In 1993, writer/director Richard Linklater, two years prior to 'Before Sunrise' and nine years before starting the 'Boyhood' odyssey, released 'Dazed and Confused'. Although set in 1976, adolescence is universal and timeless, and thus the youth of the 90s gravitated to this unique film (Linklater's fifth) and it became a cult classic. As a child - nine years old, to be exact - did I watch this film from the shadows when my sister (eight years my senior) had her friends over to watch it? Yes. Yes, I did. Did I understand anything I saw? No. No, I did not - however, I knew it was cool. 30 years on and I'm still trying to nail that bottle cap flicking move. It wasn't just the clothes, the hairstyles and the U.S. way of things that drew me in. It was, to put it in 2023 terms, "just vibes". Coolness isn't something you can buy, borrow or steal - it's innate, and 'Dazed and Confused' had it and then some. It would take years for me to finally come of an age appropriate for the film's content where I would then too became a devout fan. To this day, Richard Linklater is still a filmmaker whose association with a project excites me and immediately becomes must-see viewing. His ability to delve deeper into human nature - in particular, of that of the younger generation - like a gifted sleight-of-hand magician, or Mary Poppins and her spoonful of sugar, washes it all down with pithy dialogue, sexiness, humour and pathos, and let's not forget his uncanny knack for casting.
While making 'Dazed and Confused', Linklater took a chance on a handsome Texan for his first-ever feature film role by the name of Matthew McConaughey. And with that face, that smile, that accent and those three words he birthed a superstar...
In the three decades that followed (and counting), McConaughey made his first words ever uttered on the big screen synonymous with himself. Like an adorable tick or by simply leaning into the fandom, you can't help but see his face or heaven forbid attempt an impersonation and out comes "Alright, alright, alright". McConaughey went so far as to even include the infamous line in his 2014 Oscar acceptance speech. So it got me thinking: what other actors are synonymous with their big-screen dialogue? TV actors have seasons, years to hone a catchphrase. Film actors have only somewhere between 90 minutes and three hours (sometimes, god help us, longer).
When I tasked my brother and partner to help cultivate this list, even they had trouble. For hours we texted back and forth, quote after quote after quote. But I was looking for something more unique than just memorable dialogue. I wanted to assemble a list of actors and their words that immediately conjure an indelible connection. This isn't about famous quotes or memorable movies, I'm looking for a brain tattoo of inescapable faces and words.
Now, since there are far too many to list here, and in the spirit of this article, I'm limiting the list to those that have occurred in the last 30 years. Please keep that in mind before you track me down on social media screaming about Robert De Niro and Arnold Schwarzenegger, okay? Okay!?
In no particular order...
Like McConaughey - although Christoph's came first - Waltz quoted himself while accepting his Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 2010. His first, but not his last, for portraying a Quentin Tarantino character. Famous for his unique and auteur dialogue, it's not hard to recognise why a Tarantino quote would appear in this list, but it's the actor that breathes life into the words, and if his two Academy Awards are anything to go by, there are none better (okay, maybe one) than Mr Waltz.
Inflation and cost of living means that I myself quote this on the daily. While Kristen Wiig dominated SNL between 2005-2012 it was her turn as a feature film writer with partner Annie Mumolo that landed the pair an Oscar nomination and this most famous quote. While there are many that I could list from just this plane scene alone, I feel it's this particular plea for help and empathy that garners the most recognition for the exceptional Ms Wiig.
It's hard to believe this film is only 10 years old, especially since I've heard this quote 50,000 times since its release! Hell, I've probably said it myself at least 10,000 times. Sorry world. It was just so simple. So menacing. So powerful. I'm convinced Abdirahman was nominated for an Oscar on those four words alone. Tell me I'm wrong.
When other movies and TV shows quote you, you know you've got a winner on your hands. It was the 9th highest grossing film of 1996, which isn't bad considering that year also boasted 'Independence Day', 'Twister' and 'Mission: Impossible'. It may not have made as much money as those other three but it made hearts burst, tears shed, and it made a superstar out of Renée Zellweger with just five little words.
Chameleon and comedy genius Sacha Baron Cohen enjoyed much needed and necessary anonymity for years in order to do what he does so well but the huge global success of Borat's turn on the silver screen meant that that was no longer possible (for the most part), and thus a catchphrase and a lifetime of walking down the street to strangers screaming "Very nice!" and "My wife!" was born. Did I mention this screenplay was nominated for an Oscar? Coz it totally was.
