This is not a traditional top ten movies list. Even though many of them are my favourite movies, this is my list of top ten movies containing great dialogue with examples included. Sometimes great dialogue goes by so quickly you don’t have a chance to appreciate the beauty of its construction.
I’ve broken it into two parts because it got very long when I was typing it up. So here are the first five of my top ten movies in no particular order and some terrific pieces of writing.
Galaxy Quest is the story of a Star Trek-like TV show whose former stars have been reduced to attending conventions and store openings as well as selling autographs to make ends meet. They are approached by a group of real aliens who believe they are real astronauts and have recreated in real life the technology depicted in the TV show, then end up fighting alongside them in an interstellar war. Yes, it’s a comedy.
Gwen De Marco is the cast’s sole female and a bit of a token character but puts up with it graciously.
Alexander Dane: How did I come to this?
Tommy Webber: Not again.
Alexander Dane: I played Richard the Third.
Fred Kwan: Five curtain calls.
Alexander Dane: There were five curtain calls. I was an actor, dammit! Now look at me. Look at me! I can’t go out there and I won’t say that stupid line again. I can’t. I won’t.
Gwen De Marco: Well, Alex, at least you had a part. Okay. You had a character people loved. I mean, my TV Guide interview was six paragraphs long, about my boobs and how they fit into my suit. No one even bothered to ask me what I do on the show.
Fred Kwan: You had the… Wait, I’ll think of it.
Gwen De Marco: I repeated the computer, Fred.
Ship’s Computer: Forward thruster shaft, 87% damage. Aft vector guards, 96% damage. Structural breaches in quadrants 32, 34, 40, 43.
Jason Nesmith: What about the engines?
Ship’s Computer: Forward thruster shaft, 87% damage.
Gwen De Marco: Computer, what about the engines? Why don’t we have power?
Ship’s Computer: The beryllium sphere has fractured under stress.
Gwen De Marco: It’s fractured.
Jason Nesmith: Can it be repaired?
Gwen De Marco: Computer, can it be repaired?
Ship’s Computer: Damage to beryllium sphere irreparable. New source of beryllium must be secured.
Gwen De Marco: We need another one.
Alexander Dane: You broke the ship. You broke the bloody ship!
Jason Nesmith: Computer, is there a replacement beryllium sphere on board?
Gwen De Marco: Computer, is there a replacement beryllium sphere on board?
Ship’s Computer: Negative. No reserve beryllium sphere exists on board.
Gwen De Marco: No. We have no extra beryllium spheres on board.
Tommy Webber: You know, that is really getting annoying!
Gwen De Marco: Look! I have one job on this lousy ship, it’s stupid but I’m going to do it! Okay?
Tommy Webber: Sure, no problem.
Although this film does show its age a little bit now, it is still one of the greatest films ever made. The structure of the screenplay and the wonderful dialogue makes it as watchable as ever.
The film tells the story of Charles Foster Kane, a fictional newspaper baron but loosely based on a number of real people, the most obvious being William Randolph Hearst. But knowing the backstory of co-writer and director, Orson Welles, it’s interesting to note how much of himself he managed to infuse the main character with.
In this scene, he argues with his former guardian over the way in which he is running his newspaper, essentially making up stories, which he has previously described as sounding “like fun”. Other newspaper staff pop in and out and the scene.
Thatcher: “Galleons of Spain off Jersey Coast.” Is that really your idea of how to run a newspaper?
Kane: I don’t know how to run a newspaper, Mr Thatcher. I just try everything I can think of.
Thatcher: Charles, you know perfectly well there’s not the slightest proof of this – armadas off the Jersey coast!
Kane: Hello, Mr Bernstein.
Bernstein: Excuse me, Mr Kane.
Kane: Can you prove it isn’t?
Bernstein: This just came in.
Kane: Mr Bernstein, I’d like you to meet Mr Thatcher.
Bernstein: How do you do, Mr Thatcher?
Leland: I’ll just borrow a cigar.
Kane: Leland, Mr Thatcher, my ex-guardian.
Bernstein: It’s from Cuba.
