Sign up for the
and get $50 off Final Draft 12
By Noelle Buffam · December 2, 2010
It's incredible that a single line of dialogue can transcend film and become a part of everyday culture. Whether you've uttered a famous line yourself or simply heard it around the water cooler, everyone has experienced the power of the one-liner.
It can be as simple as a phrase, a word, or even a name ("Bond. James Bond.") that becomes a social phenomenon. A famous movie quote bleeds into the social consciousness as viewers use it in their own lives and situations. It becomes ingrained in popular culture, and eventually becomes a part of the national lexicon.
When screenwriting, the significance of a single line of dialogue should never be ignored. But there are many different reasons why a particular one-liner sticks, and to try to forge an all time top ten list is a bit quixotic. That's why our list contains only the most culturally significant one-liners that have not only permeated America, but have also stood the test of time, proving that a single line of dialogue can leave a lasting legacy.
This list is not only a lesson in the importance of dialogue, but it also serves as a source of inspiration. After all, with some talent and a bit of luck, the next line of dialogue you write could one day be a famous one-liner. You've just got to ask yourself, "Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya punk?"
10. "Life was like a box of chocolates." Forrest Gump (1994)
It's the first shot in the Academy Award winning film Forrest Gump. Forrest (Tom Hanks) sits on a park bench dressed in a white linen suit, with a box of chocolates on his lap. He introduces himself to the woman next to him in that slow, southern drawl. Although it is one of his first lines in the film, it completely embodies the unique and lovable Forrest Gump. Even sixteen years after it was first introduced to the world, the quote lives on in every way. It is still culturally relevant whether you see it on bumper stickers, t-shirts, or even hear it from your own mouth.
9. "Say 'hello' to my little friend!" Scarface (1983)
With a leisure suit and a rifle-grenade-launcher, Tony Montana (Al Pacino) made movie history when he shouted this infamous line, followed by a bloody massacre that proves that Tony Montana is the most bad-ass (and scariest) Cuban gangster ever. This quote immediately infiltrated pop culture and still proves to be extremely relevant today. Tony Montana's one-liner is referenced in everything from television shows and music to video games (World of Warcraft, anyone?). Not only is it a part of American pop culture, but it seeps into everyday life as well…I mean…I know I'm not the only one who shouts it when I have to demolish an ant invasion with Raid. Right?
8. "You talkin' to me?" Taxi Driver (1976)
Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro) stands in front of a mirror, looking at himself. Imagining a confrontation that would give him the chance to pull out his gun, he says the iconic lines, "You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? Then who the hell else are you talkin' to? You talkin' to me?" The line is chilling. It depicts the socially inept Bickle, acting out his violent fantasies. Since Robert DeNiro delivered this exceptional performance, the one-liner has become a part of American culture. It is referenced in movies like Back to the Future III and The Lion King. It's even appeared in The Simpsons. No doubt, this line is uttered even more by the average Joe. Whether it's before your day in court or pumping yourself up for a job interview, chances are you've looked in the mirror and declared, "You talkin' to me?"
7. "Here's looking at you, kid." Casablanca (1942) Rick Blaine Humphrey Bogart
Dressed in a trench coat and a fedora, Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) lifts Ilsa's (Ingrid Bergman) chin. As they gaze into each other's eyes, Bogart delivers the line and one of the greatest love stories the world has seen comes to an end. Though Bogart's iconic quote is said to be an improvisation by the actor, the one-liner has lived on for over 65 years in both film and pop-culture. This one-liner is just one of the many that grace the screen of Casablanca. With sayings like "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship" and "We'll always have Paris", Casablanca has been deemed one of the most quotable films of all time. However, it's the longevity of the "Here's looking at you, kid" line that sets it apart as exceptional. It has been referenced throughout the years from television shows in the 50s and 60s all the way to a 2010's episode of Saturday Night Live. The movie's success and iconic one-liner has made audiences for decades want to "Play it again, Sam" as they pop in the DVD.
