50 of the most quotable film characters of all time
50 of the most quotable film characters of all time
Some lines of dialogue in cinema are so memorable that they become part of our shared cultural language. These movie quotes can embody a specific moment in time and perfectly capture a feeling or idea, such that they become a verbal shorthand that connects people with one another.
Human memory is imperfect though, and sometimes these quotes are distorted or misremembered by the public at large. This phenomenon is known as the Mandela Effect, named for the false belief many people shared that the former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, had died in prison when he was actually still alive after his sentence. One example of this can be found in the Disney classic "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." Did you know that the film's famous quote isn't "Mirror, mirror on the wall," but rather "Magic mirror on the wall"? Never fear, as the following list is a collection of accurate lines from some of the most quotable film characters of all time.
Stacker researched unforgettable quotes in movie history and the characters behind them, highlighting 50 across nearly a century of filmmaking. The results are listed in chronological order by film release date. Keep reading to see how many famous lines you know and how accurately you remember them.
- Actor: Judy Garland
- Film: The Wizard of Oz (1939)
When young Dorothy Gale and her dog are swept up by a tornado, then plunked down in the magical land of Oz, she aptly exclaims "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore." This line is frequently misquoted, however, as most people leave out the "I've a feeling" part. Nevertheless, it has become a widely used pop culture reference over the years as a way to express feeling out of place or to denote a strange situation.
Charles Foster Kane
- Actor: Orson Welles
- Film: Citizen Kane (1941)
"Rosebud" is the first line of this classic film and the last word uttered by Charles Foster Kane before his death. It takes the entire movie to unravel what the word means—the final scene shows an old sled with "Rosebud" painted on it, revealing a link to Kane's childhood. This symbol of innocence, which suggests Kane's longing for happier days, is an unexpected contrast to the adult he became: a rich, powerful character based on real-life publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst.
- Actor: Humphrey Bogart
- Film: Casablanca (1942)
Although Rick Blaine says "Here's looking at you, kid" multiple times throughout the film, it wasn't originally in the script. Humphrey Bogart improvised the line while filming a flashback scene to his Paris affair with on-screen love Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman). This iconic quote has since been referenced in a number of other films, including a scene between Jack Black and Kate Winslet in the 2006 rom-com "The Holiday."
- Actor: Bette Davis
- Film: All About Eve (1950)
Young Eve Harrington inserts herself into the world of Broadway star Margo Channing in this Academy Award-winning classic. Margo is known for her sharp tongue as she catches on to Eve's game, and is perhaps best remembered with the quote "Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night." People often get this line wrong though, replacing the word "night" with "ride."
- Actor: Gloria Swanson
- Film: Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Silent film star Norma Desmond longs to shine again in the new era of talking films but remains hopelessly stuck in the past. Unable to accept that the times have changed, Norma pretends she is still the brightest star in Hollywood, saying "I am big! It's the pictures that got small."
- Actor: Vivien Leigh
- Film: A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
Even after suffering a series of hardships and trauma, including being raped by her sister's husband Stanley (Marlon Brando), the character of Blanche DuBois does everything she can to maintain her strength and dignity. This adaptation of the Tennessee Williams play closes with Blanche in the midst of a mental health crisis; she still summons the fortitude to tell the doctor "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." The movie created such a lasting impact that a 2019 drama titled "The Kindness of Strangers" derived its name from this quote.
Osgood Fielding III
- Actor: Joe E. Brown
- Film: Some Like It Hot (1959)
Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) headline this film, disguised as women in order to hide from mobsters, but it's millionaire Osgood Fielding III that steals the scene with his famous quote at the movie's end. Osgood falls in love with Jerry's female persona, Daphne, and seems entirely unphased when it is revealed that she is really a man. Osgood's response—"Well, nobody's perfect"—is surprisingly progressive for the time, indicating he doesn't care (and maybe even knew the entire time) that his love was for a man.
- Actor: Anthony Perkins
- Film: Psycho (1960)
Before the big reveal that Norma Bates is actually dead, Norman provides a bit of creepy insight and foreshadowing into his unnaturally close relationship with his mother. While dining together, motel guest Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) asks about his friends, questioning Norma's control over her son. Norman responds with the chilling statement: "Well, a boy's best friend is his mother."
President Merkin Muffley
- Actor: Peter Sellers
- Film: Dr. Strangelove (1964)
One of the most hilarious moments of Cold War satire "Dr. Strangelove" occurs when an Air Force general comes to inform the president that the Soviet Union is building a massive bomb. President Merkin Muffley responds to the heated discussion with an absurdly contradictory, and utterly memorable, exclamation: "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!"
