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The Truth About Where These Famous Movie Lines Came From

You might not remember the first seven digits of pi or the state capital of Wisconsin, but we bet you can recall your favorite movie quotes verbatim while standing on your head. Even the most brilliant — or tedious — scripts have specific lines that implant themselves in your memory. Some are useful catchphrases you can break out in everyday life while some reveal a deeper meaning that sticks with you after the credits roll. 

Favorite lines also connect you to other movie fans. The look of recognition on a stranger's face when you fit an amazing bit of dialogue into a legitimate real-world sentence speaks to the true power of movies. But even the most memorable lines have an origin story, and it's not always an impressive as you might think. From lines the actors threw in on a whim to on-set in-jokes and last-minute Hail Marys, here's the truth about where these famous movie lines came from.

Robert Zemeckis accidentally inspired a favorite line in Jurassic Park

In a franchise filled with eternally quotable lines ("Life ... finds a way," "Don't go in the long grass!"), Samuel L. Jackson delivered one of the most repeated in Jurassic Park. Hoping that the old turn-it-off-and-on-again approach will restart the park's hacked computer system to its previously unhacked state, Jackson's chain-smoking chief engineer, John Arnold, warns everyone, "Hold onto your butts."

The line was inspired by another harrowing situation (albeit one that mercifully didn't involve a T-Rex on the loose.) Jurassic Park screenwriter David Koepp told the Cinema Blend podcast that he borrowed the line from Robert Zemeckis. While he was writing Jurassic Park, Koepp was also working on Death Becomes Her, directed by Zemeckis. The original ending had gone down dismally at test screenings, leading to reshoots with no time to redo anything if something went wrong. "This was it, this really had to work," Koepp emphasized.

As everyone gathered to watch the dailies, Zemeckis said, "Hold onto your butts." And the rest was history. "I went back, and I typed it into the script immediately, and then Sam Jackson said it," Koepp remembered. "I don't think I ever told Zemeckis that, but that's his line." Just in case you thought there was one '80s or '90s blockbuster that had nothing to do with the Back to the Future director, well, nope.

The truth about Steve Carell's shout-out to Kelly Clarkson in The 40-Year-Old Virgin

Hollywood can make animals talk and create a whole planet called Pandora, but there are some scenes you just can't fake. Notably, waxing chest hair. The truth about Steve Carell's 40-Year-Old Virgin waxing scene is that the actor went through exactly what you saw on the screen. And in the midst of the waxing, in between explicit phrases, Carell screams, "GAARRGH KELLY CLARKSON!"

In 2020, the movie's co-writer and director, Judd Apatow, explained what Clarkson's name was doing in that sequence — to Clarkson herself. An American Idol winner, singer, songwriter, The Voice coach, and Grammy and Emmy winner, Clarkson now hosts her own talk show, and she took the opportunity to playfully confront Apatow about the line. "It doesn't matter what I do in my life, no one remembers me for anything other than that," she joked.

Apatow cast the blame on the movie's co-star, Seth Rogen. He explained that they wrote a list of phrases for Carell to scream, including "Kelly Clarkson," which photographic evidence proves was written — according to Apatow — in Rogen's handwriting. But there's no bad blood (unless you count what's on Carell's chest). In 2019, Carell introduced Clarkson at a recording of her talk show with a rendition of his famous line — without the wax this time.

That was Robert De Niro talking in the mirror in Taxi Driver

In 1976, Robert De Niro impressed and unnerved audiences with his performance as Travis Bickle, a Vietnam vet who sets out to purge New York of wrongdoers in Taxi Driver. One of the most famous scenes in the movie shows Bickle talking to a mirror, brandishing a handgun as he pretends to confront a stranger on the street. Bickle then asks his reflection, "You talkin' to me?" And a new classic line was born.

In a no doubt frustrating twist for screenwriter Paul Schrader, the most memorable line in the film wasn't written by him. In 2016, De Niro and Schrader reunited with director Martin Scorsese for a screening of Taxi Driver, and they explained the origin of that line.

Scorsese revealed that De Niro improvised that whole scene, including the line. Schrader interjected to clarify that in the script, he wrote a short description of the action but left the dialogue up to the actor. "The script said he looks in the mirror and plays like a cowboy, pulls out his gun, talks to himself. ... He took it from there," Schrader said. De Niro took it all the way to the 1977 Oscars. He was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role, but he lost to Peter Finch.

Billy Crystal takes credit for this line in When Harry Met Sally

When Harry Met Sally is one of the best romantic comedies of all time, so of course it's packed with oft-quoted lines. Harry's (Billy Crystal) New Year's Eve speech, for example, is still one of the best declarations of love (despite its less-than-complimentary opening).

