In Praise of Rhetorical Questions: The Secret to an Iconic Movie Quote

Want to know why rhetorical questions stick in our heads? Well, do you, punk?
Taxi Driver

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay on why rhetorical questions make for such memorable movie quotes.


What makes a line in a movie memorable? Is it its context, its cadence, or its rhythm? Is a movie quote’s memorability more a consequence of how an actor delivers the line? Or how the screenwriter assembles the words on the page?

There is no sure-fire rhetorical recipe that can guarantee the stickiness of a line of film dialogue.

But among the persistent trends, this much is true: rhetorical questions populate famous movie quotes with notable frequency. From Travis Bickle’s confrontational “are you talking to me?” in Taxi Driver to Dirty Harry‘s inquiry into whether or not a certain hapless punk feels lucky or not, such lines have a tendency to pop off the screen and weasel their way into the cultural consciousness.

The video essay below, on memorable movie quotes, offers an enticing crash course on the different varieties of rhetorical questions, from self-directed anthypophora to the rebuking candor of epiplexis. In the end, the proposed theory is clear. By virtue of their inherently involving drama and magnetic inquisitive pull, rhetorical questions pack a decidedly cinematic punch.

Watch “What Makes a Movie Line Memorable?”:


Who made this?

This video essay on why rhetorical questions make for such iconic movie quotes comes courtesy of the fine folks at Little White Lies, a film-obsessed magazine based in the United Kingdom. Luís Azevedo directed this video, which was written and narrated by Mark Forsyth and produced by Adam Woodward. You can follow Little White Lies on Twitter here. And you can check out their official website here. You can subscribe to their YouTube account here.

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    Meg Shields: Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).