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: