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The Pop Of King - Now Hear This
Popular culture's a slippery slope; just ask some of the people, like Vanilla Ice and Andrew Dice Clay, who have slid down its side and right out of view. It's also possible to start a landslide, as Mel Gibson did with his movie about Jesus last winter and Michael Moore did with his about George W. Bush this summer. I didn't exactly start a landslide with my June 11 column about popular lines from the movies - the ones that become part of our inner language - but I started enough rocks falling to surprise the editors of this magazine and to startle the hell out of me.
When I asked people to send in some of their favorite lines, I thought I might get a few dozen responses, maybe a couple hundred if the column really struck a harmonic note. This one seems to have struck not just a note but a whole chord. At last count, Entertainment Weekly had received over 3,000 responses to the column, each containing as many as 10 movie lines that readers remember fondly. Even with my StuffIt feature working at top speed, it took my computer nearly 15 minutes to download them all, and I've spent weeks reading through them. Rarely has time felt so well spent; rarely have I been surprised by so many good memories. I asked the editors at EW to expand the column a little bit this time so I could share some of my favorites of your picks.
Several readers beat me severely about the head and shoulders for not mentioning the screenwriters who actually crafted these lines. "As a writer (and sometime screenwriter) yourself," wrote one, "you ought to be ashamed to attribute these lines to mere actors." In fact, I'm not ashamed at all. I do these columns with almost nothing in the way of reference material - as the weary and often horrified fact - checkers at EW can attest - and checking out the screenwriters of often obscure movies that are frequently written by committee (and usually remembered for only one or two good lines) would be a chore and a half. Also, I would argue, the greatest line in the world is only so much dead ink unless and until a great actor gives it life.
Having said that, let me tell you that the all-time champion line, by your letters, was written by the great William Goldman, whose body of work was mentioned in the responses to my column again and again:
"Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." - Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) in The Princess Bride
I think more than a hundred people sent this one in. In fact, you readers seem to have something of a jones for The Princess Bride. The editors tallied up your top 25 choices, and three other Princess lines made the list:
"Inconceivable!" "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." - Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin)
"Have fun storming the castle!" - Miracle Max (Billy Crystal)
"As you wish." - Westley (Cary Elwes)
The Princess Bride is (arguably) a chick flick, but all the lines you loved were spoken by men. This seemed to confirm something I wrote in my column, which is that most of the best movie lines are given to men. Readers repeatedly challenged me on this score - "No, no!" they protested, "not true!" - and offered up some terrific evidence. Indeed, two of the closest runners-up were from women:
"I'll have what she's having." - Female Diner (Estelle Reiner) in When Harry Met Sally...
"You had me at hello." - Dorothy Boyd (Renée Zellweger) in Jerry Maguire
Several other women's lines worth repeating came up frequently in your letters and e-mails. Two of your favorites are from movies at least half a century old:
"Fasten your seat belts - it's going to be a bumpy night." - Margo Channing (Bette Davis) in All About Eve
"You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together... and blow." - Marie Browning (Lauren Bacall) in To Have and Have Not
These next two were mentioned less frequently, but they're just beauts:
"If I'd been a ranch, they would've named me the Bar Nothin'." - Gilda (Rita Hayworth) in Gilda
"Veda's convinced me that alligators have the right idea: They eat their young." - Ida Corwin (Eve Arden) in Mildred Pierce
And from the fairer sex in the more modern age, readers did come up with at least a pair of worthy specimens:
"You're not too smart, are you? I like that in a man." - Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner) in Body Heat
"Get outta here! And don't come back for five to seven days!" - Vada Sultenfuss (Anna Chlumsky) in My Girl
And, ahem, here are a couple of women's lines that yours truly wrote (in book form). I've included them because (a) they actually made it into the movies and (b) they were quoted by a dozen or so readers in each case. The first made it into a screenplay by the aforementioned William Goldman (may his tribe increase). All I can say is, dat guy must know a good line when he reads one.
