I’m a big movie fan. There’s a good chance I’ve watched a movie I enjoy multiple times. As a result, I tend to remember details, especially if they involve a scene or dialogue I love.
A couple of weeks ago, I began musing about my all-time favorite movie lines. A few popped into my head right away and I wrote them down. Then, in order to procrastinate before working on my novel, I conducted a brainstorming session. Extensive IMDb and YouTube research generated about thirty contenders I consider my favorites. At this point I was excited—if I pared my contenders to a top ten list, I’d not only manage to avoid the hard work of writing fiction, I’d also have a column to share.
In compiling the list, I immediately eliminated five lines from contention. I consider them so well known, their inclusion would be lazy and predictable. They are:
- “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.” – Clemenza, The Godfather
- “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.” – Brody, Jaws
- “But what I do have are a very particular set of skills …” Bryan Mills, Taken.
- “I’ll be back.” – The Terminator Franchise
- “You can’t handle the truth!” – Colonel Nathan Jessup, A Few Good Men.
After completing the exercise, I noticed something troubling. Most of the lines I chose were from older movies. One was made in 1971. This prompted a solid look in the mirror and forced me to conclude I’m becoming a person I swore I’d never be—someone who says “they don’t make any decent movies anymore.” For better or worse, when these lines are said, I ask the room to be quiet and revel in the moment.
“Seven years of college down the drain.” – Bluto, Animal House. Watching John Belushi as Bluto was the defining moment of a generation. Among my peer group, everyone knew a somewhat milder version of Bluto. In Animal House, this particular line came as Bluto laid on the floor, defeated, following his expulsion from Faber College. The moment presented a blatant contrast to the crazy, raucous, and utterly irreverent persona of Belushi’s character. His deadpan delivery made me laugh out loud. To this day, I utter the words when something goes wrong in my life.
“I don’t like violence, Tom. I’m a businessman—blood is a big expense.” – Sollozzo, The Godfather. When I hear those thirteen words, I want to laugh but I can’t. Sollozzo’s cold and calculating sentence foreshadows additional and extensive bloodshed. Of course, in the mafia’s business model, the carnage is “necessary.” The violence is also costly and ultimately leads to Michael Corleone’s absolute moral corruption. In addition, and I hate to admit this, the sentiment behind Sollozzo’s reasoning appeals to my straightforward approach to life. If I lived in the mythical world of The Godfather, I’m reasonably sure I’d agree with Sollozzo’s viewpoint.
“If hate were people, I’d be China!” – Phil Berquist, City Slickers. Daniel Stern’s character screams this line, in the middle of a packed birthday party, at his soon-to-be ex-wife. Stern’s impassioned delivery and emphatic body language are laugh-out-loud funny. Especially since, right after the line, the party goes quiet and Billy Crystal’s character offers the whole room cake. Someday, I’d love to meet the writer who thought this one up.
“Now ask me a serious question.” – Mike Banning, Olympus Has Fallen. After a take-over of the White House, Gerard Butler’s Mike Banning is the sole good guy left inside. Following his capture of one of the bad guys, the Secret Service Director asks Banning if the terrorist is still alive. With a single sentence, Butler reveals all we need to know about Mike Banning. He’s an uncomplicated man who has one job—protect the President. If you leave him alone, he’ll leave you alone. If you don’t, people ask you stupid questions. I wish we were all as focused as this man.
“When I left, I joined the army, and when I took the service exam my psych profile fit a certain … moral flexibility would be the way to describe it … and I was loaned out to a CIA-sponsored program, and we sort of found each other.” – Martin Blank, Gross Point Blank. I could write a whole column on John Cusack quotes. However, for all his great lines over the years, this is my favorite. The words masterfully communicate Martin Blank’s anguish at becoming a professional hit man. In roughly thirteen seconds of movie time, we see how a man discovered his calling while clearly understanding the absolute tragedy of his life’s work.
