Let's do a thought experiment. Think of a popular movie from the last ten years. Got one? Ok, give me a memorable quote from it.
Most people I've tried this on can't do it. Though there some exceptions: Why so serious? But these are few and far between and often there is only one per film.
Think about Avatar. A big, no-brain, "explodey" film, making shit-tonnes of money and in cinemas for months and months; yet I can't think of a single quote from it. Compare that to Aliens or The Abyss or even Titanic. Even the Lord of the Rings trilogy didn't have a decent quote. The only line I remember from Iron Man is "Hey no gang signs", I don't remember any from Iron Man 2.
This morning I had an interesting discussion on Twitter. A friend of mine thinks Ghostbusters is the most quotable movie of all time. I think it's Star Wars. The Big Lebowski and Wayne's World are up there too.
So to test, we decided, was to figure out which script we could write, un-aided, and have it be as close to the original as possible. Personally I think I could write Star Wars with scene notes.
Two robots ("droids") run about on a spaceship that is under attack. One is humanoid, gold and a tad effeminate. The other is like a garbage can on wheels whose head is suspiciously at crotch height. It also has...attachments.
He said he could write Ghostbusters with annotated set design. Both of us can play Lebowski karaoke.
So what happened?
I blame ... actually I don't blame anybody, movies don't need to be quotable, it's just something me and my friends like to do when we get drunk. But I think the reason for the decline of great movie quotes comes from screenwriters. Well, I mean, obviously it comes from screenwriters, but what I mean is the way people communicate in movies has changed.
Even the tangled overlapping dialogue of David Mamet had clear quotes in it. Compare that to the rambling and conversational dialogue in modern films. Comedies seem to have awkward back-and-forths rather than punchlines.
Of course it may just be that we think these films are quotable because we grew up with them. We sat and watched them over and over during school holidays or rainy afternoons. It may have been the comedians and writers of that era: sketch comedians who valued the punchline and the oneliner.
Most of the quotable stuff I hear now is on TV:
Hey, it's that guy you are!
Shorter forms where more info has to be packed in and there's no time to sit around laying out plot and useless backstory. You hear me LOST?