In the hundred or so years since film was invented and turned into a multi-billion dollar industry, plenty of ink has been spilled over lists and articles about just who has been the best – the best director, the best actor, the best musician – like humanity can’t get enough out of figuring out the most superior of our own self-importance. The Hollywood awards season seems to last the entire year, with a multitude of industry-based awards shows dominating the blogosphere and newsprint each and every month, culminating in the very pinnacle of cinematic artistic achievement, The Academy Awards. Each year, golden gongs are handed out to those folks judged by others folks to be the best in their category at what they’ve done that year. Whether those awards are warranted or not isn’t the point of this article; here, we’re going to spotlight the very best of the best – the best Actors and Actresses, the best Directors, the best Films, even the best cinematic advances of the Modern Age. What do I mean by Modern Age, you ask. Simple. Hollywood’s boom times of the 30’s and 40’s, at least prior to the War, are known today as the Golden Age, and the three decades after that could be termed the Bronze Age – with a shift into color film, multi-channel stereo and the re-invention of the Hollywood “blockbuster” away from biblical epics and sweeping melodramatic romance. The 80’s, however, when you look at films produced at that time in a reflective mood, represents a shift both artistically and stylistically in the medium of film to such a degree that I think a new “age” of Hollywood could be coined: the Modern Age. An epoch of cinema between 1980 and 2010, 30 years of both massive successes, and epic fails. The Greatest of the Modern Age series attempts to distill the best of the Modern Age into a series of opinion-based lists, and we hope you enjoy (if not disagree with) our work.
When you think of great films, quite often their greatness is established by one of three things – a great performance, a great scene, or, in this case, a great line. Dialogue makes or breaks a film, and some of the lines below truly made the films they appeared in; they’re memorable, repeatable (although not always in esteemed company) and eminently classic – they’re the greatest film lines of the last 30 years. Feel free to leave your own choices in the comments section below.
After terrorists take over the US Presidents plane, Air Force One, the President himself (Harrison Ford) is called upon to take it to the insurgents and deliver his own brand of US-style justice. Typically gung-ho and filled with as much machismo and bravado as any Chuck Norris film, the President and the man Bad Guy (Gary Oldman) face off in the cargo hold of the plane, before the President, gaining the upper hand, says the line which cemented Ford as the best Cinema American President ever, before the inevitable heroic save. It’s the kind of line which audiences cheer for, and in this case, Ford delivers it perfectly.
Danny Trejo delivers one of the last decades great one-liners in his recent outing as the Mexican federale Machete, in Robert Rodriguez’s film of the same name. Bedding all the women in the film during the course of the story, and single-handedly killing more folks than any John Woo movie even thought of, Trejo’s Machete responds to a request to keep in touch with the above line, in perfect deadpan delivery. It’s Rodriguez and Trejo at their very bitchin’ best.
Before it became uncool to actually enjoy this James Cameron-directed behemoth, audiences across the world fell in love with the story of Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his romance with Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet), and also with the unrivaled joy of seeing a brand new SS Titanic steaming across the Atlantic. In one key scene, in which Jack and a fellow passenger scamper up to the massive vessel’s bowrail and stand above the waves and ocean with the wind in their faces, Jack screams the famous line into the sky – and into almost every list of famous film lines in history. Cameron himself abused the line in his cringe-worthy Oscar acceptance speech as Titanic took out almost every award possible (not quite, but it felt like it) and the line has now become an oft parodied classic. But back before the billion-dollar grosses and the massive Oscar swag, when Titanic was actually cool, this was the iconic line featured in every promo clip and trailer.
