Since the dawn of sound film in the 1920s, people have been misquoting movies. It’s a common phenomenon, and one that has only become more prevalent with the rise of the internet. In theory, being able to easily check movie quotes online should have made things better, but errors embed themselves in the cultural psyche faster than ever.
Even iconic lines from classic movies give rise to common misquotes. Darth Vader, one of cinema’s most famous villains, does not say “Luke, I am your father,” as many people believe. He says, “No, I am your father.” Why do people get this wrong? Possibly because the inclusion of “Luke” makes it a better standalone quote, so people ran with it. In other cases, lengthier quotes are shortened. In the movie Wall Street, for example, Gordon Gekko’s, “The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good,” is often misquoted as simply, “Greed is good.”
The following misquoted movie lines come from some of the most famous films of all time, from Casablanca to The Matrix.
Incorrect: Me, Tarzan. You, Jane.
Correct: Jane. Tarzan. Jane. Tarzan. Jane. Tarzan….
— Tarzan the Ape Man
Tarzan has been around for more than a century, but the famous line, “Me, Tarzan. You, Jane,” has never appeared in any of the Tarzan novels or films. In Tarzan the Ape Man, the 1932 movie starring Johnny Weissmuller, Jane tries to introduce herself to Tarzan with lots of pointing, prodding, and mentioning of names. But Tarzan never says the classic misquoted line.
Incorrect: Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?
Correct: Magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?
— Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Most people know this line from Disney’s 1937 animated version of Snow White — and most people get it wrong. Why “mirror, mirror” became so common is unclear, but its prevalence is so great that even the 2012 version of Snow White starring Julia Roberts was called Mirror Mirror.
Incorrect: Play it again, Sam.
Correct: Play it, Sam. Play “As Time Goes By.”
This is possibly the most misquoted line in movie history. In the famous scene associated with the quote, Ingrid Bergman’s character, Ilsa Lund, says, “Play it once, Sam,” “Play it, Sam” and “Sing it, Sam,” but she never says “Play it again, Sam.” Humphrey Bogart’s character, Rick Blaine, also never says these exact words. The closest he gets, later in the film, is a simple, “Play it.”
Incorrect: If you build it, they will come.
Correct: If you build it, he will come.
— Field of Dreams
[Spoiler Warning!] The voice in the cornfield tells Kevin Costner, “If you build it, he will come,” referring to the ghost of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson. We hear the voice three times, and quite clearly. Still, many people think it’s “they” that will come. The misquote probably came about because, later in the movie, James Earl Jones’ character tells Costner how “people will come” — and they do come, as we see hundreds of cars approaching the farm at the end of the movie.
Incorrect: Life is like a box of chocolates.
Correct: My momma always said, “Life was like a box of chocolates.”
— Forrest Gump
The most famous line from Forrest Gump, said in Forrest’s distinctive intonation, is often misquoted. Forrest is paraphrasing his mother, who says “Life is a box of chocolates, Forrest. You never know what you're gonna get.” Forrest never actually says that life is like a box of chocolates.
Incorrect: We’re gonna need a bigger boat.
Correct: You're gonna need a bigger boat.
People often misquote the most iconic line from Jaws, if only by a word. There are two likely reasons for this. One, there are three men on the boat when Chief Brody says the line (which he says twice), so “we” makes sense. Also, Brody has a cigarette firmly planted between his lips, making his line slightly mumbled. The improvised line was never in the script, but came about due to an on-set joke among the crew, who never had a boat large enough for all of their equipment.
Incorrect: Beam me up, Scotty!
Correct: Numerous variations, but never the above.
— Star Trek
Ask someone to quote a line from Star Trek, especially a non-Trekkie, and they might well say, “Beam me up, Scotty!” Strangely, it’s become arguably the most famous line from Star Trek, despite never having been said by anyone in the original series or movies. Captain Kirk comes close on various occasions, saying “Scotty, beam us up, fast!” and “Beam us up” and “Scotty, beam me up.” But he never says “Beam me up, Scotty.”
Incorrect: Mrs. Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?
Correct: Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me. Aren't you?
— The Graduate
This common misquote from The Graduate does away with an important beat in the dialogue. Dustin Hoffman’s college graduate is not asking a rhetorical question, as the misquoted line could imply. Instead, there is a lengthy pause before he says “Aren’t you?” to Anne Bancroft’s Mrs. Robinson, making it clear that he is genuinely unsure about the situation.
Incorrect: What if I told you…
Correct: The line never existed
— The Matrix
Many people believe that Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne) began his explanation of the Matrix to Neo (Keanu Reeves) with the line, “What if I told you…” This line, however, does not appear in The Matrix or any of its sequels. The culprit: memes. This misquote is a case of meme mutation, in which an internet meme — typically showing the face of Morpheus with the said quote attached — spread like wildfire. So much so, in fact, that many people now believe that “What if I told you…” is actually a line from the movie.
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