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The 30 Greatest Closing Lines in Cinema History

23 December 2015 | Features, Other Lists | by Pedro Bento

greatest closing line

In popular culture, people tend to say, “it’s not how it starts, but how it ends”. In cinema, a bad start can mean nothing in the end. The wedding scene in “The Deer Hunter” isn’t properly enthusiastic, but Michael Cimino’s flick is still a very good effort. In this list we will talk about the last breath in films: closing lines.

Everyone has friends that fall asleep, make jokes or don’t stop commenting while seeing films in a group, but I don’t know anyone that doesn’t pay attention to the ending. Even if the film is rubbish, the end always deserves special treatment, almost as a final chance to redeem itself for boredom or incoherence. In the end scene, closing lines are maybe the most memorable item for viewers.

Some closing lines can save a film from obscurity (“Voir la Mer” by Patrice Leconte is a great example), work as a narrative twist (“Shutter Island” was like this) or turn a film into a “classic” (“Babe”, the film about a little pig).

As you surely know, this kind of list can be very personal in terms of taste, sentimentality or meaning. In any case, these are the 30 best closing lines in cinema history.

Author’s Note: This list is obviously FULL of spoilers.

 

30. Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds

The Line: “You know somethin’, Utivich? I think this just might be my masterpiece.”

Context: Aldo “The Apache” deceives Hans Landa and decides to put something on his body that he cannot take off: a bloody swastika on his forehead.

Why is it great? The film is fulfilled with dark humor lines, and this dark nebula flies above the story the whole time. This sweet ending line appears after a barbaric and macabre behavior, summarizing the big idea of the film: a big satire which many will never understand.

 

29. Edward Scissorhands

Edward-Scissorhands-edward-scissorhands

The Line: “You see, before he came down here, it never snowed. And afterwards, it did. If he weren’t up there now… I don’t think it would be snowing. Sometimes you can still catch me dancing in it.”

Context: Kim is old and she’s telling her story to her granddaughter. Meanwhile, Edward is in the castle working on ice and making beautiful sculptures.

Why is it great? Fantasy has a crucial role here and in the end, an even sadder ending catches us: Edward was alone all those years and Kim kept their story alive just with memories made of snow and dance.

 

28. Mary and Max

Mary-and-Max

The Line: “He smelled like licorice and old books, she thought to herself, as tears rolled from her eyes, the color of muddy puddles.”

Context: Mary decides to make a visit to Max. She brings her baby and opens the door to Max’s house. Mary calls, but when goes near she understands that Max is dead.

Why is it great? Mary thoughts and perceptions collide with reality. All the letters she received by Max during those years are in that strange place. The ending line shows what Mary felt when she saw her best friend for the first time.

 

27. Elephant

Elephant (2003)

The Line: “Eeney… Meeney… Meiny… Moe… Catch a… Tiger… By its… Toe…”

Context: After methodical preparation, Alex is finally performing his evil massacre with creativity and a great sense of humor.

Why is it great? Alex shows great cold blood, almost as if he was really playing a videogame, and this moment of trance or hypnosis is perfect to close the film. A raw story of this type needed a great moment and Gus Van Sant hit the spot with this childish and “don’t care” attitude.

 

26. Shutter Island

cinema_shutterisland

The Line: “This place makes me wonder… Which would be worse, to live as a monster, or to die as a good man?”

Context: Ted talks with Chuck, showing that his paranoia is back. Chuck communicates with doctors about Ted’s constant abstraction of who he is and the patient is sent to death.

Why is it great? The line shows that Ted was totally conscious of who he is and he was just pretending he was having a relapse. We understand the protagonist prefers to die with some dignity rather than live as madman.

 

25. Nightcrawler

nightcrawler-jake-gyllenhaal-2

The Line: “You may be confused at times and other times unsure, but remember I would never ask you to do anything I wouldn’t do myself.”

Context: Lou Bloom welcomes new members of Video Production News with an “inspired” speech and the business continues to grow.

Why is it great? The difference between a boss and a leader is that a boss gives just orders and a leader is someone that knows where to go and how to bring people with him. Lou Bloom shows he is a great leader, even not with the noblest intentions.

 

24. 21 Grams

21 grams movie

The Line: “Twenty-one grams. The weight of a stack of five nickels. The weight of a hummingbird. A chocolate bar. How much did 21 grams weigh?”

Context: Paul Rivers is at the hospital dying and we see all the other characters struggling in their lives in very different ways.

Why is it great? The line is like an aphorism about life. What do things mean? How can we discern weights, if life is light as a feather? The idea is that sometimes we care too much about insignificant things and we forget about the most important ones.

 

23. Black Swan

-Black-Swan-black-swan

The Line: “I was perfect…”

Context: Nina Sayers finishes her dance number with a jump and, when she lands, her belly is covered in blood. Thomas shows some concern, but she’s very calm with the situation.

