Johns Hopkins Magazine
Johns Hopkins Magazine Current Issue Past Issues Search Get In Touch
Talking Pictures

By "Guido Veloce"
Illustration by Gilbert Ford

Recently, the American Film Institute published a list of the top 100 movie quotes. It's a good reminder that movies are a visual medium. The quotations are beloved — people voted for them — but off the screen and on paper they're awful.

Consider the winner: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." What's so special about that? Who hasn't wanted to say it to a loved one who won't shut up and let you talk about yourself?

The problem with movie quotations is that they only make sense if you know the movie. If you haven't seen When Harry Met Sally, "I'll have what she's having" (#33) is a lazy way to order food. If you have, it's funny, even inspirational.

Try to imagine so-called great movie quotes in everyday conversation. How many times have you said "Toga, Toga" (#82)? Even so, that's better than "Attica! Attica!" (#86).

Some quotations, in fact, are positively creepy once they escape the movie. Among them is #5: "Here's looking at you, kid" works in Casablanca. In other contexts, those words could have serious legal implications. It also is not a good idea to go around saying, "I see dead people" (#44). If you do, contact a therapist or Oprah.

Here are more of the top 100 and what's wrong with them:

"Love means never having to say you're sorry" (#13). Totally dysfunctional in real life. OK, so I slept with your best friend. If I say I'm sorry, it means I don't love you. That's the last movie cliché you'd ever utter.

What would happen if financial and industrial leaders spouted great movie quotes in testimony before Congress, with billions of dollars at stake? Several quotations come to mind: "You can't handle the truth" (#29). "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good" (#57). Or, most straightforward of all, #41:"We rob banks." Honest, yes. Politic, no. That's as unimaginable as catching a governor saying, "Show me the money" (#25).

Given how useless the 100 best movie quotes are, the best thing to do with them is to play games when you're bored. Try, for example, creating mini dialogues, movie scenes cobbled together from other movies. Here are some:

"What we have here is a failure to communicate" (#11).

"You talking to me?" (#10).

Or: "A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti" (#21).

"As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again" (#59).

Or: "You've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya, punk?" (#51).

"Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth" (#38). Bad answer facing an armed and dangerous Clint Eastwood.

Another game is to imagine a great quotation inserted into a different plot. For example:

"You're gonna need a bigger boat" (#35) — a divine suggestion ignored by Noah and the reason woolly mammoths no longer walk the earth.

"Keep your friends close but your enemies closer" (#58) — from Abraham Lincoln's unpublished manuscript, "How a President from Illinois Picks a Cabinet."

"Listen to me, mister. You're my knight in shining armor. Don't you forget it. You're going to get back on that horse, and I'm going to be right behind you, holding on tight, and away we're gonna go, go, go!" (#88) — medieval phone sex.

At this point, "Houston, we have a problem" (#50): I can't figure out how to end the column. "Snap out of it!" (#96). Of course, the answer is at the movies. Those quotes are good for something after all. . . .

"Hasta la vista, baby" (#76). "I'll be back" (#37).

"Guido Veloce" is a Johns Hopkins University professor.

Return to February 2009 Table of Contents

  The Johns Hopkins Magazine | 901 S. Bond St. | Suite 540 | Baltimore, MD 21231
Phone 443-287-9900 | Fax 443-287-9898 | E-mail