- Actor: Strother Martin
- Film: Cool Hand Luke (1967)
The titular character Luke (Paul Newman) is a prisoner working on a road crew where the warden delivers both punishment and one of the film's most memorable lines: "What we've got here is failure to communicate." Out of context, the line sounds wise; but in reality, Captain is a cruel man who rules over his prisoners with an iron fist. This quote stuck in the pop culture lexicon, popping up as a sample in "Civil War," the opening track on the Guns N' Roses 1991 album "Use Your Illusion II."
- Actor: Sidney Poitier
- Film: In the Heat of the Night (1967)
After being called a racial slur by a white Mississippi police chief, Detective Virgil Tibbs snaps back, demanding respect with the unforgettable response "They call me Mister Tibbs!" This line was so impactful it was used as the title for the film's sequel, released three years later with Poitier reprising his role as the first Black police detective ever to lead a series.
- Actor: Walter Brooke
- Film: The Graduate (1967)
A single word spoken by a minor character comes in at #42 on the American Film Institute's list of "100 Greatest Movie Quotes Of All Time": "Plastics." At a party for the new college graduate, family friend Mr. McGuire pulls Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) aside to offer his opinion on the future viability of the plastics industry, which also serves as a commentary on the corporate culture of the time. This one word even outranked the film's other most memorable quote—"Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me. Aren't you?"—which lands at number 63 on AFI's list.
- Actor: Keir Dullea
- Film: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
The terrifying potential of artificial intelligence is revealed when HAL 9000—the system that controls the spaceship Discovery One—begins to turn against the crew. What begins as a refusal to follow orders escalates into HAL killing everyone aboard except scientist Dave Bowman. When Bowman becomes stuck outside the spaceship, he famously says "Open the pod bay doors, HAL," to which the computer eerily responds: "I'm sorry, Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that."
- Actor: Barbra Streisand
- Film: Funny Girl (1968)
This big-screen adaptation of the hit Broadway musical recounts the story of real-life Vaudeville performer Fanny Brice. The film opens with Fanny walking quietly backstage through the New Amsterdam Theatre before she stops, looks in a mirror, and utters two magical words: "Hello, gorgeous."
- Actor: Dustin Hoffman
- Film: Midnight Cowboy (1969)
Due to the film's low budget, actor Dustin Hoffman recalls having to walk through real traffic while filming a scene where his character, hustler Ratso Rizzo, talks with the so-called Midnight Cowboy (Jon Voight). On the first take, Hoffman claims a cab jumped forward, causing him to impulsively hit the hood and blurt out the now-famous line "Hey! I'm walkin' here! I'm walkin' here!"; however, director John Schlesinger recalls that this was scripted. Either way, the line became so famous that it is mimicked by Lieutenant Dan (Gary Sinise) in "Forrest Gump" and Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) in "Back to the Future Part II," among other movies.
- Actor: Marlon Brando
- Film: The Godfather (1972)
"I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse" is such a memorable line in film history that it ranks as number two on the American Film Institute's list of "100 Greatest Movie Quotes Of All Time." Spoken first by head mafioso Vito, this statement serves to emphasize the Corleone family's immense power. The same statement is then repeated later in the film by Michael (Al Pacino), who is poised to take over the family business from his father.
- Actor: Pam Grier
- Film: Coffy (1973)
The graphic violence and sexuality of classic Blaxploitation film "Coffy" are equally matched by the punchy dialogue. As she seeks vengeance for her younger sister, who has fallen victim to drug addiction, Coffy delivers memorable lines like: "This is the end of your rotten life, you motherf---in' dope pusher!"
- Actor: Joe Mantell
- Film: Chinatown (1974)
Jack Nicholson stars as J.J. "Jake" Gittes, a former Los Angeles police officer turned private detective who is hired by Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) to investigate her husband's murder. Following a series of plot twists and turns, this story ends on a bleak note with Evelyn shot down by police while Jake watches, powerless to intervene. Jake's former colleague, Officer Lawrence Walsh, encourages him to shake off the troubling events with the film's iconic last line, which reflects the corruption inherent in America: "Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown."
- Actor: Roy Scheider
- Film: Jaws (1975)
About an hour into this suspenseful film, viewers finally get a good look at the shark that is being hunted—a shark so large that Chief Martin Brody backs away to tell the captain "You're gonna need a bigger boat." Although this line is often repeated incorrectly, using "we're" instead of "you're," films like "Clerks" and "Evan Almighty" have paid homage to "Jaws" by incorporating it into their scripts.
