Back when Western stars were Hollywood superheroes, their best quotes made for instantly iconic one-liners. In more recent decades, cowboy movies provided contemporary actors a chance to follow the boot steps of the always quotable John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.
The following western movie quotes demonstrate the frontier wisdom and fighting words uttered by some of the greatest characters in the all-time best Western movies.
"That'll be the day."
--John Wayne as Ethan Edwards in The Searchers (1956)
An often-overlooked rock music legend states that Buddy Holly, Jerry Allison, and Sonny Curtis loved this line so much that they used it as a title of a future Crickets hit. The song "That'll Be The Day" had an immeasurable impact on popular music. It later became the Beatles' first recording under the previous band name, the Quarrymen. In short, this quote puts just one degree of separation between the Duke and the Beatles!
-- John Wayne as Tom Doniphon in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
Pretty much every Wayne impersonation stresses his supposed tendency to nickname others "Pilgrim." On the contrary, he only spoke the line in two films. He first used it as a nickname for Jimmy Stewart's character in the classic western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. It makes sense that John Wayne's legacy as a quotable cowboy is tied to this film, as it's an all-time great. He uttered the line the final time a year later in McClintock.
"I know enough about men to steer clear of them."
--Katharine Hepburn as Eula Goodnight in Rooster Cogburn (1975)
The cantankerous pairing of Eula Goodnight (Hepburn) and Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne) made for a funny and heartwarming tale chock full of memorable quips in this sequel to Wayne's Oscar winner True Grit. Ms. Goodnight exemplifies the women who, due to the unpredictable nature of the frontier, knew how to hold their own with words or a weapon.
"You see, in this world, there's two kinds of people, my friend; those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig."
--Clint Eastwood as the Man with No Name in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
This classic spaghetti western pairs up Clint Eastwood against Eli Wallach in an epic showdown.
"Dying ain't much of a living, boy."
--Clint Eastwood as Josey Wales in The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
It's hard to pick just one quote from this film's string of memorable one-liners. However, this quote best captures the resolve all of Eastwood's Western characters needed in the face of endless and gratuitous violence.
"We'll give you a fair trial, followed by a first-class hanging!"
--Brian Dennehy as Sheriff Cobb in Silverado (1985)
Dennehy established himself as the right man to wear a sheriff's badge, especially if there are unwanted drifters in town, in the original Rambo film First Blood. He was just as effective as the crooked lawman in this star-studded 1985 film.
"It ain't dying I'm talking about, it's living. I doubt it matters where you die, but it matters where you live."
--Robert Duvall as Gus McCrae in the Lonesome Dove TV miniseries (1989)
The fearlessness and wisdom of Captain McCrae were on full display when he uttered this line.
"I'm your Huckleberry."
--Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday in Tombstone (1993)
Over 20 years since its release, Tombstone remains the most quotable Western not starring John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. The seminal line is an old saying that means "I'm the right person for the job." Undoubtedly as colorful a character as the real-life Doc Holliday, Val Kilmer harnessed a cocky swagger and strong self-dependence. The film, featuring Kurt Russell co-starring as Wyatt Earp and Michael Biehn as Johnny Ringo, remains one of the most memorable modern western flicks.
This article was originally published in 2017.
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