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15 Famous Movie Phone Calls

We’ve gathered up 15 films with highly memorable phone calls, which run the gamut from disarming to terrifying.

For a Good Time, Call…
Photo: Focus Features

Budding blonde Ari Graynor continues the R-rated femme comedy trend this weekend in For a Good Time, Call…, a naughty film that pairs the funny gal with brunette Lauren Miller (otherwise known as Mrs. Seth Rogen). Inspired by Miller’s college exploits with roommate and co-writer Katie Ann Naylon, the movie casts the leading pair as sparring roomies turned phone sex operators, a scenario that soon proves especially lucrative. Phones may have undergone a lot of makeovers in recent years, but their effectiveness on screen has been solid since the days of the candlestick model. In honor of the new fantasy-fulfilling comedy’s basis in ring-a-ding-ding, we’ve gathered up 15 films with highly memorable phone calls, which run the gamut from disarming to terrifying.


When a Stranger Calls

When A Stanger Calls (1979). Babysitters don’t fare so well on the horror front, as evidenced by everyone from Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween to Carol Kane in this domestic thriller, about a murderer who rings up Cane’s caretaker and threatens to kill her and the kids. “Have you checked the children?” the caller famously asks, before it’s later revealed that he’s—OMG!—calling from inside the home.


His Girl Friday

His Girl Friday (1940). For a movie about journalism, His Girl Friday is far more jam-packed with telephones than it is with typewriters, making dozens of scenes worthy of our cinematic phone call list. But let’s go with the “What’s the story?” exchange between Walter (Cary Grant) and Hildy (Rosalind Russell), which reflects Hildy’s love of the business, the tendency for the pair’s personal matters to get in the way of work, and the indefinite delay of Hildy’s planned departure.


Ransom

Ransom (1996). You can only push an angry father so far, and when it comes to Mad Mel, the proverbial edge is a whole lot closer than usual. While chatting with kidnapper Gary Sinise, Mel Gibson’s wealthy ransom-holder finally makes the decision that he’s not going to take this shit anymore, turning the tables and threatening his enemy. His heated rant of “you don’t know who you’re messing with” is capped off with the famed shout of “Gimme back my son!!!” Call it practice for Gibson’s future high-volume audio performances.


Sorry, Wrong Number

Sorry, Wrong Number (1948). In Sorry, Wrong Number, an adaptation of Lucille Fletcher’s radio play, Barbara Stanwyck plays the bed-ridden daughter of a hotshot millionaire, who relies on the telephone as her only connection to the world beyond her room. One day, she overhears a plot to murder a woman, then struggles with credibility when trying to report the incident. The movie’s twist is apparent from miles away, and this surely isn’t Stanwyck’s finest hour, but Sorry, Wrong Number is nevertheless crucial to the phones-in-films canon.


Munich

Munich (2005). In Steven Spielberg’s breathless revenge drama, Eric Bana and his fellow vigilantes seek out their second target in Paris, planting a bomb in the man’s phone that’s set to be detonated by remote. But when it comes time to do the job, the target’s young daughter unexpectedly scurries to answer the call, unbeknownst to the point man who’s tasked to blow the apartment. In a moment of moral murkiness, the crew averts the murder of the child, and waits for their intended victim to come home.


Lost Highway

Lost Highway (1997). One of the more memorable scenes in David Lynch’s Lost Highway comes when Fred (Bill Pullman) and Renee (Patricia Arquette) attend a party and meet Robert Blake’s “Mystery Man,” who tells Fred he’s at his home despite the fact that he’s standing in front of him. Fred telephones his house and Blake’s character indeed answers, prompting a chillingly indelible smile from the dark-eyed stranger. It’s one of the more nightmarish moments from a filmmaker unmatched in the evocation of dreams.


Phone Booth

Phone Booth (2002). Colin Farrell’s Stu Shephard gets the worst call of his life when he steps into a New York phone booth to contact his mistress, Pam (Katie Holmes). He ends up connecting with Kiefer Sutherland’s terrorizing sniper, who wants to teach Stu a lesson for his cocky philandering. Under the direction of hack extraordinaire Joel Schumacher, Phone Booth is an easy film to deride, but it boasts a superb performance from Farrell, and it doubles as a requiem for those titular city fixtures.