- Actor: Robert De Niro
- Film: Taxi Driver (1976)
The classic scene in "Taxi Driver" where Travis Bickle stands in front of a mirror, practicing his tough guy routine as he prepares to clean up the streets of New York, was actually improvised. With only general direction from screenwriter Paul Schrader, Robert De Niro came up with the now infamous words "You talkin' to me?" The quote is so popular that De Niro claims someone has said the phrase to him every day for four decades since the film's release.
- Actor: Peter Finch
- Film: Network (1976)
When Howard Beale, a news anchor for a failing TV network, is told he will only have a job for two more weeks, he hits the airwaves to share a piece of his mind—and these angry tirades actually improve network ratings. Beale's speeches aren't just about his own situation, though; he encourages viewers to fight back against issues large and small, to stand up and shout "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"
- Actor: Harrison Ford
- Film: Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)
"May the Force be with you" is one of the most iconic lines in the Star Wars franchise, spoken by many characters across the various films. Perhaps the most memorable delivery is from Han Solo, who says it to Luke Skywalker as his belief in the Force grows in "Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope." However, the very first character to speak these words in the series was actually General Jan Dodonna to relay good luck to a group of Rebel Alliance pilots after briefing them on a dangerous mission earlier in the same film.
Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore
- Actor: Robert Duvall
- Film: Apocalypse Now (1979)
Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore sits on the beach, encouraging his troops to surf while bombs rain down around them, in a scene so famous it is recognized by many who haven't even seen this film. In an eerily calm, detached voice, Kilgore announces: "I love the smell of napalm in the morning," stating it "smells like … victory." This quote, which emphasizes the absurdity of the Vietnam War, has been repurposed over the years in everything from kids' movies like "Casper" (1995) to adult dramas like "The Bucket List" (2007).
- Actor: Jack Nicholson
- Film: The Shining (1980)
In the midst of a psychological breakdown, Jack Torrance tears through the Overlook Hotel, chops a hole through a door, shoves his face in, and shouts the unforgettable words "Here's Johnny!" This character's most iconic line isn't found in the Stephen King novel that inspired the movie, or in the film's original script—it was improvised by Jack Nicholson during the three-day shoot of this climactic scene as a reference to "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson."
- Actor: Leslie Nielsen
- Film: Airplane! (1980)
When the flight crew becomes sick, a former fighter pilot is forced to ensure the plane lands safely. Dr. Rumack is the passenger who informs Ted Striker (Robert Hays) that he must fly the plane, causing Striker to panic and respond with an incredulous "Surely you can't be serious?" Rumack's deadpan reply is the film's most well-known wisecrack: "I am serious—and don't call me Shirley."
- Actor: Faye Dunaway
- Film: Mommie Dearest (1981)
In her 1978 memoir "Mommie Dearest" which served as the inspiration for the biopic of the same name, Christina Crawford shared how abusive her adoptive mother, film star Joan Crawford, really was. In one particularly difficult revelation, Christina disclosed she was beaten when her mother found wire hangers in her closet. The big-screen adaptation takes this abuse a step further, depicting Joan screaming: "No wire hangers, ever!" before hitting her daughter with one of them.
- Actor: Katharine Hepburn
- Film: On Golden Pond (1981)
Ethel and her grumpy old husband Norman (Henry Fonda) spend each summer at their retreat on Golden Pond, but this year is a bit different: Their daughter, Chelsea (Jane Fonda), decides to visit, fearing her father's 80th birthday may be his last. The film does a beautiful job of exploring love, family, and aging, particularly via one tender scene where Ethel comforts her worried husband: "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!"
Carol Anne Freeling
- Actor: Heather O'Rourke
- Film: Poltergeist (1982)
Two little words spoken by a five-year-old child set viewers on edge in the classic '80s horror flick "Poltergeist." After moving into a new home, the O'Rourke family awakens to find their youngest child staring at a static-filled TV screen. At first, they don't understand what Carol Anne means as she sing-songs the creepy words "They're here," but then the poltergeist takes their daughter.
- Actor: Arnold Schwarzenegger
- Film: The Terminator (1984)
It's a good thing writer-director James Cameron held his ground against Arnold Schwarzenegger, or the world never would have heard the film's cyborg killer tell police officers "I'll be back." Schwarzenegger didn't like the line, which morphed from "I'll come back" to the now infamous quote before Cameron put his foot down and told the actor it wasn't changing. The Terminator continues to speak those three well-known words through every sequel in the franchise.
