Now, computer formula to work out ‘why certain quotes stay with us’
In a new study, scientists have created a computer program to break down the formula behind some of cinema’s most enduring lines – from Dirty Harry’s “Do you feel lucky, punk?” to Casablanca’s “Here’s looking at you, kid.”
In its current form the algorithm may not be a huge help for budding screenwriters looking for their first hit, but its creators believe that in the future it may well be able to come out with a few classic quotes, or at least a successful advertising slogan, on its own.
Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil, a computer scientist, initially wanted to scrutinise political speeches and news bulletins to pick out the best lines, but when they turned out to be too problematic, the team turned its attention to films to analyse what drove certain lines into popular culture.
For its research paper – entitled ‘You had me at hello: How phrasing affects memorability’ – they scoured the internet for film scripts and studied 1,000 films, highlighting memorable quotes selected by users of the film website imdb.com.
The team then asked people to judge between two quotes from films they had not seen, with one line memorable and the other less so. In about 78 percent of cases, people could detect the more memorable quote.
The researchers found that the more memorable quotes were made up of word combinations unlikely to appear elsewhere in the film. Yet the grammatical structures of the quotes tended to be ordinary.
Other interesting quirks of the memorable quotes included more of a use of the indefinite article rather than the definite article, verbs in the past tense and the use of pronouns other than “you”.
Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil also revealed that the best quote according to him was uttered by Clark Gable as Rhett Butler in ‘Gone with the Wind’
“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” the Independent quoted Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil as saying.
“That quote ticks a number of boxes. It has the general aspect but also it has an unusual combination of ‘my dear’ and ‘damn’,” he said.
He also pointed to other general quotes such as the opening of ‘Star Wars’ – “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.”
“There are some trends you can pick out of the language. It is no silver bullet; for example, a common phrase like ‘I’ll be back’ isn’t easily categorised,” he added.