What is Jack Nicholson best known for? Aside from unceasing cool? Playing characters with a loose definition of sanity, men who walk the fine line between the dangerous and hilarious. And how does Jack let you know his characters are a bit off-the-wall? With a maniacal glint in his eyes, a crazy grin on his face, and explosive dialogue that makes you say, “Wow, that guy’s crazy.” Throughout his career, Nicholson has had lines that light up the screen, which are now oft repeated and the height of cool. Now the time’s come to decide which is his craziest.
5. “You can’t handle the truth!” – A Few Good Men
The climax of Nicholson’s, well, climactic confrontation with Tom Cruise doesn’t seem all that crazy, nor even all that cool, until you think about it. Nicholson’s Colonel Jessep is unflappable, mean, and hardened — the classic military man you want on that wall. Until, that is, he’s driven over the edge by demands for the truth during a courtroom cross-examination. When Jessup flies off the handle, he’s revealing who he truly is: the guy you want on that wall but also a crazy person, played, of course, to perfection. Plus you can’t argue with success. How many movie lines have you heard recited more often over the past decade?
4. “Ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?” – Batman
Uttered on multiple occasions by Nicholson’s Joker, the line serves as the perfect summation of the character himself — nonsensical, comical, campy, and very dangerous. The first time the line is heard, the Joker is murdering Bruce Wayne’s parents. The second is when he shoots Wayne. Thus the iconic line serves double duty: as a neat trick to tie Batman’s origin to his current predicament and also as a crazy nonsense phrase that is supposed to mean something but ends up merely reminding everyone just how crazy the Joker truly is.
3. “People who talk in metaphors oughta shampoo my crotch!” – As Good As It Gets
Many would argue that the best line of misanthropic Melvin Udall is “You make me want to be a better man,” which, while touching, doesn’t have the same trademark Nicholson zing as when he tells a couple that they “oughta shampoo my crotch!” Not only does the line encapsulate Melvin — crotchety, obsessive-compulsive, resentful of others — but Nicholson delivers it with such hilarious, growling conviction that it seems that he is Melvin.
2. “Neh! Neh! Neh! Fuh! Fuh! Fuh! Indians.” – Easy Rider
A drunken war chant is usually the province of severely damaged frat boys or soccer fans, not ACLU lawyers. But George Hanson, Nicholson’s original crazy character, is drunk, drug addled, and way off-the-wall. Once you give Hanson a swig of Jim Beam, he flaps one arm like a chicken and exclaims in his traditional drunken chant “Neh! Neh! Neh! Fuh! Fuh! Fuh! Indians,” which means absolutely nothing but truly gets at the spirit of the movie — confused, nonsensical, rebellious, misunderstood — and still makes audiences laugh 40 years later. Good times.
1. “Heeere’s Johnny!” – The Shining
Could there be any doubt? “Heeere’s Johnny!” is repeated so often, in such a variety of contexts, that you can’t discuss Nicholson’s best lines without declaring it a true winner. Writer Jack Torrance’s rampage — in which he tries to kill his wife and son — is truly tense, and nothing beats the scenes when he tracks them to a room, chops the door with an ax, sticks his face through the hole, and screeches the immortal line. The moment is absolutely terrifying, as well as laugh-out-loud funny — just the type of moment Nicholson has been creating his whole career and never to better effect than in The Shining.