Tuesday September 20, 2005

Top 100 Movie Quotes

I know it's been once around the blogosphere already, but I finally watched a repeat of "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes" last weekend.  Such a list is inevitably going to be incomplete—for example, they have exactly zero quotes from The Princess Bride—and you could play the "but what about this quote" game forever.  Still, I was repeatedly struck by how, even in the movies they did select quotes from, they didn't always pick the one I would have chosen.

Quotations have an interesting linguistic status.  They're clearly memorized, and their content have can have a pretty arbitrary relationship to their meaning, making them a lot like lexical items.  (I should point out here that I'm influenced by Ray Jackendoff's discussion of memorized chunks of speech in The Foundations of Language, but don't blame him if I'm expressing it badly.)  The most interesting cases are quotes that have turned into idioms or constructions with such broadly applicable meanings that they may no longer even be associated with their origin.

The show, via narrator Pierce Brosnan, talks about this quite clearly.  Brosnan says early on, "There are some quotes, though, that allow us all to be in the club.  They're quoted and re-quoted so often and by so many that they've become part of a language we all share," and later, "These are the lines you must know to speak the English language fluently."  It seems to me, then, that they should have been looking for the quotes that are less strongly tied to the movie they occur it, but instead have been slipping into the English language.  The best example of this on the list might be Bogart's "the stuff that dreams are made of" in The Maltese Falcon, which I hadn't even realized was a movie quote.  In the following, I've tried to pick out quotes that I think are further down the road to being dissociated from their origins.

Or, in some cases, quotes that I like better and use more often.

Casablanca:  They have six quotes from Casablanca in the top 100, but they left out what I consider the most useful, and also the most productive (in the linguistic sense) of all of them: "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!"—especially the "shocked, shocked" part.  That construction has definitely entered the rhetorical toolbox of many speakers and writers of English, and I can't see how they left it out.

Some Googling will show what I mean.  The string "shocked shocked" receives 223,000 ghits, of which 210,000 remain if we filter out pages that also contain "casablanca".  Let's look at the other Casablanca quotes included in the list (with the portion of the string I searched for in boldface):

here's looking at you kid:  84,600 ghits
this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship:  49,500 ghits
play it sam play as time goes by:  24,200 ghits
round up the usual suspects:  70,200 ghits

we'll always have paris:  73,300 ghits

Of these, the only serious competition for "shocked, shocked" is "the usual suspects".  In fact, it's probably the winner—if we filter out pages that include the strings "singer" or "1995" to try to discount pages that refer to the movie by that name, we still get 1.67 megaghits.  The string "play it again sam" receives a lot of ghits, too (439,000), but there's a movie by that name, so some of them may be spurious.

Come to think of it, I'm also surprised "Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life." didn't get a mention.  That's a handy one!

Star Wars:  I know "May the Force be with you" ended up on the t-shirts, but it really wasn't a very important line in the movie, and I'm pretty sure that I, even though I'm a serious Star Wars geek, have never quoted it.  There are lots of more quotable lines.  How about "You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villany" or "I find your lack of faith disturbing" or even "Stay on target!"?  (I say "Stay on target!" all the time.)

The section of the AFI special about Star Wars also contained what may be the dumbest of all the dumb statments I've ever heard erroneously ascribing beliefs to today's young people.  Some old doofus (I'm not interested enough to find out who it was) said: "'May the Force be with you' stayed with a whole generation of young people all over the world, and they really associated all supernatural power with the Force."  Yes, who can forget the wave of Force Worship that was so popular back in those days?

Citizen Kane:  I can't say that "Rosebud" is the wrong pick—it is probably the most quoted—but the one I actually quote all the time is the newsreel guy referring to Xanadu, Kane's home: "Cost?  No man can say."  (In fact, since the whole thing is too long, I usually misquote it as, "Xanadu!  Palatial home of Charles Foster Kane!  Cost?  No man can say.", which I think I got from MST3k.)

Silence of the Lambs:  The quote about fava beans?  BZZZZT!  The correct most quotable line is without doubt, "It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again."  Or "Yes or no, Clarice".   Or even "I myself cannot." (a personal favorite)

A Few Good Men:  Again, they went with the obvious choice, "You can't handle the truth," but I find I have more use in everyday life for, "I'm gonna rip the eyes out of your head and piss in your dead skull!"  Your mileage may vary.

When Harry Met Sally:  "I'll have what she's having"?  Oh, come now.  The phrase "high maintenance" has clearly entered the lexicon of English—plus it occurs in a discussion about Casablanca, so it's meta!

