How often we wish we had a crack team of screenwriters scripting our lives, especially when the moment calls for a tart tongue. One of the many pleasures of the movies is that we can watch as others tackle the smack-talk for us, and revel in idealized comedowns delivered with serious relish.
The insults are usually deserved, and often invite retribution, creating a moment of release and relief for the audience — comic, acidic, and bracingly true. In a few charming cases, characters even put themselves down.
Each quote here represents a dynamic that fuels the movie, and speaks, literally, of character with delicious precision. Some films, like “The Women” (1939), or “All About Eve” (1950), are marathons of biting barbs, and demonstrate filmic speech at its juiciest.
No one is ever this good on the spot, which is why we have rounded up several of our favorite snarky lines from classic films. This is dialogue that begs for a shout out of “In your face!”
The Women (1939)
Edith Potter (Phyllis Povah): When do you go to Africa to shoot dear?
Nancy Blake (Florence Nash): As soon as my book is out.
Sylvia Fowler (Rosalind Russell): I don’t blame you. I’d rather face a tiger any day than the sort of things the critics said about your last book.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
The Wizard of Oz (Frank Morgan): You dare to come to me for a heart? You clinking, clanking, clattering, collection of caliginous junk.
Adam’s Rib (1949)
Kip Lurie (David Wayne): Lawyers should never marry other lawyers. This is called inbreeding; from this comes idiot children…and other lawyers.
All About Eve (1950)
Margo Channing (Bette Davis) to Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter): Nice speech, Eve. But I wouldn’t worry too much about your heart. You can always put that award where your heart ought to be.
A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
[Ringo Starr looks at a big pile of fan mail.]
John Lennon: Must have cost you a fortune in stamps, Ringo.
George Harrison: He comes from a large family.
Stream it tonight.
Five Easy Pieces (1970)
Waitress (Lorna Thayer): You want me to hold the chicken, huh?
Bobby (Jack Nicholson): I want you to hold it between your knees.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
French Soldier (John Cleese): Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher): Why you stuck-up, half witted, scruffy looking Nerfherder!
Han Solo (Harrison Ford): Who’s scruffy looking?
The Princess Bride (1987)
Westley (Cary Elwes): I’ll explain and I’ll use small words so that you’ll be sure to understand, you warthog-faced buffoon.
Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
Halley Reed (Mia Farrow): After all, he is an American phenomenon.
Clifford Stern (Woody Allen): Yeah, but so is acid rain.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) to Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster): You know what you look like to me, with your good bag and your cheap shoes? You look like a rube. A well scrubbed, hustling rube with a little taste. Good nutrition has given you some length of bone, but you’re not more than one generation from poor white trash, are you, Agent Starling?
The Big Lebowski (1998)
Malibu Police Chief (Leon Russom): I don’t like your jerk-off name, I don’t like your jerk-off face, and I don’t like you. Jerk off. Do I make myself clear?
The Dude (Jeff Bridges): I’m sorry. I wasn’t listening. Can you repeat that?
About a Boy (2002)
Will: [to himself] No, Marcus. I do not want to come over for Christmas. I do not want to spend Christmas with Ms. Granola Suicide and her spawn.
There Will Be Blood (2007)
Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis): You’re just the afterbirth, Eli, slithered out on your mother’s filth. They should have put you in a glass jar on the mantelpiece.