Cornell researchers striving to understand memorable movie quotes

Apr 04, 2012 by Bob Yirka weblog
Location of memorable quotes in each decile of movie scripts. Image from arXiv:1203.6360v1

(PhysOrg.com) -- Why do some movie quotes stand out and stick not just in our minds, but in the minds of many? “I’ll be back,” spoken by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the original Terminator movie, for example, or “Make my day,” whispered by Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry. Such phrases become part of our collective culture, used by many long after the movie itself has become old news. But why, that’s what Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil and colleagues at Cornell want to know, so much so that they’ve undertaken a serious study of the matter, and have, oddly enough, come up with some interesting ideas, as they describe in their paper pre-published on arXiv, to help explain in a general sense, what happens when say, Renée Zellweger offers the line “You had me at hello,” in the otherwise forgettable movie Jerry Maguire.

To get to the bottom of this important social phenomenon, the research team looked at a thousand movies and extracted short “memorable” lines from each. They then compared those against other lines in the same movie spoken by the same character to see if they could spot any differences. To help in this endeavor, they asked volunteers who had not seen the movie to choose between two lines to see if they could figure out which was more memorable. They found that people guessed right (as defined by the IMDB online database) about seventy five percent of the time. And just for kicks, they have also posted the test online for anybody else that wishes to give it a try.

The team next compared the quotes with a large sample of common quotes from 1967, hoping that the popular phrase would not appear in them to help in analyzing their grammatical structure. As a result, they found that memorable quotes tend to be unique in that they don’t turn up in such texts, but they do generally lean towards pronouns, indefinite articles and verbs used in the past tense. Such constructs, they say, tend to make for generalized statements, which make them easily transferable to varied circumstances. “You had me at hello,” for example, could be used by both men and women in all manner of different social settings to get a point across quickly and easily, making it an ideal quote.

Once they had some idea of what they were looking for, the team looked at advertising to see if professional quote makers were using the same techniques. Unsurprisingly, they found that advertising catch phrases held many of the same properties as memorable lines in .

After all their research, it seems the team might be on to something, though their results are murky at best, which makes sense, because as we all intuitively know, memorable movie lines are thus, because they cut through the blather of general dialogue to make a deeper point. Understanding how it’s done, would require understanding art itself, which thus far, luckily, remains a mystery.

Explore further: Coping with floods—of water and data

More information: You had me at hello: How phrasing affects memorability, arXiv:1203.6360v1 [cs.CL] arxiv.org/abs/1203.6360

Abstract
Understanding the ways in which information achieves widespread public awareness is a research question of significant interest. We consider whether, and how, the way in which the information is phrased --- the choice of words and sentence structure --- can affect this process. To this end, we develop an analysis framework and build a corpus of movie quotes, annotated with memorability information, in which we are able to control for both the speaker and the setting of the quotes. We find significant differences between memorable and non-memorable quotes in several key dimensions. One is lexical distinctiveness: in aggregate, memorable quotes use less common word choices, but at the same time are built upon a scaffolding of common syntactic patterns; another is that memorable quotes tend to be more general in ways that make them easy to apply in new contexts. We also show how the concept of "memorable language" can be extended across domains.

via Arxiv Blog

Related Stories

New tool enhances view of muscles

Jan 23, 2012

Simon Fraser University associate professor James Wakeling is adding to the arsenal of increasingly sophisticated medical imaging tools with a new signal-processing method for viewing muscle activation details that have never ...

Recommended for you

Coping with floods—of water and data

Dec 19, 2014

Halloween 2013 brought real terror to an Austin, Texas, neighborhood, when a flash flood killed four residents and damaged roughly 1,200 homes. Following torrential rains, Onion Creek swept over its banks and inundated the ...

Cloud computing helps make sense of cloud forests

Dec 17, 2014

The forests that surround Campos do Jordao are among the foggiest places on Earth. With a canopy shrouded in mist much of time, these are the renowned cloud forests of the Brazilian state of São Paulo. It is here that researchers ...

User comments : 11

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Telekinetic
not rated yet Apr 04, 2012
"You talkin' to me?"
Roland
not rated yet Apr 04, 2012
Blazing Saddles: "These are good people! The salt of the earth. You know...morons."
Royale
not rated yet Apr 04, 2012
"What is real? How do you define it? If real is what you can see, or taste, or touch then real is simply electrical impulses interpreted by your brain." - The Matrix
"I'm a god. I'm not the God; I don't think." - Groundhog Day
Isaacsname
not rated yet Apr 04, 2012
" Say hello....to my little friend "
NotAsleep
not rated yet Apr 04, 2012
"Space: The final frontier..."
Kedas
not rated yet Apr 04, 2012
"Houston, we have a problem."

"Eureka"
NeptuneAD
5 / 5 (1) Apr 04, 2012
'Not too late Bill, to throw them all out the airlock'
'Take too much time'

Battlestar Galactica
julianpenrod
1 / 5 (1) Apr 05, 2012
In fact, the "study" shows significant flaws.
"Play it, Sam." "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a d*mn." "May The Force be with you." "The stuff that dreams are made of." "Top of the world, Ma!" "Do you feel lucky, punk?" "Win one for the Gipper." "Here's looking at you, kid." "Round up the usual suspects." "Show me the money." "Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas, anymore." "Get your stinking paws off me, you d*mned dirty ape!" "Elementary, Watson."
Even most of the samples provided in the article are not in the past tense! What's more, the reason for each becoming known seems different. Some are particularly dramatic, some are connected with action, some ironic, and some tap particular affinities, but, in each case, in the feelings of that particular group that favors those lines. Lines the study" describes as "sticking" often do so only because many heard many others around them repeating them.
CardacianNeverid
5 / 5 (1) Apr 05, 2012
What's more, the reason for each becoming known seems different. Some are particularly dramatic, some are connected with action, some ironic, and some tap particular affinities -jrod

And those differences are perfectly summed up in the article itself -

memorable movie lines are thus, because they cut through the blather of general dialogue to make a deeper point

"It's full of stars"
LuckyExplorer
1 / 5 (1) Apr 05, 2012
For all these conclusions no research is necessary...
...common sense is sufficient to come to these results without waste of time and money
julianpenrod
1 / 5 (2) Apr 05, 2012
In fact, there is a crucial difference between the point I was making and what was being suggested by the article. I said that certain individuals make lines famous by resonating to the sentiments or effects of those lines, and constant repetition by similar individuals makes the lines familiart o those who, at first, wouldn't so appreciate them. The article suggested that the lines, all of them, automatically appeal to all people, equally. The article cites "You had me at hello" from "Jerry Maguire", but, in fact, most people who reiterate the movie deliberately quote "Show me the money". Whatever moves the "researchers" apparently doesn't work with many others. And phrases in the past tense seem less common than others.
Russkiycremepuff
Apr 05, 2012
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.