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There is a certain joy in watching a quotable film – in hearing a line and instantly knowing you’ll be reciting it later on repeat. In this way – and countless others – GoodFellas was a cinematic gift and certified classic. Its nuanced plot and incisive commentary on the American Dream helped form the blueprint for mob movies to follow – one that we’re still reaping the benefits of today.
The film is politically serious and fiendishly funny in equal measure; it is harrowingly violent in one scene and a laugh-out-loud riot in the next.
While the film’s success can’t be boiled down to handful of memorable quotes, Joe Pesci’s one-liners and Ray Liotta’s narrative elevated the film to cult favourite status.
In memory of Liotta, who died suddenly on Thursday (26 May), here’s a look back at some of the movie’s most memorable quotes.
1) “I’m funny how? Like a clown? Do I amuse you?” – Tommy DeVito
Pesci could have won his Oscar for supporting actor based on this scene alone. The actor’s mercurial character had audiences on edge with his unhinged response to Henry casually calling him “funny”. In a 2015 interview, Liotta revealed that the scene was heavily inspired by a real-life story from Pesci’s youth and that his iconic co-star even improvised the indelible moment.
2) “F*** you, pay me.” – Henry Hill
Henry, played by Liotta, is explaining the simple rules of borrowing money from the mob. “Business bad? F*** you, pay me. Oh, you had a fire? F*** you, pay me. Place got hit by lightning, huh? F*** you, pay me.” This one might be the film’s most widely recited line: catchy, expletive and straight to the point.
3) “I like this one. One dog goes one way, the other dog goes the other." – Tommy DeVito
It might not be one of Tommy’s classics, but this unexpected appraisal of his mother’s painting is undeniably one of the best lines in the film. Tommy makes the quaint remark when he, Henry and Jimmy visit his mother’s house (played by Scorcese’s real life mother) for an impromptu breakfast after beating Billy Batts to within an inch of his life. The sweet, homely moment jars brilliantly with the fact that Batts is bleeding out in the trunk of Tommy’s car parked right outside. DeVito might be a vicious killer, but he’s also a doting son – and an art critic too.
4) “We always called each other Goodfellas.” – Henry Hill
There’s something uncanny about hearing a film’s title spoken in the movie – kind of like an “aha” moment that you smile to yourself about. Henry bigs up the name as a sign of loyalty between the gang members (“Like you’d say to somebody: ‘You’re gonna like this guy, he’s all right. He’s a goodfella. He’s one of us.”) His naive explanation is tragically timed with Tommy’s impending execution: you’re only a good fella until you’re not.
5) “Why don’t you go f*** yourself, Tommy?” – Spider
This moment provoked a collective gasp in the cinema. Spider’s bold words come after Tommy shoots him in the foot for fetching drinks too slowly, and then proceeds to mock him for complaining about it. A low-level wiseguy like Spider standing up to a big dog (and bonafide psychopath) like Tommy is a battle akin to David and Goliath. Only in this case, Goliath triumphs. The brave words are Spider’s last, but so goes the brutal world of GoodFellas.
6) “I got to admit the truth. It turned me on.” – Karen
Lorraine Bracco is astounding as Henry’s girlfriend-then-wife Karen, not least because she exemplifies the audience’s initial fascination with the mob lifestyle – glitzy and exciting as it appears on the surface. “I know there are women, like my best friends, who would have gotten out of there the minute their boyfriend gave them a gun to hide. But I didn’t. I got to admit the truth. It turned me on.”
7) “I’m gonna go get the papers, get the papers." – Jimmy Two-Times
Playful nicknames for terrifying mobsters is a beloved trope of gangster movies, and the explanation behind “Jimmy Two-Times” doesn’t disappoint. As Henry makes his way through the wonderfully kitsch Bamboo Lounge, he introduces viewers to the Cicero crew including Jimmy: “There was Jimmy Two-Times, who got that nickname because he said everything twice.” The innocuous explanation is quickly followed up by Jimmy himself saying the famous words. For a film abundant in bloody violence, GoodFellas is not short on humour.
8) “Never rat on your friends and always keep your mouth shut.” – Jimmy Conway
Jimmy Conway may not be one of the film’s central characters, but his impact on Henry’s character development is huge. After a young Henry testifies without revealing the mob’s secrets, Jimmy congratulates him on having learnt the “two greatest thing in life”. Of course, this sentiment unravels slowly throughout the film until Henry’s final flip to the FBI.
9) “Jimmy was the kind of guy who rooted for the bad guy in movies.” – Henry Hill
Despite offering an unfiltered look at the mob’s brutal lifestyles and callous behaviour, the film had us cheering for its villains. This tongue-in-cheek remark may as well have been Scorcese winking at us through the screen.
10) “Now go home and get your f****ing shine box.” – Billy Batts
The insult is slung by Billy Batts, newly released from prison, at Tommy – alluding to his childhood days of shoe shining. While Batts claims he’s just “busting balls”, little does he know he’s just signed his own death warrant. The pivotal scene also marks a crux in the movie where things start taking a turn for the worse.
11) “I got to have it. It’s my lucky hat. I never fly without it.” – Lois the babysitter
It’s one of many great sequences in the film: Henry is coked-up, cooking dinner and organising a huge drug deal when Lois, their babysitter turned drug carrier, interrupts the grand plan by demanding that she gets her “lucky hat” before transporting the drugs. After a heated exchange between an erratic Henry and a dead-pan Lois, he agrees to drive to her house and retrieve the hat – of course, he’s arrested on the way.
12) “As far back as I can remember I wanted to be a gangster” – Henry Hill
The film’s iconic opening line is spoken by Henry as he’s stuffing a body in the trunk of his car, his face lit up by its red rear lights. The introduction is a classic “How did we get here?” set-up, which might feel trite now but one that never gets old in GoodFellas, no matter how many times you watch it.