She's fought zombies (many times) and played Mugatu's henchwoman Katinka, but it was her turn as an orange-haired supreme being that inspired Halloween costumes, a cult following and her most famous and adorably delivered line of dialogue. Sometimes it's not just what you say, it's how you say it. Sidenote: Milla is also in 'Dazed and Confused'. What a coincidence!
One of my passwords for a certain streaming service is YouShallNotPassword. Nuff said.
Okay, okay, okay, Sir Ian McKellen is one of the most enduring and prolific actors of the last half-century. He's starred in two mega franchises in the past 25 years, and yet here we are. Another great example of when other films quote you, you're good - e.g.: 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall', 'How to be Single'.
Seven movies and a bajillion dollars later it was either this quote or "You're a Wizard, Harry." I chose this because Hermione Granger is a Boss Witch and you know it. Plus, no matter how hard they try, and they've tried pretty damn hard, all three of these kids will always be the HP trio no matter how many times Daniel Radcliffe gets his kit off on stage.
With just two words audiences, were transported back to the 60s and an icon was born. Comedian Mike Myers already had Wayne from 'Wayne's World'/SNL under his belt, but it was Austin Powers that had audiences transfixed and rolling with laughter for an entire trilogy. Again, Halloween costumes ensued, professional imitators were generated, and a call for more films (that hasn't yet to be answered) were declared. Wayne who?
Her father may have invented Toaster Strudel, but Gretchen Wieners invented a catchphrase. Ironically, it did "happen". Suck it, Regina George! Missing a golden opportunity for a 'That's So Fetch' song in the Broadway musical-slash-soon to be big screen musical, not to worry it will forever be Lacey's legacy.
Ranked number 25 on the American Film Institute's 100 movie quotes of the last 100 years, this enduring quote is proclaimed 11 times in a single scene. If you're going to ingrain a phrase into the zeitgeist, repetition is the key - and 'Jerry Maguire' nailed it. Forever to be expressed by agents, lawyers, Wall Street wankers, and just every human being on the planet since 1996, its originator walked away with an Oscar for its impact, and the rest is history.
What was expected to be just another film in Neeson's seemingly endless run of badasses, the Luc Besson-penned film 'Taken' about a man and his take-no-prisoners approach to retrieving his kidnapped/sex trafficked teenage daughter struck a nerve with audiences, spawned a trilogy and turned Neeson himself into a badass in the process. Now in the lexicon to be whipped out whenever someone questions a person's talents, whether it be in the office, the bedroom, on a dance floor or anywhere really, Liam can't escape that speech.
Cher Horowitz, 90s Queen, icon and gross abuser of the English language managed to turn 'As if" into a complete sentence and the world worshipped her for it. A failed turn as Batgirl just two years later cemented Alicia's legacy as the one true Cher Horowitz and 90s "it" girl.
When you manage to upstage Jack Freakin' Nicholson, you know you've done something right. In 1989, Nicholson legitimised portraying a comic book villain and made it look goooooood. Almost 20 years later, Ledger managed to make the role enviable and launched it into the stratosphere of coveted roles for actors alongside Shakespeare and Mamet characters. He earned an Oscar for his incomparable efforts, created an icon for a new generation, and while some have tried to match Heath's performance's skill, nuance and grandeur, none have come close. If you had to sum up his performance to a single quote, it would be 'Why so serious?'
Jeff Bridges is The Dude. Case closed.
"I'm sorry, did I break your concentration?" | 'Pulp Fiction' - Samuel L. Jackson
"Motherfucker" | literally every movie he's been in - Samuel L Jackson
Samuel L. Jackson is the most profitable actor on the planet. His résumé includes the 'Star Wars' franchise, the MCU, a 'Die Hard' movie, 'Jurassic Park', 'The Incredibles' and almost every Tarantino film. He's talented, beloved and most well-known for his prolific use of profanities. He could very easily have dozens of quotes on this list, but the three I've included are just the highlight reel, AKA 'Pulp Fiction'. Tarantino's second appearance on this list, this is the only film he won an Oscar for so it makes sense that there are three quotes.
Which actor/quote combos do you think I've missed? Hit me up @MissJess_Switch on X.