Patricia T. O’Conner on Memorable Movie Lines

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Our word maven Patricia T. O'Conner talks about famous improvised movie lines. She also answers questions about our confounding and complex English language. An updated and expanded third edition of her book, Woe is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English, has recently been published in paperback, and a paperback version of Origins of the Specious, written with Stewart Kellerman, was recently issued.

Do you have a question about language and grammar, or about the origins and meanings of certain cat expressions? Call us at 646-829-3985 or leave a comment below!

What are some of your favorite movie lines? Have you adopted any into your speech? Let us know!


Patricia T. O'Conner

Comments [99]

Jeff from NJ: from Young Frankenstein -Igor to Dr. Frankenstein: "Ixnay on the Ottenray"

Dec. 22 2011 02:51 PM
Sandra Boer from nyc

"I'll have what she's having."
According to director Rob Reiner of When Harry Met Sally, if was BILLY CRYSTAL who wrote this line!

Jun. 10 2011 04:43 PM
Jonathan Meckler from Brooklyn,NY

From Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn:
Bibi Bech's character Carol Marcus says as she, Kirk, McCoy, Saavik, and, David Marcus emerge into the Genesis Cave: "Can I cook, or can't I?

May. 11 2011 06:47 PM
audster from Chicago

"I'm the Anti-Christ. You get me in a vendetta kind of mood, you'll tell the angels in heaven that you had never seen evil so singularly personified as you did in the face of the man who killed you."

Christopher Walkins - "True Romance"

May. 11 2011 05:01 PM
Jan from UWS

I went to the AFI's 100 Best Movie Quotes, but didn't see my favorites:
In "First Wives Club" Bette Midler understatedly replies to a question asking if someone had plastic surgery, "Honey, she's a quilt."

No quotes from "Princess Bride" & I think that's got a BUNCH of them!

May. 11 2011 04:44 PM
Edward from NJ

Oh, and wise is spelled with an "s" not a "z".

May. 11 2011 03:06 PM
Edward from NJ

@Ro from Manhattan, no it's not from Hamlet. It is from Godfather II. It's often wrongly attributed to Sun Tzu or Machiavelli.

May. 11 2011 02:46 PM
Connie from Westchester

As a child, there was a radio commercial for Manichewitz wine which was: "Man oh Man... it's Manichewitz"! This line, 'though not from a movie, has stayed with me ever since. Whenever I am having difficulty doing something, I find myself repeating it as if to express my anxiety!

May. 11 2011 02:26 PM
Ro from Manhattan

To Mike from Tribeca: your quote from Godfather II was actually a quote from Shakespeare's "Hamlet". Polonius is giving Hamlet some advice. Polonius was wize indeed for if you are intimate with your enemies you know how they are thinking and what they are planning. A little hint - read more and reflect further.

May. 11 2011 02:09 PM
david from riverdale

Two movies:
"The Money Pit": As anyone who has done construction/repair work on their home can appreciate: Philip Bosco (the general contractor) says ALWAYS when asked how long it will take to do this or that: "Two weeks!"

"Arthur": Arthur (Dudley Moore) replies to Liza Minelli's question, "What's it like it to be rich?":
"It doesn't suck!" I often repeat that line, facetiously, when referring to terrific, unexpected things, e.g., beautiful vistas, sunsets, etc.!

May. 11 2011 02:04 PM
Steve G from Bridgewater NJ

Since Patricia T. is known for being a stickler, I want to point out that the line from Cool Hand Luke is "What we have here is failure to communicate." Most people add an article, but its not there in the film.
As for Moonstruck, there's no use trying to isolate a memorable line... about every third or fourth sentence qualifies!

May. 11 2011 02:01 PM
Darrell from Manhattan

Line from Dr. Stragelove:

Peter Sellers as President:

"Gentlemen: No fighting in the War Room!"

May. 11 2011 02:01 PM
Quinn from Asbury Park, NJ

My favorite line is from Reservoir Dogs-
" You shoot me in a dream, you better wake up and apologise."

May. 11 2011 01:59 PM
maggie from nj

I love the twist on the famous line from the "Sixth Sense" ( I see dead people, theyre everywhere and they don't know they're dead.") --"I see stupid people, theyre everywhere and they don't know they're stupid."

May. 11 2011 01:59 PM
Elaine from Baltimore

Du yu have a license for your minkey?

Inspector Clouseau

May. 11 2011 01:58 PM
Evan from Montclair

"I gave her my heart, and she gave me a pen."

