In 2023, Rotten Tomatoes turns 25, and to mark the occasion, we’re celebrating the best movies and television from the last 25 years.
They’re the lines you’ve worn on T-shirts and Photoshopped into memes. They’re the lines you’re maybe a little sick of, but can’t stop loving. Before they were famous, though – before they were parodied on SNL and printed onto ironic mugs – they were words on a page and then words in a movie you were hearing for the first time, and they stuck. Maybe they were hilarious (poor Gretchen, “fetch” never happened), or maybe they were chilling (“I see dead people”). Maybe they were delivered just right (“Why… so… serious?”).
Here, we’re looking back at the 25 most memorable lines from the movies since August 1998, the year that Rotten Tomatoes came into this world. If we missed a favorite of yours, let us know in the comments.
Office Space (1999)
We could run through an entire stack of Post-Its writing down our favorite lines from Mike Judge’s cult favorite, but this chipper, grating, morning greeting wins out – an encapsulation of the deep, smiley rage suppression that gives Office Space its kick.
The Matrix (1999)
Before the Wachowskis’ signature franchise erupted into several sequels’ worth of sprawling mythology, it presented viewers with a sci-fi story that was brilliant in its simplicity, built on the idea of a world in which every component of our everyday reality is really part of a ruse designed to lull us into subservience to a hidden yet all-seeing order. Decades later, it’s this line — and this idea — that reflects the Matrix movies’ legacy, for better and for worse.
Notting Hill (1999)
When you pair America’s sweetheart with Britain’s reigning rom-com king, you have to bring your A-game, and writer Richard Curtis did just that for Notting Hill. With this heartbreaking line, he manages to somehow get us rooting for one of the world’s richest and most glamorous movie stars, and screaming with frustration at the regular “fairly level-headed bloke” whose love she’s asking for.
The Sixth Sense (1999)
Neither M. Night Shyamalan nor Haley Joel Osment knew that the intensely whispered “I see dead people” would become the center of Disney’s marketing push for The Sixth Sense – and the subject of parodies for decades. When we talked with Osment, he said he was just thankful Twitter hadn’t been invented at the time the film came out, when he was 11.
Fight Club (1999)
From Chuck Pahalniuk’s pen to Brad Pitt’s mouth and into the minds of college students all over the country…
The debate over whether Ridley Scott’s (somewhat) historical drama deserved to clean up at the Oscars has been raging for more than 20 years, and we aren’t here to finish it. It’s far easier to confront the question posed by Russell Crowe’s Maximus as his quest for vengeance brings him face to face with the jeering crowd egged on by the man responsible for the deaths of his family. Are you not entertained? The answer, all these years later, remains a rousing yes.
The Fast and the Furious (2001)
The Furious franchise has evolved greatly over the years, shifting gears (sorry!) from smallish-scale Point Break-alike to globe-trotting stunt spectacular, each entry one-upping the other in terms of scale and ludicrousness. What keeps the whole thing grounded, and provides the through-line from 2001 right through to this year’s Fast X? Family, of course, but also the dedication to awesome cheese perfectly encapsulated by this line/mantra/religion. Us too, Dom, us too.
Legally Blonde (2001)
For years, fans clamored for Reese Witherspoon to bend and snap her way back to Elle Woods and the Legally Blonde franchise, and it isn’t hard to see why. While she’s starred in productions with more dramatic heft, it’s impossible to resist Elle’s cheerful can-do spirit — not to mention her unerring sense of style.
Training Day (2001)
Denzel Washington won an Oscar for playing corrupt narcotics cop Alonzo in Atonine Fuqua’s Training Day, and it might have been his delivery this line – puffed-up and chest-pounding as he realizes power is slipping away – that got any hesitant Academy voters across the line.
Finding Nemo (2003)
One of the most beloved characters in the Pixar pantheon, Finding Nemo‘s Dory resonates because she’s a lot like all of us. Sure, we may not be able to breathe under water, and okay, most people don’t experience persistent memory loss — but who among us hasn’t put on a brave face and forged ahead in spite of not having any idea what they’re doing?
As repellent as he is pitiable, Andy Serkis’ Gollum is the living embodiment of greed’s ability to warp and debase, and it’s a testament to the actor’s mocap-assisted work in the role that you feel for the duplicitous little guy as often as you want to see him throttled. It’s a performance that’d be tough to surpass, let alone imitate — but that hasn’t stopped generations of viewers from giving it their best shot by hunching over, sneering, and hissing Gollum’s unforgettable two-word catchphrase.
Mean Girls (2004)
Mean Girls’ Regina George (Rachel McAdams) is the queen bee of her group, and this was perhaps her sharpest stinger. Irony is, while “fetch” didn’t happen, this line caught on in a big way.
