Being that there are far too many incredible last lines in movies, I could not bear to limit this list to only five. A great last line of a film will somehow encapsulate the entire mood of the movie, or highlight (and wrap up) the essential traits of the protagonist. It goes without saying (though I’ll say it anyway) that the following list is abundant with spoilers. Chances are, even if you haven’t seen the films listed below you’re most likely already familiar with the quotes themselves. If you fancy yourself a film purist, you may want to skip this altogether. Although, seeing as the lines themselves speak such volumes, my descriptions will be kept to a minimum.
In no particular order:
1) Some Like it Hot (1959), dir. by Billy Wilder
“I’m a man.”
“Well, nobody’s perfect.”
In what is easily one of the greatest comedies ever made, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis star as two musicians—Jerry and Joe, respectively—who resort to drag to hide from the mob after witnessing a hit. They join a female band on the road (alongside Marilyn Monroe), and naturally amusement ensues. The comedic highlight is certainly when millionaire Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown) woos “Daphne” (Jack Lemon) aggressively. By the end, Joe and Jerry successfully avoid the gangsters, Joe lands Sugar (Monroe)—and Jerry reveals to Osgood he is in fact a man, to which Osgood controversially says, “Nobody’s perfect.”
2) Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
“There is something very important that we need to do as soon as possible.”
Many consider Kubrick’s final film to be his worst. Personally, I think it’s one of his best, but that’s beside the point. Dr. William “Bill” Hartford (Tom Cruise) has just found out his wife (Alice, played by Nicole Kidman) almost cheated on him once, and so he subsequently goes on an unsettling sexual odyssey. He attempts to become a member of a bizarre sex group of wealthy hedonists, and his entire life and well-being are threatened. Although this is a reductive description of this film, the closing lines end the movie on a note of depraved sincerity. Though it might come off as a cheap, oddly comedic way to end the film, it is in fact a dark, depressing representation that Bill will never find what he’s truly looking for; he will never be satisfied.
3) Chinatown (1974), dir. by Roman Polanski
“Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown.”
These iconic last words are spoken to detective J.J. “Jake” Gittes as he looks back on the utterly corrupt L.A. of the ‘30s. Seemingly hired to uncover an adulterer, he soon gets swept up in a complicated snare of murder, deceit, and, of course, corruption. This final line carries out the overall austere, film noir aesthetic, and ends the movie with great cynicism that is an essential trait of Jake’s.
4) Apocalypse Now (1979), dir. by Francis Ford Coppola
“The horror, the horror.”
There is no greater way to sum up this masterpiece of movie than these final words. Captain Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen) has been sent on a mission to assassinate the rogue Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who has become a leader of a local tribe. In the final moments of the film, the tribe commits an animal sacrifice, just as Captain Willard completes his mission by carrying out his assassination. The last line, said by the dying Colonel, captures the intensity and tension of the film.
5) Casablanca (1942), dir. by Michael Curtiz
“Louis? I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
As Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) and Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) begin to leave Morocco to join the French army in West Africa, Rick says these now-famous last lines. He has just said goodbye to his former lover Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), and with bittersweet emotion, he moves into a new chapter of his life. It’s not a typical Hollywood ending in this way, though despite it not being an altogether “happy” ending, it still fills you with a sense of great hope and longing.
6) Sunset Boulevard (1950), dir. by Billy Wilder
“You see, this is my life. It always will be. There’s nothing else—just us, and the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark. All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”
This dark drama follows Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), a former silent film actress who has unsuccessfully transitioned into talking pictures. She becomes a manic recluse, refusing to believe that she has faded from the Hollywood fame. She begins a relationship with a hack screenwriter (William Holden) in hopes of returning to the silver screen. Her chilling final lines of the film perfectly illustrate her delusion of grandeur, and leave you altogether unsettled.
7) Raging Bull (1980), dir. by Martin Scorsese
“I’m da boss, I’m da boss, I’m da boss, I’m da boss, I’m da boss…I’m da boss, I’m da boss, I’m da boss, I’m da boss, I’m da boss, I’m da boss.”
Raging Bull shows the chaotic and violent life of boxer Jake La Motta. Though his extreme temper brings him success in the ring, he manages to completely destroy his life, and the lives of those around him. The film ends on a touching, sad note as Jake is seen preparing to go on stage in his new line of work in stand up comedy. After reciting a monologue from On the Waterfront (1954), he begins shadowboxing, and repeating “I’m da boss,” as he used to before his fights.
8) Psycho (1960), dir. by Alfred Hitchcock
“I’m not even gonna swat that fly. I hope they are watching. They’ll see. They’ll see and they’ll know and they’ll say, ‘Why she wouldn’t even harm a fly…’”
In one of the most classic twists in cinematic history, motel owner Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) is revealed to believe he is also his dead mother. Or rather, is convinced his mother isn’t dead because he himself dresses up as her and interacts with himself as if he were a different person. Some speculate that Norman’s mother is in fact possessing him, but most likely he is just a disturbed young man with extreme mental issues. Anthony Perkins delivers an outstanding performance, capturing the sweet innocent side of Norman, and also the grim, uneasy side that he takes on as his mother. The final lines are spoken as a voice over, in Norman’s mother’s voice, coming from Norman’s mind. These closing lines show that although Norman/Norman’s mother will remain well behaved (at least temporarily), he/she is still very much disturbed.
9) A Clockwork Orange (1971), dir. by Stanley Kubrick
“I was cured all right.”
Set in a future Britain, Alex (Malcolm McDowell) is the leader of a pack of delinquents (referred to as Droogs) who have a penchant for tremendous violence. After Alex is caught and jailed, an experimental team of therapists takes on his case in hopes to solve society’s larger problem of violence. He is more or less brainwashed, and by the end of the film it’s clear that he is just as mad as he was before, if not more. In the last scene he is swept up in a daydream as the press storms his room with cameras blazing. He then looks up, and he and a woman are making love in the snow. He triumphantly states: “I was cured all right.”
10) Goodfellas (1990), dir. by Martin Scorsese
“Right after I got here, I ordered some spaghetti with marinara sauce and I got egg noodles and ketchup. I’m an average nobody. I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.”
Goodfellas is, without a doubt, one of the greatest Italian mob movies ever made. It follows Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) and his friends as they work their way through the mob family. After Henry has a violent career in the mob (along with a bevy of alcohol and drugs) he is eventually sent into witness protection. The film is expertly narrated the entire way, and ends with Henry lamenting his new, boring life, and yearning for the excitement and “action” of his previous life.
Honorable Mentions: Home Alone (1990), Leon (1994), E.T. (1984), Schindler’s List, King Kong (1993), Alien (1979), Raising Arizona (1987).
Note: Back to the Future (1985) was disqualified due to the fact that the largely recognized “Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads” quote is not actually the final line of the film.
Author: Catherine Haas
Catherine Haas is a native Philadelphian who received her master’s in film history from Columbia University. She is a freelance film programmer, writer, and an avid pug enthusiast.