John Cusack in Say Anything

May. 11 2011 01:58 PM
Elizabeth from The Bronx

Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull, screaming out the window at a neighbor:
Larry, I'm gonna eat your dog for lunch!

May. 11 2011 01:58 PM
Annie from Brooklyn

Anne Bancroft's "Would you like me to seduce you? Is that what you're trying to tell me?," from the Graduate is one of my favs!!!

May. 11 2011 01:57 PM

One of my favorite movies is When Harry Met Sally and recently, while going through the breakup of a long-term live-in relationship, this quote was going through my head on a loop: "Jess, Marie. Do me a favor, for your own good, put your name in your books right now before they get mixed up and you won't know whose is whose. 'Cause someday, believe it or not, you'll go 15 rounds over who's gonna get this coffee table. This stupid, wagon wheel, Roy Rogers, garage sale COFFEE TABLE."

May. 11 2011 01:56 PM
Anthony Klaff

"Walk this way" Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein.

" Show me the money" Jerry Macguire

May. 11 2011 01:56 PM
dan k from nyc

Chevy Chase from Fletch, saying to the female lead when he walks in on her in her towel:
"Hi, my car just hit a water buffalo, can i borrow your towel?"

May. 11 2011 01:55 PM
nancy sherman from nyc

I love the romantic line from the ultimate in romantic movies, "Why ask for the moon when we have the stars?" from Now, Voyager.

May. 11 2011 01:55 PM

I love when Diane Keaton answers Woody Allen in Love and Death: "How many lovers are you taking, anyway?" "In the local directory?"

May. 11 2011 01:54 PM
Richard Taddei

I wish I could quit you.......Brokeback Mountain

May. 11 2011 01:54 PM
Lois from NYC

My favorite line is from the Hunchback of Notre Dame, "she gave me water."

May. 11 2011 01:54 PM
Elizabeth from The Bronx

Bill Murray from Ghostbusters, as he's describing Sigourney Weaver:
She sleeps above the covers. Okay, four FEET above the covers!

Also, same movie:
The flowers are still standing!

May. 11 2011 01:54 PM
savitra from manhattan

david patrick kelly, in the warriors, improvised:

"Warriors...come out to play-ee-ay!!"

May. 11 2011 01:54 PM
Sandra B Kenny from Casablanca

I can't believe no one has mentioned: "Round up the usual suspects"

May. 11 2011 01:54 PM

Bill Murray in King Pin to Woody Harleston: "You're on a gravy train with biscuit wheels"

May. 11 2011 01:54 PM
Kathy from Manhattan

"Take thegun; leave the cannoli."
from The Godfather

May. 11 2011 01:54 PM
Alina from New York

"Leave the gun, take the cannoli."

May. 11 2011 01:53 PM
Emily from UWS, Manhattan

Speaking of Star Wars, I love that at some point almost every character says "I've got a very bad feeling about this..."

May. 11 2011 01:53 PM
yourgo from Astoria

Good Shepard
Matt Damon at a table with Joe Pesci.

Joe Pesci: 'We Italians, we got our families and the church,... the blacks they got there music.. .. what do you people have?'

Matt Damon: 'We have America. The rest of you are just visiting.'

May. 11 2011 01:53 PM


May. 11 2011 01:53 PM
Stephen J. Herschkorn from Highland Park, NJ

There must be many on the list from _The Wizard of Oz_. One I use often is "People come and go so quickly here." I got that from Tony Kushner, who used it in _Angels in America_.

A couple of years ago after that major crane accident on the UES, I was using the line, "Now, go, before someone drops a crane on you!"

May. 11 2011 01:53 PM

My favorite -- last line from Some Like It Hot.

Jack Lemmon has just told Joe E Brown that he's a guy -- and Brown says, "Well, nobody's perfect." [or something like that]

Probably not ad libbed but still a great moment.

May. 11 2011 01:53 PM
Stephen from Prospect heights

Pat Garret and Billy the Kid, 1973:

Billy (Kris Kristofferson) asks Bob Dylan character his name and Dylan says, 'Alias',

Billy then asks Alias what? Dylabn responds: "Alias anything you like."

May. 11 2011 01:53 PM
Kate Perry from Boerum Hill

I was the Asst.Producer on the Wendy's ad 'Where's the Beef', directed by Joe Sedelmaier, written by Cliff Freeman. I cannot remember if that line uttered by Clara Pella was in the original script. I think she may have adlibbed ......Only Cliff would know ?

