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5 greatest last lines in movie history

By Craig Clough, Contributing writer
Published On: Aug 16 2011 01:46:02 AM CDT
Updated On: Apr 21 2014 09:09:14 AM CDT
Vivien Leigh, Gone With The Wind

Warner Home Video

Have you ever been in an argument with a coworker or significant other, stormed out of the room and then a minute later thought of the perfect thing that you should have said if you were only a faster thinker?

Film characters never seem to have that problem. They always seem to know how to leave a room and tell Scarlet O'Hara that frankly they just don't give a damn. Maybe that's because writers who are afforded the luxury of days, weeks or even years to think of the perfect thing to say craft their last lines for them.

The following five last lines stand out in film history not just because they put the icing on the cake of these beloved films, but the lines grew to have a meaning outside of the film itself by permeating popular culture.

Heck, you've probably used one or two of them yourself as a parting line ...

Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard

No. 5: "All right, Mr. De Mille, I'm ready for my close-up"

"Sunset Boulevard" is director Billy Wilder's cynical examination of where Hollywood dreams go to die a slow death. Released in 1950, the film is about a wanna-be screenwriter and his fateful affair with a has-been silent film star.

Gloria Swanson, herself a has-been silent film star, delivered the famous last line. Her character had just committed a murder but had slipped so far into insanity she believed the newsmen that had arrived at the grisly murder scene were a movie crew there to film her next starring role.

The film and the line are a sick, dark commentary on the depths that everyone in Hollywood, the successful and the wanna-be's, can stoop to in order achieve fame.

But outside of the film itself, the line has come to mean much more. To say that someone is "ready for their close-up" is to say that they have lost their touch with reality or have a severely inflated sense of themselves.

Our next last line answers the question, "Do we really need roads?"

Back to the Future poster blurb

No. 4: "Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads"

In the final scene of 1985's "Back to the Future," with his adventure into the past over, Marty McFly is sitting in the DeLorean time machine, ready jump forward and get his first glimpse of the future.

His companion, Doc Brown, tells him that "where we're going we don't need roads," before pushing a button that turns their DeLorean into a flying spaceship that speeds straight at the screen.

It was the kind of ending that made audience members jump out of their seats with excitement and wish they had their own time machine so they could jump ahead and watch the sequel right away.

The phrase has come to be used by many to express hope and optimism for the future. In a 1986 speech, President Ronald Reagan even quoted the line, saying, "Never has there been a more exciting time to be alive, a time of rousing wonder and heroic achievement. As they said in the film 'Back to the Future,' "Where we're going, we don't need roads."

Next up, a perfect movie for your sister ... or your mother ... or both ...

Jack Nicholson in the movie Chinatown

No. 3: "Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown"

Screenwriter Robert Towne said in an interview of the DVD release of "Chinatown" that he was inspired to write the script after he asked a vice cop what he did in Chinatown and was told, "As little as possible."

The reason was because it was so difficult to tell the good guys from the bad guys that the police never knew if they were helping victims or helping criminals.

Uttered to Jake Gittes, the private investigator played by Jack Nicholson, after the scandal interwoven with his investigation melts down tragically, the words take Jake back to his own dark past as a cop in Chinatown.

The line is the ultimate expression of hopelessness, that in America even our best efforts are sure to hurt those we want to help. The film was released in 1974 near the end of the Vietnam War and can also be seen to express the death of 1960s idealism.

Next, an ending that's a beginning of something beautiful ...

final scene in Casablanca

No. 2: "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship"

The Writer's Guild of America has named 1942's "Casablanca" as the greatest screenplay ever written. It is likely also the most quotable film of all time, with lines so familiar to us, such as, "Here's looking at you, kid," "We'll always have Paris," "Round up the usual suspects," "Of all the gin joints in all the world, she had to walk into mine," and, of course, "Play it, Sam."

Even though that last line -- perhaps the most famous from the film -- is often misquoted as "Play it again, Sam."

The film can be viewed as a piece of propaganda used to prepare Americans for the self-sacrifice that was needed to defeat the Nazis in World War II.

The two main characters, Ilsa and Rick, must choose between making their own lives happy or the world's. They chose the world, but director Michael Curtiz still had to choose what the final note would be -- bitter, or sweet.

Having lost his old love but gained a new friend, Humphrey Bogart's famous last line helped give the audience hope that their sacrifices would ultimately pay off.

Last up, just click your heels together three times and say ...

cast of the Wizard of Oz

No. 1: "There's no place like home"

Just like there is no place like home, there's just no film like "The Wizard of Oz." Generation after generation continues to enjoy the 1939 gem, one of the most beloved films in American history.

What continually draws us to Dorothy's adventures in Oz? For many of us, the last line not only conjures up our memories of the film itself, but of our own childhood.

Perhaps we were sitting on our grandpa's lap the first we saw the film, or huddled around the TV with our cousins on Thanksgiving while the smells of baking turkey permeated the air.

But wherever we were when we first saw "The Wizard of Oz," we were likely surrounded by loved ones when we did.

When we hear the last line quoted, we are likely to think of those loved ones and the more innocent time in which we first heard it, which makes "There's no place like home" not just the greatest last line of all time, but perhaps the greatest and truest sentiment of all.

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