Berated in a courtroom whilst giving evidence into the death of one of the men on his Cuban base, Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson) loses his temper against upstart Navy lawyer Lt Kaffee (Tom Cruise), and delivers one of cinemas most astonishing confessions. Jessup is incensed at the gall Kaffee has to even ask a lot of the questions he does during the trial, swinging from vitriolic pride in his country to virtually name-calling Kaffee as a coward for not protecting his country, until the moment at which Jessup screams a question: “Do you want the truth?”, to which Kaffee replies “Yes I want the truth”: before Jessup’s incriminating, case-closing final admission is unleashed. Nicholson and Cruise owned this film, which also starred Demi Moore, Kevin Pollack and Kevin Bacon, although the film is mostly remembered for the Cruise/Nicholson courtroom showdown finale. The screen nearly melts as these two cinematic heavyweights go at it, going for the jugular in what is still a masterclass in tension and payoff. The most iconic courtroom line ever has been parodied ever since.
When Bruce Willis’s psychologist character approaches young Cole Sear to discuss his personality issues, the young lad lets him in on a tiny little secret; Cole can see ghosts. This now over-parodied line created the perfect storm of dread thrill and creepy unease when M Night Shyamalan scared the crap out of Planet Earth with his debut masterpiece The Sixth Sense, a film which had a twist so astonishing it ensured a cult following. In the years since, young star Haley Joel Osment went from cute to pudgy and eventually to out-of-work, while Bruce Willis just kept going from strength to strength. This line, in one of the genuinely scariest films of the last 30 years, remains the most iconic.
In a film filled with awesome, quotable lines, Ghostbusters contains one of the single greatest deadpan deliveries of any film, anywhere, and by the master of deadpan himself, Bill Murray. When confronted with pencil-necked bureaucrat Walter Peck (William Atherton, who would also play a slimy television reporter in the first two Die Hard films, forever cementing his on-screen persona of a complete tool), the Ghostbusters are brought before the mayor of New York City, where the insults between the government agent and our heroes reaches fever pitch when Ray (Dan Akroyd) makes mention of the fact that Peck has no penis. In response to a previous statement, the Mayor asks the Ghostbusters if this is true – and Peter (Bill Murray) hurls one of the 80’s great lines across the screen, to the howls of laughter from the audience.
Poor Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage) – he’s stuck on Alcatraz Island with a bunch of dead Navy Seals and one former British SAS operative, John Mason (Sean Connery), who’s spent the last thirty years incarcerated with no charge. With a rogue military commander threatening to explode a highly toxic missile over San Francisco, Stanley can’t get his head around the fact that only he and Mason are left to stop the deadly attack, and after complaining vociferously about how he’s just “doing his best”, Mason responds with one of the best ball-grabbing one-liners in a Michael Bay film, ever.
A favorite amongst female audiences across the world, Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) is seeking revenge against the six-fingered man who killed his father – and whenever he meets one of the men in the dastardly Count Ruel’s employ, he delivers the above missive to strike fear into their hearts.
Arnold Schwarzenegger was already an action superstar by the time he appeared in James Cameron’s sequel to The Terminator, and along with the dazzling special effects came the need to give the Austrian Oak yet another one-liner – after all, the man had made a career of singularly groan-inducing lines ever since he uttered the immortal “I’ll be back” in the original Terminator film. The above quote, spoken at first by teen actor Edward Furlong while trying to teach the cybernetic construct how to behave more like a human (so it could blend in more appropriately), is fired right back by Arnie’s Terminator, and the sharp delivery, mixed with Arnie’s word-mangling accent, created a 90’s icon. “Hasta la vista” was almost as big as Bart Simpson’s “Eat my shorts” from around the same era, and when you’ve nearly outdone The Simpsons, you know you’ve made it.
In the pantheon of quotable films, The Blues Brothers ranks right up there at the very top, alongside Casablanca and Ernest Goes To Camp. When their childhood home, an orphanage, is threatened with closure over unpaid taxes, the brothers (Dan Akroyd and John Belushi) take to the road to get the band back together and raise some cash. Due to the religious nature of their upbringing, under the influence of the Nuns running the orphanage, they figure that their mission is – as the title suggests – from God, and so they remain untouched and virtually unblemished for almost the entire duration of the movie.