If you have ever read a book on screenwriting or taken a class on the subject, you’ve heard the expression “show, don’t tell” — because film, as a visual medium, should supposedly depict events onscreen rather than describe them. And while that is a solid rule of thumb, there are emotions and ideas and jokes and prayers that only words themselves can express.
That’s why the history of movies is as much the history of their words as their pictures. Name any favorite film you have (as long as that film isn’t, say, Battleship Potemkin) and odds are the first things that come to mind are as much its treasured lines as its breathtaking visuals. When we think of Citizen Kane, we think of “Rosebud.” When we recall The Godfather, it’s “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.” And when we think of The Naked Gun, it’s Leslie Nielsen saying “It's the same old story. Boy finds girl, boy loses girl, girl finds boy, boy forgets girl, boy remembers girl, girls dies in a tragic blimp accident over the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day.” That sort of stuff.
To honor those magical bits of dialogue (and, to be transparent, to distract ourselves from everything else going on in the world right now) we decided to create this massive list of the 50 greatest movie quotes in history. Our main rule when selecting contenders was limiting ourselves to individual lines of dialogue. If a line needed the additional context of whatever was spoken back and forth by multiple people to fully capture its excellence, it was excluded. These are great movie quotes, not great movie conversations. (We’ll do that next month, when we’re even more stir crazy.)
Beyond that, this was entirely subjective — which means you’ll surely have your own picks you think should have been included. That’s expected and even welcomed; you can pass your own favorite quotes to use on social media. Until then, here’s looking at you, ScreenCrush readers. Let’s start the list...
“I have had it with these motherf—in’ snakes on this motherf—in’ plane!”
From: Snakes on a Plane (2006)
Why It’s #50: Because it’s a quote with so many applications in the real world; like, for example, when you are on a motherf—ing plane and it has too many motherf—ing snakes on it.
“I just wanted to take another look at you.”
From: A Star Is Born (various)
Why It’s #49: The fact that this same line has been featured in all four versions of A Star Is Born gives you a pretty good indication of its timeless appeal.
From: Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)
Why It’s #48: There has never been a funnier or more useful phrase for utter parental disappointment.
From: The Irishman (2019)
Why It’s #47: It’s a central component of one of the most important scenes in this great Martin Scorsese film. It’s also repeated multiple times by several characters, which might contribute to the line’s impact. How else would you explain it already becoming one of the most quoted movie lines of the last 10 years?
“It’s the f—ing Catalina Wine Mixer!”
From: Step Brothers (2008)
Why It’s #46: When you’ve been earning and burning, snapping necks and cashing checks, it’s the only place you want to go: The Catalina Wine Mixer. This nonsense phrase was elevated to cinematic immortality by Adam Scott’s intense delivery.
“I live my life a quarter mile at a time.”
From: The Fast and the Furious (2001)
Why It’s #45: The Fast & Furious franchise is known for its absurd stunts, but it’s beloved for its meathead philosophy, best embodied by this Dominic Toretto gem from the very first film in 2001.
Why It’s #44: There are already more memes of this line than any other moment in Adam Sandler’s career. (Okay, maybe it’s No. 2 to Al Dunkaccino.)
“Houston, we have a problem.”
Why It’s #43: It’s become the international shorthand for a deeply terrible situation. (We’ve said it 14 times this week already, and it’s only Monday.)
From: The Sixth Sense (1999)
Why It’s #42: Parodied in spoof movies, imitated a million times, it’s the moment that made Haley Joel Osment a star and launched M. Night Shyamalan’s career.
From: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
Why It’s #41: There are movie lines that get quoted, and then there are lines that get co-opted. Andy Serkis’ Gollum screeching “My precious!” is the latter. Everyone says it. It’s like Borat, but not immediately annoying.
From: Sudden Impact (1983)
Why It’s #40: While “make my day” was a figure of speech long before Sudden Impact, screenwriter Charles B. Pierce supposedly based Dirty Harry’s specific catchphrase on something his own father used to say to him when he didn’t do as he was told. (It’s fun to try on your own kids. Go for it!) The line became so famous, President Ronald Reagan borrowed it in a 1985 speech.
“They call me Mister Tibbs!”
