Lines That Work

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Try matching these classic lines below with their movie. (answers at the end)

  1. “May the force be with you”
  2. “You had me at hello”
  3. “You can’t handle the truth”

If you’ve ever wondered if there’s some science behind what makes a line great, then this will be of interest. New research conducted at Cornell University investigated what makes a movie line memorable. The team of researchers set out to discover what kind of sentence is most likely to be “retained in the public consciousness” or “take hold on people’s minds”.

They collected around 1000 scripts and used internet movie database (imdb) to compile a comprehensive list of what are generally viewed as memorable movie quotes. Each quote was compared with another from the same character, in the same movie, same scene and similar length. They then asked a group of people to choose which quotes was the most memorable. The researchers then programmed a computer with the choices. The study found that memorable quotes have several characteristics compared a normal conversation:

  1. It makes sense to someone who’s unaware of the context
  2. It uses normal grammar but has unusual words/word combos
  3. It is more likely to contain a second person pronoun (you) (instead of first I, we or third he, she, they)
  4. It is more likely to use the indefinite (a) than the definite (the);
  5. It is more likely to be in present tense than past tense;
  6. It’s made up of more front vowel sounds (ee or eh) than back vowel sounds (u or o),

The researchers say this study has useful implications for the creation of political and advertising messages. New Scientist magazine even goes so far to suggest that: “It means computers might one day help writers test their latest catchy lines.”

When looking at the above six criteria there are many examples of famous advertising lines which suggest that this study could also be relevant beyond movies. Take for example L’Oreal’s ‘Because you’re worth it’ or Tourism Australia’s infamous and controversial ‘So where the bloody hell are you?’ Before we all start calling Cornell for a campaign, it’s worth remembering that advertising lines and quotes from a movie are two very different things.

Do you agree with the six characteristics? How different would the characteristics for a great advertising line be?

You can read the original news from Cornell here.

Answers:

  1. Star Wars
  2. Jerry Maguire
  3. A few good men
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