There are certain lines, with an unforeseen power, that have become influential artifacts of popular culture. Some quotes from the movies have managed to gain great significance within a film, telling us more about a character and the theme of the movie than anything else could, while others have leapt far beyond their context, taking on a life of their own that has let them live well past the borders of the cinematic world.
During Hollywood’s Golden Age, when going to the movies was a particularly special event, many classic lines appeared that had a mysterious and otherworldly power that made them iconic and larger-than-life for viewers. Of course, as quotables from the movies aren’t limited just to the past, there are many in recent years that have also struck gold, either by way of fostering a character or the unexpected enigma of one single line.
While the film Casablanca is a reflection, for many, of cinema’s pinnacle, it also gave way to more than a few of the most quotable lines in movie history. On the other side of things, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s famous turn as The Terminator might have been met with surprise success, but it is one line from the movie that has more reference to the action star than anything else. Whether for their unexpected popularity or ability to perfectly capture a moment, the following lines have managed to live long after they were last said.
“Houston, We Have a Problem”
Apollo 13 might be based on the problematic journey of the 1970 lunar mission, but the original line of dialogue received the Hollywood treatment and was actually delivered as the much-less glamorous “Houston, we’ve had a problem here”. In the 1995 film, the fateful phrase is spoken by Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks) as he and his crew make contact with ground control from space to report a significant technical problem. While it became the most famous line from a movie that stole the box office and impressed the critics, it has gained enough ground to be used in a wide variety of ways for those who find themselves in a suddenly troubling situation.
“Show Me the Money”
The phrase “Show Me the Money” might seem to have its very own charm right off the bat, but the delivery of the line by Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) and Rod Tidwill (Cuba Gooding Jr.) is what makes it so iconic. Feeling the pinch of becoming a free agent, the line is served up by Jerry Maguire, a sports agent who is desperately trying to keep his last client, Rod Tidwill, who is demanding more opportunities. While the movie Jerry Maguire was met with success outside of the iconic line, its popularity has likely given a little bit of oomph to the then-burgeoning careers of Cuba Gooding Jr. and Renee Zellweger.
“I’ll Be Back”
The much replicated but never re-produced “I’ll be back” may be one of the most familiar quotes in cinematic history, but there is no one thing that perfectly explains its popularity. Originally appearing in the 1984 movie The Terminator, whose title character is played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, the famous line is said to a police officer who will not let the cyborg assassin (Schwarzenegger) gain access to the police station, leading him to return a few minutes later and drive into the station with his car. A simple enough line, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes it such a famous one, but the one-two punch of the movie’s unexpected success and Schwarzenegger’s unique delivery could offer a couple hints.
“You Talkin’ To Me?”
The phrase “You Talkin’ To Me?” might seem like it could have come from many a conversation, and even many a movie, but the line from Taxi Driver, released in 1976, gets its potency from Robert De Niro’s chilling portrayal. Playing taxi driver Travis Bickle, who is a troubled and lonely man that seeks to help a young abused prostitute, the iconic phrase was actually conjured up by De Niro during his practice sessions for the film. As the moment gains its power from De Niro’s keen engagement with the character of Bickle, it remains one of the most well known snippets from Taxi Driver, a film that is widely considered director Martin Scorsese’s best.
“I coulda’ been a contender”
Uttered by Marlon Brando at the end of an impassioned speech that won him the Best Actor Oscar in 1954, “I coulda’ been a contender” finds its significance in the life of Terry Malloy, a former boxer who threw a game and forever lost the opportunity to be a champion. While Brando’s heartbreaking depiction in On the Waterfront rankled with the possibility of what could have been for Malloy, the moment has become among the most famous on the silver screen and is considered one of Brando’s finest moments as an actor.
“Go Ahead, Make my Day”
There are a number of slick lines from Charles B. Pierce’s 1983 film Sudden Impact, but it is Clint Eastwood as Harry Callahan espousing “go ahead, make my day” that really takes the cake as one’s worth remembering. While the phrase came out of real life, inspired by Pierce’s dad who used some version of it to chastise his son, it’s a means of detachment for Harry Callahan who is attempting to stop a fleeing robber who has taken hostage the waitress that put sugar in Harry’s coffee. It’s been a number of years since the film was released, but the famous line was still chosen as number 6 on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years…100 Movie Quotes” list in 2005.
“May the Force be with you”
The iconic line from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope is not only the most recognized quote from one of cinema’s favorite series’, but one that has achieved icon status around the world, transcending far beyond its actual meaning. While the line has been spoken in many Star Wars movies since its initial enunciation, its most significant appearance is when Han Solo (Harrison Ford) says it to Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) before Skywalker heads off to attack the Death Star battle station, as if Solo’s faith in the Force is beginning to materialize. As a line that has been used again and again, in art and in life, the quote is number 8 on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years…100 Movie Quotes” list.
“…We’re not in Kansas anymore”
While Dorothy’s expression to her loyal dog Toto upon arriving unexpectedly in the Land of Oz if often misquoted, the quote still, in whatever form, quintessentially captures the meaning of Dorothy’s understandable surprise. The Wizard of Oz may have become an instant classic upon its release in 1939 with Judy Garland as the recognizable, gingham-adorned Dorothy swept away from home by way of a blustering Kansas tornado, but the line has lent itself to a good many moments in life when people find themselves in an unknown place, relying upon the familiar catchphrase as a means with which to cope.
“Here’s looking at you, kid”
Casablanca, released in 1942, may be one of cinema’s favorites films, but it has also given way to many popular one-liners that have worked to further forge its success. While the movie stars giants Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman could have made almost any old line stick with their chemistry, it was this popular expression of the time that Bogart came up with on-the-fly that really took off, serving as Rick’s (Bogart) iconic last line to Ilsa (Bergman) before she gets on the plane to leave Morocco and Rick behind forever. As a line that has far exceeded the emotive power of its delivery, it was voted number one on the “100 Greatest Movie Lines” by Premiere Magazine in 2007.
“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”
Rhett Butler’s scalding last words to Scarlett O’Hara have reached well beyond the icon status of 1939’s Gone with the Wind, earning the American Film Institute’s recognition as the most famous line in cinema. While the line, spoken by actor Clark Gable, was memorable enough in its time for the controversial use of the word damn, it gathered its true steam from the eternal end it meant for Rhett and Scarlett’s (Vivien Leigh) love after the audience had followed them through the years and spent more than four hours (on film) committed to their ill-fated love story.
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