From: In the Heat of the Night (1967)
Why It’s #39: It’s one of the great moments of defiance in the face of abject racism in movie history. The line echoed so strongly throughout 1960s popular culture that when the time came to make a sequel about Sidney Poitier’s character, Detective Virgil Tibbs, that became its title: 1970’s They Call Me Mister Tibbs!
“Would that it were so simple.”
From: Hail, Caesar! (2016)
Why It’s #38: It’s a signature moment and an unforgettable scene in the Coen brothers’ hilarious Hollywood satire, with bumbling Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) absolutely incapable of approximating the upper-class delivery demanded by his director, Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes). You could argue this sequence — or even just this line — made Alden Ehrenreich a star. Without it, does he get to play Han Solo? Maybe, maybe not.
From: Jerry Maguire (1996)
Why It’s #37: Because it’s slightly more memorable and slightly more quotable than “You complete me.” (We would prefer you do not cite “Show me the money!” at this time.)
“If you build it, he will come.”
From: Field of Dreams (1989)
Why It’s #36: The hushed ghostly tones instructing Kevin Costner’s Ray Kinsella to build “it” have been more imitated and parodied than almost any other line in history. There’s something about those words, and their spiritual call to action, that resonates with people.
“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”
Why It’s #35: It’s not often that a film — or a single sentence — can be said to capture a period in history and its prevailing sentiment. That’s what writers Oliver Stone and Stanley Weiser did with Gordon Gekko’s famous speech in Wall Street. (It’s not their fault that some people did not recognize that Gekko was the film’s villain.)
From: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Why It’s #34: How do you top “I’ll be back”? Well, you don’t — but Terminator 2 came closer than anyone could have predicted. John Connor teaches his protective Terminator how to act more human, which, in his mind, includes the phrase “Hasta la vista, baby!” when you want to “shine [someone] on.” Everyone laughed when John Connor said it the first time. Everyone cheered when the Terminator just before he obliterated the liquid metal T-1000.
Why It’s #33: It’s one of the most terrifying moments in horror cinema: Jack Nicholson tearing down the bathroom door, then shoving his face into the hole and screaming “Here’s Johnny!” At the time, the line was a play on Johnny Carson’s famous introduction on The Tonight Show. But Carson retired almost 30 years ago, and at this point if a young person knows this line, it’s because of The Shining, not Carson.
“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”
From: Cool Hand Luke (1967)
Why It’s #32: Wikipedia offers some interesting backstory on this famous line, which screenwriter Frank Pierson worried was too intellectual for Strother Martin’s warden character. The screenplay’s stage directions actually included an explanation; Martin’s character would have encountered the phrase while taking “criminology and penology courses at the state university” as part of his job training.
“It wasn’t the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast.”
Why It’s #31: A lot of people have seen King Kong, especially when you factor in its various remakes. But far, far more people have heard (and used) its tragic final line, which turns the classic literary title on its head.
“I am big! It’s the pictures that got small!”
From: Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Why It’s #30: In 1950, with television in its infancy — and with home video decades away — Billy Wilder’s L.A. noir found the definitive statement to summarize the end of Hollywood’s golden age.
“Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!”
From: Planet of the Apes (1968)
Why It’s #29: Charlton Heston’s often-imitated line from the original Planet of the Apes owes a lot of its impact to silence. Heston’s character gets injured and loses the ability to speak for a long stretch of the film while he is captured and imprisoned by a race of sentient apes. Finally, his throat recovers well enough to speak — and these are the first words out of his mouth.
“I wish I knew how to quit you.”
From: Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Why It’s #28: Movie quotes are not just words. Performance, staging, and editing and all play crucial roles. In the case of this signature phrase from Brokeback Mountain, watch Jake Gyllenhaal’s devastated face, and particularly the way Ang Lee frames that beautiful Western landscape behind him, symbolizing the perfection Jack and Ennis (Heath Ledger) could have had together. Notice, too, that Gyllenhaal turns his back to Ennis as he says the key line, as if he’s speaking not just to the man he loves, but to Brokeback Mountain as well, along with all that it symbolized to him.
“The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club.”
Why It’s #27: You could write an essay (a book?) on Fight Club’s appeal to a generation of moviegoers. Whatever the reasons, this line holds the key. You do not talk about Fight Club. It’s secret; it’s hidden. But David Fincher’s camera has invited us into this world where we are not allowed. That’s the kind of thrill that you want to tell people about — even if you shouldn’t.
