Science fiction movies voice our fear of what may come to pass if we don’t clean up our act (death, destruction, apocalypse), and express our hope for a decent life on planet earth (or other planets) should we choose the right path. In other words, SF can inspire strong opinions about the future of the human race. It can even create belief systems as powerful and pompous as religion. Just look at L. Ron Hubbard.
When I was a kid, instead of quoting Bible passages for spiritual guidance, sometimes my family quoted Star Wars. Imagine the scene in my chaotic house: sink overflowing with dishes, something burning on the stove, dogs tearing apart a trash bag, cats pooping in the basement. The only logical response was to shout, “3PO! 3PO! Shut down all the garbage mashers on the detention level!” (Hence my paranoia about technology, too.) Reciting lines from Episode IV didn’t necessary solve my family problems, but it did provide comic counterpoint.
More to the point, the Force seemed as plausible an explanation for how the universe hung together as any other ideology or philosophy that had reached the backwoods of rural New Hampshire. In fact, fictional characters like Yoda, Darth Vader, Hal 9000, E.T. felt as real to me as anything else. Raised on monster movies and Cineplex fare, I happily let lines of science fiction dialogue infect my brain. I know they’ve corrupted yours.
But which lines from SF movies have reached mythic status? Which ones have truly made a permanent stain on our cultural fabric? In my search for the best, most indelible SF movie quotes ever, here were my criteria:
1) The quote had to be memorable.
2) It had to show staying power over the years.
3) And it had to be a line you and I might use in everyday life to punctuate our humdrum lives with irony, drama, and humor.
(Oh, and number 4: it had to appear in a SF movie, not TV show or book.)
In my humble opinion, here are the ten best. I expect you might quibble with my picks, but heck, that’s what these lists are all about. As I discovered (to paraphrase one famous phrase), the more I tightened my grip on this top ten list, the more quotes slipped through my fingers.
10) “Klaatu barada nikto” — The Day the Earth Stood Still
One of the most famous commands in all of science fiction. In the 1951 classic The Day the Earth Stood Still, “Klaatu barada nikto” are the three secret words Klaatu (Michael Rennie) passes on to Helen Benson (Patricia Neal); they’re a kind of failsafe code that keeps the robot Gort from destroying the Earth. Good to know. Memorization of this phrase should be required along with the Pledge of Allegiance, your Social Security number, and the Lord’s Prayer — just in case.
9) “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.” — 2001: A Space Odyssey
In the 1968 Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey (based on the novel by Arthur C. Clarke), the super-smart HAL 9000 computer thinks that the humans might blow their mission to Jupiter. So, HAL begins to off the crew members one by one. When Dave Bowman heads out for a spacewalk to rescue his buddy, HAL locks him out. Hence, Bowman’s famous line: “Open the pod bay doors, HAL.” To which HAL replies, “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.” HAL’s passive monotone clinches this as the creepiest line ever said by a computer.
8) “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time… like tears in rain… Time to die.” — Blade Runner
Right before he dies, replicant Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) waxes poetic to Decker (Harrison “Am I a replicant, too?” Ford) about his life’s adventures in one of most bittersweet lines ever said in SF. Then in rainy cyber-punk Los Angeles, circa 2019, a pigeon or dove flies off into a rare patch of blue sky, all to the dreamy score by Vangelis. Nary a geek in the house can escape with dry eyes.
7) “Doo-Do-DOO-Do-DUMMM” — Close Encounters of the Third Kind
I know, this isn’t technically a line of dialogue, it’s a few bars of music (I’m stretching the category here), but jezum, when I saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind in the theater back in 1977 and that big mother ship landed on Devil’s Tower and began to play a cosmic game of “Name that Tune” with the scientists, the musical orgasm blew my mind. After seeing Close Encounters, Americans never looked at the night sky the same way again. Hear that refrain today and, guaranteed, you’re transported back to the innocent days of UFO sightings, government cover ups and mashed potatoes sculptures.
6) “Get away from her, you bitch!” – Aliens
Yes, James Cameron loves his women (or does he have a mother complex?). In the ultimate cat-fight smack-down, Ellen Ripley, protecting the little feral girl Newt, makes her grand re-entrance, borrowing a hydraulic forklift crab walker to take on the baddest momma alien of all. If you like your heroines Rambo macho and buff, Aliens (1986) was a giant leap forward for feminist science fiction. If you measure the progress of women’s roles in Hollywood by another yardstick, you might have found trash-talking Sigourney Weaver a bit much. Whatever your take, that line was an instant classic.
5) “Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!” — Planet of the Apes
As George Taylor, Charlon Heston gets to utter this, the first words ever spoken by a human to the apes! That’s right. It may be 1968 in the real world (sexual revolution, student protests, that sort of thing), but in Heston’s new-old topsy-turvy world, he’s imprisoned on an f-ed up planet run by apes, and the poor guy has to wear a loincloth. Now, wait a minute — either this is way, way in the future … or way, way in the past. Are the apes hippies? Do they belong to the NRA? Do their paws really stink? (And technically, they’re hands, not paws, right?). Use this line anytime anyone gets into your personal bubble. No means no.
4) “The needs of the many outweigh … the needs of the few… Or the one.” — Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
I know you wanted me to pick Captain Kirk’s immortal caterwaul, “KHAAANNNN!” But in this best of the old cast Trek movies, when Spock sacrifices his life (if you recall, by entering the irradiated zone of the Enterprise’s warp drive system to fix the main reactor, just in time of course), another great SF line was born. The quote is actually tag-teamed by Shatner and Nimoy, each speaking on one side of a transparent barrier. Spock says, “Do not grieve, Admiral. It is logical. The needs of the many outweigh …” to which Kirk adds, “the needs of the few,” and Spock ends with: “Or the one … ” Sniff! (Don’t worry, Spock won’t be dead for long.) Words to live by. Anyone for a Star Trek religion?
3) “E.T. phone home” — E.T.
I’ve said it. You’ve said it. Say no more. Enough said.
2) “I’ll be back” — The Terminator
Before the Governator was in charge of California, he had another deadly mission: to travel back in time to 1984 (the year I graduated from high school) to kill Sarah Connor. Perhaps his mission should have been to bump off Tom Selleck or Huey Lewis and the News instead? Of course, in later Terminator movies, Schwarzenegger gets all warm and fuzzy and fights for the good guys. “I’ll be back” might be the line used and abused more than any other from an SF film, much to the chagrin of girlfriends, wives and convenience store assistant managers everywhere.
1) ” Do… or do not. There is no try.” – The Empire Strikes Back
Many of us who saw Empire back in 1980 fondly remember this scene in the swamps of Dagobah featuring the whiny student, Luke Skywalker, and his impatient, diminutive, Kermit the Frog-like teacher, Yoda. What’s the problem? Luke can’t get it up (no, not that … the “it” is an X-wing sunken in the bog). Yoda, the Zen master, implores Luke “unlearn” what he has have learned. Luke: “All right, I’ll give it a try.” Yoda: “No. Try not. Do… or do not. There is no try.” And with those words, a non-CGI, green rubber puppet voiced by Frank Oz (the same guy who did Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, Grover, Cookie Monster and Bert) inspired an entire generation to do what was beyond our skill, and believe in forces we can’t see or understand.
Ethan Gilsdorf is the author of the travel memoir / pop culture investigation Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms. More information at http://www.ethangilsdorf.com
(Tune in for my next post, my choices for the Top 10 Fantasy Movie Quotes)