Well, great news!
It’s not always a waste of time.
Maybe you already know about how English is used in pop culture, and you’ve been improving your English by watching awesome movies.
But when you want to make people laugh, you can use movie references to your advantage!
Referential humor means making a kind of joke that is taken directly from a popular movie or show.
You’re quoting someone or talking about something that almost everyone knows about.
On shows like “Family Guy” or “Saturday Night Live” they use this type of humor a lot. They quote or misquote (change the words of the quote) a line or talk about a famous person or movie.
In English-speaking countries this is a very common type of humor—people will make references every day, sometimes without even knowing it!
So in this post you will learn some of the most famous references, what they mean and how to use them. Ready? Let’s go!
10 Famous English Movie Lines to Get Your Friends Laughing
1. “Why so serious?” – Batman: The Dark Knight
You have probably heard this one before. The Joker in the new “Batman” movies often says this line.
It became really popular to use this after “The Dark Knight” came out in 2008. It’s especially fun to try to copy the Joker’s deep, scary voice.
The meaning is very straightforward (direct, easy to understand)—you can use this to ask why someone is being so serious. Usually this is used when everyone else is having fun, but there are people who are not smiling or not laughing along.
Use this around your friends who love Batman!
A: “I can’t believe you guys think this show is funny…it’s so stupid”
B: “Aw, come on Tom, it’s hilarious! Why so serious?”
By the way, if you love “The Dark Knight,” you may also enjoy the 2019 film “Joker,” which tells the story of the man who will eventually become the Joker. You can learn English with the trailer for “Joker” in the following video by FluentU:
2. “How you doin’?” – Friends
This line is used several times in the TV show “Friends” from the 90s and early 2000s. There are several main characters and one of them is Joey, who is an actor and playboy/player (someone who dates a lot of women).
He flirts a lot and his famous line when he’s flirting is “How you doin’?”
Like most of these quotes, try to copy the actor’s voice. Use this line as a joke when your friend looks pretty or handsome, and you want to pretend that you’re flirting with them.
A: “Do you like my new dress?”
B: “Yeah…how you doin’?”
3. “I’ll be back” – Terminator
In this classic ’80s film, Arnold Schwarzenegger made the line “I’ll be back” famous for decades.
It’s used in the different films from the series (many movies about the same characters) and is also used in hundreds of movies today. Whenever someone is leaving a place and will come back later, they will say this dramatically in the actor’s voice to be funny.
A: “Can you go to the store and buy some chips?”
B: “Sure…I’ll be back!”
4. “Say hello to my li’l friend!” – Scarface
The full quote is, “You wanna play rough? Okay. Say hello to my li’l friend!”
In the movie “Scarface,” Al Pacino plays the main character who says this before pulling out a missile launcher (a very large gun) and shooting the people.
This quote is used for so many things, basically at times when you show someone something that you’re hiding. A gun, a puppy, an action figure, etc. (It’s also sometimes used as a sexual reference, so be careful!)
A: “Is that a Chihuahua?”
B: “Say hello to my li’l friend!”
5. “Life is like a box of chocolates” – Forrest Gump
In another classic movie starring (the main actor) Tom Hanks there are many quotes. This one—along with “Run, Forrest, run!”—is the most popular.
This phrase continues on to say, “You never know what you’re gonna get.” Back when this film was made, stores sold boxes of chocolates with no labels for the flavors, so you wouldn’t know what kind of chocolates you were eating. The meaning of this quote is that life is unpredictable and you don’t know what will happen, which is a theme in the movie.
People may use this when eating chocolate, or they may change the quote to be clever, or just use it properly when something unexpected happens.
A: “Life is like a box of chocolates.”
B: “You say that every time I buy you these…”
6. “We’re not in Kansas anymore” – The Wizard of Oz
In the original “The Wizard of Oz” movie with Judy Garland, Dorothy says this to her dog after they are carried from Kansas, U.S.A to the Land of Oz by a tornado.
