We’ve all heard them. “Hasta lavista baby,” “here’s lookin’ at you, kid,” and even, “it was the one armed man!” Just what is it that makes a movie quote famous though? The answer to that question, like answering what it is that makes a famous anything, can be rather complicated.
The first thing that makes a movie quote famous is that the movie it’s in has to achieve some kind of renown. Terminator II and Casablanca are both well known films to even the casual lover of movies. In addition both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Humphrey Bogart are famous actors, so lines that they deliver in films are likely to be remembered and become famous quotes. But lots of well known movies such as The Matrix, American Psycho, and even Nightmare on Elm Street don’t have famous quotes associated with them. Fame of the parent film is only a part of what makes a movie quote famous.
Besides being in a movie that a large number of people have seen, in order to become a famous quote a person watching the film must have been struck by the moment it was delivered. A quote has to resonate with some emotion in the viewer to stick with them. Whether it’s fear, excitement, love, or just pure hilarity, a famous movie quote has to provoke a response in the viewer, and that response must be strong enough for the viewer to remember and repeat the line.
Once the line has been heard by enough people, and repeated through the grape vine, it becomes a part of the collective, movie-going language. The best quotes are the ones that people find themselves using in day to day life when they’re joking around with friends or just talking about movies. The quote has to be mentioned in print and on the Internet, and it has to become something that everyone eventually comes to know… even those who have no idea who said the quote, or what movie it comes from.
At this point that quote could already be considered famous, or at least a part of pop culture. Where the line becomes truly immortal is in its imitation. When new films draw from older, more famous ones (or when those older ones are parodied) it’s those famous, identifying lines that are always uttered. It’s in this way, when the movie quote has become so famous that it’s a part of general culture, that it’s repeated and made constantly new.
While this is applicable for quotes in a movie, it’s also the way that other parts of film work their way into infamy. The themes of films, and what they can represent, are made famous through people’s acceptance, and then through their repetition. This was how Halloween, the legendary slasher film, helped to create a genre that today makes up most of what is considered an American horror movie. Fame is fleeting, and in this case it only runs as deep as the memory of those who watch and love movies.