10. “It’s a Trap!” (Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi)
Take a moment to think about all the time and money that’s been put into the Star Wars franchise to date. The billions of dollars that have been made. And then recall that George Lucas named one of the most prominent alien species in the original trilogy Mon Calamari. Like he was just about to go on lunch break and needed a species name for this alien dude with a few snappy lines, figured it would make a good placeholder for the time being, and threw it in. Then he got back from lunch, looked it over a few times, shrugged, and said, “Eh, fuck it, it’s fine.” So, like, yeah, of course, the Mon Calamari has gone on to become one of the most iconic movie memes of all time.
9. “Here’s Johnny!” (The Shining)
There are some experiences we never fully recover from. Some stimuli towards which we have been classically conditioned to react with shock and horror. Things that will never cease sending us running screaming for the hills. And then, on the other hand, there’s just stuff that’s damn terrifying, no conditioning required. Either way, this object-labeling meme that brings together two shots from the final ax-swinging showdown of one of the most famous horror films ever made is a perfect way to express deep, dark fears in meme form.
8. Hitler Reacts (Downfall)
Pretty much all the other memes on this list are somewhat logical in the sense that they come from major Hollywood films, feature well-known actors, or come from movies on the weird end of the spectrum. And then there’s Hitler Reacts. Absolutely nothing about the film Downfallscreams “meme material.” A controversial historical drama covering Hitler’s last days, its critics claim that it portrays him too kindly or sympathetically. To me personally, the film — lead by a tour de force performance by Bruno Ganz as Hitler — is one of the only ones I’ve seen that doesn’t go the Great Dictator route of turning Hitler into something of a punchline, a “who-could-ever-follow-this-idiot.” Ganz’s portrayal is an evil man, even a delusional one, but one that oozes charisma as well. It makes the threat of such a regime feel that much more real and palpable. And in terms of impact is about as far away from concerns of softening anti-Nazi sentiment, etc. as it could possibly be. Suffice it to say, it’s heavy stuff. And then, the internet decided to inexplicably turn the pivotal scene where Hitler finally goes full freak-out and turn it into a meme.
7. Angry Walter (The Big Lebowski)
The Coen brothers’ irreverent meditation on bowling, friendship, and interior design is one of the funniest comedy movies of all time, and as such it’s hardly surprising that The Big Lebowksi has spawned some quality memes. While variations on the Dude’s “well, you know, that’s just like, your opinion, man” is quite popular, the definitive Lebowski meme is Angry Walter, cocking his gun and asking, “Am I the only one around here who gives a shit about the rules?!” — an oldie and a goodie. Sometimes, you just need to vent, and if you ever want to vent in meme form, this image macro is there for you.
6. “You Don’t Say” (Vampire’s Kiss)
Any list of movie memes that fails to feature Nicolas Cage isn’t really a list at all, but a filthy lie. Some people are born to be memes, but Cage raises things to another level entirely. I regularly stop and marvel at the fact that he’s a real person at all. The concept that one singular human being can actually contain so much weird, chaotic energy just defies all logical explanation. If it were revealed tomorrow that he is actually an alien from a distant galaxy, I would be like, “Hmm, yeah, that checks.” But anyway, whether you’re talking about the actual screencap or the popular rage comic drawing first uploaded to Reddit in 2011, both the image and the film it’s taken from — literary agent spirals into madness after growing convinced that he’s becoming a vampire — are perfect examples of the sort of wild-eyed craziness that Cage can do like no other.
5. Condescending Wonka (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory)
The 1970s were fucking weird. One of the strongest pieces of evidence I can provide to support this argument is the fact that Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and its bad LSD trip tunnel of nightmares actually got made as a kid’s movie. But out of that weirdness also came plenty of greatness, including Gene Wilder’s wonderful performance as the eccentric candy-maker himself, and in doing so, provided the template for one of the greatest movie memes of all time.
4. Conspiracy Keanu (Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure)
The internet loves Keanu Reeves. Whether he’s talking about how much he loves movies, gosh he loves movies or playing with puppies or, y’know, sitting on a bench looking sad, he’s our guy. As such, the actor has spawned his fair share of memes over the years, but this old classic is still one of the best. Much like “What if I told you…,” it’s really an Advice Animal meme in disguise—and a beloved classic of film meme culture.
3. The Epic Handshake (Predator)
Normally social media is full of people fighting. Over politics, movies, the color of that one dress or whether a voice in a recording is saying “Yanny” or “Laurel.” But sometimes, there’s something that brings us all together. And when such occasions arise, the Epic Handshake meme is the perfect thing to mark the occasion. The earliest memes involving this scene tended to involve making various remix videos of the scene from the 1987 film, re-enacting it or changing the music. However, in the past year or so, the Epic Handshake meme that has really taken off involves labeling a fan art chalk drawing of the handshake created by DeviantArt user MILOSLAVvonRANDA. The Epic Handshake took a long, winding internet road to become the meme it is today, but boy, the destination was worth the trip.
2. Confused Travolta (Pulp Fiction)
Once upon a time in 2012, an Imgur user posted a GIF of Vincent Vega (John Travolta) looking kinda confused, and so our story begins. A couple of years later, another Imgur user uploaded an edited version of the GIF featuring Travolta looking lost in a toy aisle, and that’s when the ball really got rolling. The same user then put up a make-your-own-confused-Travolta-GIF tutorial and even included a GIF of the wandering Travolta isolated against an easily replaceable green background for convenience. With the right software, Travolta can be confused anywhere in just a handful of clicks.
1. “One Does Not Simply…” (Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring)
One does not simply make a list of movie memes without ranking this classic #1. Sean Bean himself has acknowledged that this will be his legacy, and he is not wrong. He managed to snag starring roles in the two definitive fantasy franchises of the 21st century thus far, and despite getting killed in the first installments delivered the most memetic lines in both during his short tenures. The enduring legacy of “One does not simply walk into Mordor” really feels like a case of the stars aligning. As the bridge between The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, Sean Bean became the key to crossover jokes and memes, keeping Boromir particularly relevant over the years. The meme itself, in typical internet fashion, isn’t even quite accurate — the iconic screencap of Boromir making what almost-but-not-quite looks like the OK gesture really accompanies the line “the Great Eye is ever watchful” (thus, the hand gesture), but the pose the internet chose to propagate is honestly more memorable than the blander real screencap. All Sean Bean’s most iconic characters might be dead, but their memes will outlive us all.