- Actor: Patrick Swayze
- Film: Dirty Dancing (1987)
Handsome resort dance teacher Johnny Castle has a lot of memorable on-screen moments, but nothing tops his iconic line in the final scene of "Dirty Dancing." Marching into the end-of-season celebration, set to prove himself, Johnny approaches Frances "Baby" Houseman (Jennifer Grey) and her family, then utters the classic quote "Nobody puts Baby in a corner." Viewers swoon, Johnny and Baby perform one last unforgettable dance, and the rest is cinematic history.
- Actor: Estelle Reiner
- Film: When Harry Met Sally... (1989)
Neither Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) nor Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) speaks the most memorable line in this fan-favorite 1980s rom-com; it's actually said by a background actor played by director Rob Reiner's mother. The titular duo is having lunch while discussing the likelihood of women faking orgasms, when Sally decides to prove to Harry that it's easier than he thinks—by faking one right there in the middle of the restaurant. Following Sally's performance, the scene concludes with a cut to an older woman eating nearby who hilariously quips "I'll have what she's having."
- Actor: Anthony Hopkins
- Film: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Cinema's greatest villain, according to the American Film Institute, is also responsible for one of the most memorable movie quotes of all time. Hannibal Lecter's polished presentation in some ways belies the monster underneath, but his true nature is revealed through these indelible words shared with FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster): "A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti."
Col. Nathan R. Jessep
- Actor: Jack Nicholson
- Film: A Few Good Men (1992)
This film's most unforgettable quote—one recognized even by those who have never seen the movie—comes as Col. Nathan R. Jessep sits on the stand in military court, under questioning by younger lawyer Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise). As tempers flare and voices begin to rise, Kaffee pressures Jessep to reveal the truth related to the death of one of his men. Jessep emphatically bellows in response: "You can't handle the truth!"
- Actor: Tom Hanks
- Film: Forrest Gump (1994)
Forrest Gump's life story unfolds through the framework of flashbacks as he sits on a bench, telling tales to the person waiting for a bus beside him. Perhaps the most frequently quoted gem from the film is shared on this bench, as Forrest relays wisdom from his beloved mother: "My mama always said, 'Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.'" However, many people misremember this quote, making the tiny mistake of using the word "is" instead of "was."
- Actor: Samuel L. Jackson
- Film: Pulp Fiction (1994)
Although it is known as "the Ezekiel 25:17 speech," Jules Winnfield's most memorable monologue doesn't actually match this passage from the Bible—rather, it is adapted from "Karate Kiba," a 1973 martial arts movie. The content, however, is apropos for a hitman like Jules, especially the section where he screams: "And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee." Part of his monologue also shows up on the tombstone of Jackson's character Nick Fury in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier."
Ellis Boyd 'Red' Redding
- Actor: Morgan Freeman
- Film: The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Although Stephen King's short story "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption" ends ambiguously, the big screen adaptation gives viewers some much-needed closure about the friendship between two imprisoned convicts. Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) and Red desperately hope to find one another again on the outside, and they ultimately do. This denouement is only made sweeter by Red's final optimistic lines as he travels toward this reunion: "I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope."
- Actor: Cuba Gooding Jr.
- Film: Jerry Maguire (1996)
When sports agent Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) is fired from his company, he is desperate to retain even one of his former clients. A moment of movie magic is born as Jerry banters on the phone with football player Rod Tidwell, convincing him to stay. Rod has just one request: "Show me the money," which he forces Jerry to repeat over and over, louder each time, in a hilariously unforgettable scene.
- Actor: Renée Zellweger
- Film: Jerry Maguire (1996)
The love story between titular character Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) and a young mother named Dorothy is like most on-screen romances—it has its ups and downs. Dorothy ultimately feels that Jerry doesn't truly love her, so she leaves him, setting the story up for one of the most romantic movie reconciliations of all time. When Jerry finally returns to win her back with an impassioned speech, Dorothy cuts him off with the iconic line: "You had me at hello."
Detective James Carter
- Actor: Chris Tucker
- Film: Rush Hour (1998)
Detective James Carter's most famous line is not the most politically correct. During their first meeting, Carter incorrectly assumes that Chinese investigator Lee (Jackie Chan) does not speak English, prompting his well-known exclamation: "Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?!" This line is also repeated in the 2001 sequel, "Rush Hour 2."
