This article is part of Movie Memes Week.
Memes. You love them. I love them. They are the veritable lifeblood of social media as we know it. They come from everywhere — news stories, stock photos, classical art (here’s looking at you, Joseph Ducreux), and, of course, movies. Now, here at Film School Rejects, movies are kind of our thing, and we live on the internet, the land of memes. So, putting two and two together, I decided it was high time that we publish a definitive list of the best movie-sourced memes out there on the interwebs.
I spoke to my FSR colleagues and put out a general call for submissions to the denizens of Twitter, the replies to which were all considered in the shaping of this list. In doing said research, I also realized that the internet loves the term “meme” but also has a very loose concept of what it actually refers to, which is all very well and good until you’re trying to put together a ranked list and have to come up with eligibility criteria.
In his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins first coined the term “meme” to describe a culturally transmitted unit — in a sense, what the gene is to genetics, only for culture. And going off this gene correlation, the key term for me in determining whether or not to consider something a meme is mutation, or more accurately, mutability. A meme is something that evolves, something where a particular shot, sequence, or scene inspires a wide range of riffs and spinoffs, as opposed to merely a shot or scene that gets shared a lot in its original form. That’s a reaction GIF, and an entirely different beast to battle some other day.
So, with all of that out of the way, let’s hop to it:
50. Prattkeeping (Jurassic World)
In perhaps the most adorably niche movie meme to date, zookeepers around the world took this shot of dinosaur researcher Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) bringing three velociraptors to heel in Jurassic World as a call to action, recreating the scene with their own animals. Not to be outdone, paleontologists at the Smithsonian even joined the #Prattkeeping craze posing with some fossils. People also did it with babies, inanimate objects, and so on and so forth. It was a fun couple of days on the internet.
49. “You’re a Wizard, Harry.” (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)
A lot of memes gain traction because they can be related to various real-world situations, whether that be news headlines or just, y’know, life stuff. But sometimes memes just gain traction because the internet, well, ’tis a silly place, and sometimes just strong pun potential is enough. Because whether it’s “you’re a lizard, Harry” or “you’re a blizzard, Harry,” young Harry Potter’s shocked reaction to the reveal of his magical abilities (“I’m a what?”) is the perfect punchline to whatever the silly joke of the hour happens to be.
48. The Rock Driving (Race to Witch Mountain)
Sometimes, a meme has appeal and longevity that far surpasses the work from which it originates. The Rock Driving is the first meme on this list to fit this criterion, but it is far from the last. That said, it’s also one of the best examples of this particular phenomenon, as Race to Witch Mountain is such a non-entity that I cannot for the life of me remember the title more than five minutes after Googling it. Having never seen the film, I have no idea what it is that AnnaSophia Robb says to Dwayne Johnson to inspire this A+ look of shock — and honestly, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that it’s prime meme material. The internet came, it saw, it conquered.
47. “So, You’ve Got Detention.” (Spider-Man: Homecoming)
Oh, Captain America. The star-spangled man with a plan and spandex that really shows off his… assets (I’m writing several thousand words ranking memes, “shame” is no longer in my dictionary). Throughout his MCU tenure, Chris Evans’ take on Marvel’s most patriotic superhero has provided us some quality memes and reaction GIFs, from “I understood that reference” to the Cap vs. Iron Man 4-pane which can easily be manipulated to have the Avengers’ two dads fight over whatever controversy the meme-maker sees fit (see Margaret Pereira’s article for more on the subject). But Cap’s best meme ironically enough comes from a film in which he only has a cameo: Spider-Man: Homecoming, in which he stars in a PSA filmed for students in detention — because if anyone can get you back on the straight and narrow, it’s Cap in his full patriotic WWII regalia. The possibilities presented by “so, you[‘ve] ________” are basically limitless. It’s the perfect meme for any time you want to call someone out for a questionable decision in a fond yet ever-so-slightly patronizing way.
