The opening sentence in a story is often considered the most important because it sets the tone for everything that's still to come. A great opener will also hook the reader immediately, which is vital to keeping them engaged. But for movies, it may be the exact opposite. The last line is so important to nail because it will send the audience out of the theater on the right emotional note. Having a perfect capper ensures the movie will linger in the viewer's head long after it's over.
Very few films are able to come up with a truly iconic final line; the right parting words help to drive the story's theme home in a meaningful way, encapsulating its entire point. What follows is a list of movies that got it absolutely correct, along with an explanation of what makes their last lines so effective. Some are incredibly famous examples, others perhaps a little less obvious. All of them wrap their respective movies up beautifully. Needless to say, SPOILERS abound.
Here are the 20 Best Last Lines In Movie History.
Toy Story 3 ends on a note that is both beautiful and sob-inducing. The now-college-aged Andy gives all his old toys -- including Buzz Lightyear and beloved cowboy doll Woody -- to a little girl. He no longer needs them, and decides to leave them in the hands of a child who will love them the way he did. After playing for a few moments, Andy hops in his car and drives away. As Woody watches him fade into the distance, he utters the bittersweet words, "So long, partner." Admit it, your eyes are watering just thinking about it.
The entire Toy Story series deals with the connection between playthings and the children who own them. Woody's final words therefore speak to the fact that things that were once vitally important to us get left behind when we grow up. In many respects, the last sentence is elegiac. It touches on the passing of youth and of more innocent times in life. But it also offers hope by pointing out that sharing toys helps keep the magic of play alive.
The 1933 version of King Kong is an all-time classic, thanks, in no small part, to its dramatic ending. After escaping a Broadway theater, the titular ape grabs Fay Wray's Ann and climbs up the Empire State Building. He is attacked by planes circling the building, shooting at him. Kong takes one of the planes out, but ultimately loses his balance after being shot, leading him to fall to his death. On the ground, a police officer looks at the dead ape and says that the planes killed him. Filmmaker Carl Denham (played by Robert Armstrong) corrects the officer, saying "No, it wasn't the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast."
Aside from the obvious reference to Beauty and the Beast, the line is powerful because it, ironically enough, humanizes Kong a little. For much of the film, he has been portrayed as a monster -- a giant, crazed animal to be feared. These final words suggest that Kong had some kind of primitive feelings for Ann. Not love, necessarily, but a protective form of kinship. He may have been a beast, but he was a beast with heart. Those last words help us to see Kong as a character far more complex than many of the people in the story give him credit for.
Anyone who has ever seen Se7en cannot forget its harrowing ending. Killer John Doe (played by Kevin Spacey) reveals that he cut off the head of cop Mills' pregnant wife and stuck it in a box. He wants Mills (Brad Pitt) to kill him, so that he can finish his series of murders based on the seven deadly sins. Mills' partner, Somerset (Morgan Freeman), tries to convince him not to shoot the killer, because that would allow Doe to "win." Overcome with grief and a thirst for vengeance, Mills shoots him anyway. As the movie wraps up, Somerset, in voiceover, says, "Ernest Hemingway once wrote, 'The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.' I agree with the second part."
Se7en is one of the most nihilistic motion pictures ever made, and Somerset's quote reflects that. Over the course of the movie, he sees evidence that the world can be a pretty horrible place. He witnesses suffering and pain, capped by the emotional devastation of his partner. The really interesting thing, though, is that his parting words also offer a glimpse of hope -- the only one in Seven, for that matter. Despite it all, he still thinks the world is worth fighting for. John Doe may have destroyed Mills, but he didn't destroy Somerset.
The 2008 Marvel movie Iron Man tells Tony Stark's origin story, showing how the billionaire playboy industrialist develops his trademark suit of armor and starts fighting crime. His enemy in this case is Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), his late father's old business partner, who also manages Stark Industries. Stane has a personal agenda that involves manipulating the company for his own personal gain. By the movie's end, he has a super-suit of his own, which he uses to battle Stark, but Iron Man wins. The next day, Tony stands at a press conference and makes a stunning confession: "The truth is, I am Iron Man."
