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The 20 greatest opening lines in cinema history

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The opening line in a film can, if nailed, be as pivotal as the movie’s crescendo.

Twenty years ago this month, Hugh Grant danced around in his underpants exclaiming profanities at his onscreen sister in the first scene of Four Weddings and a Funeral. The world found a new reason to love British cinema and ‘the fop’.

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of that film moment, we give you 20 of the greatest opening lines in cinema history.

Rebecca (1940)

“Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderlay again.”

Casablanca (1942)

“With the coming of the Second World War, many eyes in imprisoned Europe turned hopefully or desperately toward the freedom of the Americas. Lisbon became the great embarkation point. But not everybody could get to Lisbon directly, and so a tortuous, roundabout refugee trail sprang up – Paris to Marseilles, across the Mediterranean to Oran, then by train, or auto, or foot across the rim of Africa, to Casablanca in French Morocco. Here, the fortunate ones through money, or influence, or luck, might obtain exit visas and scurry to Lisbon; and from Lisbon, to the New World. But the others wait in Casablanca… and wait… and wait… and wait.

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

“Maycomb was a tired old town, even in 1932 when I first knew it. Somehow, it was hotter then. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon after their three o’clock naps. And by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frosting from sweating and sweet talcum. The day was 24 hours long but it seemed longer.”

To Kill a Mockingbird. Photo: Supplied

Mary Badham, Gregory Peck and Phillip Alford in To Kill a Mockingbird. Photo: Supplied

Oliver! (1968)

“Please, Sir, I want some more”

Patton (1970)

“Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”

Annie Hall (1977)

“There’s an old joke – um… two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ‘em says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.”
“Well, that’s essentially how I feel about life – full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly.”

The Jerk (1979)

“I am not a bum. I’m a jerk. I once had wealth, power, and the love of a beautiful woman. Now I only have two things: my friends and… uh… my thermos.
“Huh? My story? Okay. It was never easy for me. I was born a poor black child. I remember the days, sittin’ on the porch with my family, singin’ and dancin’ down in Mississippi.”

The Outsiders (1983)

“When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.”

Stand by Me (1986)

“I was 12 going on 13 the first time I saw a dead human being.”

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Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Jerry O’ Connell, and Corey Feldman in Stand By Me. Photo: Supplied

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

“Incredible! One of the worst performances of my career and they never doubted it for a second … ”

Field of Dreams (1989)

“I’m 36 years old, I love my family, I love baseball, and I’m about to become a farmer. But until I heard the voice, I’d never done a crazy thing in my whole life.”

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Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams. Photo: Supplied

Goodfellas (1990)

“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster. To me, being a gangster was better than being President of the United States.”

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Joe Pesci, Ray Liotta and Robert De Niro, in Goodfellas. Photo: Supplied

Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) 

“Oh, f**k! F**k!”

Trainspotting (1996)

“Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family, Choose a f**king big television. Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suit on hire purchased in a range of f**king fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the f**k you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sittin’ on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing f**king junk food into your mouth. Choose rottin’ away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, f**ked-up brats that you’ve spawned to replace yourself. Choose a future. Choose life… But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin’ else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?”

American Beauty (1999)

“My name is Lester Burnham. This is my neighbourhood; this is my street; this is my life. I am 42 years old; in less than a year I will be dead. Of course I don’t know that yet, and in a way, I am dead already.”

Kevin Spacey in American Beauty. Photo: Supplied

Kevin Spacey in American Beauty. Photo: Supplied

Fight Club (1999)
“People are always asking me if I know Tyler Durden…”

Brad Pitt and Edward Norten in Fight Club. Photo: Supplied

Brad Pitt and Edward Norten in Fight Club. Photo: Supplied

High Fidelity (2000)

“What came first, the music or the misery?”

Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)

“It all began on New Year’s Day, in my thirty-second year of being single. Once again, I found myself on my own … and going to my mother’s annual turkey curry buffet.”

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

“The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it.”

 The Prestige (2006)

“Are you watching closely?”

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