May. 11 2011 01:53 PM
Cesar from Manhattan

Nicholson on the stand in A Few Gold Men, "You can't handle the truth!"

May. 11 2011 01:52 PM
irina from NYC

from GodFather "I will make you an offer you cant refuse" must be ont hat list :)

May. 11 2011 01:52 PM
Vicki from Chappaqua

"Leave the gun, take the cannoli"


May. 11 2011 01:52 PM
uscdadnyc from nyc

"Bronco Billy"
Sondra Locke: "Oh Bronco Billy, you are the BEST!
Clint Eastwood: "No Ad-Libbing"

May. 11 2011 01:52 PM
Mike from Tribeca

My wife is fond of quoting this line, from "Terms of Endearment":

"You're just going to have to trust me about this one thing. You need a lot of drinks."

May. 11 2011 01:52 PM
Kevin, NJ

Serpentine! from the In-laws.

May. 11 2011 01:52 PM
oscar from ny

dud yu kniw what sge did? yur cunning daughter..

May. 11 2011 01:52 PM
jillydg from Manhattan

Never READ Ian Fleming... what about "shaken, not stirred"?

May. 11 2011 01:51 PM
VINCENZO Mancuso from New York

Never the less, the most famous line that all people in USA deliver, with or without script, is for sure:

May. 11 2011 01:51 PM
Stephen from Westchester

"I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."

-HAL 2001: A Space Odyssey

May. 11 2011 01:51 PM

drop the gun, take the cannolies

May. 11 2011 01:51 PM

I was also thinking of a Nicholson line from Batman when The Joker asks "Ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?"

I don't think it's on the 100 list...

May. 11 2011 01:51 PM
anne from brooklyn

"badges..we don't need no stinkin' badges"
from Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

May. 11 2011 01:50 PM
dan from Chelsea

Barton Fink:
John Goodman saying to John Turturro in a particularly harrowing scene:
"i could tell you stories that'll make you're hair curl.... Oh, i guess you heard them already"

May. 11 2011 01:50 PM
Irina from NYC

"you make me want to be a better man" from as good as it gets :)

May. 11 2011 01:50 PM

What about To Have and Have Not: "You know how to whistle, don't you? You just put your lips together and blow."

May. 11 2011 01:49 PM
Frank Grimaldi from East Village

All About Eve had so much good dialogue,
were any of the lines adlibbed?

May. 11 2011 01:49 PM
Nina from East Village

Young Frankenstein: Yes! He was my.... boyfriend!

May. 11 2011 01:48 PM

Why you, I oughta...

One of my favorite lines from old cheesey movies.

May. 11 2011 01:48 PM

orson welles in the third man
Harry Lime:"In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock ..."

May. 11 2011 01:48 PM
jeannie from manhattan

What about non-lines? when richard gere snaps the jewelry box shut on julia roberts' hand in pretty woman.. maybe an improvisation???

May. 11 2011 01:47 PM

The line " I 'm a magazine reader" said by Baby Doll by Caroll Baker in the film Baby Doll

Too much!!!!!!!!!

May. 11 2011 01:46 PM
Stephen J. Herschkorn from Highland Park, NJ

Re: "I'll have what she's having."

I recall hearing Rob Reiner discuss this in an interview. Billy Crystal is the one who came up with the line during a rehearsal or shoot. Rob Reiner loved it. He called his mother and said, "Ma, I have a line for you." At least if I remember it correctly.

May. 11 2011 01:45 PM

Jerry McGuire, "You had me at hello." Probably not improvised but in the language now. Also, anything by Jim Carrey?

May. 11 2011 01:45 PM
Steven from Queens NYC

"I love the smell of napalm in the morning" by Robert Duvall

May. 11 2011 01:45 PM
Terry from Brooklyn

At the end of Aliens, half-torned Bishop says to Sigourney Weaver after pushing the Alien to outer space: "Not bad for a... human." then smiles with droid fluids flowing out of his mouth.

May. 11 2011 01:45 PM
J Reilly from Bellmore, NY

My favorite movie line is Stan Laurel's moment of clarity in the "March of the Wooden Soldiers" when he simply says "the wooden soldiers!" to Ollie.

May. 11 2011 01:44 PM
Tony in NY

In Mel Brooks' "The 12 Chairs" - which is about several people in 1900's Russia chasing around trying to find the 1 chair of a set of 12 that contains hidden jewels. Near the end Dom DeLouise has found the 11th and is on the top of a hill... Frank Langella sits at the base of the hill in misery... it's obviously over.