"He didn't get out of the cockadoodie car!" - Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) in Misery
"Sometimes being a bitch is all a woman has to hold on to." - Dolores Claiborne (Kathy Bates) in Dolores Claiborne
For every memorable line spoken by a woman, I got at least a dozen about women. I can't quote them all but here are a few of the best, starting with my absolute favorite:
"I gave her my heart and she gave me a pen." - Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) in Say Anything...
"Nobody puts Baby in a corner." - Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze) in Dirty Dancing
"Love your suit." - Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) in The Silence of the Lambs
Honorable mention in the "about women" category goes to a famous Tom Hanks quote. My wife reminded me of it first, then half a dozen readers chimed in:
"There's no crying in baseball!" - Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) in A League of Their Own
Speaking of baseball, everyone remembers "If you build it, they will come," but there's another one from the same film, answering the question "Is this heaven?":
"No, it's Iowa." - Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) in Field of Dreams
And, speaking of Midwestern states:
"This is Ohio. I mean, if you don't have a brewski in your hand, you might as well be wearing a dress." - Jason Dean (Christian Slater) in Heathers
I wasn't the only person who remembers the dialogue from James Dickey's Deliverance with affection. Besides the Ned Beatty line I quoted, these two, both delivered by fellows of considerable breeding (inbreeding, that is), came up again and again:
"I bet you can squeal like a pig."
"Git them panties down."
Also on the subject of underwear:
"Son, you got a panty on your head." - Guy in a Truck (John O'Donnal) to Nicolas Cage in Raising Arizona
Underwear aside, here are five other lines of apparently enduring popularity:
"What we've got here... is failure to communicate." - Captain (Strother Martin) in Cool Hand Luke
"I love the smell of napalm in the morning." - Kilgore (Robert Duvall) in Apocalypse Now
"Show me the money!" - Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.) in Jerry Maguire
"Funny like I'm a clown? I amuse you?" - Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) in GoodFellas
"You talkin' to me? Well, I'm the only one here." - Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) in Taxi Driver
And, just to round things off, here are some others that I particularly liked. And I'm sure I bypassed any number of diamonds, simply because I missed the films that provide the necessary context. But, hey, speaking of Diamonds:
"There are two types of people in this world: those who like Neil Diamond, and those who don't." - Bob Wiley (Bill Murray) in What About Bob?
"It's not the years, honey. It's the mileage." - Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in Raiders of the Lost Ark
"Game over, man! Game over!" - Hudson (Bill Paxton) in Aliens
"It's not a tumah!" - John Kimble (Arnold Schwarzenegger) in Kindergarten Cop
"Do you enjoy... knives?" - Harold (Bud Cort) in Harold and Maude
"You can't handle the truth!" - Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson) in A Few Good Men
"And in the morning, I'm making waffles!" - Donkey (Eddie Murphy) in Shrek
"Is it safe?" - Dr. Szell (Laurence Olivier) in Marathon Man
"Why does it cry, Smeagol?" - Gollum (Andy Serkis) in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
"I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and I'm all out of bubble gum." - Nada ("Rowdy" Roddy Piper) in They Live
"Oh, for goodness' sakes, get down off that crucifix. Someone needs the wood." - Adam/Felicia (Guy Pearce) in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
"These go to 11." - Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) in This is Spinal Tap
Okay, enough. These things are fun, but I don't want to drown you in them. Let me leave you with four of my personal favorites, lines which to me sort of symbolize the power movies have over our minds, our emotions... and our memories.
"They call me Mister Tibbs!" - Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) in In the Heat of the Night
"Gentlemen, you can't fight in here. This is the War Room!" - President Muffley (Peter Sellers) in Dr. Strangelove
"Look how they massacred my boy." - Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) in The Godfather
"Stand up. Your father's passing." - Reverend Sykes (William Walker) in To Kill a Mockingbird
Do we remember what we see in the movies? You bet. But if this little landslide of responses proves anything, it proves that we also remember what we hear in them.