neither does it get at the meaning of the line. As we said, the toast was common before the film, but why? The real answer is likely connected to the European toasting tradition of making eye contact. For a long time, it has been considered respectful to make eye contact while toasting. The punishment of not doing it is usually bad luck of some sort. This tradition was probably borrowed by saying, “here’s looking at you.” Sure, Bogart is likely connecting some other meanings to the line, but, above all else, he’s just following the toasting tradition and making eye contact.
8. “I’ll Be Back” – Terminator
There seems to be a lot of confusion about one of the most famous lines ever spoken. Do people only remember the Terminator saying this to John and Sarah Connor in Terminator 2 or something? Do they only picture him smiling as he says this, as if to promise that this isn’t the last time they’ll see their old friend? That would be the only way to explain how it’s used. The second time this quote was used (and each time after that) was a perversion of the original. In the beginning, this was not a friendly promise. It was a threat. In Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger delivers this line to the police officer that he savagely murders mere seconds later. He says, “I’ll be back,” leaves, and gets in his car. He then drives said car straight into the building and into the officer.
7. “I Ate His Liver With Some Fava Beans And A Nice Chianti” – Silence Of The Lambs
Most people can feel the meaning of this line as it’s said. It’s menacing and psychopathic but it has a touch of class as well. However, there are also some underlying meanings embedded in this. First of all, the film did change the quote from the book. The wine in the book was an Amarone. Amarone pairs very nicely with liver, so Hannibal is showcasing that he is a man of taste. There’s also a medical joke in the line. It’s quite possible that while in prison, Hannibal is being treated with monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). Three things that you cannot eat while on MAOIs are liver, beans, and wine. So, basically, Hannibal is making a joke here, partly at his own expense. He’s recalling a meal that represents his freedom, a meal that he could not possibly eat while in prison.
6. “The First Rule Of Fight Club Is: You Do Not Talk About Fight Club” – Fight Club
This is an easy quote to remember from a widely viewed film, but few people think about what the quote actually signifies. Granted, it plays to several important points, but none of them discuss enough. First, Fight Club is meant to represent the freedom from order, the reclaiming of masculinity from society and anarchy. Isn’t it rather strange that this anarchic club has rules? This is because Fight Club is a satire on anarchy. The very act of assembling and ruling over a club defeats its very purpose. The rule is also meant to be broken in a way. Although Tyler Durden may not want people talking about it, he does want it to grow. The club grows by breaking the first rule of Fight Club; which is fine, because rules are meant to be broken. There’s also the suggestion that you don’t talk of Fight Club, but you can show Fight Club. Let people see the bruises and cuts on your face. Get them interested in that way.
5. “Forget It Jake, It’s Chinatown” – Chinatown
One of the most powerful late lines in a film seems to perfectly sum up the film Chinatown. Jake (Jack Nicholson) needs to let go of the fact that his efforts were all for naught. In other words, there’s nothing that can be done in Chinatown. It’s a lawless place. This is how people interpret the line. It’s a bleak ending about a bleak place. But the line hits at something deeper than that as well. It speaks to the character of Jake and the ghosts that haunt him. He had something similar happen to him when he was a cop. It was the reason he quit the force and became a private investigator in the first place. When he got pulled back into Chinatown, it happened all over again. So there’s something cyclical happening here. Not only is Jake being told to let go of the current situation, he’s being told to let go of his past as well.
4. “The Dude Abides” – The Big Lebowski
“The Dude abides” is a great quote that captures everything the Dude is about in The Big Lebowski, but we all think of it totally wrong. So, what does it really mean? The Dude accepts, right? No. Well, not exactly. When the quote comes out in the film, it’s delivered in response to Sam Elliot’s character saying, “Take it easy, Dude. I know that you will.” It’s also shortly after Donny has died. The line is a reference to Ecclesiastes 1:4, “One generation passes away, and another generation comes: but the earth abides forever.” So, what’s being said here is that no matter what comes, no matter what chaos, tragedy, or change happens around the Dude, he endures, unchanged.
3. “The Last Samurai” – The Last Samurai
Not a quote, we see that. We wanted to include this because people misunderstand the title of this film all the time. This might be because Tom Cruise is a bit of a punching bag in Hollywood. His weird mannerisms, the thing on Oprah’s couch, Scientology, he gets from all sides. Including him in the Hollywood whitewashing scandal makes sense for most people when they think of The Last Samurai. How funny is that Tom frickin’ Cruise is the last samurai? How insulting. But, Tom Cruise isn’t the last samurai in the film. That’s not what the title is referring to and that’s not what the film is about. Hell, the term samurai in this title is not even referring to one guy. Rather, it’s referring to the last army of samurai. After being hired to squash a samurai army, Cruise is captured by them. There, he learns their traditions and respects them. In the process, he begins to recapture respect for himself as well.
2. “All Right, Mr. DeMille, I’m Ready For My Closeup” – Sunset Boulevard
More than anything else, this line is just taken out of context rather than misunderstood. For that reason, we’ve included it. In Sunset Boulevard, we meet a Norma Desmond who is completely out of touch with reality. The film revolves around a script, Salome, that Desmond has written and wants made into a film. The protagonist, Joe, is hired by Desmond to doctor the script and help her get it made. In the end, Joe abandons the disturbed Desmond and reveals that she’s been living in a fantasy land. After she shoots and kills him, the police and reporters arrive at her house. Believing that everyone is there to start filming Salome, Desmond comes out and delivers the line, “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my closeup.” So, yeah, it means what we all think it means. But, it’s much more representative of the situation and context than the actual words spoken.
1. “Stupid Is As Stupid Does” – Forrest Gump
This quote might be used in real life more than any other on this list. We come across a lot of people that are stupid or do stupid things and we want a clever way of expressing that. “Stupid is as stupid does” seems to get that across effectively. Most would use it to suggest that stupid people are bound to do stupid things. It could mean that, but it almost certainly doesn’t. This line is a play on several similar lines, one being “handsome is as handsome does.” Handsome is an easier term to work with because it’s often judged superficially, but the line is saying that handsome is an action—“you’re only handsome if you act handsome.” Therefore, you’re only stupid if you act stupid.