20. The French Connection
The Line: “All right! You put a shiv in my partner. You know what that means? Goddammit! All winter long I got to listen to him gripe about his bowling scores. Now I’m gonna bust your ass for those three bags and I’m gonna nail you for picking your feet in Poughkeepsie.”
Context: After swiftly pursuing a suspect on foot through the streets and into an alley, two New York City cops (Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider) finally catch up. They begin to question the suspect about his various nefarious activities.
Why is it great: The gradual annoyance and intensity Hackman approached these types of scenes and dialogue in the film has to be what won him his Academy Award for this film in 1971.
His delivery is so robust and vigorous the suspect has no choice but to agree to anything requested of him.
The Urban Dictionary describes “picking your feet” as “To get a room in a hotel, possibly with a lady or purpose to commit crimes and devious activities.”
The Line: “Adrian!”
Context: After his initial bout with champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) has concluded, challenger Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) awaits the decision in an overcrowded boxing ring, his face battered and bruised after the lengthy and violent bout.
His lady friend Adrianna Pennino (Talia Shire) rushes the boxing ring to reunite with him.
Why is it great: The interplay of the fights results combined with the dramatic Bill Conti score and anticipation of Rocky and Adrian getting together works wonderfully.
When Rocky makes his exclamation, he really is more concerned with professing his love rather than finding out if he won the fight. The emotional payoff with the first “Rocky” film is what has kept us coming back for more these 40 years later.
18. Grand Hotel
The Line: “I want to be alone.”
Context: Aging Russian ballerina, Grusinskaya (Greta Barbo), laments the theft of her pearls by Baron Felix von Geigern (John Barrymore). She is distraught and does not want the company of anyone else who is trying to comfort her.
Why is it great: The line itself was repeated several times, in several different contexts in the film.
Garbo herself had a mystique in her personal life and the line became infamous for paralleling her feelings about her own life wanting to remain out of the spotlight.
She retired from acting after World War II and famously said later in life : “I never said, ‘I want to be alone’; I only said, ‘I want to be left alone’. There is a whole world of difference.”
The Line: “I’m the king of the world!”
Context: After arriving on the infamous ocean liner, drifter Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) and fellow sub class citizen Fabrizio De Rossi (Danny Nucci) enjoy a moment at the head of the ship as it departs New York City on its first and only voyage.
Jack is impressed with the open sea before him while standing on the rail at the front of the ship and exclaims as such.
Why is it great: The DiCaprio improvised line became a 2nd tag line for the film as it embraced the innocence of Jack’s character and helped “Titanic” become a true phenomenon grossing over $650 million in 1997.
Director James Cameron even repeated the line on stage right after winning his Best Director Academy Award holding the award over his head.
16. The Bridge on the River Kwai
The Line: “What have I done?”
Context: During the climax of the film, Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) attempts to get help in blocking the destruction of the bridge his officers and soldiers just completed constructing.
He doesn’t realize there have been orders issued calling for the bridge’s destruction. After several of the perpetrators are wounded or killed, Nicholson realizes too late what is transpiring and attempts to assist.
Why is it great: The look Guinness gives in accompaniment to the line tells it all as Nicholson now knows the plan and can only give his best effort to ensure the bridge’s destruction.
After being hit with a mortar, he is barely able to make it to the detonator with his dying breath.
15. The Sound of Music
The Line: “When the Lord closes a door, somewhere he opens a window.”
Context: In a conversation between Captain Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) and Maria (Julie Andrews), the Captain admits he has called off his engagement to the Baroness (Eleanor Parker) because he is in love with Maria.
Why is it great: This is the first moment The Captain and Maria realize they love each other. He started out with a hard exterior, but slowly had evolved when he got to know Maria and see how she performed with his children.
It is maybe the first time Maia thought she could have a happy ending in her life.
The Line: “It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.”
Context: After hooking up with The Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett) in pursuit of a man who sliced up a prostitute, aging former outlaw William Munny (Clint Eastwood) discusses the aftermath of their actions and “The Kid” having to come to grips with the consequences.
The Kid is unsure whether he will be able to live with the memories of the visual of the man’s face right before he was killed.
Why is it great: Not many actors able to deliver lines better than Clint Eastwood, “Unforgiven” is his perfect western swan song. It flies in the face of the brutal westerns Eastwood made in his younger days and tries to show the emotion of the time period; not just the killing.
The line explains the finality of life and every action has a result.
13. Midnight Cowboy
The Line: “I’m walking here! I’m walking here!”
Context: After coming to New York City seeking his own American dream, Texas hustler Joe Buck (Jon Voigt) quickly meets loser Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman). The two quickly become friends and begin making plans for business deals they are interested in pursuing together.
They are discussing a deal while talking and walking on a New York street when they are interrupted by a taxicab who nearly runs Ratso down. Ratso has a few choice words in response.
Why is it great: According to IMDb, the cab was not supposed to be on the set, so Hoffman adlibbed the line not only because he was annoyed the scene may be ruined, but also he could have actually been injured by this unwanted character.
Hoffman wanted to say “I’m shooting here!” but decided to stay in character instead. The result was a funny, infamous line which fit the scene perfectly.
12. It Happened One Night
The Line: “It’s a system all my own.”
Context: While stranded on the side of the road, Peter and Ellie (Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert) are not having much luck getting someone to stop while Peter is in charge.
Ellie decides to give it a try using a different method. Instead of shouting or sticking up her thumb, she lifts her skirt revealing her hose-covered thigh and leg to an oncoming car. The vehicle slams on the breaks immediately and lets the two aboard.
Why is it great: Ellie’s line and subsequent action were hilarious and proved there was more than one way to solve a problem.
While maybe not the most obvious choice, men can never pass up an opportunity to assist a damsel in distress.
The Line: “Forgive me, Majesty. I am a vulgar man! But I assure you, my music is not.”
Context: While petitioning Emperor Joseph II (Jeffrey Jones) to write an opera based on the play “The Marriage of Figaro”, composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) goes through the reasons why it should be allowed.
He grows increasing frustrated with the hesitation by the Emperor and his underlings and their objections and says he is sick of hearing music about “people so lofty they sound as if they shit marble!”
Why is it great: The irony of Mozart not being able to express himself in words, but rather through his music is unprecedented. His annoying laughter throughout the scene also underscored this.
He knew getting permission for this piece would be difficult and, ultimately, had to be seen before final judgement could be pronounced.