6. "Go ahead, make my day." Sudden Impact (1983)
Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) strolls into the cafe in a suit and sunglasses. As he leaves, thugs take charge and attempt a robbery. Suddenly, Harry appears. He is cool, calm, and collected. He takes down the robbers one at a time with a relaxed demeanor. He locks eyes with the last robber and delivers the line, "Go ahead, make my day". The robber lets go of his hostage because he, like the rest of the world, knows not to mess with Dirty Harry. The catchphrase has become immortalized not only in film, but in everyday culture through television and media. Even President Ronald Reagan used it in his campaign against raising taxes when he said, "And I have only one thing to say to the tax increasers. Go ahead–make my day." A quote so good it even lands an Presidential endorsement. Now, that's a one-liner.
5. "I'll be back." – The Terminator (1984)
The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is looking for Sarah Connor. He walks stiffly into the police station–dressed all in black, wearing sunglasses. When he is turned away, he speaks with no intonation saying, "I'll be back." Ten seconds pass and then BAM. He arrives on the scene, crashing through the windows with his car. This one-liner not only became the catchphrase for The Terminator, but for Arnold Schwarzenegger as well. The phrase is perhaps the most spoofed movie quote of all time, appearing in everything from action movies (Commando, The Running Man, Total Recall) to sitcoms (Home Improvement and The Office). With its popularity and quote-ability, there is no doubt that this one-liner won't be saying "hasta la vista" anytime soon.
4. "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse." – The Godfather (1972)
Dressed in a tuxedo, Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) sits at his desk. He is listening to requests for favors on his daughter's wedding day. The famous singer, Johnny Fontane (Al Martino), asks the Don to help him land a role in a new movie. The Don slowly touches his cheek, and tells the singer that he's going to "make him an offer he can't refuse". This quote, as well at the entire film, has made a huge impact on the general public. Homages to this quote are seen in satires, parodies, and almost every medium of popular culture. The range of influence of this one-liner is clear; it even appeared in an episode of Hannah Montana. It's a quote so famous that people who have never even seen The Godfather (like the tweeny audience of Hannah Montana) can still recognize there is an air of importance permeating every word.
3. "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." Gone With the Wind (1939)
Spoken by Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), this the one-liner is the answer to Scarlett O'Hara's "Where shall I go? What shall I do?" The quote became famous not only because of the daring profanity ("damn"), but because it is the last line of the epic Gone With the Wind. Over 70 years later, the quote is still alive. It has been referenced in films such as Clue, The Mask, and The Corpse Bride. It has been established as one of the first (and best) one-liners of all time by the American Film Institute. Clearly, this quote showed a standard for what one-liners should be: quick, witty, and memorable. Rhett Bulter's line does all this, plus it has a nice "zing" to it. On top of it all, it's just really fun to say. Try it sometime. But, unlike Rhett, you probably shouldn't say it to your wife.
2. "May the Force be with you." Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)
A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, one of the most famous one-liners came into existence. Never before has a movie quote achieved the level of cult status as "May the force be with you". It was Obi-Wan (Alec Guinness) who made the phrase famous, but it didn't take long for it to seep into American culture and stay. The phrase can be found not only in film, television, and music, but also on clothing and merchandising products. In 2009, (more than 30 years after the first film) a new line of Star Wars toys was launched, showing the staying power of this franchise and the lasting effect of the one-liner. The famous quote is everywhere in popular culture. And of course "Star Wars Day" (yes, there is such a thing) pays tribute to the line every year. The celebration happens on May 4th, so Star Wars fans can greet each other with, "May the fourth be with you." Talk about dedication.
1. "We're not in Kansas anymore." – The Wizard of Oz (1939)
As it is one of the greatest cinematic achievements in the world, it's no wonder that The Wizard of Oz has become a staple in our culture. The one-liner, "We're not in Kansas anymore" is one of the most famous lines in all of film – even after 70 years. This single line delivered by Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) has been mimicked in countless ways: through art, literature, film, comics, and television. Anyone in doubt of the impact of this quote has to simply enter it on Amazon, and wait for the thousands of products to come up that incorporate it. It's the universal appeal of The Wizard of Oz that drives the popularity of this quote. This – out of all the one-liners on this list – is the most recognizable one-liner of all time, transcending time and I'm sure many generations to come.d generations.