“I see dead people.” – Cole, The Sixth Sense. There’s nothing complicated here. I loved the movie and the way it frightened me in an understated way. This scene is the perfect example. A terrified young boy, laying in a hospital bed, confesses his secret. He utters the words in a near whisper with tears pooling in his eyes. His head is poking out of a blanket tucked under his chin. I’m not ashamed to admit Cole’s revelation completely creeped me out.
“Earn this.” – Captain Miller, Saving Private Ryan. Steven Spielberg will never be considered a subtle filmmaker. This line from Tom Hanks is no exception. These two words present a clear demand to appreciate the accomplishments of the generations before us. Their perseverance through emigration, the Great Depression, and a World War, are shining examples of grit and determination. I live in awe of my parents and grandparents’ accomplishments. They made the life I live possible. Captain Miller’s dying declaration reminds me to honor their sacrifices every day.
“I don’t want any of this lover’s lament crap. I want something peppy, something happy, something up-tempo. I want something snappy.” – Mr. White, That Thing You Do! A classic scene where “the man” tries to put the upstart young star in his place. I appreciate the lines for two reasons. First, the words perfectly summarize the conflict between creating art and the need for commercial success. As a writer I appreciate the tension. Secondly, a friend frequently recites the words at church choir practice. He uses them to poke fun at me if I’m not in the mood for a contemplative piece. His repetition of the lines, like the movie they came from, always make me smile.
“And now you understand. Anything goes wrong, anything at all … your fault, my fault, nobody’s fault … it don’t matter—I’m gonna blow your head off. It’s as simple as that. No matter what else happens, no matter who gets killed I’m gonna blow your head off.” – Jacob McCandles, Big Jake. The legendary John Wayne played Big Jake. In my opinion, this was his greatest screen moment. The words are more meaningful because, moments before, the bad guy said basically the same thing. Only the bad guy was using the words to refer to killing Big Jake’s grandson. Once the tables turned, John Wayne looked the antagonist in the eye and told him what was actually going to happen. My impressionable ten-year-old brain coded his emphatic response into my gray matter. The message—protect your family at all costs.
“I’ll have what she’s having.” – Older Women Customer, When Harry Met Sally. Since this is a family column, I’ll let you either rely on your memory or go watch the movie to find out why the line was uttered. The moment made an already great movie an iconic one. Plus, director Rob Reiner’s mother uttered the line. I mean, how can I exclude this from the list?
You may have noticed the title above indicates this is Part 1 of my list of favorite movie lines. Next month, I’m going to write about my single favorite movie line. I’m reasonably confident no one can guess what the line is. However, for anyone who wants to make a prediction, feel free to give it a try in my website’s (steven-rogers.com) comments section. If anyone happens to speculate correctly, I’ll mail along an autographed copy of my novel Into the Room.
Steven Rogers’ novel Into the Room is available in paperback and on Kindle. If you’d like to order a copy, please visit Amazon or his website’s book page: https://steven-rogers.com/books/.
Note: Beginning with this post, I’m going to be releasing a new column during the first week of every month. At the end of each post, I’ll have a brief section with news about what’s going on with my writing. The first one is below.
September News from Steve
If you enjoy my columns and don’t want to miss one, please subscribe by filling out the “Follow Steve” block on my website.
I’ve had the opportunity to do a newspaper interview and book podcast. To read/listen to them, please visit: https://steven-rogers.com/steven-in-the-media/.
Folks have asked what they can do to help promote Into the Room. If you’d like to assist, I’d love more reviews on Amazon and, of course, please “talk up” the book to others. Also, I enjoy discussing Into the Room with book clubs, reading groups, and individuals. If you or a group/individual you know is interested, please email me at email@example.com.
I’ve started work on the second book in my Ben Cahill trilogy. The working title is A Year in the Room. The story will revolve around Ben discovering more about his faith and working to repair the relationship with his family. I’ll keep you updated as the book develops.