The great thing about this final line is that it finds Tony Stark doing something few superheroes ever do, which publicly identifying himself. So many heroes invent personas specifically to prevent anyone from discovering their true identity. It's why Batman, Spider-Man, and so many others wear masks. Tony Stark, never one to do things in a conventional manner, defies tradition by letting the world know who the iron-clad hero they've been following really is. The moment is a bold one, surprising audiences while also opening the door for further exploration of Tony's double life in the sequels.
Steven Spielberg's Jaws was so terrifying that, when it was released in 1975, it literally scared people away from getting into the water when they went to the beach. (It was also the highest-grossing movie of all time until Star Wars came along.) Roy Scheider's Brody spends the movie trying to get the citizens of Amity Island -- especially the town's mayor -- to take his shark warnings seriously. At the end, an attempt to kill the shark takes place. It eats Quint (Robert Shaw), escapes an effort by Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) to spear it with poison, then attacks Brody, who is on a sinking boat. When the creature is finally killed, Brody quips, "I used to hate the water." Hooper replies, "I can't imagine why."
This is a moment of much-needed levity after the nail-biting intensity of the final battle, which everything else in Jaws skillfully builds toward. Brody is, of course, being ironic. If he ever had a reason to hate the water, it would be after the harrowing experience he's just had. Hooper plays along with the joke, and the audience gets a laugh that breaks the tension before the credits roll.
Inglourious Basterds remains one of Quentin Tarantino's best-loved films, and that is undoubtedly due to its satisfying third act. The grand finale involves Adolf Hitler being murdered and a movie theater full of Nazis getting blown to smithereens. Not historically accurate by any means, but a darn fine example of cinematic wish fulfillment. Even more cheer-inducing is what happens next. First Lt. Raine (Brad Pitt) carves a swastika into the forehead of the movie's chief villain, SS Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), and declares, "I think this just might be my masterpiece."
This final line works on two levels. On the surface level, it refers to Raine's fondness for marking up Nazis so that they will never be able to hide -- something we see him do earlier in the film. In carving up Landa, he has captured a big prize, so to speak. Landa can never escape his past now. On a more subliminal level, the line has been interpreted by some to be Tarantino's statement to the audience that this revisionist revenge tale is the story he's most proud of. That may or may not be true, but the tantalizing possibility helps make Raine's last words memorable.
John Huston's 1941 noir masterpiece The Maltese Falcon is the story of private detective Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart), who is investigating a case involving a quest by multiple individuals to procure a falcon statue that is encrusted with jewels. Following a very complicated plot filled with unexpected twists and turns, Spade turns Brigid O'Shaughnessy (Mary Astor), the woman who hired him in the first place, over to the police for murder, despite the fact that he has developed feelings for her. The final scene finds him with the statue in his hands. He's asked what it is, to which he replies, "The stuff that dreams are made of."
The Maltese Falcon has a plot that confuses a lot of viewers, at least on first viewing. The bottom line, though, is that it's about the way that the desire for anything valuable (monetary or otherwise) can lead people down dark roads in their efforts to obtain it. Spade is referring to that when he speaks of the statue. People have died and been arrested in their attempts to get their hands on this thing they've decided is so important. There's a certain folly to it, which Spade acknowledges. As the screen fades to black, we know he's sadly right.
The Matrix, released in 1999, dazzled audiences with its then-groundbreaking visuals -- particularly the "bullet time" effect -- and trippy philosophical elements. (We're not even going to try to sum up the complex plot; we'll just assume you've all seen it.) The story ends with our hero, Neo (Keanu Reeves), destroying the evil Agent Smith and learning how to control the Matrix. It's an action-filled finale that leads to Neo's poignant last words. In a phone call to the machines who have enslaved humans, he promises to essentially dismantle it all, creating a new world order, free of rules and controls. "Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you," he tells them before hanging up and flying off into the sky.
Everything about The Matrix is designed to make your head spin. It pulls together elements from a lot of disparate influences, from various religions to cyberpunk, to ask what reality is and how we really know whether or not we exist within it. Neo's last words play directly into this idea, even going so far as to suggest that reality is what we make it. Of course, a lot of different interpretations can be made about anything in The Matrix, but whatever your take, Neo's parting thoughts ensure that you walk away with plenty to think about.
Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas is one of the definitive mob movies. It is based on the true story of Henry Hill (portrayed by Ray Liotta), a guy who grew up idolizing gangsters as a kid. As a man, he makes his way into the Mafia, where he's guided by three mentors: Paulie Cicero (Paul Sorvino), Jimmy "the Gent" Conway (Robert DeNiro), and the volatile Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci). For a time, Hill enjoys the flash, the cash, and the fear-driven respect that comes from being a mobster. But eventually, he's caught in a pinch by the Feds. After ratting out Paulie and Jimmy, he enters the Witness Protection Program. His days in the mob are officially over. Henry's summation of it all: "I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook."
There is deep, delicious irony in this line. Henry wanted to become a mobster specifically so he wouldn't have to live life as an Average Joe. He wanted money and power and influence. And he had those things. Crime, however, does not pay (or at least not for very long), and his house of cards comes crumbling down. Goodfellas ends with him stuck in the kind of lifestyle he always hoped to avoid. He's a nobody. We might feel sorry for him if it weren't for all the atrocious things we've just watched him do. Henry ends up sleeping in the bed he made -- and he knows it.
The Dark Knight, directed by Christopher Nolan, is the juiciest Batman story ever committed to film. It's dark and psychological, but also exciting as all get-out. The final moments find the Caped Crusader (Christian Bale) in a tough spot. Harvey Dent, thought by many to be a hero, is dead. Batman knows that if the citizens of crime-ridden Gotham learn of Dent's killing spree under his guise of Two-Face, all hope will go out the window. Everything will crumble. He convinces Lt. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) to let him take responsibility for the murders, to avoid the dispiriting consequences. Gordon reluctantly agrees. In voiceover, as Batman flees, we hear the cop state, "He's not our hero. He's a silent guardian. A watchful protector. A Dark Knight."
Those words are meaningful because the entire theme of The Dark Knight is meaningful. Most superhero stories end triumphantly, with the good guy taking down the villain and receiving public adoration as a result. Not Nolan's tale. It finds Batman absorbing all of Gotham's rage and hostility in order to preserve an important ideal. The ending would be a downer, were it not for Gordon's admiring words. The Dark Knight says unequivocally that being a hero means doing what's best for society, even when that means personal sacrifice.
In Sunset Boulevard, Gloria Swanson plays Norma Desmond, a one-time silent film star who dreams of being a big deal again. She lures screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) into her scheme. He becomes a script doctor on what she intends to be her comeback project, a film she wants legendary filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille to direct. Following a lengthy series of complications, Joe essentially tells Norma that her dream will never come to fruition. She responds by shooting him. Upon being arrested, Norma -- who is convinced that the newsreel cameras filming her capture are part of her movie production -- exclaims, "Alright, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up."
This is certainly one of the most famous lines of dialogue, final or not, in cinematic history. They show the delusions of Norma Desmond, who remains a legend in her own mind. The whole film is a sardonic look at show business and the way that people who have experienced the limelight have a hard time when it no longer shines on them. Her parting words are Sunset Boulevard's stinging, darkly funny punchline.
Poor "Jack." The Fight Club character, memorably played by Edward Norton, has a crummy life. His job sucks. He pathetically tries to find meaning by attending cancer support groups, despite the fact that he isn't physically ill. Tyler Durden, the guy who got him to participate in underground fist-fighting competitions, has now duped him into participating in acts of social terrorism. And to top it all off, he's just discovered that Tyler isn't even real -- he's just a psychotic figment of his own mind. At this point, it's too late to stop what he (as Tyler) has started, especially now that he just shot himself in the head. While watching a city crumble before them, the unnamed Narrator tells Marla (Helena Bonham Carter), "You met me at a very strange time in my life."
During its initial release in 1999, Fight Club was widely misunderstood. It was, in so many ways, a film ahead of its time. These days, the movie is seen as something of a modern classic, as well as a treatize on the cost of living in a world that is becoming increasingly materialistic and soulless. What Jack tells Marla underscores the primary idea behind the story, which is that he has lost himself and can't quite find his way back. The ending is seriously audacious, offering a somewhat bleak outlook for the character going forward. His comment is a sick joke, which is perfectly in keeping with Fight Club's entire aesthetic. This is, after all, the picture that features a subliminal shot of male genitalia as the screen fades to black.