Why is it great? The dramatism of the scene makes it a great piece of screenwriting. Nina was so blind with her idea of perfection that in her last breath she doesn’t care about living or dying; the only thing that matters is the performance.

 

22. Kill Bill Vol. I

Kill Bill

The Line: “One more thing, Sofie. Is she aware her daughter is still alive?”

Context: After being mutilated by The Bride, Sofie is questioned by Bill. She tells him everything that happened and Bill makes a crucial question.

Why is it great? First, it’s great because it adds something special to the plot. Secondly, because it gives us a wild desire to see the second part. Third, because we know The Bride will be even thirstier for revenge knowing this fact.

 

21. Being There

Being There

The Line: “Life is a state of mind.”

Context: During his own funeral, Chance is walking through water and showing with his umbrella there was profundity in that lake.

Why is it great? Life can be whatever we want it to be. Mr. Chance shows the power of communication in this story and how silence can be a stronger message than some sumptuous and complex speeches. The line is also a vote to diversity and to a “be yourself” message.

 

 

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  • Chandradeep

    with a list filled with american blockbusters, I didn’t expect to find ‘Pickpocket’ or ‘La Grande Illusion’ here. But ‘Oh Jeanne, in order to reach you, what strange ways I had to take’ will be in top 10 of many cinephiles’ list, m sure

    • Abhishek

      Exactly!

  • as2191

    ‘I… I, I thought of that old joke, y’know, the, this… this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, “Doc, uh, my brother’s crazy; he thinks he’s a chicken.” And, uh, the doctor says, “Well, why don’t you turn him in?” The guy says, “I would, but I need the eggs.” Well, I guess that’s pretty much now how I feel about relationships; y’know, they’re totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and… but, uh, I guess we keep goin’ through it because, uh, most of us… need the eggs.’

  • Johann S.

    “More than 40 years have passed, but I’ll remember every second of that January morning until the day I die.”

    • Johann S.

      from Au Revoir les Enfants.

  • Carl Peter Yeh

    “You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!” Charlton Heston, in Planet of the Apes (realizing he was on earth all the time, when he sees Lady Liberty buried in sand.)

  • Johann S.

    “I don’t know. Maybe it was Utah”

  • Carl Peter Yeh

    A chilling, all-hairs raising shriek, as a closing line, was cried out by Donald Sutherland, in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

  • Javiera

    “So long, partner”

    • Joey 50th

      Toy Story Feels overtime 😉
      Absolutely melts me.

  • Carl Peter Yeh

    How could you? (…the femme fatale asks Armand Assante aka Mike Hammer, in her dying breath…) It was easy, he says, in I, the Jury.

  • Carl Peter Yeh

    It was beauty (that) killed the beast, in King Kong.

    • Joey 50th

      I was broken when King Kong died. 🙁

  • L0lwut

    “I’m finished”. -There Will be Blood

    • Wyatt W.B

      Brilliant

  • Ted Wolf

    It isn’t Chance’s funeral at the end of Being There.

  • Antonio díaz

    “Then I woke up”. No Country for old men.

  • Τάσος

    The horror… the horror… -Apocalypse now!

  • Wyatt W.B

    American Beauty

  • Nithin M Sivan

    “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown.”-Chinatown
    “I’m not even gonna swat that fly. I hope they are watching. They’ll see. They’ll see and they’ll know and they’ll say, ‘Why, she wouldn’t even harm a fly’…”-Psycho

  • Nithin M Sivan

    Silence of the Lambs should be higher

  • G. Pandrang Row

    “Better king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime.” King of Comedy

  • Bird E

    This girl, she didn’t know where she was goin’ or what she was gonna do.
    She didn’t have no money on her.
    Maybe she’d meet up with a character.
    I was hoping things would work out for her.
    She was a good friend of mine.

  • Davida

    From the devil’s advocate.

  • Brandon Thompson

    “Why she wouldn’t ever hurt a fly!” – Psycho

  • HLLH

    “Hemingway once wrote, ‘The world’s a fine place and worth fighting for.’ I agree with the second part.”- Se7en

  • Bosma

    “Its origin and purpose, still a total mystery..”
    -2001 A Space Odyssey

  • Unkle Amon
  • Mazorcaboy1

    “You have to have a little faith in people”
    Manhattan

  • Chris Englund

    Hmm, Peckinpah could easily be on this list!!

    “Well, me and the boys here, we got some work to do. Want to come along?
    Ain’t like it used to be, but it’ll do.” -The Wild Bunch

    “Come on, Al. We’re goin’ home.” -Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia

  • lauramoreaux

    ”Rosebud… ”

    in Citizen Kane