Kane: We have no secrets from our readers, Mr Bernstein. Mr Thatcher is one of our most devoted readers. He knows what’s wrong with every copy of the Inquirer since I took over. Read the cable.
Bernstein: “Girls delightful in Cuba. Stop. Could send you prose poems about scenery but don’t feel right spending your money. Stop. There is no war in Cuba. Signed, Wheeler.” Any answer?
Kane: Yes. “Dear Wheeler. You provide the prose poems, I’ll provide the war.”
Bernstein: That’s fine, Mr Kane.
Kane: Yes, I rather like it myself. Send it right away.
Thatcher: I came to see you about this campaign of yours. The campaign against the Public Transit Company.
Kane: Mr Thatcher, do you know anything we could use against them?
Thatcher: Still the college boy, aren’t you?
Kane: Oh, no, Mr Thatcher, I was expelled from college, a lot of colleges. You remember. I remember.
Thatcher: Charles, I think I should remind you of a fact that you seem to have forgotten. That you are yourself one of the largest individual stockholders in the Public Transit Company.
Kane: The trouble is you don’t realise that you’re talking to two people. As Charles Foster Kane, who owns 82,364 shares of Public Transit Preferred – you see, I do have a general idea of my holdings – I sympathise with you. Charles Foster Kane is a scoundrel. His paper should be run out of town. A committee should be formed to boycott him. You may, if you can form such a committee, put me down for a contribution of one thousand dollars.
Thatcher: My time is…
Kane: On the other hand, I am the publisher of the Inquirer. As such, it’s my duty. And I’ll let you in on a little secret. It’s also my pleasure. To see to it that decent, hardworking people in this community aren’t robbed blind by a pack of money mad pirates just because they haven’t anybody to look after their interests. I’ll let you in on another little secret, Mr Thatcher. I think I’m the man to do it. You see, I have money and property. If I don’t look after the interests of the underprivileged, maybe somebody else will. Maybe somebody without any money and property.
Thatcher: Yes, yes, yes.
Kane: And that would be too bad.
Thatcher: Yes, well, I happened to see your financial statement today, Charles.
Kane: Did you?
Thatcher: Now tell me honestly, my boy. Don’t you think it’s rather unwise to continue this philanthropic enterprise, this empire that’s costing you a million dollars a year?
Kane: You’re right, Mr Thatcher. I did lose a million dollars last year. I expect to lose a million dollars this year. I expect to lose a million dollars next year. You know, Mr Thatcher, at a rate of a million dollars a year, I’ll have to close this place in sixty years.
This is Oliver Stone’s classic conspiracy movie and while I don’t necessarily subscribe to the specific conclusion he reaches, it does what all good conspiracy theories should do: raises inconsistencies. It’s also a terrific piece of storytelling.
In this scene, Jim Garrison, the New Orleans District Attorney, is dining with his old law school friend, Dean Andrews, who testified at the Warren Commission regarding a mysterious figure going by the name of Clay Bertrand, who tried to organise a lawyer for Lee Harvey Oswald.
Jim Garrison: When’d you first do business with this Bertrand?
Dean Andrews: Pipe the bimbo in red. Lordy.
Jim Garrison: Yeah, she’s cute alright but not half as cute as you, Deano.
Dean Andrews: Thank you.
Jim Garrison: You should have tried a legitimate line of business.
Dean Andrews: Why you dancin’ on my head for, my man? We’ve been thick as molasses pie since law school.
Jim Garrison: Because you’re conning me, Dean. I read your testimony at the Warren Commission.
Dean Andrews: There you go again. Grain of salt. It’s beside the point.
Jim Garrison: You tell them the day after the assassination you’re called on the phone by this Clay Bertrand and asked to fly to Dallas and be Lee Oswald’s lawyer.
Dean Andrews: Right.
Jim Garrison: That’s pretty important, Dean. You also told the FBI that when you met him, he’s six foot two. Then you tell the Commission he’s five foot eight. Now how the hell does a man shrink like that, Dean?