For a minute or two pieces of the chair come flying into the picture as we watch Langella. Eventually there are no more pieces... there's a long pause and then we hear Dom DeLouise (off camera) maoan, "Oh God! You're so STRICT!!!"

I understand this was a post production ad-lib by DeLouise.

May. 11 2011 01:43 PM
Dale from Brooklyn

Sierra Madre!
"We don't need no stinking badges!"

Cool Hand Luke
"What we got here, is a failure to communicate"

May. 11 2011 01:43 PM

In The Empire Strikes Back, when Han Solo is about to be frozen in carbonite, he is supposed to have this exchange with Princess Leia:

Leia: I love you.
Han: I love you too.

Instead of his line, Harrison Ford ad libbed: "I know."

May. 11 2011 01:43 PM
Jack from Brooklyn, NY

From the Wikipedia entry on “The Empire Strikes Back”:
“One memorable exchange of dialogue was partially ad-libbed. Originally, Lucas wrote a scene in which Princess Leia professed her love to Han Solo, with Han replying ‘I love you too.’ Harrison Ford felt the characterization was not being used effectively, and Kershner agreed. After several takes, the director told the actor to improvise on the spot. Ford changed Solo's line to ‘I know.’”

May. 11 2011 01:42 PM
Ash in Chelsea

Where does Mae West's famous line "Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?" rank on the list?

May. 11 2011 01:42 PM
A listener

Were the profanity-laced tirades of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in "Full Metal Jacket" improvised?

May. 11 2011 01:38 PM
Peter from FiDi

Bill Murray in Kingpin:

In the diner scene Bill says hello to a table of female extras. Surprised, one of the women says hi back. Bill responds with "Not you honey, you (to one of the other ladies)". The reaction from her is priceless.

May. 11 2011 01:38 PM
Ken from the Slope

Once heard somewhere that Hoffman's "I'm walkin' here!" was an ad-lib resulting from the stunt driver braking closer than he was supposed to while he and Joe Buck are crossing the street.

May. 11 2011 01:37 PM
zach from west palm beach

"I'll have what she's having" is known for WHEN HARRY MET SALLY. predates "When Harry Met Sally". In Round Midnight (dir. Bernard Travernier) jazzman Dexter Gordon says "I'll have what he's having" when the man next to him falls flat out in a scene at a bar.

May. 11 2011 01:37 PM
Martin from Brooklyn, NY

Mary Boland as the Countess DeLave in the 1939 THE WOMEN: La publicité!
She's concerned about "dirt" getting out.

"The publicity, the publicity, La Pu-bli-ci-té!"

The last improvised and encouraged by George Cukor, the director.

May. 11 2011 01:37 PM
Deirdre Kennedy from Jersey City

"my complications, have complications" from Brazil

May. 11 2011 01:35 PM

In Broadcast News Holly Hunter's response to a male executive's insult:

"Are your trying to be offensive or are you just stupid"

May. 11 2011 01:34 PM
Ash in Chelsea

Deborah Kerr delivered two of my favorite lines:

1. In "Tea and Sympathy" (When submitting to the young man who has been accused of being a "sissy"): "Years from now when you tell of this -- and you will -- please be kind."

2. In "An Affair to Remember" (Explaining why she was hit by a taxi while looking up at the Empire State Building): "It was the closest thing to heaven."

May. 11 2011 01:33 PM
Mary Casey from Milford, CT

Han Solo's reply to Leah's 'I love you' was libbed 'I know'. Or so I've heard.

May. 11 2011 01:33 PM
Peter from queens

From "The good thief"
Nick Nolte asks the designer of the burglar alarm system "how does it work?"

answer: "the way everything works... mathematics"

May. 11 2011 01:29 PM
mary from Milford, CT

Derivation of the term 'station wagon'?

May. 11 2011 01:29 PM
susy from Manhattan

Leonard, people aren't asking you to correct your guests if they say something stupid.

They're hoping you are both sitting there watching the comments come in on a laptop while the interview is conducted, and they're hoping that your guest reads the comment.

Nobody expects you to stop the interview and correct your guest.

I guess your guests aren't looking at comments, like they would be, during the Brian Lehrer show, which runs right before yours here in NYC.

