The Origins of 10 Famous Movie Catchphrases

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Audiences can forget the acting and the plot in a movie, but sometimes it’s those catchphrases, those memorable lines, that stick with us. Movie dialogue has become part of our cultural lexicon — and thanks to the Internet, one doesn’t even have to see a film in order to become attached to a clever string of words. After spotting a video that explains the origin of Matthew McConaughey’s recently resurrected catchphrase from Dazed and Confused, featured after the break, we went searching for more stories behind oft-quoted cinematic dialogue.

Dazed And Confused

Matthew McConaughey plays stunted 20-something David Wooderson in Richard Linklater’s angsty ’90s-era tale. His catchphrase in the film, “All right, all right, all right,” has been on the lips of everyone lately thanks to the recent McConaissance — and that surreal Oscar speech. We now know how the actor came up with the catchphrase — and it involves Jim Morrison, of all people. Watch the below interview with CBC’s George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight.

The Godfather

No, “Bada-bing” didn’t come from your uncle Vinnie. The absurd exclamation has been an old favorite in some circles, but it was Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather that popularized the phrase. James Caan originally heard “Bada-bing!” uttered by his real-life acquaintance, the mob boss of the Colombo crime family, Carmine Persico. Caan improvised his dialogue using the expression, as seen in this clip where he imitates the sound of a point-blank gunshot. “Bada-bing” became so popular, The Sopranos adopted the phrase for the name of the show’s strip club.

The Shining

Few movies horrify audiences as deeply as Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, about a family that manages an isolated hotel during the off-season. Jack Nicholson plays the caretaker who goes mad during his tenure at the remote Overlook Hotel. During one of the movie’s most frightening scenes, Nicholson’s Jack Torrance takes an axe to a bathroom door in an attempt to kill his terrified wife (played by Shelley Duvall). “Here’s Johnny!” he shouts at her through a hole in the door. Back in 1981, Nicholson told Rolling Stone that the line was improvised:

“Yeah, people loved that line. I remember Stanley wanted a funny line there. It was the most horrific scene in the movie, and he wanted to break it up. So I came up with that line. It holds a lot of essence of what we were trying to do.”

He contradicted that statement during an interview for Empire in 2009, stating that the “Little pigs” portion of the scene was improvised instead. Regardless, most reports indicate that Nicholson was inspired to use the creepy catchphrase after hearing it on Johnny Carson’s talk show (Ed McMahon introduced the host using the line). Other stories indicate Nicholson was inspired by an incident that happened in the 1960s. Reportedly, Johnny Cash used a fire axe to break down a connecting doorway between two motel rooms where he was staying with his band on tour.

Taxi Driver

Robert De Niro’s improvised his famous line in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver: “You talkin’ to me?” Screenwriter Paul Schrader talked about crazed cabbie Travis Bickle’s catchphrase in an interview last year:

In the script it just says Travis speaks to himself in the mirror. Bobby asked me what he would say, and I said, “Well, he’s a little kid playing with guns and acting tough.” So De Niro used this rap that an underground New York comedian had been using at the same time as the basis for his lines.

There’s also a story that De Niro was inspired by something Bruce Springsteen said to his shouting fans at a concert. Either way, it’s a keeper.

Apocalypse Now

Francis Ford Coppola’s films are endlessly quotable, and Apocalypse Now is no exception. Robert Duvall’s Lieutenant Kilgore has perhaps the most memorable lines in the film: “Charlie don’t surf” and “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” Both bits of dialogue come from influential screenwriter John Milius, who has created some of cinema’s most iconic catchphrases. In an interview with Milius, the writer told CNN that the “Charlie” line came from a published quote by Israel’s Ariel Sharon during the 1967 Six-Day War:

A victorious Gen. Sharon went skin-diving after capturing enemy territory, Milius said, and declared, “We’re eating their fish.” “That just really appealed to me,” he laughed. “He was saying, ‘We blew the s*** out of them, and now we’re eating their fish.’ Charlie don’t surf.’”

Meanwhile, the “napalm” line appeared out of thin air, Milius told the website:

“I just wrote it — it just came up,” said Milius, describing the famous line uttered wistfully by Duvall’s surfing Col. Bill Kilgore. “That’s what happens. People love to think that all this stuff happens when you write a famous line — that you really thought about it a lot.”

Conan the Barbarian

Speaking of John Milius, the scribe also displayed his talents in the 1982 sword and sorcery film, Conan the Barbarian, which he wrote and directed. The film was a career breakthrough for then bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger, who played the titular character. His thick Austrian accent and comical facial expressions lent an unintentional humor to the pulpy adventure tale. In one scene, Conan is questioned about “what is best in life.” The barbarian answers: “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.” Milius paraphrased Mongol emperor Genghis Khan:

“That’s the most famous Genghis Khan line. It’s a paraphrase of what he said when he was with his generals and he was asked what was the greatest thing in life.”

Casablanca

Before you start sobbing, Humphrey Bogart’s improvised line to Ingrid Bergman in Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca, repeated throughout the movie and culminating in an achingly sad, but romantic scene, wasn’t actually so lovey-dovey to begin with. Legend has it that Bogart said the catchphrase to Bergman while he helped teach her poker during their breaks from shooting.

Robocop

Cyril M. Kornbluth’s 1951 cynical science fiction story The Marching Morons, about a man revived from suspended animation and plunked down into a disturbing future, was the inspiration for Robocop’s “I’d buy that for a dollar!” gem. A radio game show in the story uses a similar catchphrase (“I’d buy that for a quarter!”) to the one featured in the movie’s fictional TV show.

Warriors

The book of Warriors tells us that David Patrick Kelly, who played the terrifying leader of the Rogues gang, improvised his haunting line during the film’s Coney Island confrontation: “Warriors come out to pla-ay.” It’s said that Kelly came up with the line based on a guy he knew in New York who would taunt him. However, Kelly amended this in a 2012 interview, where he claims director Walter Hill is the author of the famous line: “I’ll take credit for the bottles and how I said it. But I remember him kicking in the lines.” On a related note: did we mention that Kelly originally wanted to use two dead pigeons for that scene instead of banging bottles together with his fingers? “We were in Coney Island and [Kelly] picked up two dead pigeons, he had them in a bag,” co-star Joel Weiss (Cropsy) told The Fader. “He brought the pigeons and Walter Hill said, ‘That’s not going to work.’ He got the bottles and he did the ‘Waaaaarriors, come to play’ thing. It was all improv.”

Die Hard

All five films feature Bruce Willis’ “Yippee-ki-yay, motherf*cker,” but it all started with the 1988 original movie during a tense standoff with the villainous Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber. “It was a throwaway,” Willis admitted during an interview last year. “I was just trying to crack up the crew and I never thought it was going to be allowed to stay in the film.” Serendipitous cinema history is the best kind.

Bonus Catchphrase

Dirty Harry

Former movie tough guy and chair whisperer Clint Eastwood is famous for growling this passage of dialogue in 1971’s Dirty Harry. San Francisco Police Inspector Harry Callahan tells one baddie:

I know what you’re thinking, punk. You’re thinking “Did he fire six shots or only five?” Now to tell you the truth I forgot myself in all this excitement. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and will blow you head clean off, you’ve gotta ask yourself a question: “Do I feel lucky?” Well, do ya, punk?

Reportedly, Dirty Harry borrowed the line from the 1947 film Gunfighters, directed by George Waggner of The Wolfman fame. During the climactic showdown, the good guy points his pistol and says, “Now, any time you feel lucky.”