Dean Andrews: They put the heat on my man, just like you doin’. I gave them anything that popped in my cabeza. Truth is, I never met the dude. I don’t know what the cat looks like and furthermore I don’t know where he’s at. All I know is sometimes he sends me some cases. So one day he’s on the phone, talking to me about going to Dallas, repping Oswald.
Jim Garrison: You ever speak to Oswald in Dallas?
Dean Andrews: Hell, no. Like I told that Bertrand cat right off, this ain’t my scene, man. I’m a hack. He needs a hot dog.
Jim Garrison: Then how the hell did your name get in the Warren Commission, Dean?
Dean Andrews: Like I told the Washington boys, Bertrand called that summer and asked me to help the kid upgrade his Marine discharge. There wasn’t no conspiracy, Jim. If there was, why the hell didn’t Bobby Kennedy prosecute it as Attorney-General? He was his brother, for Christ’s sake. How the fuck all those people could keep a secret like that, I don’t know. It was Oswald. He was a fruitcake. He hated this country.
Garrison: We’re having a communication problem, Dean. I know you know who Clay Bertrand is, alright? Now stop eating that crabmeat a minute and listen. I’m aware of our friendship but I want you to know I’m gonna call you in front of the grand jury. You lie to the grand jury as you been lyin’ to me, I’m gonna charge you with perjury. Alright, I took nine judges on right here in New Orleans. I beat them all. So am I communicating with you?
Dean Andrews: Is this off the record, daddyo? Good. In that case, let me sum it up for you real quick. If I answer that question you keep asking, if I give you the name of the big enchilada, you know, then it’s bon voyage, Deano. I mean like permanent. I mean, like a bullet in my head, you dig? You’re a mouse fighting a gorilla. Kennedy’s as dead as that crabmeat. The government’s still breathing. You wanna line up with a dead man?
Jim Garrison: Read my lips, Deano. Either you dance into the grand jury with the real identity of Clay Bertrand or your fat behind’s going to the slammer. Now you dig me?
Dean Andrews: You’re as crazy as your mama. Goes to show it’s in the genes. Do you have any idea what you’re getting yourself into, daddyo? The government’s going to jump all over your head, Jimbo, and go cock-a-doodle-do. Good day to you, sir.
Any true Aliens and James Cameron fan when referring to Aliens will be talking about the special edition, not the theatrical release. The story is ultimately the same but so much richer for the inclusion of the additional scenes and not once during the hundreds of times I’ve watched this film have I ever lamented its length.
In the sequel (one of very few that are better than their original counterparts), Ripley is asked to return to the planet where the alien was first encountered in order to advise a team of soldiers. Their mission: to locate the two hundred or so colonists terraforming the planet who have lost contact with Earth.
In this scene (which appears in a cut down form in the theatrical release), Ripley is attending a hearing into the events of the first film and the destruction of the Nostromo, the ship she blew up attempting to kill the alien.
Ripley: I don’t understand this. We have been here for three and a half hours. Now how many different ways do you want me to tell the same story?
Van Leuwen: Look at it from our perspective please. Please. Now you freely admit to detonating the engines of and thereby destroying an M class star freighter, a rather expensive piece of hardware.
Male Hearing Member: Forty-two million in adjusted dollars. That’s minus payload, of course.
Van Leuwen: The life boat’s flight recorder corroborates some elements of your account and that for reasons unknown, the Nostromo set down on LB426, an unsurveyed planet at that time, that it resumed its course and was subsequently set for self-destruct by you for reasons unknown.
Ripley: Not for reasons unknown. I told you. We set down there on company orders to get this thing, which destroyed my crew. And your expensive ship.
Van Leuwen: The analysis team, which went over the life boat centimetre by centimetre, found no physical evidence of the creature you describe.
Ripley: Good! That’s because I blew it out of the goddam airlock. Like I said.
Male Hearing Member: Are there any species like this hostile organism on LB426?
Female Hearing Member: No, it’s a rock. No indigenous life.
Ripley: Did IQs just drop sharply while I was away? Ma’am, I already said that it was not indigenous, it was a derelict spacecraft, it was an alien ship, it was not from there. Do you get it? We homed in on its beacon.