- Actor: Brad Pitt
- Film: Fight Club (1998)
In the movie adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's novel, the Narrator (Edward Norton) looks to Tyler Durden—who turns out to be his alter ego—for inspiration to break free from his everyday, mundane life. As the two work together to create a secret fight club, Durden offers up thought-provoking gems like "It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything."
- Actor: Haley Joel Osment
- Film: The Sixth Sense (1999)
Four little words foreshadow one of the biggest twists in cinematic history. When young Cole tells Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) "I see dead people," first-time viewers generally don't consider what this could imply about the child psychologist. It's only in hindsight, at the end of the film, that the truth becomes clear: Dr. Crowe is one of the dead people Cole sees.
- Actor: Laurence Fishburne
- Film: The Matrix (1999)
In a key turning point of the first film in "The Matrix" series, Morpheus presents his protégé Neo (Keanu Reeves) with a choice: "You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes." The symbolism of the blue pill as willful blindness to reality and the red pill as acceptance of the brutal truth permeates pop culture, with imitations of this famous line showing up in such unexpected places as the 2023 trailer for the "Barbie" movie.
- Actor: Omar Epps
- Film: Love & Basketball (2000)
Quincy and Monica (Sanaa Lathan) are childhood friends who eventually try dating, but ultimately go their separate ways—and later realize this was a mistake. The night before Quincy's wedding, Monica challenges him to a one-on-one basketball game "for his heart." Quincy wins, but as Monica walks away sadly, he reveals his true feelings with this unforgettably romantic line: "Hey … double or nothing?"
- Actor: Andy Serkis
- Film: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
Quotes from the original source material don't always make it into the film adaptation, but thankfully one of J.R.R. Tolkien's most memorable little phrases did. After possessing the Ring for nearly 500 years, it's no wonder Gollum repeatedly utters "My precious"—with a distinctly sibilant sound—as he yearns to get his prized possession back.
- Actor: Will Ferrell
- Film: Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
Ron Burgundy may only be a local 1970s news anchor, but he sees himself as a bona fide star. This grandiose persona leads to lots of laughs, including one of the film's most frequently repeated quotes: "I'm not quite sure how to put this, but … I'm kind of a big deal."
- Actor: Jake Gyllenhaal
- Film: Brokeback Mountain (2005)
This story of two men who unexpectedly fall in love—1960s Wyoming ranchers Jack and Ennis (Heath Ledger)—is a groundbreaking piece of cinematic history. The constant conflict of desire with the pressure to hide their true selves is heart-wrenching to watch, and is reflected most memorably in Jack's words to Ennis: "I wish I knew how to quit you."
- Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis
- Film: There Will Be Blood (2007)
Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson wrote "There Will Be Blood" with Daniel Day-Lewis in mind for the lead role, so it's no surprise this character powerfully delivers more than a few unforgettable lines. Perhaps none is quite as memorable as "I drink your milkshake," a quirky phrase that comes during the film's climax as Daniel verbally, then physically, tears down his enemy, preacher Eli Sunday (Paul Dano). These words are a metaphor, revealing to Eli that the power-hungry oil miner has already drained all the oil from neighboring land—which he does not own—much like siphoning a milkshake through a long straw.
- Actor: Heath Ledger
- Film: The Dark Knight (2008)
In only three words, viewers are given a deep, dark, and dubious look into how this iconic character came to be the twisted criminal that he is. The Joker claims that his father murdered his mother, and then while asking "Why so serious?" cut his son's face into the gory wide smile that lends itself to the villain's nickname—allegedly.
- Actor: Rosamund Pike
- Film: Gone Girl (2014)
At first, "Gone Girl" seems like the typical mystery story: A happy suburban wife disappears and her husband Nick (Ben Affleck) is a potential suspect. However, halfway through the film, audiences are thrown for a loop with the words "I'm so much happier now that I'm dead." It turns out Amy isn't dead after all—she has been carefully faking her own disappearance to frame her husband as revenge for cheating.
- Actor: Adam Sandler
- Film: Uncut Gems (2019)
Howard Ratner may not be "all talk and no action" as the saying goes, but he is definitely flashy on the surface while his life underneath remains a real mess. This big city jeweler and obsessive gambler loves to wheel and deal, hoping to catch the next big thing. One memeable quote in a climactic scene captures his confidence beautifully: "This is how I win."
Additional reporting by Lucas Hicks. Story editing by Chris Compendio. Copy editing by Tim Bruns. Photo selection by Abigail Renaud.