Quotes, in my opinion, are much more difficult to rank than films. Though it is rather hard to commend one major work while criticizing the merits of another, quotes must account for not only personal discretion, but also the context and development of the character throughout the film. Simply put, it is more difficult to appreciate a good quote than the entirety of a good movie, especially when one does not fully grasp the concept of the film containing the quote.
6. (Runner Up)
“I feel the need- the need for speed!” -Top Gun, 1986 (Tony Scott)
A crude quote which, given my surroundings, makes for the perfect runner up in this situation.
“All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up” -Sunset Boulevard, 1950 (Billy Wilder)
Norma Desmond is no doubt one of the most interesting characters in film history. Despite the many cameo appearances by famous directors and actors of the time, Sunset Blvd remains a crucial study in character exploration. The insanity of Norma Desmond puts the watcher on edge throughout the film. No one knows what Norma Desmond is going to say. But this line is perfect. A cry for attention, a plea of insanity, a motive for murder- this line sells the film.
“The stuff that dreams are made of.” -The Maltese Falcon, 1941 (John Huston)
The line before this quote was, “What is it?” concerning the Maltese Falcon statue. The last six minutes of the film (one could argue the entire film) is seemingly centered around this quote. Most often, scenes centered around a quote do not work. But this one does. The famous Bogart transformation (the change from cynical human Humphrey Bogart into humane but flawed hero or vice-versa) is present in this film and although Bogart’s character, Sam Spade, did not spew any such insightful lines before this one, the transformation is heightened as the watcher realizes what Spade has evolved into. Of course, removing Spade would reveal the literal meaning of the quote: simply that though every character in the film wants the Maltese Falcon, the statue was a fake, which creates the false dream etc. The quality of the quote comes not from the meaning of the quote, but from the context of the character who said it. As poignant as it is, the quote would not have been nearly as good if another character had said it (though I can’t imagine who else would).
“If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits eighty-eight miles per hour, you’re gonna see some serious shit.” -Back to the Future, 1985 (Robert Zemeckis)
For me, personal. Anything else, unexpected and solid.
“Here’s looking at you, kid.” -Casablanca, 1942 (Michel Curtiz)
Of all the quotes in all of Casablanca in all the world, this one is simply the best. With the greatest script ever written, it is hard not to find subtext as almost every line in Casablanca is quotable. But the most famous is said by Humphrey Bogart. Again. I do not need to cite the Bogart transformation as it is the clearest here out of all his movies. The quote appears many times throughout the film; a catchphrase if you will. Like all heroes, Bogart needs a signature line. And this one does him justice. With each repetition of the line, the watcher slowly unravels Bogart’s character, Rick Blaine, through a series of stages, such as a biologist would, looking at cellular mitosis. The climax of the film sets the Rick at the end of the film apart from the Ricks at the different points throughout the film. I should have quoted all the lines from Casablanca up to this point, ending with “Here’s looking at you, kid” (the line “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” at the end of the film serves one same purpose as “Here’s looking at you, kid,” but that is an entirely different story). The entire movie builds up to this point, and if Rick had not said any of his other famous quotes, the essence of this one would be lost. The line is not poignant just because Rick says it. The sheer magnitude of the line is overwhelming- the pursuit of Ilsa for the entirety of the film only to be unselfishly given up at the moment of choice. All romantic films take their roots from Casablanca. Even the ones prior were hinting at some sort of significance that Casablanca puts into words. And those words are “Here’s looking at you, kid.”
“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” -Gone with the Wind, 1939 (Victor Fleming)
As number one on AFI’s 100 Movie Quotes, this Citizen Kane of movie quotes rightfully deserves its place at the top. Gone with the Wind is one of few movies with a character who undergoes as prominent a transformation as Rick Blaine prior to Casablanca. Not really. But inspiration for Casablanca is evident. The three hour and forty-four minute epic is not short. The watcher must sit through the nuances of nineteenth century social etiquette while still following the plot (or plots of Scarlett O’Hara). Clark Gable’s character, Rhett Butler, sits with the audience, enduring Scarlett O’Hara with us. Until the final thirty seconds of the film, the watcher feels a broad range of indifference (sometimes pity) towards Butler. But Butler’s emphatic storming out can not be removed from film history or our minds. When Margaret Mitchell first wrote the novel, she expected the scene to take place in a room, not Butler’s fleeing. The very act of leaving O’Hara symbolizes Butler’s indifference towards her, a feeling the watcher/reader wanted all along to convey. If the act itself was not strong enough, consider the language: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” The word “damn,” though commonplace now, was considered a profanity, not only in the nineteenth century where the story takes place, but also in the pre-mid twentieth century, when the novel was written. A line like that simply was not and should not be said. For all the three hour and forty-four minute passiveness that Butler exudes, he finally defies it in the last minute of the film. A last minute “transformation,” if you will. For him to go through all of the events he did and to conclude with that line is terribly fantastic. It is as if the entire movie was all for naught. Words can not describe an epic. But to end an epic in such a way is the closest way how.
6. (Runner Up) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 2004 (Michel Gondry)
5. It’s A Wonderful Life, 1946 (Frank Capra)
4. Rear Window, 1954 (Alfred Hitchcock)
3. Singin’ in the Rain, 1952 (Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly)
2. Casablanca, 1942 (Michael Curtiz)
1. Back to the Future, 1985 (Robert Zemeckis)
Notes: The term “favorite” does not necessarily mean the “best.” Though Casablanca, Singin’ in the Rain, Rear Window, and It’s a Wonderful Life represent some of the most significant pieces of cinema, they are on this list simply because I enjoy watching them. Of course, some may argue the lack of Citizen Kane or Schindler’s List. I do not disagree that these films are masterpieces. But some movies require a level of sophistication to appreciate fully, while most of the films here appeal to even the newest of cinephiles. One does not choose his/her favorite movie solely because it is a good piece of work. One chooses because he/she feels a uniquely personal connection to the film. It may be that the watcher falls madly in love with his/her first viewing of Citizen Kane. But most people choose films that not only define themselves (knowingly or unknowingly), but also are fun to watch alone.