The Usual Suspects isn't just a movie; it's a magic trick. Everything revolves around the identity of a mystery criminal named Keyser Soze. The framing device entails the only guy who can pinpoint Soze (Kevin Spacey's Verbal Kint) telling customs agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) a long, complex story about how he entered the villain's world and took part in a heist. In the movie's final minutes, the limping Verbal exits the police station and we see his disability immediately disappear. Inside, the agent comes to the shocking realization that he just let the real Keyser Soze get away. The Usual Suspects ends with a callback in which Verbal provides a very telling quote: "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist. And like that... he is gone."
Like Kujan, the audience waits eagerly for each new clue, breathlessly anticipating the unmasking of Keyser Soze. We're led to believe he is virtually every one of the other characters at some point in the film. But no, Soze is hiding in plain sight. Even better is that he's flaunting this fact right in front of us. Verbal more or less told us that he was the criminal earlier in the movie, yet we completely missed it. The devil performs his greatest trick right before our disbelieving eyes. That last line is writer Christopher McQuarrie's way of proving Verbal's statement to be undeniably true.
In the all-time classic Casablanca, American expatriate/nightclub owner Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) is reunited with an old lover, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman). "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world", she walks into his. Rick wants to help Ilsa and her husband escape to America. Old feelings are rekindled, though, and there's a part of Rick that just wants to keep Ilsa around for himself. She's considering the idea, too. In the end, though, he puts her on a plane to safety. The movie ends with police boss Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) suggesting that he and Rick join the Free French army. His response: "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
That line has several layers, but most prominently, it acknowledges that their relationship has changed. Renault, for starters, has come around and decided to take up the Allied cause. He and Rick suddenly have things of substance in common. Previously, their dealings were driven by individual self-interest. Now they are on the same side of a political cause. The line also offers up a little hope for Rick, who just sent the love of his life away. He may be sad, but he's got a new direction, plus someone to go down that road with. We feel okay leaving Rick after Ilsa is gone. He's going to be okay.
Roman Polanski's Chinatown provides Jack Nicholson with one of his most iconic roles, that of private investigator Jake Gittis. He uncovers a corruption scandal within the Los Angeles Department of Power and Water. There is an attempt to dry up land to drive orange-growers out of business. Their land will then be re-watered, leading to growth and prosperity for the new owners. (Mad Max: Fury Road borrowed a bit of this water control idea decades later.) At every turn, there are bribes, lies, cover-ups, and conspiracies. The mystery ends with a revelation of incest, the death of a major character, and a lot of bad people still left to do their thing. Gittes is not happy. One of his associates leads him away from the scene of a standoff, offering the advice, "Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown."
There are few lines in all of cinema as cynical as that one. The point, driven home so forcefully in those five words, is that corruption is so deeply ingrained in the situation Jake is investigating that he's wasting his time trying to expose or change it. Chinatown was released in 1974, when Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal were on the US's collective mind. The movie's suggestion that power and corruption are inextricably connected certainly gave it resonance for audiences of that era. Today, it still serves as a reminder that the people who have the power make the rules and won't allow them to be changed without a fight.
If your heart isn't warmed by Steven Spielberg's E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, you might actually be dead. The movie tracks the relationship between an adorable alien visitor who has accidentally been stranded on Earth and the young boy he befriends. Together, they attempt to assemble a "phone" that E.T. can use to call home. They succeed, and at the end, they're forced to say an emotional goodbye before the little Reese's Pieces-eater hops on his starship. Elliott is visibly upset about having to part, so his intergalactic buddy lights up his finger, points it at the boy, and informs him, "I'll be right here."
It's virtually impossible not to tear up in this touching, heartfelt moment. By this point in the movie, we've fallen completely in love with E.T., so his departure affects us as much as it does Elliott. The creature's final line reminds us that those we love are never really gone from us, so long as we hold them in our hearts. Those four words truly exemplify the magic of E.T.
Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot revolves around two musicians, Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon), who witness a gangster murder. In order to avoid being found, they dress up as women, inventing new personas for themselves: Josephine and Daphne. A recurring bit in the movie finds millionaire Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown) falling for Daphne. This pays off in the final scene, where they're driving a yacht away from a pier. Osgood announces his intention to marry Daphne, at which point Jerry rips off the wig and exposes himself as a man. Without missing a beat, Osgood retorts, "Well, nobody's perfect."
Some Like It Hot came out in 1959, a time when subjects such as sexual/gender identity and cross-dressing were still very much taboo onscreen. The movie used broad humor to touch on these subjects, making for an incredibly daring comedy. Osgood's line can certainly be interpreted as a statement of pansexuality. (That term wouldn't have been widely used back then, but the implications of the remark are obvious.) Wilder wasn't afraid to push the envelope with a bold, provocative idea that sent audiences away laughing and gasping simultaneously. The gag has lost none of its punch in the intervening years.
Back to the Future is a perfect time travel movie. It's got an original twist, it's funny, and it adheres to logic, which is more than can be said for many other time travel pictures. The key is in keeping it simple. This is about a teenager who goes back in time, meets his parents when they were teens, and learns just how much he has in common with them. Of course, there are many complications along the way, but at least Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) is there to fix them. After a near-catastrophic experience that nearly erases his own existence, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) returns to present day, thinking that his jaunts through time are over. Then Doc arrives in the DeLorean, informing him that there's a personal crisis in his future. Marty asks if there are roads in the future, to which Doc replies, "Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads!" The DeLorean then launches into the air and zooms right toward the camera.
For a movie as fantastical as Back to the Future, there could be no more perfect final words. And it's not because they set up a sequel. No, those words are phenomenal because they contain the promise of adventure and mystery, of a future filled with all kinds of amazing possibilities. That is totally in line with the whole spirit of BTTF. It makes us want to hop into that car, hit 1.21 "jiggawats", and go along with them.
Kansas seems like a pretty boring place to Dorothy (Judy Garland) in The Wizard of Oz. It's dusty and desolate, and there's not much to do. No wonder she dreams of going "somewhere over the rainbow." She gets her wish when a tornado hits and whisks her off to the magical land of Oz, where she makes some hip new friends and has to contend with a wicked witch and her flying monkeys. Eventually, all is revealed to be a dream, one from which she gladly awakens. Dorothy, relieved to be away from all that drama, looks at her aunt and exclaims, "Auntie Em, there's no place like home!"
The movie's theme could not be laid out any more succinctly. The Wizard of Oz is about a number of things, including friendship, but nothing more than the idea of home. Sure, Kansas feels dull to Dorothy, but it's where the people who love her are. Only after getting away from it for a while does she realize just how happy she is there. That's true for the viewer, too. No matter where we might go, our home is always wherever we are surrounded by the people who mean the most to us. Dorothy's line is a simple, yet elegant proclamation of truth that infuses the film with soul.
Some people think Caddyshack is just a goofy golf comedy. Astute viewers know that it's really a biting satire of elitism and bigotry. The story takes place at Bushwood Country Club, an establishment filled with rich uptight W.A.S.P.s, most notably Judge Elihu Smails (the sublime Ted Knight). Into this upper-crust club comes condo developer Al Czervik (Rodney Dangerfield). We're told he's offensive to Smails and the others because he's brash and tacky, but the unspoken implication is because he's Jewish. Al takes Smails on in a high-stakes golfing grudge match, with an assist from caddy Danny Noonan (Michael O'Keefe), whose cardinal sin is coming from a working-class family. They win, much to the judge's dismay. His opponent duly humiliated, Al turns to the throng of spectators and gleefully announces, "Hey, everybody! We're all gonna get laid!"
Again, on the surface this seems like a joke. And it is -- a pretty good one, in fact. But it's also something more. Given that Caddyshack is filled with undertones about prejudice of all stripes, Al's victory statement sends a message that a new day has dawned at Bushwood. The elitist snobs are no longer in charge. Everyone is now free to have a good time at the club, no matter who they are, where they come from, or how much money they have. "Hey everybody! We're all gonna get laid!" is Caddyshack's anti-intolerance statement, its condemnation of judgment. That it works on multiple levels simultaneously is a sign of its comedic brilliance.
Do you have any other favorite last words from movies? Did we leave out any that are especially meaningful to you? Let us know what they are in the comments.