Keeping up with pop culture can feel like a chore, especially if you find yourself in crowds where making casual reference to what you watch and listen to is part of day-to-day communication. Some aspects of the culture are just too vast to ever totally simplify. (Call me old, but I can never keep track of how quickly pop singers come into huge popularity and then seem to disappear.)
But more manageable than music is movies, which don’t tend to get to “reference-able” level until it has not only saturated the audience but also soaked deep into our memetic fibers. But in some cases, this takes a long time, and some of the films people once loved may have never quite gotten on your radar. So here is a highly subjective––but illuminating––list of 10 films that you should watch if you want to catch the majority of movie quotes that get tossed around. These are not always AFI top-ten type films. But these are the movies that, for whatever reason, seemed to stick in our shared cultural brain.
Our Favorite Movie Quotes from Quotable Films
Casablanca is one of those movies where, if you watch it for the first time late enough into your life, it is a skeleton key for a thousand lines you’ve heard your whole life. The whole movie feels like a 40’s quote-a-thon that is so thick with its own Bogart-y style that you have to remind yourself it isn’t supposed to be satirical or unserious. They really are talking this way. They really are dressing this way. And they really thought that this is what audiences assumed North Africa was mainly like during WWII. That being said, it is well worth the watch because it makes sense of so much of the films that followed it. Movies make sense after watching Casablanca. And so will many of the movie quotes you’ve always heard.
- “Louis, I believe this is the start of a beautiful friendship.”
- “Play it, Sam”
- “Collect the usual suspects.”
- “You’ll regret it––maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow––but soon, and for the rest of your life!”
2. Tommy Boy
After the “golden age” of Saturday Night Live-inspired films, like the Blues Brothers and National Lampoon’s Animal House, there were a lot of hits and misses. Wayne’s World was an obvious hit. But they also made a movie based on the character Pat. While Tommy Boy was not an SNL film per se, its tone and talent certainly were. And it was without a doubt the comedic centerpiece of 90’s cinema, and the most quotable funny movie of the decade. If you went to college at any time from 1995 when the film came out through the late ’00s, chances are you laughed at this movie in a dorm room while sitting in a beanbag chair.
- “Brothers don’t shake hands. Brothers gotta hug!”
- “Shut up, Richard!”
- “Did you eat paint chips as a little kid?”
- “Whatd’you do?!”
3. The Big Lebowski
In a sense, this whole list orbits around this film. Because The Big Lebowski somehow infected the mental register of a whole generation of people have become, in some ways, the lingua franca for those who loved this movie. Because it was somehow a known quantity, but also indy, but also the product of auteur filmmakers, but also zany and out there, referencing this movie was a way of signaling your cultural intelligence. And it still happens today, where this film has become an inextricable part of the internet memeosphere. This is definitely a movie you have to have seen in order to understand a great deal of culturally-infused discourse
- “a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-you’s.”
- “the Dude abides.”
- “Forget it Donny, you’re out of your element.”
4. Star Wars
Pretty much everything about Star Wars (and I’m referring here to Episode IV) is iconic, and for those who have tracked with the recently expanded universe of television and film, going back to the original is a reminder that almost everything said in the film is memorable––from Toshi Station to the Death Star. For those people who haven’t seen a film from the franchise or really any science fiction––and I know you are out there––this is the film that will make a lot of sense of language you’ve probably heard forever.
- “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”
- “May the force be with you.”
- “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.”
- “That’s no moon…”
Alfred Hitchcock’s films are so numerous and so quotable that they became part of a vocabulary of filmmaking that directors are still speaking. Psycho may simply be the most remembered because it was the most disturbing and the most psychologically vivid. But the lines––most of them spoken by the character of Norman Bates––are still part of how people speak. Birds and Vertigo and Rear Window have a lot to offer as well, but Psycho beats them all in quotability.
- “A boy’s best friend is his mother.”
- “We all go a little mad sometimes.”
- “I think I must have one of those faces you can’t help believing.”
6. Glengarry Glen Ross
Before there was Mad Men, there was Glengarry Glen Ross. And this film belongs on this list because it is still a reference point for a certain kind of masculine, world-steering, avarice-laden way of seeing the world. When you refer to “the Man,” you probably imagine someone in a suit that talks like Alec Baldwin in this movie. The characterization is such that not only is the film quotable––whole characters get pulled from the film wholecloth (most notably Gil Gunderson, the recurring character in the Simpsons.)
- “ABC. ‘A’, always. ‘B’, be. ‘C’, closing. ALWAYS BE CLOSING. Always be closing.”
- ” How can you talk to me that way? I work here! I didn’t come here to be mistreated!”
- “I subscribe to the law of contrary public opinion… If everyone thinks one thing, then I say, bet the other way…”
7. Pulp Fiction
Quentin Tarantino is one of those writer-directors whose name has now become an adjective. And most of what those adjectives mean comes from Pulp Fiction. It is a film that, when it first appeared, had no parallel in form or characterization. This made it not only memorable but genre-defining. And every movie of a certain sensibility that has been made since then exists in the shadow of what Tarantino managed to do in this film. This is the case of most of these films, but especially so with this one––the movie quotes feel very hollow without being said by the actual characters who make up the film.
- “That’s when you know you’ve found somebody special. When you can just shut the $%!& up for a minute and comfortably enjoy the silence.”
- “There’s a passage I got memorized. Ezekiel 25:17. ‘The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy My brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay My vengeance upon you.'”
- “I don’t eat dog, either.”
- “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go home and have a heart attack.”
8. A League of Their Own
Penny Marshall directing Tom Hanks and Gina Davis. Plus there’s Rosie O’Donnell, Madonna, and the always amazing Lori Petty. Also baseball. It is a nearly perfect film, and even years later it is completely re-watchable. But it’s also a film full of movie quotes – amazing lines that come from the mouths of its characters, only some of which are baseball-specific.
- “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.”
- “Great game, Jimmy. I especially liked that move in the seventh inning when you scratched your balls for an hour.” “Well, anything worth doing is worth doing right.”
- “There’s no crying in baseball!”
9. Something by Woody Allen
In lieu of an internet age wherein secrets and abuse can no longer be swept under the rug, Woody Allen is a problem. But it’s a problem I don’t have to rehash now. But a list like this probably should have Annie Hall or Manhattan or something because, past history notwithstanding, people love to quote Woody Allen movies. So, its important to keep his films in the conversation.
- “Sun is bad for you. Everything our parents said was good is bad. Sun, milk, red meat… college.”
- “Honey, there’s a spider in your bathroom the size of a Buick.”
- ” It’s just gossip, you know. Gossip is the new pornography.”
10. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
John Hughes is another filmmaker whose films have this period-defining quality that helps his most quotable lines seep into the discourse of those whose generations are in those movies. For Hughes––as for some of these other filmmakers––the music in his films is just as emblematic as the quotes that come out of them. And Ferris Buehler’s Danke Schön along with the mid-80’s riffs that color the film’s audiotrack should be in mind whenever one of the quotes from this movie shows up.
- “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
- “The place is like a museum. It’s very beautiful and very cold, and you’re not allowed to touch anything.”
What are your favorite movie quotes? Which films do you find yourself referencing in your own life?