When Midnight Cowboy was released in 1969, American society was grappling with the civil rights movement, gender equality and the Vietnam War. While it shouldn’t be surprising that movies made during this tumultuous time, were themselves tumultuous, the public was outraged.
How could an X-rated movie win three Oscars and gross over 44 million dollars at the box office? It was a pearl-clutching moment for mainstream America that made actors Dustin Hoffman (Ratso Rizzo) and Jon Voight (Joe Buck) permanent Hollywood royalty.
Let’s look at some of the most impactful Midnight Cowboy quotes, one of the best buddy films ever made.
“What are you gonna do back east?”
As Joe Buck prepares to leave Texas for New York City, he collects his pay from the diner where he worked.
- Ralph: “What are you gonna do back east?”
- Joe Buck: “Well, there’s a lot of rich women back there, payin’ for it, beggin’ for it too!”
Coddled by his grandmother and abandoned by his prostitute mother, Joe Buck plans to strike it rich in the Big Apple as a gigolo.
“Hey! I’m walkin’ here. I’m walkin’ here!”
As Joe and Ratso are walking down the street, Ratso steps in front of a cab. In true New York City fashion, he slaps the hood of the car and shouts, “Hey! I’m walkin’ here. I’m walkin’ here!”
- Ratso Rizzo: Hey! I’m walkin’ here. I’m walkin’ here!
Dustin Hoffman actually improvised this line. Hoffman meant to say, “Hey! We’re shooting here!” as the cab accidentally drove onto the set. Instead, Hoffman stayed in character, and the line stuck.
This line is probably the most well-known piece of dialogue in the film. It’s been repeated in Forrest Gump, Rick and Morty, and Back to the Future ll.
Ratso brings Joe to the apartment of Old Daniel, a small-time pimp. Old Daniel observes Joe as if he’s livestock.
- Old Daniel: “Cowboy, huh?”
- Joe Buck: “Well sir, I ain’t a for-real cowboy, but I’m one hell of a stud!”
“The basic items to sustain life.”
After Ratso steals from a fruit stand, he elaborates on the Florida references we’ve seen so far.
- Ratso: The two basic items necessary to life are sunshine and coconut milk, did ya know that? That’s a fact! In Florida, you got a terrific amount of coconut trees over there. In fact, I think they even got ’em in the gas stations over there.”
“I like the way I look. It makes me feel good. It does.”
Joe’s vulnerability starts to show as he’s faced with the fact that being a gigolo might be more complicated than he thought. He pleads with Ratso for validation.
- Joe Buck: And women like me, godammit. Hell, the one thing I ever been good for is lovin’. Women go crazy for me and that’s a real true fact!
“Hey, you’re pretty damn good at that. I bet you could make a livin’ at it if you tried.”
Joe compliments Ratso’s shoe-shining skills.
- Ratzo: And end up a hunchback like my old man? You think I’m crippled. You should have caught him at the end of the day. My old man spent 14 hours a day down in that subway. He’d come home at night with two, three dollars stained with shoe polish. Stupid bastard coughed his lungs out from breathin’ in that wax all day. Even that f*ggot undertaker couldn’t get his nails clean. We had to bury him with gloves on.
“I hate boneyards!
Ratso and Joe go to the cemetery where Ratso’s father is buried. This cemetery scene is reminiscent of the one in Easy Rider, another counterculture blockbuster released in 1969
- Joe: I hate boneyards!
- Ratso: Don’t split. He ain’t your goddamned father. He was even dumber than you. He couldn’t even write his own name.
“Load up on the salami.”
Joe gets invited to a party by a mod brother and sister duo. He brings Ratso, and they find everyone at the party is high. Then they’re directed to the buffet.
- Ratso: You want the word on that brother and sister act? Hansel’s a f*g and Gretel’s got the hots for herself. So load up on the salami.
“Don’t worry, it happens.”
Joe and Shirley are in bed after the party.
- Joe Buck: That’s the first goddamn time the thing ever quit on me. That’s a fact. You think I’m lyin’ to you?
- Shirley: No. No, I don’t think you’re lying. I just had this funny image. I had this image of a policeman without his stick and a bugler without his horn etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
“We’re gonna tell all these new people my name’s Rico.”
In the final scene on the way to Miami, Joe and Ratso are on the bus nearing Miami. Ratso has always been angry that people call him that. He wants to be called Rico in Miami.
Joe thinks out loud, “When we get to Miami what I’m gonna do is get some kind of job, you know? Cause hell, I ain’t no kind of hustler. I mean, there must be an easier way of makin’ a livin’ than that. Some sort of outdoors work? What do you think? Yeah, that’s what I’m gonna do. Okay, Rico?”
At this moment, Joe looks over to find that Rico has died on the bus, just minutes from downtown Miami.
“Everybody’s talkin’ at me”
The theme song for Midnight Cowboy is “Everybody’s Talkin'” by Harry Nilsson. It’s played most prominently during Joe’s first scene in New York City as he’s walking the streets.
Learn More About The Midnight Cowboy Movie
The Library of Congress selects 25 films they believe are outstanding examples of American filmmaking every year. All are deemed worthy of preservation, and there are currently 825 films on the list. Added to that list, in 1994, was Midnight Cowboy.
Midnight Cowboy deserves its place on the Library of Congress’s list of classic films. The casting was great. Jon Voight portrays the hayseed hustler in the big city with compassion and finesse. While Dustin Hoffman shines as the street smart buddy with subtle comedic skills. The soundtrack was great. And the script was so good that we are still talking about Midnight Cowboy quotes many decades later.
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