Female Hearing Member: And found something never recorded once in over three hundred surveyed worlds. A creature that gestates inside a living human host – these are your words – and has concentrated acid for blood.
Ripley: That’s right. Look, I can see where this is going but I’m telling you that those things exist.
Van Leuwen: Thank you, Officer Ripley. That will be all.
Ripley: Please, you’re not listening to me. Kane, the crew member… Kane, who went into that ship, said he saw thousands of eggs there, thousands.
Van Leuwen: Thank you, that will be all!
Ripley: Goddammit, that’s not all. Because if one those things gets down here, then that will be all. Then all this, this bullshit that you think is so important, you can just kiss all that goodbye.
Van Leuwen: It is the finding of this court of enquiry that Warrant Officer E Ripley NOC14472 has acted with questionable judgement and is unfit to hold an ICC licence as a commercial flight officer. Said licence is hereby suspended indefinitely. Now, no criminal charges will be filed against you at this time and you are released on your own recognisance for a six month period of psychometric probation to include monthly review by an ICC psychiatric technician. These proceedings are closed.
Carter: That could have been better. Look, I think the… Ripley!
Ripley: Van Leuwen! Why don’t you just check out LB426?
Van Leuwen: Because I don’t have to. There have been people there for over twenty years and they never complained about any hostile organism.
Ripley: What do you mean? What people?
Van Leuwen: Terraformers. Planet engineers. They go in, set up these big atmosphere processors to make the air breathable. Takes decades. It’s what we call a “shake’n’bake” colony.
Ripley: How many are there? How many colonists?
Van Leuwen: I don’t know. Sixty, maybe seventy families. Do you mind?
Ripley: Families. Jesus!
This is one of the most underrated movies and potentially a warning on where the world is heading. It starts out by comparing the reproductive results of a committed couple, Trevor (IQ 138) and Carol (IQ 141), and Clevon (IQ 84). While Trevor and Carol are waiting for the right time and the right financial conditions, Clevon just can’t seem to stop getting women pregnant. While Trevor and Carol end up never having children, Clevon ends up with twenty-three sons and daughters, all who demonstrate as much intellectual aptitude as he does and breed even more.
The story then moves on to the armed services conducting an experiment by freezing a military librarian and a prostitute. The experiment gets forgotten and the two eventually wake up and escape from their hibernation pods 500 years in the future where they are the smartest people in the entire world by a very long way. The President charges him with solving the problem of why all the world’s crops have failed (they’re being watered with a sports drink called Brawndo) with the promise of a pardon after Joe was convicted of “being a dick”, “for excaping from jail” and “for fucking lots of shit up”.
Joe: For the last time, I’m pretty sure what’s killing the crops is this Brawndo stuff.
Secretary of State: But Brawndo’s got what plants crave. It’s got electrolytes.
Attorney-General: So wait a minute. What you’re saying is that you want us to put water on the crops?
Attorney-General: Water. Like out of the toilet?
Joe: Well, I mean, it doesn’t have to be out of the toilet but yeah, that’s the idea.
Secretary of State: But Brawndo’s got what plants crave.
Attorney-General: It’s got electrolytes.
Joe: Okay, look. The plants aren’t growing so I’m pretty sure that the Brawndo’s not working. Now, I’m no botanist but I do know that if you put water on plants, they grow.
Secretary of Energy: Well, I’ve never seen no plants growing out of no toilet.
Secretary of State: Hey, that’s good. You sure you ain’t the smartest guy in the world?
Joe: Okay, look. You want to solve this problem. I want to get my pardon. So why don’t we just try it, okay? And not worry about what plants crave.
Attorney-General: Brawndo’s got what plants crave.
Secretary of Energy: Yeah, it’s got electrolytes.
Joe: What are electrolytes? Do you even know?
Secretary of State: It’s what they use to make Brawndo.
Joe: Yeah, but why do they use them to make Brawndo.
Secretary of Defense: ’Cause Brawndo’s got electrolytes.
Narrator: After several hours, Joe finally gave up on logic and reason and simply told the cabinet that he could talk to plants and that they wanted water. He made believers out of everyone.
Look out for Part Two on Friday.