It’d be very easy to fill an entire feature with the best of the many laugh-out-loud non sequiturs from this film, so we won’t blame you if you feel compelled to argue that a different line deserved to be included. We had to go with this one, though — 60 percent of the time, it’s our favorite, every time.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
When Jake Gyllenhaal said these words to Heath Ledger while shooting Brokeback Mountain, he probably had no idea what a life they would go on to have: first as a wrenching moment between their characters, Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar; then as a source of parody and a meme (mostly among those too immature to cope with the film); finally, and most recently, as a shorthand for the film itself, and what it meant to the LGBTIQA+ community to see a gay couple portrayed authentically and without judgment in a major release.
On paper, there’s nothing particularly special about this line – it’s kinda just a statement of fact (it is Sparta, after all – not Athens or Thermopylae, and definitely not madness, nor blasphemy). But coming out of Peak Gerard Butler’s mouth as a kind of gravelly scream for the ages, and accompanied by that iconic slow-mo kick, it’s gone down in film history. Watching this moment, we are all Sparta (even those of us without six packs).
Snakes on a Plane (2006)
You may not recall the insane hype around Snakes on a Plane in the lead up to its release – an irony-fueled internet buzz-wave that stemmed, essentially, from the absurdity of its premise-capturing title. You may not even remember much of the film itself. But there is no way you forgot this line, spoken by profanity wizard Samuel L. Jackson in one of those legendary B-movie inspiration speeches he’s so masterful at delivering. (Fun fact: The line has aired on FX as the more-safe-for-work “monkey-flying snakes on this Monday-to-Friday plane.”)
There Will Be Blood (2007)
Speaking of Oscar winners… This rather surprising analogy for oil drainage, spoken by Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview, was inspired by real-life words to congress from then Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall, spoken during a 1920s Congressional investigation. Or so Paul Thomas Anderson has said – the original quote has not been found.
No Country for Old Men (2007)
The absurdity of life and the futility of our best-laid plans are recurring themes throughout the Coen brothers’ pitch-black filmography, and perhaps no moment distills these themes more effectively than the chillingly impassive way Anton Chigurh rests a stranger’s fate on the flip of a coin. You’d think he’d be more inclined to aim that cattle gun at his barber, but this way works better for the movie.
The Dark Knight (2008)
Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning turn as the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s second Batman film might well have given us the best comic-book movie villain ever. The character’s most famous line – “Why so serious?” – became iconic even before the film’s release, centering one of the most effective marketing campaigns of recent decades.
It was in 2008, while in his mid 50s, that Liam Neeson discovered a very particular set of skills – gravelly line-readings, a death-stare for the ages, and a capacity for rapid-fire action – that would launch a whole new chapter of his career: Liam Neeson, Action Star! And while the past decade has been littered with Neeson action programmers (right up to 2019’s Cold Pursuit), none have matched Taken for its intensity, impact, and the power of that oft-quoted bedroom scene.
The Hunger Games (2012)
There are plenty of action-packed, effects-enhanced, and completely thrilling moments throughout the Hunger Games franchise, but few are as simultaneously inspiring and terrifying as the quiet scene in which Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) steps forward to take her young sister’s place in the Games. The line is lifted directly from the same scene in first book of Susanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy.
Get Out (2017)
Jordan Peele’s directorial debut is loaded with memorable moments, and it was difficult to pick just one — but there’s just something so horribly effective about this line, and the way it reflects the fundamentally frightening loss of autonomy that looms at the core of this audaciously ambitious blend of horror, comedy, and social commentary.
Black Panther (2018)
This greeting of the Wakandan people, and the accompanying gesture, infiltrated popular culture following the release of mega-hit Black Panther in February 2018. Interestingly, the most memorable use of the phrase might come in Infinity War, and not Black Panther, when T’Challa shouts the phrase as he leads his Wakandans into battle against Thanos’s forces.
Avengers: Endgame (2019)
An endless font of quips and comebacks, Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark — a.k.a. Iron Man — is responsible for many of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most quotable moments, to the extent that it’s hard to pick just one. All that being said, it’s just as difficult to quibble with this quote, especially knowing it was added to the script after Downey shared that it was something one of his own real-life children said to him.
For a movie that sends the viewer hurling through one wildly outlandish universe after another, Everything Everywhere All at Once comes equipped with an awful lot of situations and sentiments that are powerfully relatable to most of us here on regular boring old Earth. This line is a case in point — what better way of expressing one’s undying love than to offer yourself up for heartbreak and taxes?
Photos courtesy of Buena Vista, Universal, Twentieth Century Fox, DreamWorks, Warner Bros., Walt Disney, Paramount, Marvel Studios, Focus Films, Lionsgate, Paramount Vantage, A24.