The Surprising History Behind One Of Clint Eastwood’S Most Iconic Quotes


You know the scene. Heck, you’ve probably even played it over and over in your own head, with yourself in the Clint Eastwood role. Inspector “Dirty Harry” Callahan walks into a diner for a cup of coffee, inadvertently walking into a robbery attempt. Wrong place, wrong time… for the robbers. Harry kills all but one, who attempts to escape by taking a waitress hostage. Through gritted teeth, Harry lifts his .44 Magnum and utters, “Go ahead, make my day.” From an actor with a veritable cornucopia of memorable quips over his storied career, “Make my day” stands above them all, placing sixth on AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movie Quotes. And he didn’t even say it first!

Who Wrote “Go Ahead, Make My Day” from ‘Sudden Impact’?

One would think that the ownership of such an iconic line would be pretty straightforward, but there are no less than three people who claim to have written it. Of the three, there seems to be less evidence that screenwriter Joseph Stinson came up with the line, despite being the one who adapted the screenplay for another film into a Dirty Harry project. The remaining two? It literally depends on where you look.

Some attribute the line to screenwriter John Milius, who may have done some uncredited script work on Sudden Impact, although that fact is also hard to pin down. Los Angeles Magazine is so sure that it claims Milius should get a royalty check every time “Go ahead, make my day” is uttered. The Telegraph notes that Eastwood presented Milius with one of Callahan’s famed No 29, 6″-barreled 44 Magnums after wrapping the filming of the second Dirty Harry film, Magnum Force (which Milius did write), before stating Milius wrote the “Do I feel lucky?” speech in Dirty Harry (he did) and “Go ahead, make my day.”

That leaves independent filmmaker Charles B. Pierce, who wrote the story that became Sudden Impact, and while his claim to the iconic line may not be definitive, Pierce at least has a fantastic story behind it. As the story goes, the line was a riff on something his father used to say when Pierce was growing up: “Just let me come home one more day without you mowing the lawn, son, just go ahead — make my day.” It actually sounds like something Clint might have said to his own son, Scott Eastwood, as he was growing up. Three men, three viable claims to ownership of “Go ahead, make my day.” Which one is it? Do you feel lucky? Well do you, punk?

Dirty Harry’s Most Iconic Line Appeared in Another Film First

The claim about who wrote the legendary quote may be ambiguous, but there’s certainly no question that Eastwood’s Harry Callahan said it. Was he the first to say it on film, though? The answer, surprisingly, is no. You may remember the 1982 box office blockbuster Vice Squad. “Blockbuster” is a bit of a stretch, and if you remember it at all, call Ken Jennings now to book your spot on Jeopardy! The film is about a former business executive, now a sex worker, who is enlisted by the LAPD to aid in their pursuit of a homicidal, misogynistic pimp by the name of Ramrod (Wings Hauser).


In one scene of the film, Detective Tom Walsh (Gary Swanson) and his team close in on Ramrod, and arrest him. During the proceedings, Walsh proceeds to take his gun and place it near Ramrod’s mouth, uttering, “Come on scumbag, make your move and make my day!” The words differ slightly, but it is definitively used in the same spirit as Callahan’s quote. However, it doesn’t appear that any of the creatives behind either film were involved at any time with the other, and the timing alone would suggest it’s simply one of those strange Hollywood coincidences, the type that sees films like Deep Impact and Armageddonreleased the same year. Besides, it’s not who said it first, but who said it best, and with apologies, Mr. Swanson, you are no Clint Eastwood.

“Go Ahead, Make My Day” Hits the Mark Outside of ‘Dirty Harry’

Now the true measure of any movie quote is its impact and repeatability in the real world, like “Hakuna Matata” or “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” On that front, “Go ahead, make my day” has been successful, burrowing its way deep into the vernacular. Perhaps its most famous use in the real world lies with President Ronald Reagan, a former Hollywood actor himself. The year was 1985, and the president, in a speech against taxes at the American Business Conference, stated, “I have my veto pen drawn and ready for any tax increase that Congress might even think of sending up. And I have only one thing to say to the tax increasers. Go ahead. Make my day.” Even Eastwood himself referenced the line at the end of his speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention.

Arguably, the most meta use of the quote dates back to 1990, when it resurfaces on film by Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly in Back to the Future: Part III. In the film, Marty travels back in time to the Old West, and takes on the moniker “Clint Eastwood.” After running afoul of Buford Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson), Marty agrees to Tannen’s gunfight challenge. In an effort to look more menacing in the duel, Marty practices being a rough-and-tumble gunslinger in the mirror, which includes saying — you guessed it — “Go ahead, make my day.” So it’s Michael J. Fox playing Marty McFly, who pretends his name is Clint Eastwood, uttering an iconic Eastwood phrase attributed to “Dirty Harry” Callahan, in garb akin to Eastwood’s Man With No Name in A Fistful of Dollars.