The full line is, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
This is used when people go to any new place that is strange or unexpected. For example, if you and your friend go to a bar, and all the people there are dressed up in crazy costumes, you could try this one.
A: “This club looks like a vampire house…”
B: “I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore…”
7. “The name’s Bond. James Bond” – The James Bond Series
In the many, many James Bond films that have come out over time, this line is used in almost all of them.
When the character introduces himself to people, he says his name this way. He usually sounds dramatic, dangerous or classy.
There are two ways to use this. One way is to use the original quote when someone dresses up in a tuxedo or a very nice suit. Another is to use the same pattern, but use another name instead.
When you feel cool, look cool or want to sound cool, you can use this phrase.
A: “Wow! Why are you wearing such a nice suit?”
B: “The name’s Bond. James Bond.”
8. “You Can’t Handle the Truth!” – A Few Good Men
This film is about a lawyer defending two marines and stars Tom Cruise. This dramatic quote is used in a courtroom scene when he is questioning Jack Nicholson.
When Tom Cruise shouts “I want the truth!” Jack Nicholson shouts back angrily, “You can’t handle the truth!”
In the film they talk about the ugliness of war and death and how the lawyer cannot handle the truth that he knows deep inside his mind.
When used as a reference, some people will say it when they don’t want to tell the person the answer to a question.
It’s usually quoted when someone asks a question or tells you to be honest, and you want to jokingly make a normal situation seem very serious.
A: “Did you eat the last cookie? Tell me the truth.”
B: “You can’t handle the truth!”
9. “No soup for you!” – Seinfeld
In the long-airing show “Seinfeld” there is a character that fans call The Soup Nazi.
One of the characters makes him angry, and so The Soup Nazi refuses to sell him soup. Instead, he shouts “No soup for you!” and takes the soup back.
This is usually quoted when someone asks for something and you don’t want to give it to them, or you pretend that you don’t want to. It could be soup, or anything else really.
A: “Hey, can I have a sandwich and some tomato soup?”
B: “No soup for you!”
10. “My precious” – The Lord of the Rings
More recent is this line from “The Lord of the Rings,” which is a trilogy (a set of three books or movies).
Several characters say this, but the most famous is Gollum/Smeagol who follows Frodo to steal the golden ring back from him.
He refers to the ring as “his precious,” because it is important to him and he needs to have it. The full line is, “It’s mine, my own, my precious.”
If you’re protecting something you love, you can try this to make a joke. It could be food, a person or a toy. And like “No soup for you!” it’s also used when you don’t want to give something to another person. It is also said in a creepy (scary and weird) voice to sound like Gollum.
A: “Is that a new watch? Can I see it?”
B: “No! Don’t touch, it’s my precious…”
More Types of References
Besides quoting things directly, you can also reference TV shows, movies, characters, episodes, writers, directors and places. If something reminds you of something you saw in a movie or TV show, you can make a reference, as long as all your friends know what you’re talking about.
Here are a few examples:
- For instance, since Elaine in “Seinfeld” is a terrible dancer, a person could say, “You dance like Elaine.”
- If a place seems magical like the school in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” you can say, “What is this place, Hogwarts?”
- Because his films have a lot of explosions, when there is a huge fire or explosion you could say, “Looks like Michael Bay was here” (Michael Bay is the director of “Transformers”).
- Since the series is known for being confusing, if you see or hear something that doesn’t make sense, you might say, “This is like an episode of ‘Lost’ or something.”
So now you can see that most shows and films can be referenced to make a joke in English.
And this is only a few of the well known ones! The best way to understand these is to watch some of these movies and shows yourself and quote your favorite lines to others.
The most important thing is to get into the character when quoting people and to have fun!
Christine McGahhey is an American writer currently living in South Korea who has volunteered for several years to teach students and adults English.
Oh, and One More Thing…
If you like learning English through movies, you should also check out the FluentU app. Like the website, the FluentU app lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:
The FluentU app makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word “brought,” you see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It recommends examples and videos to you based on the words you’ve already learned. You have a truly personalized experience.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.