A League of Their Own:  "There's no crying in baseball".  Hmm, I find myself quoting "A lady reveals nothing" a lot more often, but maybe it's too obscure.

Dr. Strangelove:  "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here!  This is the War Room!"  Hmm, why not, "Purity of Essence", or "prevert", or "The bomb, Dmitri...the hydrogen bomb".  Strangelove was full of really smart, clever jokes, and the line they picked is just a dumb punchline.

The Shining:  "Here's Johnny".  A waste of a slot, as far as I'm concerned, since it's already a quote.  I'd vote for, "I corrected her".

Chinatown:  "Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown."  Sheesh, how could they pick that non sequitur, even if it is the source of the title for the movie, when "She's my sister and my daughter" is just sitting there?

2001:  "Open the pod bay doors, HAL."  That's definitely the section of the movie everyone remembers, but I think it's HAL's lines, in the creepy flat delivery of Douglas Rain, are more memorable and quotable: "I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that.", "Just what do you think you're doing, Dave?", "Look, Dave, I can see you're really upset about this.  I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over."  And of course his dying rendition of "Daisy".

Airplane:  "...and don't call me Shirley."  You know, it's amazing given the sheer number of quotable lines in that movie, but I think I actually agree on this one.  (The other contender, as far as I'm concerned, is "Joey, have you ever been to a Turkish prison?")

Animal House: "Toga!  Toga!"?  BZZZZT!  The correct answer is, "double secret probation" .

Caddyshack:  The "it's in the hole!" speech is funny, I agree, but what about: "You'll have nothing and like it!", or  "A flute with no holes is not a flute, and a donut without a hole is a danish.", or "Noonan!"?  The winner has to be "Be the ball", though.

Of course, the AFI snubbed what's perhaps the most quotable movie of all time:

"Did IQs just drop sharply while I was away?"
"Mostly they come at night...mostly."
"That's inside the room!"
"Stay frosty."
"Remember: short, controlled bursts."
"I say we take off and nuke the site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure."
"You now have X minutes to reach minimum safe distance..."

...not to mention everything Hudson says in the entire movie.  Aliens is chock full of quotes that are applicable to everyday life, and I hope one day to use all of them in faculty meetings and at academic conferences.  Wish me luck.

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
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they have exactly zero quotes from The Princess Bride

Posted by: EFL Geek at Sep 20, 2005 3:28:45 AM

I think it was a very good list. If you're choosing quotes that have become part of the language the most obvious choice is the right one, not necessarily the best lines.

One can always find a few things to complain about though. For "Star Wars", I would have given "I've got a bad feeling about this" a slight edge over "May the Force be with you." I didn't get why "Rosebud" was on the list. I agree with you about "Here's Johnny." There were a few others that just made me think, "Huh?" but for the most part the list is right on target.

Posted by: Lynn S at Sep 20, 2005 6:04:00 AM

Thank you for mentioning what is definitely the most frequently used quote in my house... mostly!

Posted by: Bridget at Sep 20, 2005 7:23:46 AM

"It seems to me, then, that they should have been looking for the quotes that are less strongly tied to the movie they occur it, but instead have been slipping into the English language.  The best example of this on the list might be Bogart's "the stuff that dreams are made of" in The Maltese Falcon, which I hadn't even realized was a movie quote."

I think Bogart was echoing another quotable fellow there, although the Maltese Falcon version of the quote is the one that has really entered the language.

You do look, my son, in a mov'd sort,
As if you were dismay'd: be cheerful, sir:
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

(The Tempest, Act IV, scene 1)

Posted by: Q. Pheevr at Sep 20, 2005 9:18:43 AM

I can't believe you left "many bothans died ..." and "these are not the droids you are looking for" out of your star wars quotables list. I bet both of those get used at least once a week in my house. They don't get a lot of google hits though. Maybe we are just really big geeks. ;)

Posted by: Nicole Wyatt at Sep 20, 2005 9:59:08 AM

I agree about "these are not the droids..." (and "I have a bad feeling about this", which I'm embarrassed to have forgotten)—those seem to get quoted all the time by people around me. But when do you use "many Bothans died"?

Posted by: The Tensor at Sep 20, 2005 12:20:00 PM

EFL Geek said,


You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means...

Posted by: The Wife at Sep 20, 2005 2:35:22 PM

I think you're thinking of quotations as useful things, whereas those who collect quotes for quotes sake are doing so because of their recognisability. I think that when many people quote something, they're doing it so that their conversation partner will smile and nod at the shared reference (which may or may not actually fit well into the conversation), not because they reach for a utilitatian phrase and what comes up is a movie quote.
Definitely a wide range of usage, though...

