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Lines to Live By: The Magic of Screenwriting

| July 18, 2023 | By

In light of the ongoing screenwriters' strike in Hollywood, this is a good time to look at some of the big-screen treasures writers have given us through the years.

While actors are what usually come to mind when we think about a film (and their SAG-AFTRA union has recently joined the WGA, the Writers' Guild of America, on strike), the words they say are what matter most.

Often, one line stands out to audiences and resonates within them or stays with them for a long time, if not forever.

Being Brave

In one memorable line, this time from the 2012 Disney/Pixar animated film Brave, Princess Merida, a strong-minded young woman who takes control of her life, says,

"Our fate lives within us; you only have to be brave enough to see it."

This is what the screenwriters left us with at the end of the film. Merida then set her life on the trajectory she wanted to go.

The contributing writers (story by Brenda Chapman; screenplay by Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell and Brenda Chapman, Irene Mecchi) knew they had to make strong statements throughout the film.

With the character of Merida, they had the perfect vehicle for explaining about our own fates.


Welcome to Rick's Café Americain

Screenwriters Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch gave us many memorable lines from the 1942 classic Casablanca.

Perhaps the most notable is the final scene, when frenemies Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) and Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) joined forces against the Nazis.

“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”


Of course, there are plenty of other great one-liners from this film, however this one strikes a chord in viewers and puts a smile on their faces.

You Know You've Said It

Many of Shakespeare's lines are quoted every day, even by people who don't know they're from Shakespeare (who'd totally be a screenwriter if he were alive today).

While people usually know they're quoting a movie, some lines just become part of everyday speech.

For a minute, let's play Name That Movie:

A: "I'm the king of the world!"
B: "I feel the need -- the need for speed."
C: "You're going to need a bigger boat."
D: "I'll be back."

A: Titanic (1997); writer, James Cameron.

B: Top Gun (1986); writers, Jim Cash, Jack Epps. Jr.

C: Jaws (1975); writer, Peter Benchley (who also wrote the novel it was based on), Carl Gottlieb.

D: The Terminator (1984); writers, James Cameron, Gale Anne Hurd, William Wisher.

Inspiring Young Minds

John Keating, played by Robin Williams in the 1989 highly acclaimed film Dead Poets Society, was a teacher that not only taught his students, but also inspired and challenged them.

“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”

Tom Schulman wrote a masterful film which included this memorable character. Keating also said, courtesy of writer Schulman:

“Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”

Talk about an inspirational challenge

For this film, Schulman took home the Academy Award for best screenplay written directly for the screen.

Not All Great Lines Are in Famous Movies

This little tidbit comes from the obscure 1983 film Somewhere, Tomorrow, starring a very young Sarah Jessica Parker, written by Robert Wiemer (who also directed):

“The ultimate secret of life is the sure knowledge of death, for without it man would not strive to leave his mark upon the earth.”

It’s an interesting thought to contemplate. Below is the trailer, but you can see the whole film here on YouTube.


Nothing Like a Mame

In the 1958 film Auntie Mame, writers Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Patrick Dennis brought us an eccentric woman who lived life to the fullest and enjoyed every bit of it.

Her signature line:

“Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!”

She seized the day, went out on a limb, and loved the journey.


Now That I Think About It ...

Once in a while, a line that is supposed to be memorable turns into a joke. For instance, Love Story, the 1970 classic film of love and loss by writer Erich Segal (who also penned the novel it was based on), gave us:

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

What? Apparently, writers Buck Henry, David Newman and Robert Benton also thought the line was a bit off.

Two years later, in the film What’s Up Doc?, Barbra Streisand says that line to her co-star, Love Story star Ryan O’Neal, who abruptly fires back with, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”


A Jedi and a Fish ...

Finally, let’s leave with some words of wisdom, first from Yoda in the 1980 film Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back:

 “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

Thank you, writers Leigh Brackett, Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas.


And we must heed the words of little Dory from the 2003 film Finding Nemo, written by Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson and David Reynolds, who stated:

“When life gets you down, you know what you gotta do? Just keep swimming.”


How true. Just keep swimming. Let’s thank the writers for such great advice, inspiration, and challenges.

Image:  Canva

Francine Brokaw is a longtime journalist, covering entertainment, product reviews and travel, and is the host of Beyond the Red Carpet on Village Television and YouTube.

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