However, the most famous line is a scene-stealer in its own right. After Meg Ryan's Sally fakes an orgasm in a crowded diner to prove a point to Harry, an older lady signals to the server and says with perfect comic timing, "I'll have what she's having." That lady was Estelle Reiner, an actress and director Rob Reiner's mom. And according to Crystal, that whole scene came from a conversation Reiner had with screenwriter Nora Ephron, himself, and Ryan.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Crystal said that Ephron suggested a scene about women faking orgasms — something Reiner, like Harry, didn't believe happened, at least not to him. Ephron put the exchange into the script, and Ryan suggested she act one out, but Crystal claims that he added that famous closing line. Audiences loved it immediately. "The roar, it was gigantic," Crystal said of the first screening of the scene. And it wasn't fake.

Iron Man almost didn't deliver that final comeback

Coming up with a suitable end to a movie that ties together 11 years of superhero exploits is the kind of challenge screenwriters hope to rise to. And Avengers: Endgame managed it in five words.

Right before Thanos (Josh Brolin) clicks his Infinity Gauntlet-gloved hand for the second time, he declares, "I am inevitable." But the click fails to manifest the desired population-halving effect because Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has stolen the Infinity Stones with his own techy gauntlet. Stark looks back at his enemy and almost whispers, "And ... I ... am ... Iron Man." And then he snaps.

It's the perfect callback to the movie that started it all. Stark said the same line at the end of 2008's Iron Man. It's also a reminder that unlike Thanos, Stark is a mortal (albeit a genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist one). Winning these battles isn't a foregone conclusion for him.

Despite being perfect, the line almost didn't happen. It was only added three months before Endgame premiered on April 22, 2019. Initially, Stark didn't say anything before his snap. But during edits, the directors realized that was out of character for the king of quips. Ultimately, it was editor Jeff Ford — who's worked on all of the Avengers movies — who suggested the line that brought the franchise full circle. Sometimes the real heroes are the ones behind the scenes.

Richard S. Castellano remembered the cannoli

As Don Vito Corleone, Marlon Brando created as much menace through his pauses and silences as he did with his words. His character's most famous quote — "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse" — comes directly from Mario Puzo's 1969 novel The Godfather, which the movie is adapted from. But one of the more humorous lines was ad-libbed by an actor, based on a last-minute change to a different scene.

When Clemenza (Richard S. Castellano) says goodbye to his wife before he and Rocco (Tom Rosqui) drive Paulie (John Martino) to his death, she tells him, "Don't forget the cannoli!" Director Francis Ford Coppola added that line on the day of shooting. When Clemenza and Rocco later abandon Paulie's dead body in the car, Clemenza says, "Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."

In an interview cited by The Independent, Coppola explained that this second cannoli reference was all down to Castellano. The actor improvised the line as a callback to the earlier scene. Dealing with your fellow gangsters is one thing, but showing up at home cannoli-less is the ultimate sign of disrespect.

Leonardo DiCaprio didn't feel like the king of the world in Titanic

Titanic made waves from the moment it reached theaters, and the ripple effects of its cultural impact are still felt today. See, for example, the "draw me like one of your French girls" meme. But the line that has probably prompted the most reenactments nearly didn't make it into the film.

The scene where Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Fabrizio (Danny Nucci) gleefully play around on the bow of the Titanic demonstrates the passengers' excitement at being on the so-called "Ship of Dreams." In what would become one of Hollywood's most iconic images, Jack climbs onto the railings, stretches out his arms, and shouts, "I'm the king of the world!"

However, it was a nightmare to shoot. Director James Cameron told the BBC that he was in a crane, the sun was going down, and none of the lines he was feeding the actors over a walkie-talkie were working. Finally, he told DiCaprio to say the "king of the world" line and "just spread [his] arms out wide and just be in the moment".

DiCaprio, however, was less sure. He kept questioning the line until finally Cameron burst out with an expletive-laden order. DiCaprio managed to sell it as unbridled joy, Cameron repeated the line when the movie won him Best Director, and people still shout it from boats — or any available railings.

Patrick Swayze wanted to put this line in a corner and leave it there

No true Dirty Dancing fan can carry a watermelon without snickering to themselves, and "this is my dance space" works as both a nod to the movie and a useful rebuff in nightclubs. And while people still aren't entirely clear what the movie's most famous line means, it hasn't been out of use since 1987.

At the end of Dirty Dancing, Baby (Jennifer Grey) is watching the resort's end-of-season show with her family. Her love interest and dance partner, Johnny (Patrick Swayze), walks over to their table, declares, "Nobody puts Baby in a corner," and invites her to show the crowd her moves.

Even the movie's writer, Eleanor Bergstein, admitted that the line wasn't that great to The Huffington Post. She also said that Swayze didn't want to say it, but she persuaded him to try it for one take. However, whoever dubbed the German version of the movie also took issue. Bergstein told The Huffington Post that they replaced it with something that translates to, "My baby belongs to me, this is clear." Feminist Bergstein was initially horrified by this interpretation ... until she found out that the mistranslated line is just as beloved in Germany as the original is in English-speaking countries. She's happy that people connect with her words, but she joked, "I was always afraid that line was going to end up on my tombstone."

