Last night, the American Film Institute unveiled the top 100 quotes from American films. As one might expect from such a subjective undertaking, the list is underwhelming.
The top 10 is about what you might expect, with quotes from Gone With the Wind, Casablanca (one of six quotes to make the top 100), The Godfather and The Wizard of Oz all making the cut.
The list covers most of the obvious bases, including two wooden Arnold Schwarzenegger lines known as much for inducing groans as anything else (why not have “It’s not a tumor”?). But, as with any such list, there are glaring omissions.
For example, there’s nothing from Mel Brooks or the Marx Brothers (Correction: only one Marx Bros. quote, which is still pretty pathetic). John Hughes didn’t make the list (not even Ben Stein’s deadpan “Bueller”), nor did anything from It’s a Wonderful Life. Joe Pesci’s “You think I’m funny?” monologue from Goodfellas is nowhere to be seen. Perhaps most shocking is the total omission of two of the most quoted movies of my generation, This Is Spinal Tap and The Princess Bride.
The AFI list gives short shrift to comedy in general, choosing, for example, only one relatively unfunny line from Annie Hall out of Woddy Allen’s entire oeuvre. One notable exception is the wise inclusion of a Caddyshack quote at number 92.
There are also issues of placement. For example, the Silence of the Lambs quote about fava beans and chianti—a quote that I would contend does not belong on the list at all—comes in at number 21, one notch above “Bond. James Bond.” For shame.
Sometimes it is difficult to figure out why the Institute chose one quote over another from a given film. They have “May the Force be with you” from Star Wars instead of the arguably more memorable “Luke, I am your father.” It seems as though the members of the AFI can’t make up their minds whether they’re doing the top 100 quotes or the top 100 films.
Another baffling choice is “Open the pod bay doors, HAL,” from 2001: A Space Odyssey, rather than the much more memorable “What are you doing, Dave?”
There are two choices that never should have even been considered for the list. At number 38, the AFI chose “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth” from The Pride of the Yankees and they placed “Houston, we have a problem” from Apollo 13 at number 50. These quotes are memorable not because they were in a movie, but because they happened in real life. If someone made a bio-pic of Abraham Lincoln, would they put “Fourscore and seven years ago…” on the list?
All of this raises a basic question: Why even make the list at all? It’s far more subjective than ranking the top 100 films, and that process was fraught with controversy as well. And because it’s so subjective, the list really has no value as anything other than a marketing tool. If people start talking about their favorite movie quotes, maybe they’ll go out and pick up a DVD or two and help out the flagging movie industry in the process.
Seems like a scam, but don’t quote me on that.