Most people would say that the greatest gangster movie ever made is The Godfather, but a strong argument could be made instead for Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas. It is certainly the more entertaining of the two, with its impeccable soundtrack, fast cuts, sense of humor, voiceover narration, and all-over-the-place narrative structure. Also, it’s based on a true story. The life of Henry Hill actually happened. The Corleone family is entirely fictional. Goodfellas’ adaptation of true events adds a whole new layer to both the comedy and tragedy of the story. With that in mind, here are the 10 Most Memorable Quotes From Goodfellas.
10 They even shot Tommy in the face...
They even shot Tommy in the face, so his mother couldn’t give him an open coffin at the funeral.
Perhaps the most awful moment in the whole of Goodfellas is when Tommy heads to what he thinks is the ceremony in which he’ll be made and gets killed. As Henry explains the whole thing, we get a haunting look and how strictly the mafia stick to their rules: “It was revenge for Billy Batts, and a lot of other things. And there was nothing that we could do about it. Batts was a made man, and Tommy wasn’t. And we had to sit still and take it. It was among the Italians. It was real greaseball s**t. They even shot Tommy in the face, so his mother couldn’t give him an open coffin at the funeral.”
9 I got to admit the truth...
I got to admit the truth. It turned me on.
One of the smartest moves Martin Scorsese made with the writing and directing of Goodfellas was following Karen’s storyline as well as Henry’s. Not only does the movie explore the mentality of someone who ends up being a career criminal; it explores the mentality of someone who gets romantically involved with one. And Lorraine Bracco plays the character with so much gravitas and humanity. Our first glimpse into her psyche is a fascinating one: “I know there are women, like my best friends, who would have gotten out of there the minute their boyfriend gave them a gun to hide. But I didn’t. I got to admit the truth. It turned me on.”
8 I’m an average nobody...
I’m an average nobody. I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.
At the end of Goodfellas, it might seem as though Henry gets off easy by selling out all his friends to the FBI and going into the Witness Protection Program. But as his final voiceover monologue points out, he’s left completely unfulfilled. He had everything he ever wanted and then lost it. Now, he has to live a mundane life in the suburbs like everybody else. Henry might have avoided jail by ratting out all of his friends – something he was told since his childhood never to do – but he feels just as trapped in his new life as if he had gone to jail.
7 I’m gonna go get the papers...
I’m gonna go get the papers, get the papers.
A commonality among the best crime stories is that they explore how criminals get their nicknames, and it’s usually something pretty trivial. For example, in the very first scene of the very first episode of The Wire, Jimmy McNulty launches into a monologue about how a kid was given a beautiful name by his mother and then one day, just because he forgot to grab a sweater on his way out and he ended up with a runny nose, he ended up with the lifelong nickname Snot. This was pioneered in Goodfellas, in which Henry Hill says, “There was Jimmy Two Times, who got that nickname because he said everything twice.”
6 Hey, Tommy, if I was gonna break your balls...
Hey, Tommy, if I was gonna break your balls, I’d tell you to go home and get your shine box.
Joe Pesci’s character Tommy DeVito has a contentious relationship with pretty much everybody, but none more than Billy Batts. Billy knows that Tommy is a hothead and he likes to push his buttons. Tommy asks him politely, “Just don’t go bustin’ my balls, Billy, okay?”
And then Billy says, “Hey, Tommy, if I was gonna break your balls, I’d tell you to go home and get your shine box. Now, this kid, this kid was great. They used to call him Spitshine Tommy. I swear to God! Now, he’d make your shoes look like f**kin’ mirrors. ‘Scuse my language.” It’s a tense scene, since we’re just waiting for Tommy to erupt – and he does.
5 If we wanted something, we just took it
Part of what makes Goodfellas the quintessential mob movie is its exploration of the mob lifestyle and what leads people into organized crime in the first place. As Henry Hill explains in voiceover: “For us to live any other way was nuts. Uh, to us, those goody-good people who worked sh**ty jobs for bum paychecks and took the subway to work every day and worried about their bills were dead. I mean, they were suckers. They had no balls. If we wanted something, we just took it. If anyone complained twice, they got hit so bad, believe me, they never complained again.”
4 Oh, I like this one...
Oh, I like this one. One dog goes one way, the other dog goes the other way.
One of Martin Scorsese’s directorial trademarks is putting his mother, Catherine Scorsese, in his movies. But she usually has a cameo role. Her biggest role is in Goodfellas, when she plays Tommy Devito’s mother. Tommy, Jimmy, and Henry go to visit her and have a bite to eat. It’s a long scene, at least in relation to this fast-paced movie, and the tension comes from the fact that there’s a guy bleeding out in the trunk of their car. The whole time, he’s in the back of our minds, while Tommy nonchalantly analyzes his mother’s new painting: “Oh, I like this one. One dog goes one way, the other dog goes the other way, and this guy’s sayin’, ‘Whadda ya want from me?’”
3 Never rat on your friends...
Never rat on your friends and always keep your mouth shut.
Martin Scorsese wasn’t able to secure the funding for Goodfellas until Robert De Niro agreed to play the mobster Jimmy Conway in the film. He’s not the star of the movie, but he is an important figure in Henry Hill’s life. As a kid, Henry is arrested and doesn’t tell the cops anything, which makes the other mobsters proud.
Jimmy says, “I’m not mad, I’m proud of you. You took your first pinch like a man and you learn two great things in your life. Look at me. Never rat on your friends and always keep your mouth shut.” On repeat viewings, this scene acts as harrowing foreshadowing for the big finale.
2 What do you mean I’m funny?
Joe Pesci could’ve won his Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor on the basis of this scene alone. It’s one of the first scenes in the movie and establishes his dangerously unstable jokester character early one. Henry says, “You’re really funny!” and his smile drops. “What do you mean I’m funny?... You mean the way I talk?” Henry says, “It’s just, you know, you’re just funny. It’s funny, the way you tell the story and everything.” Pesci’s character Tommy DeVito says, “Funny how? I mean, what’s funny about it?” Eventually, it devolves and he’s shouting: “I mean, funny like I’m a clown? I amuse you? I make you laugh, I’m here to f**kin’ amuse you?” And then it turns out he was messing with him the whole time.
1 As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster
This line from near the beginning of the movie is not just the best quote in Goodfellas; it might just be the single greatest quote in film history. Not only is it memorable and an exciting way to start the movie; its placement in the story speaks volumes. We’ve just seen these three guys sitting in silence, driving through the countryside, and then they open the trunk of the car to reveal a bloodied man. They stab him, shoot him, and bury him. Then Scorsese closes on Ray Liotta and, in voiceover as Tony Bennett’s “Rags to Riches” comes on the soundtrack, he says, “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” You really wanted this life? It opens the discussion of the mobster lifestyle that the whole film explores.