46. Ray Liotta Laughing (Goodfellas)
Ray Liotta’s laugh is the stuff of nightmares. His grating cackle, heard multiple times throughout Goodfellas, is the sort of thing that sticks in your brain like the tackiest of commercial jingles (I’ve come to terms with the reality that “1-877 Kars 4 Kids” will be embedded in my brain until I die). And much like just the sight of a kid holding an electric guitar will always be enough to inspire flashbacks to that cursed TV ad, just a still frame of Liotta mid-laugh is enough to start that cackle playing on a loop in your head. As such, it’s prime meme material any time you want to convey that your laughter is forced and your true feelings are of a decidedly different strain.
45. _____, _____ Everywhere. (Toy Story 2)
This classic meme is decidedly unusual in that, while it’s your standard combination of image macro accompanied by text following a consistent basic structure (“[X], [X] everywhere”), the text has no relation to the original movie scene, which actually features Buzz telling Woody to stop stressing over Andy’s upcoming trip to summer camp. When Buzz strikes the pose featured in the meme, he’s telling Woody he should focus on looking forward to “schmoes” (he means s’mores). As far as how the image and the message came together, not even Know Your Meme seems to have any idea. The internet works in mysterious ways. Regardless, the end result is effective.
44. “You Merely Adopted the Dark.” (The Dark Knight Rises)
You might say that The Dark Knight Rises is the weakest entry in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. It’s a free internet, you’re entitled to your opinion. But even if you think the film deserves to be chucked in the “disappointing sequels” bin, you have to admit that Bane’s “you merely adopted the dark” is supremely meme-able. Bane, in general, is supremely meme-able, particularly in the hands of Tom Hardy, a very talented actor with a knack for dialing things up to 11. Whether it’s quoting his speech — “Ah you think darkness is your ally? You merely adopted the dark. I was born in it, molded by it. I didn’t see the light until I was already a man; by then it was nothing to me but blinding!” — to bring some spice into a previously tame conversation or it’s swapping out some key terms to adapt his OTT rhetorical devices to a wide range of other subjects, this is one way Bane really did bring power… and give it back to you, the people.
43. “Perfectly Balanced” (Avengers: Infinity War)
So, we’re keeping the villain speech theme alive. Your mileage may vary as to whether or not the raisin-faced Big Bad lived up to the decade of hype built up prior to Avengers: Infinity War, but what is indisputable is that Thanos has given us some quality memes. While there were some other great contenders (see: “What did it cost? Everything.”), my vote for the best of the bunch is this one, most frequently seen as an object-labeling meme commenting on situations that, as you might imagine, are not actually balanced at all — or, you know, balance-related puns.
42. “I Drink Your Milkshake!” (There Will Be Blood)
Not to be confused with the milkshake that brings all the boys to the yard, the milkshake at the heart of the explosive finale of Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood is an oil drilling metaphor. The down-on-his-luck Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) finally offers to sell oil-rich land to prospector Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) after years of holding out, so desperate for money that Plainview is able to coerce him into labeling himself a false prophet, utterly humiliating the man before delivering the final blow: Plainview won’t buy the land because he neither needs or even wants it anymore. Because of drainage and the fact that he owned all the surrounding fields, he’s already depleted the reserves from under the holdout field. Thus: “Now my straw reaches across the room, and starts to drink your milkshake. I. Drink. Your! Milkshake!” Now, this is hardly the first epic monologue/rant in the history of cinema, but for whatever reason, this one, in particular, inspired quite a few people to re-enact it for themselves and post the results online. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. The results are quite entertaining.
41. “Sure, Jan” (A Very Brady Sequel) / “Bye, Felicia” (Friday)
Okay, so these two memes toe the line between bona fide meme and reaction GIF, but they’re just too good not to include. Even if they don’t quite have the mutability of a typical meme, they make up for it by merit of sheer power. If you’re messaging a friend and they make a dumb argument, all you need to do is reply “sure-jan.gif” and be assured that your message was received. Now that’s what I call clout. Also, they have the exact same energy so I’ve ranked them together.