Writing that great movie line

movie-theater.jpgThe American Film Institute released its top 100 movie quotes of all time.

6 of these are from Casablanca – that is a damn good film.

When I read this list, I wonder – will I ever be able to write a great line like one of these?  How do these happen?  Does a screenwriter consciously strive for one of these memorable lines, does it end up on the page as a result of great skill, is it a moment of sheer inspiration when an idea hits you and you run to write it down?  I want to write some great lines.  Heck, I’ll take just one.

There is a free email series from Scriptforsale that analyzes famous movie lines from a screenwriter’s perspective.  I signed up.  

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11 responses to “Writing that great movie line

  1. Hey, no Mel Brooks.

    Remember, dialogue also happens when directors give performers some leeway to improvise around a script (oy). Jack Nicholson’s line “Here’s Johnny!” in “The Shining” wasn’t in the book, and probably wasn’t in the original script. I read a story about the Marx Brothers when they were on Broadway. They had a very respected writer that wrote their plays, George S. Kaufman (“The Man Who Came To Dinner”, “You Can’t Take It With You”). Groucho and Chico would take great liberties improvising around the original dialogue. There was a story about Kaufman watching a performance of the show he had co-written, and in the middle of a scene, turned to a friend and said “I’m not sure but I think I heard a line from the original script”.

    This might be a reason to write books and not screenplays. Assuming you don’t have an aggressive editor, people will see your ideas the way they were in your head, not anyone else’s.

  2. You are surprised no Mel Brooks?

    That comes with screenwriting, the fact that stuff will get changed. First it gets changed by the writer hired to write new drafts – almost always this happens. Then, the director. Also the actors.

    It is true that some of the best lines in movies did not come from the original screenplay. In “Sleepless in Seattle” the most memorable part for me is Tom Hanks saying on the radio call-in show about his dead wife “first you need to remember how to breathe. And you get up each day….” This was not in the original script it came from Tom Hanks.

    In “When Harry Met Sally’ the idea for the orgasm scene in Katz’s was Meg Ryan’s. The line “I’ll have one of those” from the lady next to her – came from Billy Crystal.

    But there are plenty of scripts where the great lines are there originally. You try to write one and hope the script even gets read and then made and then hope it is not edited out by the next writer, director, or actor, or cutting room.

  3. Estelle Reiner’s (mother of director/meathead Rob, husband of Carl) claim to fame was delivering the line “I’ll have what she’s having”.

  4. My favorite on that list is, “You talking to me?”

    Which is your favorite from the list?

  5. And a fine job she did, Bob – that was the most memorable line in that movie.

    Kitty – I have a few favorites –

    – Here’s looking at you kid

    – You had me at hello

    I think my favorite favorite though is –

    “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”

    I have a funny story about that – one night, husband and I were watching that movie on TV in our Manhattan apartment and when that line came, people actually opened their windows and yelled it out – just like in the movie.

  6. “people actually opened their windows and yelled it out – just like in the movie.”

    That is why I love New York.

  7. Yeah it was cool. It was the first time it was aired on TV on HBO.

  8. The funniest memorable line for me is…”We don’t need no stinking badges!” (Blazing Saddles) originally this line was from the movie, “Treasure of The Sierra Madre.”(1948)

    The oldest memorable line is, “Fasten your seatbelts, its going to be a bumpy night.”(Bette Davis, 1950 “All About Eve”

  9. I love that one – fasten your seatbelts.

  10. hi i am malia i am a student at sms and i would like to use your picture of a movie theter to show a hide show layer for my assignment. plz and thank you

  11. Hi Malia –

    Sure you can use it. It is actually a Powerpoint picture, I do not own it.

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