Since the earliest days of cinema, Hollywood has produced many compelling and emotionally charged films that captivate audiences. The best dramatic movies have the ability to hold us spellbound as the narrative unfolds, immersing us in the setting and ramping up the tension until we’re on the edge of our seats. A well-timed one-liner in the midst of a particularly gripping scene can act as a release valve, allowing us to vent our pent-up emotions in a burst of laughter.
A filmmaker’s ability to successfully inject humor into an otherwise dramatic film reflects the realities and complexities of the human experience. We’re reminded of the comfort that can be provided by a moment of levity, even in the most intense situations.
These amusing quotes from eight dramatic movies serve as a reminder that humor is a powerful, valuable tool that can lend us a fresh perspective in even the most daunting scenarios.
(Warning: This article contains spoilers.)
You’re gonna need a bigger boat.Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) in “Jaws,” 1975
One of the most notable instances of humor in a dramatic film occurs in Jaws, when Sheriff Martin Brody comes face-to-face with the man-eating shark terrorizing Amity Island.
His ad-libbed remark to grizzled shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw) was a running joke during filming, but Scheider’s delivery transformed it into one of the most iconic lines in cinematic history. In that moment, the audience shares Brody’s shock at the enormity of the shark and is able to let out a chuckle of agreement at his assessment.
Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.Peter Clemenza (Richard Castellano) in “The Godfather,” 1972
Under the skillful direction of Francis Ford Coppola, The Godfather joined the ranks of the most exceptional and quotable films in cinematic history.
In one particularly memorable scene, devoted family man and mobster Peter Clemenza deftly juggles two important responsibilities: executing a hit for the mob and bringing home dessert for his wife. The scene itself is intense and brutal, but this line (improvised by Castellano) reminds the audience of Clemenza’s devotion to both his families.
I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) in “Casablanca,” 1942
Set against the backdrop of World War II, Casablanca skillfully blends drama, intrigue, and romance in an enduring cinematic masterpiece.
This exclamation is made by Captain Renault in a tense confrontation with Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) as Renault justifies the closure of Rick’s Café Américain. Renault’s feigned outrage is made all the more amusing when the croupier hands him his own illicit winnings, to which Renault remarks, “Oh, thank you very much. Everyone out at once!”
Your nose is broken … Ah, it’s an improvement.Mickey Goldmill (Burgess Meredith) in “Rocky,” 1976
The first installment in the Rocky franchise was a critical and commercial success, winning three Academy Awards (including Best Picture) and launching Sylvester Stallone’s career as an actor and screenwriter.
Earlier in the film, Rocky boasts that he’s never broken his nose in a fight, but everything changes when he steps into the ring with the formidable Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). When Mickey, Rocky’s trainer and mentor, points out the injury, Rocky asks him how it looks. Mickey’s response combines his trademark gruffness with a touch of much-needed levity.
Why couldn’t you put the bunny back in the box?Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage) in “Con Air,” 1997
In this action-packed ’90s blockbuster, Nicolas Cage plays Cameron Poe, a former Army Ranger and newly paroled ex-con with a singular goal: to reunite with his wife and daughter. The plot unfolds aboard a prison transport flight when the prisoners commandeer the plane, forcing Poe to feign camaraderie with the inmates to ensure his survival.
In a pivotal scene, menacing “Billy Bedlam” (Nick Chinlund) uncovers Poe’s parole letter and a gift from his daughter. Poe pleads with him to relinquish the stuffed bunny, which results in a brief but intense fight, ending with Billy’s death in the plane’s cargo hold. Several lines throughout the film are played for laughs, but this one in particular highlights Poe’s earnest wish to avoid violence.
I never drink … wine.Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) in “Dracula,” 1931
In this early horror classic, London property agent Renfield (Dwight Frye) visits Transylvania, where he is politely received by his host, Count Dracula. The unsettling atmosphere turns more ominous when Renfield pricks his finger, capturing Dracula’s keen attention.
As the bloodthirsty vampire approaches, fixated on the droplet of blood, he’s thwarted by Renfield’s crucifix necklace as it falls from his pocket. The count then offers his guest a “very old wine,” to which Renfield inquires, “Aren’t you drinking?” Dracula’s response, unique to this film adaptation, is both funny and foreboding while reminding the audience of the vampire’s insatiable thirst for blood.
That is mahogany!Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) in “The Hunger Games,” 2012
In this film adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ bestselling novel, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are en route to the Capitol to participate in the titular Hunger Games, a murderous mandated competition in their dystopian world. Their mentor is the embittered alcoholic Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), who expresses his skepticism regarding the pair’s odds of survival.
The ever-impulsive Katniss subsequently snatches a knife and plunges it between his fingers and into the wooden table, prompting Effie’s indignant response. While funny, Effie’s exclamation reflects the disconnect between the Capitol residents who are entertained by the Games and those for whom it signifies a life-or-death struggle for survival.
Here's Johnny!Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) in “The Shining,” 1980
Some lines are funny because they’re written that way; others are funny because they were improvised in the heat of a dramatic moment, as is the case with this iconic quote. In one of the most intense scenes in the film adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining, Jack Torrance takes an ax to a bathroom door with the intent of killing his terrified wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall).
Nicholson is positively riveting as the alcoholic writer-turned-homicidal maniac, but many viewers can’t help but laugh when he breaches the door and menacingly snarls the familiar introduction for the king of late-night TV, Johnny Carson.
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