Dial M for Murder

Dial M for Murder (1954). A highly celebrated mystery long before it hit the screen, Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder was lifted from the stage play by Frederic Knott, who also penned the movie’s script. It stars Grace Kelly as a cheating wife whose husband (Ray Milland) plots to have her murdered. As the plan goes, Kelly’s victim will answer the phone when Milland’s schemer calls, allowing the hired, invading murderer to strangle her from behind. The setup spawned a handful of ripoffs and remakes, including A Perfect Murder with Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow.


Swingers

Swingers (1996). Back when Jon Favreau was still palatable on screen, he shined as the bewildered straight man in this retro dating comedy, juggling the so-called laws of seduction while trying to recover from a break-up. Filled with the suggestions of his skirt-chasing buddies (played by a breakout Vince Vaughn, among others), Favreau’s Mike delivers a memorable scene in which he hangs up with his ex to take a call from a potential new squeeze (Heather Graham), who, like him, can’t wrap her head around the “rules” of when to phone a crush. The scene, and film, ably upend Dating 101.


Sisters

Sisters (1973). In Brian De Palma’s oft-overlooked psycho-thriller, Jennifer Salt plays a reporter investigating a murder she witnessed, and is led by clues to a remote house that, unbeknownst to her, doubles as an insane asylum. When trying to use the facility’s phone, Salt’s character is confronted by a Lysol-toting inmate, who warns her that phones are dangerous, and can transmit germs through the wires. “They can make you sick,” the madwoman insists, “very, very sick. That’s how I got so sick—someone called me on the TELEPHONE!!!”


Dr. Strangelove

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). “One of our base commanders went a little funny in the head. You know, just a little…funny.” Peter Sellers’s “friendly call” to U.S.S.R. President Dimitri Kissoff is wreathed in a hysterical silence, perfectly amplifying the absurd conversation’s unforgettable lines, like, “If this wasn’t a friendly call…you probably wouldn’t have even got it.” The famous scene nails the common tedium of the modern phone discussion, all while determining the fate of the world.


Bringing Up Baby

Bringing Up Baby (1938). Enamored of Cary Grant’s paleontologist David Huxley, Katharine Hepburn’s Susan Vance fakes a leopard attack in Bringing Up Baby, tricking David into coming to rescue her while chatting him up on the phone. “Stay strong Susan!” a distraught David cries, and the manipulation is the first of many Susan uses to draw in her troubled man, who ultimately succumbs to Susan’s haphazard, cyclonic charms.


A Nightmare on Elm Street

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). A Nightmare on Elm Street isn’t the Wes Craven joint to heavily feature phones (click on for that one), but it does boast an ickily unforgettable scene in which young Nancy (Heather Langencamp) sees the receiver of her phone let loose a slithering Freddy Krueger tongue, the ultimate manifestation of this teen slasher flicks simmering sexual undertones. Krueger (Robert Englund) had a creepiness that was all the more fueled by the threat of pedophilia, and here, we get it in one truly nightmarish lick.


It’s a Wonderful Life

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). “What are you trying to do, steal my girl?” In this pivotal scene in It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) and Mary (Donna Reed) are both on the line with Sam (Frank Albertson), the very friend who ultimately wires down-on-his-luck George a $25,000 line of credit. Ending with an impassioned kiss that’s made many a film lover swoon, the scene was reportedly Stewart’s first major onscreen hubba-hubba moment, and the actor was so fired up, he nailed it in one take.


Scream

Scream (1996). Perhaps the ultimate film franchise to utilize the telephone, Wes Craven’s Scream saga all began with a little call made to Drew Barrymore’s bob-rocking Casey Becker, who’s told by a snake-like voice that she’s going to be gutted “like a fish.” The call starts out playful, with Casey telling her pestering stranger that there are “900 numbers” for anonymous chats with girls, but it doesn’t take long for the exchange to turn nasty. Casey is eventually forced to play a game of trivia, wherein her and her boyfriend’s lives hang in the balance. In a way, the chilling prologue was the slasher-film equivalent of the circle of life: Casey finally met her grisly death, but in turn, an enduring new series was born.

“Tell the truth but tell it slant”
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