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Meet the Screenwriters Behind the Most Famous Movie Lines

All great movies begin on the page. Screenwriters labor for years over their words, striving to draft stories that will resonate through time. After directors, actors, producers, cinematographers, and designers have all worked their magic, it can be easy to forget how the project started. Only a handful of writers ever gain celebrity status for their work (think Quentin Tarantino, Stanley Kubrick, Francis Ford Coppola), while many others go unnoticed by the public, despite writing some of the most enduring lines in film history. In honor of these unsung heroes of the entertainment industry, we’ve compiled a list of famous movie lines by writers you may never have heard of.

I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.
Paddy Chayefsky

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Even if you’ve never seen the 1976 film Network, chances are you’ve heard the line. It was originally delivered by actor Peter Finch playing TV newsman Howard Beale. In the scene, the character, who is about to lose his job and coming a little unhinged at the prospect, engages in an on-air rant for the ages, insisting that people go to their windows and yell it with him: “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.” The spectacular speech was penned by writer Sidney Aaron “Paddy” Chayefsky. In his 30-year career, Chayefsky is credited with dozens of movies, plays, and TV series. He won three Academy Awards and was nominated for a fourth before his death in 1981.

E.T. phone home.
Melissa Mathison

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Melissa Mathison’s screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s 1982 film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial earned her an Academy Award in 1983. Anyone who grew up in the ‘80s will have trouble hearing the words “E.T. phone home” without raising a finger to point at the sky. It’s the iconic  moment when Eliot (Henry Thomas) finally realizes what his new alien friend is trying to tell him. What most of us don’t know is that Mathison was also the writer behind a number of other memorable movies, including The Black Stallion, The Indian in the Cupboard, Kundun, and The BFG, which was released in 2016, shortly after Mathison’s death in 2015.

Wax on, wax off.
Robert Mark Kamen

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In addition to his 1984 film The Karate Kid, Robert Mark Kamen wrote The Fifth Element, A Walk in the Clouds, Gladiator, and many more. His list of credits is impressive, but it’s this line — “wax on, wax off” — that echoes through the ages. Thanks in large part to actor Pat Morita’s delivery, the words evoke the image of a wise master bestowing wisdom that the student has yet to understand. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Kamen was quoted as being surprised that the famous words were even remembered. "The crane at the end...” he said. “I wanted that to be the big moment. If I thought anyone remembered anything they'd remember that."

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.
Christopher McQuarrie

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Iterations of this quote have appeared in literature for nearly 200 years, but it was screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie who gave it to the pitiful character of Verbal Kint in the 1995 movie The Usual Suspects. McQuarrie won the Oscar that year for Best Original Screenplay and went on to write The Way of the Gun, Jack Reacher, The Mummy, four Mission Impossible screenplays and the 2022 reboot Top Gun: Maverick. In fact, if you’ve heard McQuarrie’s name anywhere lately, it’s probably been in association with Tom Cruise, as the two have worked on several recent projects together.

That’ll do, pig.
George Miller

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Born in Australia, screenwriter George Miller is best known for his film Mad Max: Fury Road, which is widely hailed as one of the greatest action films ever made. But his portfolio has a soft side too, as evidenced by the touching family film Babe. In the movie, James Cromwell plays Farmer Hoggett, a reserved man not prone to lavish words. When his pig wins the sheep herding competition, the farmer looks down and simply says, “That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.” Miller’s production company acquired the rights to the story in the 1980s, but it took a decade for the available technology to catch up with Miller’s aspirations for the film. When it was released in 1995, it won the Oscar for Best Visual Effect for its depictions of talking animals.

Wakanda forever.
Ryan Coogler

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This traditional greeting from the fictional land of Wakanda is always given with the right arm crossed over the left. The phrase, which has come to signify dignity and excellence, was co-written by Ryan Coogler, who was 32 years old when Black Panther was released in 2018. His previous screenplays include Fruitvale Station (nominated for 57 different awards) and Creed (which earned Sylvester Stallone an Academy Award nomination in 2016). However, it remains to be seen if screenwriting will be Coogler’s legacy. He is slated to direct the Black Panther sequel in 2022, and the recent film Judas and the Black Messiah, which Coogler produced, has been nominated for six Academy Awards.

Featured image credit: David McNew/ Staff/ Getty Images

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About the Author
April Dávila
April Dávila is a lover of words. Her debut novel "142 Ostriches" was released in 2020.
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