In Casablanca, Rick Blaine stands on an airfield as he waits for an airplane to take Ilsa and Victor away from the approaching Germans. As police draw near, he says goodbye to Ilsa—a goodbye that still stands today as one of the most iconic scenes ever put on film.
As she begs him not to stay, he tells her that if she doesn’t get on the plane with Victor, she’ll regret it. (“Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.”) It’s enough to get her on the plane and away from danger as Rick walks away with Renault into the fog.
Every iconic movie catchphrase is the merging of three elements: the script, the director, and the actor. The script must call for the moment, the actor has to feel the moment, and the director needs to cultivate the moment so that it plays out as perfectly as possible.
More often than not, attempts to coerce iconic lines end in disaster. It’s not something that can be forced by any of the three on their own; it has to be natural, with the best of intentions.
So, who managed to make it work? Which catchphrases in cinema history are the most iconic, the ones we all recognize to this day? Here are our picks for the most famous movie catchphrases.
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12. “Houston, We Have a Problem” (Apollo 13)
In Ron Howard’s epic space biopic, we see the story of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission to the moon, complete with its stellar cast of Tom Hanks, Ed Harris, Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise, and Bill Paxton.
However, the film is best known for that one line uttered by Hanks’ Jim Lovell after the explosion aboard the craft, in which he radios back to Mission Control to tell them of the incident.
“Houston, we have a problem” is closely followed by Ed Harris’ own iconic line: “Failure is not an option,” which itself has also had a significant impact on film culture to this day.
11. “Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads” (Back to the Future)
Back to the Future is one of those movies that’ll never age. The tale of Marty McFly as he accidentally goes back in time from 1985 to 1955, and is forced to find a way of powering the DeLorean so he can get back is among cinema’s most incredible adventures.
However, nobody saw the ending coming when they first saw it:
Marty is back and about to share a weekend with Jennifer when Doc Brown shows up wearing strange clothes. He gets them into the DeLorean, and after Marty says they need more roadway to speed up, he utters the iconic: “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”
10. “Here’s Looking at You, Kid” (Casablanca)
The film Casablanca could have ended up with at least five entries on this article. It’s so full of insanely quotable lines that have stood the test of time—but we’ll keep it to three.
As Rick and Ilsa argue about saying goodbye, Rick finally convinces Ilsa to go with Victor and leave Rick behind. As she begins to cry, he looks at her in the way that only Bogart could: “Now, now, here’s looking at you, kid.”
The line wasn’t in the original script; Humphrey Bogart came up with it while filming, as the quickly written script was still being rewritten.
9. “We’ll Always Have Paris” (Casablanca)
From the same scene as “Here’s looking at you, kid” comes another classic movie quote. Rick is busy getting Ilsa to board the plane when she asks him: “What about us?”
It’s the only moment in Bogart’s delivery where he brings a slightly urgent tone—and almost pauses for a brief moment—as time rapidly runs out for Rick and Ilsa. All before saying: “We’ll always have Paris.”
The line references their initial relationship, in which both met and fell in love in Paris. The way Bogart delivers it is perfect, as Rick demonstrates his softer side all in one four-word quote.
8. “Round Up the Usual Suspects” (Casablanca)
Claude Rains’ line from the end of Casablanca inspired a rather famous film of its own, but that’s a movie for another article. As Rick and Renault watch the plane fly away and the police arrive to find Major Strasser shot, Rick expects Renault to give him up as the shooter.
However, Renault decides to tell the police to “round up the usual suspects,” sparing Rick and setting the two off into the fog. (With Rick noting: “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”)
7. “Rosebud” (Citizen Kane)
Arguably the best motion picture ever made, Citizen Kane is the life story of media mogul Charles Foster Kane from the perspectives of those who knew him at different points of his life.
His cryptic last word is uttered at the very start of the film—”Rosebud”—which triggers a journalist to investigate what the term means.
When the end of the film comes around and nobody has been able to work out the meaning of the word, we see Kane’s childhood sled burned—with the word “Rosebud” on it.
Orson Welles’ film and the meaning of “Rosebud” became a topic of debate when it was released in 1941, with many believing that it refers to Kane’s lost youth and innocence.
6. “Bond, James Bond” (Dr. No)
While this absolutely iconic line is uttered by the character of James Bond across all of his movies, it all started with Dr. No—and, to be frank, was never delivered in better style or poise in any of the subsequent films.
As we see the British spy for the first time, he’s at a poker table, dressed in a full tuxedo and looking devilishly charming. Sean Connery’s Bond is asked his name, to which he smoothly replies: “Bond. James Bond.”
As Bond moments go, it’s still the best after over fifty years of films, with the look of Bond solidified in that instant forever.
5. “Fava Beans and a Nice Chianti” (The Silence of the Lambs)
When Clarice Starling first meets Hannibal Lecter, he’s locked in a prison cell—not one made only of bars, but also thick glass so that he can’t touch the person in front of him.
The dynamic between Starling and Lecter is fascinating to watch, as the vastly intelligent doctor uses his intellect to push Starling towards the answers she needs.
When Starling directs Lecter to look inwards at himself, he stops and responds: “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.” A line made chilling by Anthony Hopkins.
4. “May the Force Be With You” (Star Wars)
From the tip of the Arctic to the International Space Station and back down to the cold research stations of the Antarctic, there are very few who don’t know what “May the Force be with you” means.
It’s the fond farewell of Star Wars, the wishing of luck and fortune upon whatever quest needs to be undertaken. It’s uttered by most, if not all, of the main characters at one point or another.
Many people assume “May the Force be with you” was first said by Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first movie Star Wars: A New Hope; however, this isn’t true. It’s actually first said by General Dodonna as the Rebels head out to destroy the Death Star, as he knows many will not return.
3. “I’ll Be Back” (The Terminator)
Arnold Schwarzenegger is a man with enough quotes from his movies. “Hasta la vista, baby!” “Put that cookie down, now!” and “It’s not a tumor” have all been made famous during his Hollywood career.
However, his best line—the one he fits into the movies he does, the one he used when running for Governor of California—is: “I’ll be back.”
First said in The Terminator, the line has become the catchphrase for Arnie himself, and is still popular almost forty years later.
2. “An Offer He Can’t Refuse” (The Godfather)
“I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse” is actually said by Michael Corleone in the movies. However, many people believe it’s Marlon Brando’s Don Vito Corleone who says the line first.
This is true to some degree, as what Vito actually says is: “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse,” which he utters to his godson when a movie producer has turned him down for an acting role, leading to the producer finding a horse’s head in his bed.
Regardless, the line is one of the most famous in cinema history for doing something that forces somebody into doing what you want them to do, and has become one of the most parodied lines of dialogue ever.
1. “To Infinity and Beyond!” (Toy Story)
Few images in film are as iconic as Buzz and Woody escaping Sid’s house in the first Toy Story, then falling with style down to the car that Andy is sitting in, who’s sad because he thinks he’s lost his toys.
As Buzz and Woody are soaring through the air, Woody outstretches his arms and yells Buzz’s catchphrase: “To infinity and beyond!” It’s a moment of pure cinematic joy as the iconic pair solidify their friendship and go where no toy has ever gone before.
Of course, the line is also used to represent one of the most emotional moments later in the franchise, too—when Woody and Buzz part ways for good, and both say the line while looking back at one another.