Thor: Ragnarok's best line was made up by a kid

MCU movies have completely changed expectations for the superhero genre, and Thor: Ragnarok broke the mold yet again with its irreverent tone. The movie had three scriptwriters, one of whom, Christopher L. Yost, had written Thor's previous solo adventure, 2013's Thor: The Dark World. But director Taika Waititi told MTV News that approximately 80% of the movie was improvised, and that he changed the script during the shoot. However, despite the combined comedic talents of Waititi, the writers, and the actors, what's been dubbed the funniest line of the film came from an unexpected source. 

When Thor (Chris Hemsworth) braces himself for a gladiatorial battle, only to see his fellow Avenger, Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), smash through the door, he's relieved. "He's a friend from work!" he shouts to the bewildered crowd ... before being pummeled by his colleague. However, Hemsworth takes no credit for this line. He explained to Entertainment Weekly that it was coined by a child who was part of the Make-A-Wish program that grants unique experiences to critically ill children. He's the one who fed Hemsworth the line while visiting the set, officially claiming the funniest moment in the MCU's funniest movie.

Rutger Hauer created poetry in Blade Runner

In 1999, Rutger Hauer was officially named Dutch Actor of the Century, but people outside the Netherlands know him best as rogue replicant Roy Batty in 1982's Blade Runner.

At the end of the movie, Roy rescues Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a so-called blade runner sent to "retire" (i.e. kill) him. As they sit together in pouring rain, Roy's pre-programmed lifespan draws to a close. In his dying moments, he delivers a speech about his extraordinary experiences, finally concluding, "All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain."

Hauer's performance was reportedly so moving that it made members of the crew tear up on set. But it wasn't just his acting. The speech wasn't in the original script. Hauer took a longer monologue, rewrote it, and performed his version on the day of shooting. "I think a lot of scripts are overwritten," he told Radio Times, adding, "But the audience can feel it, and even the best actor cannot sell me with language that is overwritten." Hauer kept in a couple of original lines — the part about attack ships and C-beams — but "tears in rain" was his, and it's what sold director Ridley Scott on using the speech.

The Jaws team really did need a bigger boat

The villain of Jaws needed no lines of dialogue to instill fear — just an unforgettable melody. But the movie still has some killer lines. Quint's (Robert Shaw) U.S.S. Indianapolis monologue is one of the most blood-chilling speeches in movie history. Sadly, it's a bit long, dark and shark-infested to break out in casual conversation, unlike Brody's (Roy Scheider) not-quite-joke, "You're going to need a bigger boat."

In the movie, Police Chief Brody says this to Quint when he gets his first good look at the improbably enormous shark they're out to kill. But in real life, the line started as in-joke among the crew. The Jaws set was notoriously low-budget. One example of this was the boat that was used to steady the bigger boat carrying the lights, cameras, and craft services. Screenwriter Carl Gottlieb explained to The Hollywood Reporter that the steadying boat was way too small, prompting the cast and crew to adopt the phrase "you're going to need a bigger boat." As Gottlieb explained, "It became a catchphrase for anytime anything went wrong." 

It was Scheider who took the line from on-set gag to movie history. He kept adding it into various scenes throughout the shoot. However, Gottlieb credits editor Verna Field for finding exactly the right moment.

Humphrey Bogart added one word to create a classic line

If you break out Nancy Meyers' Christmas rom-com The Holiday every year, you probably remember Iris (Kate Winslet) saying that retired screenwriter Arthur (Eli Wallach) added the "kid" to "here's looking at you, kid" in Casablanca. While it's a nice way to connect Arthur to real movie history, in real life, it was someone else who did exactly that.

Actor and Casablanca star Humphrey Bogart didn't invent the phrase "here's looking at you," which had apparently been in use since the 1880s. But he did introduce it into Casablanca, and he did throw in the "kid," possibly a reference to the 16-year age gap between himself and Ingrid Bergman, who played his love interest Ilsa.

The phrase appears throughout the movie, notably when Rick (Bogart) and Ilsa are in Paris together and in their goodbye scene at the end. Bogart first improvised it in the Paris scene, according to the BBC, and screenwriters Howard E. Koch and Julius and Philip Epstein liked it so much that they added it in three more times.

'Nobody's perfect!' turned out to be the perfect end to Some Like It Hot

Longtime collaborators Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond wrote and made some of the most beloved movies of all time in their 30-year professional relationship. They were famous for their snappy dialogue, witty repartee, and putting their characters in complicated (often hilarious) romantic entanglements. But when the two were working on possibly their most famous project, 1959's Some Like It Hot, they were stumped when it came to the very last line.

Jerry (Jack Lemmon) and his friend Joe (Tony Curtis) disguise themselves as women and run to Florida to escape mobsters. As the newly named Daphne, Jerry catches the eye of wealthy Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown), and they get engaged. When Jerry finally comes clean to his fiance, explaining that they can't marry because he's a man, Osgood responds cheerfully, "Well ... nobody's perfect!"

Wilder later said the line "got one of the biggest laughs [he'd] ever heard in the theater." But it was supposed to be a filler, thrown in by Diamond while they thought of something better. They never did, and they ended up shooting it. They were doubtful right until they saw the audience's reactions — which owes a lot to Lemmon's and Brown's comedic performances, as well as writers' block.