May. 11 2011 01:29 PM
Anthony Klaff

Surely you can't be serious. I am and don't call me Shirley - Leslie Nielsen

May. 11 2011 01:29 PM
Dog Day

Lumet on Dog Day Afternoon:

[[“We improvised. Each night after rehearsal, the improvisations were typed up, and eventually the dialogue was created out of those improvisations. The wonderful scene on the telephone between Pacino and his male lover, played by Chris Sarandon, was improvised in rehearsal, sitting around a table. His following phone call to his wife was made up of Al’s improvisations and Susan Peretz’s (playing his wife) using the original lines from the script. It’s one of the most remarkable fourteen minutes of film I’ve ever seen. I’d estimate that 60 percent of the screenplay was improvised. ]]

May. 11 2011 01:24 PM
Gabriel from NYC

I believe Luke Wilson improvised the punch line for this quote in Rushmore although Jason Schwartzman spoke the line.

Dr. Flynn - "These are O.R. scrubs."
Max - "Oh, are they?"

One of my favorites is Wooderson (Mathew Mcconaughey) in Dazed and Confused.

"Naw, man. That's what I like about these high school girls; I get older, they stay the same age."

I use this one from Caddyshack everyday. When Bill Murray refers to the blessing he received from the Dalai Lama...

"So I got that goin' for me, which is nice."

May. 11 2011 01:18 PM
Warm Beer from Across the River

RE: "You talkin' to me" - DeNiro admitted he got it from Bruce Springsteen. Just one of many references:

May. 11 2011 01:08 PM
sarah from CT

Tombstone, Dock Holiday played by Val Kilmer to Ringo: "I'm your Huckleberry"

May. 11 2011 12:56 PM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

One of my absolute favorite lines is from the Terrence Malick film "The Thin Red Line"
To paraphrase it:

Pvt Witt: "You ever get lonely, Sarge?"

Sgt. Welsh: "Only around people"

May. 11 2011 12:22 PM
warrior-woman from East Village

"I ain't nobody, DORK!"

Bob Falfa, as portrayed by Harrison Ford, snarling an immortal put-down to Terry the Toad, played by Charles Martin Smith in George Lucas' 1973 masterpiece American Graffiti.

May. 11 2011 12:21 PM
gary stephan from tribeca

Dustin Hoffman in making Midnight Cowboy improvised his line " Hey, i'me walkin here" to a real cab driver as he crossed the street.

May. 11 2011 12:21 PM
Leonard Steinbach from Forest Hills

favorite movie line:

Jessica Rabbit (who killed roger rabbit?):
I'm not bad. I'm just drawn that way.

May. 11 2011 12:20 PM
Tony from Canarsie

From Orson Welles' "Mr. Arkadin" (1955):

"Baroness, a fool is a man who pays twice for the same thing."

May. 11 2011 12:17 PM
Mike from Tribeca

I've never understood the enduring appeal of the line in The Godfather II, "Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer."

Isn't it a lot safer to stay as far away as possible from your enemies?

May. 11 2011 12:10 PM
Travis Bickle

That's so funny! I was just thinking about DeNiro in Taxi Driver and heard Lenny preview the segment.

"You tawkin' to me?

Love it.

May. 11 2011 12:06 PM
Frustrated with newspapers

It drives me insane when newspaper writers string together a bunch of words with hyphens to make a phrase instead of crafting an actual sentence.

This gem was recently written about the NBA's most valuable player Derrick Rose:

"But if it helps her son to let the world know the aw-shucks-the-next-game-is-the-only-one-that-matters All-Star is as real as the doting son she raised him to be, she will do it."

I don't understand how that gets past an editor.

May. 11 2011 11:53 AM
connie from nj

I often hear the word 'forward' pronounced without the first R being sounded ('FOE-werd'). Is this a regional thing? Any idea where it comes from?

May. 11 2011 11:27 AM
antonio from bayside

"You're my density.... I mean, my destiny."
George McFly played by Crispin Glover.

May. 11 2011 11:01 AM
Leslie from Hell's Kitchen

Could you please speak about the use of the subjunctive tense in English and its general rules. Is it widely used or has it fallen into disuse? How important is it?

May. 11 2011 10:47 AM
Joe Adams from Bergen County, NJ

This entertainer, singer and occasional movie actor had a line that is still remembered by a few people like me and probably Patricia and Lenny: "Folks, you ain't heard nothing yet!" I think that line was in the movie that purported to be his biography. (I am sure if I gave his full name, many in the audience would say, "Al who?"

May. 11 2011 08:53 AM

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