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12 Quotes From Oscar Best Picture Winners

Since the Academy Awards debuted in 1929, the Best Picture category has been widely considered the ceremony’s most prestigious honor. The recipients have encompassed a wide range of genres, from historical epics to black comedies to sweepingly romantic movie musicals.

Some Best Picture winners have stood the test of time better than others, but many are still considered true classics, including such timeless films as On the Waterfront, Lawrence of Arabia, and The Godfather.

Over the decades, these movies have provided many famous lines. Here are 12 of the most memorable quotes from Best Picture winners spanning the 1930s to today — some of which rank among the most quotable movie lines of all time.

War isn't the way it looks back here.
Paul Bäumer (Lew Ayres) in "All Quiet on the Western Front"

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Released in 1930, this epic antiwar movie is a harrowing account of warfare in World War I. It was the first Best Picture winner based on a novel (written in 1929 by Erich Maria Remarque), and the movie has become an enduring classic.

Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.
Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) in "Gone With the Wind"

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Rhett Butler’s last words to Vivien Leigh's Scarlett O'Hara rank among the most famous in movie history. At the 1939 Academy Awards, Gone With the Wind set a record for Academy Award wins and nominations, with 10 wins including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actress.

Ilsa, I'm no good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you'll understand that. Now, now … Here's looking at you, kid.
Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) in "Casablanca"

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The number of quotable lines from this 1942 romantic drama is off the charts, with many still frequently repeated today. The passionate romance between Rick Blaine and Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) pratically crackles off the screen in this World War II-era story.

You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been someone, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it.
Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) in "On the Waterfront"

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Marlon Brando’s mesmerizing performance as former prize fighter Terry Malloy is often considered the greatest piece of character acting of all time. The movie won eight Academy Awards in 1954, including Best Actor for Brando.

They call me Mister Tibbs!
Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) in "In the Heat of the Night"

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When Virgil Tibbs, a Black police detective from Philadelphia, becomes involved in a murder investigation in a small town in Mississippi, he doesn’t receive the warmest welcome. But his relationship with Chief Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger) develops throughout the movie. The quote above remains one of the most classic lines from 1960s cinema.

I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.
Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) in"The Godfather"

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Yet again, we have a legendary Marlon Brando character delivering one of the most famous lines in movie history. Corleone knows how powerful he and his family have become, and this line from the 1972 crime classic sums that up nicely.

I'm an excellent driver.
Raymond Babbitt (Dustin Hoffman) in "Rain Man"

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The autistic savant Raymond often repeats himself throughout the movie. When he first meets Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) — before Charlie knows that Ray is his brother — Raymond recognizes the 1949 Buick Roadster and eagerly states, “I'm an excellent driver,” a line he repeats multiple times in the 1988 film.

Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.
Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley) in "Schindler's List"

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In one of the 1993 movie’s final and most heartrending scenes, Itzhak Stern presents Schindler (Liam Neeson) with an engraved gold ring, explaining that it bears the line above — a quotation from the Talmud, the book of Jewish law. Oskar Schindler saved around 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust.

My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, and loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.
Maximus (Russell Crowe) in "Gladiator"

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It's a truly stirring moment when Maximus removes his helmet in the arena and turns to deliver the above lines to Joaquin Phoenix's Commodus. Crowe was perfect for the role and deservedly won Best Actor in 2000.

Let me tell you something, man. There are Black people everywhere. Remember that, OK? No place you can go in the world ain’t got no Black people. We was the first on this planet.
Juan (Mahershala Ali) in "Moonlight"

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In the movie’s first chapter, Juan delivers this speech to Little (Alex Hibbert), both to instill some pride in Little for his racial heritage and to let him know that he doesn’t have to feel so alone. In 2017, Moonlight became the first LGBTQ+ film and the first film with an all-Black cast to win Best Picture.

What’s remembered, lives.
Fern (Frances McDormand) in “Nomadland”

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After losing her beloved husband and her longtime job, 61-year-old Fern sells most of her belongings and chooses to live as a nomad out of a van. As she says here, her memories of her husband keep him alive as she travels around the country.

In addition to winning Best Picture in 2021 — in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic — Nomadland was nominated for five other awards. McDormand’s touching portrayal of Fern earned her a third Best Actress award, and director Chloé Zhao made history by becoming the first non-white woman to win Best Director.

In another life, I would have really liked just doing laundry and taxes with you.
Waymond Wang (Ke Huy Quan) in “Everything Everywhere All at Once”

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Trying to accurately summarize the plot of 2022’s Everything Everywhere All at Once is … difficult, to say the least. In short, while being audited by the IRS, a middle-aged Chinese immigrant (Michelle Yeoh) begins to hurtle through a number of parallel universes and discovers that the fate of the world is in her hands.

This zany, colorful, and moving film touches on a number of themes, including mother-daughter relationships and the immigrant experience. It also made Academy Awards history in several categories, including Best Actress: Yeoh became the first Asian woman (and the second woman of color) to win the award.

Featured image credit: sharegrid/ Unsplash

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About the Author
Tony Dunnell
Tony is an English writer of non-fiction and fiction living on the edge of the Amazon jungle.
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