Posted by: zusty at Sep 20, 2005 8:15:29 PM

Further proof of the quotablility of Aliens: we're watching an old episode of The Tick (the cartoon, not the live action show). In the episode, the Tick is setting a huge explosive on the surface of the moon—don't ask why—and the following exchange takes place:

Astronaut: Now, when you get to the bottom of the channel, you place the explosive pack on a side wall, fly back up here to a safe distance, and hit that detonator button. Piece of cake, buddy!
[The astronaut leaves]
Tick: Hey, where'd everybody go?
Astronaut: Minimum safe distance, Tick. We'll all be back in the lander...Break a leg, big guy!

Posted by: The Tensor at Sep 22, 2005 12:58:12 AM

There's a Tick live action show? Damn, I know nothing about home after living here for 9+ years...

Posted by: EFL Geek at Sep 22, 2005 1:30:01 AM

Yeah. It was so so. They changed all the characters' names (DieFledermaus became BatManuel and American Maid became...someone else) but Patrick Warburton as The Tick was *perfect*.


Posted by: The Wife at Sep 22, 2005 5:15:15 PM

Captain Liberty.

It was still quotable. Tick to a coffee vending machine: "Java devil, you are now my bitch!"

Plus, it was cool because my second cousin was one of the producers.

Posted by: The Tensor at Sep 22, 2005 5:41:36 PM

Of course, "She's my sister AND my daughter" is a maximally effective spoiler. Maybe they wanted to keep it fresh for the 5 people in the world who don't know the secret.

Also, it's icky.

Posted by: Matt at Sep 22, 2005 8:42:21 PM

"These are not the * you are looking for" gets 17,700 Ghits.

Posted by: Jim Henry at Sep 28, 2005 2:48:33 PM

But if you search for:

"these are not the * you're looking for" -"these are not the droids you're looking for"

(i.e. excluding the quote with "droids") you only get 713 ghits. Something like "I've got a bad feeling about this" (34 Kghits) can be in many circumstances without modification.

Posted by: The Tensor at Sep 28, 2005 4:15:06 PM

Interesting report. However I was hoping to see more movie quotes. You can check mine if you like.

Posted by: Lucky Hawk at Jan 6, 2006 6:23:23 PM

As an update - I came across this when I googled "These are not the droids you are looking for" and Star Wars (I was trying to confirm that it was Obi Wan who said this.)

I had to add Star Wars as a condition in the Advanced Search, because "these are not the droids you are looking for" alone returned 26,400 hits.

I agree with the quotability of Aliens - though I'm surprised that "Game over man! Game over!" wasn't specifically singled out.

And my other unmentioned favorite was the exchange between Hudson and Vasquez.
Hudson: Hey Vasquez, anyone ever mistake you for a man?
Vasquez: No. Anyone ever mistake you for one?

My most quoteable movie - The Princess Bride

My choice for best quote - "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies." Andy Dufresne, The Shawshank Redemption

Posted by: Night Nymph at Sep 10, 2006 2:38:33 AM

Hudson: Hey Vasquez, anyone ever mistake you for a man?
Vasquez: No. Anyone ever mistake you for one?

That is a funny bit, but you've got it slightly wrong—the actual quote (which you can find here, about 35 seconds in) is even punchier:

Hudson: Hey Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man?
Vasquez: No. Have you?

Oh, snap!

(Language pendants, take note: the funnier version wouldn't be possible without using the passive voice.)

Posted by: The Tensor at Sep 10, 2006 5:31:26 AM

Two words: 'My precious'?

Posted by: Bags at Nov 12, 2006 9:26:25 AM

You know a line is quotable if people say it and have never seen the movie, that can hear it and can say where it comes from. Most quotable lines aren't that 'important' the the overall plot of the movie. I think their list it good!

Posted by: at Sep 16, 2007 4:48:15 PM

Quite nicely written actually, i like it. :)

Posted by: dekora at Aug 11, 2008 3:34:50 PM

One that I've observed "in the wild" a few times recently, and another one that gets double points for being meta, is "And like that... * gone.", where the wildcard is originally "he's", but I've heard "it's", "we're", "we'll be", and others. The thing that ties it strongly to the original, though, is the .

I've heard people use that one who, when questioned, have never heard of Keyser Soze. It struck me hardest when it was used almost unmodified in one of the trailers for the last season of Doctor Who on the BBC - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YiME2ONoom0&feature=related .

Posted by: Simon Blake at Aug 12, 2008 2:10:59 AM

"We're gonna need a bigger boat."

Posted by: onepaul4u2 at Nov 17, 2009 12:50:57 PM