As the debate rages on the lack of zingers in today's films, we look back at some memorable examples of misanthropy in the movies. 
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25 Oct 2010 - 10:12 AM  UPDATED 6 Nov 2012 - 9:30 AM

“Look at 'em, ordinary fucking people, I hate 'em.”

Given that misanthropy is hatred of mankind, that comment by Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) in the 1984 film Repo Man is a textbook example. But cinema is littered – or bedecked, if you like this kind of thing – with memorable misanthropic and putdown lines.

Let's start with disdain for the whole species, as expressed by Harry Lime (Orson Welles) in The Third Man (1949). From his Olympian vantage-point atop a ferris wheel, Lime says “Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever ?”

Moving to the New World, we find Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) assessing his fellow New Yorkers like this in Taxi Driver (1976) : “Some day a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets … I think someone should just take this city and just – just flush it down the fuckin' toilet.”

This sort of attitude can make for interesting ideology. Witness Queen Carlotta (Edith Massie) in John Waters' Desperate Living (1977), addressing her subjects after she's declared National Backwards Day and ordered them to wear their clothes back-to-front : “I want you all to look like what you are. Trash ! Absolute rubbish !”

Or , at the anarchistic end of the political spectrum, we have Fernando Rey's demise in Seven Beauties (1975). He dives into the sewage pit in a concentration camp, and shouts (just before it's strafed with machine-gun fire): “Man lives in shit. He might as well die in shit.”

Loathing can also be born of disillusioned romanticism, as per Ronny Cammaren (Nicolas Cage) in Moonstruck (1987) : “Love don't make things nice. It ruins everything … We aren't here to make things perfect. Not us … We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die.”

Then there's generational hatred. Ida (Eve Arden) puts it succinctly in Mildred Pierce (1945) : “Alligators have the right idea. They eat their young.”

Others specialise in detestation of the mainstream and law-abiding – though they may tend to kill other criminals. Such a man is Tony Montana (Al Pacino), who addresses his fellow restaurant patrons in Scarface (1983) with these words : “You're all a bunch of fuckin' assholes …You don't have the guts to be what you wanna be … You need people like me so you can .point your fuckin' fingers and say 'that's the bad guy'.”

All humour - apart from puns - is demonstrably cruel, so it 's not surprising that one-on-one insults are often funny. When a hapless contact man says “My superior wants to see you” to Dr. Jonathan Hemlock (Clint Eastwood) in The Eiger Sanction (1975), he replies : “Your superior ? Well, that doesn't narrow the field much, does it ?”

Gunnery Sgt. Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) from Full Metal Jacket (1987) has a penchant for dismissive abuse too : “Did your parents have any children that lived ?”

It could be posited that Bruce Willis is more often a walking argument for misanthropy than an expresser of it. But, as Joe Hallenbeck, he does get some droll putdown lines in The Last Boy Scout (1991).An alley thug claims that Hallenbeck's murder will be nothing personal … Joe :“That's what you think.Last night I fucked your wife.” Thug : “You're real cool for somebody who's about to take a bullet.” Joe: “After fucking your wife I'll take two.”

Misanthropy is not, unlike misogyny or misandry, inherently gender-specific. But it can be. In The Witches Of Eastwick (1987), the literally satanic Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson) says : “Do you think God knew what he was doing when he created woman ? … Or do you think it was another one of his minor mistakes like tidal waves, earthquakes, floods ?”

For sheer verbal surrealism, it's hard to cap John Cleese's French castle guard in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1974) : “I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries.”

But, sooner or later, all insulting and wisecracking roads lead to the Marx Brothers. As Rufus T. Firefly in Duck Soup (1933), Groucho proclaims “I could dance with you until the cows come home. On second thought, I'd rather dance with the cows till you come home.”

The buck stops, logically, at the self. So let's let the last word go to Julianne

(Julia Roberts) in My Best Friend's Wedding (1997), with this commendably frank self-appraisal : “I'm pond scum. Well, lower actually. I'm like the fungus that feeds on pond scum. Lower. The pus that infects the mucus that cruds up the fungus that feeds on the pond scum.”