The Nine Most Influential Movie Taglines Ever

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…

For decades, American motion pictures were marketed with the usual carny cries: "Gaiety! Glory! Glamour!" "The Entertainment Experience of a Lifetime!" "The Greatest Event in Motion Picture History!" With few exceptions, it wasn't until the 1970s when the serious, film-specific, no-explanation-points taglines that we know today were employed. Short, sly come-ons meant to pique a potential audience's curiosity, they quickly replaced the generic sales pitches of yore. The best of them have even surpassed their primary function and have entered the contemporary vernacular. They are listed below:

  1. Jaws 2: "Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water..." Far more celebrated than the disappointing sequel it was attached to, this tagline has been quoted - and spoofed - countless times. It may, in fact, be the most famous movie tagline of all. (The first Jaws was marketed with the somewhat less memorable "Don't go in the water.")
  2. Alien: "In space, no one can hear you scream." A close second, this has inspired almost as many imitations as the famous "Got Milk?" tagline created by the International Dairy Foods Association.
  3. Star Wars: "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..." This line is not just the opening to all of George Lucas's Star Wars films, it was used to promote the first film itself, appearing on posters, trailers, and so forth. It's likely that Lucas, a highly savvy marketer, specifically intended his storybook-style opener not just as a great introduction to his stories, but as a sales tool.
  4. American Graffiti: "Where were you in '62?" Even before he became God of Film Geeks, Lucas knew how to turn a catchy phrase. This tagline is so frequently quoted that many probably aren't even aware that it was invented for this film's ad campaign.
  5. Apollo 13: "Houston, we have a problem." Although a central bit of dialogue is often incorporated as a movie's tagline, this five-word sentence, almost a throwaway line in Apollo 13, added great suspense to its marketing campaign and has, of course, since become a commonly-used quip in American speech.
  6. The Fly (1986): "Be afraid. Be very afraid." Another line of dialogue that became a tagline, this was vague enough to be stolen and slightly reworded ("Be unafraid. Be very unafraid"; "Be afraid. Be kind of afraid") for a plethora of horror spoofs.
  7. A Fish Called Wanda: "A tale of murder, lust, greed, revenge, and seafood." Although this tagline isn't particularly noteworthy in and of itself, it spawned scores of imitators, which is why I'm calling this list "The most influential taglines". A Fish Called Wanda's formula of "end a series of dramatic words with a wacky non sequitur" influenced everything from The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover's "Lust... murder... dessert" to Fight Club's "Mischief. Mayhem. Soap."
  8. Poltergeist: "They're here..." The late Heather O'Rourke's creepy sing-song delivery of this line was potent enough to use in the film's ad campaign, and has since become one of the most frequently mimicked taglines (not to mention movie quotes) in history.
  9. Dawn of the Dead: "When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth." I end this list with a tagline perhaps little-known outside of horror film circles, but well-referenced and often satirized within them. It was even used in the 2004 remake of this 1978 film.