From: The Terminator (1984)
Why It’s #26: Three words turned Arnold Scwhwarzenegger from a bodybuilder who made action movies into an international movie star. Ask anyone involved in the production of The Terminator and they’ll tell you they had no idea “I’ll be back” would become one of the most famous lines in history. It was just a thing the Terminator said to a cop. But the flatness of Schwarzenegger’s robotic delivery, coupled with the ferocity of his return made it legendary.
“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
Why It’s #25: Halfway through our list we arrive at this classic from Casablanca about the beginning of beautiful friendships. It takes a little of the bite out of Rick and Ilsa not remaining together at the end of the story, and it underscores how Rick and Captain Renault have formed a symbolic alliance and plan to join the forces of the Free French.
From: Finding Nemo (2003)
Why It’s #24: Forgetful fish can be surprisingly profound.
From: Frankenstein (1931)
Why It’s #23: Remember: In 1931, talkies were less than five years old. Imagine the sound of Colin Clive howling “It’s alive!” in that context, and it gives you a whole new perspective.
“A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? A billion dollars.”
From: The Social Network (2010)
Why It’s #22: Who could have predicted that Justin Timberlake would become the 21st century’s Gordon Gekko? (Technically, this is a dialogue exchange; Andrew Garfield’s Eduardo Saverin says the final word of Sean Parker’s famous speech as part of a deposition. But since he’s basically just recounting what Parker said, we’ll allow it.)
“I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”
From: Apocalypse Now (1979)
Why It’s #21: Robert Duvall got an Oscar nomination for his very small role in Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam War epic largely for the speech that includes this crucial sentence, which captures America’s insatiable hunger for war (and surfing).
“You can’t handle the truth!”
From: A Few Good Men (1992)
Why It’s #20: More Jack Nicholson excellence, (and Aaron Sorkin excellence, come to think of it) in this court-martial drama. Nicholson’s Colonel Jessup gets caught in a lie and finally confesses the truth on the stand — while insisting that the larger truth is one which Lt. Kaffee (Tom Cruise) and, by proxy, the audience can’t handle. After Nicholson unloads a passionate monologue about the necessity of his actions, the viewer is left to decide the validity of his viewpoint.
Why It’s #19: Roger Ebert had a famous line about how it’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about it. The same holds for movie quotes. This great line is just two little words. It’s all about how Heather O’Rourke said those words, with that curiously cheerful cadence. She’s almost excited about it.
“There’s no crying in baseball!”
From: A League of Their Own (1992)
Why It’s #18: When Tom Hanks was hospitalized with coronavirus, there was only one movie he quoted to describe his situation: A League of Their Own, where he played hard-scrabble baseball manager Jimmy Doyle. Hanks is beloved for his wholesome everyman roles. But A League of Their Own showed that he was equally adept at berating someone to the point of tears — if such tears were permitted in the sport of baseball, which they are most certainly not.
“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!”
From: Dr. Strangelove (1964)
Why It’s #17: The madness of nuclear war, and of humanity in general, is the subject of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. And what’s remarkable about this line (besides the fact that it is wickedly funny) is that it encapsulates all that madness in 10 words.
“Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
From: The Wizard Of Oz (1939)
Why It’s #16: A study in contrast: There’s the lovely understatement of the line mixed with the incredible Technicolor visuals that make it clear that, yes, Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) has gone over the rainbow.
Why It’s #15: We polled thousands of mirrors throughout the United States, and they confirmed in overwhelming numbers that this is the line most commonly quoted when men are standing in front of them.
“I’ll have what she’s having.”
From: When Harry Met Sally... (1989)
Why It’s #14: Director Rob Reiner makes another appearance on our list with perhaps the funniest movie punchline of all time. Reiner’s own mother played the key role, and her performance swiftly made Katz’s Delicatessen, the location of the scene, an immortal location in movie history. Katz’s still has a sign above the table where Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan sat.
“I drink your milkshake!”
From: There Will Be Blood (2007)
Why It’s #13: This line could have gone very wrong in the hands of a different actor. “I drink your milkshake!”? It’s a ridiculous sentence. But Daniel Day Lewis found precisely the right note to strike — and exactly the right slurping noise to make when the milkshake is drunk.
“Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”
From: Dirty Dancing (1987)
Why It’s #12: Its title suggests something salacious is going on, but the most famous line from Dirty Dancing is a pure romantic gesture; Johnny (Patrick Swayze) takes Baby (Jennifer Grey) out from under her dad’s thumb, brings her onstage, professes his love, and proceeds to perform their big dance number. The crowd loves it. Even Baby’s dad has a change of heart. Being dirty never felt so wholesome.
Why It’s #11: It’s how the world met Sean Connery’s James Bond, and more than 50 years later 007 still says it in movie after movie. Note the swell of the famous Bond theme song under Connery as he speaks his character’s name, sealing the deal and turning the character into a timeless icon of cool.
“Well, nobody’s perfect.”
From: Some Like It Hot (1959)
Why It’s #10: Nobody’s perfect, but some punchline’s are — thanks to the unflappable Joe E. Brown. Just watch Brown’s smile as Jack Lemmon runs down every possible reason they can’t get married. It. Never. Breaks.
“Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
From: Gone With the Wind (1940)
Why It’s #9: Adjusted for inflation, Gone With the Wind remains the biggest hit in the history of cinema. There are many elements of the film that have become dated, but Clark Gable’s famous Civil War-era mic drop has not. According to legend, producer David O. Selznick was fined thousands of dollars for the use of the taboo word “damn,” although by all modern accounts the story seems apocryphal. Even if it was true, the film wound up grossing about $400 million worldwide. $5,000 for one of the most famous lines in movie history would be worth every penny.
From: Citizen Kane (1941)
Why It’s #8: Charles Foster Kane’s final word sets off a rabid quest for the truth: What was Rosebud, and why did Kane talk about it? It appears that Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz chose the word because it was the name of a racehorse he’d once bet on. (As for the identity of Rosebud, it mirrored a beloved item from Mankiewicz’s own childhood.) Whatever Mankiewicz’s reason, “Rosebud” has become an international symbol of innocence lost, a concept that’s far more universal than the story of a rich guy who squandered his fortune on political campaigns and gigantic mansions.
“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”
Why It’s #7: “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown,” is a classic example of a very specific piece of dialogue that’s taken on much larger significance. The very last words spoken in Roman Polanski’s neo-noir, they’re meant to convince Jack Nicholson’s private eye to walk away from a nasty crime scene that’s just occurred in L.A.’s Chinatown. Today, that phrase is uttered whenever someone encounters an intractable problem rife with corruption and graft. Chinatown gave us a language to describe that situation that didn’t exist before.
“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
Why It’s #6: Most viewers recognize that veteran newscaster Howard Beale (Peter Finch) is in the midst of a mental breakdown when he instructs his viewers to rush to their windows and yell “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” I’m not sure, though, they recognize the double meaning of Paddy Chayefsky’s words. Beale’s not just angry, he’s mentally unwell. He’s mad as hell. The implications of people around the world taking up that as their rallying cry is truly alarming.
“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
From: The Godfather (1972)
Why It’s #5: Because there is no chance — zero percent! — that at some point in your life someone hasn’t said this exact phrase to you, in explaining how they will solve an issue.
“There’s no place like home.”
From: The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Why It’s #4: How many people have tried using Dorothy’s words as their own kind of meditative mantra? All Dorothy had to do is close her eyes, tap her heels together, and think “There’s no place like home.” It’s a soothing plea, if nothing else.
“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
Why It’s #3: An amazing example of action and reaction, with Roy Scheider’s Chief Brody jawing on and on about chumming the water, until the all-important shark suddenly bursts out of the water, surprising him and the audience. Brody slowly backs away, and then says just six more words. The other reason the line works so well: There isn’t a bigger boat. The Orca is all they’ve got.
“May the Force be with you.”
Why It’s #2: Endlessly repeated in Star Wars films, shows, in games, on merchandise, “May the Force be with you,” is basically a secular religion at this point. In the original film, the fact that the line is spoken by Han Solo — a skeptic — is what gives it particular power, especially when he overcomes his selfishness and rides in to the rescue to help Luke destroy the Death Star. In other words, be the Force you want to see in the galaxy.
“Here’s looking at you, kid.”
Why It’s #1: Is Casablanca the most quotable movie in history? There’s “Round up the usual suspects,” and “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world she walks into mine,” and “We’ll always have Paris,” and this line from Bogart to Bergman. People talk about Monty Python and the Holy Grail and This Is Spinal Tap and comedies like that as highly quotable. Casablanca might have them all beat.