What makes a "classic" movie quote? Insight? Attitude? Wit? Charm?
Answer: None of the above.
Brevity is the determining factor. For movie dialogue to be memorialized it needs, first and foremost, to be short -- short enough to be easily recalled and repeated (which is unfortunate because that's going to leave some very clever material at the starting gate). Moreover, just because a line is pithy doesn't mean it's "good." Indeed, we can all remember people going around saying "You're fired!" as if Donald Trump's obnoxious phrase was actually worth repeating.
Many classic movie lines have made their way into popular culture. There's Clint Eastwood in Sudden Impact: "Go ahead, make my day"; Marlon Brando, in The Godfather: "I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse"; Cuba Gooding Jr. in Jerry Maguire: "Show me the money!", etc.
The following 15 quotes are not classics. They are obscure and idiosyncratic. I'm not suggesting they're literary masterpieces, only that they're examples of snappy dialogue that got the job done. And, obscure or not, I'd pick any one of them over Leonardo DiCaprio's cornball, "I'm the king of the world!"
1. "This country's still growing up. Some diseases you're better off having when you're still young." -- James Woods (as the gangster Max Bercovicz), Once Upon a Time in America (1984).
2, "You shut your mouth when you're talking to me." -- Rebecca De Mornay (as Mrs. Kroeger), Wedding Crashers (2005).
3. "Look at yourself. They have a name for faces like that." -- Alida Valli (as Anna Schmidt) to Joseph Cotton (as Holly Martins), upon learning he's a police informant who turned in her lover, Orson Wells (as Harry Lime), The Third Man (1949).
4. "With Major Lawrence, mercy is a passion. With me, it is merely good manners." -- Alec Guinness (as Prince Feisal), spoken to Arthur Kennedy (as journalist Jackson Bentley), Lawrence of Arabia (1962).
5. In Bugsy (1991), Warren Beatty (as the real-life Bugsy Siegel) meets Annette Benning (as the real-life Virginia Hill). She's about to light up a cigarette. Beatty hastily proffers a lighter and says, "May I?" She answers icily: "If you want a yes or no answer, you're going to have to finish your question."
6. "It's a dangerous thing, ambition. It practically ruined Mickey Mouse's career." -- Rex Reed (as Myron), Myra Breckinridge (1970).
7. In Mad Max (1979), a high-speed motorcyclist (Mel Gibson) skids spectacularly across an asphalt road, lays his bike down dramatically, slams it hard into the side of parked van. The van's shaken-up driver leans out the window and asks what happened. Cool as a cucumber, an uninjured Gibson replies, "I don't know; I just got here myself."
8. "The Mondoshawans never fully trusted the human race." -- Brion James (as General Munro), The Fifth Element (1997).
9. "Men will listen to anything if they think it's foreplay." -- Susan Sarandon (as Annie Savoy), Bull Durham (1988).
10. "I'm freezing my nuts off." -- Shirley MacLaine (as Katharine Richelieu), Rumor Has It (2005)
11. "A drug person can learn to handle such things as seeing their dead grandmother crawling up their leg with a knife in her teeth. But no one should be asked to deal with this trip." -- Johnny Depp (as Raoul Duke), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998).
12. From Pushing Tin (1999), John Cusack (as Nick Falzone) conversing with Billy Bob Thornton (as Russell Bell):
Nick: "So, do you play sports, Russell?"
Russell (thinks about it a moment): "I used to bowl when I was an alcoholic."
13. "I move around a lot, not because I'm looking for anything really, but because I'm getting away from things that get bad if I stay." -- Jack Nicholson (as Bobby Dupea), Five Easy Pieces (1970).
14. "All you need to start an asylum is an empty room and the right kind of people." -- Eugene Pallette (as Alexander Bullock), My Man Godfrey (1936)
15. This exchange in the Maltese Falcon (1941) between Mary Astor (as Brigid O'Shaughnessy) and Humphrey Bogart (as hardboiled detective Sam Spade).
Brigid: "He has a wife and three children in England."
Sam Spade (world-weary): "They usually do, though not always in England."
David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and author ("It's Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor"), was a former union rep. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.